Of the 17 men who would rise to the rank of lieutenant general in the Confederate States army, William J. Hardee was the lone Georgian. Born in Camden County in October of 1815, nine months after Andrew Jackon's victory at the Battle of New Orleans, Hardee was the son of John Hardee, a Georgia Congressman. Like many other young men of military bent, Hardee aspired to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point, but was unable to secure an appointment until he was 19 years old, joining the Class of 1838. At his graduation he ranked 26 in a class of 45 cadets.
A respectable military career followed, including service in the Seminole and Mexican Wars, a return to West Point as commandant in the 1850's, and the writing of the seminal instruction book Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics (often simply known as Hardee's Tactics). The latter would be consulted frequently by officers and instructors on both sides during the War, as they sought to master the fine arts of drilling in the School of the Soldier, the Company, and the Battalion.
If there was any doubt where Hardee's main loyalty lay during the Secession crisis, he settled it by his activities: during the winter of 1860-1861, under special commission from Georgia governor Joseph Brown, he and several associates traveled to New York to purchase weapons and equipment from Northern arms manufacturers, for shipment back to Georgia. When the war finally came in the spring of 1861, he found himself in Florida, attempting to capture Federal-held Fort Pickens. It was there that Hardee also ran into the man who would prove to be his bete noir: Braxton Bragg.
After brief service in the southern Missouri/northern Arkansas corridor, Hardee was transferred to Kentucky/Tennessee sector of the Western Theater, where he would spend the rest of his Confederate career. Under the commands of A. S. Johnston, P.G.T. Beauregard, Bragg, Joseph Johnston, and John Bell Hood, Hardee directed anywhere from one-third to one-half of the Army of Tennessee's infantry. His corps inaugurated the battle of Shiloh (April 6-7, 1862), shattered the Federal right wing at Stone's River (December 31, 1862 - January 2, 1863), and vainly held the Missionary Ridge position outside Chattanooga during the battles there (November 23 - 25, 1863).
During the Atlanta Campaign, Hardee stood mainly on the defensive throughout the series of battles from Dalton to the Chattahoochee. Upon Hood's accession to command, Hardee's corps became the primary offensive force in the battles of Peachtree Creek (July 20, 1864) and Atlanta (July 22, 1864). But the cost of these defeats, and the growing strain between Hardee and Hood, with the latter holding Hardee primarily responsible for the losses, disheartened "Old Reliable". After the fall of Atlanta he succeeded in wrangling a transfer from Hood's army to command of the Georgia coastal defenses.
Hardee's post-Atlanta career was anticlimactic; with barely 10,000 men, he could not hope to hold Savannah against Sherman's 60,000-man army, and was compelled to evacuate the city in late December, 1864. During the Carolinas Campaigns, Hardee served again under Joseph Johnston (and, no doubt regrettably, in close proximity to Bragg). As if the defeat of the Confederacy was not enough, Hardee's own son was killed in action during the last few weeks of the war.
Hardee made the best of what he could in the defeated South, working in the insurance and railroad industries in Alabama. During a family vacation in Virginia, he died on November 6, 1873, at age 58.
In his reference work Generals In Gray (1959), Ezra Warner considered Hardee, "Along with Stonewall Jackson and Longstreet...one of the oustanding corps commanders in the Confederate service."Considering that Hardee never achieved any battlefield successes that came even close to matching those of Jackson or Longstreet, this assessment is difficult to understand. However, the caliber of the officers and men of the Federal army that Hardee fought were arguably superior to those in Virginia; Jackson and Longstreet themselves might have been hard-pressed to achieve these same successes in the Western Theater. While Hardee may not have been as great a commander as any of Lee's lieutenants, it can be said without a doubt that he gave his all to the Cause he fought for.