A Letter from the 1864 Tennessee Campaign

In the winter of 1864, General Sherman’s bummers were tearing apart the Confederate heartland in their march from Atlanta to the sea. The Confederate Army of Tennessee lacked the numbers to stop them. Instead, General John Bell Hood turned his Rebels north, hoping that a victory in Tennessee might turn the tide of the war.

I found the following article in The Daily Clarion (Meridian, Miss.) October 28, 1864, written by an unknown soldier the day that the Army of Tennessee began their last great campaign of the war. The thing that strikes me about this missive is how optimistic the writer is; he still believes the war can be won. The missed opportunity at Spring Hill; the terrible slaughter at Franklin; the rout of the Army of Tennessee at Nashville; none of these disasters had happened yet.

Here is the letter of a hopeful soldier of the Army of Tennessee, known only as “Shirley:”

The Front

Gadsden, Ala., Saturday Night, October 22, 1864.

The army has moved. The troops are gone. The last train has disappeared, and the last soldier has taken his farewell peep of the south side of the Coosa. The shadows of night creep slowly over the scene, and the stars look down in vain for the camp-fires that answered but yesternight their own resplendent glitters:

The bridge is up, and the channel flows an impassable flood betwixt us and them.’

You may hear, indeed, the clink of a few rusty chains, which are left behind; you may see, indeed, dim outlines of a few old wagons, that did not cross the stream, and now and then you may meet a stray quartermaster or teamster groping about in the gloom; but the great caravan, with its wild menagerie, has passed beyond the stretch of eye and ear, and has left the world of Gadsden ‘in darkness and to me.’

On yesterday Stewart’s corps marched out in the van. It was followed by Lee, or rather Dick Taylor, who occupies the

Mississippi Monument at Carnton Cemetery in Franklin Tennessee
Mississippi Monument at Carnton Cemetery in Franklin Tennessee

centre; and to day at dawn the delighted Tennesseans under Cheatham crossed the river Jordan or Coosa. (May they not find it a hard road to travel!) The transportation quickly followed, and at noon the pontoon was taken up and also hurried forward after the troops.

What does it mean? It has but one signification. That is ‘forward.’ Gen. Hood has at last struck the right chord, and comprehends the true policy. No matter what the critics may say – no matter what the books may say – no matter what silence may say – we lose more in retreat than we do in advancing. The nature of our troops demands action, and they will not bear retrograde. General Cheatham was quite unwell when he mounted to follow his corps, ‘but,’ said he, ‘we are going home now, and I’ll strap myself to my saddle before they shall leave me behind.’ Gen. Beauregard is with Gen. Hood. Every general officer is at his post, and the spirit and morale of the men unbounded.

We shall cross the Tennessee river, as is generally believed, near Guntersville, at about to-morrow night and the next day. The weather is delicious and the roads good. The days are just cool enough to make a tramp of thirty miles a healthful exercise, and the nights not too cold for sound and happy slumbers by great log heaps. The country is clad in her gayest suit to greet the soldiers as they pass, and to cheer the soldiers as they pass, and to cheer them on to the land of milk and honey. What pleasant benedictions the boughs of chestnut, beech, and maple, which clasp their hands above the marching columns, cast down upon the soldier’s head, and how these deepening tints of ‘orange, scarlet, and apple green’ remind him of home and peace! May God in His infinite mercy and grace, send to these brave men, who have toiled so long and so faithfully, Home and Peace!



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