Chapter 43


This Site:

Civil War

Civil War Overview

Civil War 1861

Civil War 1862

Civil War 1863

Civil War 1864

Civil War 1865

Civil War Battles

Confederate Generals

Union Generals

Confederate History

Robert E. Lee

Civil War Medicine

Lincoln Assassination


Site Search

Civil War Links


Civil War Art

Revolutionary War

Mexican War

Republic of Texas


Winslow Homer

Thomas Nast

Mathew Brady

Western Art

Civil War Gifts

Robert E. Lee Portrait

Robert E. Lee | Chapter 27 | Chapter 28 | Chapter 29 | Chapter 30 | Chapter 31 | Chapter 32 | Chapter 33 | Chapter 34 | Chapter 35 | Chapter 36 | Chapter 37 | Chapter 38 | Chapter 39 | Chapter 40 | Chapter 41 | Chapter 42 | Chapter 43 | Chapter 44 | Chapter 45 | Chapter 46 | Chapter 47 | Chapter 48 | Chapter 49 | Chapter 50 | Chapter 51 | Appendix C | Index



Formerly Major-General commanding Twenty-Third Army Corps_ 


NOVEMBER 1863-JUNE 1865 



 Schofield to command the army assembled at Pulaski--Forrest's Tennessee River raid--Schofield at Johnsonville--My division at Thompson's--Hastening reinforcements to Thomas--Columbia--The barrens--Pulaski--Hood delays--Suggests Purdy as a base--He advances from Florence--Our march to Columbia-Thomas's distribution of the forces--Decatur evacuated--Pontoon bridge there--Withdrawing from Columbia--Posts between Nashville and Chattanooga--The cavalry on 29th November--Their loss of touch with the army. 

 Our railway train reached Nashville in the forenoon of Wednesday the 9th of November, and I at once visited General Schofield to report my arrival and get further orders. He had himself reported to General Thomas by telegraph when we reached Calhoun on the last day of October, and Pulaski, eighty miles south of Nashville, had been given as the rendezvous for our corps with the Fourth. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxix. pt. iii. p. 538.] Thomas was taking a cheerful view of the situation now that the Twenty-third Corps had been ordered to him, and on the 3d of November, in giving Sherman an outline of the progress of events, said that if Beauregard "does not move before Sunday (6th), I will have Schofield and Stanley together at Pulaski, and he can then move whenever he pleases." [Footnote: Id., p. 618.] Schofield got part of Cooper's division off on Thursday, with arrangements for the rest to follow, and took the railway train himself next day. Thomas's plans then were to send the troops through Nashville without stopping, but he asked Schofield to stop for a short consultation. [Footnote: Id., p. 624.] Without waiting for this, however, he issued his order on Friday, assigning Schofield to command the troops assembling at Pulaski to operate in front of that place. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxiv. pt. iii. p. 638.] This was a graceful act toward an officer of his own grade as a department commander, when as yet it was an open question whether the assignment by the President to command a department and army in the field gave precedence over officers in other organizations, senior in date of commission, but not so assigned. [Footnote: The matter has been decided in the affirmation by the War department and the decision had been transmitted in Halleck's letter to Sherman dated October 4th, but the interruption of communications had prevented its reaching Sherman for some time, and Thomas had not received it when he made the order. For the whole discussion and correspondence, see _Id_., vol. xxxviii. pt. v. pp. 734, 753, 797; vol. xxxix. pt. iii. pp. 64, 638, 666, 684, 685, 691, 692, 703, 704; vol. xlv. pt. i. p. 959.] 

When Schofield reached Nashville on the 5th, he found Thomas busy with a new problem. Forrest had set for him by his raid down the Tennessee valley on the west side. A gunboat had been captured, and demonstrations opposite Johnsonville by the raiders had been followed by the unnecessary destruction of a fleet of transports, three gunboats at the landing, and vast quantities of stores. [Footnote: _Id_., vol. xxxix. pt. i. p. 861, 864, 866.] The place was the terminus of a railway from Nashville to the Tennessee River, and was an intermediate depot of supplies in a low stage of water in the rivers. At other times steamboats could ascend the Cumberland all the way to Nashville. The exaggerated reports of the enemy's force and apparent purpose to cross the river there made Thomas think it wise to modify his plans for the moment, and he ordered Schofield to proceed at once to Johnsonville with the two brigades of the Twenty-third Corps then in hand, Moore's and Gallup's, intending to concentrate the whole corps there as fast as they should come from Georgia. [Footnote: _Id_., vol. xxxix. pt. iii. p. 647.] 

As soon as Sherman could decipher Thomas's dispatches, he warned the latter of the danger of a false move, as only Forrest's cavalry was down the river, and Hood's army was known to be at Florence. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxix. pt. iii. p. 647.] When Schofield got to Johnsonville, he soon saw the real state of affairs, and advised Thomas that the two brigades were enough. He instructed General Cooper as to improving the defences of the town, and returned to Nashville on the 7th. Next day he made a hurried visit to Pulaski to examine the situation there, [Footnote: _Id_., p. 708.] where was now the railway terminus of the line to Decatur, the bridges and trestles about Athens having been destroyed by Forrest in his September raid. He got back to Nashville before day on the 9th, and was ready to meet me on my arrival there. From him I got full information of the situation, and orders to take my division to Columbia, where he expected to join me in two or three days. 

Leaving Nashville in the afternoon, we learned on reaching Franklin that a wreck on the railway near Spring Hill obstructed the track, and our trains were halted till the way should be cleared. We had made only twenty miles; the weather had changed again to a cold, drenching rain. Thursday, the 10th, was clear and cold, and whilst waiting for the railway to be open again, I made my first acquaintance with the pretty village on the banks of the Harpeth in which I was to feel a much more lively interest three weeks later. As soon as the railway officials could put the trains in motion we resumed our journey. Reilly's brigade gets to Spring Hill, half-way to Columbia, but the insufficiency of siding at that place makes it impracticable to handle all the trains there, and the rest of us are stopped at Thompson's Station, three miles short. We leave the cars and go into camp so as to release the trains for other work, whilst we organize again for field operations, though our wagons had not reached us. Strickland's brigade of Cooper's division has accompanied us and is attached to my command temporarily. Some five miles north of Columbia there is a break in the railway, and we are delayed till it can be repaired and communication with Columbia fully opened. The two or three days intervening are spent in getting forward horses for the artillery, rations, and advance stores, so as to become again a self-dependent unit of the army. We found the country in this part of Tennessee richer and finer than any we had campaigned in, much more open, with well-tilled farms. 

The news we got indicated that Forrest had joined Hood at Florence, and that the enemy was preparing there for a forward movement. I opened communication with the Fourth Corps at Pulaski, and was under orders, to join them whenever an advance of Hood should make it necessary. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxix. pt. iii. pp. 748, 749.] On the 11th Sherman still inclined to the opinion that Beauregard would order Hood to follow him, as soon as his southward march should really begin. "I rather think you will find commotion in his camp in a day or two," he said to Thomas; for his own preparations were now complete, and his communications with the North were to be cut next day. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 746.] The humorous side of things struck him forcibly, and in giving to Captain Poe, his engineer, directions to destroy the foundries, workshops, and railway buildings at Atlanta, he had added, "Beauregard still lingers about Florence, afraid to invade Tennessee, and I think slightly disgusted because Sherman did not follow him on his fool's errand." [Footnote: _Id_., p. 680.] The irony fitted Hood better than Beauregard, for the latter had not taken personal direction of the active army; but the relations between the two Confederate generals were very imperfectly known to us, and we naturally assumed that Beauregard was himself responsible for the immediate conduct of the whole. 

The progress of the work of reinforcing Thomas was not quite as rapid as it seemed. Grant had sent General Rawlins, his chief of staff, from Petersburg to St. Louis to see that A. J. Smith's corps went promptly forward from Rosecrans's department. Besides the 9000 in Smith's immediate command, 5200 men were collected from posts on the Mississippi and Ohio, and were put in motion toward Nashville. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxix. pt. iii. p. 684.] Rawlins's report on the 7th, that these were starting, was understood by Thomas to apply to the whole of Smith's force, and he therefore reckoned on their reaching him in a few days. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 685.] Rawlins in fact expected Smith's own divisions to leave St. Louis on the 10th, but even this was much sooner than they reached the river. The same news was sent to Sherman, and he expressed his joy that these veteran reinforcements were on the way, and his confidence that the enemy was now checkmated. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 686.] The result was a little over-confidence in all quarters, which probably had its influence in making Thomas less energetic in concentrating the troops available in Tennessee than he would have been had he known that Smith's 9000 would not reach Nashville till the last day of the month. [Footnote: See "Franklin and Nashville," pp. 132 _et seq_.; "Battle of Franklin," pp. 40, 41.] 

On the 13th I marched to Columbia, and Schofield went in person to Pulaski, where he assumed command. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxix. pt iii. pp. 764, 768.] Wooden pontoons were sent the same day to Columbia for the crossing of the Duck River there, and the bridge was completed at ten o'clock in the evening. [Footnote: _Id_., pt. i. p. 795.] As the river was too high to ford, we had encamped on the north side, in the tongue made by the horse-shoe bend to the southward. We occupied the fine open wood on rolling ground, and made ourselves as well acquainted with the village and surrounding country as time would allow. Columbia, on the south bank of the river, had been a centre of education and refinement, and several college buildings were there, surrounded by ample groves. The neighborhood was the home of the Polks and the Pillows and other people of national reputation, whose ample estates lay on the roads diverging from the town. Between the village and the railway bridge below the place was an isolated hill on which was an enclosed redoubt, commanding the crossing. It was a strong position when connected with sufficient forces near by, but too small and too detached to have much independent value. 

Leaving Strickland's brigade as a garrison for the town, the rest of my command marched next morning toward Pulaski, reaching Lynnville, eighteen miles south of the river, where a road from Lawrenceburg comes into the turnpike. I was pretty strong in artillery, having five batteries, two of which properly belonged to the second division. Ten miles south of Columbia we left the open country and entered a hilly, forest-covered region, with cultivation only in the narrow valleys of small streams. This high water-shed between the Duck River and the Elk extends nearly all the way from the plateau of the Cumberland westward to the Tennessee River, where it has made its great bend to the north. It is known as the "barns" (barrens), and is desolate enough. In many places one may travel for miles without seeing a house. Wood-chopping and charcoal-burning for smelting furnaces seemed to be the principal industry. 

On the 15th we continued our march in a heavy, cold rain to Pigeon Creek, two miles north of Pulaski, making sixteen miles. General Schofield met me there, and we examined the country westward some three miles, our reconnoissance determining him to keep the division at the turnpike crossing of the creek, where we accordingly encamped. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlv. pt. i. p. 357.] It had been confidently expected that Hood would march northward by the time we could reach Pulaski, but he delayed, and it was a week later before he really opened his new campaign. Various things combined to give plausible reasons for his delay. He could not get the supply of stores which he needed. The gap in his railroad from Cherokee to Tuscumbia was not rebuilt. The weather was continuously cold with heavy rains, and the roads going from bad to worse. The truth, no doubt, was that Sherman's march southward had a most perplexing effect, raising portentous problems as to its result upon the Confederacy, and reducing Hood's own campaign to a secondary place in the general progress of the war. Torn by doubts, he seemed willing to find excuses for postponing action, hoping to see clearer light on the future before committing himself to a decisive movement. An interesting item in the discussion between the Confederate generals was that Hood suggested Purdy as a better base than Tuscumbia, and proposed to abandon the work of rebuilding the railroad near that place. Purdy was some twenty-five miles north of Corinth on the Mobile and Ohio Railway, and not far from the old battlefield of Shiloh. Its landing-place on the Tennessee River was nearly opposite Savannah, and it was there that Grant had stopped his steamboat for a conference with General Lew Wallace on his way to Pittsburg Landing the morning of the great battle. It is probable that Hood thought it advantageous to take a line by which he might avoid the risk of expeditions from Decatur, and could more safely turn Schofield's position at Pulaski, by operating further from our line of railroad and making it necessary for us either to retire rapidly toward Nashville, or meet him so far from our supply line as to be dependent, like himself, on wagon transportation. Beauregard approved the change of base if made after the first stage of the campaign should be complete, and planned a scheme of floating booms armed with torpedoes to protect the pontoon bridge when it should be laid there. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxix. pt. iii. pp. 900, 905; vol. xlv. pt. i. p. 1210.] The road from Savannah through Waynesborough to Columbia was a turnpike, and would be safer for wagon trains than that from Florence, because so much further from posts on our railway. It would also be a better line of retreat in case of disaster. The plan was not tried, because the withdrawal of our forces from Decatur and Pulaski removed the dangers which Hood apprehended, and made his communications secure. The rains raised the river so much that the bridge laid at Florence was no longer protected by its situation between Muscle Shoals above and Colbert Shoals below, and the Confederates had reason to fear that it would be destroyed by gunboats coming up the river. The navy had been unfortunate in the destruction of gunboats at Johnsonville, but Rear-Admiral S. P. Lee had been sent to take command of the river fleets co-operating with Thomas, and was planning active work with heavier vessels. [Footnote: _Id_., vol. xxxix. pt. iii. p. 734.] 

On the 14th the river had risen eighteen feet at Florence, and Hood's bridge was with great difficulty kept in its place. [Footnote: _Id_., vol. xlv. pt. i. p. 887.] The same day General Wheeler informed him of Sherman's concentration at Atlanta, the destruction of the railroad above, and the strong rumors of the march on Augusta and Savannah. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 1206.] Forrest had not yet joined Hood, but did so in two days. Beauregard heard, through Taylor, of the movement of reinforcements to Thomas from Memphis and below, as well as of A. J. Smith's from St. Louis. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 1208-1209.] On the 17th he got authentic news of Sherman's start from Atlanta, and ordered Hood to "take the offensive at the earliest practicable moment, and deal the enemy rapid and vigorous blows, striking him while thus dispersed, and by this means to distract Sherman's advance into Georgia." Hood replied that he had only one third of the quantity of rations accumulated which he needed for beginning the campaign. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlv. pt. i. p. 1215.] Beauregard himself left Tuscumbia for Montgomery and Macon, giving Hood the choice either to send part of his troops to Georgia or to take the offensive immediately. Under this spur Hood gave orders for an advance on the 19th, but there was still some cause of delay, and Beauregard reiterated, on the 20th, the peremptory order to "push an active offensive immediately." Next day all were in motion, and Hood issued a brief address to his troops, saying, "You march to-day to redeem by your valor and your arms one of the fairest portions of our Confederacy." [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 1220, 1225,1226,1236.] 

During the week we were at Pulaski the rain had made our camp anything but a pleasant one, yet, as we were daily in expectation of Hood's advance, we could do nothing to improve our shelter or the means of warming our tents. The forests were near enough to furnish us the fuel for rousing camp-fires, and we made the most of them. At night I fastened back the flaps of my tent, and a blazing pile of logs threw in heat enough to temper the cold, and one slept sweetly in the fresh air as long as the wind was in the right direction. The day Hood advanced the rain changed to snow, driving in flurries and squalls all day. Marching orders for the 22d came in the evening, and we prepared for an early start to Lynnville, for the enemy was making for Columbia through Lawrenceburg, and we must anticipate him. The night was a freezing one, the mud was frozen stiff on the surface in the morning, making the worst possible marching for the infantry, while the artillery and horses broke through the crust at every step. Our only consolation was in the reflection that it was as bad for Hood as for us. By getting off at break of day my division reached Lynnville by noon, and took position on the north and west of the village. Wagner's division of the Fourth Corps followed and reported to me. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlv. pt. i. pp. 974, 985.] I gave them positions on the south and west. Schofield remained another day at Pulaski with two divisions of the Fourth Corps, but joined me at noon of the 23d, and under his orders I marched my division ten miles further north to the crossing of the road from Mount Pleasant to Shelbyville. Starting at three, we forced the pace a little, and went into position at six in the twilight. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 357, 998.] The rest was a short one, for we were off again at four in the morning, hastening the march for Columbia in the cold and thick darkness. Schofield had learned in the night that the cavalry on the Lawrenceburg road had been driven back to Mount Pleasant, and that the advance of Hood's infantry was at the former place. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 989.] There was no time to lose if we were to reach Columbia in time to cover a concentration there. At the two-mile post south of the town a cross-road turns westward, leading into the Mount Pleasant turnpike where it crosses Bigby Creek, three miles out from Duck River. I turned the head of column upon this road, and reached the turnpike just in time to interpose between Capron's brigade of cavalry retreating into Columbia and the Confederates under Forrest who were sharply following. The rest of our horse were covering the flank of the Fourth Corps, which was on the march from Lynnville. It was close work, all round. My men deployed at double-quick along the bank of the creek, and after a brisk skirmish Forrest withdrew out of range. The head of the Fourth Corps column came up about eleven o'clock, having left Lynnville at three. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 1017, 1018, 1020, 1021.] We naturally supposed Hood's infantry to be in close support of the cavalry, but they were still at Lawrenceburg, and learning that Forrest had been foiled in the effort to take Columbia, did not advance beyond Mount Pleasant till the 26th, though the cavalry made a vigorous reconnoissance on the 25th, giving us another lively skirmish in which my division had some fifteen casualties. My headquarters' tents were pitched in the grounds of Mrs. Martin, a member of the Polk family. 

At Columbia we found General Ruger in command when we arrived. He had been transferred from the Twentieth Corps, and ordered to ours at the time we left Georgia, and Schofield had assigned him to the second division. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xxxix. pt. iii. pp. 661, 682, 700, 748.] He joined the two brigades at Johnsonville, but at Schofield's request Thomas ordered him on the 20th to bring one brigade (Moore's) to Columbia, where Strickland's of the same division already was. The railroad from Johnsonville was broken by some raiders on the 21st, so that Ruger was delayed, and only reached Columbia himself in the afternoon of the 23d. Moore's brigade did not arrive till half-past two o'clock of the morning of the 24th. Under Thomas's orders he at once, upon his arrival, sent two regiments of Strickland's brigade down Duck River to Williamsport and Centreville to hold crossings there. It thus happened that Strickland was left with only his own regiment (Fiftieth Ohio), till, some new reinforcements coming forward, other regiments were temporarily assigned to him. [Footnote: _Id_., vol. xlv. pt. i. pp. 378, 955, 985, 999.] Until he reached Columbia, therefore, Schofield did not know that Strickland had been reinforced, and we all supposed that our safety depended on my getting there before the enemy. 

Thomas also ordered General Cooper to march from Johnsonville on the 24th, with his own brigade, direct to Centerville and Beard's Ferry, some fifty miles. There he would be in communication with the two regiments sent down from Columbia to Williamsport, and he was put in command of the whole. He was thirty miles from our principal column, and posted his troops to observe the crossings through some fifteen miles of the river's course. He arrived at Beard's Ferry on the evening of the 28th, and was there only a day and a half, when our retreat to Franklin made it necessary for him also to fall back. He was beset by guerilla parties, so that he was almost without communication with his commanders, and being thrown on his own resources, made his way back to Nashville with a series of adventures. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlv. pt. i. p. 370.] Ruger's division was thus deprived of half its veteran troops at the battle of Franklin. 

It must be noted also that it was not till the 24th that the troops at Decatur and Huntsville were ordered back, the withdrawal being made on the 25th. General R. S. Granger's old troops were then placed at Stevenson, and those recently recruited were sent to Murfreesborough. 

Granger reported that the public property, except some forage, had been removed; but by what seems to have been a misunderstanding with the naval officers about convoying transports, the pontoon bridge was only detached at its southern end, and was neither taken up stream nor destroyed. It swung with the current against the northern shore, and proved of great use to Hood in his retreat a month later. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 1003, 1027, 1046. See also "Franklin and Nashville," p. 125.] The continued hope that A. J. Smith's corps would arrive in time to reach Pulaski or Columbia before we should have to retreat counted for much, no doubt, in Thomas's postponement of decisive action; but it can hardly be disputed that the true military course would have been to strip his garrisons to the bone immediately after Sherman marched southward, concentrate at Pulaski a force superior to Hood's, and give him battle if he dared to advance north from Florence. [Footnote: For the forces on both sides in Tennessee, see Official Records, vol. xlv. pt. i. pp. 52-54, 678-679; "Franklin and Nashville," pp. 132-136; "The Battle of Franklin," pp. 9, 208. I discussed the same subject in "The Nation" for Nov. 9, 1893, p. 352.] 

As it was too late for concentration at Duck River or south of it, Schofield was limited to a careful defensive, though he was willing to receive Hood's attack upon our lines. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlv. pt. i. p. 1017.] The latter, however, did no more than keep up a combat of skirmish lines, whilst he looked for ways to turn the position. Schofield, on his part, prepared a short interior line to be held by part of his troops when it was time to cross the river with the rest. In the night of the 25th this movement was made, and for a couple of days more our forces were divided, part holding the short line on the south side, and the greater portion encamped in the bend on the north bank, closely watching the development of the enemy's evident purpose to cross some miles above us. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 1039, 1086-1091.] 

The crossing of the river had been arranged for the early evening, the Fourth Corps moving first into the short line on the south of the river; and when this was done, I was to march two brigades of my division through the lines and across the river to the north bank by the pontoon bridge. There were delays in the change of position by the Fourth Corps, and it was past midnight when I was notified that they were in place and commenced my own movement. At that time a rain-storm had set in which made our whole operation uncomfortable in the wet and darkness, but especially the seeking a bivouac for the troops after we got over the river. We halted the men and parked the trains about a mile from the bridge at three o'clock. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 358.] I had a tent roughly pitched, and got a little sleep, but was roused at daybreak by musket firing, which sounded as if it were right among us. I sprang up with the feeling that I had been caught napping in a double sense; but a little examination showed that the enemy's pickets and our own were skirmishing on the other side of the river. The Confederates had pushed in a reconnoissance to find out what we had been at, and in the damp air the sound of the firing on the opposite bank where the flank of our new line rested was so loud and seemed so close that it had deceived me. 

The remainder of our little army was brought over in the night of the 27th, and on the 28th Forrest's cavalry was over the upper fords of the river, pushing back our mounted troops and covering the laying of a pontoon bridge at Davis's ford, five or six miles above Columbia, where Hood's principal column of infantry crossed next day. 

In the night of the 27th it occurred to General Thomas that Hood's advance left the bridge at Florence open to an attack, and on the next day he sent an officer to General Steedman, commanding at Chattanooga, with the suggestion that the latter should throw his force of 5000 men against Tuscumbia and destroy Hood's crossing of the Tennessee. Steedman was to use the railroad to Decatur, taking along the pontoons which Thomas supposed had been carried to Chattanooga from Decatur two days before, and relaying that crossing for the purposes of the expedition. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlv. pt. i. pp. 1100, 1125, 1126.] There seems to have been hesitation in letting Thomas know that the Decatur pontoons had not been brought away, and Steedman said he would take his infantry by rail, send his cavalry by steamboat transports, and use these boats to cross the troops instead of pontoons. On further reflection, however, Thomas found that Hood's movement on the 28th to turn Schofield's left made the plan too adventurous, and on the 29th he revoked the order, directing Steedman to take his men to Cowan. Strong posts were thus established at Murfreesborough, Stevenson, and Cowan on the railroad between Nashville and Chattanooga, under the impression which Thomas retained till after the battle of Franklin, that Hood would not advance on Nashville, but would march toward one of the three places named. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlv. pt. i. pp. 1159, 1160.] 

A concentration in force at Decatur two weeks earlier, and an advance toward Tuscumbia, would have had much to recommend it, and it would perhaps have been the surest way to defend the line of the Tennessee; but it was now too late for that, as it was also too late to affect Hood's determination to seek an early battle with Schofield. Despite his hesitation to leave Florence and Tuscumbia, and his plea that his supplies were insufficient, Hood had found on reaching Mount Pleasant that he could live on the country, and telegraphed Beauregard that he found food enough and anticipated no further trouble on that score,--a confession that he might have advanced at the beginning of the month. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 1245, 1254.] If Steedman had made the expedition, therefore, it would not have brought Hood back, and would only have wasted a strong division in a useless collateral operation. The scattering of 20,000 men along the Chattanooga route, "in small packages" (to use Napoleon's phrase), cannot be regarded as sound, though Steedman was more available at Cowan than at Chattanooga, and he got to Nashville "by the skin of his teeth" when the battle of Franklin proved that the enemy was aiming at that place, and made Thomas see the desirability of greater concentration. [Footnote: Thomas's order to Steedman to bring his troops from Cowan to Nashville was dated at 5.35 P. M. of the 30th, and his forces arrived, part on the 1st and part on the 2d of December, the last of the trains being attacked by the enemy five miles out of Nashville. _Id_., pp. 503, 1190.] He then ordered Steedman to bring his division to Nashville; but Rousseau, with Milroy's and Granger's commands, were still left at Murfreesborough and beyond. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 1153.] 

I have already told the story of the march to Franklin, and the fierce battle at that place, in the Scribner Series, "March to the Sea; Franklin and Nashville," and in "The Battle of Franklin," and will not repeat it here. The effect of the belief that Hood would march eastward toward Murfreesborough had, however, so strong an influence upon General Wilson, the cavalry commander, that it is instructive to trace it in his dispatches. It seems to have been the cause of the loss of touch with our infantry during that important movement. 

In the middle of the night of the 28th Wilson had reason to think that two divisions (Buford's and Jackson's) of Forrest's cavalry were north of Duck River upon the Lewisburg and Franklin turnpike, about Rally Hill, the rest of Hood's army on the Columbia and Shelbyville road in rear. They had driven our own horse away from the river, and the best Wilson had been able to do was to concentrate his troops about Hurt's Cross-roads, some miles further north on the same road. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlv. pt. i. p. 1143.] His communication with Schofield was through Spring Hill by a cross-road, and by that route he sent a report at three o'clock in the morning of the 29th. [Footnote: _Ibid_.] He then had information that the enemy were laying pontoon bridges for the infantry, though the place was not accurately fixed. He thought it very clear that they were aiming for Franklin by the turnpike he was on, and said he would stay on that road and hold them back as much as he could. He indicated Spring Hill or Thompson's Station as the points on the Columbia turnpike where cross-roads would bring Schofield's couriers to him, and said he would try to get no further back than the Ridge meeting-house, due east from Thompson's Station. There he would leave the turnpike and take a still more eastern course toward Nolensville. He closed the dispatch with, "Get back to Franklin without delay, leaving a small force to detain the enemy. The rebels will move by this road toward that point." [Footnote: _Ibid_.] 

These positions will be understood if we note that the Lewisburg and Franklin turnpike is some twelve miles in a direct line east of that from Columbia to Franklin where they cross the river, and that these roads converge toward the last-named place twenty-three miles north. Nolensville is about twelve miles northeast of Franklin and considerably nearer Nashville. As one goes north on the Lewisburg turnpike, after passing Rally Hill and Hurt's Cross-roads, the next important crossing is at Mount Carmel, where the road from Spring Hill to Murfreesboro intersects the turnpike. Three miles still further on, a road from Thompson's Station is crossed at the so-called Ridge meeting-house. All these cross-roads gave the means of regaining touch with Schofield's main column; but the cavalry commander was so dominated by the belief that Forrest was making directly for Nashville by roads still further east, that he proposed neither to join the infantry by the cross-roads, nor to adhere to the converging one leading to Franklin, but would go to Nolensville. The imperative form of his suggestion to his commanding officer to "get back" shows not only the force of this mental preoccupation, but a forgetfulness that Schofield might have other information and be under a necessity of forming other plans for the day's operations to which the cavalry must be subordinate. 

The whole of Hood's force had not crossed the river, but two thirds of Lee's corps and nearly all the artillery were still in Columbia, and made their presence known by a vigorous cannonade in the early morning of the 29th. The enemy's infantry was not marching to the Lewisburg turnpike, but was seen making for Spring Hill by roads five miles east of Columbia, and Forrest was in touch with their right flank. Schofield, under orders from Thomas, was obstructing the lower fords of the river, and trying to get orders through to General Cooper, directing him to concentrate his forces and retire from Centerville. The concentration of our cavalry had been so complete that when it took an independent line of retreat it ceased, for the time, to be any efficient part of Schofield's forces, and left him without cover for his flank or means of rapid reconnoissance. For conclusive reasons he held during the day of the 29th the line from Spring Hill to the Duck River; but after ten o'clock in the morning Wilson was wholly out of the game, looking off to the east for Forrest, who had gone west from Hurt's Cross-roads and Mount Carmel to attack our infantry at Spring Hill. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlv. pt. i. pp. 1144, 753, 769.] 

At noon, north of the Ridge church and the road to Thompson's Station, Wilson was still of the opinion that the whole of the enemy's cavalry had gone to Nashville by eastern roads through Peytonsville, Triune, and Nolensville. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 1144.] At two in the afternoon he repeated the same opinion in a dispatch to Thomas, although he had heard heavy artillery firing in the direction of Spring Hill since eleven o'clock. He warned Thomas to look out for Forrest at Nashville by next day noon, but promised to be there himself before or very soon after he should make his appearance. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 1146.] At four o'clock he was four miles east of Franklin, still looking toward Nolensville for the enemy, who had "disappeared," and still of the opinion that Forrest had turned his left flank before he left Hurt's Cross-roads in the morning. The heavy firing he had heard all day had, however, awakened solicitude for Schofield. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 1145.] After nightfall he sent a scout back on the road he had travelled, nearly to the Ridge meeting-house, where was found a cavalry picket of the enemy, and a large camp was said to be discovered near by,--probably the light of the camp-fires at Thompson's Station, where they were still burning when Schofield placed Ruger's division there in the evening. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 342.] At ten o'clock Wilson had concluded that it was "probable that a part of the enemy's cavalry this afternoon aimed to strike your rear or flank at Thompson's Station," as he wrote to Schofield, and had marched a mile and a half toward Franklin, [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlv. pt. i. p. 342.] where at the Matthews house his headquarters remained next day, when connection with the army had again been made. Nothing more than scouting parties and patrols from Forrest's column had gone north of Mount Carmel during the day. The adventures of the march had emphasized the danger that a preconceived opinion of probabilities may make an officer misinterpret such real facts as he may learn, or let very slight evidence take the place of thorough knowledge got by bold contact with the enemy. The experience also teaches how sure mischiefs are to follow the forgetfulness of the principle that, in such operations, it is the primary duty of the cavalry to keep in touch with the main body of the army, and where orders from the commanding general may be promptly received and acted on. Schofield, in fact, had no communication with his cavalry during the whole day, and none of Wilson's messages had reached him after the retreat from Hurt's Cross-roads began. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 343.] 



site stats


Site Copyright 2003-2018 Son of the South. For Questions or comments about this collection,


privacy policy

Are you Scared and Confused? Read My Snake Story, a story of hope and encouragement, to help you face your fears.