July 17, 1864. Davis had had it. He had given Confederate Joseph E. Johnston every chance possible. He had sent General Braxton Bragg down to Atlanta to personally check out the situation of the Army of Tennessee, he had thought everything over carefully–an unusual tactic for Davis, who was known to hire and fire on a whim–and he finally came to a conclusion: Johnston had to go. He’d never liked the guy anyway.
The day before Davis had received this telegram
from Johnston in response to his query, “I wish to hear from you as to present situation, and your plan of operations so specifically as will enable me to anticipate events.”
As the enemy has double our number, we must be on the defensive. My plan of operations must, therefore, depend upon that of the enemy. It is mainly to watch for an opportunity to fight to advantage. We are trying to put Atlanta in condition to be held for a day or two by the Georgia militia, that army movements may be freer and wider.
The Georgia Militia? That renowned fighting force referred to as “Joe Brown’s Pets?” That Georgia Militia? Oh dear.
It was clear that General Johnston was going to remain on the defensive–again.
This was very annoying to President Jefferson Davis. Davis was, after all, the inventor of the famous “Offensive-Defensive” style of warfare, but to work successfully, one needed to have a balance of offensive in there, somewhere. Or perhaps Davis found Johnston’s explanation of events to be, in itself, offensive. After all, this was the same general who had been willing to give up Richmond early in the war. Perhaps Johnston was just as blasé about giving up Atlanta.
For almost three months Union General William T. Sherman had fought Johnston around the corridor from Chattanooga to Atlanta. Sherman kept trying to outflank Johnston, but the nearly constant skirmishing kept him from effectively moving his army. There was a limit as to how long this tactic could work, however. Each skirmish brought Sherman that much closer to Atlanta, and Johnston would run out of distance, even if he did not run out of men.
And now, Johnston was on the outskirts of Atlanta. The Army of Tennessee was mostly intact, but Davis felt that too much territory had been given up. It was not just a comparison to Lee, nor the ire of southern citizens, politicians nor the press that helped Davis to his decision to relieve Johnston; it was looking at a map, (and then all the rest).
Davis sent the telegram:
General J. E. Johnston:
Lieut. Gen. J. B. Hood has been commissioned to the temporary rank of general under the late law of Congress, I am directed by the Secretary of War to inform you that as you have failed to arrest the advance of the enemy to the vicinity of Atlanta, far in the interior of Georgia, and express no confidence that you can defeat or repel him, you are hereby relieved from the command of the Army f Tennessee, which you will immediately turn over to General Hood.
S. COOPER, Adjutant and Inspector General.
And whom does Jefferson Davis choose to pull the Confederacy’s feet out of the fire? Why, that lovelorn, severely crippled, morphine-addicted General John Bell Hood, of course.