The Green-Meldrim House Served as William T. Sherman’s Headquarters After the Capture of Savannah
Major General William T. Sherman’s army concluded its March to the Sea with the capture and occupation of Savannah, Georgia on December 21st, 1864. The next morning , Sherman and his staff rode into the city. One of the commanding general’s first tasks upon arrival was the establishment of his headquarters.
Sherman had served in Savannah early in his army career, and had some familiarity with the city. His first choice for a headquarters was the Pulaski Hotel. Sherman wrote in his memoirs:
Turning back, we rode to the Pulaski Hotel, which I had known in years long gone, and found it kept by a Vermont man…and I inquired about the capacity of his hotel for headquarters. He was very anxious to have us as boarders, but I soon explained to him that we had a full mess equipment along, and that we were not in the habit of paying board; that one wing of the building would suffice for our use, while I would allow him to keep an hotel for the accommodation of officers and gentlemen in the remainder.
Sherman then sent a member of his staff out to locate a livery stable for the group’s horses. While waiting for that staff officer to return, the general was approached by several local citizens who wanted to meet with him, including an Englishman named Charles Green. Green was a prominent well to do banker and cotton broker. He offered Sherman the use of his mansion located on the city’s Madison Square for use as the general’s headquarters. Sherman recalled:
The Englishman Green explained to his fellow Savannah residents that his offer would spare one of them the humiliation of having his home taken over by the Yankees. The Georgians were a bit skeptical that Green’s motives were altruistic, and not without reason. Later that day, Sherman would send his famous Christmas gift of Savannah message to President Lincoln, where he mentions the capture of what he estimated as 25,000 bales of cotton (a final count revealed the total as 38,500 bales). Green had a financial stake in at least some, and probably a lot of that, and may very well have thought that his loaning of his house to Sherman would help him save his cotton investment.
At first I felt strongly disinclined to make use of any private dwelling, lest complaints should arise of damage and loss of furniture, and so expressed myself to Mr. Green; but after riding about the city, and finding his house so spacious, so convenient, with a large yard and stabling, I accepted his offer, and occupied that house during our stay in Savannah. He only reserved for himself the use of a couple of rooms above the dining room, and we had all else, and a most excellent house it was in all respects.
It didn’t work. An agent of the U.S. Treasury Department was on hand in Savannah (almost simultaneously with the capture of the city), to claim all captured property, including and especially cotton, on behalf of the Federal government. Sherman agreed to turn over the cotton, but only after his quartermaster and commissary departments received as much as they needed. The rest went to the government, and Green was left out. Sherman had no qualms about denying British citizens their cotton; in his view, they shipped cotton to England in exchange for smuggled arms used to kill Union soldiers.
With his headquarters established, Sherman went about the business of managing the captured city, which included meetings with countless people, both civilian and military. Secretary of War Stanton arrived via ship and met with Sherman in January. The general also planned his next campaign through the Carolinas north to a link up with General Grant in Virginia.
But it wasn’t all business at the Green House. It made a fine setting for social events. Green had spared no expense in constructing the Gothic Revival style house in the 1850s, and the mansion was one of the finest in the city. Sherman hosted Christmas dinner with his officers, and had a day long meet and greet on New Year’s Day.
Savannah was garrisoned by Union troops for the remainder of the war. Sherman and the rest of his army crossed the Savannah River into South Carolina on February 1st, 1865 beginning the Campaign of the Carolinas.
With Sherman’s departure, Charles Green got his house back. The mansion remained in the Green family until 1892 when it was purchased by Peter Meldrim. The Meldrim family sold it to the next door St. John’s Episcopal church in 1943, and a portion of the mansion was remodeled and now serves as the church’s rectory. Guided tours of the house are available, though it is closed at times for church events (and can be rented for weddings or other gatherings). The Green-Meldrim House is located on Madison Square at 14 West Macon Street. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976. For more information, see the St. John’s Church Green Meldrim House website.
Civil War Savannah by Derek Smith
Harper’s Weekly, January 21st, 1865 and January 28th, 1865 issues
Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman (Library of America) by William T. Sherman
Southern Storm: Sherman’s March to the Sea by Noah Andre Trudeau