October 21, 1864 (Friday)
General P.G.T. Beauregard had been looking for John Bell Hood and his army – finally locating them at Gadsden, Alabama, and riding to meet with him on this date. Arriving at 11am, the two generals discussed the potential campaign. Hood was completely certain that falling upon the Federal lines of supply running from Nashville to Atlanta would compel all or part of Sherman’s army to vacate Atlanta and follow him into middle Tennessee.
At least, that’s how it was presented to Beauregard. Hood had otherwise expressed a desire to see Sherman continue on through Georgia to the sea, while his own Rebel army destroyed everything Federal in Tennessee. Beauregard, however, was unconvinced that Hood could pull it off. When he looked over Hood’s short career as an army commander, Beauregard was little impressed with what he saw.
Nevertheless, he acquiesced. This was probably a good thing as Hood had already set his plan in motion. The only real problem was the lack of a supply line. Beauregard had spent the better part of the month trying to figure out how to move the supply base from Atlanta to Jacksonville. Now, if Hood were to move north, he would have to change it yet again. There were two railroads leading from the south to the north, and Hood insisted that both were in good condition.
The two generals delved into the smaller details of river crossings and how to deal with the Union gunboats, as their talks lingered long past sunset. According to Beauregard’s personal biographer, he agreed to the plan only because President Davis “did not intend that he should supersede General Hood in the command of the Army of Tennessee, and that he [Davis] would neither approve nor support his course if he should do so.”
Hood’s accounting of the meeting added a few more details. Beauregard, wrote Hood, though it “necessary to leave in Georgia all the cavalry at present with the Army, in order to watch and harass Sherman in case he moved south.” Hood was to call upon Nathan Bedford Forrest instead. Hood agreed, and Beauregard left the meeting to parlay with the army’s corps commanders separate from Hood.
The results from that meeting – according to Beauregard as retold by Hood – was “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.”
And so it was with seemingly short notice that Hood ordered three weeks’ worth of rations distributed to the troops. Marching orders were swiftly give, as if they were already prepared (they were), and by dawn the next morning, the lead elements of Hood’s Army of Tennessee were tramping toward the Tennessee River.
In the meanwhile, General Sherman was in Gaylesville, where he would remain for a week as Hood slipped north. He would slightly reorganize his army and deliver a new cavalry commander to his cavaliers.
“At Gaylesville,” wrote Sherman in his memoirs, “the pursuit of Hood by the army under my immediate command may be said to have ceased.” Sherman would not know of Hood’s movements until the 26th. It would not be until then when he would make his final decision about what to do in Georgia.