William J. Hardee was a prominent Confederate corps commander in the Western Theater of the American Civil War, who briefly commanded the Army of Tennessee on two occasions.
William Joseph Hardee was born on October 12, 1815 at his family's plantation, "Rural Felicity," in Camden County, Georgia, between Savannah and Jacksonville, Florida. He was the youngest of seven children of John and Sarah Ellis Hardee. Hardee's father was a successful planter and slaveholder who also served in the state senate.
After being educated locally, Hardee received an appointment to the United States Military Academy. He entered West Point on July 1, 1834 and graduated four years later on July 1, 1838, ranked twenty-sixth in his class of forty-five cadets. Among his classmates at the academy were future Union General Irvin McDowell and future Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard, with whom Hardee would serve in the Army of the Mississippi.
Immediately upon graduation, Hardee was commissioned as a second lieutenant with the 2nd U.S. Dragoons and sent to Florida, where he campaigned against the Seminole Indians during the Second Seminole War. On December 3, 1839, Hardee was promoted to first lieutenant. A few months later, in May 1840, Hardee became ill and was sent to St. Augustine to recuperate. There, he met and began courting Elizabeth Dummett, the daughter of a Florida planter. In October, Hardee returned to his regiment for one month before receiving an assignment to study at the Royal Cavalry School in Saumur, France. Before departing, Hardee and Miss Dummett married in St. Augustine on November 16, 1840. Their marriage produced three daughters and a son.
In France, Hardee studied light infantry tactics related to the introduction of the rifled musket. When he returned to the United States in 1842, Hardee was assigned to garrison duty in Louisiana for three years. On September 13, 1844, he was promoted to captain.
In 1845, a border dispute between Texas and Mexico prompted United States President James K. Polk to deploy troops to Texas. Hardee was sent west to serve with General Zachary Taylor's Army of Occupation. On April 25, 1846, Mexican cavalry troopers took him prisoner during an ambush known as Skirmish of La Rosia. Also known as the Thornton Affair, the encounter touched off the Mexican-American War. Hardee was held prisoner for two weeks, until he was exchanged on May 10, 1846. Later during the war, Hardee served with General Winfield Scott's Army of Invasion, which landed at Vera Cruz on March 9, 1847 and ultimately occupied Mexico City on September 8, 1847. During Scott's campaign, Hardee was brevetted to captain "for Gallant and Meritorious Conduct in the Affair at Medellin," effective March 25, 1847, and he was brevetted to lieutenant colonel "for Gallant and Meritorious Conduct in the Affair with the Enemy at San Agustin, Mexico," effective August 20, 1847.
After the Mexican-American War, Hardee served four more years in Texas. In 1852, United States Secretary of War Jefferson Davis selected Hardee to write a new manual of military tactics, addressing the adoption of rifled muskets. Hardee spent the next three years drafting his work, titled Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics. The United States Army adopted the finished product on March 29, 1855. More commonly known as Hardee's Tactics, the manual later became the handbook used by officers on both sides of the American Civil War. Concurrent with the adoption of his work, Hardee was brevetted to major, effective March 3, 1855.
While Hardee was preparing his book, his wife died of tuberculosis in 1853. In order to continue his military career, Hardee entrusted the care of his four young children to his wife's sister, who lived in St. Augustine, Florida.
In 1856, Hardee returned to the U.S. Military Academy as Commandant of Cadets. He served in that capacity from July 22, 1856 until September 8, 1860. While there, Hardee was promoted to lieutenant colonel, effective June 28, 1860.
After his home state of Georgia seceded from the Union, Hardee resigned his commission on January 31, 1861 and offered his services to the Confederacy. He was commissioned as a colonel and assigned to command Forts Morgan and Gaines at the mouth of Mobile Bay in Alabama.
On June 17, 1861, Hardee was promoted to brigadier-general. Soon thereafter, he was sent west, where he was charged with organizing and training troops for defense of Arkansas's northern border. Hardee's propensity for solving difficult problems with limited resources impressed his men, earning him the nickname, "Old Reliable." Hardee's abilities also captured the attention of his superiors, leading to an appointment as major general commanding a division, effective October 7, 1861.
From December 4, 1861 through February 23, 1862, Hardee briefly commanded the Central Army of Kentucky. Shortly thereafter, the Confederate War Department sent Hardee's command to western Tennessee, where it was merged into the Army of the Mississippi on March 29, just prior to the Battle of Shiloh (April 6-7, 1862).
At the Battle of Shiloh, Hardee received a slight arm wound as he commanded the 3rd Corps of Johnston's army. During the fighting on the first day, General P.G.T. Beauregard assumed command of the army, after Johnston was mortally wounded. On the morning of April 7, to Beauregard's surprise, Grant, reinforced by Major General Don Carlos Buell's Army of the Ohio, launched a counterattack. Outnumbered and running low on ammunition, the Rebels began to fall back, losing ground that they had captured the previous day. Eventually, Beauregard knew that he was beaten and began an orderly retreat back to Corinth.
After the Confederate defeat at Shiloh, Hardee continued to command the 3rd Corps of the Army of the Mississippi, while it was besieged by Major General Henry Halleck's Union troops at Corinth (April 29 to May 30, 1862). As conditions worsened at Corinth during the Union siege, Hardee supported Beauregard's decision to evacuate Corinth and to move his forces south toward Tupelo, Mississippi.
The Army of the Mississippi reached Tupelo, on June 9, 1862. On June 15, Beauregard informed the Confederate War Department that he was transferring "the command of the forces and of this department to the next officer in rank, General B. Bragg." Beauregard then traveled to Alabama to recuperate. When President Davis learned that Beauregard had left his post on an unauthorized sick leave, he relieved Beauregard of his command of the Western Department. On June 20, 1862, Davis informed Bragg that he was the new department commander. Soon after his appointment, Bragg issued General Orders, No. 22, temporarily handing off command of the Army of the Mississippi to Hardee on July 5, 1862.
On August 15, 1862, Bragg issued General Orders, No. 116 (Department No. 2), resuming his command of the Army of the Mississippi. The order also organized the army into two wings and assigned Hardee to command the left wing composed of two divisions. Two weeks later, on August 28, Bragg left Chattanooga, Tennessee with thirty-four thousand soldiers to launch an invasion of Kentucky known as the Confederate Heartland Campaign. Once in the Bluegrass State, Bragg planned to combine forces with Lieutenant General Edmund Kirby Smith's eighteen thousand soldiers, stationed near Knoxville, Tennessee and to move against Don Carlos Buell's Army of the Ohio.
During the Confederate Heartland Campaign, Hardee's wing participated in the Rebel success at the Battle of Munfordville (September 14-17, 1862). Prior to the Battle of Perryville (October 8, 1862), Hardee established a defensive perimeter covering the three roads into Perryville on the evening of October 7. On the next day, his wing participated in Bragg's tactical victory over Buell. Despite the Confederate success, however, the prospect of facing Federal reinforcements on the next day, while his own army was running short of supplies and ammunition, prompted Bragg to order his forces to withdraw during the night.
After withdrawing from Perryville, Bragg fell back to Harrodsville, Kentucky, where he finally joined forces with Kirby Smith. The combined Confederate army was now comparable in size to Buell's army. Nevertheless, Bragg lost his enthusiasm for the campaign. The Kentucky recruits that he expected never materialized, and he believed that his supply lines were too vulnerable and insufficient to remain in the state. Over the objections of Hardee and other subordinate officers, Bragg decided to end the campaign and evacuated Kentucky, leaving the state in Union control for the remainder of the war. In the wake of the Rebel failure, Hardee was promoted to lieutenant general, effective October 10, 1862.
As the Army of the Mississippi fell back to Tennessee, President Davis summoned Bragg to Richmond to answer the charges of his subordinate officers. During Bragg's absence, Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk commanded the Army of the Mississippi from September 28, through November 7, 1862. Satisfied with Bragg's rebuttal, Davis ignored requests to relieve the general of his command. Understandably, Bragg's relationships with his subordinate officers were strained when he rejoined his forces. On November 7, 1862 Bragg issued General Orders, No. 143, reorganizing the Army of the Mississippi into two corps commanded by Polk and Hardee. Two weeks later, he issued General Orders, No. 151, on November 20, again shaking up the command structure. Bragg created a third army corps, commanded by Edmund Kirby Smith, from troops from the Department of East Tennessee. The general designated his newly-structured command as the Army of Tennessee. In an effort to inspire confidence and boost morale, Bragg implored his soldiers to make a name for the newly-formed Army of Tennessee "as enviable as those enjoyed by the armies of Kentucky and the Mississippi."
In November, Bragg established a defensive position along the west fork of Stones River, near Murfreesboro, intent on preventing a Union advance on Chattanooga, Tennessee. On December 26, Major General William S. Rosecrans left Nashville with approximately forty-four thousand soldiers, prepared to engage Bragg's army of nearly thirty-eight thousand men encamped at Murfreesboro. Rosecrans found Bragg's army on December 29, and his men moved into line the next day. Each general planned to engage the other's right flank on December 31, but Bragg struck first. The Battle of Stones River began with a massive assault by Hardee's Corps at 6 a.m. Hardee's attack drove the Federals back initially, but the Union lines eventually held, when Rosecrans sent reinforcements from his left flank. For the remainder of the day, the two sides engaged in a bloody stalemate. That night, Rosecrans called a council of war and ordered his generals to “Go to your commands and prepare to fight and die here.” On January 3, Rosecrans received reinforcements and new supplies of ammunition, convincing Bragg that further assaults would be fruitless. Thus, he withdrew to Tullahoma, Tennessee, thirty-six miles to the south, yielding Murfreesboro to Rosecrans.
After the Confederate defeat at the Battle of Stones River, Bragg deployed his army in a defensive line nearly seventy miles long along the Duck River, north of Tullahoma, Tennessee. He aimed to prevent Rosecrans from capturing the strategically important city of Chattanooga, but Rosecrans continued to push Bragg farther south during the Tullahoma Campaign of 1863. Hardee became so displeased with Bragg's leadership that he asked to be reassigned. On July 14, 1863, the Confederate War Department transferred Hardee to Alabama, where he assumed temporary command of the Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana from July 24 through October or November 1863.
During his time with Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana, Hardee met and began courting Mary Foreman Lewis, the twenty-six-year-old daughter of an Alabama plantation owner. On January 13, 1864, the couple married at the Lewis family plantation near Demopolis, in Marengo County, Alabama. Their marriage lasted nine years but produced no children.
During Hardee's hiatus from the Army of Tennessee, Bragg scored a significant victory over Rosecrans at the Battle of Chickamauga (September 19-20, 1863). Following his convincing success, Bragg drove the Federals back toward Chattanooga, forcing them to occupy the defensive works around the city. He then seized the high ground overlooking Chattanooga and laid siege to the city.
Shortly after the Battle of Chickamauga, at Bragg's urging, Confederate President Jefferson Davis relieved Major General Leonidas Polk of his command of the 1st Corps of the Army of Tennessee, on October 23, 1863. Davis recalled Hardee from Alabama and appointed him to replace Polk as commander of the 1st Corps of the Army of Tennessee.
Hardee assumed command of his corps during Bragg's investment of Chattanooga. When General Ulysses S. Grant ordered a Union breakout from Chattanooga on November 23, 1863, Hardee's Corps checked Major General William T. Sherman's assault against the right flank of Bragg's army at Tunnel Hill. After the Rebel center collapsed during the Battle of Missionary Ridge, Hardee's Corps served as a rearguard, when Bragg ordered the Army of Tennessee to abandon its positions around Chattanooga.
As the Army of Tennessee withdrew into northern Georgia, Bragg's subordinates, including Hardee, once again lobbied for Bragg's removal as commander of the Army of Tennessee. This time they succeeded. On November 29, 1863, Bragg asked to be relieved of his command. On the next day, President Davis granted Bragg's request and named Hardee as the new commander of the army.
Hardee assumed command of the Army of Tennessee on December 2, 1863, but he let Davis know that he had no aspirations to hold the job on a permanent basis. On December 16, Davis ordered General Joseph E. Johnston to "turn over the immediate command of the Army of the Mississippi to Lieutenant-General Polk, and proceed to Dalton and assume command of the Army of Tennessee." Johnston took command of the army on December 27, 1863, and Hardee returned to his previous post.
In the spring and summer of 1864, Hardee served as a corps commander under Johnston during the Atlanta Campaign. He led his troops in combat at the Battle of Rocky Face Ridge (May 7-13, 1864), the Battle of Resaca (May 13-15, 1864), the Battle of Adairsville (May 17, 1864), the Battle of New Hope Church (May 25-26, 1864), the Battle of Dallas (May 26–June 1, 1864), and the Battle of Pickett's Mill (May 27, 1864).
As Johnston continued to give ground to Major General William T. Sherman's armies, President Davis became disenchanted with the Confederate’s leadership. On July 17, 1864, Davis wrote to Johnston, informing him that, "You are hereby relieved from the command of the Army and Department of Tennessee, which you will immediately turn over to General Hood." Hardee continued to serve as a corps commander under the much more pugnacious John Bell Hood as Sherman closed in on Atlanta. When Hood's counterattacks failed to halt Sherman's advance, he blamed Hardee for Rebel setbacks at the Battle of Peachtree Creek (July 20, 1864), the Battle of Utoy Creek (August 5-7, 1864), and the Battle of Jonesboro (August 31-September 1, 1864). Unwilling to serve as a scapegoat for Hood's failures and mounting casualty totals, Hardee requested a transfer. On September 28, 1864, Davis relieved Hardee from duty with the Army of Tennessee and placed him in charge of the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.
Hardee traveled to Charleston, South Carolina and assumed his new post on October 5, 1864. As commander of the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, Hardee inherited the insurmountable task of trying to check William T. Sherman's March to the Sea (November 15, 1864–December 21, 1864). The best he could do was to delay the inevitable.
Sherman reached the outskirts of Savannah by December 10, 1864 and discovered that Hardee was protecting the city with ten thousand well-entrenched Confederate soldiers. Hardee's men had flooded the fields around the city, limiting access to a few narrow causeways. In lieu of needlessly jeopardizing the lives of his soldiers, Sherman chose to invest the city. On December 17, Sherman demanded that Hardee surrender under threat of bombardment and starvation. Rather than submit, Hardee elected to evacuate the city on December 20, leading his men across the Savannah River over a hastily erected pontoon bridge. On December 21, 1864, Savannah Mayor R. D. Arnold surrendered Savannah in exchange for Sherman's promise to protect the city's citizens and their property.
On February 22, 1865, the newly appointed commander-in-chief of all Southern armies, Robert E. Lee, made a last-ditch effort to halt Sherman's march through the Carolinas by merging Hardee's department with the remnants of the Army of Tennessee. Lee placed General Joseph E. Johnston in command of the combined force. Unreasonably, Lee ordered Johnston to "concentrate all available forces and drive back Sherman." A more realistic Johnston responded to Lee on the same day, "It is too late to expect me to concentrate troops capable of driving back Sherman."
Still, Johnston tried. On March 16, 1865, Hardee was able to slow Sherman's onslaught at the Battle of Averasboro. Three days later, Johnston decided to make a stand near Bentonville, North Carolina. While staunchly defending the Confederate right flank during the Battle of Bentonville (March 19–21, 1865), Hardee learned that his only son, seventeen-year-old Willie, a private with 8th Texas Cavalry, had been killed during the engagement.
After being soundly defeated at Bentonville, Johnston withdrew and eluded Sherman for the next month. On April 26, 1865, two weeks after Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, Johnston surrendered his forces, including Hardee's command, to Sherman at Bennett Place, effectively ending major organized combat in the American Civil War.
Following the conclusion of the Civil War, Hardee settled in Alabama, where he tried to restore his wife's family’s plantation. He later moved to Selma, where he engaged in the insurance business and served as president of the Selma and Meridian Railroad.
In 1873, Hardee fell ill at his summer home at White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. After traveling to Wytheville, Virginia for treatment, he died at this community on November 6, 1873. Hardee was interred at Live Oak Cemetery in Selma, Alabama.
Cite this Entry
"William Joseph Hardee," Ohio Civil War Central, 2021, Ohio Civil War Central. 24 Feb 2021 <http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=1616>
"William Joseph Hardee." (2021) In Ohio Civil War Central, Retrieved February 24, 2021, from Ohio Civil War Central: http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=1616
- Army of Northern Virginia
- Army of Tennessee
- Army of the Mississippi (CSA)
- Army of the Ohio 1861 - 1862
- Atlanta Campaign
- Battle of Adairsville
- Battle of Averasboro
- Battle of Bentonville
- Battle of Chickamauga
- Battle of Dallas
- Battle of Jonesboro
- Battle of Missionary Ridge
- Battle of Munfordville
- Battle of New Hope Church
- Battle of Peachtree Creek
- Battle of Perryville
- Battle of Pickett's Mill
- Battle of Resaca
- Battle of Rocky Face Ridge
- Battle of Shiloh
- Battle of Stones River
- Battle of Utoy Creek
- Braxton Bragg
- Carolinas Campaign
- Central Army of Kentucky
- Confederate Heartland Campaign
- Don Carlos Buell
- General Orders, No. 116 (Department No. 2, CSA)
- General Orders, No. 143 (Department No. 2, CSA)
- General Orders, No. 151 (Department No. 2, CSA)
- General Orders, No. 22 (Headquarters of the Army of the Mississippi CSA)
- Henry W. Halleck
- Irvin McDowell
- Jefferson Davis
- John Bell Hood
- Joseph E. Johnston
- Kirby Smith
- Leonidas Polk
- Message Assigning Hardee to Command of the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida
- Message from Braxton Bragg Assuming Command of the Army of the Mississippi (CSA)
- Message from Braxton Bragg Requesting to be Relieved from Command of the Army of Tennessee
- Message from Jefferson Davis Appointing Braxton Bragg to Command the Western Department
- Message from Jefferson Davis Appointing Joseph E. Johnston to Command of the Army of Tennessee
- Message from Jefferson Davis Relieving Braxton Bragg from Command of the Army of Tennessee
- Message from Jefferson Davis Relieving Leonidas Polk from Duty with the Army of Tennessee
- Message from Jefferson Davis Relieving William J. Hardee from Duty with the Army of Tennessee
- Message from Jefferson Davis to Hood, Hardee, and Stewart Regarding Hood's Appointment as Commander of the Army of Tennessee
- Message from John Bell Hood Confirming He Had Assumed Command of the Department and Army of Tennessee
- Message from John Bell Hood Regarding His Appointment as Commander of the Army of Tennessee
- Message from P.G.T. Beauregard Assuming Command of the Army of the Mississippi
- Message from William J. Hardee Assuming Command of the Army of Tennessee
- Message from William J. Hardee Assuming Command of the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida
- Message Relieving Joseph E. Johnston from Command of the Army of Tennessee
- Message to Jefferson Davis from Hood, Hardee, and Stewart Regarding Hood's Appointment as Commander of Army of Tennessee
- Mexican-American War
- P.G.T. Beauregard
- Robert E. Lee
- Sherman's March to the Sea
- Siege of Corinth
- Surrender at Appomattox Court House
- Surrender at Bennett Place
- Tullahoma Campaign
- Ulysses S. Grant
- William S. Rosecrans
- William T. Sherman
- Winfield Scott
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