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

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Noel Carpenter
Pub Date:
July 2023
Paperback, 5.5 x 8.5
206 pp


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About the Book

In October of 1864, Confederate General John Bell Hood set out through Alabama on what would be the final campaign of the Army of Tennessee. One event in particular, overlooked and misunderstood for generations, portended what was to follow and is the subject of Noel Carpenter’s Detour to Disaster: General John Bell Hood’s “Slight Demonstration” at Decatur and the Unravelling of the Tennessee Campaign.

By late 1864, Hood’s army of hardened veterans had one thin ray of hope: they would somehow invade Tennessee and defeat Union General George Thomas outside Nashville in a victory that would force General William T. Sherman to follow them into Tennessee (and perhaps even Kentucky). While weighing his options for a Tennessee River crossing, however, Hood diverted his army to the town of Decatur, Alabama, a decision that undermined his own plan for a rapid move north to Nashville.

In his only mention of his army’s action at Decatur, Alabama, Hood described it all in just one sentence: “While the Army turned Decatur, I ordered a slight demonstration to be made against the town till our forces passed safely beyond.” In fact, this four-day detour was a turning point that set the stage for the disastrous Tennessee Campaign that followed.

In this fascinating and meticulously detailed and documented account—the first book-length study of the weighty decision to march to Decatur and the combat that followed there—the author investigates the circumstances surrounding these matters and how they overwhelmed the controversial young army commander and potentially doomed his daring campaign. Detour to Disaster is required reading for everyone interested in the Western Theater, and especially the doomed Tennessee Campaign.


Advance Praise

“Thanks to Noel Carpenter, Civil War scholarship now has a meticulously researched and efficiently presented chronicle of the crucial events that have been heretofore overshadowed by the bookends of the Atlanta and Tennessee campaigns. This new printing by Savas Beatie of Detour to Disaster will gain a wider audience than the first privately printed edition.” — Stephen M. Hood, author of John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General (2013) and editor of The Lost Papers of Confederate General John Bell Hood (2016)



As a boy growing up in Decatur in the 1920s, author Noel Carpenter played on the sites of Civil War action that had taken place a few blocks from his home. After graduating from the University of Alabama and earning a master’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Carpenter spent 30 years as a command pilot and Air Force officer. Later in life, he combined a lifelong interest in Civil War history with his military perspective and decided to examine in depth the episode that had unfolded in his hometown more than a century earlier. He spent 12 years researching and writing the story.