November 18, 1864 (Friday)
Though William Tecumseh Sherman’s army had been on the march for a few days now, it took these few days for the news to reach John Bell Hood, still wallowing along the Tennessee River near Florence and Tuscumbia. For quite a long time, information held that Sherman was moving north, retracing his route back toward Chattanooga. Other scouts reported that the Federals were on their way south to Mobile. Still more had Sherman now blocking Hood’s planned path into Middle Tennessee.
On the 15th and 16th, some foretelling of Sherman’s march came from Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry, but it wasn’t until this date that Hood knew for sure.
Trying to get Hood to do something, P.G.T. Beauregard, now headquartered in Corinth, kept him abreast of every rumor and word. The day previous, he had heard again from Wheeler that Sherman had four corps, and on this day, he requested that Hood send some troops to Wheeler. Beauregard also learned that “the enemy are turning their columns on the shortest route to Macon.”
Meanwhile, back in Hood’s army, all was almost ready for the march. “I have now seven days’ rations on hand, and need thirteen days’ additional,” wrote Hood to Beauregard on the 17th. “Please make every effort to have these supplies pressed forward.”
Despite this plea (or perhaps because of it), Beauregard ordered Hood to “take the offensive at the earliest practicable moment, and deal the enemy rapid and vigorous blows, striking him while thus dispersed, and by this means distract Sherman’s advance in Georgia.”
Beauregard almost insisted that Hood reinforce Wheeler and Cobb, but after Hood declined, the subject was abandoned. “It is left optional with him to divide and re-enforce Cobb [commanding infantry in Macon],” wrote Beauregard to Richmond, “to take the offensive immediately to relieve him.” Besides, Hood and Sherman were now separated by 300 miles. The next day, Beauregard would leave for Macon, arriving on the 24th.
Hood would go on to blame his delay of three weeks on “the bad condition of the railroad from Okolona to Cherokee, and the dirt road from the latter point to Florence, and also by the absence of Major-General Forrest’s command….”
Still, Hood had to do something, and on this date, he informed Beauregard of his decision. He would take the offensive, keeping all of his cavalry with him, sending not a soldier to Cobb or Wheeler.
In Hood’s mind, the only thing standing between him and Nashville was a corps and a half under John Schofield, now located near Pulaski. And though he was mistaken, though George Thomas had amassed a force even larger in Nashville, the idea of taking Nashville wasn’t even supposed to be in his head. Beauregard had never mentioned it, and wanted instead for Hood to whip the Yankees in Tennessee so that Sherman would have to double back.
To get things moving, General Hood ordered Forrest to “move at once with your command, crossing the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers between Paducah and Johnsonville, and then move up the north bank of the Cumberland to Clarksville, taking possession of that place, if possible.” He ordered him to seize the mills, “and put them to grinding at once.” This would help alleviate his problem with lack of rations.
Forrest was also to “destroy the railroads between Nashville and Clarksville, and between Bowling Green and Nashville, taking care to keep all the telegraphic communications between these places constantly destroyed.”
But even this would be scaled back before long. Hood would still not be able to move for another three days, and Beauregard was hardly finished coaxing him in that direction. And in the meanwhile, Sherman’s columns continued their paths through Georgia.1
Note: This marks my 1,500th post!
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 45, Part 1, p657, 1214, 1220, 1224; Advance and Retreat by John Bell Hood; The Military Operations of General Beauregard by Alfred Roman; The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah by Wiley Sword; Autumn of Glory by Thomas Lawrence Connelly. [↩]