RSM Profile: William J. Hardee

William J. Hardee wrote the book on battle for the Civil War … literally. His book Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics for the Exercise and Manoeuvres of Troops When Acting as Light Infantry or Riflemen, more mercifully referred to as Hardee’s Tactics, was the most popular drill manual of the era.

Published in 1855, the manual was a key component of the curriculum at West Point, where Hardee served as the Commandant of Cadets and tactics instructor until 1860.

A West Point grad himself, Hardee spent some time in France studying tactics at the behest of the U.S. Army, then served admirably under General Winfield Scott and future president Zachary Taylor in the Mexican-American war. He advanced to the rank of Lt. Colonel of the 1st U.S. Cavalry during his time serving at West Point.

Hardee had been born on his family’s plantation, Rural Felicity, in Camden County, Georgia. With his home state’s secession, Hardee resigned his commission in the U.S. Army. Entering the Confederate States Army as a colonel, his first assignment was the command of Forts Gaines and Morgan at the mouth of Mobile Bay. He quickly rose in the ranks, becoming the first Lieutenant General of the Confederacy within seven months.

Nicknamed “Old Reliable,” Hardee led his companies in many of the major campaigns of the war, including leading as a corps commander of the Army of Mississippi at the Battle of Shiloh, where he was wounded and his general, Albert Sidney Johnston, was killed.

Perhaps because of his background as a tactician, Hardee often clashed with his commanding generals, including General Braxton Bragg of the Army of Tennessee and the more reckless General John Bell Hood. Hardee fought against Sherman’s March, but was unable to stop him. Hardee evacuated Savannah, later had to abandon Charleston and faced his final battle at Bentonville. There his only son was killed.

The irony of Hardee’s Civil War career was that his defeats came at the hands of his own instruction, as Hardee’s Tactics was the preferred tactical manual for both Armies during the war. Furthering the irony was that Hardee had been encouraged to write the book by his old friend, then U.S. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis.

And if both sides looked good in the use of his tactics, it was probably because they wore the hat he invented, appropriately named “The Hardee.”

Following the war, Hardee retired to Selma, Alabama where he eventually became head of the Selma and Meridian Railroad.

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