Tag Archives: Nathan Bedford Forrest

The Fall of Selma

April 2, 1865 – Federal cavalry led by Major General James H. Wilson captured the important manufacturing city of Selma, Alabama.

Selma was one of the Confederacy’s largest military manufacturing centers still in operation. Over 10,000 people worked at the Ordnance and Naval Foundry, which produced rifles, cannon, ammunition, ironclad warships, and other war materiel.

Efforts to capture Selma had been made by Brigadier General Benjamin H. Grierson in 1863 and Major Generals William T. Sherman and Lovell Rousseau in 1864, but the city was too deep within the Confederate interior to be taken. But by this time, Confederate resources had been depleted to the point that they could hardly resist another thrust into southern Alabama.

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

On March 22, Wilson set out from Gravelly Springs, Alabama, with three cavalry divisions totaling 13,500 men. This was the largest mounted force ever assembled on the continent. His opponent was Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest, whose troopers had bested and confounded Federal generals throughout the war. But according to Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander, Forrest had “neither his old-time army nor his old-time prestige. He now had principally conscripts… not enough to even retard materially the progress of Wilson’s cavalry.” Moreover, Forrest’s troopers were dangerously scattered.

At dawn, Wilson advanced from Maplesville Station with the two divisions of Brigadier Generals Eli Long and Emory Upton. Long moved south on the Federal right, while Upton moved on a parallel road to Long’s left (east). The two divisions would join forces where the two roads joined to form the main Selma road. Wilson ordered them to “press the enemy vigorously and charge them whenever they attempted to make a stand.” The force totaled about 9,000 men.

Forrest was compelled to spread out what he had of his command to meet both Wilson coming from the west and a potential Federal thrust from Pensacola to the south. Forrest hoped to be reinforced by the two divisions of Brigadier Generals William H. Jackson and James R. Chalmers, but Jackson was blocked by the Cahawba River and Chalmers could not get there before the Federals attacked. Forrest fell back to the intersection of the Randolph road and the main Selma road, near Ebenezer Church. He hoped to hold the Federals there until Chalmers arrived. Forrest had just 2,000 men, most of whom were either teenaged boys or old men.

Gen Nathan Bedford Forrest | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Advance elements of Forrest’s army held the enemy off until 4 p.m., but then the Federals broke through the Confederate center. The men engaged in ferocious hand-to-hand combat that included Forrest killing a Federal officer who had slashed him with his saber. The Federals fell back, but then they came on again, this time hitting both the Confederate center and the untried Alabama militia on the right. The Alabamans broke, prompting Forrest to order a retreat just before the Federals could surround and destroy his command. The Federals took three guns and over 300 prisoners. Chalmers never arrived.

Forrest entered Selma the next morning, with the “horse and rider covered in blood.” He advised Lieutenant General Richard Taylor, commanding the Confederates in the city, to evacuate Selma, and Taylor agreed. He placed Forrest in charge of the city’s strong fortifications. These included numerous redans, abatis, palisades, and trenches. The Alabama River served as a natural barrier to attack on one side of the city.

The fieldworks were designed for a garrison of 20,000 men, but even with additional volunteers and reinforcements coming into Selma, Forrest could muster no more than 4,000 for duty. To cover the entire line, the men had to stand 10 to 12 feet apart. Forrest knew that resistance was futile, but he hoped to stall until Taylor evacuated or destroyed the military supplies.

Wilson’s two divisions reached Selma’s outskirts around 2 p.m., having advanced 300 miles through the Deep South in just 12 days. The Federals had captured the engineer who designed the Selma defenses, and he sketched the layout for Wilson. Even so, had the works been adequately manned, they would have easily repelled a mounted assault.

Long was assigned to attack the Confederate right. The dismounted Federals had to march 600 yards across an open field, but they were armed with repeating carbines and supported by artillery. The Confederates opened on the approaching enemy with musket fire and solid shot, even though they could have gotten canister (which was much more effective against massed attacks) from the Selma ordnance factories just a few miles away.

The Federals sustained heavy losses (Long himself was among the wounded), but they finally climbed the parapets and seized the works after 30 minutes of vicious hand-to-hand fighting. Meanwhile, Upton’s division worked its way through a swamp and attacked the Confederate left. Wilson then led a mounted charge down the Selma road that was knocked back until he ordered his men to dismount and try again. This time the Confederate line broke.

Forrest tried making a final stand at the railroad depot, but by 7 p.m. he was outflanked and on the verge of being surrounded. The Confederates retreated across the Alabama River as night fell; many escaped by swimming across. Forrest, Taylor, and other top officers also got away. The Federals took 2,700 prisoners and captured 102 guns while losing just 359 men (46 killed, 300 wounded, and 13 missing).

The Federals quickly took charge of Selma and spent the next week destroying most of the military works, factories, mills, warehouses, buildings, and homes. This ensured that Selma would no longer contribute to the Confederate war effort. It also demonstrated that Federal forces could now control the interior of the Deep South.

With Selma in Federal hands, Wilson resumed his eastward raid by next targeting the first Confederate capital–Montgomery.

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References

Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 553-54; ExploreSouthernHistory.com: Battle of Selma; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 574-76; Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant (New York: Da Capo Press, 1982 [original 1885, republication of 1952 edition]), p. 572; Korn, Jerry, Pursuit to Appomattox: The Last Battles (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 160; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 661-64; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 665-66, 834; Spearman, Charles M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 832-33; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 235

Taylor Takes Over the Army of Tennessee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gen Richard Taylor | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21199-207; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 514-16, 521; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 15816-46, 16079-89; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 540-42, 546-47; Kallmann, John D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 368-69; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 191; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 618-19, 622-24, 628; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 815; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 144; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 707

The Tennessee Campaign Ends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21190, 21207; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 509-10; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 14855-75, 14895-905, 15816-36; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 536; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 615-16; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 144; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 285-86

Federals Stalled in Tennessee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thomas’s response reflected his annoyance with his superiors:

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

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

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

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

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

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Cochran, Michael T., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 719; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 21190; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 505-07; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 14836-46, 14885-95; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 534, 536; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 612; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 144; Wikipedia: The Battle of Nashville, Stephen D. Lee

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