How important was Hood’s Middle Tennessee Campaign (i.e., Franklin-Nashville) to the overall Confederate war strategy by late 1864?

I asked the Battle of Franklin Facebook Group – accessed at FranklinMatters.com – the following question recently,”How important do you think Hood’s Middle Tennessee Campaign (i.e., Franklin-Nashville) was to the overall Confederate war strategy by late 1864?” Our Facebook Group has almost 3,500 fans. One can tell by the following comments and responses just how ‘intelligent’ some of the members of this group is.

Here is a sampling of the responses.

Rick Boone It was an important but desperate part of the last gasps of Confederate military action. I have admiration for J.B. Hood, but I think he could have handled Franklin a whole lot better. After that, it was lights out for the Army of Tennessee.

The options left to the CSA and its armies were few, but the way Hood conducted this campaign was not among the better ones. Along with Braxton Bragg’s generalship, it was about as bad as it got for the Confederacy. And they lost Cleburne!

Paul Caudell It was a last ditch effort by Davis and the C.S. government.A vain hope and a waste of men and materiel. Hood was completely the wrong man for the job and completely out of his depth. It had no significant effect on the war except to reduce the Army Of Tennessee’s ability to continue fighting in any meaningful fashion.

Terry Smallwood  I really think that the campaign was a total waste in time and men. The strength of the union army made it futile to in any attempt to pull Sherman out of Georgia. The federal army had plenty of troops to handle Hood and destroy Georgia. What affect would the confederate soldiers who fell at Franklin and Nashville ,have had at Bentonville , Maybe have aided in the hookup with Lee. The Generals that fell in the campaign would be sorely missed . The time spent in the Tennessee campaign would have been better spent trying to link up with Lee whie it was still intact as a viable army. That Johnston salvaged what was left can only be attributed to his ability as one of the great commanders in the confederacy. Many returned to the ranks because of Uncle Joe, they knew he would not throw their lives away. It was a desperate attempt by Hood to salvage some respect of tenure as a commanding General, it was dream ,that became a nightmare.

Johnny Vaughan  Texas Hold-Em. You’ve fought and battled and find yourself short-stacked. All you can do is go “all in” with a weak hand. In hindsight the tragedy is easily apparent and I’ve been quick to judge Hood completely inept when describing Franklin. But, I wonder what degree of hope was going thru Hood and his men at the time… what sense of “my brothers have died for this – I’m spending every last ounce of myself in an attempt to rally the cause”.

Bobby Whitson  Until recent years, most historians have focused their efforts on the War in the East when the war was actually won and lost in the West. When Nashville (Donelson and Henry) fell, the Confederacy was doomed. I’ll argue that protecting Tennessee should have been more important than protecting Virginia. Tennessee’s vast resources, river, and rail system protected could have enabled the Confederacy to sustain its war effort much more efficiently and effectively. Middle Tennessee proved to be the gateway for the Federal Army to the Confederate Heartland. The Tennessee Campaign of 1864 was the last effort with any hope (little as it was) of success. Had Hood moved quicker, cut off and defeated Schofield earlier, and turned on Thomas at Nashville, it is possible, but doubtful that he could have taken Nashville or that Thomas could have abandoned it. Both Schofield and Thomas were very afraid that Hood could best both of them if he could do what Hood said he would do when at Tuscumbia which was that the Army of Tennessee would only fight on its terms and on land that it chose. Hood got half way there at Spring Hill, but then he forgot those terms when he threw those brave boys against the works of Franklin. Hood proved at Atlanta that he was incapable of leading the Army. Cleburne should have been at the helm.

Todd Hunter Binkley Utter desperation! Sherman unopposed, Lee besieged at Petersburg, Richmond powerless and bankrupt. Gross incompetence abound. Very little glory in the West. The beginning was bad and progressively worsened throughout the war in this theater. Severing the head at Richmond was the war!

Richard Young  It is a wonder that Hood made it as far as he did. He ran into trouble at Decatur, Al and then at Florance. His fastest route north to Nashville was the broken railroad from Decatur but he could not take the small Union force stationed there. He had no plan as to how to drive east if he captured Nashville. In the dead of winter, crossing the Cumberland Plateau would be like crossing the dessert in the summer. His grand march to join Lee was full of unthough of problems.

Kevin Spencer   There was one, and only one, potential ‘game changer’ left to the Confederates in late 1864. The one thing they hadn’t accomplished yet in the war: the capture of a Union Army. There was no way Hood was going to capture Nashville, much less march on the Ohio; but the capture of an Union Army, that, maybe, could change the public opinion of a war weary North. And Hood came within a dose of laudanum of accomplishing it. If he could have captured Schofield at Spring Hill, maybe then have taken Murfreesboro and it’s mountain of supplies, and then entrenched behind the Duck to await Thomas…well, that’s a lot of ifs, but I’d argue it was a gamble worth taking.

I asked Professor Steven Woodworth essentially the same question and here was his answer:

Franklin and Nashville had a limited impact on the overall course of the war simply because they failed to change anything. The Union controlled Tennessee before the campaign and controlled it even more solidly afterward. Confederate chances for success in the campaign were, from the outset, rather desperate. The impact of the battles was 1) to increase the overall Confederate death toll of the war, and 2) to remove whatever latent threat to Union control of Tennessee might have been posed by Hood’s army lurking in north Alabama. For example, it seems unlikely that Schofield’s two corps would have been shifted to the east coast if Hood, with an as yet unbroken Army of Tennessee, were still lurking just outside the state, threatening to move north.

And yet, would that have changed the outcome of the war? No, Sherman could have accomplished his purpose without Schofield, and the overall outcome would have been the same. Perhaps the crowning irony of the battles of Franklin and Nashville is that they were fought at a time when the war was already decided. by late November 1864 it is difficult to imagine any train of events that could have led to Confederate victory.

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One thought on “How important was Hood’s Middle Tennessee Campaign (i.e., Franklin-Nashville) to the overall Confederate war strategy by late 1864?

  1. Robert collins

    The situation was definitely very grim and desperate for the Confederacy in the fall of 1864 and I think it’s safe to say that time and options were quickly running out. The plan that was implemented by Hood may not have been the best one but then again, what was? As the old saying goes “desperate times call for desperate measures”! I know that I am going out on the proverbial limb when I say this because I am sure that there are plenty that will disagree with me but I really do believe that this plan was not a bad one and did have some potential. The south did actually have some hope of survival left in late 1864. Not total victory, mind you, but survival and yes there is a difference. There were only two things that were gonna keep that hope alive, one was foreign intervention and the other was a change of leadership in the Union White House. Those were the two best things that the south could hope for. Now let me say that this plan would have required Hood to have began moving sooner and quicker than what he did and he would have had to have neutralized Thomas and Schofield and then began moving north before the presidential elections in early november. Tall order of business to say the least! If Hood could have pulled this off then there is the possibility that it could have had an impact on the election and maybe even caused some of the European superpowers (England,France,etc.) to take a second look @ the Confederacy. I know that these scenarios were longshots but they were possibilities that were still on the table and It would have depended upon how much trouble Hood could have stirred up for the Union. As it was it didn’t turn out like that and by the time Hood did engage Thomas and Schofield the election was over with and those options were pretty well down the tubes. Perhaps the biggest flaw in the whole plan was John Bell Hood himself! A Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson or even perhaps a Nathan Bedford Forrest might have stood a better chance of making it work. Hood was not any of these men and was clearly the wrong man for the job! Hood was a very good general on the brigade and divisional level but was clearly way out of his league when it came to leading an entire army on a military campaign. I do believe that the Middle Tennessee campaign of 1864 did serve one useful purpose, however. It did help to end the war quicker. After the battle of Nashville the Army of the Tennessee was pretty well took out of the picture as an effective fighting force. Had Franklin and Nashville not occurred then the war probably would have dragged on longer. I believe the conclusion would have been the same but instead of ending in April of 1865 it might have even been April of 1866 before it got wrapped up. A useful purpose indeed, just not the one the south was hoping for! The Confederacy’s best hope for survival died when Abraham Lincoln was re-elected in November of 1864! Bottom Line! The south was running out of men and material and the north was not! Lincoln had made it clear that there would be no compromise, he now had 4 more years to get it done (not that he was going to need it) and he was determined to see it through to the bitter end! The late Shelby Foote once said that he believed the north fought the war with one hand tied behind it’s back and the more I look @ it, the more I believe he was right!

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