September 25, 1864 – President Jefferson Davis visited General John Bell Hood at his Palmetto headquarters to learn more about the condition of the Army of Tennessee.
Hood had requested that either Davis or another high-ranking Confederate official come to Georgia to review the army and discuss future strategy. Although Hood had lost Atlanta to Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals, Davis was optimistic that Hood could still redeem Georgia, telling a congressman before leaving, “Sherman’s army can be driven out of Georgia, perhaps be utterly destroyed.” When asked about the loss of Atlanta and the defeats in the Shenandoah Valley, Davis remarked, “The first effect of disaster is always to spread a deeper gloom than is due to the occasion.”
The president left Richmond on the 20th, hoping to not only visit Hood’s army but to lift southern spirits along the way. He arrived at Palmetto five days later, where he met with elements of the Army of Tennessee and addressed a group of Tennesseans: “Be of good cheer, for within a short while your faces will be turned homeward and your feet pressing the soil of Tennessee.”
Davis met with Hood, who took him on an army inspection, where several soldiers openly called out for Davis to replace Hood with their old commander, Joseph E. Johnston. Hood later wrote, “I regretted I should have been the cause of this uncourteous reception to His Excellency; at the same time, I could recall no offense save that of having insisted that they should fight for and hold Atlanta 46 days, whereas they had previously retreated 100 miles within 66 days.”
Regarding strategy, Hood explained that–
“… our only hope to checkmate Sherman was to assume the offensive, cut the enemy’s communications, select a position on or near the Alabama line in proximity to Blue Mountain Railroad, and there give him battle. Should the enemy move south, I could as easily from that point as from Palmetto, follow upon his rear, if that policy should be deemed preferable.”
Davis also met with Lieutenant General William Hardee, the corps commander who Hood blamed for the defeats at Peachtree Creek and Jonesboro. Hardee criticized Hood and urged Davis to replace him with Johnston. Hardee then said that either he or Hood should be removed from the army.
Davis, having personally selected Hood to command the army, would not admit to a mistake by removing him. Therefore, after leaving on the 28th, he instructed Hood, “Relieve Lieutenant-General Hardee from duty with the Army of Tennessee, and direct him to proceed at once to Charleston, S.C., and assume command of the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.” Hood was authorized to turn Hardee’s corps over to Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham.
The president traveled to Macon and delivered a speech at a benefit to raise money for the exiled Atlanta residents. Davis declared, “Friends are drawn together in adversity. What though misfortune has befallen our arms from Decatur to Jonesborough, our cause is not lost… Our cause is not lost… Sherman cannot keep up his long line of communications; retreat, sooner, or later, he must.”
Davis admonished all able-bodied men who were not serving in the military: “If there is one who will stay away at this hour, he is unworthy of the name of Georgian.” He cited a report showing that two-thirds of Georgians formerly in the Confederate army were no longer there, “some sick, some wounded, but most of them absent without leave.”
Davis concluded, “If one half the men now absent without leave will return to the front, we can defeat the enemy… I may not realize that hope, but I know there are men that have looked death in the face too often to despond now. Let no one despond.”
Davis moved on to the former Confederate capital of Montgomery, Alabama, where he told an audience, “There will be some men who when they look at the sun can only see a speck upon it… We should marvel and thank God for the great achievements which have crowned our efforts.” He continued on to Selma to meet with Lieutenant General Richard Taylor, commanding the Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana.
Meanwhile, Hood moved his Confederates north across the Chattahoochee River. If he could not defeat Sherman in battle, he would head north into Tennessee, destroying Sherman’s supply lines along the way. Depending on Federal resistance, Hood planned to possibly continue northward into Kentucky or even Ohio. Such a move could force Sherman to abandon Atlanta and chase him down.
CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20973-82; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 461; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 12683-14, 12746-77; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 499, 501, 503; Jensen, Les D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 338; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 570-75; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 15-20; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q364