Tag Archives: George H. Thomas

Nashville: Both Armies Immobilized

December 11, 1864 – Major General George H. Thomas faced increasing pressure from his Federal superiors to attack the Confederate Army of Tennessee south of Nashville, but a bitter cold front prevented that.

The harsh winter storm continued raging throughout the 10th, as Thomas’s Federal Army of the Cumberland and General John Bell Hood’s Confederate army continued glowering at each other from frozen trenches. According to Major General Jacob D. Cox, commanding XXIII Corps in Thomas’s army:

“During the time of the ice blockade, the slopes in front of the lines were a continuous glare of ice, so that movements away from the roads and broken paths could be made only with the greatest difficulty and at a snail’s pace. Men and horses were seen falling whenever they attempted to move across country. A man slipping on the hillside had no choice but to sit down and slide to the bottom, and groups of men in the forts and lines found constant entertainment watching these mishaps… maneuverers were out of the question for nearly a week.”

The freezing weather caused severe hardships among the troops, especially the Confederates, who lacked adequate clothing or shelter for such conditions. Hood wrote his superior, General P.G.T. Beauregard, requesting blankets and 10,000 new uniforms. Hood explained, “The weather is severe, the ground covered with snow, and the men stand much in need of them.”

On the Federal side, Thomas had fallen into disfavor among his superiors for refusing to attack until all his forces were ready. Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, had threatened to remove Thomas from command if he did not attack soon, but the storm gave Thomas a brief reprieve. He met with his officers at his St. Cloud Hotel headquarters in Nashville and resolved to attack Hood’s Confederates as soon as the ice melted.

Maj Gen G.H. Thomas | Image Credit: Harper’s Weekly, 17 Dec 1864, Vol. VIII, No. 416

This did not satisfy Grant, who feared that Hood would swing around Thomas’s army and head north into Kentucky or possibly even Ohio. Grant wrote Thomas on the 11th, “If you delay attack longer, the mortifying spectacle will be witnessed of a rebel army moving for the Ohio River, and you will be forced to act, accepting such weather as you find… Delay no longer for weather or reinforcements.”

Thomas responded the next day:

“I will obey the order as promptly as possible, however much I may regret it, as the attack will have to be made under every disadvantage. The whole country is covered with a perfect sheet of ice and sleet, and it is with difficulty the troops are able to move about on level ground.”

By the 13th, Grant finally had enough. He ordered Major General John A. Logan to replace Thomas as army commander. Logan, who was stationed in Washington at the time, was to head to Louisville by rail. If Thomas attacked Hood by the time Logan got there, Thomas would retain his command. If not, Logan was to continue on to Nashville and take over. Earlier in the year, Thomas had lobbied against Logan taking command of the Army of the Tennessee because he had been a politician, not a military officer, before the war. Ironically, Logan was poised to replace the man who opposed him.

Fortunately for Thomas, the temperatures rose and the ice melted on the 14th. He called his officers back to the St. Cloud Hotel at 3 p.m. and announced that they would attack the Confederates the next morning. The troops would wake to reveille at 4 a.m., with the assault starting two hours later, “or as soon thereafter as practicable.” According to Thomas’s plan:

  • Cox’s XXIII Corps, under Major General John Schofield’s overall command, would feint against the Confederate right (east) flank.
  • Major General Andrew J. Smith’s XVI Corps would assemble on the Hardin pike and “make a vigorous assault on the enemy’s left.”
  • Brigadier General Thomas J. Wood’s IV Corps would advance on Smith’s left along the Hillsborough pike to Montgomery Hill.
  • XXIII Corps and all remaining Federal forces would hold Smith’s and Wood’s lines as their men advanced.

To prepare for the assault, seven Federal gunboats steamed down the Cumberland River to destroy Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederates batteries, which threatened Thomas’s left. The gunboats pinned the Confederate gunners down while Federal cavalry swept up from behind and captured their guns.

Thomas issued final orders for next morning’s attack and informed Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck at 8 p.m., “The ice having melted away to-day, the enemy will be attacked to-morrow morning. Much as I regret the apparent delay in attacking the enemy, it could not have been done before with any reasonable hope of success.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 186; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 127-28; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21161; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 500, 502-03; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 14236-56, 14348-88, 14425-35; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 531-33; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 609-10; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 125-26

Nashville: The Standoff Continues

December 8, 1864 – The Federal and Confederate armies south of Nashville continued their standoff, as neither of the opposing commanders was quite ready for battle yet.

Major General George H. Thomas | Image Credit: Histmag.org

Major General George H. Thomas, commanding the Federal Army of the Cumberland, held a 10-mile defense line below Nashville. The line formed a rough semicircle, with both flanks anchored on the Cumberland River. The Federals faced General John Bell Hood’s Confederate Army of Tennessee two miles to the south. The Confederates held a weak line just four miles long.

Both Thomas and Hood planned to attack each other, but both needed time to fully prepare for battle. Hood needed more men from the scattered Confederate commands in the Western Theater, and Thomas needed to strengthen his cavalry, led by Brigadier General James H. Wilson, to confront Hood’s formidable horsemen under Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Thomas, whose army doubled the size of Hood’s and was much better equipped, was under intense pressure to attack the Confederates before they could be reinforced. Thomas knew his superiors looked upon him with suspicion because he was a Virginian, even though he remained loyal to the U.S. after Virginia joined the Confederacy. Regardless, he would not attack until all his resources were available and all details were worked out.

Hood was not faring much better. A brutal cold front swept through Tennessee on the night of the 8th, making life miserable for the ill-clad Confederates. Captain Sam Foster recalled:

“We are suffering more for shoes than anything else, and there is no chance to get new ones. At Brigade Head Quarters there has been established a Shoe Shop, not to make shoes, for there is no leather, but they take an old worn out pair of shoes and sew Moccasins over them of green cow hide with the hair side in. The shoe is put on and kept there, and as the hide dries it draws closer and closer to the old shoe.”

A rash of desertions prompted Hood to have his officers conduct “regular and frequent roll calls…” But this did little to solve the problem, and soon Hood’s demoralized army fell below 24,000 men.

By the morning of the 9th, heavy sleet and snow had formed a solid sheet of ice over the prospective battlefield between the Federal and Confederate armies. Major General Jacob D. Cox, commanding XXIII Corps in Thomas’s army, wrote:

“The weather, which had been good for a week, suddenly changed. A freezing storm of snow and sleet covered the ground, and for two or three days the alternations of rain and frost made the hills about Nashville slopes of slippery ice, on which movement was impracticable.”

Thomas, who had finally planned to launch his long-awaited assault on the 10th, now had to postpone due to the freeze. Unaware of this, Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck and Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant still believed that Thomas was refusing to move because Wilson’s cavalry was not ready. Halleck wrote, “General Grant expresses much dissatisfaction at your delay in attacking the enemy. If you wait till General Wilson mounts all his cavalry, you will wait till doomsday, for the waste equals the supply.”

Thomas replied at 2 p.m. on the 9th. He expressed regret about Grant’s “dissatisfaction at my delay in attacking the enemy. I feel conscious that I have done everything in my power… If he should order me to be relieved I will submit without a murmur. A terrible storm of freezing rain has come on since daylight, which will render an attack impossible until it breaks.” Thomas then wrote Grant:

“I had nearly completed my preparations to attack the enemy tomorrow morning, but a terrible storm of freezing rain has come on today, which will make it impossible for our men to fight to any advantage. I am, therefore, compelled to wait for the storm to break and make the attempt immediately after. Major General Halleck informs me that you are very much dissatisfied with my delay in attacking. I can only say I have done all in my power to prepare, and if you should deem it necessary to relieve me I shall submit without a murmur.”

By the time Grant received this message, he had already decided to replace Thomas. He telegraphed Washington, “Please telegraph order relieving him at once and placing Schofield in command.” Both Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and President Abraham Lincoln approved the order replacing Thomas with Major General John Schofield, commanding the eastern sector of Thomas’s line.

Meanwhile, Thomas held a council of war with his top officers and told them that if the army did not attack soon, he would most likely be replaced. But the officers agreed that an effective attack could not be made until the ground thawed.

During this time, Grant received Thomas’s explanation for the delay and decided to suspend the order removing him from command. Grant explained his decision to his superiors, stating, “I am very unwilling to do injustice to an officer who has done as much good service as General Thomas has, and will, therefore, suspend the order relieving him until it is seen whether he will do anything.” Grant wrote Thomas at 7:30 p.m.:

“I have as much confidence in your conducting a battle rightly as I have in any other officer, but it has seemed to me that you have been slow, and I have had no explanation of affairs to convince me otherwise… I telegraphed to suspend the order relieving you until we should hear further. I hope most sincerely that there will be no necessity for repeating the order, and that the facts will show that you have been right all the time.”

Thus, Thomas was temporarily reprieved. But he still could not give battle to Hood’s suffering Confederate army until the weather improved.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 500; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 14236-46, 14260-70, 14318-38, 14348-58; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 530-31; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 607-08; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 123

Nashville: Hood Weakens as Thomas Prepares

December 5, 1864 – General John Bell Hood further weakened his Confederate Army of Tennessee by detaching a force to capture Murfreesboro. Meanwhile, Major General George H. Thomas continued preparing to attack Hood south of Nashville.

Gen J.B. Hood | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Hood’s Confederates sat behind defenses about two miles below Nashville. They faced Thomas’s Federal Army of the Cumberland, reinforced by Major General Andrew J. Smith’s XVI Corps from the Army of the Tennessee, and Major General John Schofield’s XXIII Corps from the Army of the Ohio. Thomas had over 50,000 troops on a 10-mile line. Hood could barely muster 24,000 men along four miles.

Hood requested reinforcements from the Trans-Mississippi Department. He also asked for Major General John C. Breckinridge’s 3,000-man division at Wytheville, Virginia, to take on the Federals at Knoxville. He then weakened his already depleted army even further by dispatching Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest to capture the Federal garrison at Murfreesboro, 30 miles southeast. Forrest’s command included two cavalry divisions under Brigadier Generals Abraham Buford and William H. Jackson, and an infantry division under Major General William Bate. Forrest reported:

“On the morning of the 5th, I moved, as ordered, toward Murfreesborough. At La Vergne I formed a junction with Major-General Bate, who had been ordered to report to me with his division for the purpose of operating against Murfreesborough. I ordered Brigadier-General Jackson to send a brigade across to the Wilkinson pike, and moving on both pikes the enemy was driven into his works at Murfreesborough. After ordering General Buford to picket from the Nashville and Murfreesborough to the Lebanon pikes on the left, and Jackson to picket on the right to the Salem pike, I encamped for the night.”

The next day, Federal gunboats steamed down the Cumberland River to attack Forrest’s shore batteries at Bell’s Mill. The U.S.S. Neosho exchanged fire from 20 to 30 yards, sustaining over 100 hits but eventually driving the Confederates off. Federal Quartermaster John Ditzenback earned the Congressional Medal of Honor for braving the fire to reattach the U.S. flag to the Neosho’s mast after it was shot down.

Gen N.B. Forrest | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

On the 7th, Forrest approached Murfreesboro and discovered that the Federal garrison was much stronger than expected. He planned for the infantry to hold the Federals in place while the cavalry swept around and attacked from the rear. However, according to Forrest, the infantry “from some cause which I cannot explain, made a shameful retreat, losing two pieces of artillery.”

The cavalry finally came up to halt the Federal advance, but Forrest lost about 200 prisoners and 14 guns in the engagement. Before he could renew the effort to capture Murfreesboro, Hood recalled the infantry to Nashville in preparation for battle against Thomas.

Hoping to gather as many men as possible before taking Thomas on, Hood wrote to the Confederate commander at Corinth, Mississippi, “Send forward at once all men belonging to this army in proper detachments, with officers to preserve discipline and prevent straggling on the march.” Hood then wrote Thomas asking for an informal prisoner exchange. But Thomas replied, “I have to state that, although I have had quite a large number of prisoners from your army, they have all been sent North, and consequently are now beyond my control.”

Meanwhile, Thomas’s superiors were growing increasingly impatient with his refusal to attack Hood. Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, wanted Thomas to attack immediately, but Thomas argued that he needed to wait until Brigadier General James H. Wilson’s cavalry was strong enough to match Forrest’s. Grant feared that Forrest might lead Hood’s army in a swing around Thomas into Kentucky and possibly even Ohio. He wrote Thomas on the 5th:

“Is there not danger of Forrest moving down the Cumberland to where he can cross it? It seems to me whilst you should be getting up your cavalry as rapidly as possible to look after Forrest, Hood should be attacked where he is. Time strengthens him, in all probability, as much as it does you.”

Thomas responded:

“If I can perfect my arrangements, I shall move against the advanced position of the enemy on the 7th instant. If an expedition could be started from Memphis against the Mobile and Ohio Railroad, and thus cut off Hood’s means of supply, he will run the risk of losing his whole army, if I am successful in pushing him back.”

The next day, Grant ordered Thomas, “Attack Hood at once, and wait no longer for a remount of your cavalry. There is great danger of delay resulting in a campaign back to the Ohio River.” Thomas answered, “I will make the necessary dispositions and attack Hood at once, agreeably to your order, though I believe it will be hazardous with the small force of cavalry now at my service.”

This response annoyed Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, who wrote Grant on the 7th, “Thomas seems unwilling to attack because it is hazardous, as if all war was anything but hazardous. If he waits for Wilson to get ready, Gabriel will be blowing his last horn.”

Grant replied that if Thomas did not attack immediately, “I would recommend superseding him by Schofield, leaving Thomas subordinate.” Grant explained further in a message to Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck: “There is no better man to repel an attack than Thomas, but I fear he is too cautious to ever take the initiative,” However, Grant wrote, “If Thomas has not struck yet, he ought to be ordered to hand over his command to Schofield.”

Halleck replied that if Grant wanted Thomas gone, “give the order. No one here will, I think, interfere.” But then Halleck added, “The responsibility, however, will be yours, as no one here, so far as I am informed, wishes General Thomas’ removal.” This gave Grant pause, and he wrote, “I would not say relieve him until I hear further from him.”

This impasse, as well as Hood’s weak siege of Thomas’s army, would continue as temperatures around Nashville plummeted to below freezing.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 556; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 498-500; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 14236-46, 14260-70, 14318-28, 14348-58; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 529-30; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 606-08; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 123, 125-26; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 285-86

Opposing Armies Gather Outside Nashville

December 1, 1864 – Following the Battle of Franklin, the Federals fell back to Nashville as planned, and General John Bell Hood’s demoralized Confederate Army of Tennessee followed.

Major General John Schofield, commanding the Federal Army of the Ohio at Franklin, proceeded with his original plan to withdraw to Nashville, 18 miles north, and join forces with Major General George H. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland. Thomas, the overall commander, was getting supplies from the Cumberland River, and Major General Andrew J. Smith’s 13,000-man XVI Corps was on its way from Missouri to reinforce him.

Major General George H. Thomas | Image Credit: Histmag.org

Thomas forced a semicircular defensive line south of Nashville, with both flanks on the Cumberland. Schofield’s seven-mile train began arriving in Nashville on the morning of the 1st, and his XXIII Corps took up the eastern sector of Thomas’s line. The rest of the line was manned by Brigadier General Thomas J. Wood’s IV Corps until Smith’s corps arrived. Thomas also had support from the gunboats U.S.S. Neosho and Carondelet. Having been under Federal military occupation since early 1862, Nashville was one of the most heavily fortified cities in the Western Hemisphere.

Thomas preferred to stay put and let Hood’s Confederates attack him, at least until he could get Brigadier General James H. Wilson’s cavalry in fighting shape. Thomas telegraphed Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck, “I have two ironclads here, with several gunboats, and Commander Fitch assures me that Hood can neither cross the Cumberland or blockade it. I therefore think it best to wait here until Wilson can equip all his cavalry.”

Hood reported to Richmond that he had won a great victory at Franklin, but it soon became apparent that he had shattered his army. He sustained more losses than “Pickett’s Charge” at Gettysburg, and those who survived were badly disheartened. Nevertheless, Hood tended to his dead and wounded on the morning of the 1st and issued orders to pursue Schofield to the gates of Nashville.

Hood had no more than 24,000 men to take on Thomas, who would have about 53,000 once they all arrived. Hood could either try to lay siege to Thomas’s superior army, or he could bypass it altogether by moving north around Nashville into Kentucky, and then possibly even to Ohio. Hood chose the former.

The Confederates positioned themselves on the Brentwood Hills south of Nashville. Lieutenant General Alexander P. Stewart’s corps held the left (west) flank, Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee’s corps held the center, and Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham’s corps held the right. Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry monitored both flanks. The Confederates also began building defenses to guard against attacks from Knoxville, Murfreesboro, or Chattanooga.

Hood could stretch his line no more than four miles, while Thomas’s stretched 10 miles. Moreover, Thomas’s Federals held all eight roads leading into Nashville from the south. But if Hood retreated now, he risked pushing his already demoralized army to the brink of mutiny. Hood therefore hoped to bide his time and wait for reinforcements from the Trans-Mississippi. To his benefit, Thomas was not quite ready to fight; this made Federal officials in Washington nervous.

President Abraham Lincoln feared that Hood might skirt around Thomas and raid the North, mimicking Jubal Early’s raid on Washington in July. This prompted Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton to write Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, “The President feels solicitous about the disposition of General Thomas to lay in fortifications for an indefinite period. This looks like the McClellan and Rosecrans strategy of do nothing and let the rebels raid the country. The President wishes you to consider the matter.”

Grant quickly wired Thomas: “If Hood is permitted to remain quietly about Nashville, you will lose all the road back to Chattanooga, and possibly have to abandon the line of the Tennessee. Should he attack you it is all well, but if he does not you should attack him before he fortifies.”

Grant sent another message urging Thomas to “move out of Nashville with all your army and force the enemy to retire or fight upon ground of your own choosing.” Grant wrote that after the Battle of Franklin, “we should have taken the offensive against the enemy where he was.” But Grant warned Thomas, “You will now suffer incalculable injury upon your railroads if Hood is not speedily disposed of. Put forth, therefore, every possible exertion to attain this end. Should you get him to retreating, give him no peace.”

Thomas replied that with the arrival of Schofield and A.J. Smith, he now had “infantry enough to assume the offensive, if I had more cavalry, and will take the field anyhow as soon as the remainder of General McCook’s division of cavalry reaches here, which I hope it will do in two or three days.” Thomas explained that he needed more cavalry to match Forrest’s “at least 12,000” horsemen, though Forrest really only had about 6,000. Thomas planned to attack Hood in four days, adding, “I earnestly hope, however, that in a few more days I shall be able to give him a fight.”

Thomas shared a report with Halleck stating that Hood’s army was strongest southwest of Nashville. He wrote, “That would be by far the most advantageous position he could take for us, as his line of communication would be more exposed with him in that position than in any other.” Thomas calmed fears that Hood might bypass him and raid the North, stating, “The iron-clads and gun-boats are so disposed as to prevent Hood from crossing the (Cumberland) river…”

Meanwhile, Hood dispatched Forrest’s cavalry to probe Thomas’s line for weaknesses and raid Federal shipping on the Cumberland. The Confederates captured the troop transports Magnet, Prairie State, and Prima Donna near Bell’s Mill. In retaliation, a squadron of Federal gunboats steamed down the river, shelled the Confederate shore batteries into submission, and reclaimed the transports and prisoners.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 553; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21161-71; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 496-97; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 13348-58, 14288-98; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 527-29; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 190-91; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 604-05; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 812; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 221; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 20, 22, 120-21, 123; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 284-86

The Battle of Franklin

November 30, 1864 – General John Bell Hood directed his Confederate Army of Tennessee to make a desperate frontal assault on strong Federal defenses south of Nashville.

Confederate General J.B. Hood | Image Credit: Flickr.com

On the morning of the 30th, Hood’s army was camped east of the turnpike leading north to Franklin and Nashville. Hood hoped to move west at daybreak and seize the road, which would isolate Major General John Schofield’s Federal Army of the Ohio from the main Federal army and supply base at Nashville. However, Schofield had already passed the Confederates during the night.

Hood was enraged upon learning that Schofield had escaped. He accused one of his corps commanders, Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham, of squandering “the best move in my career as a soldier.” Hood even blamed the former army commander, General Joseph E. Johnston, for instilling a defensive frame of mind in the troops. Hood resolved that the only way to break the army of this mindset was to throw it into battle.

Schofield had hoped to continue up the turnpike, cross the Harpeth River at Franklin, and then move on to join Major General George H. Thomas’s Federal Army of the Cumberland at Nashville. But the two bridges needed repairing, and Hood’s Confederates were closing in fast. One bridge was repaired by mid-morning, enabling the 800-wagon supply train and some of the troops to cross. Schofield positioned the remaining 20,000 men behind defenses south of Franklin to meet the Confederate advance. The Federal line curved from their left (east) on the Tennessee & Alabama Railroad to their right on the Harpeth.

Hood arrived in front of the Federal line around 2 p.m. and quickly decided to launch a frontal assault, saying, “We will make the fight.” He hoped to drive the Federals into the river and destroy them before they could reach Nashville. Several army officers protested this decision, including Cheatham and Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest. But the protests only confirmed Hood’s belief that the army had grown timid.

Seeing the Federal wagon train crossing the Harpeth in the distance, Hood knew that the rest of Schofield’s army would soon follow. If he was going to stop Schofield from reaching Nashville, it would have to be now. But only two of Hood’s three corps were on hand, and his artillery was too far in the rear to support the assault. Hood therefore positioned Cheatham’s corps on the left to oppose the Federal center and Lieutenant General Alexander P. Stewart’s corps on the right (east). Forrest’s cavalry would move farther east, cross the Harpeth, and try getting into the Federal rear.

One Confederate brigade commander, Brigadier General Otho F. Strahl, assured his troops that the fight “would be short but desperate.” Schofield’s superior defenses more than made up for Hood’s slight numerical advantage. Nevertheless, the 18 Confederate brigades formed a wide line of battle and advanced at 4 p.m.

Two advance Federal brigades put up a fight as long as they could before falling back to Schofield’s main line. The Federals in the main line waited for their comrades to pass before opening a terrible fire on the approaching Confederates. The volley killed Major General Patrick R. Cleburne, one of Hood’s best division commanders. Another division commander, Major General John C. Brown, was also killed, as was Strahl, who fell after ordering his men to “keep on firing” and passing loaded rifles to the troops on the front line.

Despite the heavy losses, the Confederates pushed forward and engaged in vicious hand-to-hand fighting before driving the Federals out of their defenses in the center. But Federal reinforcements soon arrived, and Brigadier General Emerson Opdycke ordered them to make a stand at the Carter House, where they stopped any further Confederate progress.

To the east, Hood’s troops could not penetrate the Federal works due to the rising ground and railroad. The Confederates were pummeled by the Federals’ repeating rifles and artillery from Fort Granger across the river. Farther east, Forrest’s troopers crossed the Harpeth and clashed with the Federal cavalry led by Brigadier General James H. Wilson. Forrest eventually fell back after running out of ammunition.

Combat at Franklin | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Fighting continued sporadically until around 9 p.m., when the Confederates disengaged. Schofield ordered his Federals to withdraw across the Harpeth at 11 p.m. Some subordinates, including Major General Jacob D. Cox, urged Schofield to stay and counterattack Hood’s weakened army, but Schofield opted to follow the original plan and join the main army at Nashville as if this fight never happened.

Hood claimed victory because Schofield retreated, but Schofield was going to fall back anyway. Hood’s claim seemed even hollower when the shocking casualty list was released. The Confederates lost 6,252 men (1,750 killed, 3,800 wounded, and 702 missing) out of about 27,000 engaged. Six generals were killed in action, including Cleburne (the “Stonewall” Jackson of the West), Strahl, John C. Brown, John Adams, John C. Carter, H.R. Granbury and S.R. (States Rights) Gist. Another six were wounded, and at least 54 regimental commanders were killed or wounded. These were among the heaviest losses that any Confederate army sustained in any battle of the war. In contrast, the Federals sustained 2,326 casualties (189 killed, 1,033 wounded, and 1,104 missing) out of about 25,000 effectives.

The Army of Tennessee demonstrated its courage at Franklin, but at a “fearful loss and no results.” This battle effectively destroyed the once-proud army’s fighting capabilities. Unwilling to accept this, Hood ordered his devastated and demoralized men to pursue Schofield’s Federals to Nashville, 18 miles north.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 185-86; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 553; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Cochran, Michael T., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 725; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21134, 21152-61; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 494-95; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 13879-89; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 526-27; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 598-604; McMurry, Richard M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 710; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 811-12; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 89-120; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 284-86; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 344-45

Tennessee: The Spring Hill Affair

November 28, 1864 – General John Bell Hood’s Confederate Army of Tennessee stood poised to attack the Federal Army of the Ohio at Columbia, Tennessee. But miscommunication led to an enormous missed opportunity for the Confederates.

By the morning of the 28th, Major General John Schofield’s Federals had fallen back north, across the Duck River, putting that waterway between themselves and Hood’s Confederates to the south. Hood still looked to attack, while Schofield hoped to avoid a confrontation before he could join Major General George H. Thomas’s Federal Army of the Cumberland at Nashville.

Confederate General J.B. Hood | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Hood looked to block Schofield from linking with Thomas by sending most of his army across the Duck River east of Columbia. This force would then move northwest around Schofield’s flank, ending up between Schofield and Thomas. Hood patterned this movement after Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s flanking maneuver at the Battle of Chancellorsville, and Hood hoped to match “the grand results achieved by the immortal Jackson.” Hood dispatched Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry and two infantry divisions eastward to find suitable fords across the river.

Confederate gunners launched a diversionary bombardment south of Columbia while Forrest’s cavalry crossed at various fords east of town. The river was so high that some men and horses had to swim across. The Confederates clashed with leading elements of Federal cavalry under Colonel Horace Capron, who reported, “My force sent across the Duck River has been driven back to this side by a heavy force, and I am now engaging him across the river.”

Lieutenant Colonel Stephen W. Presstman, the chief Confederate engineer, oversaw the construction of a pontoon bridge for the infantry to cross. Seeing cavalry and infantry moving beyond his left flank, Capron reported, “There is a heavy force of infantry, cavalry, and artillery pressing us; too strong for us; they are moving up on our left. I will hold them, if possible.”

The Federal cavalry soon discovered that there were too many fords east of Columbia to defend. Schofield notified Major General George H. Thomas, the Federal commander at Nashville, “I do not think we can prevent the crossing of even the enemy’s cavalry, because the places are so numerous. I think the best we can do is to hold the crossings near us and watch the distant ones.”

That night, Thomas told Schofield that if the Confederates outflanked him to the east, “you will necessarily have to make preparations to take up a new position at Franklin, behind Harpeth (River), immediately, if it becomes necessary to fall back.”

Forrest’s Confederates finally drove Capron’s forces off and seized Rally Hill, about 13 miles northeast of Columbia. There they secured the fords so the rest of Hood’s army could cross the Duck River. The troops would cross about three miles above Columbia at dawn on the 29th.

Brigadier General James H. Wilson, commanding the Federal cavalry, learned of Hood’s plan from a captured Confederate. He immediately notified Schofield, “I think it very clear that they are aiming for Franklin, and that you ought to get to Spring Hill by 10 a.m. I’ll keep on this road and hold the enemy all I can… Get back to Franklin without delay, leaving a small force to detain the enemy.”

Spring Hill was a crossroads hamlet on the turnpike leading north to Franklin and Nashville. If Hood could get there before Schofield, he could cut Schofield off from the Nashville supply base. Before dawn, Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham’s Confederate corps crossed the Duck River, followed by the corps of Lieutenant General Alexander P. Stewart. Hood’s third corps under Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee remained south of Columbia as a diversion.

Schofield received the messages from Wilson and began pulling his Federals back toward Spring Hill, led by Major General David S. Stanley’s IV Corps. Forrest’s Confederates advanced toward Spring Hill and engaged a small defense force before Stanley’s men could arrive and secure both the village and the turnpike for the rest of Schofield’s men.

Major General Patrick R. Cleburne’s Confederate division joined the assault around 3 p.m. Stanley reported, “Up to this time, it was thought that we had only cavalry to contend with, but a general officer and his staff, at whom we sent some complimentary shells, were seen reconnoitering our position, and very soon afterward General Bradley was assailed by a force which the men said fought too well to be any dismounted cavalry.”

The Confederate attack was bogged down by miscommunication, with some troops advancing and others refusing. Hood did not send any reinforcements to break Stanley’s defenses, which held firm. Around this time, Schofield realized that Lee’s Confederates south of Columbia were merely a diversion, and he hurriedly withdrew all his Federals north along the turnpike to Spring Hill and Franklin, 12 miles beyond.

Hood erroneously believed that his Confederates had seized the turnpike. His officers, knowing otherwise, were shocked when Hood ordered them to bivouac for the night rather than continue moving. As the Confederates settled into their camps, the Federals passed them on the turnpike, just 600 yards away, and made their way through Spring Hill unmolested.

This inexplicable failure to stop Schofield’s escape prompted charges and countercharges of dereliction of duty among the Confederate high command. In his official report, Hood wrote, “Major-General Cheatham was ordered to attack the enemy at once vigorously and get possession of the pike, and, although these orders were frequently and earnestly repeated, he made but a feeble and partial attack, failing to reach the point indicated.” But Hood, who had sustained serious wounds in prior battles, may have been too overwhelmed by pain and exhaustion to know exactly what was happening.

Called the “Spring Hill Affair,” this became one of the most controversial non-combat events of the war. And one of Hood’s greatest opportunities to isolate and destroy Schofield’s Federal army was forever lost.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 552; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21115-25; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 493-94; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 525; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 601-03; McMurry, Richard M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 710; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 811; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 88-89, 91-93; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 285-86

Tennessee: Hood Moves to Confront Schofield

November 22, 1864 – General John Bell Hood led his Confederate Army of Tennessee north to confront Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio holding the forward Federal line at Pulaski, Tennessee.

Maj Gen John Schofield | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Schofield’s 21,000 Federals were the first line of defense against Hood’s anticipated advance from Alabama. When Schofield learned that Hood’s army was moving toward him on the 21st, he ordered his Federals to start falling back the next morning. Major General Jacob D. Cox, commanding Schofield’s XXIII Corps, later wrote:

“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.”

Schofield’s army, which included five infantry divisions, two cavalry divisions, 62 guns, and some 800 wagons, withdrew up the Columbia Turnpike to Lynnville, the first stop on the way to Columbia, a town on the Duck River. The Federals would have to get to the river ahead of the Confederates to keep from being cut off from their main supply base and reinforcements at Nashville to the north.

Hood moved north with his infantry in three columns under Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham and Lieutenant Generals Stephen D. Lee and Alexander P. Stewart. Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry covered Hood’s right. Hood hoped to wedge his Confederates between Schofield’s smaller force and the larger Army of the Cumberland under Major General George H. Thomas at Nashville.

Thomas scrambled to gather every available Federal unit in Nashville. Troops were hurrying from Missouri, and Thomas asked Indiana Governor Oliver P. Morton to send any militia he could spare. Thomas also ordered Major General Gordon Granger’s Federals in northern Alabama to concentrate at Stevenson, where they could guard against a potential attack on Chattanooga.

Meanwhile, the Federals won the race to the Duck River, as Cox’s infantry arrived on the morning of the 24th. Forrest’s cavalry was attacking the small garrison at Columbia when Cox’s men reinforced the positions and drove the Confederates off. Cox later wrote, “It was close work all around. My men deployed at double-quick along the bank of the creek, and after a brisk skirmish Forrest withdrew out of range.” The Federals then secured the bridge leading north to Nashville.

Schofield arrived around noon and assessed the situation. Fearing that Hood may soon appear with a superior force, he wrote Thomas:

“Do you think it important to hold Columbia? My force not large enough to cover the town and railroad bridge. I can hold a shorter line covering the railroad bridge, leaving the town and railroad depot outside; but in any case the enemy can turn the position by crossing above or below, and render my withdrawal to the north bank very difficult. Please give me your views soon.”

Thomas replied, “If you cannot hold Columbia, you had better withdraw to the north bank of the river… But it is better, of course, to substantially check the enemy than to run the risk of defeat by risking too much.” Schofield continued inspecting his lines and wrote Thomas at 8 p.m., “The line is too long, yet if Hood wishes to fight me on it tomorrow I am willing. I think he will attack tomorrow, if at all; if he does not, I must prepare to meet any attempt to cross Duck River above or below.”

Schofield directed one division to guard the railroad bridge south of the Duck River, while his remaining divisions crossed to the north bank, where they could guard against Confederate crossings both above and below town. Schofield wrote, “With the fords guarded, as will then be practicable, I think Hood cannot get the start of me. I think it best not to risk much now, for a few days delay, if we concentrate rapidly, will make us strong enough to drive Hood back.”

On the Confederate side, Hood began concentrating his columns on the road leading to Columbia. He received word on the 24th that the Federals were abandoning Pulaski, two days after they had already done so. Hood instructed his cavalry, “If they have evacuated Pulaski, you will move forward and press them hard on to Columbia.”

Hood then informed General P.G.T. Beauregard, the Confederate commander in the Western Theater, that Schofield was retreating. He asked Beauregard to “have the railroad repaired to Decatur as soon as possible… I think I will have no difficulty about supplies.”

As the Confederates began arriving outside Columbia on the 26th, they found the Federals waiting behind strong breastworks and trenches along the Duck River. Hood came up the next day and directed his men to surround the city. Lee’s corps held the left, Stewart held the center, and Cheatham held the right. The left and right were anchored on the river.

Hood expected Schofield to fall back to the north bank to keep between the Confederates and Nashville. He was correct: Schofield’s Federals began withdrawing on the night of the 27th, destroying the railroad bridge and their pontoon bridge to prevent a Confederate crossing at Columbia. As Schofield fell back to more defensible positions, Thomas sent him reinforcements. Hood planned to feint an attack on Columbia from the south while the bulk of his army crossed the Duck River east of town.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21115; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 491-93; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 13742-61; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 522-24; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 599-601; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 85, 88; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 285-86