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Did Sherman let Hood escape?

Discussion in 'Atlanta Campaign' started by major bill, Jul 12, 2018 at 1:32 PM.

  1. major bill

    major bill Lt. Colonel Forum Host

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    When Richmond fell Grant was able to keep Lee from escaping. Why was not Sherman not able to do so to Hood when Atlanta fell? Sherman must have anticipated Hood evacuating Atlanta. I wonder if Sherman had a plan to bag the evacuating army. Is so Sherman never seems to have put it into serious action.
     
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  3. Rusk County Avengers

    Rusk County Avengers Private

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    Somewhere or other I recall a quote from Sherman about Hood along the lines of "If they go as far as the Ohio River, I will give them rations" I also recall another quote, or a part of the one I mentioned, from Sherman saying of Hood "let him go North, my business is down South". Given those possible quotes, and Sherman's actions, I think he let Hood escape, after all we should remember what Lee said of Hood, "He's all lion and none the fox".
     
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  4. diane

    diane Brev. Brig. Gen'l

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    When the enemy is making a mistake, it's best not to interrupt him too soon!
     
  5. wausaubob

    wausaubob Captain

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    Blocking Hood's army from a viable retreat was a military objective. Marching into Atlanta was a political objective. Given the date of the Democratic convention, the last week of August 1864, the political objective was more important. Sure enough, General McClellan renounced the Democratic platform and by the 19th of September John Fremont quit the Presidential race. Not pursuing Hood seems to have worked.
    Being able to rotate homeward regiments from key states like Illinois also seems to have worked.
     
  6. Coonewah Creek

    Coonewah Creek Private

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    I believe Sherman by nature was not comfortable with engaging the enemy in large battles. Especially an unpredictable commander like Hood. So, although he could have probably engaged Hood, he was comfortable in letting him and the depleted Army of Tennessee go, assuming the forces he had available in Tennessee could take care of any offensive operation he might be able to mount.

    While Grant engaged Lee in Virginia, his instructions to Sherman in a letter dated April 4, 1864 reads in part:

    "You I propose to move against Johnston’s army [the Army of Tennessee], to break it up and to get into the interior of the enemy’s country as far as you can, inflicting all the damage you can against their war resources.

    I do not propose to lay down for you a plan of campaign, but simply lay down the work it is desirable to have done and leave you free to execute it in your own way. Submit to me, however, as early as you can, your plan of operations."

    In his reply to Grant on April 10, Sherman affirmed his mission as being “to knock Jos. Johnston, and do as much damage to the resources of the enemy as possible.” Although this seems in accordance with Grant’s instructions, we find, in examining the specifics of what Sherman proposed to do, that he actually violated the spirit, if not the letter, of Grant’s directives. Sherman, instead of striving to “knock” Johnston and break up his army, would merely try to maneuver him into retreating south of the Chattahoochee River, at which point, as he also tells Grant in his April 10 letter, he will send cavalry to cut the railroad between Atlanta and Montgomery and then “feign to the right, but pass to the left and act against Atlanta or its eastern communications, according to developed facts.”[ii] Thus it is clear that Sherman’s primary objective was, contrary to the clear meaning of Grant’s instructions, not Johnston’s army, but Atlanta. This subtle shift in priorities probably reflected, at least in part, Sherman’s dislike of battles, which he tended to regard as dangerously unpredictable in outcome. However, the main reason was his belief that Grant’s Virginia offensive would be the “principal” one, and that his own campaign would be “secondary.” Thus Sherman saw his top-priority task as preventing Johnston from reinforcing Lee, not necessarily defeating Johnston’s army in pitched battle.[iii] This was still his priority even when Hood assumed command. Let him go off on an adventure back into Tennessee. He would never be able to link up with Lee and cause Grant problems in Virginia.

    Ulysses S. Grant, Memoirs and Selected Letters (New York, 1990), p. 479.

    [ii] William T. Sherman, Memoirs of William T. Sherman (New York, 1990), pp. 491-492. Clarence Clough Buel and Robert Underwood Johnson (eds.), Battles and Leaders of the Civil War (Secaucus, NJ, 1884-1888), vol. 4, pp. 247-248.

    [iii] Albert Castel, Decision in the West: The Atlanta Campaign of 1864 (Lawrence, KS, 1992), p. 91.
     
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  7. jackt62

    jackt62 Sergeant Major

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    Did Sherman not initially attempt to pursue Hood after the fall of Atlanta? But rather than chasing Hood and the Army of Tennesse back through Georgia and points north, Sherman believed that a more decisive campaign should be waged eastwards to the sea, which of course is what happened with his famous March. Concurrently, Sherman assigned seperate forces under Thomas and Schofield to deal with the AOT in its slog to Tennessee. The historic outcome showed that Sherman made the right decision: the Confederacy was again cut in two, and the AOT was no longer a threat after the lossess it suffered at Franklin and Nashville.
     
  8. Hunter

    Hunter Sergeant

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    After Atlanta was abandoned, Sherman had to decide whether to march toward Selma and then Mobile. Hood was initially in the way until he began moving on the railroad running from Chattanooga to Atlanta that was supplying Sherman. The idea was to lure/force Sherman out of Georgia to re-establish that supply line. Hood had been ordered to turn and attack Sherman if Sherman ventured to northwest Georgia, but Hood instead crossed over into Alabama and never offered battle. Sherman pursued Hood as far as Gaylesville, Alabama, but then stopped. There Sherman decided to march east, destroy Atlanta, and then destroy the railroads in Georgia that were supplying Lee in Virginia. Meanwhile, Hood marched into north Alabama and ultimately crossed the Tennessee River at Florence, but very curiously stopped there rather that moving into Tennessee before the weather became awful.
     
  9. major bill

    major bill Lt. Colonel Forum Host

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    If Sherman had aggressively followed Hood when Hood evacuated, could have Sherman bagged Hoods army in a week or so?
     
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  10. Coonewah Creek

    Coonewah Creek Private

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    Sherman could probably have chased Hood down, but why? Remember, Grant's instructions were to:
    So he had a choice. He could chase Hood back into Northern Alabama or continue his plan to cut loose from his base of supply at Atlanta and "make Georgia howl." Sherman chose the latter and I have to agree that he made the right choice.
     
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  11. Joshism

    Joshism First Sergeant

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    I think that's a factually inaccurate statement. Lee successfully evacuated Richmond and Petersburg. Grant's forces had to aggressively pursue him and catch the ANV, and didn't do so until they were a hundred miles away.

    Lee was significantly hindered by supply problems - namely a lack of food. He also had to move in pretty much one direction. Grant also had a large force of experienced cavalry under Sheridan. Even people who dislike Sheridan and think he's overrated as a general usually agree the Appomattox Campaign was his finest hour in Virginia.

    Sherman made a wide swing around Atlanta to Jonesboro, which Hood unsuccessfully attempted to block with most of his army so was in an better situation to escape than Lee. Hood could also move in almost any direction - toward Augusta, Savannah, or Macon mostly obviously but he even managed to find a way to move north by swinging around Atlanta. Sherman's pursuit of Hood at that point would have been a logistical strain, and at the expense of seizing Atlanta. Sherman's cavalry had also been wrecked just a short time prior to this due to an overly ambitious and disastrously conducted raid.

    Grant's forces were in a much better place logistically and in terms of rest, having essentially just come out of winter quarters prior to Five Forks (other than Hatcher's Run in February) and were well supplied at the start of their pursuit. Sherman was not only on the wrong side of Atlanta from his supply line (which was far less secure than Grant's from City Point), but his army had been actively campaigning for months.

    Hood's army, although bloodied by their failed attempts to stop Sherman, was also in better shape in Sept 1864 than Lee's army in April 1865. The ANV had rotted away in the Petersburg trenches, especially after word came of Sherman's march through Georgia. They put up a good showing despite this, but the ANV was a shell of its former self by that point.
     
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  12. Carronade

    Carronade 1st Lieutenant

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    As jackt62 mentioned, Sherman tried, but it was difficult to trap a Confederate army moving in its own territory.

    I think it made sense to try - whatever your ultimate goal, destroying the enemy army is likely to be of benefit - but when he realized chasing Hood around the countryside wasn't working, he got back to carrying out his own strategy.
     
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  13. Hunter

    Hunter Sergeant

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    Possibly. The problem was that Hood was trying to preserve his army and was not going to stand and fight. He knew he could retreat into the hill country of north Alabama, which was a terrain perfect for defense. Sherman could have gone in there after Hood but might have gotten bogged down. And keep in mind that while Hood was in north Alabama, he was not advancing the Confederate war effort in the least, so chasing him was pointless. Moreover, Sherman left a sufficient defensive force to protect Nashville when Hood finally began his disastrous Nashville campaign in the snow. Meanwhile, Sherman was destroying railroads that were part of Lee's supply line, an important factor in Lee's ultimate surrender.
     
  14. wausaubob

    wausaubob Captain

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    I think the question relates to whether once Sherman's army reached the railroads south of Atlanta, whether further attempts to trap the Confederates were advisable. Trapping the Confederates in Atlanta might have prolonged the campaign for several weeks. At that point Grant and Sherman had to supply Lincoln with political victories.
     

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