Tag Archives: John Schofield

Sherman Approaches North Carolina

March 5, 1865 – Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal armies began crossing the Pee Dee River after leaving a swath of destruction through South Carolina.

As March began, Sherman’s troops continued their northward march. The Federals laid waste to most everything in their path, making sure that the state which had been the first to secede felt their fury. They were hampered by bad roads and rough wire grass, but they still averaged about 10 miles per day.

Maj Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Sherman planned to invade North Carolina and feint toward Charlotte while occupying Fayetteville. From there, he intended to join forces with Major General John Schofield’s Army of North Carolina, which was securing a supply line from the Atlantic to Goldsboro.

Sherman’s right wing, consisting of Major General Oliver O. Howard’s Army of the Tennessee, entered the town of Cheraw on the 2nd. Lieutenant General William Hardee, whose small Confederate force had retreated through South Carolina after abandoning Charleston, withdrew across the Pee Dee River. Sherman arrived at Cheraw the next day and later wrote:

“Cheraw was found to be full of stores which had been sent up from Charleston prior to its evacuation, and which could not be removed. I was satisfied from inquirers, that General Hardee had with him only the Charleston garrison, that the enemy had not divined our movements, and that consequently they were still scattered from Charlotte around to Florence, then behind us. Having thus secured the passage of the Pedee, I felt no uneasiness about the future, because there remained no further great impediment between us and the Cape Fear River, which I felt assured was by that time in possession of our friends (i.e., Schofield).”

Sherman reported that Cheraw had been a sort of sanctuary for people who had fled Charleston. Many had brought their possessions with them, including luxury items that the Federals quickly seized. Sherman added, “There was an immense amount of stores in Cheraw, which were used or destroyed; among them twenty-four guns, two thousand muskets, and thirty-six hundred barrels of gunpowder. By the carelessness of a soldier, an immense pile of this powder was exploded, which shook the town badly, and killed and maimed several of our men.”

An investigation was conducted as to the cause of the deadly blast, and according to the official report:

“The explosion was caused by ignition of a large quantity of rebel ammunition which had been found in the town of Cheraw and hauled out and thrown into a deep ravine lying between the town and the pontoon bridge… After diligent inquiry I am unable to ascertain the names of the men who set fire to the powder, but I have no doubt they were ignorant, as I was myself, that any explosive material was in the ravine.”

Another explosion occurred behind Sherman’s armies in South Carolina. Rear Admiral John A.B. Dahlgren, commanding the Federal South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, left Charleston aboard his flagship Harvest Moon to inspect the recently captured Fort White at Georgetown. During the trip, the flagship struck a torpedo. One man was killed, but Dahlgren escaped. He later reported:

“Suddenly, without warning, came a crashing sound, a heavy shock, the partition between the cabin and wardroom was shattered and driven in toward me, while all loose articles in the cabin flew in different directions… A torpedo had been struck by the poor old Harvest Moon, and she was sinking.”

The ship went down in five minutes.

Back at Cheraw, Sherman learned that General Joseph E. Johnston had assumed command of the Confederate forces in the region. Sherman guessed that Johnston’s priority would be to unite these scattered commands and then make a stand against him somewhere in North Carolina. As such, Sherman sought to hurry and join forces with Schofield before Johnston could stop him.

The Federals laid a pontoon bridge over the Pee Dee on the 4th and began crossing the next day. They moved in four columns, with Howard’s XV and XVII corps on the right (east), and Major General Henry W. Slocum’s XIV and XX corps of his Army of Georgia on the left (west). Brigadier General H. Judson Kilpatrick’s cavalry division screened the Federal left. By the 8th, Sherman’s entire force had crossed into North Carolina.

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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. 541-44; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 560-63; Kennedy, Frances H. (ed.), The Civil War Battlefield Guide (John G. Barrett, The Conservation Fund, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990), p. 268; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 648; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 254-55, 506; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 451-52

The Fall of Wilmington

February 22, 1865 – Major General John Schofield’s new Federal army captured a once-vital Confederate port city on the North Carolina coast.

General John Schofield | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Schofield’s Federals moved north up the Cape Fear River from Fort Fisher in an effort to capture Wilmington. Schofield hoped to use the city as a military supply base now that the fall of Fort Fisher had rendered it useless for Confederate shipping. But Confederates on the east and west banks of the river blocked the Federals’ path.

To the east, Major General Alfred H. Terry’s X Corps moved north up the peninsula between the Atlantic and the Cape Fear River to face Major General Robert F. Hoke’s Confederates on the Sugar Loaf Line. To the west, Major General Jacob D. Cox’s XXIII Corps moved north along the west bank of the Cape Fear to face Brigadier General Johnson Hagood’s Confederates at Town Creek. Meanwhile, Rear Admiral David D. Porter’s Federal naval fleet worked to clear torpedoes and other obstructions from the river.

After Hagood abandoned Fort Anderson, Hoke fell back to a new defense line about three miles south of Wilmington. Terry pursued cautiously, reinforced by Brigadier General Adelbert Ames’s division previously on loan to Cox. Across the Cape Fear, Hagood’s Confederates burned the only bridge over Town Creek and built defenses on the north bank.

The Federals could not ford the creek, so Cox dispatched three brigades to outflank the Confederates while his fourth brigade kept them occupied. The flankers found a flat-bottom boat and used it to cross Town Creek, on the Confederate left. Hagood had anchored his left flank on a swamp, figuring that the Federals could not get around it.

Cox later wrote, “The ground was such that no horses could be used and all officers were dismounted. With some difficulty the command passed through the rice swamps, moving obliquely to the right till we reached dry land about a mile from the place of crossing.” After several grueling hours, the Federals got across.

Hagood discovered the Federal maneuver and ordered a retreat to Wilmington, leaving two regiments as a rear guard. The Federals routed these regiments, taking 375 prisoners and two guns. The rest of Hagood’s men escaped into Wilmington, but the Federals were close behind.

Meanwhile, Terry’s Federals were entrenched in front of Hoke’s defense line, with Porter’s gunboats bombarding the Confederates from the river. That night, the Confederates released about 200 torpedoes from their moorings and sent them floating downriver. Federal naval crews panicked, fearing that these floating mines would destroy their ships. However, Porter had detailed rowboats with netting to catch most of the torpedoes before they reached the main fleet. They ultimately caused no damage.

General Braxton Bragg, who had been unofficially ousted as President Jefferson Davis’s military advisor once Robert E. Lee became general-in-chief, arrived at Wilmington on the 21st to take overall command of the situation. By that time, Hagood’s small force had retreated into the city, and Hoke’s Confederates on the eastern peninsula would soon have to retreat before superior numbers as well.

Bragg reported, “The enemy in force on the west, and our communications south cut. We are greatly out-numbered.” Lee responded, “Destroy all cotton, tobacco, and naval stores that would otherwise fall into the hands of the enemy.” Bragg completed his assessment and wrote, “Our small force renders it impossible to make any serious stand. We are greatly embarrassed by prisoners, the enemy refusing to receive them or entertain any proposition.” Knowing that the Confederate retreat would be hindered by transporting hundreds of prisoners, the Federals refused to discuss exchanging them.

By the end of the 21st, Cox’s Federals had reached the southwestern outskirts of Wilmington, and Terry’s men were poised to launch a full-scale assault southeast of the city. Cox’s advance was delayed by destroyed bridges and Confederate cavalry. During that time, Bragg evacuated all troops, prisoners, and military necessities from Wilmington, and his Confederates destroyed anything of military value they could not take with them.

The general retreat began at 1 a.m. on the 22nd with the abandonment of Fort Strong and all other defensive points. Bragg reported, “By the active and efficient operation of the Weldon and Wilmington Railroad, we succeeded in getting off all the prisoners able to travel and all important stores. Some naval stores and a small lot of cotton and tobacco were destroyed by fire. These could have been saved but for the occupation of the trains in carrying prisoners.”

As the sun rose, Cox saw that the city had been abandoned. He later wrote:

“Bragg had carefully removed all boats from our side of the channel, but citizens anxious to prevent us from firing on the town came over in skiffs, and we learned that the Confederate forces had marched away toward Goldsborough, leaving the way open for Terry’s march into the city, which took place in the early morning of the 22nd, which we were happy to recall was Washington’s Birthday.”

Federal bands blared loud, patriotic music as Terry’s Federals entered Wilmington. Porter reported to Navy Secretary Gideon Welles: “I have the honor to inform you that Wilmington has been evacuated and is in possession of our troops… I had the pleasure of placing the flag on Fort Strong, and at 12 o’clock noon today shall fire a thirty-five guns salute this being the anniversary of Washington’s birthday.” Mayor John Dawson surrendered Wilmington to Terry the next day.

Federal officials planned to convert Wilmington into another supply base for operations against Lee’s Confederates under siege at Petersburg. The fall of Wilmington freed Schofield to join forces with Major General William T. Sherman’s armies. This combined force would then move northward across the Roanoke River, the last strong defensive line south of Virginia’s Appomattox River.

Schofield directed his men to repair all railroad tracks and equipment in the Wilmington area, but he soon learned that supplies for such repairs were scarce. He therefore ordered Brigadier General Innis N. Palmer to open a supply line from New Bern. The line would extend west to Goldsborough, where Sherman’s Federals were expected to arrive after their march through South Carolina. When Palmer did not move quickly enough, Schofield put Cox in charge of the operation.

Meanwhile, the Confederates scrambled to escape Federal capture. They took the C.S.S. Chickamauga up the Cape Fear River and scuttled her in such a way to block enemy vessels from advancing upriver. Commodore John R. Tucker, who had led 350 Confederate sailors out of Charleston, marched 125 miles to Fayetteville. They joined with another grounded naval force and continued marching north to join the Confederates at Richmond and Petersburg.

General P.G.T. Beauregard, commanding the Confederate Western Theater, believed that Sherman would follow up the fall of Wilmington with an attack on Charlotte. He therefore issued a proclamation urging Charlotte residents to volunteer their slave labor to “destroy and obstruct” the roads to the city. However, Sherman only feinted toward Charlotte while actually moving east to join forces with Schofield at Goldsborough. As February ended, North Carolina seemed doomed.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 830-31; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 537-40; 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 16705-25, 16755-65; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 556-59; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 61; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 641-42; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 418-19, 831; McMurry, Richard M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 184; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 444; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 542

The Fall of Fort Anderson

February 19, 1865 – The Confederate garrison guarding Wilmington, North Carolina, became one of many to fall to overwhelming Federal numbers this month.

Federal Maj Gen John M. Schofield | Image Credit: Flickr.com

As February began, Major General John Schofield’s Federal XXIII Corps was moving from Tennessee to Washington. From there, the troops boarded transports that took them down the Potomac River, into Chesapeake Bay, and then down the Atlantic coast to Fort Fisher, North Carolina.

Schofield’s Federals were to join forces with Major General Alfred H. Terry’s X Corps, which had occupied Fisher ever since its capture in January. The combined force would then work with Rear Admiral David D. Porter’s massive Federal naval fleet to capture Wilmington, north of Fort Fisher. Wilmington was once a vital Confederate seaport, but the fall of Fisher closed it down. From Wilmington, the Federals hoped to open a supply line to Goldsboro, where they would join forces with Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals marching up from South Carolina.

To get to Wilmington from Fort Fisher, the Federals would have to move north up the Cape Fear River. A peninsula to the east featured the Sugar Loaf Line, which was a few miles north of Fisher and manned by Major General Robert F. Hoke’s Confederates. One of Hoke’s brigades under Brigadier General Johnson Hagood held Fort Anderson, across the river to the west. The river was laden with hundreds of torpedoes to block Federal efforts to pass.

On the 8th, elements of XXIII Corps began joining Terry’s troops at Fort Fisher aboard transports escorted by Porter’s warships. Schofield arrived the next day and, as the ranking commander, assumed command of this new Department of North Carolina. Major General Jacob D. Cox took over Schofield’s XXIII Corps. The combined X and XXIII corps totaled about 12,000 men.

Schofield planned for XXIII Corps to outflank Hagood’s Confederates at Fort Anderson while Terry’s X Corps demonstrated against the Sugar Loaf Line to keep Hoke from reinforcing Hagood. Porter’s warships, led by the ironclad U.S.S. Montauk, would support XXIII Corps by neutralizing Fort Anderson’s guns. Porter instructed his officers:

“The object will be to get the gunboats in the rear of their intrenchments and cover the advance of our troops… As the army come up, your fire will have to be very rapid, taking care not to fire into our own men… Put yourself in full communication with the general commanding on the shore, and conform in all things to his wishes.”

The plan changed when Schofield received intelligence that Hoke’s left flank was weak. If true, then Schofield could shuttle Federal troops across Myrtle Sound and land them behind Hoke’s line, thus forcing him to retreat. This new operation began on the 11th when Federal gunboats on the Atlantic side of the Sugar Loaf Line began bombarding Hoke’s Confederates.

When the barrage ended a half-hour later, Terry’s Federals advanced. They broke the Confederate skirmish line, but the men on the left got bogged down in a swamp, and Terry concluded that the enemy’s defenses could not be taken by frontal assault. A nor’easter swept in to remove any doubt, and this plan was cancelled. As the storms raged for several days, Schofield reverted to his original plan, which was for Terry to hold Hoke in place while Cox captured Fort Anderson.

The movement began on the 16th as Cox’s men, reinforced by Brigadier General Adelbert Ames’s division from X Corps, were ferried across the Cape Fear River to Smithville. From there, they began advancing north toward the fort. Meanwhile, Federal gunboats moved upriver and opened a massive bombardment on Hagood’s Confederates.

By the next day, the gunboats had silenced all 12 of the fort’s guns. Lieutenant Commander William B. Cushing directed his sailors to tow a fake ironclad to the front of the gunboat line to draw Confederate fire. This hulk, called “Old Bogey,” was made from a scow, timber, and canvas. Porter had used this ploy successfully on the Mississippi River, and it drew heavy fire from the Confederates this time as well.

Meanwhile, Cox’s Federals continued moving up the west bank of the Cape Fear River. Cox reported, “About three miles from Smithville, we encountered the enemy’s cavalry outposts, which retired skirmishing. The country being an almost continuous swamp, the march was slow.”

As they came to a fork in the Wilmington Road, Cox sent part of his force up each prong, staying with the prong on the right–closest to the river–where he could maintain communications with Schofield and Porter. Ames’s men moved down the left prong. The Federals struggled to cover just 10 miles on the 17th.

The next day, Cox’s Federals approached the defenses outside Fort Anderson. Cox wrote, “The ground in front of the works was entirely open for 200 or 300 yards, and the breast-works themselves were well made, covered with abatis, and commanded by the artillery fire of the fort.”

Schofield arrived on the scene and concluded that the fort could not be taken by frontal assault. He therefore held two brigades in the fort’s front while sending two other brigades around to link with Ames and outflank the Confederates. The roundabout route they were supposed to take would presumably lead them into the Confederate rear.

The Federals drove a small Confederate force away from Governor’s Creek, built a bridge and crossed the waterway after 9 p.m. on the 18th. The next morning, the Federals in front of Fort Anderson reported that the fort had been abandoned. Colonel Thomas Henderson, commanding one of the Federal brigades facing Anderson, reported:

“During the night the fort was evacuated, and on the morning of the 19th, about 5 o’clock, the skirmishers entered the fort without opposition. The evacuation was no doubt induced by the movement of the column under the command of Major-General Cox, which otherwise would have got in rear of the fort and cut off the retreat of the garrison.”

Henderson and the rest of the Federals pursued, as did Cox’s Federals, all moving north toward Wilmington. Cox wrote:

“Pushing on rapidly, the enemy’s rear guard was reached about three miles above Fort Anderson, but it made no attempt to stand until it reached Town Creek, a very deep, unfordable stream, eight miles above the fort and where a heavy line of field fortifications had been prepared some time before the evacuation of Fort Anderson.”

Cox formed a plan of attack, set to begin the next morning.

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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. 527, 529-31, 534-36; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 551-56; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 636-37, 641; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 831; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 444; Wikipedia: Battle of Wilmington

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: 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

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