After the fall of Altlanta, General John Bell Hood, commander of the Army of Tennessee, faced a quandry. He confronted an army led by Sherman that heavily outnumbered his force. Confederate manpower reserves were used up, and he could look for no further substantial reinforcements, while Sherman could rely upon an apparently inexhaustible flow of supplies and men from the North. If Hood remained on the defensive the initiative remained with Sherman who was clearly readying his army to plunge into the heart of the Confederacy.
In these dire circumstances Hood hit upon the plan of heading north and forcing Sherman to follow him to protect his supply lines. This would perhaps forestall a futher advance by Sherman into the deep South and with luck allow the Confederates to retake Atlanta and other occupied territory.
It was a desperate throw of the dice. Moving north Hood moved ever closer to areas that the Union held in strength, and risked his Army being caught in a vice between Sherman and the forces that the Union could quickly amass due to their control of the rail net and the rivers of Tennessee. However, it was probably the best of the very bad options confronting Hood. Here are his comments on the start of his Tennessee campaign which appeared in Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, condensed from his memoirs, Advance and Retreat:
UNLESS the army could be heavily reenforced, there was but one plan to be adopted by manoeuvres, to draw Sherman back into the mountains, then beat him in battle, and at least regain our lost territory. Therefore, after anxious reflection and consultation with the corps commanders, I determined to communicate with tho President, and ascertain whether or not reenforcement could be obtained from any quarter.
The reply from His Excellency conveyed no hope of assistance :
“RICHMOND, September 5th, 1864.
” . The necessity for reenforcements was realized , and every effort made to bring forward reserves, militia, and detailed men for the purpose. . . . No other resource remains. It is now requisite that absentees be brought back, the addition required from the surrounding country be promptly made available, and that the means in hand be used with energy proportionate to the country’s need. JEFFERSON DAVIS.”
I thereupon decided to operate at the earliest moment possible in the rear of Sherman, as I became more and more convinced of our inability successfully to resist an advance of the Federal army.
I recalled General Wheeler from Tennessee to join immediately the left of the army, whilst Colonel Presstman, of the engineer corps, made ready to move with the pontoon-train and a sufficient number of boats to meet any emergmorning of the 18th the army began to move in the direction of the West Point Railroad, which the advance reached on the 19th. Upon the 20th, line of battle was formed, with the right east of the railroad, and the left resting near the river, with army headquarters at Palmetto.
On the 28th I issued instructions to commence the movement across the Chattahoochee at Pumpkin Town and Phillips’s Ferry, and on the following morning I directed that our supplies from Newnan cross the river at Moore’s Ferry. At noon I rode over the pontoon-bridge in advance of the infantry, and that night established my headquarters at Pray’s Church, along with General W. H. Jackson, commanding the cavalry.