Davis and Some Political Shuffling for the Battlefield

September 28, 1864 (Thursday)

And John Bell Hood for the win!
And John Bell Hood for the win!

For Jefferson Davis, this was an important decision. John Bell Hood had done little more than retreat into and then out of Atlanta. But, he followed Joe Johnston who retreated all the way from Tennessee. Many of the officers and troops who were along for both retreats wished for Hood to be replaced by Johnston. However, it had been Davis who had dismissed Johnston and to reinstate him would mean admitting he was to blame. And so, while the decision was important, it was also easy. Hood would remain and Davis would be blameless.

This, of course, meant losing William Hardee, an incredibly able general who refused to work under Hood a moment longer. There were a few other changes to be made, as well, but while touring parts of Hood’s department in Alabama, Davis gave Hood the news.

“Relieve Lieutenant-General Hardee from duty with the Army of Tennessee,” read Davis’ short message, “and direct him to proceed at once to Charleston, S.C., and assume command of the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.”

To retain Hood didn’t simply mean that Hood would continue retreating. The army commander had told Davis much about a proposed plan to march north of Atlanta and nearly to Tennessee. He hoped that Sherman would be then forced to detach some amount of troops to deal with Hood’s bold move. He would defeat the Federal detachment and then “regain our lost territory, reinspirit the troops, and bring hope again to the hearts of our people.”

A vote for Hood was a vote for this glorified raid. But Davis wasn’t finished shuffling officers around. Hardee would be replacing P.G.T. Beauregard, who would soon be coming back west. Before he even left Richmond to deal with the Hood dilemma, Davis asked General Lee to talk Beauregard into the new position. At first, Davis was only considering Beauregard as a replacement for Hood in the field.

Fairly approximate map.
Fairly approximate map.

To the field command, Beauregard questioned whether he was “equal to the present emergency,” but agreed to do it if Davis really wanted him to. In the end, Lee basically agreed that there was nobody else available and the Beauregard was what they had to work with.

The final decision was a bit of political wrangling that would make everyone come out smelling of roses. Hood was to keep his job. Beauregard was to head up the new mega-department called The Military Division of the West, which encompassed pretty well everything in the West. Even William Hardee got a promotion. Joe Johnston, however, was still in a state of semi-retirement, living with his wife in Macon, Georgia. But then, Davis didn’t care much at all what Johnston or his friends thought. He even gave a speech defending his decision to sack Johnston while passing through Macon. Jefferson Davis was not even a little subtle.

Though it would take Beauregard several days to learn of his new promotion, he was mainly a figurehead – overseeing two already-established and fairly functional departments. He was barred by Davis even from taking command of troops unless it was a dire emergency.

As for General Hood, as soon as he learned he was still in command, he issued orders for the next move. The following morning, his Army of Tennessee was to cross the Chattahoochee and Pumpkin Town and Phillip’s Ferry to begin their march around the western side of Atlanta.1

  1. Sources:Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 39, Part 2, p 846, 879-880; Advance and Retreat by John Bell Hood; P.G.T. Beauregard by T. Harry Williams; Autumn of Glory by Tomas Lawrence Connelly; Joseph E. Johnston by Craig L. Symonds. []
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Davis and Some Political Shuffling for the Battlefield by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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