The Army of Tennessee was the Confederacy’s primary fighting force on the western front. This group was involved in most of the conflict from the Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi River. The army was raised in early 1861 by Tennessee’s governor, Isham G. Harris. It was one of the most well-organized in the South by the time the Confederate States of America assumed its control in July 1861. Early in the war, the army was stationed in northern Tennessee, and tasked with protecting the border. However, they eventually succumbed to the Union at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson in February 1862.
Despite Harris’s organizational acumen, he incorrectly assumed Kentucky’s neutrality throughout the war and did not contribute enough time or money fortifying the Tennessee-Kentucky border from invasion. After the successive defeats in northern Tennessee, the army regrouped in Corinth, Mississippi, under General P. G. T. Beauregard, as the Army of Mississippi. On April 6, 1862, it made a surprise attack on the Union’s Army of the Tennessee under the command of General Ulysses S. Grant at Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee.
Later known as the Battle of Shiloh, this was deadliest battle in American history up to that date. The surprise paid off initially, as Union troops were put on the defensive. However, the arrival of Union General Don Carlos Buell proved to be the turning point as the Confederate forces were routed, amassing over ten thousand casualties. After the battle, Beauregard was replaced by General Braxton Bragg as the commander of the Army of Mississippi. In November 1862 he renamed the force the Army of Tennessee, as it would remain for the rest of the war.
In late December 1862 the Army of Tennessee, 38,000 strong, took up a defensive position just northwest of Murfreesboro. The Confederate forces faced a newly appointed General William S. Rosecrans leading the Army of the Cumberland, 45,000 strong. At dawn on December 31, 1862, Confederate forces struck Rosecrans’s right flank and drove it back three miles. But, once again, the initial success could not be sustained. On January 3, after a Federal reinforcement, Bragg withdrew his troops south toward Tullahoma. The battle was considered a Union victory despite a roughly equal number of casualties.
In the summer of 1863, Bragg had dug his troops in near Chattanooga. Support arrived in the form of General James Longstreet’s First Corps, Army of Northern Virginia, and troops from Mississippi. After careful maneuvering, Rosecrans had forced Bragg to abandon his position in Chattanooga in favor of a location further south, along the banks of Chickamauga Creek in northern Georgia. On September 19 Bragg launched an attack, which ended as one of the bloodiest of the war. Confederate casualties numbered more than eighteen thousand, while the Union forces lost more than sixteen thousand men.
Despite their numerous casualties, the Army of Tennessee secured one of its greatest tactical victories at Chickamauga. The Confederates drove the Federal army back to Chattanooga, though Bragg was unable to capitalize on the victory. In late November 1863 Grant was given command of Union forces in the Western Theater. He withstood the Siege of Chattanooga and subsequent battles, nullified the strategic gains made by Bragg at Chickamauga and opened the “Gateway to the South. ” After the Chattanooga Campaign, Jefferson Davis appointed General Joseph E.
Johnston to lead the Army of Tennessee, while General William T. Sherman was appointed commander of the Union Army of Tennessee Sherman, with some 100,000 troops, was tasked with defeating Johnston’s force and capturing Atlanta. A series of skirmishes saw Johnston continually retreating toward Atlanta. General John Bell Hood led a number of these Confederate counterattacks and earned a reputation as for aggressiveness. Jefferson Davis eventually replaced Johnston with Hood, who complained to Davis about Johnston’s frequent retreats.
Hood’s audacious style resulted in major casualties for the Army of Tennessee, which could not compete in terms of manpower with the Union. Sherman arrived at Atlanta on July 22, 1864, and after a battle and subsequent siege, Atlanta fell to the Union on September 2. Hood decided to maneuver around Sherman’s army northward in an attempt to cut off the supply and communication lines between Atlanta and Chattanooga. Hood marched through Alabama and turned north, hoping to draw Sherman away from Atlanta.
The plan was mildly successful, causing Sherman to spread out his forces to protect his supply lines north of Atlanta; however, he led the main strength of his army toward Savannah, Georgia, in what is known as “Sherman’s March to the Sea. ” General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry brigade won some minor skirmishes throughout this march north, using speed and maneuverability to their advantage. Continuing north into Middle Tennessee, Hood attacked Federal troops at Franklin late in the afternoon of November 30, 1864.
The Confederates took Franklin, but at great cost, incurring over six thousand casualties including fourteen generals. Hood pursued General Schofield to Nashville, where Schofield was able to rendezvous with General George Thomas, their combined forces totaling roughly 55,000. The remaining thirty thousand troops entrenched south of the city, but after unwisely splitting his forces in an attempt to draw General Thomas out, Hood was soundly defeated on December 15-16, 1864, before the Army of Tennessee limped southeast toward the Carolinas.
Johnston was reinstated to lead the army for the Carolina Campaign at Bentonville and Durham, where he surrendered the Army of Tennessee to Sherman on April 17, 1865. The Army of Tennessee fought in most of the pivotal battles in the Western Theater, often against superior numbers. While it suffered from many disastrous decisions due to an unstable command, it managed to maintain its reputation as a tenacious unit throughout its long service.