November 21, 1864 – General John Bell Hood finally began moving his Confederate army in a desperate effort to destroy the Federal armies in Tennessee and then continue north into Kentucky and beyond.
Hood spent most of November in northwestern Alabama, organizing and preparing his Army of Tennessee for a thrust back into the state for which it was named. He also awaited the arrival of Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry to ride down from Tennessee and reinforce him.
Hood hoped to break through the Federal forces in Tennessee and Kentucky, thus compelling Major General William T. Sherman to abandon Georgia and pursue him. However, President Jefferson Davis preferred Hood to first defeat Sherman “and subsequently without serious obstruction or danger to the country in your rear advance to the Ohio River.” But Hood had no intention of confronting Sherman, who was 300 miles away planning his march from Atlanta to the sea. Thus, two of the largest armies in the Western Theater would be moving away from each other.
Meanwhile, Major General George H. Thomas, the Federal commander in Tennessee, knew Hood’s plan and began concentrating the bulk of his forces at Nashville. Now that Sterling Price’s Confederates had been driven out of Missouri, Major General Andrew J. Smith’s XVI Corps was detached from that department to join Thomas’s Federals. Thomas dispatched Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio to block Hood’s potential advance at Pulaski, below Nashville.
If Hood was going to succeed, he had to attack before Thomas could prepare defenses. But Hood was delayed nearly three weeks. He later recalled that the delay was due to “the bad condition of the railroad from Okolona to Cherokee, and the dirt road from the latter point to Florence, and also by the absence of Major-General Forrest’s command…” This gave the Federals plenty of time to get ready.
Hood expected Sherman to abandon Georgia and block his path to Nashville. But Major General Joseph Wheeler, commanding Confederate cavalry in Georgia, reported to General P.G.T. Beauregard, the overall Confederate commander in the Western Theater, that Sherman was preparing to move four corps in the opposite direction. Beauregard forwarded this news to Hood, stating that “the enemy are turning their columns on the shortest route to Macon.” He asked Hood to reinforce Wheeler and Major General Howell Cobb’s small militia force at Macon.
Hood did not answer Beauregard’s request, opting to continue preparing to head north. He informed Beauregard on the 17th, “I have now seven days’ rations on hand, and need 13 days’ additional. Please make every effort to have these supplies pressed forward.” By this time, Forrest’s command had arrived, and Hood issued marching orders for the army.
Beauregard did not use his authority to order Hood to suspend his plans. He instead directed Hood to “take the offensive at the earliest practicable moment, and deal the enemy rapid and vigorous blows, striking him while thus dispersed, and by this means distract Sherman’s advance in Georgia.” Beauregard then reported to his superiors at Richmond, “It is left optional with him (Hood) to divide and re-enforce Cobb, (or) to take the offensive immediately to relieve him.”
On the 18th, Hood informed Beauregard that he would do the latter. Hood directed Forrest to “move at once with your command, crossing the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers between Paducah and Johnsonville, and then move up the north bank of the Cumberland to Clarksville, taking possession of that place, if possible.” To feed his army, Hood ordered Forrest to take over the mills “and put them to grinding at once.” Forrest was then to “destroy the railroads between Nashville and Clarksville, and between Bowling Green and Nashville, taking care to keep all the telegraphic communications between these places constantly destroyed.”
After more unexpected delays, Hood’s Confederates finally began crossing the Tennessee River at Gunter’s Landing on the 20th. His 30,000 infantrymen moved out in three columns, with Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham’s corps on the left (west), Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee’s corps in the center, and Lieutenant General Alexander P. Stewart’s corps on the right. Forrest’s 8,000 cavalry troopers covered Hood’s right flank. Marching through sleet, the Confederates were poorly fed, clothed, and equipped; some even marched barefoot.
Hood’s initial objective was to move his army into the 80-mile space between Schofield at Pulaski and Thomas at Nashville. He later wrote, “Early dawn of the 21st found the Army in motion. I hoped by a rapid march to get in rear of Schofield’s forces, then at Pulaski, before they were able to reach Duck river.”
At Pulaski, Schofield had IV Corps, two divisions of XXIII Corps, and two cavalry divisions, for a total of about 21,000 men. His force was smaller than Hood’s, but he could call upon reinforcements from Thomas as long as he kept Hood from cutting him off. Schofield told Thomas that scouts reported Hood’s advance had “the appearance of an advance on Columbia rather than Pulaski.” Thomas ordered Schofield to withdraw to Columbia, “so as to reach that place before Hood could, if he should really move against that place.”
Schofield responded, “I propose to move tomorrow morning with two divisions to Lynnville… This will be the best disposition we can make to meet Forrest if he attempts a raid.” Schofield was confident that from Lynnville, “we can fight Hood, or retire to Columbia, according to circumstance. I do not believe Hood can get this far, if he attempts it, while the roads are so bad.”
But Schofield changed his mind. Instead of making a stand at Lynnville, he opted to fall back to Columbia, on the Duck River. The Army of the Ohio moved out on the freezing morning of the 22nd.
CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21052, 21106-15; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 482-83, 485, 487-88, 490; 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 13719-38; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 517, 520-22; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 8036; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 593-94, 597-99; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 808-09; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 82-83