Book Review: Detour to Disaster: General John Bell Hood's "Slight Demonstration" at Decatur and the Unraveling of the Tennessee Campaign


by Noel Carpenter, Noel

El Dorado Hills, Ca.: Savas Beatie, 2023. Pp. xiv,196. . Illus, maps, tables, appends., notes, biblio., index. . $19095 paper. ISBN:1611216710

John Bell Hood’s Disastrous Mistake

Detour to Disaster was originally published posthumously in 2007 as A Slight Demonstration. Former Air Force officer Carpenter, a life-long resident of Decatur, had devoted over a dozen years to studying the fighting there, and his was the first work devoted to the largely overlooked Battle of Decatur (October 26-29 1864), which he argues proved a pivotal event in the disastrous outcome of General John B. Hood's Tennessee Campaign.

Advancing from Alabama, Hood's objective was to cross the Tennessee River and capture Nashville, thereby cutting off the supply lines to Union General William Sherman, who had just taken Atlanta. Hood planned to cross the Tennessee River at Guntersville, Alabama. When his cavalry reported that Guntersville was strongly defended, while Decatur, forty miles west, was said to be "lightly guarded."

Although Decatur was lightly defended, the Union force of only 2,000-5,000 soldiers and two gunboats commanded by Brig. Gen. Thomas Granger prevented Hood's 23,000 strong Army of Tennessee from crossing the Tennessee River. In a very detailed account, Carpenter notes the important role of the 14th Colored Infantry, whose brave action stalled Hood's forces long enough to help carry the day, a feat of arms which the Union generals considered the highlight of the battle.

Unable to cross the Tennessee at Decatur, Hood marched his army 40 miles northwest to Tuscumbia, northwest and crossed there. Carpenter argues that these deviations from his original plan cost Hood time, and put his troops on short rations, and was further compromised by the absence of Bedford Forrest's cavalry, so that by the time Hood arrived before Nashville, he was unable to take the city, where the Union's Maj. Gen. George Thomas's army was strongly entrenched.

Carpenter agrees with historians such as Richard McMurry, in terming the Hood's Tennessee Campaign as perhaps the worst strategic and implemented movement in the Western Theater, James McPherson termed the movement into Tennessee as doomed and an impossible dream.

Readers will find Carpenter's account and analysis of the of action at Decatur readable, well written, persuasive, and important. Scholars should now look upon this small battle as one of new significance.

Detour to Disaster is recommended by this reviewer especially to anyone interested in the Western Theater.

Our Reviewer: David Marshall has been a high school American history teacher in the Miami-Dade School district for more than three decades. A life-long Civil War enthusiast, David is president of the Miami Civil War Round Table Book Club. In addition to numerous reviews in Civil War News and other publications, he has given presentations to Civil War Round Tables on Joshua Chamberlain, Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln, the Battle of Gettysburg, and the common soldier. His previous reviews here include Civil War Monuments and Memorials, The Tale Untwisted, The Confederate Military Forces in the Trans-Mississippi West, The Civilian War, The Carnage was Fearful, The Civil Wars of Joseph E. Johnston, Confederate States Army, Vol. I, Navigating Liberty: Black Refugees and Antislavery Reformers in the Civil War South, Gettysburg In Color, Vol 1, "The Bullets Flew Like Hail", John Brown's Raid, Searching For Irvin McDowell, A House Built by Slaves, They Came Only To Die, General Grant and the Verdict of History, Gettysburg In Color, Vol 2, Man of Fire, To the Last Extremity, Hood's Defeat Near Fox's Gap, "If We Are Striking for Pennsylvania", Vol. 2, Outwitting Forrest, All That Can Be Expected, Force of a Cyclone, and Lincoln and Native Americans .

Note: Detour to Disaster is also available in e-editions.


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

Reviewer: David Marshall   

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