Taylor Takes Over the Army of Tennessee

January 23, 1865 – Confederate President Jefferson Davis accepted the resignation of General John Bell Hood as commander of the Army of Tennessee and replaced him with Lieutenant General Richard Taylor.

Confederate General J.B. Hood | Image Credit: Flickr.com

The Battles of Franklin and Nashville had devastated Hood’s once mighty army. Communication problems in the Confederacy meant that the high command knew little about the battles besides reports in northern newspapers calling them tremendous Federal victories. Moreover, Hood’s superior, General P.G.T. Beauregard, had his hands full trying to stop William T. Sherman’s march into South Carolina and could not devote sufficient attention to the Army of Tennessee.

Beauregard had written to Hood the day after Christmas, asking him to transfer “all forces not absolutely needed for that defensive line” to Augusta, Georgia, to help stop Sherman if Hood was “unable to gain any material advantage in Tennessee.” Hood did not answer.

On New Year’s Eve, Beauregard left South Carolina operations to Lieutenant General William Hardee and headed out of Charleston to inspect Hood’s army and see what troops could be sent east. Based on the ominous second-hand reports and Hood’s apparent aloofness, Beauregard suggested to President Jefferson Davis that he may have to remove Hood from command. Davis authorized him to do so if necessary.

Meanwhile, Hood brought his shattered army to Corinth, Mississippi. He informed his cavalry commander, Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest, that Beauregard wanted all available infantry to go to Augusta, leaving only Forrest’s troopers to defend against the Federals in this military department. Forrest relayed this to Taylor and gave his assessment of Hood’s army:

“The Army of Tennessee was badly defeated and is greatly demoralized, and to save it during the retreat from Nashville I was compelled almost to sacrifice my command. Aside from the killed, wounded, and captured of my command, many were sent to the rear with barefooted, lame, and unserviceable horses, who have taken advantage of all the confusion and disorder attending the hasty retreat of a beaten army, and are now scattered through the country or have gone to their homes.”

Hood soon discovered that Corinth was not far enough out of harm’s way, so he had to push his exhausted men even farther to Tupelo, where they arrived on the 5th. Beauregard reached Macon, Georgia, the next day and finally received a message from Hood:

“The army has recrossed the Tennessee River without material loss since the battle of Franklin. It will be assembled in a few days in the vicinity of Tupelo, to be supplied with shoes and clothing, and to obtain forage for the animals.”

This message alarmed Beauregard because it seriously downplayed the devastating loss at Nashville. Beauregard was even more alarmed by Hood’s proposal to grant 100-day furloughs to various units in his army, at a time when the Confederacy needed all the men it could get. Hood concluded, “To make the army effective for operations, some rest is absolutely necessary, and a good supply of clothing and shoes.”

Beauregard then started getting more of Hood’s messages written after the Battle of Nashville, which downplayed his defeat even more: “Our loss in killed and wounded is very small. Our exact loss in prisoners I have not been able to ascertain, but do not think it great.” But his men lacked the basic food, clothing, footwear, and shelter needed for winter. Acting Inspector General E.T. Freeman wrote:

“We expect to go into winter quarters somewhere near here in a few days. The whole army cannot muster 5,000 effective men. Great numbers are going home every day, many never more to return, I fear. Nine-tenths of the men and line officers are barefooted and naked.”

Gen Richard Taylor | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

That same day, Taylor, commanding the Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana, arrived at Tupelo to see Hood’s army for himself. Taylor saw that it numbered no more than 20,000 men, of whom only about 10,000 were able-bodied; Hood had begun his campaign in November with 40,000 strong. Taylor reported to Davis:

“The army needs rest, consolidation, and reorganization. Not a day should be lost in effecting these latter. If moved in its present condition, it will prove utterly worthless; this applies to both infantry and cavalry.”

But Davis insisted that Hood’s troops be sent east:

“Sherman’s campaign has produced bad effect on our people, success against his future operations is needful to reanimate public confidence. Hardee requires more aid than Lee can give him, and Hood’s army is the only source to which we can now look.”

Davis envisioned leaving a token force in northern Mississippi under Taylor to somehow oppose the mighty Federal army south of Nashville, while the bulk of the Army of Tennessee joined forces with Hardee and Beauregard “to look after Sherman.”

Meanwhile, Hood learned that Beauregard was on his way to inspect the army, and suspicions that he had shattered the force seemed confirmed when he wrote to the War Department on Friday the 13th: “I respectfully request to be relieved from the command of this army.”

Beauregard arrived and saw that there were few troops he could send east. He finally decided on sending 4,000 men from Major General Carter Stevenson’s corps (formerly Stephen D. Lee’s). Hood was so heartbroken that Beauregard could not order his immediate removal. He helped transition the command, during which time Secretary of War James A. Seddon replied to Hood’s message: “Your request is complied with… Report to the War Department in Richmond.”

Hood had been given command of the Army of Tennessee to stop Sherman’s advance into Georgia, but he destroyed the army in the attempt. This ended Hood’s checkered military career, during which he had performed much better as a subordinate than as top commander. He issued a farewell address to what was left of the Army of Tennessee:

“In taking leave of you accept my thanks for the patience with which you have endured your many hardships during the recent campaign. I am alone responsible for its conception, and strived hard to do my duty in its execution. I urge upon you the importance of giving your entire support to the distinguished soldier who now assumes command, and I shall look with deep interest upon all your future operations and rejoice at your success.”

Ten days after Hood submitted his resignation, Taylor took over his force, and Forrest took over Taylor’s department. Davis hoped that Taylor and Beauregard could rally enough Confederates to stop Sherman’s advance into the Carolinas.



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