In the weeks following Sherman's capture of Atlanta, the Union Army engaged in a series of skirmishes (minor fights) with Hood's force, which continued to lurk in the region. In November 1864, Sherman's army set fire to Atlanta and marched eastward out of the city. Sherman planned to march through the heart of the Confederacy, seizing supplies and destroying croplands along the way. "If we can march a well-appointed [prepared] army right through [Jefferson
Davis's] territory, it is a demonstration to the world . . . that we have a power which Davis cannot resist," said Sherman. "I can make the march, and make Georgia howl!"
Hood knew that his battered army did not have the muscle to stop Sherman's superior force as it began its fearsome "March to the Sea." Instead, the Confederate commander moved his army into Tennessee in a desperate attempt to catch Sherman's attention. He hoped to lure Sherman out of Georgia by threatening both his supply lines and the Union-held city of Nashville. Hood's strategy, wrote historian James M. McPherson in Battle Cry of Freedom, created "the odd spectacle of two contending armies turning their backs on each other and marching off in opposite directions. As it turned out, there was more method in Sherman's madness than in Hood's."
Sherman ignored Hood's offensive. The Union general knew that his army could supply itself by taking what it needed from Southern towns and farms as it made its way across the Confederate heartland. In addition, he knew that sixty thousand federal troops under the command of General George H. Thomas (1816-1870; see entry) would be awaiting Hood in Tennessee. Sherman thus continued his methodical march across the South, destroying Confederate property and morale with each passing mile.
Hood, meanwhile, continued to move deeper into Tennessee with his weary forty thousand-man army. Worried that the Confederacy was on the verge of total collapse, he came up with another desperate plan to reverse the war's momentum. He decided to use his army in a bid to regain control of Tennessee and Kentucky and eventually move against Union forces gathered in Virginia. This plan was doomed to fail, but as historian Bruce Catton wrote in The Civil War, "the plain fact of the matter was that Hood had no good choice to make."
On November 30, 1864, Hood's dreams of somehow reversing the South's fortunes were crushed once and for all. On that day he launched a full-scale assault on Union forces at Franklin, Tennessee, about twenty-five miles south of Nashville. The well-entrenched Union Army, commanded by Major General John M. Schofield (1831-1906), easily turned back every rebel charge. By the time Hood called off the disastrous attack, he had lost more than sixty-two hundred men and the respect of many of his troops. "I have never seen an
Covered guns can be seen on the steps of the state capitol in Nashville, Tennessee, on a rainy day prior to the Battle of Nashville. (Photograph by George N. Barnard. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.)
army so confused and demoralized," confessed one member of the Army of Tennessee who took part in the battle. "The whole thing seemed to be tottering and trembling."
Two weeks later, Thomas finished off Hood's exhausted and demoralized army at the Battle of Nashville. This battle, fought on December 15 and 16, virtually destroyed the Army of Tennessee, as wave after wave of Union troops battered Hood's defenses. Remnants of the courageous rebel army managed to escape, but Confederate authorities never managed to put the pieces back together again. The Army of Tennessee remained sidelined for the remainder of the war.
Hood survived the Battle of Nashville, but the destruction of his army depressed him terribly. Wracked with guilt and grief at his failures, he resigned his command on January 13, 1865. Four months later he surrendered to Union troops in Natchez, Mississippi, as the war drew to a close.
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