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[300] was impossible, and was not thought of until Hood moved from Sherman's front and cleared the way.

In the popular judgment formed immediately after important events, success or failure is the only criterion of wisdom; but the historian must go deeper, and consider the merits of a general plan in view of the greater or less probability of failure of any one of its parts. What would have been the just judgment of mankind upon Sherman's march to the sea if Thomas had failed, as Sherman with a much larger force had done, to destroy or seriously cripple Hood's army? Or what, if Hood had succeeded in his projected invasion of Kentucky—an event much less improbable than many that have actually occurred in war? If Hood had succeeded in overwhelming the smaller force that opposed him at Columbia, Spring Hill, and Franklin, as he came near doing, Nashville would have fallen an easy prey, for it was not defensible by the force Thomas then had there. Thomas's cavalry was not yet remounted, and Forrest, with his troopers, would have had nearly a clear field of Kentucky while Hood marched to the Ohio. What offset to this would have been the capture of Savannah as a ‘Christmas gift’ to the nation?

The situation at that time was certainly a perplexing one to Sherman. He could not permit Hood to put him, with his superior force, on the defensive, nor even to appear to do so for a moment; and it was not easy for him to consent that his enemy should entirely nullify all his elaborately considered plans for future operations in Georgia. What operations Sherman decided on in that unprecedented case is well known.

When Sherman cut loose and started for Savannah on November 12, he had not, as events proved, sufficient reason for assuming ‘Thomas's strength and ability to meet Hood in the open field,’ or even to hold Nashville against him, much less to hold ‘the line of the Tennessee

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