The Army of Tennessee: A Military History

The Army of Tennessee: A Military History

The Army of Tennessee: A Military History

The Army of Tennessee: A Military History

Excerpt

An army is not merely a large aggregation of men with guns in their hands. To make an army you must have men and you must have guns, but there is an additional, intangible ingredient which is the deciding factor in its success or failure. An army has a personality. It has a character of its own, totally aside from the character of the individuals who compose it. That character, to be sure, is derived in large measure from the qualities of those individuals. A band of enthusiastic volunteers, fired with patriotism, is manifestly better material for an army than a herd of sullen conscripts. But as the inert iron bar is transformed into the flashing Damascus blade by an elusive tempering force, so may an army be transformed by the spirit of its commander.

"The Army of Northern Virginia," one poetic commentator has said, "carried the Southern Confederacy on its bayonets for four long years." That is true--at least it is true of the Southern Confederacy in Virginia. But all of the War Between the States was not fought in Virginia. There was another Confederate army, strangely neglected by most historians of the war--the Army of Tennessee. It, too, carried the fortunes of the Confederacy on its bayonets no less valiantly than its more famous sister army in Virginia. With stubborn bravery it faced the armies of stout Midwesterners under such leaders as Grant and Sherman and Thomas, and it matched them blow for blow.

The Army of Tennessee, however, labored under the crippling disadvantage of shifting and inexpert leadership, a hardship which is conspicuously noticeable in comparison with the great good fortune of the Army of Northern Virginia. The latter had the incomparable advantage of being led continuously by one man, and that man one of the greatest military figures of all time. Robert E. Lee was at its head from early in 1862 to its last sad day at Appomattox. All its battles were fought under his skillful guidance. The men in the ranks and the officers who commanded them had the cumulative benefits of his wise and successful leadership. They had gained from experience a proper faith in him which lent reflected brilliance to their own efforts.

No such advantage was enjoyed by the Army of Tennessee. There was no fault to be found with the valor of the men who composed it. But its history is one long, tragic story of changing commanders, of bickering . . .

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