October 30, 1864 (Sunday)
John Bell Hood and his army weren’t exactly missing, but department commander P.G.T. Beauregard seemed more than a little worried that they soon might become so. The Army of Tennessee under Hood had a short history of wayward movements, especially since the fall of Atlanta. Hood had made plans, changed his mind, made plans again, changed his mind again, and then finally made some more plans. Most of this happened without the foreknowledge of Beauregard, who, upon this date, appeared to be nipping it in the bud.
Beauregard sent a telegram to Tuscumbia, Alabama, where Hood was now bound. Originally, Hood wished to cross the Tennessee River at Dacatur, but met with stiff resistance, begged off, and changed plans still again, moving northwest and downstream to Tuscumbia, which he entered on this date. As he drew near, he received said telegram:
“General Beauregard desires that you will forward him, for the information of the War Department, a brief summary of the operations of your army from the date of its departure from Jonesboro, Ga.[September 28th], to the present time; also a concise statement of your plans of future operations, intendeed for the same office.”
Hood’s official report of the campaign thus far was important, of course, but not nearly as much as a reiteration of his plans for the future. Beauregard had met with Hood on the 21st, and they discussed all such plans. Since then, however, much had changed yet again.
The original new plan was for Hood to cross the Tennessee at Guntersville. And it was to Guntersville that Beauregard rode on the 24th. He got most of the way there, when he learned through some means that Hood and hooked left and made for Decatur, fifty miles down the river. With a likely sigh and exasperated shake of the head, Beauregard turned too, catching up with the army on the 27th at Decatur.
Once there, Beauregard warned Hood about following order (or at least trying to do what he said he was going to do). He also worried that Hood had already gone too far west to effectively cross the Tennessee. Such a distance might give Sherman’s Union forces time to cut them off.
But Hood wasn’t so sure. He knew that Gunterstown had been heavily fortified, but believed Decatur to be easy pickings. In this, he was mistaken, though Beauregard maintained that Hood could have taken the town and the crossing if he would have simply tried. But even by the afternoon of the 28th, the place was too well-held to cross.
Scouts had paced the river and reported back that the only safe crossing was in the town of Courtland, twenty more miles down stream. And so, the Army of Tennessee stepped off again, its plans changed anew. But when they neared Courtland, new reports surfaced that the nearby crossing was also barred.
All of this took time, and they were now six days behind schedule. Time, for such a force as Hood’s, require provisions, and those provisions were beginning to lack. Taking Beauregard aside, Hood informed him that there might not be enough food and supplies to get his army to middle Tennessee. The troops were without shoes, tents and other fineries, and Hood began to doubt the sense of making any crossing at all.
According to Hood’s own account, it was not the barred crossings that held him back, but Nathan Bedford Forrest. Or, rather, the inability of a message to reach Forrest in time. Hood wished to move north with the famed cavalry commander, and sent him a message to that effect. But the note did not reach him in time.
“As I had not a sufficient cavalry force without his to protect my trains in Tennessee,” wrote Hood in his report, “I was compelled to delay the crossing and move farther down the river to meet him.”
In his memoirs, Hood mentioned nothing at all about the delay or Forrest, making it seem like the down-stream movement was all part of the larger plan. The lack of supplies, he blamed on Beauregard, who, in turn, blamed Hood.
In truth, the southern railroads were in very poor shape. Beauregard had ordered them repaired so that supplies could be carried north, but this was a tall order. As for Hood, believing his scouts, he always thought them to be in working order.
Nevertheless, it was Tuscumbia where they would cross. And on this date, he threw over a portion of S.D. Lee’s corps. Lee, in his official report, described the ordeal:
On the night of the 29th I received orders to cross the Tennessee River at Florence, Ala. By means of pontoon boats two brigades of Johnson’s division were thrown across the river two miles and a half above South Florence, and Gibson’s brigade, of Clayton’s division, was crossed at South Florence.
The enemy occupied Florence with about 1,000 cavalry, and had a strong picket at the old railroad bridge. The crossing at this point was handsomely executed and with much spirit by Gibson with his brigade of Louisianians, under the direction of Major-General Clayton, under cover of several batteries of artillery.
The distance across the river was about 1,000 yards. The troops landed, and, after forming, charged the enemy and drove him from Florence. The crossing was spirited and reflected much credit on all engaged in it. Maj. Gen. Ed. Johnson experienced considerable trouble in crossing his two brigades because of the extreme difficulty of managing the boats in the shoals. He moved from the north bank of the river late in the evening with one brigade (Sharp’s, Mississippi), and encountered the enemy on the Florence and Huntsville road about dark.
A spirited affair took place, in which the enemy were defeated, with a loss of about 40 killed, wounded, and prisoners. The enemy retreated during the. night to Shoal Creek, about nine miles distant. The remainder of Johnson’s and Clayton’s divisions were crossed on the. night of the 30th and on the morning of the 31st.
Over the next day or so, Hood would cross the rest of his army.1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 39, Part 1, p799-800, 802-803, 808, 811; Part 3, p867, 870; Advance and Retreat by John Bell Hood; The Military Operations of General Beauregard by Alfred Roman; The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah by Wiley Sword. [↩]