Tag Archives: Richard Taylor

The Fall of Selma

April 2, 1865 – Federal cavalry led by Major General James H. Wilson captured the important manufacturing city of Selma, Alabama.

Selma was one of the Confederacy’s largest military manufacturing centers still in operation. Over 10,000 people worked at the Ordnance and Naval Foundry, which produced rifles, cannon, ammunition, ironclad warships, and other war materiel.

Efforts to capture Selma had been made by Brigadier General Benjamin H. Grierson in 1863 and Major Generals William T. Sherman and Lovell Rousseau in 1864, but the city was too deep within the Confederate interior to be taken. But by this time, Confederate resources had been depleted to the point that they could hardly resist another thrust into southern Alabama.

Maj Gen J.H. Wilson | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

On March 22, Wilson set out from Gravelly Springs, Alabama, with three cavalry divisions totaling 13,500 men. This was the largest mounted force ever assembled on the continent. His opponent was Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest, whose troopers had bested and confounded Federal generals throughout the war. But according to Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, Forrest had “neither his old-time army nor his old-time prestige. He now had principally conscripts… not enough to even retard materially the progress of Wilson’s cavalry.” Moreover, Forrest’s troopers were dangerously scattered.

At dawn, Wilson advanced from Maplesville Station with the two divisions of Brigadier Generals Eli Long and Emory Upton. Long moved south on the Federal right, while Upton moved on a parallel road to Long’s left (east). The two divisions would join forces where the two roads joined to form the main Selma road. Wilson ordered them to “press the enemy vigorously and charge them whenever they attempted to make a stand.” The force totaled about 9,000 men.

Forrest was compelled to spread out what he had of his command to meet both Wilson coming from the west and a potential Federal thrust from Pensacola to the south. Forrest hoped to be reinforced by the two divisions of Brigadier Generals William H. Jackson and James R. Chalmers, but Jackson was blocked by the Cahawba River and Chalmers could not get there before the Federals attacked. Forrest fell back to the intersection of the Randolph road and the main Selma road, near Ebenezer Church. He hoped to hold the Federals there until Chalmers arrived. Forrest had just 2,000 men, most of whom were either teenaged boys or old men.

Gen Nathan Bedford Forrest | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Advance elements of Forrest’s army held the enemy off until 4 p.m., but then the Federals broke through the Confederate center. The men engaged in ferocious hand-to-hand combat that included Forrest killing a Federal officer who had slashed him with his saber. The Federals fell back, but then they came on again, this time hitting both the Confederate center and the untried Alabama militia on the right. The Alabamans broke, prompting Forrest to order a retreat just before the Federals could surround and destroy his command. The Federals took three guns and over 300 prisoners. Chalmers never arrived.

Forrest entered Selma the next morning, with the “horse and rider covered in blood.” He advised Lieutenant General Richard Taylor, commanding the Confederates in the city, to evacuate Selma, and Taylor agreed. He placed Forrest in charge of the city’s strong fortifications. These included numerous redans, abatis, palisades, and trenches. The Alabama River served as a natural barrier to attack on one side of the city.

The fieldworks were designed for a garrison of 20,000 men, but even with additional volunteers and reinforcements coming into Selma, Forrest could muster no more than 4,000 for duty. To cover the entire line, the men had to stand 10 to 12 feet apart. Forrest knew that resistance was futile, but he hoped to stall until Taylor evacuated or destroyed the military supplies.

Wilson’s two divisions reached Selma’s outskirts around 2 p.m., having advanced 300 miles through the Deep South in just 12 days. The Federals had captured the engineer who designed the Selma defenses, and he sketched the layout for Wilson. Even so, had the works been adequately manned, they would have easily repelled a mounted assault.

Long was assigned to attack the Confederate right. The dismounted Federals had to march 600 yards across an open field, but they were armed with repeating carbines and supported by artillery. The Confederates opened on the approaching enemy with musket fire and solid shot, even though they could have gotten canister (which was much more effective against massed attacks) from the Selma ordnance factories just a few miles away.

The Federals sustained heavy losses (Long himself was among the wounded), but they finally climbed the parapets and seized the works after 30 minutes of vicious hand-to-hand fighting. Meanwhile, Upton’s division worked its way through a swamp and attacked the Confederate left. Wilson then led a mounted charge down the Selma road that was knocked back until he ordered his men to dismount and try again. This time the Confederate line broke.

Forrest tried making a final stand at the railroad depot, but by 7 p.m. he was outflanked and on the verge of being surrounded. The Confederates retreated across the Alabama River as night fell; many escaped by swimming across. Forrest, Taylor, and other top officers also got away. The Federals took 2,700 prisoners and captured 102 guns while losing just 359 men (46 killed, 300 wounded, and 13 missing).

The Federals quickly took charge of Selma and spent the next week destroying most of the military works, factories, mills, warehouses, buildings, and homes. This ensured that Selma would no longer contribute to the Confederate war effort. It also demonstrated that Federal forces could now control the interior of the Deep South.

With Selma in Federal hands, Wilson resumed his eastward raid by next targeting the first Confederate capital–Montgomery.

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References

Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 553-54; ExploreSouthernHistory.com: Battle of Selma; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 574-76; Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (New York: Da Capo Press, 1982 [original 1885, republication of 1952 edition]), p. 572; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 160; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 661-64; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 665-66, 834; Spearman, Charles M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 832-33; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 235

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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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21199-207; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 514-16, 521; 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 15816-46, 16079-89; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 540-42, 546-47; Kallmann, John D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 368-69; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 191; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 618-19, 622-24, 628; 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. 815; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 144; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 707

Hood’s Tennessee Campaign Begins

October 22, 1864 – General John Bell Hood led his Confederate Army of Tennessee out of Gadsden, Alabama, intending to move north and redeem both Tennessee and Kentucky for the Confederacy.

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

Hood planned to move 30 miles northwest to Guntersville on the Tennessee River. He would cross that waterway there and then push north. General P.G.T. Beauregard, commanding the Confederate Military Division of the West over Hood, allowed Hood to commandeer Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry for the campaign. But Forrest was at Jackson, Tennessee, and Hood did not wait for him to join the army before moving out.

The plan was quickly compromised when the Confederates found Guntersville too heavily defended by Federals to penetrate, and the Tennessee too high to cross there. Hood therefore redirected his army toward Decatur, 45 miles west.

Major General William T. Sherman, commanding the Federal forces that had pursued Hood into Alabama, thought that Hood was still at Gadsden. He had received permission to stop chasing Hood and instead march through Georgia to the Atlantic coast. Sherman left the job of dealing with Hood to Major General George H. Thomas, who commanded a portion of his Army of the Cumberland at Nashville.

Sherman notified Thomas that the Confederates might be trying to implement the plan that President Jefferson Davis had recently described in a public speech. He warned Thomas that Hood “may go on to perfect Davis’ plan for invading Tennessee and Kentucky to make me let go of Atlanta. I adhere to my former plan, provided always you can defend the line of the Tennessee. Decatur and Chattanooga must be held to the death.”

Believing that Beauregard had replaced Hood as Confederate army commander, Sherman explained that he would leave a force for Thomas to defend important Tennessee cities such as “Nashville, Murfreesborough, Pulaski, and Columbia.” Thomas was to remain on the defensive “unless you know that Beauregard follows me south. If Beauregard attempts Tennessee it will be from the direction of Decatur.”

Meanwhile, the Federal XV Corps under Major General Peter J. Osterhaus moved toward Gadsden to try learning Hood’s intentions. Skirmishing occurred on the 25th as the Confederates headed west, resulting in the capture of some prisoners. Osterhaus reported:

“The information received, however, from those who fell into our hands and from the citizens was not very definite in regard to General Hood’s movements. All agreed that his army had left Gadsden and moved in a western direction. The exact whereabouts could not be ascertained. Rumor placed them near the Tennessee River.”

Based on this vague information, Sherman informed Thomas that if Hood went to Guntersville, Sherman’s Federals will “be after it.” If Hood continued west toward Decatur, “I must leave it to you for the present and push for the heart of Georgia.” Thomas told Sherman that based on reports from Brigadier General Robert Granger, commanding the Federal District of Northern Alabama, “Hood’s army is threatening to cross the Tennessee River at various places between Guntersville and Decatur.”

On the 26th, Hood’s Confederates arrived outside Decatur and found it too heavily guarded to force a river crossing. Hood therefore redirected his men toward Courtland, another 20 miles west. General Richard Taylor, commanding the Confederate Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana in which Hood was operating, directed Forrest to join Hood’s army. Hood felt that being detoured to the west actually worked to his advantage because it brought him closer to joining forces with Forrest. However, Forrest was caught up in his own operations and was delayed in linking with Hood.

Hood arrived at Courtland the next day, where his engineers informed him that they did not have enough pontoons to span the river. This forced Hood to continue moving west to Tuscumbia, another 25 miles downriver, where he hoped to use a partially demolished railroad bridge to get his army across the Tennessee. The vital element of speed was lost, and the delays gave the Federals time to build defenses.

Beauregard met with Hood near Courtland. He expressed dismay that Hood had moved west without notifying him, and also that he had not yet crossed the river. Hood blamed Forrest for this, reporting, “As I had not a sufficient cavalry force without his to protect my trains in Tennessee, I was compelled to delay the crossing and move farther down the river to meet him.”

Still unaware of Hood’s exact intentions, Sherman led his Federals back toward Atlanta on the 28th. He notified Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck that he would prepare “to carry into effect my original plan” of marching to the sea. In the meantime, “I will await a few days to hear what head he (Hood) makes about Decatur, and may yet turn to Tennessee; but it would be a great pity to take a step backward. I think it would be better even to let him ravage the State of Tennessee, provided he does not gobble up too many of our troops.”

In another update, Sherman told Halleck that he was “pushing my preparations for the march through Georgia.” He then asked Halleck to send reinforcements to Thomas so Sherman’s Federals would not have to return to Tennessee. Sherman wrote, “I do not want to go back myself with the whole army, as that is what the enemy wants.” Privately, Sherman said of Hood, “Damn him! If he will go to the Ohio River, I’ll give him rations. Let him go north, my business is down south.”

Sherman continued preparing to march away from Hood as October ended. He dispatched IV and XXIII corps to reinforce Thomas, which he believed “would enable General Thomas to defend the railroad from Chattanooga back, including Nashville and Decatur, and give him an army with which he could successfully cope with Hood should the latter cross the Tennessee northward.” Sherman reorganized his remaining four corps into two wings:

  • XIV Corps under Major General Jefferson C. Davis and XX Corps under Major General Alpheus Williams, formerly part of the Army of the Cumberland, would now be the Army of Georgia, led by Major General Henry W. Slocum.
  • XV Corps under Osterhaus and XVII Corps under Major General Francis P. Blair, Jr., remained the Army of the Tennessee, led by Major General Oliver O. Howard.

Meanwhile, Hood’s Confederates continued having problems crossing the Tennessee due to high water and strong Federal defenses. They finally crossed at Tuscumbia and drove Federal cavalry out of Florence. Tuscumbia would be Hood’s headquarters and supply base for the Tennessee incursion. Hood then informed Beauregard that his men lacked food, shoes, and other necessities. This message shocked Beauregard, who thought that Hood would not have begun this campaign without first gathering the necessary supplies. He scrambled to establish a railroad supply line to Tuscumbia.

On the last day of October, Major General David S. Stanley, commanding the Federal IV Corps, received confirmation that the Confederates were crossing the Tennessee at Florence. Stanley’s troops were at Athens, 40 miles east of Hood. Stanley began moving his Federals to Pulaski, Tennessee, where he expected Hood to attack.

As Stanley’s men left, Granger received alarming (but false) reports that the Confederates were targeting Athens. Stanley gave Granger permission to abandon the garrison there if he felt threatened, and he did so. However, as Stanley later reported, “Athens was evacuated on false rumors. At 4 p.m., the same afternoon, by General R.S. Granger’s order, a very considerable amount of public property was destroyed, although no enemy had shown themselves between Elk River and the Tennessee.”

Not only was Hood poised to thrust into Tennessee, but Forrest’s Confederates were threatening vital Federal shipping on the Tennessee at Johnsonville. Sherman later wrote, “There is no doubt that the month of October closed to us looking decided squally; but, somehow, I was sustained in the belief that in a very few days the tide would turn.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21106; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 478-82; 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 12970-92; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 514-16; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 587, 590-91; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 20-34

Sherman Stops Pursuing Hood

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.

Gen J.B. Hood | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

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.”

Maj Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

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.

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References

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

Forrest Prepares for a New Raid

October 10, 1864 – Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederate cavalry troopers attacked Federal forces on the Tennessee River and prepared to launch a new raid on Federal supply transports in Tennessee.

Gen N.B. Forrest | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Last month, Forrest and his men had tried disrupting Federal supply lines along the Tennessee River in northern Alabama and southeastern Tennessee. This was part of the Confederate effort to starve Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals into abandoning Georgia. However, a lack of ammunition and supplies forced Forrest to cut his raid short.

Forrest’s troopers reunited to attack the Tennessee & Alabama Railroad near Spring Hill, Tennessee. The Confederates then turned back south, wrecking track, destroying bridges, and capturing numerous blockhouses built to stop them along the way. They drove a Federal force out of Columbia and then continued southwest to Lawrenceburg. On the 5th, they returned to their starting point at Florence, Alabama, before finally stopping at Corinth, Mississippi.

In 13 days, Forrest’s command had inflicted about 3,360 casualties (including 2,360 captured), destroyed miles of railroad track and many blockhouses and bridges, and captured 800 horses, seven guns, some 2,000 small arms, and 50 wagons filled with much-needed supplies. The damage done to the Tennessee & Alabama Railroad would require six weeks to repair. The troopers sustained just 340 casualties (47 killed and 293 wounded).

However, Forrest did not accomplish his main goal, which was to force Sherman out of Georgia. Consequently, General Richard Taylor, commanding the Confederate Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana, ordered Forrest to lead 3,500 men on another raid. The new target would be Johnsonville, on the Tennessee River. This marked the terminus of the Nashville & Northwestern Railroad, which Sherman’s Federals used extensively for supplies.

Meanwhile, the Federals sent an expedition up the Tennessee River to confront Forrest’s troopers. As Federal troops debarked their transports east of Corinth at Eastport, Forrest’s men used shore batteries to attack the squadron. The Confederates disabled the transports Aurora and Kenton, sending them drifting downriver. The gunboat Undine went after the disabled transports, while the gunboat Key West covered the troops as they crowded aboard the remaining transport, the City of Peking.

Forrest’s new raid began on the 19th, when his command left Corinth and headed northwest toward Jackson, Tennessee. Nine days later, the Confederates turned northeast, crossed the Big Sandy River, and arrived at Paris Landing on the Tennessee, about 30 miles north of Johnsonville near the Kentucky state line. The troopers quickly began obstructing the river to stop Federal traffic around Forts Heiman and Henry.

After setting up artillery on either end of a five-mile length of riverbank, the Confederates captured the transport Mazeppa, which carried a load of 9,000 pairs of shoes. The Confederates then attacked the gunboat Undine and the transports Venus and Cheeseman. They captured all these vessels as well, giving Forrest a makeshift “navy” with which to attack Johnsonville in early November.

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References

Brooksher, William R. and Snider, David K., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 399; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 465, 470, 473, 477, 481-82; 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 12573-619, 12982-3002; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 504, 506, 508, 511, 515-16; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 577-78, 582, 585-86, 590-91

Jefferson Davis Travels South

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.”

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

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.

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References

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

Forrest Captures Athens

September 24, 1864 – Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederate cavalry force raided Federal supply lines, including a vital depot in northern Alabama.

Gen Nathan Bedford Forrest | Image Credit: Flickr.com

After raiding Memphis in August, Forrest’s troopers went to join Confederates against a possible Federal attack at Mobile. When the Federals did not attack, Forrest led his force to northern Alabama and met with Lieutenant General Richard Taylor, the new commander of the Confederate Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana. It was agreed that Forrest should raid Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal supply lines in Middle Tennessee.

Forrest’s main objective was the Tennessee & Alabama Railroad, which linked to the Memphis & Charleston Railroad and fed Sherman’s Federals at Atlanta. The main depot at Athens, Alabama, was guarded by a 600-man garrison of mostly black troops. Forrest’s 3,500 Confederates crossed the Tennessee River at Florence, Alabama, and rode east toward Athens, 40 miles away.

The troopers arrived outside the town on the night of the 23rd. The next day, they opened fire on the Federals with eight guns, and Forrest sent a messenger under a flag of truce to demand an “immediate and unconditional surrender.” If the Federals accepted, the “white soldiers,” Forrest wrote, “shall be treated as prisoners of war and the negroes returned to their masters.”

The Federal commander refused. However, when he agreed to meet Forrest in person, he was shown a list of Confederate personnel that made it seem like Forrest had a force three times its actual size. Unaware of the ruse, the Federals promptly surrendered. Forrest netted 1,300 prisoners, 300 horses, two guns, two locomotives, and many supplies. They destroyed anything considered useful to the enemy.

The Confederates moved north along the railroad and attacked a Federal garrison defending the Sulphur Branch Trestle, which was 72 feet high and 300 feet long with a blockhouse on each end. The Federals initially refused to surrender but relented after being bombarded with about 800 rounds of artillery. Forrest took 973 prisoners, 300 horses, two more guns, and more supplies. His men destroyed the blockhouses and the trestle.

Forrest’s command reached the Elk River, between Athens and Pulaski, Tennessee, on the 26th. The troopers destroyed a railroad bridge and continued to Richland Creek, where they wrecked a 200-foot bridge. Most Federals in their way either fled or surrendered. But despite this success, Forrest’s ammunition was running low and his force was dwindling because he had to detach units to guard the growing number of prisoners.

Moreover, Sherman had dispatched two divisions from Atlanta under Major General George H. Thomas to hunt Forrest down. Thomas would soon be reinforced by troops from Memphis and Chattanooga, and Major General Andrew J. Smith’s Federals were on the way from Missouri as well. Sherman instructed Thomas that “the whole resources” of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama must be “turned against Forrest… until he is disposed of.”

By the 27th, advance elements of these converging Federals under Brigadier General Lovell Rousseau were at Pulaski awaiting Forrest’s approach. Thomas wrote Rousseau, “Press Forrest to the death, keeping your troops well in hand and holding them to the work. I do not think that we shall ever have a better chance than this.”

As Forrest approached Pulaski, he informed Taylor, “Enemy concentrating heavily against me.” Forrest later reported:

“Six miles from Pulaski the enemy attacked my advance force and compelled them to fall back… The resistance of the enemy was most obstinate. He contested every inch of ground and grew more stubborn the nearer we approached town, but my troops drove them steadily back.

“Three miles from Pulaski he made a stand with seeming determination to yield no more ground… The engagement was becoming a general one. The enemy threw his right around for the purpose of making an enfilading fire upon my troops who had pushed far into his center.

“About this time my troops on the left advanced, and the artillery in that direction unexpectedly opened a destructive fire, which caused the enemy to make a hasty retreat. He was closely followed up and driven into town and into his fortifications.”

The Confederates finally reached Pulaski after a seven-hour fight, but the strong Federal defenses prompted Forrest to withhold an attack. The troopers instead headed north to wreck more railroad track between Pulaski and Columbia before turning to attack the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad, 50 miles east. Forrest ended the month by skirmishing at Lynchburg and sending a detachment to wreck track at Tullahoma.

Forrest’s troopers had wreaked much havoc in northern Alabama and Tennessee, but dwindling manpower and ammunition meant that the raid would not last as long as Forrest had hoped.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 459, 461, 464; 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 12511-83; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 494-95, 497, 499-501; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 567, 569-70, 574-76