The following is courtesy of author Stephen “Sam” Hood. Hood is a descendant of Confederate Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood, one of the most controversial commanders in the Confederacy, and is the author of the award-winning book John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General.
July 17, 2014 is the 150th anniversary of the controversial removal of Gen. Joe Johnston as commander of the Army of Tennessee, and the promotion of Gen. John Bell Hood. In Hood’s recently discovered personal papers is a letter Hood received from Gen. A.P. Stewart, who recalled the events of July 17, 1864. It will be among approximately 200 letters in my forthcoming book “The Lost Papers of Confederate General John Bell Hood.”
St. Louis, Aug. 7th ‘72
Genl. J.B. Hood
Allegheny Springs, Va.
My Dear General,
Your letter of the 25th ultimo was received some days since and I avail myself of the first opportunity to answer it.
You ask me to send you “a statement setting forth the facts as you (I) understand them” of the circumstances attending the removal of Genl. J. E. Johnston from the command of our army in Georgia in 1864 and your appointment to succeed him. It gives me pleasure to comply with your request, and I make the statement as brief as possible, yet so as to embrace the points which I presume you wish to have stated.
On Sunday the 17th of July, 1864, I was notified that the Federal army, having crossed the Chattahoochee at the fords above the mouth of Peach Tree creek, was advancing towards Atlanta and driving in our outposts. In company with General Loring I visited Adams Brigade of Loring’s Division, which had been posted in the angle between the river and Peach Tree creek, I found it necessary to withdraw it to our side of the creek. Leaving the ground at a late hour I repaired to Genl. Johnston’s headquarters for the purpose of reporting to him the situation of affairs along the creek. Without waiting to hear my report he handed me a telegram just received from the government in Richmond. I cannot now recall the language of the dispatch but the substance of it was, that inasmuch as he had failed to check the advance of the enemy in Georgia and did not express a hope of being able to do so with the means at his command, he was therefore ordered to turn over the command of the army and department of Tenn. to Genl. J. B. Hood who had been promoted to the rank General to enable him to take command.
I was aware that Genl. Johnston had correctly anticipated the movements of the federal army; and had made his dispositions with a view to giving battle as the enemy should cross Peach Tree creek in his advance upon Atlanta. It seemed to me therefore, that sunday night, that battle on Peach Tree creek the following day was inevitable. I felt that the removal of Genl. Johnston at such a time would be unjust to him and, to say the least of it, extremely embarrassing to yourself; and that any change of commanders in the very face of the enemy was hazardous. I therefore urged Genl. Johnston not to act upon the order, nor turn over command until the fate of Atlanta should be decided. He declined to do this, stating that he could not disobey the President’s order. On leaving his quarters at a late hour, I rode to Hardee’s quarters for the purpose of consulting him and inducing him to join with me in urging the same course upon Genl. Johnston, which he agreed to do. You will remember that I addressed a note to you requesting you to meet us next morning at an early hour as practicable. You replied that you would meet us at Johnston’s headquarters at sunrise. Monday morning, you will remember, we met about sunrise in the road near Johnston’s headquarters; and I then informed you of the object of seeking an interview, and that was that we all three should unite in an effort to prevail on Genl. Johnston to withhold the order and retain command of the army until the impending battle should have been fought. I can bear witness to the readiness with which you concurred. We went together to Johnston’s quarters and you and he had a long conversation with each other which I did not hear. At the close of it, however, you and Genl. Hardee and I went into the adjutant general’s office and together proposed a telegram to the President, stating that in our judgment it was dangerous to change commanders at that juncture, and requesting him to recall the order removing Johnston, at least until the fate of Atlanta should be decided. That was the substance: I cannot remember the language.
An answer was received that afternoon from the President declining to comply with our request or suggestion on the ground that the order having been issued, it would do more harm than good to recall or suspend it. I learned that Genl. Johnston went into Atlanta Monday evening. I was very sincerely and earnestly desirous that our army should give battle on Peach Tree Creek; and notwithstanding my high personal regard for you, hoped to see a battle fought there under the command of “Old Joe”, and would have persuaded him, if in my power, to postpone the President’s order for a few days anyhow.
Very Sincerely Yours,
Alex. P. Stewart
(Late Lt Genl C.S. Army)