‘Barefooted and Naked’ – Hood’s Men in No Shape for Sherman

January 10, 1865 (Thursday)

John Bell Hood
John Bell Hood

What remained of John Bell Hood’s Army of Tennessee on this date while either encamped around Tupelo, Mississippi or marching toward it. While en route, they had been joined by General Richard Taylor, who saw for himself the wretched condition of things. “The army needs rest, consolidation, and reorganization,” he wrote to President Davis on the day previous. “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.”

While much of the cavalry, under Nathan Bedford Forrest, had been given leave by their commander, the infantry remained. And it was the infantry that P.G.T. Beauregard needed in Charleston, South Carolina to defend against Sherman’s obviously-coming jab northward from Savannah. “President orders that whatever troops you can spare be sent forthwith to General Hardee’s assistance,” came the message from Beauregard on that same day.

But even Taylor’s assessment of the army’s conditions could not paint so accurate a picture. For this, all one had to do was look at the troops already encamped around Tupelo. E.T. Freeman was acting inspector-general under General Samuel French, one of Hood’s corps commanders.

“We expect to go into winder quarters somewhere near here in a few days,” began Freeman. “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.”

Though Richmond certainly wished for Hood to send however many troops he could, nobody seemed to be counting on it. General D.H. Hill had been sent to Hood’s army to command wherever he was needed in the light of Hood losing so many officers. But when he arrived in Montgomery, Alabama, he was turned instead toward Charleston, ordered to report to General William Hardee. Hood was more or less being forsaken.

The focus now was upon the line of defense in South Carolina, commanded by Hardee. From Charleston, Hardee had written to President Davis on the 8th to explain his plan. He was fortifying a line along the Combahee River, throwing Lafayette McLaws’ troops well beyond it. When they retreated, they would then occupy the works. This would slow Sherman down.

Much of the effort was in and around Charleston itself, holding to the belief that this was Sherman’s next stop. James and Sullivan’s Islands were both defended, though their troops were more of the garrison variety. “Of the force above mentioned,” wrote Hardee, “McLaws’ is the only command I regard as movable. The remainder is needed for the defense of Charleston. I am acting on the defensive, and unless heavily re-enforced must continue to do so.”

William Hardee
William Hardee

Hardee wanted 15,000 more men if Sherman should approach Charleston as he did Savannah. “If this force cannot be furnished, 5,000 regular troops will still be required for the present defensive line.” These troops, it now seemed, could not come from Hood.

“I have no reason to expect re-enforcements form Georgia other than Maj. Gen. G.W. Smith’s force of militia, now at Augusta, which is rapidly diminishing by desertion, and numbers less than 1,500 muskets. I have no information whatever from Hood, and have no reason to expect re-enforcements from that quarter.”

In all, Hardee had 3,500 regular infantry, 3,000 reserves, 1,100 militia, 6,100 cavalrymen, and around 5,000 garrison troops. Of all these, the cavalry, under Jo Wheeler, was the most promising. “It is a well organized and efficient body, “Hardee continued. “The reports of its disorganization and demoralization are without foundation, and the depredations ascribed to his command can general be traced to bands of marauders claiming to belong to it.”

“Your plan seems to me judicious and I hope may, with Divine favor, prove successful,” wrote Davis shortly following. Davis was still under the mistaken impression that Hood would “make every exertion to re-enforce you from that army as rapidly as possible.” But he also cautioned Hardee that he “must use all means to obtain men from Georgia, either reserves, militia, or recruits.”

With Sherman’s 60,000 men now simmering in Savannah, just how Hardee would have time and resources to gather force enough to stop the Federals was a guess left, as Davis implied, to Divine favor.1

  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 45, Part 2, p772, 774-775; Vol. 47, Part 2, p1000m 1002-1003; In the Lion’s Mouth by Derek Smith. []


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