Did Hood Ever Intend to Fight Sherman?

October 10, 1864 (Monday)

John Bell Hood’s Army of Tennessee was in fine spirits. Though there had been a setback at Allatoona a few days previous, they had been tearing up General Sherman’s railroad north of Atlanta, gutting at least twenty-five miles of it before the Federals shooed them away. For the Southerners, it was nice to give Sherman a helping of his own medicine.

John Bell Hood
John Bell Hood

It had, more than anything, the appearance of a raid. So when Hood had to pull back thirty miles to Cedartown in order to avoid Sherman’s sword, morale hardly dipped – it was all just part of the raid.

But when Hood set out upon this new campaign, the plan wasn’t just to destroy track and Federal supplies. It was to move north of Atlanta and offer Sherman battle on ground that Hood had chosen for such a brawl. He would defeat Sherman and reclaim everything lost by the army over the past year.

Even on this date, Hood’s mind was pointed very much in this direction. “The improvement in morale of the troops was already apparent,” he wrote in his memoirs, “and desertions, so frequent at Palmetto, had altogether ceased. I, therefore, indulged a not unreasonable hope very soon to deal the enemy a hard and staggering blow.”

Though he was still looking to give battle, the campaign’s raid-like appearance wasn’t accidental. When he moved away from the railroad, he effectively abandoned the details of his original plan, approved by Jefferson Davis, to give battle along the railroad. Provisionally, if that were not possible, Hood was to move not to just Cedarville, but to Gadsden, Alabama and draw Sherman there.

Hood reached Cedarville, en route to Gadsden, on the 8th, informing Richmond that he had refused to give battle along the railroad north of Atlanta. By Hood’s account, it was because his raid had been so successful that he called off the battle.

“In truth, the effect of our operations so far surpassed my expectations that I was induced to somewhat change my original plan to draw Sherman to the Alabama line and give battle. I accordingly decided to move further north and again strike his railroad between Resaca and Tunnel Hill, throughly destroy it, and then move in the direction of the Tennessee, via Lafayette and Gadsden, with no intent, however, to cross the [Tennessee] river, at Bridgeport, that Sherman would be compelled still further to detach and divide his forces, whilst at the same time he continued his march northward.”

In his memoirs, Hood continued this thought, saying: “I intended then to entice him as near the Tennessee line as possible, before offering battle.” But in his message to Richmond, there was absolutely no mention at all of coaxing Sherman into a battle. Hood understood that once more falling upon Sherman’s lines of communication would either force the Federals to continue north and abandon Atlanta or move south into Georgia. Hood had a plan for both possibilities, but neither involved a fight.

Today's approximate map.
Today’s approximate map. Click to enlarge.

If Sherman abandoned Atlanta and coiled back toward Tennessee, “I shall move on his rear.” But if Sherman moved south into Georgia, “I shall move to the Tennessee River via La Fayette and Gadsden.” And so, in Hood’s mind, it really had become a raid. He would tear up track and generally annoy Sherman while having no plans to give battle.

Perhaps Hood’s post-war deception actually originated on October 9th when he finally met with P.G.T. Beauregard near Cedartown. Beauregard had been given command of the department, but was just now sussing it all out. He, like Braxton Bragg in Richmond, had next to no idea what Hood was actually trying to accomplish. All believed that he would somehow draw Sherman out and defeat him. Just how he planned to this was up to Hood.

Even so, when they met, Hood made no mention of moving toward the Tennessee River, even though he told Richmond all about it the day before. Instead, he told Beauregard that he would more or less shadow Sherman while operating out of the Gadsden area and falling upon his supply lines at will. If Sherman moved north, Hood vowed to give him battle. If he moved south, Hood would follow him to the gates of Atlanta.

The meeting did not set well with Beauregard, but there was little he felt he could do. While he was the new department commander, he would not officially assume the role until October 17th. Until then, he had no authority over Hood, and could only advise him.

And advise him, he did. Though Beauregard admitted that he was not “sufficiently well acquainted with the nature of the country,” he advised Hood “not to carry out the first project” unless he could give battle before Sherman was concentrated. Hood agreed, though by this point, every idea seemed to be agreeable to Hood. Both Beauregard and Hood were firm on the idea that no battle should be given “unless with positive advantage on our side of numbers and position, or unless the safety of the army required it.”

Hood’s supply depot was now based out of Jacksonville, Alabama, and this is where Beauregard would make his headquarters, and work out the logistics of feeding Hood’s 35,000 troops. On this date, Hood, as he and Beauregard had discussed, began his move northward toward Resaca and Dalton along Sherman’s line of supply.

General Sherman was not blind to Hood’s movements. On this date, the Rebel vanguard appeared across from Rome on the Etowah River. Others appeared near Coosaville. This news made Sherman order all of his pursuing troops from Cartersville to Kingston, fifteen miles east of Rome.

But Sherman, due to the word of scouts, believed Hood to be headed west, not north. With that in mind, Sherman wished to leave Hood in the hands of General George Thomas, operating out of Chattanooga. Once Thomas was reinforced by troops from Tennessee, he would be more than a match for Hood. This would free up Sherman, who wished more than anything to march across Georgia. Chasing Hood through the hills above Atlanta was not how he wanted to spend his autumn.

For the time being, however, Hood was still all Sherman’s, and he would try to resist the urge to leave Hood to Thomas. But come the next day, even Sherman’s scouts would lose track of the Confederate army, thought moving west into Alabama, but actually moving north to the scantily-defended depots at Resaca and Dalton.1

  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 39, Part 1, p795-796, 801-802; Part 3, p804-805; Advance and Retreat by John Bell Hood; Memoirs by William Tecumseh Sherman; Autumn of Glory by Thomas Lawrence Connelly; The Chessboard of War by Anne J. Bailey; The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah by Wiley Sword. []
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Did Hood Ever Intend to Fight Sherman? by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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