October 21, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals stopped pursuing General John Bell Hood’s Confederates in Alabama, and Hood announced his intention to force Sherman out of Georgia by targeting Federal supply bases and troops in Tennessee.
Hood ended his raid on Sherman’s supply line in northern Georgia and led his Confederate Army of Tennessee west into Alabama. Hood informed his superiors at Richmond that he would move north across the Tennessee River and enter the state of Tennessee, where he would cut supply lines and destroy the Federal army under Major General George H. Thomas.
From there, Hood’s Confederates would regain the capital of Nashville and then continue north into Kentucky. Sherman then “would be forced to go on board ship, and, after a long detour by water and land, repair to the defense of Kentucky and Ohio.” And if Sherman instead went to Petersburg to reinforce the Federals under Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, Hood would move east to reinforce the Confederates there under General Robert E. Lee.
Without waiting for approval, Hood led his army to Gadsden on the 20th and notified General Richard Taylor that he had entered Taylor’s Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana. Hood supplied his troops at Gadsden, asked Taylor for more supplies, and informed him, “I will move tomorrow for Guntersville on the Tennessee.”
Hood did not notify General P.G.T. Beauregard, his new superior. Beauregard remained at his Jacksonville, Alabama, headquarters, still expecting Hood to carry out his original plan of raiding Sherman’s supply line in northern Georgia and drawing him out into an open fight.
Meanwhile, Sherman already received approval to leave Hood for Thomas and turn south toward the sea. Sherman reported:
“I shall pursue him (Hood) as far as Gaylesville. The enemy will not venture toward Tennessee except around by Decatur. I propose to send the Fourth Corps back to General Thomas, and leave him, with that corps, the garrisons, and new troops, to defend the line of the Tennessee River; and with the rest I will push into the heart of Georgia and come out at Savannah, destroying all the railroads of the State.”
In another message, Sherman wrote:
“Hood will escape me. I want to prepare for my big raid. On the 1st of November I want nothing in Atlanta but what is necessary for war. Send all trash to the rear at once, and have on hand 30 days’ food and but little forage. I propose to abandon Atlanta, and the railroad back to Chattanooga, to sally forth to ruin Georgia and bring up on the seashore.”
As Sherman reported, he stopped pursuing Hood’s Confederates at Gaylesville, 30 miles northeast of Gadsden, on the 21st. He was not sure where Hood was or what he intended to do, but now that the Confederate army was in Alabama, Sherman no longer cared. Thomas began concentrating the Federal forces in his department at Nashville to prepare for Hood’s possible incursion into Tennessee.
That same day, Beauregard finally learned that Hood and his army were at Gadsden, and he went there to discuss strategy. Hood unveiled his bold plan for “marching into Tennessee, with a hope to establish our line eventually in Kentucky.” The campaign would begin by crossing the Tennessee River at Guntersville, which would put his Confederates within striking distance of Sherman’s supply line running through Stevenson and Bridgeport. Hood would gather recruits as he moved north.
This new plan alarmed Beauregard, especially since Hood had begun executing it without first consulting him. But success depended on speed, and Beauregard had no alternate strategy. He had the authority to commandeer Hood’s army if he saw fit, but Beauregard feared that President Jefferson Davis would not support such a move. So Beauregard reluctantly approved.
Beauregard then consulted with Hood’s corps commanders. Hood later wrote that the commanders told Beauregard “we were not competent to offer pitched battle to Sherman, nor could we follow him south without causing our retrograde movement to be construed by the troops into a recurrence of retreat, which would entail desertions, and render the Army of little or no use in its opposition to the enemy’s march through Georgia.”
Beauregard added one stipulation to Hood’s offensive: his cavalry under Major General Joseph Wheeler had to stay in Georgia to oppose Sherman. Beauregard allowed Hood to have Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry instead, but Forrest was at Jackson, Tennessee, and it would take him time to ride down to join Hood’s army.
Hood requested three weeks’ rations and prepared to move northwest to Guntersville. Beauregard notified Davis of the altered strategy. When the campaign began on the 22nd, it was immediately apparent that it would not go according to plan.
CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21035, 21045, 21106; 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 12914-35, 12956-66; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 510, 512; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 584, 586-87; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 32-33