October 20, 1864 (Thursday)
“I shall pursue him as far as Gaylesville,” wrote William Tecumseh Sherman of John Bell Hood and his Confederate army. “The enemy will not venture toward Tennessee except around by Decatur.” Hood’s strange raid upon Sherman’s supply lines had more or less crested, with the Rebels marching south, leaving Sherman somewhat confused as to what just happened.
This was merely a distraction to the Union commander, who wanted nothing more than to abandon Atlanta and march across Georgia to the sea. “I propose to send the Fourth Corps back to General Thomas [in Chattanooga], and leave him, with that corps, the garrisons, and new troops, to defend the line of the Tennessee River; and with the rest I will push into the heart of Georgia and come out at Savannah, destroying all the railroads of the State.”
In another letter, drafted that same day, Sherman admitted, “Hood will escape me. I want to prepare for my big raid. On the 1st of November I want nothing in Atlanta but what is necessary for war. Send all trash to the rear at once, and have on hand thirty days’ food and but little forage. I propose to abandon Atlanta, and the railroad back to Chattanooga, to sally forth to ruin Georgia and bring up on the seashore.”
Whatever Hood was doing was of no concern at all to Sherman. But what Hood was doing was something that not even Richmond had expected. On the 19th, the same day that Sherman penned the above letters, P.G.T. Beauregard was in Blue Pond, Alabama searching for Hood’s army. It apparently hadn’t occurred to Hood to let his department commander know that he was actually twenty-five miles southwest in Gadsden, Georgia.
Beauregard was searching for Hood so that they might be on the same page concerning the next move for the army. But Hood had already made up his mind.
“I will move tomorrow for Guntersville on the Tennessee,” he wrote to General Richard Taylor in Mobile, before asking him for supplies. The day before (the 19th), Hood informed Richmond of his proposed move. Beauregard was still not let in on the secret.
Hood’s general plan was later outlined in his memoirs, though just how detailed it was at the time is anybody’s guess. It was certainly not as thought out as early as he claimed it to be in his post-war writings. Nevertheless, Hood called for his force to “cross the Tennessee at or near Guntersville, and again destroy Sherman’s communications, at Stevenson and Bridgeport; to move upon Thomas as Schofield, and attempt to rout and capture their Army before it could reach Nashville.”
Once Thomas’ army was dealt with, Hood planned to move upon Nashville and bolster his numbers with the men from Tennessee who had not yet joined the Rebellion. With these extra numbers, he would then cross the Cumberland River and “move into Kentucky, and take position with our left at or near Richmond, and our right extending toward Hazelgreen, with Pound and Stoney Gaps, in the Cumberland Mountains, at our rear.” This would, he believed, not only threaten Cincinnati, but also pull new recruits from Kentucky.
Just as Sherman wanted to make for the sea, Hood seemed fine with that idea – even wishing and hoping for it. He felt that once Sherman’s army arrived in Savannah, and after Hood occupied Kentucky, Sherman “would be forced to go on board ship, and, after a long detour by water and land, repair to the defense of Kentucky and Ohio.”
Hood thought even farther ahead. If Sherman, instead, began to march north to reinforce Grant, Hood’s own troops could march to reinforce Lee (having already wiped out the Yankees in the West). He figured that he “could pass through the Cumberland gaps to Petersburg, and attack Grant in rear, at least two weeks before he, Sherman, could rend him [Grant] assistance. This move, I believed, would defeat Grant, and allow General Lee, in command of our combined Armies, to march upon Washington or turn upon and annihilate Sherman.”
At least, this is how Hood recalled it after the war. For the time being, all he was saying to anyone was that he was about to march into Tennessee. And the following day, Beauregard would finally catch up with his underling.1
- Sources: Memoirs by William Tecumseh Sherman; Advance and Retreat by John Bell Hood; The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah by Wiley Sword; The Army of Tennessee by Stanley Horn; Autumn of Glory by Thomas Lawrence Connelly. [↩]