Did Jefferson Davis Just Lose the War?

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jackt62

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It could arguably be said that Jefferson Davis' relief of General Joe Johnston on July 17, 1864 in front of Atlanta might have caused the Confederacy to lose whatever slight chances it still had of achieving some kind of victory over the Union. Here's why: Davis was exasperated by Johnston's continual withdrawal of the AOT from Dalton to Atlanta and received no assurance from Johnston that he was prepared to defend the city or make a determined stand against Sherman's combined forces. Even though Johnston had prepared to attack the Army of the Cumberland at Peachtree Creek, the assault was carried out by Johnson's replacement, General John Bell Hood. But Hood's assault, as well as his subsequent attacks against Sherman's forces (Atlanta, Ezra Church) all failed to halt Sherman's eventual capture of Atlanta. In the aftermath of Atlanta's fall, after a brief pursuit of Hood, Sherman marched off in the other direction towards the sea while the diminished AOT went off on a wild goose chase to its final decimation in Tennessee.

But to get back to my main point. Based on his past record, if Johnston had remained in command he would have likely given up Atlanta without incurring the type of significant casualties that resulted from Hood's attempts to safeguard the city and/or harm Sherman's forces. In that case, Johnston and the AOT would have remained a formidable fighting force that could either have continued to stymie and bedevil Sherman through, say Georgia, and more important, have made a serious effort to link up with Lee's forces at Petersburg. In that scenario, the additional manpower brought to bear might have made a real difference to the Confederacy in stengthening the Petersburg siege lines.

So while Davis pinned his hopes on Hood's aggressive strategy, it not only failed to save Atlanta, but it took away the only source of additional manpower that might have made a difference where it really mattered. In that respect, did Jeff Davis lose the war by replacing Johnston with Hood?
 

Irishtom29

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We don't know what Johnston would've done or how well. Nor do we know how Sherman and his subordinates would've reacted to these things that never happened. Change one factor of a situation and a huge number of alternatives open up.

In the real event Sherman and his army group were capable of dealing with all the cards dealt, we know that.
 
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jackt62

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Johnston's questionable record is certainly a concern. But it doesn't change the fact that the AOT would have remained a force to be reckoned with under Johnston whereas under Hood, that army's fighting ability was squandered and sent off to a theater of war that was already lost to the Confederacy.
 

Coonewah Creek

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The "what ifs" concerning Johnston and Atlanta are certainly interesting. I pulled this quote from Grant's memoirs from another thread. Now whether Grant was totally depending on 20/20 hindsight in the statement is open to question, but here's his quote about Johnston and his strategy for defending Atlanta:

"For my own part, I think that Johnston's tactics were right. Anything that could have prolonged the war a year beyond the time that it did finally close, would probably have exhausted the North to such an extent that they might then have abandoned the contest and agreed to a separation.

Atlanta was very strongly intrenched all the way around in a circle about a mile and a half outside of the city. In addition to this, there were advanced intrenchments which had to be taken before a close siege could be commenced."

Now one might argue that his memoirs, as many others', contained more than a fair share of 20/20 hindsight, but if we can take him at his word, then, in Grant's opinion, Johnston employed the best strategy available considering the military and political situation at that point in time. I always found that an interesting observation by Grant.
 
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jackt62

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Grant had a favorable opinion of Johnston. I think Grant may also have been thinking about the situation at Vicksburg when Johnston advocated giving up the city and saving Pemberton's army to fight in the open. That is reminiscent of the Atlanta situation, where Jeff Davis instructed his commanders to defend those places, instead of primarily safeguarding the armies.
 
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rebracer

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This quote from Coonewah Creek above speaks volumes to me:

"For my own part, I think that Johnston's tactics were right. Anything that could have prolonged the war a year beyond the time that it did finally close, would probably have exhausted the North to such an extent that they might then have abandoned the contest and agreed to a separation."

I would argue that as always with these "what ifs" we really dont know (obvious I know), but from what has been written, Sherman was madly frustrated with Johnston's continued falling back, shifting and ability to skirt being drawn into a head to head confrontation on a flat field of battle away from his fortifications. The constant "chase" was what continued to prolong things which by the day was wearing on the federal war effort and threatening to make the Atlanta campaign to appear to be a wasteful folly. Hood, as daring as he may have been, finally gave Sherman the fight in the context he was hoping for and we are all aware of the many irreplacable Confederate men were wasted as part of Hood's "fighting back". Even after the fall of Atlanta when Hood elected to go on the offensive again, Sherman was again faced with the possibility of chasing the AOT all over the map, something he had no interest in doing and even postponed his march to Savannah over this until it was clear Hood was going north.

I would also argue that the other fallout with Hood as a replacement, and his attack back into Tennessee, was the allowance of Sherman to move through Georgia reigning destruction virtually unopposed and the absolutely demoralizing effect this had on the victims in his path. I personally feel that any action (even an attempt) by a sizeable force of the AOT to derail Sherman's march would have been a boost to morale for the South, due to the emotional impact of the march itself.

To sum it up, second guessing is easy I guess, but I do believe Hood was not the right man for the Job at all. The men certainly appeared to be happier under Johnston as well.
 

Irishtom29

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I refer primarily to the manpower level and morale of the AOT under Johnston instead of Hood.
We don't know what would've happened had the army remained under Johnston; he might've led it to greater disasters than Hood did.

I think Hood did OK around Atlanta. He was whipped but he gave it a good go with a pretty dysfunctional army. He was expected to fight and did. Which gets back to the question of whether Atlanta was worth fighting for and Davis's decision that it was. Had Sherman been defeated we'd agree fighting for Atlanta was worthwhile.
 

wbull1

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This quote from Coonewah Creek above speaks volumes to me:

"For my own part, I think that Johnston's tactics were right. Anything that could have prolonged the war a year beyond the time that it did finally close, would probably have exhausted the North to such an extent that they might then have abandoned the contest and agreed to a separation."

I would argue that as always with these "what ifs" we really dont know (obvious I know), but from what has been written, Sherman was madly frustrated with Johnston's continued falling back, shifting and ability to skirt being drawn into a head to head confrontation on a flat field of battle away from his fortifications. The constant "chase" was what continued to prolong things which by the day was wearing on the federal war effort and threatening to make the Atlanta campaign to appear to be a wasteful folly. Hood, as daring as he may have been, finally gave Sherman the fight in the context he was hoping for and we are all aware of the many irreplacable Confederate men were wasted as part of Hood's "fighting back". Even after the fall of Atlanta when Hood elected to go on the offensive again, Sherman was again faced with the possibility of chasing the AOT all over the map, something he had no interest in doing and even postponed his march to Savannah over this until it was clear Hood was going north.

I would also argue that the other fallout with Hood as a replacement, and his attack back into Tennessee, was the allowance of Sherman to move through Georgia reigning destruction virtually unopposed and the absolutely demoralizing effect this had on the victims in his path. I personally feel that any action (even an attempt) by a sizeable force of the AOT to derail Sherman's march would have been a boost to morale for the South, due to the emotional impact of the march itself.

To sum it up, second guessing is easy I guess, but I do believe Hood was not the right man for the Job at all. The men certainly appeared to be happier under Johnston as well.

I can't find the reference right now but apparently one of Davis's complaints about Confederates fighting Sherman was that southern forces did not destroy enough food and resources in front of Sherman to slow down his progress. Talk about demoralizing the civilian population. If Davis's wishes had been followed the devastation would have been even worse.
 
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rebracer

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I can't find the reference right now but apparently one of Davis's complaints about Confederates fighting Sherman was that southern forces did not destroy enough food and resources in front of Sherman to slow down his progress. Talk about demoralizing the civilian population. If Davis's wishes had been followed the devastation would have been even worse.
Interesting, I was not aware of that. I certainly see the thinking behind that, but as you said, good heavens that would have been horrific for the people in those areas.
 

archieclement

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It could arguably be said that Jefferson Davis' relief of General Joe Johnston on July 17, 1864 in front of Atlanta might have caused the Confederacy to lose whatever slight chances it still had of achieving some kind of victory over the Union. Here's why: Davis was exasperated by Johnston's continual withdrawal of the AOT from Dalton to Atlanta and received no assurance from Johnston that he was prepared to defend the city or make a determined stand against Sherman's combined forces. Even though Johnston had prepared to attack the Army of the Cumberland at Peachtree Creek, the assault was carried out by Johnson's replacement, General John Bell Hood. But Hood's assault, as well as his subsequent attacks against Sherman's forces (Atlanta, Ezra Church) all failed to halt Sherman's eventual capture of Atlanta. In the aftermath of Atlanta's fall, after a brief pursuit of Hood, Sherman marched off in the other direction towards the sea while the diminished AOT went off on a wild goose chase to its final decimation in Tennessee.

But to get back to my main point. Based on his past record, if Johnston had remained in command he would have likely given up Atlanta without incurring the type of significant casualties that resulted from Hood's attempts to safeguard the city and/or harm Sherman's forces. In that case, Johnston and the AOT would have remained a formidable fighting force that could either have continued to stymie and bedevil Sherman through, say Georgia, and more important, have made a serious effort to link up with Lee's forces at Petersburg. In that scenario, the additional manpower brought to bear might have made a real difference to the Confederacy in stengthening the Petersburg siege lines.

So while Davis pinned his hopes on Hood's aggressive strategy, it not only failed to save Atlanta, but it took away the only source of additional manpower that might have made a difference where it really mattered. In that respect, did Jeff Davis lose the war by replacing Johnston with Hood?
Three things that seem problematic with that assessment....one as long as JJ retreated without fighting he was continually losing troops to desertion, which wasnt exactly saving the army...…..two the army was hardly a formidable fighting force to be preserved, as its continual poor performance once called to fight showed...... And third the loss of Atlanta as transportation, supply. and industry center would remain irreplaceable, the point of risking a fight was to try to prevent its loss.

One and two seem intertwined as well, continual retreat doesn't generally lead to the morale or sense of élan that contributes to a formidable fighting force...…
 
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Coonewah Creek

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.two the army was hardly a formidable fighting force to be preserved, as its continual poor performance once called to fight showed
I think one needs to take care in distinguishing the fighting abilities of the individual men, regiments and brigades in the AoT with the quality of the leadership at the division, corps and army level. If one takes the time to do even a cursory quantitative analysis of the combat performance of both (AoT and ANV)...casualties inflicted and taken on the battlefield relative to the combat odds as a "measure of merit"...you will find that, at least prior to Hood taking command of the Army of Tennessee, there was no significant difference in their performance. This is despite everyone "knowing" the Army of Northern Virginia was the better army and won its battles while the Army of Tennessee lost most of its fights. I really have "no dog in the fight" by making that statement here. My ancestors fought in the ANV, not the AoT. But there simply was no significant difference between the quality of the measurable performance of the soldiers in either army at the small unit level. No one, I don't think, is going to argue that the leadership of the AoT didn't suffer in comparison to the ANV's however.
 
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jackt62

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continual retreat doesn't generally lead to the morale or sense of élan that contributes to a formidible fighting force.
True enough, but is it appropriate to classify the Army of Tennessee in that manner? After all, while the AOT had a long and discouraging history of "retreating" or "withdrawing" going back to its predecessor under Bragg during the Kentucky offensive of 1862, through Stones River, Tullahoma, and Chattanooga, the troops of the AOT soldiered on come what may. They finally won a major victory at Chickamauga, the effect of which was again squandered by its leadership shortly thereafter. But the rank and file of the army remained committed to their cause and ability and applauded Johnston's appointment as AOT commander, and despite Johnston's policy of "retreating," was highly popular with his men.
 

archieclement

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True enough, but is it appropriate to classify the Army of Tennessee in that manner? After all, while the AOT had a long and discouraging history of "retreating" or "withdrawing" going back to its predecessor under Bragg during the Kentucky offensive of 1862, through Stones River, Tullahoma, and Chattanooga, the troops of the AOT soldiered on come what may. They finally won a major victory at Chickamauga, the effect of which was again squandered by its leadership shortly thereafter. But the rank and file of the army remained committed to their cause and ability and applauded Johnston's appointment as AOT commander, and despite Johnston's policy of "retreating," was highly popular with his men.
Highly popular?

I haven't ever seen it suggested the AoT under JJ had high morale and was begging for a chance to fight, say as the army of Texas was under Sam Houston's retreats....

Not wanting to fight, and happy not fighting, would seem to indicate a broken and dispirited army to me, not a formidable one...….And this reluctance of the men to wish to fight was demonstrated as Hood took command.....it wasnt a result of Hoods battles at all, it had already been created by JJ....
 
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jackt62

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If Davis's wishes had been followed the devastation would have been even worse
Didn't know that about Davis' possible "scorched earth" policy. While there were instances where Confederate armies destroyed vital infrastructure to prevent its use by advancing Union forces, I can't see how a wholesale policy of torching southern farms, smokehouses, sawmills, etc. would have aided the southern cause. As it were, the southern civilian population suffered enough.
 

leftyhunter

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True enough, but is it appropriate to classify the Army of Tennessee in that manner? After all, while the AOT had a long and discouraging history of "retreating" or "withdrawing" going back to its predecessor under Bragg during the Kentucky offensive of 1862, through Stones River, Tullahoma, and Chattanooga, the troops of the AOT soldiered on come what may. They finally won a major victory at Chickamauga, the effect of which was again squandered by its leadership shortly thereafter. But the rank and file of the army remained committed to their cause and ability and applauded Johnston's appointment as AOT commander, and despite Johnston's policy of "retreating," was highly popular with his men.
Not really sure from past threads over the years that Bragg squandered an opportunity to capture Chattanooga post Chickimungua. General Hooker arrived soon enough with 20k men to start the Cracker Line. An argument has been made that even if Longstreet didn't go to Knoxville Hooker then Sherman would of still broke the siege at Chattanooga.
Leftyhunter
 
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