October 31, 1864 (Monday)
While John Bell Hood and his army crossed the Tennessee River from Tuscumbia over into Florence, William Tecumseh Sherman was making plans to storm across the state of Georgia, making sure to leave enough force to deal with Hood.
To make this happen, Sherman detached the Fourth Corps, under David Stanley, ordering it to Chattanooga. Four days later, on the 30th, he did the same with General John Schofield’s Twenty-third Corps, giving Thomas over-all command of both.
This left Sherman with four corps, and a new moniker. Previous, Sherman had commanded three armies, that of “the Tennessee,” “the Cumberland,” and “the Ohio.” Now, with merely four corps, he would designate his new force the Army of Georgia. Thomas’ force never had an official name, though since Thomas was at the helm and it was in the Department of the Cumberland, it could easily have been christened the Army of the Cumberland.
While Sherman’s force now consisted of the:
- Fourteenth Corps, commanded by Jefferson C. Davis – formerly of the Army of the Cumberland
- Fifteenth Corps, commanded by Peter Osterhaus – formerly of the Army of the Tennessee
- Seventeenth Corps, commanded by Frank Blair, Jr. – formerly of the Army of the Tennessee
- Twentieth Corps, commanded by Alpheus Williams – formerly of the Army of the Cumberland
Thomas’ command was still scattered, coming to him via Sherman, spread out across southern Tennessee and northern Alabama, as well as marching from Missouri. Nevertheless, Sherman judged that these forces “would enable General Thomas to defend the railroad from Chattanooga back, including Nashville and Decatur, and give him an army with which he could successfully cope with Hood should the latter cross the Tennessee northward.”
The bulk of Sherman’s army was in Gaylesville, Alabama, and would not move from that spot until he was ready to march to the sea. Thomas’, on the other hand, was already coping with Hood.
On the 26th of October, Hood’s force appeared before Decatur, Alabama with the intentions to cross the Tennessee River. This was held by Robert Granger, who was reinforced with but two regiments. All for naught, however, as by the dawn of the 28th, the Rebels were gone. A portion of Granger’s command followed, rounding up stragglers.
Thomas also had cavalry picketing the south bank of the Tennessee from Decatur to Tuscumbia, under John Croxton, which gave him early warning that Hood was trying to cross at the former, which the enemy appeared before on the 30th. This cavalry did their best to halt the crossing, and Thomas hurried reinforcements to the tune of Edward Hatch’s division of cavalry.
The plan was simple. They were to “keep the enemy from crossing to the north side of the river until the Fourth Corps, already on its way from General Sherman in Georgia, could arrive and get into position to meet him.”
The Fourth Corps, with David Stanley at the head, was ordered to march to Stevenson, Alabama, 120 miles east of Hood’s crossing at Florance. Of course, when the order was given (on the 29th), nobody had a clue that Hood would move that far west. As soon as Thomas discovered Hood’s machinations, he changed the Fourth Corps’ destination to Athens, more than halfway to Florence.
The corps arrived in Athens, forty miles west of Hood’s crossing into Florence, on the morning of this date. “Here were first knew definitely that the enemy had crossed at Florence,” wrote Stanley in his report, “by a copy of a dispatch from General Croxton, forwarded me by General Granger.”
By noon, Thomas’ dispatches had caught up with them, and Stanley received orders to march thirty miles north to Pulaski, Tennessee, and to “prepare to defend that place.” But Stanley’s corps was strung out as well. They had used the railroad to transport the artillery, and it had yet to arrive. All he had with him at this point was a division, which, by 2pm, was on the road to Pulaski.
As he was leaving, General Granger sent a message that Hood’s troops were gathering also at Brown’s Ferry, about ten miles southwest of Athens, and seemed likely to cross. “As I was leaving Athens,” wrote Stanley, “and could give no assistance, I advised him that if the enemy did cross an infantry force at Brown’s Ferry, Athens should be evacuated, as the garrison would be liable to capture.”
General Granger was understandibly frazzled. For the past month, he had been battling Rebels both real and imagined all along the Tennessee. As Hood marched, rumors of Hood’s marching traveled far before him. Sussing out the difference between fact and fiction was no easy task, and by the end of October, Granger was spent.
While Granger neglected to mention any of this in his report, Stanley made sure to bring it up in his own: “Athens was evacuated on false rumors. At 4pm, the same afternoon, by General R.S. Granger’s order, a very considerable amount of public property was destroyed, although no enemy had shown themselves between Elk River and the Tennessee.”
As for Schofield’s Twenty-third Corps, which had been ordered to march north to Tennessee, by this date, it was leaving Rome. From there, they would simply march north to Chattanooga, which they would reach in about a week.
In the meantime, Sherman would continue to prepare his force, while keeping and eye on Tennessee. In his memoirs, he relates one morsel about this date: “On the 31st of October [Nathan Bedford] Forrest made his appearance on the Tennessee River opposite Johnsonville (when a new railroad led to Nashville), and with this cavalry and field-pieces actually crippled and captured two gunboats with five of our transports, a feat of arms which, I confess, excited my admiration.”
Sherman concludes this section, summing up the past few weeks: “There is no doubt that the month of October closed to us looking decided squally; but, somehow, I was sustained in the belief that in a ver few days the tide would turn.”1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 39, Part 1, p583, 589, 699-700, 907-908; Memoirs by William Tecumseh Sherman; Military Reminiscences by Jacob Cox. [↩]