Tag Archives: John Bell Hood

Taylor Takes Over the Army of Tennessee

January 23, 1865 – Confederate President Jefferson Davis accepted the resignation of General John Bell Hood as commander of the Army of Tennessee and replaced him with Lieutenant General Richard Taylor.

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

The Battles of Franklin and Nashville had devastated Hood’s once mighty army. Communication problems in the Confederacy meant that the high command knew little about the battles besides reports in northern newspapers calling them tremendous Federal victories. Moreover, Hood’s superior, General P.G.T. Beauregard, had his hands full trying to stop William T. Sherman’s march into South Carolina and could not devote sufficient attention to the Army of Tennessee.

Beauregard had written to Hood the day after Christmas, asking him to transfer “all forces not absolutely needed for that defensive line” to Augusta, Georgia, to help stop Sherman if Hood was “unable to gain any material advantage in Tennessee.” Hood did not answer.

On New Year’s Eve, Beauregard left South Carolina operations to Lieutenant General William Hardee and headed out of Charleston to inspect Hood’s army and see what troops could be sent east. Based on the ominous second-hand reports and Hood’s apparent aloofness, Beauregard suggested to President Jefferson Davis that he may have to remove Hood from command. Davis authorized him to do so if necessary.

Meanwhile, Hood brought his shattered army to Corinth, Mississippi. He informed his cavalry commander, Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest, that Beauregard wanted all available infantry to go to Augusta, leaving only Forrest’s troopers to defend against the Federals in this military department. Forrest relayed this to Taylor and gave his assessment of Hood’s army:

“The Army of Tennessee was badly defeated and is greatly demoralized, and to save it during the retreat from Nashville I was compelled almost to sacrifice my command. Aside from the killed, wounded, and captured of my command, many were sent to the rear with barefooted, lame, and unserviceable horses, who have taken advantage of all the confusion and disorder attending the hasty retreat of a beaten army, and are now scattered through the country or have gone to their homes.”

Hood soon discovered that Corinth was not far enough out of harm’s way, so he had to push his exhausted men even farther to Tupelo, where they arrived on the 5th. Beauregard reached Macon, Georgia, the next day and finally received a message from Hood:

“The army has recrossed the Tennessee River without material loss since the battle of Franklin. It will be assembled in a few days in the vicinity of Tupelo, to be supplied with shoes and clothing, and to obtain forage for the animals.”

This message alarmed Beauregard because it seriously downplayed the devastating loss at Nashville. Beauregard was even more alarmed by Hood’s proposal to grant 100-day furloughs to various units in his army, at a time when the Confederacy needed all the men it could get. Hood concluded, “To make the army effective for operations, some rest is absolutely necessary, and a good supply of clothing and shoes.”

Beauregard then started getting more of Hood’s messages written after the Battle of Nashville, which downplayed his defeat even more: “Our loss in killed and wounded is very small. Our exact loss in prisoners I have not been able to ascertain, but do not think it great.” But his men lacked the basic food, clothing, footwear, and shelter needed for winter. Acting Inspector General E.T. Freeman wrote:

“We expect to go into winter quarters somewhere near here in a few days. The whole army cannot muster 5,000 effective men. Great numbers are going home every day, many never more to return, I fear. Nine-tenths of the men and line officers are barefooted and naked.”

Gen Richard Taylor | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

That same day, Taylor, commanding the Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana, arrived at Tupelo to see Hood’s army for himself. Taylor saw that it numbered no more than 20,000 men, of whom only about 10,000 were able-bodied; Hood had begun his campaign in November with 40,000 strong. Taylor reported to Davis:

“The army needs rest, consolidation, and reorganization. Not a day should be lost in effecting these latter. If moved in its present condition, it will prove utterly worthless; this applies to both infantry and cavalry.”

But Davis insisted that Hood’s troops be sent east:

“Sherman’s campaign has produced bad effect on our people, success against his future operations is needful to reanimate public confidence. Hardee requires more aid than Lee can give him, and Hood’s army is the only source to which we can now look.”

Davis envisioned leaving a token force in northern Mississippi under Taylor to somehow oppose the mighty Federal army south of Nashville, while the bulk of the Army of Tennessee joined forces with Hardee and Beauregard “to look after Sherman.”

Meanwhile, Hood learned that Beauregard was on his way to inspect the army, and suspicions that he had shattered the force seemed confirmed when he wrote to the War Department on Friday the 13th: “I respectfully request to be relieved from the command of this army.”

Beauregard arrived and saw that there were few troops he could send east. He finally decided on sending 4,000 men from Major General Carter Stevenson’s corps (formerly Stephen D. Lee’s). Hood was so heartbroken that Beauregard could not order his immediate removal. He helped transition the command, during which time Secretary of War James A. Seddon replied to Hood’s message: “Your request is complied with… Report to the War Department in Richmond.”

Hood had been given command of the Army of Tennessee to stop Sherman’s advance into Georgia, but he destroyed the army in the attempt. This ended Hood’s checkered military career, during which he had performed much better as a subordinate than as top commander. He issued a farewell address to what was left of the Army of Tennessee:

“In taking leave of you accept my thanks for the patience with which you have endured your many hardships during the recent campaign. I am alone responsible for its conception, and strived hard to do my duty in its execution. I urge upon you the importance of giving your entire support to the distinguished soldier who now assumes command, and I shall look with deep interest upon all your future operations and rejoice at your success.”

Ten days after Hood submitted his resignation, Taylor took over his force, and Forrest took over Taylor’s department. Davis hoped that Taylor and Beauregard could rally enough Confederates to stop Sherman’s advance into the Carolinas.

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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 21199-207; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 514-16, 521; 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 15816-46, 16079-89; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 540-42, 546-47; Kallmann, John D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 368-69; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 191; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 618-19, 622-24, 628; 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. 815; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 144; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 707

The Tennessee Campaign Ends

December 28, 1864 – Major General George H. Thomas decided to end his pursuit of the beaten, demoralized Confederates as they left Tennessee for the last time.

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

It was a gloomy Christmas for General John Bell Hood’s once-powerful Confederate Army of Tennessee. When he began his campaign in November, Hood had envisioned reclaiming Tennessee and Kentucky, and possibly even invading the North. But since then, his army had suffered crushing defeats at Franklin and Nashville, and now the few remaining men struggled to get across the Tennessee River before the Federals destroyed them once and for all. Yet despite the army’s failures, Tennessee Governor Isham Harris urged President Jefferson Davis not to blame Hood:

“… I have been with General Hood from the beginning of this campaign, and beg to say, disastrous as it has ended, I am not able to see anything that General Hood has done that he should not, or neglected any thing that he should, have done… and regret to say that, if all had performed their parts as well as he, the results would have been very different.”

On the Federal side, Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland had the advantage in numbers and momentum, but the troops were enduring hardships of their own. They had set out to finish off the Confederate army, but they got bogged down in rain, mud, snow, and ice. Nevertheless, Thomas wrote his superiors, “I have my troops well in hand, and well provided with provisions and ammunition, and close upon the heels of the enemy, and shall continue to press him as long as there is a chance of doing anything.”

Brigadier General James H. Wilson’s Federal cavalry probed forward to find a weak spot in Hood’s retreating column, but Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederate cavalry held him off long enough for the rest of the Confederates to slip away. Forrest suffered heavy losses on Christmas Day while the Confederates destroyed anything they could not take with them out of Pulaski. Later that day, Hood’s vanguard reached the banks of the Tennessee River at Bainbridge.

A Federal gunboat squadron led by Rear Admiral Samuel P. Lee moved up the Tennessee to try to block the Confederate river crossing. However, as Lee later reported:

“Foggy weather and a rapidly falling river prevented my reaching and destroying Hood’s pontoons at Bainbridge. Bainbridge was not a regular ferry, and my clever pilot thought the water was too swift there for a crossing. Hood must have been sorely pushed to have resorted to such a place on the shoals.”

Besides Thomas and Lee, a third Federal force under Major General James B. Steedman tried to cut Hood off. Steedman’s 5,000 Federals had been sent to Murfreesboro after the Battle of Nashville, and now they were ordered to take the railroad to Decatur, Alabama. The troops began boarding on the 22nd, but due to delays, they did not get there until the 26th, too late to block Hood’s line of retreat.

The Confederates began crossing the river on the 26th while Forrest, supported by some infantry, continued checking the Federal advance. Wilson’s cavalry came up again that day, and according to Forrest:

“Owing to the dense fog, he could not see the temporary fortifications which the infantry had thrown up and behind which they were secreted. The enemy therefore advanced to within 50 paces of these works, when a volley was opened upon him, causing the wildest confusion.”

Forrest then counterattacked with his entire force, forcing the Federals to retreat. This minor victory ended an otherwise disastrous campaign for the Army of Tennessee. Forrest’s men joined the rest of Hood’s demoralized force in crossing the Tennessee to safety. Lee’s gunboats tried getting to the Confederates again on the 27th, but they could only destroy two Confederate batteries at Florence, Alabama, before having to pull back to Eastport, Mississippi, due to rapidly falling waters.

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

Thomas’s Federals, led by Wilson’s cavalry and followed by Brigadier General Thomas J. Wood’s IV Corps, reached Pulaski on the 28th. By that time, the Confederates had finished crossing the Tennessee, but Thomas did not yet know it. He therefore directed Wilson to ride ahead and destroy the Confederate pontoon bridges. Thomas reported to Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck, “I feel confident that he will make every exertion to carry out my orders.”

If Wilson found that the Confederates had already crossed, Thomas wrote that he would continue to “pursue him, if the roads are at all practicable.” Thomas reported that Hood’s army was in a “most deplorable condition,” so he was confident that he could “intercept him at Iuka, if he retreats that way.” But then the situation changed.

That night, Wilson reported that “the last of the enemy crossed the river yesterday evening… there is no necessity of going to the Tennessee River as a matter of pursuit.” When Thomas pressed Wood to lead his infantry in pursuit, Wood replied, “As I have already stated in previous dispatches, the road from Pulaski to the Tennessee River is exceedingly bad, and in my judgment, utterly impracticable as a route for the supply of troops.” Moreover, Thomas’s pontoon bridges were still on the Duck River, 70 miles north. Thomas therefore decided to end the pursuit.

Thomas sent Halleck a report on the campaign, stating that the Federals had virtually destroyed the Confederate army. Prisoners taken reported “that they had orders to scatter and care for themselves.” This indicated that Hood’s force “had become a disheartened and disorganized rabble of half-naked and barefooted men, who sought every opportunity to fall out by the wayside and desert their cause to put an end to their sufferings. The rear guard, however, was undaunted and firm, and did its work bravely to the last.” Thomas then explained why he decided not to continue forward and finish the Confederates off:

“In consequence of the terribly bad weather, almost impassible condition of the roads, and exhausted country, the troops and animals are so much worn down by the fatigues of the last two weeks that it becomes necessary to halt for a short time to reorganize and refit for a renewal of the campaign, if Hood should halt at Corinth. Should he continue his retreat to Meridian, as supposed by many of his officers who have been taken prisoners, I think it would be best for the troops to be allowed till early spring, when the roads will be in a condition to make a campaign into the heart of the enemy’s country.”

Thomas wrote Wood directing “that the pursuit cease, and that you march with your corps to Huntsville, Athens, and vicinity, and there go into camp for the winter.” Thomas directed Major General John Schofield’s XXIII Corps to set up winter quarters at Dalton, Georgia. Thomas told Halleck that he selected these points because “they can be easily supplied, and from which points they can be readily assembled to make a spring campaign.”

This did not sit well with Halleck or Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander. Grant replied, “I have no idea of keeping idle troops in any place,” and Halleck forwarded this message along with one of his own: “General Grant does not intend that your army shall go into winter quarters. It must be ready for active operations in the field.”

But as the year ended, what was left of Hood’s Army of Tennessee was temporarily safe at Tupelo, Mississippi. This was not necessarily the case for Hood himself: President Davis dispatched General P.G.T. Beauregard, commander of the Western Theater, to go to Tupelo and decide whether Hood should be removed from command.

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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 21190, 21207; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 509-10; 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 14855-75, 14895-905, 15816-36; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 536; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 615-16; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 144; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 285-86

Federals Stalled in Tennessee

December 21, 1864 – Major General George H. Thomas’s Federals struggled to pursue and destroy the rapidly disintegrating General John Bell Hood’s Army of Tennessee as it retreated south toward Alabama.

The Confederates were in full retreat after their major defeat outside Nashville, fleeing south toward Columbia. Thomas, commanding the victorious Federal Army of the Cumberland, ordered a pursuit to destroy Hood’s army. The infantry had to wait for pontoon bridges to be built so they could move their supply trains over the Harpeth River, but Brigadier General James H. Wilson’s cavalry did not.

Gen J.H. Wilson | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Wilson’s horsemen chased the Confederates down the Franklin Pike on the 17th and ran into a hastily assembled Confederate rear guard at Winstead Hill. The Confederates put up a stubborn fight against superior numbers, holding the Federals off long enough for the rest of Hood’s army to retreat through Franklin. One of Hood’s corps commanders, Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee, was wounded in the foot during the action, and was replaced by Major General Carter L. Stevenson.

The next day, Hood stopped his troops at Columbia and prepared to make a stand on the Duck River. If he could not hold Columbia, any Confederate hope to reclaim Tennessee would be lost. Meanwhile, Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry rode west from Murfreesboro to rejoin Hood’s army. Forrest got into a heated argument with Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham, one of Hood’s corps commanders, over which command would cross the Duck River first. Reports vary as to who won, and by nightfall both Cheatham’s and Forrest’s men were across.

To the north, Wilson’s Federals discovered that the Confederates had destroyed the bridges over Rutherford Creek, and heavy rain made the waterway too swollen to cross. They spent the next few days building a makeshift pontoon bridge out of felled trees and railroad abutments so they could continue their pursuit. The rest of Thomas’s army remained bogged down by the rain, mud, snow, and ice, as well as a lack of a supply train.

The bulk of Hood’s army crossed the Duck River on the 19th. A rear guard skirmished with the Federals along Rutherford Creek as cold rain turned into sleet and then snow. Hood still contemplated holding Columbia, but Forrest advised him, “If we are unable to hold the state, we should at once evacuate it.” Hood determined that his army was in no condition to put up another fight, so he issued orders to abandon Columbia and fall back to the Tennessee River. The Confederates moved out around 3 p.m., with Forrest’s troopers covering the withdrawal. Tennessee was lost.

The next day, the Federal pontoon train arrived, and Thomas directed Major General John Schofield, commanding XXIII Corps, to build a bridge over Rutherford Creek “so that the artillery and trains can cross.” Thomas intended to use his pontoon train to “throw bridges over Duck River early in the morning.” If the Federals could get across the Duck by the end of the 21st, Thomas was “hopeful that the greater part of Hood’s army may be captured, as he cannot possibly get his trains and troops across the Tennessee River before we can overtake him.”

However, the Federal engineer in charge of bridge construction informed Thomas on the 21st:

“I regret to say it will be utterly impossible to finish the bridge today. We are making but slow progress, on account of the high water and the mass of wreck and iron in the stream, which it is next to impossible to remove. Our ropes freeze and stiffen, and the men are scarcely able to hold themselves on the scaffolding on account of the ice. We cannot possibly cross the bridge before tomorrow noon, unless the water falls and weather moderates.”

This left the Federal army stationary between Rutherford Creek and the Duck River. Without their supply train, the Federals had to forage for food, but Wilson’s cavalry had already picked the area clean. On top of this, Thomas started getting messages from Washington expressing renewed dissatisfaction with his perceived slowness in chasing down Hood’s Confederates. Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck wrote:

“Permit me, General, to urge the vast importance of a hot pursuit of Hood’s army. Every possible sacrifice should be made, and your men for a few days will submit to any hardship and privation to accomplish the great result. If you can capture or destroy Hood’s army Sherman can entirely crush out the rebel military force in all the Southern States. He begins a new campaign about the 1st of January, which will have the most important results, if Hood’s army can now be used up. A most vigorous pursuit on your part is therefore of vital importance to Sherman’s plans. No sacrifice must be spared to attain so important an object.”

Thomas’s response reflected his annoyance with his superiors:

“General Hood’s army is being pursued as rapidly and as vigorously as it is possible for one army to pursue another. We cannot control the elements, and, you must remember, that to resist Hood’s advance into Tennessee I had to reorganize and almost thoroughly equip the force now under my command… I am doing all in my power to crush Hood’s army, and, if it be possible, will destroy it; but pursuing an enemy through an exhausted country, over mud roads, completely sogged with heavy rains, is no child’s play, and cannot be accomplished as quickly as thought of.

“Although my progress may appear slow, I feel assured that Hood’s army can be driven from Tennessee, and eventually driven to the wall, by the force under my command; but too much must not be expected of troops which have to be reorganized, especially when they have the task of destroying a force in a winter campaign which was able to make an obstinate resistance to twice its numbers in spring and summer. In conclusion, I can safely state that this army is willing to submit to any sacrifice to oust Hood’s army, or to strike any other blow which would contribute to the destruction of the rebellion.”

Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, tried positive reinforcement to nudge Thomas:

“You have the congratulations of the public for the energy with which you are pushing Hood. If you succeed in destroying Hood’s army, there will be but one army left to the so-called Confederacy capable of doing us harm. I will take care of that and try to draw the sting from it, so that in the spring we shall have easy sailing.”

But Thomas could do little to speed up the pursuit as his men languished in the mud and ice. Federal units that were able to cross the Duck River ran into Forrest’s rear guard, which protected Hood’s retreat toward Pulaski. Rear Admiral Samuel P. Lee, commanding the Federal gunboat squadron on the Tennessee River, tried moving downstream to block Hood’s presumed crossing point at Chickasaw, Alabama. But the water level at Muscle Shoals was too low to pass, and Lee had to withdraw. Thus, it seemed that Hood would escape destruction for now.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Cochran, Michael T., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 719; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21190; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 505-07; 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 14836-46, 14885-95; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 534, 536; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 612; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 144; Wikipedia: The Battle of Nashville, Stephen D. Lee

The Battle of Nashville: Day Two

December 16, 1864 – Major General George H. Thomas renewed his Federal assault on the weakened and demoralized Confederate Army of Tennessee south of Nashville.

Following yesterday’s battle, General John Bell Hood had withdrawn his Confederate army southward to a new defensive line that was shorter and stronger:

  • The right (eastern) flank was anchored on Overton (or Peach Orchard) Hill, manned by Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee’s corps.
  • Lieutenant General Alexander P. Stewart’s corps, which had been virtually destroyed in the previous day’s action, held the center.
  • The left flank was anchored on a series of hills running south from Compton’s Hill, commanded by Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham’s corps.

Although Hood’s line was strong, the left curled from the west down to the southeast, which would make it vulnerable to enemy fire on three sides. In addition, many of the fortifications were deficient due to time constraints and outright exhaustion after yesterday’s fight.

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

Thomas, commanding the Federal Army of the Cumberland, regrouped his men to attack once more. Just like yesterday, Thomas planned to probe Hood’s right flank and then launch the main attack on the Confederate left:

  • Brigadier General Thomas J. Wood’s IV Corps held the Federal left (east).
  • Major General Andrew J. Smith’s XVI Corps held the center.
  • Major General John Schofield’s XXIII Corps held the right.
  • Major General James B. Steedman’s detachments and Brigadier General James H. Wilson’s cavalry guarded the left and right flanks respectively.

The Federals “bivouacked in line of battle during the night on the ground occupied at dark,” and by morning they were ready to renew their advance. Wood’s Federals joined with Steedman’s to push back Confederate skirmishers on the eastern sector of the field until they reached the Confederate defenses on Overton Hill. Soon Smith’s corps came up on Wood’s right, and Schofield’s men advanced to within striking distance of Compton’s Hill.

Wood prepared to assault Overton Hill, stating, “It was evident that the assault would be very difficult and, if successful, would probably be attended with heavy loss; but the prize at stake was worth the hazard.” Wood ordered his men forward at 3 p.m. He later reported:

“The assaulting force was instructed to move steadily forward to within a short distance of the enemy’s works, and then, by a ‘bold burst,’ ascend the steep ascent, cross the abatis, dash over the rude but strong parapet, and secure the coveted goal.

“The troops were full of enthusiasm, and the splendid array in which the advance was made gave hopeful promise of success. Near the foot of the ascent the assaulting force dashed forward for the last great effort. It was welcomed with a most terrible fire of grape and canister and musketry; but its course was onward. When near, however, the enemy’s works (a few of our men, stouter of limb and steadier of movement, had already entered his line) his reserves on the slope of the hill rose and poured in a fire before which no troops could live.”

The Federals sustained heavy casualties before falling back; the 13th U.S. Colored Troops lost nearly 40 percent of their regimental strength. But just as Thomas hoped, the attack prompted Hood to shift troops from his left to strengthen his right. Meanwhile, Federal artillery pummeled the Confederate defenders.

Around the time that Wood’s probe ended, Brigadier General John McArthur, commanding one of A.J. Smith’s divisions in the Federal center, discovered a weakness in the Confederate line on Compton’s Hill. He consulted with Major General Darius Couch, commanding the division to his right (under Schofield), and later wrote:

“Being informed that he (Couch) had no orders to advance, and fearing that if delayed until next day the night would be employed by the enemy to our disadvantage, I determined to attack, sending word to this effect to the major-general commanding corps.”

A.J. Smith passed the word to Thomas, who approved McArthur’s plan. Schofield agreed to support the assault. McArthur reported:

“The First Brigade, with fixed bayonets, without a cheer or firing a shot, but with firm resolve and without doubting their success, commenced the difficult ascent, and without a halt, although exposed to a murderous fire, which none but the bravest troops could withstand, planted their colors on the very apex of the hill. At the appointed time the Second and Third Brigades… moved forward on the enemy’s works. Their path lay across a cornfield, traversed by stone walls and ditches, which together with the softness of the ground, exposed as they were to a direct fire in front, and enfiladed by batteries on the flanks, for a time held with intense interest the most experienced officers who beheld it; but onward was their motto, and their banners were planted on the works defended by the choicest troops of the rebel army, calling forth the remark of the rebel officers that powder and lead were inadequate to resist such a charge.”

The Confederate left crumbled, and the troops fled south and east in a rout. This forced the Confederates on Overton Hill to follow, and they rushed south toward Franklin to avoid complete destruction. Hood lamented, “I beheld for the first and only time a Confederate army abandon the field in confusion.” Confederate cavalry and S.D. Lee’s rear guard held off the Federal pursuit, which halted at nightfall.

Thomas informed his superiors that the enemy was “hopelessly broken.” He wrote, “I have ordered the pursuit to be continued in the morning at daylight, although the troops are very much fatigued. The greatest enthusiasm prevails.” In two days of fighting, the Federals sustained 3,061 casualties (387 killed, 2,562 wounded, and 112 missing), while the Confederates lost an estimated 6,000 (1,500 killed or wounded and up to 4,500 captured).

The battle’s outcome was never in doubt, as Thomas’s plan to destroy Hood’s army was executed to near perfection. Administration officials would no longer doubt Thomas’s ability or resolve. The only question remaining was whether the once-mighty Confederate Army of Tennessee could ever be an effective fighting force again.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 186; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 558; 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 21180; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 504; 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 14688-98; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 533-34; 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. 611-12; 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. 815; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 144; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 715; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 345

The Battle of Nashville

December 15, 1864 – After numerous delays, Major General George H. Thomas finally launched his long-awaited Federal assault on the Confederate Army of Tennessee south of Nashville.

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

By this time, General John Bell Hood’s Confederate army held a line partially encircling Nashville from the south in three corps:

  • Lieutenant General Alexander P. Stewart’s corps held the left, southwest of Nashville.
  • Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee’s corps held the center, south of Nashville.
  • Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham’s corps held the right, southeast of Nashville.

The bulk of Hood’s cavalry had been sent to attack the Federal garrison at Murfreesboro, while his remaining 25,000 men were building fortifications and trying to survive in the bitter cold. Most of these men were exhausted and demoralized.

Thomas, commanding the Federal Army of the Cumberland in Nashville, had been under heavy pressure from his superiors to attack Hood’s Confederates as soon as possible. But Thomas took his time to make sure everything was in place, and then a bitter ice storm delayed his planned assault. The ice started melting on the 14th, and Thomas was finally ready to move his 50,000 well-equipped men out the next morning.

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

Thomas checked out of his headquarters at the St. Cloud Hotel and rode out to join his troops at the front. At 4 a.m., the bugles sounded and the Federals advanced through heavy fog. Nashville residents came out to watch the fight; Federal Colonel Isaac R. Sherwood recalled, “All the hills in our rear were black with human beings watching the battle, but silent. No army on the continent ever played on any field to so large and so sullen an audience.”

Scouts had informed Hood that a Federal attack might come against his left. However, the initial fighting occurred on his right, as Major General James B. Steedman’s division crossed the Murfreesboro Pike and slammed into Cheatham’s corps at dawn. Unbeknownst to Hood, Steedman’s assault was just a diversion; Thomas really did intend to target Hood’s left.

To the west, Major General Andrew J. Smith’s XVI Corps and Brigadier General Thomas J. Wood’s IV Corps advanced, with Brigadier General James H. Wilson’s cavalry on their flank. Elements of Major General John Schofield’s XXIII Corps were in reserve behind Smith and Wood. The Federals hit Stewart’s overextended corps near midday. According to Major General Edward C. Walthall, commanding the lead division under Stewart:

“About 11 o’clock, the enemy, exposing a large force in my front, concentrated a heavy artillery fire on the redoubt in front of my left, and after keeping it up for about an hour, with great damage to the force within, moved upon it with a heavy body of infantry, enveloped the base of the hill, and by assault carried the position, which was well defended.”

Elements of XVI Corps advance | Image Credit: Harper’s Weekly, Vol. IX, No. 420, 14 Jan 1865

The Federals poured down the Hillsborough Pike and began seizing each of the Confederate redoubts. Walthall reported, “When these redoubts were taken, the enemy moved up in my front and shelled my troops heavily. He made no assault on my position, but threw a force across the pike into the woods near Compton’s house and threatened my left.”

The Confederates slowly gave ground, unable to withstand such a large-scale assault. Wood’s Federals seized Montgomery Hill, while troops from Schofield’s and Wilson’s commands turned the Confederate left flank. Stewart ordered a retreat, and the Confederates pulled back in good order between the Middle Franklin and Franklin pikes. The fighting ended after nightfall.

Hood directed his army to regroup two miles south on a more compact defense line. He could have retreated to save what was left of his army, but he instead opted to make a stand against a renewed Federal drive in the morning. Stewart’s corps was virtually destroyed, so Hood would have to make do with Cheatham on his left, Lee on his right, and the remnants of Stewart’s command in the center. The Confederate line of retreat through Franklin remained open.

From Federal headquarters, Thomas telegraphed Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck at 9 p.m.:

“I attacked the enemy’s left this morning and drove it from the river, below the city, very nearly to the Franklin Pike, a distance about eight miles… The troops behaved splendidly, all taking their share in assaulting and carrying the enemy’s breastworks. I shall attack the enemy again tomorrow, if he stands to fight, and, if he retreats during the night, will pursue him, throwing a heavy cavalry force in his rear, to destroy his trains, if possible.”

Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton sent Thomas a wire celebrating “the brilliant achievements of this day” as “the harbinger of a decisive victory that will crown you and your army with honor and do much toward closing the war. We shall give you a hundred guns in the morning.”

Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, had been on the verge of removing Thomas from command for taking so long to launch the assault. He initially sent Major General John A. Logan to replace Thomas, but then decided to go to Nashville and replace Thomas himself. While traveling through Washington on his way to Nashville, Grant received Thomas’s message from the night before the battle: “The ice having melted away today, the enemy will be attacked tomorrow morning.”

Grant then received the dispatches describing the Federal triumph. Grant wrote Thomas that he intended to come there and remove him from command, but “detailing your splendid success of today, I shall go no farther. Push the enemy and give him no rest until he is entirely destroyed… Do not stop for trains or supplies, but take them from the country as the enemy has done. Much is now expected.”

Grant sent a second message around midnight: “I congratulate you and the army under your command for today’s operations, and feel a conviction that tomorrow will add more fruits to your victory.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 186; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 559; 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 21171-80; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 504; 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 14368-88, 14425-35, 14589-609; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 533; 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. 610-11; 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. 814; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 125-26, 128, 130-31; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 285-86, 715

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