As you may recall, my husband and I spent about a week in July road-tripping through the south! We got to spend time with some of my relatives, as well as get some camping and historic sightseeing in!
When we made our way through Tennessee back towards home, we stopped by beautiful Johnsonville to learn about the battle that had happened there during the Civil War. I was again surprised at how lovely the area was, being a battlefield and all.
As we’ve been doing for these historical sightseeing posts, Bjorn is here on the blog today to give you some interesting background on Johnsonville! Notes from the resident historian:
As a whole, the Battle of Johnsonville was an excruciatingly small engagement during the Civil War but may have had an imense impact on the outcome of the war if it hadn’t been for a single man and a lesson that he learned a year prior. Johnsonville was set up as a supply depot on the Tennessee River. By the year 1864 the Union army was a well oiled and lavishly supplied machine on its way through the heart of the southern states. An army marches on its stomach so these depots were set up in key areas along rivers and rails. This was the case with the depot at Johnsonville. The depot’s main goal was to keep William Tecumseh Sherman’s army supplied and on the move. It was currently pushing Joseph Johnston’s army towards Atlanta with over twice the manpower. There was no way to stop the advance head-on so Johnston sent Nathan Bedford Forrest, an extremely talented cavalry general, north with the goal of destroying Sherman’s supply base to force his army to recoil to secure his supply lines. Forrest set his sights on Johnsonville and the results of the raid were catastrophic for the Union. The Confederate general placed his cannon on the opposite bank of the river and opened fire on the depot. In the chaos and confusion of battle, the Union leader in charge made the mistake of ordering all the freighters on the river to be burned instead of allowing them to fall into rebel hands. This mistake led to the accidental burning of not just the 14 freighters but also: four gunboats, 20 barges, multiple artillery pieces, as well as the warehouses full of supplies. Forrest estimated that he destroyed over $6.7 million (in 1864 value) worth of supplies.
The only reason this devastating raid did not force Sherman’s army to withdraw from Georgia to secure its supply line is because in 1863 Sherman learned a lesson from Ulysses S. Grant that provided him the ability to continue on. The lesson was learned during the campaign against Vicksburg, MS, and is known as Chevauchee. This tactic is where you completely break off from your own supplies and sustain yourself wholly by what you can take from your enemy. Sherman refused to turn back to protect his supplies and instead decided to supply himself through total war. Had Sherman not learned this tactic, Forrest’s raid on Johnsonville may have had an outstanding affect which could potentially have changed the course of history.
Thus ends our little tour of Johnsonville! Have you ever visited a battlefield similar to this one?