The Army of Tennessee was the Confederacy’s primary force in the Western Theater, demarcated by the Appalachian Mountains on the east and the Mississippi River on the west. (The theater west of the Mississippi was referred to as the Trans-Mississippi Theater and was the responsibility of the Army of the Trans-Mississippi.) Formed in November 1862, the Army of Tennessee endured through the end of the war and fought in most of the major battles in this theater. It was something of a hard-luck force, with gallant soldiers but mediocre to poor leadership at the top. Of the four biggest battles in which it was engaged (Murfreesboro, July 13, 1862; Chickamauga, September 19–20, 1863; Atlanta, July 22, 1864; and Nashville, December 15–16, 1864), only Chickamauga was a clear Confederate victory. (The Army of Tennessee is an example of the CSA tendency to name its armies after states or geographical areas, versus the USA’s tendency to name them after prominent rivers. Thus the CSA Army of Tennessee is not to be confused with the USA Army of the Tennessee.)
The defeat of Braxton Bragg, commanding a formation designated the Army of Mississippi, and Edmund Kirby Smith, commanding what was at the time called the Army of East Tennessee, at the bloody Battle of Perryville (October 8, 1862) brought the collapse of the Confederate invasion of Kentucky and motivated the merger of Bragg’s and Smith’s armies as the Army of Tennessee, under the command of Bragg, on November 20, 1862. Initially, the new army was divided into three corps, I Corps under Leonidas Polk, II Corps under William J. Hardee, and III Corps under Smith. The latter was disbanded, however, in December when Smith returned to east Tennessee. Early the next year, in March 1863, he would assume command of the Army of the Trans-Mississippi.
Braxton Bragg commanded the Army of Tennessee from its establishment on November 20, 1862, until December 2, 1863. A passionate but deeply flawed commander, Bragg was born in 1817 in Warrenton, North Carolina, and graduated from West Point in 1837. The new second lieutenant was assigned to the 3rd Artillery. Throughout his career, it was as an artilleryman that Bragg proved most adept. His first combat service was in the Second Seminole War (1835–42), and his next was in the US-Mexican War (1846–48). Serving under Major General Zachary Taylor, Bragg was initially stationed at Fort Brown (near present-day Brownsville, Texas) during May 3–9, 1846, and was brevetted to the rank of captain. At the Battle of Monterrey (September 21–24, 1846), he performed with distinction and was brevetted major. Likewise at Buena Vista (February 22–23, 1847), he showed great courage and competence. The skill with which he deployed his artillery battery played a key role in Taylor’s victory.
Emerging a hero from the war with Mexico, Bragg plodded through the peacetime army until his penchant for dispute erupted in December 1855 against his friend Jefferson Davis, who was at the time secretary of war in the cabinet of Franklin Pierce. When Davis proposed stationing artillery batteries in various western frontier posts, Bragg lashed out at what he termed the absurdity of “chas[ing] Indians with six-pounders.” He then went out of his way to travel to Washington and tell Davis in person. Davis dug in and refused to back down. Bragg immediately tendered his resignation—and Davis accepted it without protest. Bragg resigned his commission in January 1856 and purchased a sugar plantation outside of Thibodaux, Louisiana. As a planter he displayed great ability in civil engineering, designing not only a drainage and levee system for his property, but for the entire state.
In February 1861 Bragg answered the call to service in the Louisiana militia, and then entered the Confederate States Army as a brigadier general on March 7. In September he was promoted to major general and took command of II Corps in the newly formed Army of Mississippi under General Albert S. Johnston. After leading the Confederate right flank at the Battle of Shiloh (April 6–7, 1862, Tennessee; Confederate defeat), he was promoted to full general on April 12, 1862. Assigned in June to command what was then designated the Army of Mississippi, Bragg invaded Kentucky from August through October of 1862. His intention was to bring this border state into the Confederate fold, but, though reinforced by Smith’s Army of Eastern Tennessee, Bragg was defeated at the Battle of Perryville (October 8, 1862) and withdrew from the state. He fought against General William Rosecrans at the Battle of Stones River (Murfreesboro; December 31, 1862–January 2, 1863, Tennessee; Confederate defeat), but was once again compelled to withdraw. He nevertheless managed to maneuver out of Chattanooga early in September 1863 and defeat Rosecrans at the chaotic Battle of Chickamauga (September 19–20, 1863, Georgia). This time it was the Union forces that withdrew, to Chattanooga, where Bragg held them under siege until Ulysses Grant came to Rosecrans’s relief, defeating Bragg in the Battles for Chattanooga (November 23–25, 1863, Tennessee).
In the wake of this defeat, Bragg was relieved of command of the Army of Tennessee on December 2, 1863, and replaced by a temporary commander, William J. Hardee (December 2–16, 1863). On December 16 General Joseph E. Johnston assumed command. Recalled from the field, Bragg was appointed as one of Jefferson Davis’s military advisers. Early in 1865, however, he personally raised a small force in North Carolina to defend against the advance of William T. Sherman’s March to the Sea. With General Johnston, Bragg surrendered to Sherman on April 26, 1865. The war over, he returned to civil engineering, practicing his profession in Texas.
Joseph E. Johnston was a native of Farmville, Virginia, born in 1807. He graduated from West Point in 1829 and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the artillery. During service in the Second Seminole War (1835–42), he was promoted to first lieutenant (July 1836), but, the promotion notwithstanding, Johnston was discouraged by the paucity of prospects for advancement in the military. He resigned his commission in May 1837 to enter civil engineering, only to return a year later, once again fighting the Seminoles—this time as a member of the Corps of Topographical Engineers rather than the artillery.
During the US-Mexican War, Johnston served under General Winfield Scott and distinguished himself at Cerro Gordo on April 18, 1847, after which he was brevetted to colonel. After serving in the Utah (or Mormon) War (1857–58), Johnston was promoted to brigadier general and appointed quartermaster general of the army in June 1860. Less than a year later, in April 1861, he resigned his commission to join the Provisional Army of the Confederate States of America as a brigadier general in command of the (Confederate) Army of Shenandoah (not to be confused with the [Union] Army of the Shenandoah). At the First Battle of Bull Run (July 21, 1861, Virginia), Johnston was the ranking Confederate officer and was instrumental in giving the South its first major victory.
In August 1861 Johnston was promoted to general and made commander of the (Confederate) Army of the Potomac, predecessor of the Army of Northern Virginia. He faced Union general George B. McClellan in the Peninsula Campaign (March–July 1862), during which he was wounded at the Battle of Fair Oaks (May 31–June 1, 1862, Virginia; inconclusive). He was replaced by Robert E. Lee as commander of what was now called the Army of Northern Virginia.
After Johnston’s convalescence and return to duty, he was named commander of the Department of the West in November 1862 and directed the first phase of a heroic defense of Vicksburg, Mississippi, against an attack and siege by Ulysses S. Grant. In command of dwindling forces, Johnston was driven from his base of operations at Jackson, Mississippi, by Major General William T. Sherman on May 14, 1863, and could do nothing to prevent the fall of Vicksburg on July 4.
After Vicksburg, Johnston became commander of the Army of Tennessee (December 16, 1863), and was able to extract a measure of revenge against Sherman by capitalizing on the Union general’s ill-judged offensive at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain (June 27, 1864, Georgia; Confederate victory), near Atlanta. Johnston next defended Atlanta itself, but did so through a series of strategic retreats. Confederate president Jefferson Davis, appalled by Johnston’s inability to drive back the attack on the South’s key rail hub, relieved him of command of the Army of Tennessee.
Johnston’s successor, John Bell Hood, was born in Owingsville, Kentucky, in 1831, the son of a respected physician and his socially prominent wife. They lived on a 600-acre plantation, owned slaves, and conducted themselves as aristocrats. Although his father wanted him to become a physician, Hood enrolled at West Point in 1849 and, despite a poor disciplinary record, graduated forty-fourth out of the fifty-two-member Class of 1853.
As new second lieutenant, Hood was assigned to the 4th US Infantry in California and was transferred to the 2nd US Cavalry at Fort Mason, Texas. Hood was thrilled with patrolling in Comanche country and received his first combat wound—an arrow through his left hand—in an 1857 skirmish. Promoted to first lieutenant, he turned down an offer to serve as chief instructor of cavalry at West Point in 1860, likely because, with civil war in the offing, he preferred the company of fellow Southerners in Texas to a teaching post on the Hudson.
With the fall of Fort Sumter in April 1861, Hood resigned his commission, intending to volunteer for service in the Kentucky militia. When the state voted not to secede, he secured a commission as first lieutenant in the Provisional Army of the Confederate States and reported to Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Virginia. Lee sent him to Yorktown under the command of Colonel John Magruder, who assigned Hood command of all his cavalry companies, promoting him to captain and almost immediately thereafter to major.
On September 30, 1861, Hood was promoted to colonel and given command of 4th Texas Infantry Regiment, which had been sent to the Eastern Theater. Upgraded to brigade strength, the unit became Hood’s Texas Brigade, which was attached to the Army of Northern Virginia. On March 3, 1862, Hood was promoted to brigadier general.
Hood’s first battle was at Eltham’s Landing (May 7, 1862, Virginia; inconclusive). During the Seven Days, Hood fought at the Battle of Gaines’s Mill (June 27, 1862, Virginia; Confederate victory). He led his brigade at the Second Battle of Bull Run (August 28–30, 1862; Confederate victory) and was promoted to division commander. At Antietam (September 17, 1862, Maryland; Confederate strategic defeat), Hood sacrificed much of his division to protect Stonewall Jackson’s corps. Next came the Battle of Fredericksburg (December 11–15, 1862, Virginia; Confederate victory) and then Gettysburg (July 1–3, 1863, Pennsylvania; Confederate defeat). Hood protested Lee and Longstreet’s order to assault Little Round Top frontally, proposing instead to attack from the rear. It was a good tactical idea, but Longstreet spurned it. Hood suffered serious wounds at Gettysburg and was out of action until the Battle of Chickamauga (September 19–20, 1863, Georgia; Confederate victory).
It was during the Atlanta Campaign (May 7–September 2, 1864, Georgia) that Jefferson Davis chose Hood to replace Joseph E. Johnston as commanding officer of the Army of Tennessee. Abandoning Johnston’s policy of tactical defense, Hood launched four reckless, futile, and costly counterattacks on the Union’s William T. Sherman. After losing Atlanta and suffering heavy casualties, Hood marched west to link up with Nathan Bedford Forrest, intending to defeat the Union’s Army of the Ohio under James M. Schofield and the Army of the Cumberland under George H. Thomas and draw Sherman out of Georgia.
Instead, he was defeated by Schofield at Franklin and by Thomas at Nashville. These losses decimated the Army of Tennessee. Hood asked President Davis to relieve him of command. The Confederate president obliged, replacing him in February 1865 with (at Lee’s request) Johnston, the commander Hood had earlier replaced. Johnston led the Army of Tennessee in a valiant effort to check Sherman’s March to the Sea (November 15–December 21, 1864, Georgia; Confederate defeat) and at the Battle of Bentonville (March 19–21, 1865, North Carolina; Confederate defeat). Vastly outnumbered in North Carolina, Johnston surrendered to Sherman at Durham Station on April 26, effectively ending the Civil War.