Lieutenant General William J. Hardee, born in Savannah in 1815, graduated from the United States Military Academy, served in the Mexican-American War, and authored a book on military tactics, which both sides consulted during the American Civil War. His manuscript – Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics for the Exercise and Maneuvers of Troops When Acting as Light Infantry or Riflemen – usually referred to as Hardee’s Tactics – provided basic training for young officers eager to learn the art of war.
Hardee served as commandant at West Point until shortly before his native Georgia seceded in 1861. He cast his lot with the Confederacy, and for most of the war he fought in the western theater, where he participated in the battles of Shiloh, Perryville, Murfreesboro, and Chattanooga. After the failure of General Braxton Bragg to take Chattanooga, President Jefferson Davis accepted his friend’s resignation and offered command of the Army of Tennessee to Hardee, who declined the position. Davis turned once again to his nemesis, General Joseph E. Johnston. During the Atlanta Campaign, Hardee led one of the army’s three corps, and performed satisfactorily in most engagements prior to the fall of Atlanta. When Davis removed Johnston, and replaced him with General John Bell Hood on July 17, 1864, Hardee felt somewhat slighted, despite the fact he had previously refused to take command of the Army of Tennessee. He and Hood never got along, and Hood blamed Hardee for several losses in the struggle to maintain Atlanta. During the final action of the campaign at Jonesboro, Hardee performed well, given the circumstances, yet again found himself on the receiving end of Hood’s blame game.
Requesting a transfer away from Hood, Hardee received the assignment to head the Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. During Major General William T. Sherman’s March to the Sea in November and December 1864, Hardee joined with other Confederate officers in the attempt to slow the advancing Federals. Operating from his headquarters in Savannah, Hardee garnered all available men to guard the outer and inner defense systems surrounding the city. On December 15 – five days after Sherman’s forces arrived at the doorstep of Savannah – Hardee dispatched Davis with his assessment of the situation. “Unless assured that force sufficient to keep open my communications can be sent me, I shall be compelled to evacuate Savannah.” Two days later, Hardee received a reply from Davis, which set the plans for evacuation in motion. Davis, eager to protect a Confederate army in the field amid a dwindling supply of soldiers, instructed Hardee to maintain a vigilant observation of the Federal troop movements, while making “…the dispositions needful for the preservation of your army.” On December 20, Hardee and his troops began evacuating Savannah, crossing hastily constructed pontoon bridges onto South Carolina soil.
For the balance of the war, Hardee attempted to slow Sherman’s progress during the Carolinas Campaign, and joined with Johnston in the last major battle in the western theater at Bentonville, North Carolina, where Hardee lost a son during the fighting. Moving to his wife’s plantation in Alabama after the war, Hardee served as president of the Selma and Meridian Railroad. Ill health prompted a visit to a sulphur spring in West Virginia, and during the journey, he died in Wytheville, Virginia, on November 6, 1873. ‘Old Reliable’ – a nickname his soldiers bestowed upon him during the war – rests in the Live Oak Cemetery in Selma, Alabama. William J. Hardee proved a capable officer, one who sought to protect his native state against great odds.
 Ezra J. Warner, Generals in Gray; Lives of the Confederate Commanders (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1987), 124–25.
 U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, reprint 1899 ed. Series I 44 (Harrisburg, PA: National Historical Society, 1971), 960.
 Ibid., 964.
 Michael R. Hall and Spencer C. Tucker, “William J. Hardee,” World at War: Understanding Conflict and Society, ABC-Clio, http://worldatwar2.abc-clio.com.ezproxy1.apus.edu/ (accessed December 1, 2014).
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Michael K. Shaffer is a Civil War historian, author, newspaper columnist, and lecturer. He can be contacted at: www.civilwarhistorian.net.