Tuesday, December 16, 2014

150 Years Ago Today: Death of a Rebel Army at Nashville

Oh, my heart is feeling weary
And my head is hanging low
I'm goin' back to Georgy
To find my Uncle Joe.
You may talk about your Beauregard
And sing of Bobby Lee
But the Gallant Hood of Texas
He raised Hell in Tennessee

-These lyrics from the third stanza of Yellow Rose of Texas tell only part of the story of General John Bell Hood and the disasters that befell his ill-fated Army of Tennessee.  When President Jefferson Davis replaced General Joseph Johnston (the "Uncle Joe" referred to in the tune) in mid-July 1864,  General Robert E. Lee warned in a telegram that although "Hood is a bold fighter.  I am doubtful as to other qualities necessary." Prophetically, Lee added that  "We may lose Atlanta and the army too. "  On December 16, 1864, the second part of that warning came true outside of Nashville.

Two months after Hood took command, Atlanta did fall as Lee predicted. Hood evacuated the city in September after four bloody, pointless and disastrous attempts to break General William Tecumseh Sherman's ever-tightening ring around that vital urban center.   Rather than fight a delaying action, as Joe Johnston had done earlier in the year, in mid-October Hood struck north and "raised Hell in Tennessee."  Although he won a victory of sorts at Franklin on November 30, it was a hollow and Pyrrhic one.  Sherman, rather than follow Hood whom he said could "twist like a fox," left General George Thomas to deal with the situation in Tennessee while he the struck out for his infamous March to the Sea.  Thomas gathered Union forces at Nashville, and Hood obligingly followed.

For two weeks Hood laid an ineffectual siege around Nashville.  Despite a flood of telegrams from President Lincoln and General Ulysses Grant urging him to attack or be replaced by someone who would, Thomas waited until he was ready, and on December 15 launched his first major attack.  Although bloodied, bested and outnumbered nearly two to one, Hood does not use the cover of night to retreat.  He stubbornly holds his ground.  In the morning Thomas renews his attack, and the Confederate Army of Tennessee disintegrates.   

Hood lost 6,000 men at Franklin, and another 6,000 at Nashville (including 4,500 taken prisoner).  The remaining 25,000 fell back over the barren winter landscape,  abandoning over 150 cannon to the victorious Yankees.  Although elements of it would fight again,  on December 16 Hood's army ceased to be an effective military force.

Ironically, December 16, 1864 would have been the one-year anniversary of the date when Joseph E. Johnston took command of the Army of Tennessee.

Hood's invasion of Tennessee can be recreated by the Southern player in Rebel Raiders on the High Seas.  Although primarily a naval strategy game of the Civil War, the land campaigns are replicated on an abstract scale through the use of cards, dice and point-to-point movement.   Hood, Johnston, Sherman and other generals and events relevant to the Western theater are represented by cards  (the one-armed, one-legged Hood is CSN Card 89,  and Sherman is USN Card 50).

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