MILITARY REMINISCENCES OF THE CIVIL WAR
BY JACOB DOLSON COX, A.M., LL.D.
Formerly Major-General commanding Twenty-Third Army Corps_
NOVEMBER 1863-JUNE 1865
PURSUIT OF HOOD--END OF THE CAMPAIGN
Night after the battle--Unusual exposure--Hardships of company officers--Bad roads--Halt at Franklin--Visiting the battlefield--Continued pursuit--Decatur reoccupied--Hood at Tupelo, Miss.--Summary of captures--Thomas suggests winter-quarters--Grant orders continued activity--Schofield's proposal to move the corps to the East--Grant's correspondence with Sherman--Schofield's suggestion adopted--Illness--I ask for "sick-leave"--Do not use it--Promotion--Reinforcements--March from
Columbia to Clifton--Columns on different roads--Western part of the barrens--Fording Buffalo River--An illumined camp--Dismay of the farmer--Clifton on the Tennessee--Admiral Lee--Methods of transport--Weary waiting--Private grumbling--Ordered East--Revulsion of spirits--On the transport fleet--Thomas's frame of mind at close of the campaign.
The night after the battle of Nashville was one we were not likely to forget. Twilight was falling when we halted, after the crushing of the Confederate lines, and as we were likely to join in the pursuit before morning, I had announced that I would be found with Doolittle's brigade. Owing to the darkness and a gathering storm, the troops having the advance did not get far, but the risks of missing dispatches that might be sent in haste made me adhere to my rule of staying where I had said I might be found. This kept the staff and headquarters in the space a little in rear of the captured line of works, a spot unclean and malodorous. We built a camp-fire, and tried to clean off spots on which we could sit on the ground; but a heavy rain soon came on, and as we were in the woods, the light soil soon made a mire, and we were forced to stand upright and take the weather as it came. The extreme weariness of standing about, with nothing to vary the monotony, physically tired and sleepy, in the reaction from the excitement of the afternoon, was something which cannot be understood unless one has had a similar experience. We had hoped our servants might find us during the evening and bring us something to eat; but the advance over hills and intrenchments had made it hard to follow our course even in daylight; but in the darkness and storm they entirely failed to find us. We felt a good deal like "belly-pinched wolves," but we had no den in which we could "keep the fur dry." Indeed, the suffering of a dog that was with us was a thing we often referred to as illustrating our utter discomfort. A fine pointer, astray in northern Georgia, had attached himself to me in October, and had been constantly with us, leaping and barking with joy whenever I mounted my horse. He was with us now, and when the rain came on he stood in the mud like the rest of us, finding no spot to lie down in. He grew tired and sleepy, and looked wistfully about for a place he could consent to lie in, but gave it up, and spreading all four legs well apart he tried to stand it out. Occasionally his eyes would close and his head droop, his body would slowly sway back and forth till he made a greater nod, his nose would go into the mud, and gathering himself up he would lift his head with a most piteous whine, protesting against such headquarters.
The longest night must have an end, and early in the morning one of our black boys found us, bringing with him on horseback a haversack full of hard-tack, and in his hand a kettle of coffee which we soon made piping hot at the camp-fire, and found the world looking much more cheerful. The storm continued, however, and made the pursuit slower and more difficult than it would have been in better weather. The cavalry had the advance, supported by A. J. Smith's troops on the Granny White turnpike, and by Wood's Fourth Corps on the Franklin turnpike. We were ordered to follow Smith. Our camp on the evening of the 17th was not far from Brentwood between the two roads which come together a little further on after crossing the Little Harpeth, some seven miles from Franklin and the larger stream of the same name.
Our headquarters the second night after the battle were an improvement on those of the night before. We found a knoll which was fairly drained, we borrowed a tarpaulin from a battery, and with fence-rails made of it a lean-to with back to the storm. A pile of evergreen boughs made a couch on which we lay, and a camp-fire blazing high in front made a heat which mitigated even the driving December storm. Our faithful black boys had coffee-pots and haversacks, so that we did not go supperless. I wrote home that my overcoat with large cape weighed about fifty pounds with the water in it, but it kept my body dry, and I found it better to wear it than to put on a rubber waterproof, for perspiration did not evaporate under the latter.
Our private soldiers wore the rubber poncho-blankets above their overcoats in wet weather, and two "pardners" would make a shelter tent of the pair of waterproofs which had metal eyelets to adapt them to this use. Veterans carefully selected the place for the tent, pitched it in good form, trenched it so that the water would flow off and not run into the tent; then with their bed of cedar boughs, their haversacks and coffee-kettles, they were not worse off than the officers,--better off indeed than their company officers who trudged afoot like themselves.
Transportation was so difficult to get that, in pressing forward, baggage was reduced to smallest possible allowance. In bad roads such wagons as we had were far behind the troops, and the company officers were exposed to severe hardships by the delay. I laid their condition before General Schofield, in a letter which better tells the tale than I could now give it from memory alone. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlv. pt. ii. p. 312.] "From the time we left Nashville," I wrote, "until last night [21st December], these gentlemen had no shelter, and only such food as they could obtain from the private soldiers, being far worse off than the men, since the latter had their shelter-tents and their rations in haversacks. The officers' rations and their cooking utensils are in the regimental wagons, which are necessarily left behind in movements such as we have lately made, and they must either furnish themselves with knapsacks and haversacks, and carry their cooking utensils upon their own persons or those of their servants, or be utterly destitute. Even if they do this, the wagons of the commissary of subsistence are also at the rear, except upon ordinary days of issue, and it would be necessary to issue to them precisely as is done to the soldiers in the ranks, and so break down the last vestige in distinction in mode of life between them and their commands. As it is, I state what I know from personal observation when I say that no individuals in any way connected with the army are enduring so much personal suffering and privation upon the present campaign as the officers of the line. As I know the commanding general will be most desirous to make any arrangement which is feasible to reduce the amount of discomfort, I take the liberty of suggesting that during the winter campaign the transportation for each regiment be one wagon for regimental headquarters and for company books and papers, desks, etc., as now, and in addition one pack-mule for each company. The pack-mules make little or no obstruction in the road, are easily moved to flank or rear in case of manoeuvre of troops, and will be up with the command when the regiment goes into camp. Unless some such arrangement is made, I fear many of our officers will break down in health, and many more, becoming disgusted with the hardships of the service, and especially with the difference between themselves and their more fortunate brethren of the staff and staff-corps, will seek to leave the army. In many commands some similar arrangements to the one I have suggested have been surreptitiously made; but as I have rigidly enforced the rule turning over to the quartermaster all unauthorized animals, I am the more desirous of obtaining for the gentlemen of the line whom I have the honor to command such authority to regulate their transportation as will save them from the apparently unnecessary hardships they have of late endured, without detracting from the mobility of the division." The plan suggested was one we had used in exigencies in the Atlanta campaign, and General Schofield immediately authorized it for winter use.
The cold rainstorm, in which the battle of Nashville had ended, lasted for a week, turning to sleet and snow on the 20th and clearing off with sharp cold on the 24th. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlv. pt. i. pp. 360, 361.] Worse weather for field operations it would be hard to imagine. The ordinary country roads were impassable, and even the turnpikes became nearly so. They had never been very solidly made, and had not been repaired for three years. In places the metalling broke through, making holes similar to holes in thick ice, with well-defined margin. These were filled to the brim with water, and churned into deep pits by the wheels of loaded wagons. It required watchfulness to see them, as the whole surface of the road was flowing with slush and mud. When a wheel went into one, the wagon dropped to the axle, and even where there was no upset it was a most difficult task to pry the wagon out and start it on the way again. The wagon-master was lucky if it did not stop his whole train, and it was no uncommon thing for a mule to be drowned by getting down in one of these pits. Hood's rear-guard under Forrest and Walthall destroyed bridges behind them, of course, and that our cavalry with the head of our infantry column were able to keep close on the enemy's rear till they passed
Pulaski is good proof of the energy with which the pursuit was conducted. Yet it was necessarily slow, for it was confined to one road, the rest being impassable, and flanking operations could only be made on a small scale when in contact with the enemy.
When we reached Franklin on our southward march, we were halted for a day, so that we might not crowd too much upon the rest of the column, and I took advantage of the opportunity to study the condition of the battlefield there. My division camped between the Columbia and the Lewisburg turnpikes, on the ground over which the Confederates had advanced to attack it in the battle. Portions of the second line of works close to the Carter house and the retrenchment across the Columbia road had been levelled, but the principal defences were as we had left them. The osage orange-trees which we had used for abatis had been evenly cut away by the bullets, and the tough fibres hung in a fringe of white strings, the upper line quite even, and just a little lower than the top of the parapet. The effect was a curiously impressive one as we looked down the line we had held and thought what a level storm of lead was indicated by this long white fringe, and what desperate charges of Hood's divisions they were that came through it, close up to the line of this abatis. Every twig was weeping with the cold pouring rain of the dark midwinter storm, and this did not lessen the gloomy effect of the scene. At the Carter house we learned from the family many incidents of their own experience during the battle and of the scenes of the next day. [Footnote: See "Franklin," chap. xv.]
Our position in the rear of the marching columns put upon us the duty of building bridges, repairing roads, and improving the means of supplying the troops in front. We consequently made halts, one of two or three days at Spring Hill, and another in our old camps north of Duck River, where we had held the line of the river on the 28th and 29th of November. The day after Christmas we moved over the river and encamped in front of Columbia, on the Pulaski turnpike. We remained here for several days, whilst the Fourth Corps and the cavalry, making Pulaski their depot for supplies, followed Hood until he crossed the Tennessee on the 28th and 29th of December. The line of the Confederate retreat was stripped bare of supplies and forage, and every energy was devoted to rebuilding railroad bridges and getting the road opened to Pulaski so that wagon transportation might be limited to the region beyond the head of the rails. Thomas had ordered Steedman's and R. S. Granger's divisions to Decatur by rail, going by way of Stevenson. Once there, they were to operate in the direction of Tuscumbia and Florence, seeking to destroy Hood's pontoon bridges crossing the Tennessee. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlv. pt. ii. p. 260.] The light steamboats in the upper river were reckoned on to take supplies from Chattanooga, where an abundance was in depot. Steedman reached Decatur on the 27th of December, and Granger joined him from Huntsville, but Hood had reached Bainbridge, at the foot of Muscle Shoals on the 25th; [Footnote: _Id_., p. 731.] and next day had a bridge there, built in part of our pontoons which had been floated down from Decatur. [Footnote: _Ante_, p. 343.] He assembled the remnants of his army at Tupelo, Miss., fifty miles south of
Corinth. The inspection report of January 20th showed 18,708, infantry and artillery, present for duty; Forrest's cavalry not reported. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlv. pt. i. p. 664.] Thomas's prizes in the two days' fighting at Nashville were reported by him as amounting to 4462 prisoners and fifty-three pieces of artillery. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 40.] The pursuit after the battle doubled the number of the prisoners, gathered large numbers of deserters, and considerably increased the number of guns captured. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 46, 48, 51.]
On the 29th of December Thomas indicated to
General Halleck his opinion that all had been done which was now practicable, and his purpose to put his forces into winter quarters,--A. J. Smith's corps with most of the cavalry at Eastport, where the Mississippi and Alabama line reaches the Tennessee River; the Fourth Corps at Huntsville, Ala., and the Twenty-third at Dalton, Ga. Steedman's and Granger's divisions were already at Decatur, and would hold that important position, with which direct railway communication from Nashville would be opened as quickly as the road could be repaired from Pulaski southward. Thomas also outlined for the spring a concerted advance of the columns into southern Alabama. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlv. pt. ii. p. 402.] The same day he issued his order to Schofield to prepare at once for the march of a hundred and fifty miles to northern Georgia. [Footnote: _Id._, p. 409.] A march of the same distance southward along the Mobile and Ohio Railway would have carried us to Hood's camps at Tupelo, with a prospect of immediate results, and we were not exhilarated by the order, which, however, was countermanded on the 30th in consequence of dispatches received by Thomas from
General Grant had, on the 16th, authorized Sherman to make his own plan for a new campaign, and the latter had indicated the
march from Savannah to Columbia and thence to Raleigh as that which he would make if left to himself. [Footnote: _Id._, vol. xliv. pp. 727-729.] The necessity of reducing the war expenses as soon as possible, as well as more purely military reasons, seemed to the General-in-Chief to make a continuous winter campaign imperative, and by his orders
Halleck had directed Thomas not to go into winter quarters, but to assemble his army at Eastport and prepare for further active work. [Footnote: _Id._, vol. xlv. pt. ii. p. 441.] Grant rightly concluded that Hood's army would be sent to the Carolinas as soon as Sherman marched northward. He was therefore considering combinations of Thomas's with
Canby's forces for the
capture of Mobile and a movement on Selma, Ala., which was the only great armory and manufacturing centre now remaining to the Confederates in the Gulf States. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlv. pt. ii. pp. 419, 420.] Our army was a good deal worn with the hardships of the campaign, our wagon trains had not been brought up to the requirements for full field service, and we were receiving new troops which were not yet fully assimilated to the old; but the advantages of following up our successes by unflagging efforts in the West as well as in the East, and of making the "long pull and a pull all together" which would end the war, were so plain that all responded cheerily to the call.
But in the Twenty-third Corps a new element entered into the debate, which resulted, a fortnight later, in orders for us to move in a widely different direction. On the 27th, the day that we received at Columbia the news that
Sherman had taken Savannah, Schofield wrote an unofficial letter to Grant, suggesting that the corps would no longer be needed for the
spring campaign which Thomas was then planning, and that with its increase of strength it might be of more use in Grant's own operations in Virginia if it was not practicable for us to rejoin Sherman. [Footnote: _Id_., p. 377.] Circumstances were making Schofield's situation in Tennessee uncomfortable, for, as he said in the same letter, he was in an anomalous position, nominally commanding a department and an army, but practically doing neither. Such considerations reinforced the military reasons, but the latter were strong enough to establish the wisdom of his suggestion to Grant. He wrote at the same time to General Sherman, indicating that his strongest wish would be to join the
army at Savannah if it should be feasible, for he recognized the great military importance of now concentrating against Lee. [Footnote: "Forty-six Years," p. 254.] It happened that on the same day that Schofield was writing these letters, Grant was writing to Sherman, expressing his pleasure in the latter's confidence of his ability to march through the Carolinas, and his own belief that it could be done. "The effect of such a campaign," he said, "will be to disorganize the South, and prevent the organization of new armies from their broken fragments." [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xliv. p. 820.] Giving a sketch of the situation in the West, he thought Sherman's advance would force the Confederacy to use Hood's broken army without allowing it time to collect its deserters and reorganize. As it would thus be "wiped out for present harm," he was considering the plan of ordering A. J. Smith away from his temporary connection with Thomas's main army, and bringing him with ten or fifteen thousand men to Virginia to make his own army strong enough to deal effectually with Lee, whether the Confederate general continued to defend Richmond or should abandon that city. [Footnote: _Ibid_.] Schofield's suggestion fitted so well the plan Grant was revolving in his mind, that he decided to bring the Twenty-third Corps East, instead of Smith's. On the 7th of January he directed Thomas to send Schofield and the corps to him with as little delay as possible, if he were sure that Hood had gone further south than
Corinth. [Footnote: _Id_., vol. xlv. pt. ii. p. 529.] When Thomas received the order on the 11th, he was at
Paducah on the Ohio River, and about to start up the Tennessee by steamboat. We were at Clifton on the Tennessee, after a hard march of some seventy miles southwest from Columbia, and were awaiting steamboats to take us up to Eastport, wholly ignorant of the surprise that was in store for us. [Footnote: _Id_., pt. i. p. 363.] Even Schofield had received no word from Grant as to his action.
In making this outline of the changing plans of our superiors, I have outrun the current of my personal experience in which some things may be worth noting. On the day after the battle of Nashville, I was conscious of malarial poisoning from the specially unwholesome conditions of our bivouac on the night of the 16th, but was so confident in the vigor of my constitution in throwing off such ailments that I paid no attention to my health, and kept about my duties with my ordinary activity. I found, however, that my strength was not equal to the demands upon it, and by the time we reached the Duck River on the 23d of December, I was glad to find quarters at the house of Mrs. Porter, in the bend of the river, where we had been during the two days before the battle of Franklin, and where we were again received with a kindness and hospitality which was wonderful when one considers how the passing and repassing of armies had ruined the country and overstrained the sympathies of the people.
Fortunately for me, our movements were suspended for a week and we made but one change of camp, crossing to the south side of the river, and taking the position in front of Columbia which I have already mentioned. [Footnote: _Ante_, p. 373.] My medical director, Surgeon Frink, gave me heroic treatment, and by the time we marched again on the 2d of January, I was able to do my ordinary duties, though I did not become quite well again till I reached the sea-coast and got a complete change of climate. At this time we were expecting to go into winter quarters, and when, on 29th December, I learned that orders were issued for the corps to winter at Dalton, I requested and received a leave of absence for thirty days, to go home and recover my health. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlv. pt. i. p. 361.] My order had been issued, turning over the command to Colonel Doolittle, the senior brigade commander present, [Footnote: _Id._, pt. ii. p. 476.] when I learned from General Schofield that the active campaign was to be resumed and that he had abandoned the purpose he had formed of going north himself as far as Louisville. I immediately rescinded my own order, and marched with the command. [Footnote: _Id._, pp. 426, 474, 475, 486.]
During the pursuit of Hood from Nashville, Thomas had followed in person the Fourth Corps, which was in advance of ours, and Schofield had no opportunity of personal conference with him, so that our only knowledge of his purposes was got from the formal correspondence with his headquarters. When Colonel Doolittle sent forward his communication reasserting the capture of the battery in the curtain of the Confederate works on the 16th of December, [Footnote: _Ante_, p. 366.] it was accompanied by my own and indorsed by General Schofield. It reached Thomas at Duck River, and he made it the occasion of indorsing upon it a recommendation for my promotion to the grade of Major-General. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlv. pt. ii. pp. 234, 235.] On the 19th, from Franklin, General Schofield made his own recommendation in terms which I may be pardoned for feeling more pride in than in the promotion itself. [Footnote: See Appendix C.] This was earnestly supported by General Thomas and forwarded on the 20th. The only vacancy in the grade was one made by the resignation of
General McClernand, and to this I was assigned, as of the 7th of December, the date of General Schofield's report of the battle of Franklin, though the official notice of the promotion did not reach me till the 15th of January, at Clifton, as we were about to take steamboats for our movement to the East. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlv. pt. ii. pp. 273, 274; _Id_., pt. i. p. 364. Army Register for 1865, pp. 54, 95. Another vacancy occurred on the 13th December, by the resignation of General Crittenden, and to this General W. B. Hazen was appointed for his assault of Fort McAllister near Savannah. (_Ibid_.) On December 22d Mr.
Stanton asked Thomas to make a list of promotions he desired to recommend, but informed him that there was then no vacancy in the grade of Major-General, and only two in that of Brigadier. (Official Records, vol. xlv. pt. ii. p. 307.) General Schofield thinks that Stanton, in the dispatch last mentioned, referred only to vacancies in the regular army. (Forty-six Years, p. 279.) The circumstances and the whole correspondence seem to me inconsistent with this view. Thomas made out his list on the 25th, and it was for promotions in the volunteer service only. (Official Records, vol. xlv. pt. ii. p. 343.) Thomas's own promotion as Major-General in the regular army was made on the 24th. (_Id_., pp. 318, 329.)]
Before leaving Columbia, General Schofield had, on the 28th of December, a consultation with his three division commanders in regard to the assignment of the new regiments, to the number of twelve or thirteen, which had been added to the corps. [Footnote: These included two or three which had been temporarily attached at Franklin, but were now made permanent parts of the organization.] It was agreed that it was best to preserve the older organizations of divisions and brigades, and to strengthen these by some new regiments, while the rest of the new regiments were organized into a division under General Ruger. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlv. pt. ii. p. 409.] Schofield had the promise of several other regiments whenever they should come forward; and by correspondence with Halleck and with the Governor of Illinois, as well as with Thomas, he was actively striving to bring the corps to the proper strength of three full divisions. At the end of the month we had 15,000 men, with at least two other regiments ordered to join us, one of them convalescing from the measles, which was very apt to run through a new organization taking the field. [Footnote: _Id._, pp. 426, 436, 445, 461, 473, 475.] The new troops were nearly all officered by men of experience, and contained many veterans who had re-enlisted. We thus welcomed back valuable men who had served in the corps, and came to us with increased rank and a renewed zeal which made our reinforcements at once nearly equal to seasoned troops.
Our orders to march from Columbia on the 1st of January were in pursuance of the orders Thomas had received to concentrate his army at Eastport and Tuscumbia for the continuance of the campaign. The Fourth Corps was _en route_ to Huntsville, and Thomas did not change its destination, as he thought it could take part in new movements as well from that position as from Tuscumbia. A. J. Smith's corps had already been ordered to Eastport for winter quarters, and had marched from Pulaski by way of Lawrenceburg and Waynesborough, reaching Clifton on the 2d of January, where it awaited steamboat transportation. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlv. pt. ii. pp. 396, 410, 420, 427, 486. Clifton is called Carrollville in official Atlas, pl. cxlix. The former name is that used in the dispatches and which we found in use by everybody. The roads and topography in the map are very incorrect.] Thomas himself was at Pulaski, and went back by rail to his headquarters at Nashville, whence he took a steamer to convey his field headquarters and staff by way of the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers to Eastport. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlv. pt. ii. pp. 470, 530, 567.]
We marched from Columbia on the morning of the 2d of January, 1865, following the turnpike to Mt. Pleasant, ten miles, through some of the finest farms in the State. The afternoon was spent in organizing the corps to move in separate columns by division, each with its own supply train; for the information we got as to the condition of the roads made it wise to try any country roads which had not been used by the armies. It was arranged that Couch's division should march by the turnpike to Waynesborough, wind by a ridge road through the "barrens" north of the turnpike, and Ruger should follow me some distance, and then take an intermediate road through Laurel-Hill Factory, leaving an interval of a day's march between our columns. Couch's division was preceded by the engineer battalion of the corps, as pioneers to repair the turnpike. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 475, 486.] Promptly at six o'clock on the 3d, my division marched from Mt. Pleasant, continuing for five miles on the Waynesborough turnpike, then turning to the right upon the Gordon road, we climbed by a steep and long hill to the barren ridge which is the watershed between the Duck River and Buffalo River. Five miles from the turnpike our way ran into the Beaverdam road, which we kept for five miles further to the fork of the Ashland road, turning to the left. Here we camped and waited for our trains, which had slow work in climbing the ridge, for it had rained all the morning, and the roads were slippery. [Footnote: _Id_., pt. i. p. 362; pt. ii. p. 498.]
It was noon of the 4th before the trains overtook us, and I then ordered an issue of rations to lighten them, and we started again, with a citizen for a guide. We followed the Perryville road seven miles to the headwaters of Grinder's Creek, a tributary of Buffalo River, and down the creek three miles, the road being a mere track in its bed. We now turned to the right over a ridge and came down into Rockhouse Creek, the course of which we followed to the river. I had learned that we must ford the Buffalo, and from the wet weather it would be whole leg deep. It was getting late in the day, and Rockhouse Creek had to be crossed many times; so I passed the order along the line not to try to bridge, but to march straight through the creek and make the more important crossing of the river before going into camp. This seemed hard, in the month of January, when, as it had cleared and was cold, ice was forming in the still places of the stream; but I heard that open farm lands bordered the river on the other side, and if our wading was done all at once, we could make the men dry their clothes and shoes with less danger to health than if we began another day with a soaking. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlv. pt. i. p. 362.]
It grew dark several hours before we reached Buffalo River, the column plodding along in the wooded ravine. I had turned out from the road to wait for the brigades to pass, and have a word with the commanders in turn, and was picking my way to the head of column again, when I overheard one of those little colloquies between soldiers which give real pleasure to an officer. A fresh recruit was grumbling at marching in the darkness and in the water, and wondering what generals could mean by putting such hardships upon the soldiers, when a veteran by his side answered cheerily, "When you've been in this division as long as I have, you'll know there's some good reason for pushing us this way; so take it easy, and don't growl. The General knows what he's about." I turned further out into the darkness, with a feeling that it would cheapen the brave man's words to let him learn who had heard him, but the evidence of the trust which is the foundation of soldierly devotion gave a deep satisfaction. When the column reached the river, which was about seventy-five yards wide, fires were lit on both sides as guides to the ford, and though it was near nine o'clock, the men were not permitted to rest till they had thoroughly dried themselves around the great fires of fence-rails. They did not need orders to boil their coffee and cook a hot supper in their bivouac. The broad fields between the hills and the river were illuminated far and wide, and the stillness of the dark valley was transformed into the noisy activity of the armed host. All in the camp were "merry as grigs," and did not need to be told why the march had been prolonged into the night. But the fun of the soldier was the grief and dismay of the farmer.
The place belonged to an elderly man named Churchill. We had to make use of his house for headquarters, and while our boys were cooking our supper, a busy group of officers was seated about the crackling fire in an open fireplace, writing dispatches and orders, receiving reports, and sending messages, while in the shadows of the background the farmer and his wife were moving uneasily about, looking out of door or window, and wringing their hands at the vision of destruction which had suddenly descended upon them. The old man protested at the burning of his fences, naturally enough, and all we could say was that, in the end, if he could prove his loyalty, he would be indemnified for his loss; but this was small consolation, and we pitied him whilst we applied the pitiless code of military necessity to save the troops from worse mischiefs.
The ridge road we had followed had been so completely a wilderness that we saw but one inhabited house for fifteen miles. The hillsides were covered with a young forest, the original woods having been cut off and made into charcoal for the iron furnaces of the region. In good weather it would have been easy marching through the region, for the top of the ridge was fairly level, winding along in a general westerly direction; but as the road had never been "worked," and was a mere wagon track, it soon became muddy, and our wagons cut it so deeply as to spoil it for the use of any who were to follow us, and to make about fifteen miles a day the most we could ourselves accomplish.
Starting again on the 5th, we marched through Ashland, [Footnote: In the Atlas, pl. cxlix., Ashland is erroneously placed north of Buffalo river.] up the valley of Forty-eight-mile Creek and thence along a ridge to Waynesborough, encamping just beyond the town. Our road ran into the turnpike two miles east of the village, and we met Couch's division at the junction of the roads. We took the advance, which we kept during the next day's march to the Tennessee, reaching Clifton toward evening of the 6th, after a very hard day's work, the weather beginning with rain in the morning and turning to sleet and snow after noon. We pitched our tents in the snowstorm, locating the camp more than a mile from the landing-place, as the eligible ground nearer was occupied by Smith's corps, which was waiting for transports to take them up the river.
It was a desolate outlook. A few chimneys and two or three houses marked the site of what had once been a flourishing village, but which had been burned in the guerilla warfare of the last year. The landscape was bare, the trees having disappeared in the demand for camp-fires, as different bodies of troops had camped there from time to time. The bluff above the river was level and monotonous, and the great turbid stream rolling northward reflected only the heavy stormy skies. The only consolation we could gather was that Eastport, for which we supposed we were bound, was more desolate, more muddy, and a worse camping-ground.
The other divisions of the corps halted at Waynesborough for two or three days, till transports should take Smith's corps away and give us our turn at the landing. General Schofield joined me on the afternoon of the 7th, and on Sunday, the 8th, a fleet of transports came down the river, convoyed by three gunboats under Rear-Admiral Lee. They had taken part of Smith's troops to Eastport and had returned for the rest. A pleasant recollection of the time is the acquaintance then begun with the Admiral, which was afterwards renewed at Washington when I met him in the attractive circle of the Blair families, both the elder Francis P. Blair, and Montgomery, with whom Admiral Lee was connected by marriage. When the fleet was gone again, the rest of our corps gathered at Clifton, but we seemed shut off from all communication with the outer world. We had broken our connection with the country we had left, in the expectation of having our base on the lower Tennessee, and our supplies were getting short. An occasional steamboat would go by us, steaming up the river without stopping. Feeling the necessity of getting news from General Thomas below, General Schofield ordered me, on the 9th, to send a piece of artillery to the river bank and force up-bound boats to stop and report. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlv. pt. ii. p. 557.] On the same day Schofield issued his order for the movement by transports up the river, giving the method of shipping the troops by divisions, each with its own artillery, baggage, and ordnance trains. Open barges were provided for the artillery and ordnance, and these were to be lashed alongside the steamboats on which the troops and the regimental baggage would be loaded. The method was arranged in consultation with Admiral Lee, to whom the division commander was ordered to report during the transit. [Footnote: _Ibid._] The intent was to keep each division together as a military unit, with its baggage, guns, and trains, so that it could take care of itself when landed. [Footnote: _Id._, p. 557.]
Nearly a week passed, the only variation in the monotony being the changes of the weather, which went through the cycle of raining, snowing, clearing, thawing, and freezing which had been regularly marked during the season. The delays in reaching the up-river rendezvous, the complete absence of all news, the wearying effect of waiting, all told upon the troops in a depressing way. General Schofield evidently had little faith that much would be done before spring, and the fact that he had heard nothing from his letters to Grant and Sherman left him without the means of relieving the general tendency to apathy and discontent under which we were suffering. In my own case I had the further discomfort of physical ailing, for though the worst symptoms of my illness had been mitigated, I was far from my usual vigor. The undeniable result of this appeared in my home letters, and it would not be altogether honest to suppress the hearty bit of private grumbling which I indulged in.
Writing on the 13th, after noting the utter lack of stability in the weather and its effect on our operations, I broke out on the personal results of the winter campaigning. "I am getting ragged and barefoot," I said. "My boots are worn out, my coat is worn out, my waistcoats are worn out, my hat is worn out, and I am only whole and respectable when I am in my shirt and drawers. If I ever get near civilization again, I shall be obliged to lie abed somewhere till I can get some clothes made. I don't wonder the Washington people want to have the campaign go on, and if they would apply a little of the 'go ahead' to the army on the James, would appreciate it still better. Here we know to an absolute certainty that the army is stuck in the mud; but the administration would not believe General Thomas when he told them so, and force him to pretend to move, with the fear of being superseded hanging over him, whilst he knows that any effective movement is impossible. We can ruin our horses and mules, and put half our men in hospitals without getting twenty-five miles from the Tennessee unless the weather changes, and this is all we can do. Hood can laugh at us unless the Mobile and Ohio Railroad can be repaired as we go and be made to furnish us supplies. If this could be done, or if the season would permit us to chase the rebels right into the gulf, I would be perfectly content to stay, and in fact couldn't be coaxed to go home; but knowing what I know, I feel perfectly sure that I might as well be making a biennial visit to my family as not."
On the day after this letter was written General Thomas came up the river with a fleet of transports which we were ordered to take for a movement down instead of up the river. The word spread that we were going to join Sherman, and though this meant journeys by boat, by rail, and by ocean ships, two thousand miles or more, our camps leaped from apathy to enthusiasm, such creatures of circumstance we are! Looking back at the situation, I have to admit that Grant's plan of keeping everything moving was the right one, and that if hopeful energy and enterprise could have combined Canby's movements with ours, and we had all been told that this active co-operation was afoot and would soon take us southward where we would meet the coming spring while Tennessee was still shivering in the winter storms, we should all have caught the spirit of the opportunity and cheered our leaders on. But this impulse in an army must come from the head downward. The trudging columns perfectly know the fatigue, the cold, the mud. They very imperfectly catch the larger view which stimulates to great effort by the hope of great results. In a council of war the division commanders would probably advise delay in sympathy with the hardships of the troops, when the same officers would have sprung with ardor to the work under a brief and strong appeal from a confident leader, presenting the broader reasons for energetic persistent activity. It was this quality of leadership in Sherman which made Grant say to Stanton in December, "It is refreshing to see a commander, after a campaign of more than seven months' duration, ready for still further operations without wanting any outfit or rest." [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlv. pt. ii. p. 264.]
Thomas did not stop at Clifton except to send us his orders, and went on to Eastport, arriving there on the morning of the 15th. From that place he reported that Hood's infantry, much disorganized, was at Tupelo, West Point, and Columbus, Miss. Forrest's cavalry, in similar condition, was about Okolona. Roads were almost impracticable, but the high water in the river made it easy to get supplies to Eastport by the largest steamers. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 586, 593. General Schofield does not remember seeing General Thomas in Tennessee after December 25th ("Forty-six Years," p. 276), and this accords with my impression that Thomas did not stop at Clifton long enough for us to visit him.] As to our new movement, Mr. Charles A. Dana, Assistant Secretary of War, had been intrusted with the supervision of the transfer, and sent west Colonel L. B. Parsons of the Quartermaster's Department to collect a fleet of steam-boats at
Louisville for the purpose. [Footnote: _Id_., pp. 560, 568, 586.] But meanwhile, under Thomas's orders, the fleet of transports had been collected and had come for us, and the troops were joined by Colonel Parsons when they reached the Ohio. He then took charge of the transportation by boat and by rail. [Footnote: Dana's Recollections, pp. 253, 254.] As the transfer would take ten days or more, Schofield arranged to go on in advance to close up business at Louisville and for consultations with Grant and
Halleck by telegraph. I went with him to
Cairo, where we took railway trains, and I was authorized to go to my home in Ohio to recuperate until he should telegraph me from Washington. The command of the corps _en route_ was given to General Couch. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlv. pt. ii. p. 588.] As we were leaving the Military Division of the Mississippi, Colonel Doolittle was obliged to give up the command of Reilly's brigade and return to his own regiment. Reilly rejoined the corps after we reached North Carolina. The convalescents of Sherman's army and his recruits were collected in a provisional division under General Thomas Francis Meagher, took steamboats at Nashville, and made part of the same general transfer to the East. There was an amusing coincidence when the brilliant Irish "patriot" telegraphed that his fleet had started, "the Saint Patrick leading the way." [Footnote: _Id._, pp. 564, 600, 613.] Colonel Wright, Sherman's efficient chief of railway construction, had been ordered, a little earlier, to proceed eastward with one division of the construction corps with the object of joining
Sherman at Savannah. [Footnote: _Id._, p. 393.] Changing circumstances, however, brought him as well as Meagher's division into our column a little later, as will soon appear. In a similar way General S. P. Carter joined us by transfer from duties at
Knoxville, [Footnote: _Id._, p. 620.] and General George S. Greene, of the Twentieth Corps, who had been serving on a court-martial at Washington, was also temporarily attached to our command till he was able to join his own organization, which was with Sherman. [Footnote: _Id._, p. 623.]
The reduction of Thomas's forces could not have been altogether agreeable to him, though he no doubt preferred it to the continuance of a winter campaign under imperative orders from Washington. He had not ceased to believe that it was better to rest and refit his army till spring;[Footnote: _Id._, p. 621.] but Grant insisted that he "must make a campaign or spare his surplus troops," and though Thomas was a model of obedience to orders, his continued opposition of opinion, frankly expressed, naturally led to the detachment of our corps. The discussion of the subject between Grant and Halleck clearly stated the reasons which were conclusive. [Footnote: Official Records, vol. xlv. pt. ii. pp. 609, 610, 614; also vol. xlvii. pt. ii. pp. 101, 859.] Thomas suffered mentally under the pressure and the criticisms of the whole campaign, and we may personally share his pain in sympathy with the noble man, whilst we admit that Grant's views were such as the situation demanded. Those who knew Thomas intimately knew that he was a man of quick feeling if of slow action; and his nature was truthfully described by his quartermaster, Colonel Donaldson (who was an old and intimate friend), in a letter to General Meigs, after a parting interview on the steamboat as Thomas left Nashville for Eastport. "He opened his heart to me," says Donaldson. "He feels very sore at the rumored intentions to relieve him, and the major-generalcy does not cicatrize the wound. You know Thomas is morbidly sensitive, and it cut him to the heart to think that it was contemplated to remove him. He does not blame the Secretary, for he said Mr. Stanton was a fair and just man." [Footnote: _Id_., vol. xlv. pt. ii. p. 561.]