Hood in Tennessee: A Real Threat?

Mike Rogers wants to ask about Hood’s Tennessee Campaign in 1864:

If Hood had actually gotten into Tennessee on his original schedule or if the Spring Hill attack had worked as planned, would it have made a material difference in the outcome of the war? Might either of those scenarios have forced Sherman to abandon his Georgia/Carolina march? Or, would Grant have been forced to ease the siege on Petersburg?

Basically, had Spring Hill been a Confederate victory, there would have been no Franklin (at least as it took shape) and thus no Nashville (at least not the historical one). I doubt that it would have changed Sherman’s route through Georgia, because of the time it would take for Sherman to learn of what happened. But could Hood have posed a real threat?

24 thoughts on “Hood in Tennessee: A Real Threat?

  1. Eric A. Jacobson October 15, 2013 / 1:42 pm

    Hood’s effort is a desperate one for certain. But had he gotten across the Tennessee River in the first days of November as he planned, with only the Fourth Corps (10,000 men) standing between him and Nashville, and with only 8,000 troops in Nashville, the situation would have been materially different. As for Spring Hill, what a lost opportunity and Franklin is born directly out of that fiasco. As someone who has written about the campaign, and studied it for a good while, I cannot imagine the outcome of the war being any different even had Hood been successful. But could Confederate success have dragged things much deeper into 1865? Yes, I think so. Had Hood smashed Schofield, and gotten to Nashville before A. J. Smith arrived, well, it’s a whole new ballgame. Imagine Sherman arriving at Savannah a month after Hood has reaped some success in Middle Tennessee?? Sherman had already been forced to send two full corps back to Tennessee before the move on Savannah. I suspect he would have been sending more help back to Tennessee in late December instead of moving north into the Carolinas.

    • John Foskett October 15, 2013 / 2:25 pm

      Well, one comments with trepidation after getting the views of somebody who knows vastly more about the campaign (and for what it’s worth, your book on Franklin is excellent). Given the way things developed, I think it makes sense to start with the failed opportunity at Spring Hill and the relative numbers as of November 29 rather than earlier. Had Hood’s apparent intentions been executed by his subordinates it seems reasonable to assume that Schofield would have been soundly defeated by Hood’s (IIRC) 20,000. I never assume destruction/obliteration in a Civil War battle, however, because “stuff happens”. Nashville would have been a different, if not implausible, proposition, I think. Ultimately much of what i understand was Hood’s greater plan (recruiting significant numbers in Tennessee and barreling to a join-up with Lee in Virginia) looks like a pipe dream fueled by the laudanum to which Hood was not addicted. It’s certainly conceivable that Sherman may have siphoned off more troops to help Thomas and perhaps delayed his further travel plans but in the end I just don’t see a success at Spring Hill having substantial impact. I think you’re correct that it may have delayed the final resolution somewhat but very minimally. The ANV was on life support as it was and any impact would have been in the Carolinas, not in Virginia as I see it. The whole thing looks very much like Early’s 1864 raid even if one factors in a nice win at Spring Hill and eliminates the disaster at Franklin.

  2. Mike Rogers October 15, 2013 / 2:39 pm

    Very much appreciate the responses from you both. My very, very amateur historical opinion is that it would not have made much of difference. Lincoln had won re-election and I doubt Grant would have eased his Petersburg siege. I agree with Eric’s statement that the 1865 war would have lasted longer, but even if Hood took Nashville and made to maybe Louisville, his army would have been disconnected logistically and in communication from the Virginia theater.

    • John Foskett October 15, 2013 / 3:44 pm

      Agree on this. I have grave doubts that he’d have ever even have made it to Kentucky given my assumption that we start with the historical start date and not the earlier intended date of launch. it’s not as though, with his numbers, he’d simply have waltzed through Nashville.

  3. SF Walker October 16, 2013 / 6:30 am

    An interesting discussion! In my amateur opinion🙂 Hood’s decision to take the Army of Tennessee out of Georgia on this campaign in the first place was a colossal blunder. True, Hood didn’t have a great choice to make in any case, but I think he should have retreated south or southeast upon evacuating Atlanta. Had the Army of Tennessee remained in Georgia to protect the heartland, the March to the Sea may never have been made.

    If Hood’s Tennessee campaign proved anything, it was the fact that 60,000 Union troops could be taken out of the picture completely and the Federals could still outnumber the largest force Hood could bring to the field.

  4. Eric A. Jacobson October 16, 2013 / 8:59 am

    I would disagree that Hood’s move into Tennessee was a colossal blunder, but that is really a matter of opinion no matter which way you lean. I will add, however, that it was Sherman would nearly made a serious blunder. He did not ship troops back to Tennessee quickly enough, and Hood nearly caught him undone. That fact that the 23rd Corps didn’t even get back to Middle Tennessee until November 15, two full weeks after Hood had a bona fide chance of striking northward, shows that Sherman grossly underestimated the speed at which Hood could move. Only circumstances in early November that worked against the Confederates ended up benefiting Sherman, and by proxy both Schofield and G. H. Thomas. If you want to know how serious a threat Hood was simply read the messages from Thomas. He knew that the 4th Corps was not adequate to hold Hood back, and Nashville had only a meager defensive force of 8,000. But, of course, as it turned out Hood was delayed in north Alabama, the 23rd Corps finally got into place, the Confederate high command dropped the ball at Spring Hill, then Hood launched the desperate attack at Franklin, and A. J. Smith finally arrived at Franklin from Missouri as the Nov 30 fighting was raging. Even so, Grant was still very worried AFTER Franklin. In fact, so much that he was ready to sack Thomas and sent John A. Logan west. Then Grant reconsidered, halted Logan, and prepared himself to go west. Only when he learned of the onset of the Battle of Nashville did Grant finally relax. I think it also helpful to keep in mind that perception is 9/10 of reality, and in late 1864 the Federal perception was that Hood and the Army of Tennessee were a very serious threat.

    • SF Walker October 16, 2013 / 1:02 pm

      All good points, Eric–what’s the title of your book on Franklin? I’d love to read it. I definitely agree that Hood’s army was regarded as a serious threat by Grant, Sherman, and Thomas–I do recall reading about Grant’s willingness to remove Thomas for what he perceived to be his slowness in moving against Hood at Nashville. One would think that Sherman would have realized how quickly Hood’s army could move given the fact that he himself couldn’t catch him in several weeks of pursuit. It’s surprising to me how few troops were assigned to garrison such an important Union base as Nashville; I didn’t realize that Thomas’s ad hoc force was assembled by such a narrow margin. The Federals had ample troops, but it seems most weren’t where they needed to be to deal with this threat!

      • John Foskett October 16, 2013 / 3:22 pm

        For Cause & For Country. I hate the word “definitive” but when it comes to Franklin/Spring Hill it probably applies to this book. Strongly recommended.

        • SF Walker October 17, 2013 / 4:55 am

          Thanks, John. The last book I read on the western theater was Webb Garrison’s “Atlanta and the War.” I don’t have anything specifically on Hood’s Tennessee campaign, so I’m looking forward to reading this one. Lee White’s “Bushwhacking on a Grand Scale”, dealing with the Battle of Chickamauga, has just been released, so I’ll be ordering that one along with Eric’s.

          • John Foskett October 17, 2013 / 2:27 pm

            I assume you know that Dave Powell’s two-volume book on the Chickamauga Campaign has made its way onto Savas Beatie’s list for release next year (IIRC). I would wager that it will be a worthwhile purchase. Eric’s Franklin book is the product of updated research and solid, unbiased judgments and analysis. For example, he takes a more balanced look at Hood’s decisions and actions than fits the long-accepted story. While we’re at it, for your “western theater” list I’d also recommend Earl Hess’s excellent recent release on Kennesaw Mountain.

  5. Phil Leigh October 16, 2013 / 9:46 am

    General Grant falsely concluded that Hood was a serious threat. He even ludicrously asserted that if he had been Hood, “I would have gone to Louisville and on north until I came to Chicago.”

    • John Foskett October 16, 2013 / 3:19 pm

      You’re erroneously confusing (1) whether and to what extent Hood would in fact have achieved his objectives with (2) what Grant or anyone else knew/should have known at the time. It’s called the “helicopter effect” in simulation gaming. Use of terms like “falsely” and “ludicrously” have an odd way of revealing more about the user than the subject in this context.

      • Philip Leigh October 16, 2013 / 5:52 pm

        There’s no confusing a Grant fanboy.

        If not ludicrous, what would you call Grant’s claim *more than a decade after the war* that if he were Hood he would have marched on to Chicago?

  6. Eric A. Jacobson October 16, 2013 / 12:36 pm

    I guess it is easy to maintain the opinion of false conclusion when you weren’t alive in 1864 nor were you the person charged with overall responsibility. Such an approach is so typical of being the Heisman trophy winning Monday morning quarterback. 🙂

    • Brooks D. Simpson October 16, 2013 / 1:43 pm

      Yup. I think we today know a lot more about the condition of Hood’s army after Franklin than anyone wearing blue at the time did.

    • Philip Leigh October 16, 2013 / 3:20 pm

      The only problem is that Grant said of Hood “I would have gone to Louisville and on north until I came to Chicago”, more than ten years after the war ended.

      • Brooks D. Simpson October 16, 2013 / 4:53 pm

        It is clear that at the time (December 1864) Grant was concerned by the threat Hood posed. He specifically mentioned the possibility of Hood reaching the Ohio River. As I recall, Louisville is on the south shore of that river.

        • Philip Leigh October 16, 2013 / 5:56 pm

          Evidently you are agreeing that Grant only became more delusional when he said more than a decade after the war that if he had been Hood he “would have gone to Louisville and on north…to Chicago”.

          • Brooks D. Simpson October 16, 2013 / 7:02 pm

            Phil, I know you think you know what you’re talking about.

            Here’s what Grant said:

            If Hood had been an enterprising commander, he would have given us a great deal of trouble. Probably he was controlled from Richmond. As it was he did the very thing I wanted him to do. If I had been in Hood’s place I would never have gone near Nashville. I would have gone to Louisville, and on north until I came to Chicago. What was the use of his knocking his head against the stone walls of Nashville ? If he had gone north, Thomas never would have caught him. We should have had to raise new levies.

            I’ll let others judge whether Mr. Leigh’s fairly represented the quote.

          • John Foskett October 17, 2013 / 3:33 pm

            It’s a shame that Phil has taken Grant’s statement to Mr. Young out of context – the same approach he used in his “Opinionator” article in the NYT to show that a petty Grant was unfairly and jealously savaging Thomas. Not surprisingly, the full quotation shows something different: “The success of Thomas’s campaign will be his vindication even against my criticisms. That success and all the fame that came with it belong to Thomas.” As for Grant’s premise that Hood should have avoided Nashville (“I would never have gone near Nashville”, also ignored by Phil) and charted a different course, who knows. We do know that his decision to take on Thomas at Nashville in December, 1864 was doomed. Grant may well have been right that at that point Hood was far better served by a different course. I’m not a Grant “fanboy” by any stretch. As we know, there are some Thomas “fanboys” out there, as well.

          • Brooks D. Simpson October 17, 2013 / 3:50 pm

            Ah, yes.

            But that’s one reason why the “Opinionator” series is so uneven. I’ve been pushed to contribute, but I won’t. Indeed, the online blogging efforts of both the NY Times and the Washington Post have demonstrated that quality blogging is much more difficult than some people thought … especially as the big names originally recruited simply abandoned the projects. So now it all depends on the quality of the work offered by the person blogging, instead of some sort of meaningful standard: there’s basically no supervision.

          • John Foskett October 18, 2013 / 7:32 am

            Right you are about that series. There have been some good, well-researched and -thought-out contributions but also some sesquicentennial junk. It’s a bit like one prolific publisher who has no peer review/vetting process for submissions. Everything depends on the author.

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