American Civil War: Lieutenant General William J. Hardee

William Hardee
Lieutenant General William J. Hardee. Photograph Courtesy of the Library of Congress

 William J. Hardee - Early Life & Career:

Born October 12, 1815 in Camden County, GA, William J. Hardee was the youngest child of John and Sarah Hardee.  The son of a wealthy planter and state senator, Hardee was educated locally until receiving an appointment to West Point in 1834.  An average student, he graduated four years later ranked in the middle of his class.  Commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 2nd US Dragoons, Hardee traveled to Florida for service in the Second Seminole War.

 Falling ill while in the field, he was sent north to recover.  While recuperating, Hardee married Elizabeth Drummett on November 16, 1840.  

William J. Hardee - Mexican-American War:

Serving with Brigadier General Zachary Taylor's Army of Occupation in Texas in early 1846, he was acting as Captain Seth Thornton's second-in-command on April 25 when their force of dragoons was captured by Mexican troops.  Dubbed the "Thornton Affair", the incident contributed to the start of the Mexican-American War a short time later.  Exchanged on May 11, Hardee later served with Major General Winfield Scott's army and was wounded at La Rosia in 1847.  For his performance in Mexico, he earned brevet promotions to major and lieutenant colonel.  With the end of the conflict, Hardee briefly served in Texas before returning to West Point as a tactics instructor in 1853.

William J. Hardee - Antebellum Years:

Two years later, at the urging of Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, Hardee published Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics for the Exercise and Maneuvers of Troops When Acting as Light Infantry or Riflemen.

 This work became the standard drill manual for both the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War.  Also in 1855, Hardee received a brief assignment with Colonel Albert S. Johnston's 2nd US Cavalry.  Following service on the frontier, he returned to West Point in 1856 to serve as commandant of cadets.

 In this post through 1860, Hardee earned a reputation for his strict methods.  As sectional tensions rose that fall, he remained in uniform until his home state of Georgia decided to leave the Union.  Resigning on January 31, 1861, Hardee sought a place in the Confederate Army.

William J. Hardee - Early Civil War:

Commissioned a colonel on March 7, Hardee assumed command of Forts Morgan and Gaines at the mouth of Mobile Bay.  Elevated to brigadier general in June, he moved to Arkansas to recruit new regiments.  Promoted again on October 21, Hardee took command of a division largely comprised of Arkansans.  Relentlessly drilling his men through the winter, he marched them to join Johnston's Army of Mississippi in March 1862.  Made a corps commander, Hardee took part in the Confederate defeat at Shiloh on April 6-7.  With Johnston's death in the fighting, General Braxton Bragg took over leadership of the army.  Marching north that fall, Hardee led the Confederate left at the Battle of Perryville.  In the wake of the campaign, he received a promotion to lieutenant general.        

William J. Hardee - Army of Tennessee:  

Re-designating his command the Army of Tennessee, Bragg struck Major General William S. Rosecrans' Army of the Cumberland at the Battle of Stones River at the end of the year.

 In the fighting, Hardee led a devastating assault that drove back the Union right in the early phases of the engagement.  Unable to complete the victory, Bragg was ultimately forced to withdraw.  Hardee and Bragg began to clash in the summer of 1863 when the latter was badly out-maneuvered by Rosecrans during the Tullahoma Campaign.  Leaving the army, Hardee was replaced by Major General D.H. Hill and assumed command of the Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana.  

During Hardee's absence, Bragg won a victory over Rosecrans at Chickamauga and laid siege to the beaten Union forces at Chattanooga.  While there, he quarreled with one of his corps commanders, Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk, who was subsequently relieved.  Despite their past differences, Hardee was recalled and took Polk's place.

 In late November, Hardee's men were able to check Major General William T. Sherman's advance during the Battle of Chattanooga but were forced to retreat when the Confederate position on Missionary Ridge collapsed.  Withdrawing south into Georgia, Bragg was soon relieved and replaced by General Joseph E. Johnston.  

William J. Hardee - Atlanta Campaign & Georgia:

In May 1864, Sherman commenced his campaign against Atlanta.  First opposing Union forces near Rocky Face Ridge, Johnston then fell back to Resaca.  The armies clashed there May 13-15 with Hardee's men seeing extensive action.  Compelled to retreat following the battle, Johnston moved south.  The two armies then began a campaign of maneuver which saw Sherman force Johnston back towards Atlanta.  Blocking Sherman's advance in late June, Johnston repelled enemy assaults at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain on June 27.  In the fighting, Hardee's troops held the center of the Confederate line.  Maneuvered out of this position in the days after the battle, Johnston continued to retreat and earned the ire of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.  Reaching the outskirts of the city, he was relieved on July 17 and replaced with Lieutenant General John Bell Hood.

Seeking to gain the initiative, Hood threw Hardee and Lieutenant General Alexander P. Stewart's corps at the enemy three days later.  The resulting Battle of Peachtree Creek saw Confederate forces repelled by Major General George H. Thomas' Army of the Cumberland.  Two days later, Hardee received orders to attack Major General James McPherson's Army of the Tennessee east of the city.  Striking McPherson's left flank at the Battle of Atlanta, the engagement saw the Union general killed but Confederate forces turned back.  Fighting around Atlanta continued through August with Sherman seeking to drive Hood from the city.  Moving south of the city late in the month, Union forces attempted to sever the last railroad into Atlanta.  To block this, Hood sent Hardee south with two corps.

  Attacked on August 31 and September 1, he was overwhelmed at the Battle of Jonesboro by superior Union forces.  

William J. Hardee - Final Campaigns:

Unhappy serving under the reckless Hood, Hardee requested and received a transfer following the campaign.  Assuming command of the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, he attempted to block Sherman's March to the Sea that fall.  Lacking men and supplies, he was only able to offer token resistance and ultimately was compelled to abandon Savannah in December.  Retreating north, Hardee joined Johnston who was attempting to defend the Carolinas.  Engaging Union forces under Major General Henry Slocum at Averasborough, NC on March 16, Hardee saw further action three days later at the larger Battle of Bentonville.  Beaten by superior Union forces, Johnston continued retreating before surrendering his army on April 26 at Bennett Place.  This surrender included Hardee and his men.

In the years immediately after the war, Hardee traveled to Alabama to rebuild and operate plantations belonging to his wife's family.  Accomplishing this, he moved to Selma where he served as vice president of the Selma and Meridian Railroad.  Falling ill while vacationing at White Sulphur Springs, WV in 1873, Hardee died on November 6, 1873, at Wytheville, VA.  His remains were transported back to Selma where they were buried at Live Oak Cemetery.

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