Question of the Week: 6/24-6/30/19

During the Atlanta Campaign, Jefferson Davis replaced General Joseph E. Johnston – appointing General John B. Hood to command the Confederate defense.

In your opinion, was Hood the best choice? Or who would you have placed in command?

19 Responses to Question of the Week: 6/24-6/30/19

  1. The obvious choice is Hardee. However, at that point, the material & morale advantage of Sherman’s army was so great that any General chosen was going to be managing a strategic defeat. A few tactical victories were not going to stop Sherman.

  2. I don’t really think Davis had any good options. Hardee would’ve been the most likely, but he refused the job (trying to preserve his reputation). Lee intimated to Davis that Hood was not really the right man for the job, but Davis and Hood had spent a lot of time hanging out of late and Davis was really high on him.

  3. Well, given how we have over 150 years of scholarship and records and everything else to go by these days, and we can thus have some fun in thinking outside the box, I think I would have taken a chance and transferred and assigned Longstreet command of the Confederate forces tasked with defending Atlanta. Why not? The infighting among many of the commanders and high ranking officers in that theater was so intense that bringing in a complete outsider who had demonstrable capabilities might not have been the worst action to take. Hood was aggressive, and aggressive action was deemed as necessary to turn things around there. But Hood proved to be reckless in his aggression. Longstreet certainly knew how to ‘play defense’. He also had some experience with the way things were and were done “in the West” due to his deployment the year before to try to help in Tennessee. Given that the South’s resources were so few, I don’t think such a decision could have ended up any worse than how reality played out!

  4. Patrick Cleburne. He had been frozen at Division command ever since his politically incorrect suggestion of arming the slaves and granting them freedom to compensate for the numerical inferiority of the Confederacy in military manpower during the winter of ’63 – ’64, only to have Lee implement it in March of ’65. Cleburne had been particularly successful in defeating numerically superior forces to his command at both Tunnel Hill on the right flank of Missionary Ridge at Chattanooga and at the Ringgold Gap protecting Bragg’s retreat from again snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Throughout the March to Atlanta Cleburne performed remarkedly well, and was elevated to temporary corps command at Jonesboro in a last ditch effort to keep Sherman out of Atlanta. His failure to do so was due only to Hood’s irreplaceable drain on manpower in futile attacks at Peachtree Creek, Ezra Church and the Battle for Atlanta centering on Leggett’s Hill.

  5. After reading the entries to this question, I tried to put myself into Jefferson Davis’ shoes. He had kept the command of Confederate forces firmly in hand. Can any of you name the Confederate Chief of Staff? As long as Davis was running the war, army command was going to be limited to a small pool of old men. Sherman, Grant, Sheridan, McPhereson, Black Jack Logan, et al, were nobodies in 1860. All of them were examples of the meritocracy that Lincoln created.
    In my opinion, the question should be this:
    Did the Confederacy have a cohort of young officers who could have, by merit, risen to army command?
    Was it Lee’s profligate sacrifice of command talent that prevented the rise of talented officers to Corps & army command?

  6. Not many good options. There’s no reason (even today) to believe Johnston’s later claim that he in fact had a plan to attack Sherman (which he never revealed to Davis) when the rug was pulled out from under him. He’d done nothing but retreat and his lack of action when Pemberton was besieged in late Spring 1863 gives no confidence. Hood was a predictably bad choice. Longstreet had already flamed out in independent command after promptly joining the anti-Bragg cabal. Hardee didn’t have much promise either. Untried guys like Alex Stewart or Steven D. Lee?

  7. A question for the audience: If Johnston had stayed in command, how long could he have kept Atlanta out of Sherman’s hands? Any realistic chance that Johnston could have played rope-a-dope with Sherman long enough to keep Atlanta in Confederate hands through Election Day 1864?

    1. The question of what Johnston would have done is moot simply because Johnston had no idea what Johnston was going to do. The man simply had no ability to plan ahead & then act on that plan. It is certain, however, that he would not have thrown his army away attacking dug in troops armed with repeaters & backed by 20 pound rifled guns as Hood did. The one certainty is that the campaign in Georgia, absent Hood’s enormous losses & subsequent desertions, would have been a long drearily destructive slog.

    2. Johnston – if you believe him – had formulated a pan something similar to Hood’s. I don;t buy it because there’s no evidence of him revealing it to Davis when it was clear that Davis was going to make a change. i also don’t buy it since Johnston didn’t lift one finger in the way of aggression/taking the offensive after he did it at Fair Oaks, his plan was all flummoxed up, and he was severely wounded in the process. So the best i could see him doing was squatting down for a siege – same as Hood but without the major casualties to get there. If Sherman finally decides to round the city to the west in the direction of Jonesboro at the end of August, don’t we end up in the same place? In my opinion, thinking that Johnston would get active and strike Sherman fits that Urban Dictionary definition of “insanity”. .

  8. No way Cleburne would have been an awesome selection but after his proposal to enlist slaves, that wasn’t going to happen. He would have been the best military commander.

    1. To be fair, we also don’t know how Cleburne would have fared in command of an army. He’d never held more than a division command. A.P. Hill was an exceptional division commander but is regarded pretty much as a cipher at the corps level. But you make a good point that it was probably a moot question.

      1. I think you raise a good point. Military history is filled with confirmation of the Peter Principle that people rise to their level of oncompetence.

  9. We’ll have to agree to disagree, over whether my question is moot or now.

    In some minds, Hood is a “villain” for losing Atlanta. But, if Sherman was going to take Atlanta before the election anyway, no matter which Confederate general commanded its defenses, then how consequential, from the point-of-view of Confederate war strategy, was Hood’s mismanagement of the Atlanta Campaign? I’ll stipulate that, had Johnston stayed in command, fewer Confederate lives would probably have been lost. But, IMO it’s not fair to label Hood as the man who lost Atlanta, if Atlanta was going to be lost anyway.

    1. Ooops—well, two oopses actually.

      – First sentence should end “moot or not.”
      – This was intended to be a reply to Rhea Cole’s comment of June 25th at 9:47 AM

  10. Hardee is the obvious choice but from what I have read on the Atlanta Campaign he was not at all interested and taking over the army of Tennessee due to their lack of morale, his desire to keep his solid reputation he earned, and possibly despite all of his success there was some self-doubt. Therefore to me the obvious choice was the most underrated General in the western theater that being Patrick Claiborne. The Confederacy and the president in particular let their pride get in the way of an easy decision though because Patrick Claiborne had suggested using African Americans in the Confederate Army they looked at that as a disqualifier. But anyone who has studied the Atlanta Campaign as I happened to be doing right now by chance understands at this point in the war the Union reportedly had a hundred and fifty thousand African American troops. With those type of numbers the Confederacy I had no choice but to start enlisting African Americans or to lose the war and their foolish pride and arrogance obviously worn out to the joy of the Union.

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