July 17, 1864: Hood Replaces Johnston

If you believe that the fall of Atlanta in September 1864 guaranteed Abraham Lincoln’s reelection, and in turn you also believe that John Bell Hood’s performance during his first seven weeks as commander of the Army of Tennessee crippled Confederate efforts to hold on to Atlanta or to frustrate William T. Sherman’s offensive operations, then today’s an important anniversary.

Simply put, was Jefferson Davis right to replace Johnston? Was he right to replace Johnston with Hood? How do you evaluate Hood’s performance as an army commander over the following seven weeks?

You may want to read this insightful essay on Hood by Eric Jacobson.

14 thoughts on “July 17, 1864: Hood Replaces Johnston

  1. John McBryde July 17, 2014 / 12:24 pm

    Earlier in the war John Bell Hood was a good general who was not afraid to take the fight to the enemy but after he was wounded twice the fight was for all practical purposes taken out of him. The opiates he was depending on for the pain he experienced dulled his senses and his sharpness to outsmart his enemy. He should have resigned his commission after receiving wounds at Chickamauga. Maybe Cleburne should have been placed in command.

    • siegeofpetersburg July 17, 2014 / 1:28 pm

      John,

      Based on your reply, I’m pretty sure you haven’t read Stephen Hood’s new book. There is no evidence that Hood’s use of opiates after he was wounded was out of the ordinary when compared with other Civil War generals. That’s a smear which originated with 20th century historians and for which no primary evidence can be found.

      Brett

    • Eric A. Jacobson July 17, 2014 / 1:49 pm

      There is no evidence Hood was on opiates, or any such dulling medication. It’s a myth that has no documentary support. Not one bit. As for Cleburne, he had not even been a corps commander. He had no business being an army commander, and frankly was far less equipped than Hood.

  2. Robert C. Conner July 17, 2014 / 12:58 pm

    Hood’s performance as army commander was disastrous, both in Georgia and Tennessee. If Davis had left Johnston in place, I think there is a fair chance he could have held on to Atlanta, which conceivably could have cost Lincoln the election and won Confederate independence.

  3. Bert July 17, 2014 / 1:28 pm

    There is the famous lukewarm (at best) evaluation by Lee of Hood’s ability for army command that should have given Davis pause. Johnston may have been too conservative in 1862, but seemed to be playing his hand pretty well against Sherman in 1864. So yes, I do accept the two premises you stated and feel Davis made an understandable mistake. Understandable because he had that “strange feeling of Deja vu” and recalled how well replacing Johnston with a more aggressive commander worked for him in ’62.

    That being said, I’m undecided if leaving Johnston there to continue his Fabian strategy would have kept Atlanta from Sherman long enough to make a difference.

  4. Eric A. Jacobson July 17, 2014 / 1:52 pm

    Johnston hold Atlanta?? He asked Davis to evacuate Andersonville. That was the red flag and his refusal to share his plans with Davis that led to his dismissal. Johnston did not believe cities were of any importance, and his refusal to assist Pemberton at Vicksburg is a prime example of that notion. Johnston claimed after the war that he would have fought for Atlanta – his record, however, said otherwise.

    • Robert C. Conner July 17, 2014 / 4:27 pm

      Johnston’s problem in 1863 was that Grant’s army was between him and Pemberton in Vicksburg. When he was fired in 1864, he had just fought a successful defensive battle at Kennesaw Mountain. While he did withdraw from there to protect Atlanta, he had no reason to withdraw from Atlanta, which was defensible. It became less defensible after Hood’s unnecessary losses.

  5. James F. Epperson July 17, 2014 / 2:08 pm

    Johnston would have defended Atlanta to the death—from his lines around Macon (or maybe Tallahassee) 😉

    Davis needed someone to carry the fight to the enemy. Hood was arguably the best choice available, although Hardee might have done better.

  6. Lee Elder July 17, 2014 / 4:39 pm

    I read the suggested piece and found it interesting. As I understand the author, he urges us to look at facts without preconceived ideas before making judgements. If I remember correctly, Johnston and J. Davis were not on good terms and Davis only too happy to give Johnston the boot. Jacobson’s point, that Hood was the logical appointment based upon the field of candidates, makes sense to me.

    It is easy today to use the results produced by Hood as reason to be critical of his appointment to Johnston’s job, but that is the lens of history that Jacobson warns us of.

    This was a neat read.

  7. talmadge walker July 17, 2014 / 6:38 pm

    Cleburne was probably totally out of the question, since: (1) he had never held a corps command; and (2) he favored arming slaves. Would Hardee have been a better replacement, given Lee’s doubts about Hood with an independent command?

  8. Robert C. Conner July 17, 2014 / 7:21 pm

    While Lost Cause historians defended Davis’ decision, the Confederate soldiers in Johnston’s army were in the best position to judge, and they were aghast at his replacement. The history of the next few months proved their judgment correct.

    • Robert C. Conner July 17, 2014 / 7:38 pm

      While Sherman and other Union generals were delighted at Davis’ move. History proved them right, too.

  9. Christopher Shelley July 17, 2014 / 9:46 pm

    Johnstone gets a bad rap for his constant retreating in the face of Sherman’s flanking campaign. But it’s not clear to me what else he really could have done in that situation. I think everyone would give him the benefit of the doubt except for his awkward performance in the Vicksburg campaign. I think it was that precedent that did him in.

    Shelby Foote told a story about Johnstone–he was bird hunting with a friend, and when they flushed birds, he would often raise his gun, but never take a shot; the sun was in his eyes, or the birds just a little too far away, or the wind was wrong, or it was a hen; conditions were just never quite right. Ol’ Shelby always needs a fair amount of salt, but still…

    It seems to me that Hood was victim of the Peter Principle: a fine division commander, not so much a whole army.

  10. Buck Buchanan July 18, 2014 / 12:40 pm

    I am with those who think Hardee was the much better choice. He had senior command experience, much more so than Hood.

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