September 26, 1864 (Monday)
Things were not going well for John Bell Hood. After taking the reigns of the Confederate Army of Tennessee from Joe Johnston after being sacked by Jefferson Davis, he continually dropped back, retreating through northern Georgia to Atlanta. Not too long after, Hood abandoned Atlanta and retired even farther south.
This relative lull following the retreat gave Hood time to reflect upon just which of his generals he wished to be removed. The choice was simple – since he had never liked William Hardee, it was William Hardee who must be relocated. While Hardee was grumpy that Hood had been promoted over his head, Hood blamed not only the loss of Atlanta on Hardee, but also the defeats at Peachtree Creek and Jonesboro.
Into this quagmire rode Jefferson Davis, called from Richmond by a few of Hood’s officers who were greatly worried about the army’s morale. Davis understood that he might, yet again, have to decide upon a replacement general to helm the western army. Since Johnston had been the last out, he was clearly not the choice – besides, Davis had personally seen to his dismissal, and it would seem too much like an admission of guilt.
Davis arrived at Hood’s headquarters in Palmetto on the 25th and would settle in with the army for three days. According to Hood, on the morning of this date, “we rode forth together to the front, with the object of making an informal review of the troops. Some brigades received the President with enthusiasm; others were seemingly dissatisfied, and inclined to cry out, ‘give us General Johnston.’ 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 forty-six days, whereas they had previously retreated one hundred miles within sixty-six days.”
But William Hardee had also caught the President’s ear, telling him a much different history of the past 100 days. It was Hood who had urged Johnston to retreat again and again. He insisted that Hood be replaced, and suggested Johnston, probably knowing that Davis wasn’t going to bite. In the search for who would be the least-worst general, Davis’ mind had made an exasperated turn back to P.G.T. Beauregard. Hardee didn’t disagree. Mostly, however, Hardee wanted either himself or Hood gone from the army. It was not big enough for the both of them.
Through all of this, Hood wanted to actually do something with the army. Hood maintained 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.”
But Hood believed that a move to the Alabama line would actually force Sherman to leave Atlanta, causing him to divide his army, sending a portion back to Tennessee. Nearly certain that his enemy would do as he wanted, he was just a certain that he could destroy the portion sent back to protect Tennessee. Once vanquished, he would “regain our lost territory, reinspirit the troops, and bring hope again to the hearts of our people.”
An offensive, Hood continued, was just what the army need to improve morale. As it now stood the army “was totally unfit for pitched battle,” and his new plan “offered the sole chance to avert disaster.”
Davis would consider this, leaving in the meantime to visit other portions of Hood’s department. There was much to decide. Would it be Hardee and Beauregard? Hood minus Hardee? Or some other unthought of combination? Did he only chance of truly averting disaster really lie in a glorified raid into Tennessee? It would take Davis less than two days to come to a conclusion – not because the decision was so important, but because his choices were so few.