Was the potential of a Confederate capture of Nashville in 1864 likely?

Notes from the Professor: Dr. Steven E. Woodworth. We asked the Professor this question: Was the potential of a Confederate capture of Nashville in 1864 likely in your estimation?

Actually, I think a Confederate capture of Nashville in 1864 was as close to being impossible as almost anything we study in history. The more likely means by which Hood might have achieved greater success would have been by by-passing Nashville and penetrating much farther north–though the season of the year was much against it. And even at that, he wouldn’t have changed the course of the war. If he could, by some miracle, have taken Nashville, that certainly would have been a major headache for the Union high command, but ultimately, with Lincoln having been reelected, the North was committed to waging the war for up to another 4 years if necessary. Lee’s army could not have survived more than a couple of weeks longer than it did, and then Hood’s would have been the only major Confederate army left in the field. Can you imagine him with, say, 30,000 men, besieged in Nashville by perhaps 200,000 or more Union troops, led once again–as had not occurred since Chattanooga–by the combined leadership skills of Grant, Sherman, Thomas, and Sheridan? And with not even the most remote possibility of a Confederate army marching to his relief? In short, the final outcome might have been delayed, and thus attended with even more brutality and destruction, but it would have been the same. The last point in the war at which I can see any remote but semi-realistic hope of Confederate victory was the day before election-day, 1864. And for practical purposes, that election was probably decided on September 1, when Atlanta fell.

Steven E. Woodworth is Professor of History at TCU in Texas.

Among his publications are Jefferson Davis and His Generals (University Press of Kansas, 1990), Davis and Lee at War (University Press of Kansas, 1995), Leadership and Command in the American Civil War (Savas Woodbury, 1996), The American Civil War: A Handbook of Literature and Research (Greenwood, 1996), A Deep Steady Thunder (McWhiney Foundation, 1996), Six Armies in Tennessee (1998), The Musick of the Mocking Birds, The Roar of the Cannon (University of Nebraska Press, 1998), The Art of Command in the Civil War (University of Nebraska Press, 1998), Civil War Generals in Defeat (University Press of Kansas, 1999), This Grand Spectacle (McWhiney Foundation, 1999), Chickamauga: A Battlefield Guide (University of Nebraska Press, 1999), No Band of Brothers (University of Missouri Press, 1999), The Human Tradition in the Civil War and Reconstruction (Scholarly Resources, 2000), Cultures in Conflict (Greenwood, 2000), Grant’s Lieutenants from Cairo to Vicksburg (University Press of Kansas, 2001), While God is Marching On: The Religious World of Civil War Soldiers (University Press of Kansas, 2001), Beneath a Northern Sky: A Short History of the Gettysburg Campaign (Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), The Oxford Atlas of the Civil War (Oxford University Press, 2004), Nothing but Victory: The Army of the Tennessee, 1861-1865 (Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), and Shiloh: A Battlefield Guide (University of Nebraska Press, 2006).

3 thoughts on “Was the potential of a Confederate capture of Nashville in 1864 likely?

  1. In my upcoming book, “The Lost Papers of Confederate General John Bell Hood” (Savas Beatie 2014) is a letter Hood wrote to Sarah Dorsey in 1867. Apparently Dorsey asked Hood the intent of the Tennessee Campaign.

    New Orleans, March 30, ‘67

    Miss Sarah A. Dorsey.

    My experience as a soldier taught me at an early day during the Revolution that an army could not retreat in the face of an enemy without great loss in spirit and numbers.

    The Army of Tennessee, when I assumed command, having lost over twenty-thousand effective men during an unfortunate retreat of over one-hundred miles, was not in condition for pitched battle. And as we can alone rely on offensive flows to guard long lines, such as the one extending from Mobile to Richmond Va. I felt that my position was an embarrassing one; but could not refuse to comply with the orders & wishes of those in authority, altho I did not desire the command.

    The holding of my position around Atlanta for forty three days improved the morale of the soldiers, but finally being forced to abandon this untenable city, again causing the recommence of retreat, my army was very much discouraged to find itself standing upon the flat plains of Ga, with all the mountain fortresses in their front, depots drained to the last recruit, and with no spring ridge between them and the sea.

    Twas here that all the Corps Commanders expressed the opinion “that to stand still was certain ruin, and recommended that the offensive be taken as the only hope of improving & increasing the army.” Miss, Ala, Georgia & the Carolinas having no men at the rendezvous that could be sent to my aid, I decided to push forward into Tenn, attempt the capture of Nashville, move into Kentucky and open communications with Genl. Lee.

    This accomplished I thought would compel Genl. Sherman to abandon the swamps of Georgia and accept battle between the waters of the Cumberland & Ohio.

    The capture of Nashville and regaining so much lost territory, I was quite certain would give new life to our people, recruit our thinned ranks, and give that tone to the army I had been so long accustomed in Virginia, which I hoped would ensure victory to our arms, and finally secure our freedom.
    Accidents however, perhaps beyond human control caused the campaign to fail at a time when the fruits of victory were seemingly within our grasp.

    Respectfully,

    J. B. Hood

  2. Your right telling history it is a great letter that lets one ine the Gen. Mindset.along with you I am waiting for the forthcoming book of unpublished letters.

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