Tag Archives: Nathan Bedford Forrest

Nashville: Hood Weakens as Thomas Prepares

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thomas responded:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

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

The Battle of Franklin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Combat at Franklin | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

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

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

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

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References

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

Tennessee: The Spring Hill Affair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

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

Tennessee: Hood Moves to Confront Schofield

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

Maj Gen John Schofield | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

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

“The night was a freezing one, the mud was frozen stiff on the surface in the morning, making the worst possible marching for the infantry, while the artillery and horses broke through the crust at every step. Our only consolation was in the reflection that it was as bad for Hood as for us.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

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

Hood’s Confederates Enter Tennessee

November 21, 1864 – General John Bell Hood finally began moving his Confederate army in a desperate effort to destroy the Federal armies in Tennessee and then continue north into Kentucky and beyond.

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

Hood spent most of November in northwestern Alabama, organizing and preparing his Army of Tennessee for a thrust back into the state for which it was named. He also awaited the arrival of Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry to ride down from Tennessee and reinforce him.

Hood hoped to break through the Federal forces in Tennessee and Kentucky, thus compelling Major General William T. Sherman to abandon Georgia and pursue him. However, President Jefferson Davis preferred Hood to first defeat Sherman “and subsequently without serious obstruction or danger to the country in your rear advance to the Ohio River.” But Hood had no intention of confronting Sherman, who was 300 miles away planning his march from Atlanta to the sea. Thus, two of the largest armies in the Western Theater would be moving away from each other.

Meanwhile, Major General George H. Thomas, the Federal commander in Tennessee, knew Hood’s plan and began concentrating the bulk of his forces at Nashville. Now that Sterling Price’s Confederates had been driven out of Missouri, Major General Andrew J. Smith’s XVI Corps was detached from that department to join Thomas’s Federals. Thomas dispatched Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio to block Hood’s potential advance at Pulaski, below Nashville.

If Hood was going to succeed, he had to attack before Thomas could prepare defenses. But Hood was delayed nearly three weeks. He later recalled that the delay was due to “the bad condition of the railroad from Okolona to Cherokee, and the dirt road from the latter point to Florence, and also by the absence of Major-General Forrest’s command…” This gave the Federals plenty of time to get ready.

Hood expected Sherman to abandon Georgia and block his path to Nashville. But Major General Joseph Wheeler, commanding Confederate cavalry in Georgia, reported to General P.G.T. Beauregard, the overall Confederate commander in the Western Theater, that Sherman was preparing to move four corps in the opposite direction. Beauregard forwarded this news to Hood, stating that “the enemy are turning their columns on the shortest route to Macon.” He asked Hood to reinforce Wheeler and Major General Howell Cobb’s small militia force at Macon.

Hood did not answer Beauregard’s request, opting to continue preparing to head north. He informed Beauregard on the 17th, “I have now seven days’ rations on hand, and need 13 days’ additional. Please make every effort to have these supplies pressed forward.” By this time, Forrest’s command had arrived, and Hood issued marching orders for the army.

Beauregard did not use his authority to order Hood to suspend his plans. He instead directed Hood to “take the offensive at the earliest practicable moment, and deal the enemy rapid and vigorous blows, striking him while thus dispersed, and by this means distract Sherman’s advance in Georgia.” Beauregard then reported to his superiors at Richmond, “It is left optional with him (Hood) to divide and re-enforce Cobb, (or) to take the offensive immediately to relieve him.”

On the 18th, Hood informed Beauregard that he would do the latter. Hood directed Forrest to “move at once with your command, crossing the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers between Paducah and Johnsonville, and then move up the north bank of the Cumberland to Clarksville, taking possession of that place, if possible.” To feed his army, Hood ordered Forrest to take over the mills “and put them to grinding at once.” Forrest was then to “destroy the railroads between Nashville and Clarksville, and between Bowling Green and Nashville, taking care to keep all the telegraphic communications between these places constantly destroyed.”

After more unexpected delays, Hood’s Confederates finally began crossing the Tennessee River at Gunter’s Landing on the 20th. His 30,000 infantrymen moved out in three columns, with Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham’s corps on the left (west), Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee’s corps in the center, and Lieutenant General Alexander P. Stewart’s corps on the right. Forrest’s 8,000 cavalry troopers covered Hood’s right flank. Marching through sleet, the Confederates were poorly fed, clothed, and equipped; some even marched barefoot.

Hood’s initial objective was to move his army into the 80-mile space between Schofield at Pulaski and Thomas at Nashville. He later wrote, “Early dawn of the 21st found the Army in motion. I hoped by a rapid march to get in rear of Schofield’s forces, then at Pulaski, before they were able to reach Duck river.”

At Pulaski, Schofield had IV Corps, two divisions of XXIII Corps, and two cavalry divisions, for a total of about 21,000 men. His force was smaller than Hood’s, but he could call upon reinforcements from Thomas as long as he kept Hood from cutting him off. Schofield told Thomas that scouts reported Hood’s advance had “the appearance of an advance on Columbia rather than Pulaski.” Thomas ordered Schofield to withdraw to Columbia, “so as to reach that place before Hood could, if he should really move against that place.”

Schofield responded, “I propose to move tomorrow morning with two divisions to Lynnville… This will be the best disposition we can make to meet Forrest if he attempts a raid.” Schofield was confident that from Lynnville, “we can fight Hood, or retire to Columbia, according to circumstance. I do not believe Hood can get this far, if he attempts it, while the roads are so bad.”

But Schofield changed his mind. Instead of making a stand at Lynnville, he opted to fall back to Columbia, on the Duck River. The Army of the Ohio moved out on the freezing morning of the 22nd.

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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 21052, 21106-15; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 482-83, 485, 487-88, 490; 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 13719-38; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 517, 520-22; Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee (Scribner, Kindle Edition, 2008), Loc 8036; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 593-94, 597-99; 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. 808-09; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 82-83

The Johnsonville Raid

November 1, 1864 – Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederate cavalry moved south up the Tennessee River on two captured Federal transports to disrupt Federal river traffic en route to Johnsonville.

Gen Nathan Bedford Forrest | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Forrest loaded his troopers onto the ships Undine and Venus, making them a makeshift navy or a “cavalry afloat.” His artillerists remained on shore, pulling their guns along the riverbank. Their objective was Johnsonville, named for Tennessee Military Governor Andrew Johnson and the site of a large Federal supply depot holding stocked warehouses, wagon trains, and transport ships. Most of these supplies were earmarked for Major General George H. Thomas’s Federals at Nashville and Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals in Georgia.

The Federal gunboats U.S.S. Key West and Tawah encountered the captured vessels on the 2nd. They ran the Venus aground and damaged the Undine, which the Confederates burned to prevent recapture. Forrest lost 11 men (two killed and nine wounded) and two guns from the Venus. Undaunted, he challenged the gunboats to another fight, and when they declined, he continued toward Johnsonville. Forrest reported:

“The wharf at Johnsonville was lined with transports and gun-boats. An immense warehouse presented itself and was represented as being stored with the most valuable supplies, while several acres of the shore were covered with every description of army stores.”

The Confederates placed artillery directly opposite Johnsonville around 3 p.m. on the 4th and began shelling the barges being unloaded and the gunboats protecting them. Four gunboats were disabled, including the Key West, Tawah, and Elfin. The naval commander, Lieutenant Edward King, declared, “Johnsonville can only be saved by a large force of iron-clads.” He hurriedly burned many steamers and barges to prevent their capture.

Forrest’s men then turned on the land installations, and within two hours, all the abundant Federal stores, warehouses, and wagon trains were set on fire. Johnsonville was left in ruins.

The Federal base commander estimated damage at $2.2 million, not including the gunboats lost. Forrest estimated the damage at $6.7 million, including the gunboats. All told, the Johnsonville raid resulted in the Federal loss of four gunboats, 14 steamers, 17 barges, 33 guns, 150 men, and over 75,000 tons of supplies. Forrest’s Confederates had disrupted Federal supply lines around Nashville and diverted Federal troops from other areas to stop the threat.

This was an embarrassment to Rear Admiral Samuel P. Lee, the new commander of the Mississippi River Squadron. Federal officials censured the officers at Johnsonville, especially King. The colonel of the 43rd Wisconsin criticized King’s decision to burn the ships, stating, “I do not think there was the most remote necessity of burning either the transports or gun-boats, as the enemy had made no demonstration to cross whatever, nor could they have crossed and captured them under our fire.”

Thomas ordered Major General John Schofield to lead XXIII Corps to Johnsonville. Schofield arrived at Nashville ahead of his men and reported to Thomas that he had “been very seriously delayed the past three days by small runoffs, slippery tracks, bunching of the trains 10 and 20 together, and telegraphic communication imperfect from the storm blocking road, so we could not get any trains around.”

Schofield led the men he had available–two brigades–to start bolstering the Johnsonville garrison. Thomas reported to Sherman that the garrison commander “is hard at work, and says in a short time he will be able to make a successful fight against any attack the enemy may make on him.” Thomas could not pinpoint where Forrest went, but “with General Schofield and his command there, in addition to the force already in place, I have no fear of the enemy getting possession of the town.”

Sherman, the overall military division commander, fumed, “… that devil Forrest was down about Johnsonville and was making havoc among the gun-boats and transports.” Believing that General P.G.T. Beauregard had assumed overall Confederate command in the region, Sherman directed Thomas, “I would not advise you to send too large a force to Johnsonville, as they cannot be anything but Forrest’s cavalry there. Send some heavier guns and some re-enforcements, but keep your main force in hand till Beauregard develops his plans.”

Major General Jacob D. Cox, serving under Schofield, later wrote that when Schofield reached Johnsonville, “he soon saw the real state of affairs, and advised Thomas that the two brigades were enough.” He reported this to Thomas, who replied, “I would rather have you and the greater part of your force at Pulaski, as I want you to take personal charge of the troops there, as my attention may be called frequently to other points.”

In accordance with Thomas’s direction, Schofield turned to gathering the bulk of his force at Pulaski. Meanwhile, Forrest was on his way to Corinth, Mississippi, to link with General John Bell Hood’s Army of Tennessee.

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References

Brooksher, William R. and Snider, David K., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 399; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 482-83; 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 12992-3023; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 517-18; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 592-93; 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. 220-21

Hood’s Tennessee Campaign Begins

October 22, 1864 – General John Bell Hood led his Confederate Army of Tennessee out of Gadsden, Alabama, intending to move north and redeem both Tennessee and Kentucky for the Confederacy.

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

Hood planned to move 30 miles northwest to Guntersville on the Tennessee River. He would cross that waterway there and then push north. General P.G.T. Beauregard, commanding the Confederate Military Division of the West over Hood, allowed Hood to commandeer Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry for the campaign. But Forrest was at Jackson, Tennessee, and Hood did not wait for him to join the army before moving out.

The plan was quickly compromised when the Confederates found Guntersville too heavily defended by Federals to penetrate, and the Tennessee too high to cross there. Hood therefore redirected his army toward Decatur, 45 miles west.

Major General William T. Sherman, commanding the Federal forces that had pursued Hood into Alabama, thought that Hood was still at Gadsden. He had received permission to stop chasing Hood and instead march through Georgia to the Atlantic coast. Sherman left the job of dealing with Hood to Major General George H. Thomas, who commanded a portion of his Army of the Cumberland at Nashville.

Sherman notified Thomas that the Confederates might be trying to implement the plan that President Jefferson Davis had recently described in a public speech. He warned Thomas that Hood “may go on to perfect Davis’ plan for invading Tennessee and Kentucky to make me let go of Atlanta. I adhere to my former plan, provided always you can defend the line of the Tennessee. Decatur and Chattanooga must be held to the death.”

Believing that Beauregard had replaced Hood as Confederate army commander, Sherman explained that he would leave a force for Thomas to defend important Tennessee cities such as “Nashville, Murfreesborough, Pulaski, and Columbia.” Thomas was to remain on the defensive “unless you know that Beauregard follows me south. If Beauregard attempts Tennessee it will be from the direction of Decatur.”

Meanwhile, the Federal XV Corps under Major General Peter J. Osterhaus moved toward Gadsden to try learning Hood’s intentions. Skirmishing occurred on the 25th as the Confederates headed west, resulting in the capture of some prisoners. Osterhaus reported:

“The information received, however, from those who fell into our hands and from the citizens was not very definite in regard to General Hood’s movements. All agreed that his army had left Gadsden and moved in a western direction. The exact whereabouts could not be ascertained. Rumor placed them near the Tennessee River.”

Based on this vague information, Sherman informed Thomas that if Hood went to Guntersville, Sherman’s Federals will “be after it.” If Hood continued west toward Decatur, “I must leave it to you for the present and push for the heart of Georgia.” Thomas told Sherman that based on reports from Brigadier General Robert Granger, commanding the Federal District of Northern Alabama, “Hood’s army is threatening to cross the Tennessee River at various places between Guntersville and Decatur.”

On the 26th, Hood’s Confederates arrived outside Decatur and found it too heavily guarded to force a river crossing. Hood therefore redirected his men toward Courtland, another 20 miles west. General Richard Taylor, commanding the Confederate Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana in which Hood was operating, directed Forrest to join Hood’s army. Hood felt that being detoured to the west actually worked to his advantage because it brought him closer to joining forces with Forrest. However, Forrest was caught up in his own operations and was delayed in linking with Hood.

Hood arrived at Courtland the next day, where his engineers informed him that they did not have enough pontoons to span the river. This forced Hood to continue moving west to Tuscumbia, another 25 miles downriver, where he hoped to use a partially demolished railroad bridge to get his army across the Tennessee. The vital element of speed was lost, and the delays gave the Federals time to build defenses.

Beauregard met with Hood near Courtland. He expressed dismay that Hood had moved west without notifying him, and also that he had not yet crossed the river. Hood blamed Forrest for this, reporting, “As I had not a sufficient cavalry force without his to protect my trains in Tennessee, I was compelled to delay the crossing and move farther down the river to meet him.”

Still unaware of Hood’s exact intentions, Sherman led his Federals back toward Atlanta on the 28th. He notified Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck that he would prepare “to carry into effect my original plan” of marching to the sea. In the meantime, “I will await a few days to hear what head he (Hood) makes about Decatur, and may yet turn to Tennessee; but it would be a great pity to take a step backward. I think it would be better even to let him ravage the State of Tennessee, provided he does not gobble up too many of our troops.”

In another update, Sherman told Halleck that he was “pushing my preparations for the march through Georgia.” He then asked Halleck to send reinforcements to Thomas so Sherman’s Federals would not have to return to Tennessee. Sherman wrote, “I do not want to go back myself with the whole army, as that is what the enemy wants.” Privately, Sherman said of Hood, “Damn him! If he will go to the Ohio River, I’ll give him rations. Let him go north, my business is down south.”

Sherman continued preparing to march away from Hood as October ended. He dispatched IV and XXIII corps to reinforce Thomas, which he believed “would enable General Thomas to defend the railroad from Chattanooga back, including Nashville and Decatur, and give him an army with which he could successfully cope with Hood should the latter cross the Tennessee northward.” Sherman reorganized his remaining four corps into two wings:

  • XIV Corps under Major General Jefferson C. Davis and XX Corps under Major General Alpheus Williams, formerly part of the Army of the Cumberland, would now be the Army of Georgia, led by Major General Henry W. Slocum.
  • XV Corps under Osterhaus and XVII Corps under Major General Francis P. Blair, Jr., remained the Army of the Tennessee, led by Major General Oliver O. Howard.

Meanwhile, Hood’s Confederates continued having problems crossing the Tennessee due to high water and strong Federal defenses. They finally crossed at Tuscumbia and drove Federal cavalry out of Florence. Tuscumbia would be Hood’s headquarters and supply base for the Tennessee incursion. Hood then informed Beauregard that his men lacked food, shoes, and other necessities. This message shocked Beauregard, who thought that Hood would not have begun this campaign without first gathering the necessary supplies. He scrambled to establish a railroad supply line to Tuscumbia.

On the last day of October, Major General David S. Stanley, commanding the Federal IV Corps, received confirmation that the Confederates were crossing the Tennessee at Florence. Stanley’s troops were at Athens, 40 miles east of Hood. Stanley began moving his Federals to Pulaski, Tennessee, where he expected Hood to attack.

As Stanley’s men left, Granger received alarming (but false) reports that the Confederates were targeting Athens. Stanley gave Granger permission to abandon the garrison there if he felt threatened, and he did so. However, as Stanley later reported, “Athens was evacuated on false rumors. At 4 p.m., the same afternoon, by General R.S. Granger’s order, a very considerable amount of public property was destroyed, although no enemy had shown themselves between Elk River and the Tennessee.”

Not only was Hood poised to thrust into Tennessee, but Forrest’s Confederates were threatening vital Federal shipping on the Tennessee at Johnsonville. Sherman later wrote, “There is no doubt that the month of October closed to us looking decided squally; but, somehow, I was sustained in the belief that in a very few days the tide would turn.”

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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 21106; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 478-82; 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 12970-92; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 514-16; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 587, 590-91; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 20-34