Composed primarily of Midwesterners, the Army of the Tennessee participated in nearly all of the major campaigns in the Western Theater during the American Civil War from 1861 through 1865.
The informal origins of the Army of the Tennessee spring from the troops commanded by Ulysses S. Grant when he commanded the District of Southeast Missouri beginning in September 1861. During the autumn of that year, Grant and his soldiers skirmished with Confederate forces for control of western Kentucky near the Ohio River.
On December 20, 1861, Grant's command was reconfigured and renamed the District of Cairo. Two months later, Grant opened the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers to Union navigation with his victories at the Battle of Fort Henry (February 6, 1862) and the Battle of Fort Donelson (February 12-16, 1862) in northern Tennessee.
In the midst of the Battle of Fort Donelson, Grant was given command of the newly created District of West Tennessee on February 14, 1862. Grant's forces were officially referred as the Army of West Tennessee, but gradually they came to be commonly known as the Army of the Tennessee.
Although victorious at the Battle of Shiloh (April 6-7, 1862), Grant suffered intense criticism for allowing his troops to be surprised on the first day of the engagement. Following the battle, Grant's superior, Major General Henry Halleck, reorganized the command structure in the West. Halleck consolidated several armies into one force consisting of four corps or wings. Halleck assigned most of Grant's men to Major General George H. Thomas, who was reassigned from divisional command with the Army of the Ohio. Grant was nominally kicked upstairs to the position of second-in-command of Halleck's force and assigned to command the army's reserve corps during the Siege of Corinth, Mississippi (April 29–May 30, 1862).
Following the occupation of Corinth, Halleck began dismantling his vast army. On June 10, 1862, he restored Grant to command of the forces of the District of West Tennessee. One month later, on July 11, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln ordered Halleck to Washington, DC, to serve as General-in-Chief of all of the armies of the United States, effective July 23. Before departing, Halleck enlarged Grant's District of West Tennessee on July 16 to include portions of Alabama and Mississippi, as well as the Army of the Mississippi. For the next few months, Grant deployed his troops in an attempt to secure Union inroads made into Tennessee and Mississippi earlier in the year.
On October 16, 1862, the War Department issued General Orders No. 159, creating the Department of the Tennessee and placing Grant in command of the new department. Although still not officially designated the Army of the Tennessee, the informal handle for Grant's forces was now more closely aligned with the actual name of his command.
Following the creation of the new department, Grant organized his army into four corps—the 13th under John A. McClernand, the 15th under William T. Sherman, the 16th under Stephen Hurlbut, and the 17th under James B. McPherson—as he prepared for an offensive against Vicksburg, Mississippi. He then spent the next seven months subjugating the Mississippi River stronghold.
After capturing Vicksburg on July 4, 1863, Grant had little time to rest on his laurels. The stunning Confederate victory at the Battle of Chickamauga (September 19–20, 1863) prompted President Lincoln to reorganize U.S. forces in the West. On October 16, 1863, the War Department issued General Orders No. 337, naming Grant to command the newly created Military Division of the Mississippi, encompassing the departments of the Ohio, the Cumberland, and the Tennessee—nearly all Union forces between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River. On October 19, Grant issued General Orders No. 2, naming William T. Sherman to succeed him as commander of the Department and Army of the Tennessee.
Upon assuming command of the Division of the Mississippi, Grant immediately proceeded east to suppress the Confederate investment of the Union garrison at Chattanooga, Tennessee. He arrived in Chattanooga on October 23, 1863 and immediately approved Major General William F. "Baldy" Smith's plan to open a "cracker line" to supply the city. Meanwhile Major General William T. Sherman led nearly one-third of the Army of Tennessee east from Vicksburg to support Grant's operations in Chattanooga. Sherman's soldiers arrived at Chattanooga in mid-November. By November 27, Grant's combined forces, led by the Army of the Cumberland, lifted the siege and drove Confederate General Braxton Bragg's Army of Tennessee back into Georgia.
With Bragg's forces in retreat, Grant ordered Sherman to lead part of the Army of the Tennessee north toward Knoxville, Tennessee, where Major General Ambrose Burnside's Army of the Ohio was being besieged by Confederate General James Longstreet's command. Sherman's approach convinced Longstreet to call off the investment and to withdraw to Virginia.
With eastern Tennessee under Union control, Sherman returned to Vicksburg in February 1864, to lead the portion of the Army of the Tennessee he had left behind in a campaign against General Leonidas Polk's troops at Meridian, Mississippi. As Sherman approached Meridian, Polk determined that he could not stop the Federals, so he evacuated the city. Sherman reached Meridian on February 14 and began laying waste to the area, practicing the "total war" strategy that he would employ on his March to the Sea in November and December.
Grant and Sherman's successes in Tennessee and Mississippi propelled them to new heights. On February 29, 1864, President Lincoln approved legislation reviving the rank of lieutenant general—the highest rank in the Army. On the same day, Lincoln nominated Grant for the position. The Senate confirmed Grant's nomination on March 2, 1864. On the next day, Grant was ordered to Washington. On March 10, Lincoln issued an executive order appointing Grant "to the command of the armies of the United States." On March 12, the War Department issued General Orders No. 98, naming Sherman to succeed Grant as commander of the Division of the Mississippi and promoting Major General James B. McPherson to command of the Department and Army of the Tennessee.
During Sherman's Atlanta Campaign (May 7-September 2, 1864), the Army of the Tennessee fought its way to the Georgia capital along with the Army of the Cumberland and the Army of the Ohio. During the Battle of Atlanta (July 22, 1864), a detail of Confederate skirmishers mortally wounded McPherson, as he attempted to escape capture on his way to Sherman's headquarters. Upon McPherson's death, Major General John A. Logan assumed temporary command of the army for six days. On July 26, Sherman issued Special Field Orders No. 44, placing Major General Oliver O. Howard in charge of the Army of the Tennessee. Howard assumed command on the next day.
Under Howard's leadership the Army of the Tennessee served as Sherman's right wing during the March to the Sea (November 15, 1864–December 21, 1864) and during the Carolinas Campaign (February–April 1865).
As the war began to wind down, Congress approved An Act to establish a Bureau for the Relief of Freedmen and Refugees on March 3, 1865. Signed by President Lincoln on the same day, the bill established the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, more commonly known as the Freedmen’s Bureau. In May 1865, President Andrew Johnson selected Howard as the Bureau's first (and only) commissioner. Howard's departure as commander of the Army of the Tennessee prompted the War Department to issue General Orders No. 96, naming John A. Logan as Howard's successor on May 19, 1865.
On May 24, 1865, Logan had the honor of leading the Army of the Tennessee on the Grand Review through the streets of the nation's capital. A few weeks later, the War Department initiated the process of mustering the men of the Army of the Tennessee out of service. On July 13, Logan issued a farewell address to his soldiers, and on July 3, he issued General Orders No. 26, stating that "all the remaining troops of the Fourteenth, Fifteenth and Seventeenth Army Corps, and of the Provisional Division of the Army of the Tennessee, not included in the muster-out ordered in General Order No. 14 . . .will be at once mustered out of the service of the United States, and placed en route for their respective State rendezvous, there to be paid off and finally discharged." On August 1, 1865 the War Department issued General Orders No. 131, discontinuing the corps that comprised the Army of the Tennessee.
- John Alexander Logan
- James Birdseye McPherson
- Atlanta Campaign
- Battle of Atlanta
- Braxton Bragg
- Ambrose Everett Burnside
- Ulysses S. Grant
- Henry Wager Halleck
- William Tecumseh Sherman
- Abraham Lincoln
- George Henry Thomas
- James Longstreet
- Battle of Fort Donelson
- Battle of Shiloh
- Carolinas Campaign
- Andrew Johnson
- Oliver Otis Howard
- General Orders, No. 98 (U.S. War Department)
- Special Field Orders, No. 44 (Division of the Mississippi)
- General Orders, No. 96 (U.S. War Department) (1865)
- Battle of Fort Henry
- Siege of Corinth
- General Orders, No. 159 (U.S. War Department)
- John Alexander McClernand
- Battle of Chickamauga
- General Orders, No. 337 (U.S. War Department)
- General Orders, No. 2 (Division of the Mississippi)
- Chattanooga Campaign
- Army of the Ohio 1863?1865
- Sherman’s March to the Sea
- Army of the Cumberland
- Leonidas Polk
- Army of West Tennessee
- Army of the Mississippi (USA) (1862)
- Stephen Augustus Hurlbut
- William F. “Baldy” Smith
- General Orders, No. 238 (U.S. War Department)
- Battle of Bentonville
- Army of the Mississippi (CSA)
- Message from Jefferson Davis Instructing Leonidas Polk to Join Forces with Joseph E. Johnston in Georgia