No, Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman Didn’t Plan the March to the Sea in Louisville

At the corner of Second and Main streets in downtown Louisville, there’s a historical marker honoring the old Galt House hotel* and its famous guests, among them, Union Army Generals Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman (played here by Brian Cranston).

The plaque says “Sherman and Grant met here March, 1864 to plan invasion that led to the ‘March to the Sea.’”

It feels monumental. Later that year, Sherman would capture Atlanta, then burn (occasionally literally) a path to Savannah, which he took and presented to President Lincoln as a Christmas gift. The war ended months later. And it all began in Louisville.

Or not.

Ahead of the 150th anniversary of this world-changing event, local architect and author Steve Wiser looked into this claim. He wrote about his findings on his website.

…I could find no account of either Grant or Sherman ever being in Louisville during the whole year of 1864. If the ‘March to the Sea’ was definitely planned here as the history marker stated, then there should be a reference somewhere in a Civil War chronological database. The validity of this ‘fact’ was becoming highly questionable.

Then, in 2013, Cincinnati installed a historical marker that made the same claim: Sherman and Grant met at the old Burnett House in March 1864 to plan the Civil War’s final campaign. Additional search engine research revealed other cities boasting the same fact, like Nashville, Washington D C, and Chattanooga, etc.

Fr. Clyde Crews at Bellarmine showed Wiser a Louisville Democrat article stating the two did indeed stay here, but the claim that Louisville was home to the strategy session that helped end the Civil War is dubious. The generals were on a trip from Nashville to Cincinnati. The war was turning in the North’s favor. Of course the two men would talk strategy on their trip, but there’s nothing to support the statement that they met at the old Galt House to plan the invasion.

Wiser says it’s not totally surprising that the plaque isn’t accurate.

“A lot of the facts on those plaques aren’t exactly correct or tell the full story,” he says, noting the marker in front of Actors Theatre identifies the wrong architect for the building.

“There are several plaques around town that have somewhat, not totally misleading information, but not full facts,” he says.

You can read Wiser’s account here, and listen to the interview here:

*The old Galt House burned down in the 1860s. The new ones stand at Fourth and Main streets.

Gabe Bullard

Gabe Bullard is the director of news and editorial strategy.

@gbullard

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