When the Army of Tennessee returned to its namesake Confederate state in November 1864, the chance to provide a glimmer of hope for the South in the West marched with it.
By early December, that same force was decimated after the combined battles of Franklin and Nashville. Not only did Lieutenant General John Bell Hood lose close to 20,000 soldiers killed, wounded, captured, or missing in less than a month, he left in field hospitals and in the Volunteer State soil the cream of his officer corps.
In a recent history by yours truly, I took a look at the decimation of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s officer corps during the Overland Campaign of 1864. In a one month period he lost 31 of 40 brigade commanders that had served in his Army of Northern Virginia.
When doing some reading for the 150th anniversaries of the campaign that culminated at Nashville, I was struck by the severe loss in general officers that Hood’s army suffered.
As Hood’s army made its way north into Tennessee, the infantry had the following general officers:
3–corps & commanders
9–divisions & commanders
29 brigades & commanders
The casualties began at the first major battle in the campaign; Franklin
At the Battle of Franklin on November 30, 1864 six of the generals from the count above were killed.
Another six generals were wounded;
And one general captured after being wounded.
Following the action at Franklin, Hood moved his army toward the environs of Nashville where it was defeated on December 15 & 16, 1864 and began a retreat back to Mississippi.
Yet, before the engagement around the capital of Tennessee began, Hood lost the services of one of his division commanders, Major General Samuel French, who had to be relieved from command because of a serious eye infection.
The following officers were wounded during this phase of the campaign.
Three other officers were captured, with one, Brigadier General Thomas Benton Smith also being wounded. However, that wound was received after he had surrendered when he was attacked by a Union officer.
During the retreat from Nashville, at Spring Hill, Tennessee on December 17, 1964, Hood lost his first corps commander. Lieutenant General Stephen Dill Lee was severely wounded in the foot.
As Hood’s army limped back into Mississippi to spend the winter, 19 out of the 42 generals that had headed north in command of the army and infantry had been killed, wounded, or captured. That is a staggering 45% casualty rate among the general officer corps.
One corps, four division, fourteen brigade commanders.
If you add in the cavalry generals, which there were only four, the others being colonels or below (and that is a separate study for other officers that became casualties during this campaign) the percentage of general officers that became casualties is at 41%.
There is an old saying, that Hood lost three things in the war; “the use of his left arm, his right leg, and the Army of Tennessee.”
Unfortunately, there is as much truth in the last of those three losses as the first two. As the casualty returns suggest, not only did Hood lose approximately 20,000 irreplaceable veterans in the campaign, the army was bled from the top as well.