This action was part of a continuing effort by the Confederates to disrupt the Federal lines that supplied General William T. Sherman's army in Georgia. In the summer of 1864, Sherman captured Atlanta, and by November he was planning his march across Georgia. Meanwhile, the defeated Confederates hoped that destroying his line would draw Sherman out of the Deep South. Nobody was better at raiding than Forrest, but Union pursuit had kept him in Mississippi during the Atlanta campaign.
In the fall, Forrest mounted an ambitious raid on Union supply routes in western Tennessee and Kentucky. Johnsonville was an important transfer point from boats on the Tennessee River to a rail line that connected with Nashville to the east. When Sherman sent part of his army back to Nashville to protect his supply lines, Forrest hoped to apply pressure to that force. Forrest began moving part of his force to Johnsonville on October 16, but most of his men were not in place until early November. Incredibly, the Union forces, which numbered about 2,000, seem to have been completely unaware of the Confederates just across the river. Forrest brought up artillery and began a barrage at 2 p.m. on November 5. The attack was devastating. One observer noted, "The wharf for nearly one mile up and down the river presented one solid sheet of flame." More than $6 million worth of supplies were destroyed, along with four gunboats, 14 transports, and 20 barges. General George Thomas, commander of the Union force at Nashville, had to divert troops to protect Johnsonville.
After the raid, Forrest's reputation grew, but the raid did not deter Sherman from embarking on the March to the Sea, his devastating expedition across Georgia.