Following the fall of Atlanta, rebel commander John Bell Hood rallied his demoralized troops and marched them off the Tennessee, desperately hoping to draw Sherman after him and forestall the Confederacy's defeat. But Sherman refused to be lured and began his infamous "March to the Sea," while Hood charged headlong into catastrophe.
In this compelling dramatic account of a final and fatal invasion by the Confederate Army of Tennessee, Wile Sword illuminates the missed opportunities, senseless bloody assaults, poor command decisions, and stubborn pride that resulted in 23,500 Confederate losses—including 7,00 casualties in one battle—and the pulverization of the South's second largest army.
Sword follows Hood and his army as they let an early advantage and possible victory slip away at Spring Hill, then engage in a reckless and ill-fated frontal attack on Franklin, often called the "Gettysburg of the West." Despite that disaster, Hood refuses to yield and presses on the Nashville and a two-day bloodbath that unhinges what is left of his battered troops—the worst defeat suffered by any army during the war.
Telling the story from both the Confederate and the Union perspectives, Sword pursues personalities as well as battles and troop strategy. He portrays Hood as a gutsy yet irresponsible leader—"a fool with a license to kill his own men"—whose valiant but rapidly dwindling troops were no match for the methodical General George G. Thomas and his better prepared—and entrenched—Union army. Hood, however, was not entirely to blame for Confederate failures, says Sword, who shows how decision making and actions—both good and bad, logical and chaotic—by key players on both sides helped determine the battles' outcomes.
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The Confederacy's Last Hurrah
Spring Hill, Franklin, and Nashville
By Wiley Sword
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1992 Wiley Sword
All rights reserved.
A Sharp Wind Is Blowing
The weather, noted a longtime resident of mid-Tennessee, was absolutely "wretched." It began to snow briskly by midmorning. At least half an inch of snow carpeted the frozen ground before noon. Adding to the misery was the wind, sharp and cutting, which blew directly from the north. The freezing temperatures, the rough, nearly impassable roads — rutted and scarred by nearly two weeks of rain — and the icy wind made for a vicious, cruel day to travel, this November 21, 1864.
Yet it was a day long anticipated, and later so well remembered. To the officers and men of the Confederacy's Army of Tennessee this day was as much as a new beginning. That morning at dawn the men had been called to arms. Their regimental commanders had told them of the forthcoming offensive: they were going into enemy-occupied country, into Tennessee, they said. The army would leave its present camp near Florence, Alabama, and march in the direction of Nashville. There would be a lot of hard marching and some fighting ahead, so it was presumed. Yet their commanding general had assured them that there would be little risk of defeat. He would not choose to fight a battle in Tennessee unless the advantage was all on their side — where the numbers were no worse than equal, and the choice of the ground was theirs. If only they could at times endure short rations they might earn a redeeming victory over the despised enemy.
The great invasion thus had begun. Slowly, ponderously, the army had arisen from its scattered camps and pushed north. By sunrise that frigid morning most of the regiments and artillery batteries were in motion. A spirit of confidence prevailed throughout the army. "The ground is frozen and a sharp wind is blowing," noted an observer, "but as my face is towards Tennessee, I heed none of these things. God in mercy, grant us a successful campaign."
Soon thereafter the state line between Alabama and Tennessee was reached. Here there was a sign, crudely made, that some soldier had fashioned and hung over the road. It read: TENNESSEE, A GRAVE OR A FREE HOME. Nearby, the exiled Confederate governor of Tennessee, Isham G. Harris, shook hands with the army's commander and bade him a formal welcome to the state. Everybody seemed to agree that it was an affecting scene, and optimism prevailed among the men, many of whom were once again returning to their former homes.
Less than fifty miles away at Pulaski, Tennessee, an apprehensive and fretful Federal private, noting the forbidding and ominous weather, wrote in his diary: "This is a very rough day, [it has] snowed and blowed all day." He had spent the morning on picket duty, and in the afternoon there was word of an impending move. Said one of his division's brigade commanders at the time: "The Rebels have been threatening for some time to transfer the war to the banks of the Cumberland and Ohio [rivers], and I should not be surprised if they attempted it. They seem disposed to cross the [Tennessee] river now, but ... if they try this new move they will find it hard to get back to Georgia and Alabama." Noting that the Union army had been at Pulaski for about two weeks and was well fortified against attack, he concluded that the enemy might think "that he will catch us now with a small force, and try to carry out a favorite purpose to transfer the war to the [Kentucky] border." Should this happen, he continued, the Rebels would be greatly mistaken, for the Union forces would soon have "an army of 70,000," enough to whip the Rebels "and have something to spare."
The Confederate genesis was desperation. By the autumn of 1864, the Civil War was nearly lost for the Southern Confederacy. The great hope of Southern independence burned ever lower, flickering like a solitary candle in the gathering breeze.
Despair in the South had progressively risen to full tide. Prospects for a negotiated peace had died aborning. The Lincoln administration had denied the Confederacy's peace initiative by declaring that the only basis for negotiations would be an unequivocal return to the Union and the emancipation of slaves, both unacceptable conditions to Southern leaders. Any beneficial foreign recognition of the Confederacy was stalled in the resolutions of neutrality that had followed the failure of "cotton diplomacy," and military reverses such as Antietam and Gettysburg. Even the prospect of Abraham Lincoln's defeat by the "Peace Democrats" in the general election of 1864 had proved unrealistic. Heavy recruitment of new Union soldiers to replace the veteran regiments whose three-year term of enlistment was expiring was in full swing.
The South's politicians thus seemed more outspoken, and talked increasingly of the North's overwhelming resources in manpower and materials. Nearly three million men comprised the North's total military strength; little over one million might be counted on to serve for the South. On the actual rolls at the beginning of 1864 there were about 860,000 Union soldiers, whereas the South had only 481,000 military men. Now, in November 1864, the disparity was even greater — about 950,000 Federals, and perhaps 450,000 Confederates.
In material resources the perspective was equally grim. Prior to the war, almost 90 percent of the United States' industrial firms were located in the North. Two states, New York and Pennsylvania, each had more industrial capacity than the entire South. More than 92 percent of the prewar nation's gross national product of $1.9 billion originated in the Northern states. The agrarian South had too much cotton and too few guns in 1861. In 1864 the circumstances had changed. Said Confederate President Jefferson Davis in an impassioned speech that year: "Once we had no arms, and could receive no soldiers but those who came to us armed. Now we have arms for all, and are begging men to bear them." The North's overwhelming numbers, their seemingly inexhaustible resources, even their technology — repeating rifles and ironclad warships — after more than three exhausting years of warfare seemed to be an insurmountable obstacle. Or were they? Davis and various other war leaders still exuded optimism.
The essential basis of survival for the Southern Confederacy in late 1864, the Southern military leaders foresaw, was not military conquest, it was at best a prolonged standoff. Demonstrating to the Northern public their government's folly in maintaining an unwinnable and unpopular war, exacerbating its costliness and catering to the profound longing for the war to cease — this was the sole remaining practical means of independence for the South.
The will to win, or at least to persevere until the object was gained, combined with dwindling if yet adequate resources in men and materiel, might yet enable the South to weary the populace of the North into abandoning the struggle. "This Confederacy is not yet ... 'played out,'" intoned Davis. "Say not that you are unequal to the task. ... I only ask you to have faith and confidence."
It was an interesting thought: that the will of the people, unless broken, could see the Confederacy safely through all of the imposing obstacles. "Brave men have done well before against greater odds than ours," said Davis in urging a heightened effort. Stating that "two-thirds of our men are absent [from the army] — some sick, some wounded, but most of them absent without leave," the president admonished, "If one-half the men now absent without leave will return to duty, we can defeat the enemy." It was the battle for the minds and will of the Southern people that Davis foresaw as the key to overcoming the present adversity. The resolve of the populace at large, their morale and perspectives, would be either the means of sustaining the cause or the basis for ultimate defeat. How the Southern people saw the war would determine the further effort they would make.
Yet Davis knew that popular support for the war turned upon some cause for hope or basis of optimism. "Victory in the field is the surest element to a peace. ... Let us win battles and we shall have overtures soon enough," he asserted. To that end he foresaw that there must be some reversal of the widespread despondency following the general retreat of the Confederate armies and the loss of large segments of the South.
Davis already had endorsed a plan to atone for recent disasters such as the naval defeat at Mobile Bay and the fall of Atlanta: "We must march into Tennessee — there we will draw from twenty thousand to thirty thousand to our standard; and so strengthened, we must push the enemy back to the banks of the Ohio." He told a milling throng at Macon, Georgia, "Let no one despond. ... [If] genius is the beautiful, hope is the reality." At Montgomery, Alabama, the president urged, "The time for action is now at hand. There is but one duty for every Southern man. It is to go to the front." To an enthusiastic audience at Columbia, South Carolina, he proclaimed, "Within the next thirty days much is to be done, for upon our success much depends."
Noting the dire threat of Union General William T. Sherman's consolidated armies at Atlanta, poised to strike deeper through the vulnerable heartland of the South, an aroused Davis warned that "we must beat Sherman, we must march into Tennessee." This time and place, urged the president, would be decisive. "We are fighting for existence, and ... you must consult your hearts."
One of Jefferson Davis's most interested and attentive observers fully agreed in principal. Reading in various newspapers of Davis's plea for a united resolve and of plans to carry the war northward, he must have chuckled over Davis's philosophy. From his own perspective he had some equally specific ideas to implement: "The time has come now when we should attempt the boldest moves ... because the enemy is disconcerted by them. ... We are not only fighting hostile armies but a hostile people, and must make old and young, and rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war as well as their organized armies."
His name was William Tecumseh Sherman, and he perceived that the underlying key to waging successful war was psychological as well as physical. Defeating the enemy's will to persevere was crucial. Thus he had bold, unconventional plans in this regard — a strike at the very heart and soul of the Confederacy — a march through their vast public granary to wreak total devastation. With his victorious forces, the conquerors of Atlanta, Sherman's "bummers" would set a new precedent in the meaning of war. It was Davis's concept reversed. Instead of relying on the defeat of the enemy's armies as a means of public support and ultimate victory, Sherman would act directly against enemy popular opinion. The grizzled forty-four-year-old Federal commander saw this clash for the minds of the populace as crucial to winning an early peace. "You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will," he told a delegation of Southern citizens. "War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out." Warning of the forthcoming policy he would pursue, Sherman wrote, "If the people raise a howl against my barbarity and cruelty, I will answer that war is war, and not popularity seeking. If they want peace they ... must stop the war."
They were grim, unrelenting words from a calculating mind and a determined foe. At the very time the Confederate Army of Tennessee was preparing to march for Tennessee, Sherman's men had begun their sixty-mile-wide swath through the heart of Georgia; "It surely was a strange event," Sherman later observed, "two hostile armies marching in opposite directions, each in the full belief that it was achieving a final and conclusive result in a great war."
In the rear of Sherman's southward-bound columns Atlanta lay smoldering in ruins, a pall of black smoke hanging high in the air over the desolate landscape. Gun barrels glistening in the sunlight from long blue lines of infantry stretched as far as the eye could see. A passing band struck up "John Brown's Body," and Sherman admired the moment. "The day was extremely beautiful," he wrote, "clear sunlight, with bracing air, and an unusual feeling of exhilaration ... a feeling of something to come, vague and undefined ... full of venture and intense interest."
Only a few weeks earlier he had written to several prominent Southern citizens: "Now that war comes home to you, you feel very different. You deprecate its horrors. ... I want peace ... and I will ever conduct war with a view to perfect and early success."
The war of wills — one to be sustained and perpetuated, the other to be broken — had been joined. The stakes were higher than ever before: outright survival for the Confederacy, and an early end to an unpopular war for the Federal government. An extraordinary cast had been assembled for the contest, and it only remained for the actors to play their parts with a skill and verve that would determine the nation's, as well as their own, uncertain fate.CHAPTER 2
A Cupid on Crutches
They called him "Sam," a nickname he picked up at West Point. At six feet two inches tall, muscular in physique and broad-shouldered, he looked a bit like some backwoods lumberjack masquerading in the uniform of a Confederate general. Only thirty-two years of age in early 1864, his striking appearance belied his youth: a full, tawny beard and heavy mustache so elongated his face as to make it appear of outlandish size. He had the look of an old crusader, something out of Don Quixote, thought Richmond socialite Mary Boykin Chesnut. His entire appearance seemed to her to suggest "awkward strength."
The ladies of Richmond, Virginia, who knew of his reputation as a hell-for-leather fighter and a leader of the "wild Texans" serving with Lee's army, seemed at first shocked by his shy, almost self-deprecating manner. From his first presence amid the Southern capital's high society, there was something deeply fascinating if not compelling about the man.
His sad, blue eyes with a furrowed brow, downcast mouth and long, straight nose made his normal expression almost hangdog — like a melancholy yet playful bloodhound. Despite his rough-hewn appearance, close observers noted his light auburn hair, and especially his small, finely shaped hands. Women always seemed attracted to him; indeed, they often found him captivating. Perhaps that was but part of the mystique, and a manifestation of the many contrasts and quirks noted in his background and personality.
John Bell Hood was not at all what many regarded him to be. First of all, he was not a Texan. The son of a prosperous young Kentucky doctor, Hood had grown up in the lush bluegrass region near Mt. Sterling as an ill-mannered hellion. Unlike his older sister and brothers, a streak of wildness and nonconformity was evident in young Hood. His indifference to social customs and academics kept him frequently in trouble, and even when he entered West Point through the influence of his uncle, then a U.S. congressman, there was the prospect of failure. "If you can't behave, don't come home," his father reportedly admonished. "Go to the nearest gate post and butt your brains out."
Hood had barely managed to prod and squirm his way through West Point with the Class of 1853, accumulating in his senior year 196 demerits, four short of expulsion. His grades were low, particularly in mathematics, and when he graduated as a brevet second lieutenant in July 1853, he stood forty-fourth in his class of fifty-two. Part of the problem may have been a lackluster education at a "subscription" school in rural Kentucky. Thanks to this bare-bones high school equivalency, Hood appeared to be relatively simplistic in his thinking and was not regarded, as having a refined or calculating mind. Moreover, his meager academic foundation provided a disadvantaged background for any future association with the sophisticated and elite, a matter he seemed later to well understand.
Certainly, if there was not mental brilliance, there was a strong measure of physical courage evident in John Bell Hood. Happily, his regular-army duty assignments had resulted in service with and under some of the most promising military figures of the era, including Albert Sidney Johnston, Robert E. Lee, William J. Hardee, and a dusky-bearded major, George H. Thomas. As a member of the famed 2d U.S. Cavalry, a unit later described as "the greatest aggregation of fighting men that ever represented the United States Army in the Old West," Second Lieutenant Hood had led a mounted foray against raiding Indians during July 1857. Following a sudden ambush of his twenty-five-man detachment, Hood's courage and leadership became crucial as his men fought off a larger number of Comanches. Lieutenant Hood had been wounded during the onslaught, an arrow piercing his left hand and lodging in his horse's bridle. Hood merely broke off the shaft, freed his hand, and continued to fight.
Excerpted from The Confederacy's Last Hurrah by Wiley Sword. Copyright © 1992 Wiley Sword. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1. A Sharp Wind is Blowing
2. A Cupid on Crutches
3. Dark Moon Rising
4. The President's Watchdog
5. Too Much Lion, Not Enough Fox
6. Affairs of the Heart
7. Courage versus Common Sense
8. Words of Wisdom
9. Who Will Dance to Hood's Music?
10. Old Slow Trot
11. In the Best Spirits and Full of Hope
12. Playing Both Ends Against the Middle
13. The Spring Hill Races
14. Listening for the Sound of Guns
15. A Hand Stronger than Armies
16. Do You Think the Lord Will Be with Us Today?
17. One Whose Temper is Less Fortunately Governed
18. Tell Them to Fight—Fight like Hell!
19. The Pandemonium of Hell Turned Loose
20. Glorified Suicide at the Cotton Gin
21. Where Is the Glory?
22. There is No Hell Left in Them—Don't You Hear Them Praying?
23. The Thunder Drum of War
24. Forcing the Enemy To Take the Initiative
25. Gabriel Will Be Blowing His Last Horn
26. The Sunny South Has Caught a Terrible Cold
27. Let There Be No Further Delay
28. Matters of Some Embarrassment
29. Now, Boys, Is Our Time!
30. I Shall Go No Farther
31. Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory
32. Where the Grapes of Wrath Are Stored
33. Crying Like His Heart Would Break
34. A Retreat from the Lion's Mouth
35. The Cards Were Damn Badly Shuffled
36. The Darkest of All Decembers
37. Epilogue: The Twilight's Last Gleaming
Order of Battle, Confederate Army of Tennessee
Order of Battle, Federal Army
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Wiley Sword has written what is most likely the best account of John Bell Hood's horrible Nashville Campaign. Hood took charge of the Confederate Army of the Tennessee after making false accusations against General Joe Johnston, only to loose Atlanta after several costly assaults on the Union lines. Because of this, he embarked on a campaign to retake Nashville. After loosing one of the best opportunities of the war at Spring Hill and wasting thousands of lives at Franklin, his army disintegrated in front of him at Nashville, ending his career and the effectiveness of one of the Confederacy's last armies. Sword wrote a gripping narrative that was very hard to put down, especially during the battle scenes. He intertwined the lives of common soldiers and generals alike through many first-person accounts on both sides. His analyses of the battles were clear and concise, and made it easy to understand why everything seemed to go wrong for John B. Hood. I would most certainly recommend this book to anyone wanting to learn about the Nashville campaign.
Author Wiley Sword is at the top of his game in this one, The book 'Confederacy's Last Hurrah' tells what, when where, and why in a very telling down to earth form. I read a lot of Civil War books and found myself smiling to myself in the very first few pages. The author combines the full emotions of both sides for the reader. Flat out when you finish this book you will understand how this campain went. One point I would like to make is that there should have been a few more maps in the book, this is always very useful. If you enjoy reading about the American Civil War this book is a must.
Objective analysis is Absent Without Leave in this otherwise well written and researched book about the 1864 Tennessee Campaign of CSA General John Bell Hood. Sword places a critical spin on all decisions made by Hood, and omits any information supportive or complimentary of Hood, either by his superiors, or the soldiers that he commanded. Hood's own post-war explanations and recollections of the Campaign are brushed off by Sword as exagerations or lies. If Sword would have been thorough and balanced, and would have limited the book to the factual descriptions of the battles and it's participants, the book would have been much better. However, he mesmerizes unwitting readers with his gifted style, while censoring one of the primary historical characters of the book. If you are looking for a poignant record of the carnage of the Battle of Franklin, and the disintegration of the Army of Tennessee at the Battle of Nashville, this book is excellent. If you are wanting to understand why and how the campaign occurred, and the strategic and political reasoning behind the decision making of the commanders, this book falls flat.