This is part one of a three part series on John Bell Hood’s Franklin-Nashville Campaign. Part one can be accessed by clicking HERE.
Click HERE for animated maps of the affair at Spring Hill and the Battle of Franklin – Courtesy of the Civil War Preservation Trust!
To see my photo essay, on the Affair at Spring Hill, click HERE.
Through the spring and summer months of 1864, US Major General William T. Sherman’s western armies continued to push CSA General Joseph E. Johnston’s Army of Tennessee south, through north Georgia. While Johnston was able to stay between Sherman and Atlanta, the Confederate government was not pleased with his continual retreat towards the Gate City. From Dalton, to Resaca, to Adairsville, Dallas, Marietta and Kennesaw Johnston’s Army of Tennessee continued to pull back until he was forced into Atlanta. While Johnston experienced a significant victory, on June 27, at Kennesaw Mountain he had failed to seriously hurt the Federal armies.
In Richmond, continued news from Georgia finally forced President Jefferson Davis’ hand. On July 17, CSA Major Charles W. Hubner was commanding Johnston’s telegraph office. During that fateful evening, Hubner read a transcribed telegraph from Richmond. After digesting the message he decided to deliver the message to Johnston personally.
Richmond, July 17, 1864
General J.E. Johnston:
Lieutenant General J.B. Hood has been commissioned to the temporary rank of general under the late law of Congress. I am directed by the Secretary of War to inform you that as you have failed to arrest the advance of the enemy to the vicinity of Atlanta, far in the interior of Georgia, and express no confidence that you can defeat or repel him, you are hearby relieved of command of the Army and Department of Tennessee which you will immediately turn over to General Hood.
Adjutant and Inspector General.(i)
With this fateful communication, war in the Western Theater changed dramatically. John Bell Hood was a fighter. No one, on either side, disputed that. Sherman, himself, expressed satisfaction in the move, knowing that Hood would fight him – perhaps recklessly – giving him opportunities to defeat him quickly. He would not have to wait long. On July 20, Hood attacked the formidable defenses at Peachtree Creek. He would be repulsed. Two days later, Hood attacked the Federal right flank, held by US Major General James B. McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee. While McPherson would be killed in the action, to be known as the Battle of Atlanta, Hood would ultimately be defeated and pushed into the works surrounding Atlanta. Over the next five weeks, Hood would attempt to defend Atlanta, while Sherman’s Union forces circled around the west side of the Gate City. On July 28, Hood attempted to stop Sherman, west of the city, in the Battle of Ezra Church. Again, the Army of the Tennessee, now commanded by US Major General Oliver O. Howard, decimated Hood’s Confederates. Sherman, determined to take the war to the people of the south, shelled the city, in a quasi siege. Finally, on August 31, Sherman’s forces pushed south of Atlanta and fought CSA Lieutenant General William J. Hardee’s Corps at Jonesboro. While Hood had sent Lieutenant General Alexander P. Stewart’s Corps to reinforce Hardee, he pulled them back to Atlanta, after the day’s fight on August 31, believing the main Federal thrust would be from the west. On September 1, Sherman renewed his attack at Jonesboro. Hardee’s Corps would again be roughly handled and nearly captured. With Jonesboro totally controlled by Sherman, the last railroad line to Atlanta, the Macon & Western Railroad, was severed. Hood, realizing Atlanta was untenable, set fire to his supplies and exited the city.
On September 3, Sherman wired Washington with the news, “Atlanta is ours, and fairly won.”(ii) Over five weeks, Hood would lose more men than Johnston had lost in nearly three months. The fall of Atlanta, and US Major General Philip Sheridan’s Shenandoah Valley victory, at Cedar Creek, would provide the momentum for Abraham Lincoln to be reelected – ensuring the war would continue.
After vacating Atlanta, Hood would reunite his entire command at Lovejoy’s Station, between Atlanta and Macon. Behind strong fortifications, Hood’s Army of Tennessee was still very dangerous – enough of a threat that Sherman was satisfied with resting his men in Atlanta. On September 21 Hood put his army in motion arriving at Palmetto, Georgia where he would meet with Jefferson Davis on September 25. Davis and Hood would discuss their operational plans and determined to attack Sherman’s supply lines north of Atlanta. While Davis expressed his dissatisfaction with Hood’s performance, he would ultimately sustain him, going so far as to transfer Hardee from his command – a move Hood had pushed for. Additionally, Davis brought CSA General P.G.T. Beauregard from the east, to command the entire theater. While Hood would maintain operational command of his army, he would effectively report to Beauregard instead of the Confederate War Department.
Hood’s offensive against Sherman’s supply line began on September 29 when the Army of Tennessee crossed the Chattahoochee River. Pushing north, CSA Major General Samuel French’s Division, of A.P. Stewart’s Corps would capture Big Shanty, on October 3 and Acworth on October 4. Both of these towns were on the Western and Atlantic Railroad. At Allatoona, on October 5, three brigades from French’s Division would continue to attack Sherman’s supply line. With the Federals entrenched along the railroad French’s attacking column would lose nearly 900 – nearly 50% of his total strength – before being recalled when word of a Federal advance from Atlanta reached French. This was particularly distressing for the Confederate commander as he would leave his dead on the field and would have leave one million rations they had secured when they captured the Federal storehouse at Allatoona. French could, however, take some pride in 24 miles of smoldering ruins of Sherman’s lone railroad line to the north.
The attacks on his supply line did not overly concern Sherman. He had grander plans to march his army east, through Georgia, and did not want to guard the miles of railroad. While he sent some forces to attempt to blunt Hood’s attacks against the Western and Atlantic, he believed it would be futile to try to track Hood down in the Cherokee forest north of Atlanta, “(Hood) is eccentric, and I cannot guess his movements as I could those of Johnston, who was a sensible man and only did sensible things.”(iii) On September 29, after receiving orders from US Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant to protect Tennessee, Sherman ordered the armies of the Cumberland and Ohio, command by major generals George H. Thomas and John M. Schofield, north towards Tennessee. Thomas would be in overall command and headed for Nashville, while Schofield was ordered to Columbia, Tennessee. Sherman was determined to let Thomas handle the threat posed by Hood, and CSA Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Cavalry, to Tennessee, “By attempting to hold the roads (railroads), we will lose a thousand men each month, and will gain no result. I can make this march, and make Georgia howl!” Grant would final give his approval to Sherman on October 11, “If you are satisfied the trip to the sea coast can be made, holding the line of the Tennessee firmly, you may make it, destroying all the railroad south of Dalton or Chattanooga, as you see best.”(iv)
By then, Hood had reunited his army at Cedartown, Georgia, due west of Allatoona Pass. While there, he determined to push across the Oostanaula River and head further north to tear up more track between Kingston and Tunnel Hill. Beauregard would approve Hood’s plan on October 9, while meeting with Hood at Cave Spring. The next day the Army of Tennessee would begin its march. On October 12 they would reach Resaca and Hood would demand the surrender of the Union garrison there, stating, “no prisoners would be taken.” The Federal commander, with 700 troops behind a well entrenched position would quickly respond, “If you want it come and take it.”(v) Hood decided against a frontal assault, determining the railroad was his main objective. Approaching Dalton, Hood would encounter another Union garrison commanded by US Colonel Lewis Johnson. Commanding 750 men of the 44th U.S. Colored Troops, Johnson would meet under flag-of-truce with Hood, who demanded his immediate surrender. Concerned about the fate of his colored troops, he asked Hood if they would be treated properly as prisoners of war. Hood told him that he could choose between surrender and death and that he must decide at once. With the overwhelming force before him, Johnson surrendered. The colored troops were assigned to tearing up track. Hood would capture additional garrisons at Tilton and Mill Springs, all the while tearing up more track through the evening of October 13, when he started to push his army southwest, towards Gadsden, Alabama. With the constant threat of being attacked by Federal infantry, Hood assigned CSA Major General Joe Wheeler’s Cavalry Corps to rear guard duty. While Hood’s raid on Sherman’s logistics appeared to be successful, Federal troops were able to restore the telegraph lines by October 21 and the railroad by October 27. On October 28, regular railroad service was fully restored between Chattanooga and Atlanta.
Hood, and the Army of Tennessee, would be at Gadsden, Alabama by October 20. Meeting with P.G.T. Beauregard on the evening of October 21, the commander, and his lieutenant, discussed the strategy and operational plans for the upcoming campaign. After the meeting, Beauregard questioned whether Hood had a plan, “…a great deal had been left to future determination, and even to luck.”(vi) What is certain, is that Hood still wanted to disrupt Sherman’s supply lines, forcing his adversary to meet him on a field of his choice, for a decisive battle. While Beauregard was concerned with Hood’s overall strategy, he gave his approval for Hood to begin his march, which he did on October 22, his objective being Guntersville, Alabama – and a crossing of the Tennessee River. As strategies go, Hood’s would ultimately be unsuccessful as Sherman had already determined to cut his supply lines, and push for the Georgia coast. While marching to Guntersville, Hood learned that Federals controlled that crossing of the Tennessee and decided to push forty miles further west, to Decatur, Alabama. Once again, finding a strong Union garrison at Decatur, Hood decided to push further west, this time to Bainbridge, Alabama. Even before setting his army in motion, Hood again vacillated on his destination, this time choosing to push to the Tennessee River, opposite Florence, Alabama. While the northern armies had adequate supplies, Hood had much difficulty supplying his Army of Tennessee. After retreating from Atlanta, he moved his supply depot to Jacksonville, Alabama. Unfortunately, as the Rebel army moved further west, Jacksonville was too far away to efficiently supply the foot worn soldiers. Hood ordered his supplies moved to Tuscumbia, Alabama, to ease the attenuated supply line. However, this proved problematic as the railroads were torn up and the final 15 miles would have to be covered by wagons. Needless to say, with the weather getting colder, proper nourishment became more critical for the army. Their suffering would become palpable during the coming weeks of active campaigning.
By October 30, CSA Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee’s Corps had reached the Tennessee River crossing and had started crossing into Florence. There, they would drive off a small Federal cavalry detachment. It would take three more days for CSA Major General Frank Cheatham’s Corps and A.P. Stewart’s Corps to reach the south bank of the Tennessee River, arriving on November 2.
The upcoming Franklin-Nashville Campaign would be planned during a November 3 meeting, between Beauregard and Hood. As a result of the meeting, Beauregard would order Forrest’s Cavalry to join the Army of Tennessee, while it pushed north into Tennessee. It was expected that the Confederate army would begin marching by November 9. Pulaski, or Columbia, Tennessee, would be their objective, based on the disposition of Federal forces. Forrest was ordered to join Hood for the march north. Due to terrible weather, with continual rain, November 9 passed with the army still suffering at Florence. With the river flooding between Hood’s separated forces, and a daring Union raid on his pontoon bridge, it would take several more days before Cheatham’s Corps was across the river on November 13. On November 14, Forrest’s cavaliers began arriving. The Army of Tennessee would not be united until November 20, when Stewart’s Corps finally crossed the Tennessee River into Florence.
In late October, George Thomas was commanding the holding force in Tennessee. Having been ordered to deal with any threat from Hood, Thomas was commanding from Chattanooga. On October 29, he ordered the Army of the Cumberland’s IV Corps, commanded by US Major General David S. Stanley, to Athens, Alabama. He was to stay there unless he determined Hood’s forces were across the Tennessee River in which case he was told to move immediately to Pulaski, Tennessee, blocking the direct route to Nashville. Stanley would arrive in Athens on October 31, and would find that Stephen D. Lee’s Corps had crossed the Tennessee River and was camped at Florence. He sent his third division north to Pulaski, the same day. His entire IV Corps would arrive there by November 4. Meanwhile, the rest of Thomas’ field army, the XXIII Corps, was on the move north. The only remaining corps of the Army of Ohio, the XXIII was commanded John M. Schofield. Receiving Thomas’ orders on October 31, while camped at Rome, Georgia, Schofield was ordered to reinforce Stanley, at Pulaski. Upon his arrival, as the senior major general, Schofield would command both corps. Due to railroad delays, and a long route through Nashville, Schofield’s Army of the Ohio would not reach Pulaski until November 13, taking official command of the combined forces the next day.
On November 21, the Army of Tennessee was marching north, from Florence. They were ready for a fight. The soldiers were in high spirits and were glad to be on the move. Their feelings were summed up well by CSA Captain Samuel Foster, “….we all felt confident that we could always whip an equal number of men with the choice of the ground, and every man felt anxious to go on under these promises from Genl Hood.”(vii) Unfortunately, Hood’s bad luck continued, this time from a sharp burst of severe winter weather. The soldiers marched through snow, sleet and rain, making very slow progress towards Pulaski. Hood’s three corps would move on separate roads toward their destination. Frank Cheatham’s Corps was comprised of three divisions, commanded by major generals Patrick Cleburne, John C. Brown and William B. Bate. These veteran soldiers marched towards Waynesboro, Tennessee. Stephen Lee’s Corps was comprised of three divisions, commanded by major generals Carter Stevenson, Edward “Allegheny” Johnson and Henry D. Clayton. Alexander Stewart’s Corps also was comprised of three divisions, commanded by major generals Edward C .Walthall, Samuel French and William W. Loring. Stewart would advance through Lawrenceburg while Lee would use a primitive road through Henryville, Tennessee, between the other two corps. The infantry would be screened by Bedford Forrest’s cavalry, with CSA Brigadier General James R. Chalmers’ Division riding ahead of Cheatham and two divisions, commanded by brigadier generals Abraham Buford and William H. Jackson, screening Stewart’s Corps on the Lawrenceburg Road.
The Rebel cavalry was not alone. With a cavalry brigade, commanded by US Brigadier General John T. Croxton, guarding the Tennessee River crossings, the Confederate movement did not go unnoticed. Badly outnumbered, Croxton would be reinforced by Brigadier General Edward Hatch’s cavalry division. Another brigade of cavalry, commanded by Colonel Horace Capron was also in the area. All three divisions of Schofield’s cavalry were commanded by US Major General James H. Wilson. Hatch provided valuable intelligence to Wilson, and Schofield, but no one knew what Hood’s destination was.
This morning I have information from different scouting parties….which I believe to be true: The head of Lee’s Corps is twenty miles from Florence, on the Butler Creek road, which strikes the military road south of Lawrenceburg thirteen miles. Cheatham’s corps was on the Waynesborough and Florence road; the head of his corps is fifteen miles from Florence. Headquarters of Stewart’s corps at Wilson’s Cross-Roads, six miles from Florence; the corps was moving. The enemy’s cavalry on the different roads was near the infantry. This was the state of affairs last night, and has the appearance of an advance on Columbia rather than Pulaski…..The best information of the strength of the enemy is, infantry, from 30,000 to 35,000, 60 pieces of artillery and 10,000 cavalry. There is no doubt of their advance. – telegram from Hatch to Thomas on November 20(viii)
Thomas wasted little time. In a telegram to US Major General Henry W. Halleck he stated his intentions, and the dire situation Schofield faced.
I have directed General Schofield to move back gradually from Pulaski and concentrate in the vicinity of Columbia, so as to reach that place before Hood could, if he should really move against that place. Hood’s force is so much larger than my present available force, both in infantry and cavalry, that I shall have to act of the defensive, Stanley’s corps being only 12,000 effective and Schofield’s 10,000 effective. As yet General Wilson can only raise about 3,000 effective cavalry.(ix)
Schofield prepared his command to move towards Columbia on November 22. His XXIII Corps consisted of two divisions, commanded by brigadier generals Thomas H. Ruger and Jacob D. Cox. With Schofield commanding both corps, Jacob Cox would take command of the XXIII Corps, on November 30. Command of his division would devolve to the senior brigade commander, US Brigadier General James W. Reilly. Stanley’s IV Corps contained three divisions, commanded by brigadier generals Nathan Kimball, George D. Wagner and Thomas J. Wood. Under constant pressure from Forrest’s cavalry, the first Federal troops began to arrive in Columbia on November 24. Utilizing lines constructed by Jacob Cox’s XXIII Corps, Stanley’s IV Corps began lengthening the line. By noon, fearing that Hood’s infantry was close behind (it actually was miles behind), Schofield deployed “interior lines” west of Columbia, to protect the Central Alabama Railroad bridge, and other crossings of the Duck River, which were nearly impassable due to the heavy rains. In a dispatch to Thomas, Schofield confidently stated, “I think Hood cannot get the start of me.” A later dispatch to Thomas, after receiving intelligence from Hatch, stated, “The indications are that Hood gave up his movement on Columbia this morning and is now going toward Pulaski.”(x) Schofield set up his headquarters at the Athanaeum.
With word that the Federal army had vacated Pulaski, and could escape north, Hood ordered Forrest to cut off Schofield’s retreat route. Forrest sent Buford and Jackson’s cavalry divisions to the east, their goal being to cut off Schofield’s escape route along the Central Alabama Railroad. These divisions caught up with Hatch at Cambellsville where a sharp fight ensued, on November 24. Hatch was able to escape after losing 84 men and four regimental colors. On the same day, in Mount Pleasant, Chalmers’ Confederate cavalry attacked three regiments, commanded by Capron, of US Brigadier General Richard W. Johnson’s cavalry division, on a narrow road. Chalmers sent in CSA Colonel Edmund Rucker’s Cavalry Brigade which attacked Capron on both flanks. The attack routed the Federal cavalry which hastily retreated north, towards Columbia. Unfortunately, Hood quickly realized he had lost the race to Columbia. On the evening on November 25, Lee’s Corps had arrived just north of Mount Pleasant. Sam Hood was described as being, “in the best of health and spirits, and full of hope as to the results of the present movement.”(xi) Pushing further north, on November 26, Hood established his headquarters at Ashwood Hall. He had his three corps arranged in a semi-circle south of Columbia, with S.D. Lee’s Corps on the left, A.P. Stewart’s in the center and Frank Cheatham’s on the right. The next day, Hood moved his headquarters further north, to the Warfield residence, on the Pulaski Pike. While he entertained ideas of storming the strong Federal works at Columbia, his objective still remained Nashville. Fearing a repulse by the Federals, he determined to push around them and ordered Cheatham to cross the Duck River, east of Columbia. Meanwhile, Schofield, fearing being trapped, with his back to the Duck River, evacuated Columbia. Lee’s Corps would enter Columbia on November 28. Leaving Lee there to demonstrate against Schofield’s infantry, north of the Duck River, Hood pushed east to fords his local infantry knew existed. Hood had left the majority of his artillery at Columbia, a decision that would impact his army in the coming days. Ordering Bedford Forrest’s Cavalry to lead the way, Jackson’s Division crossed at Carr’s Mill, Chalmers’ division crossed at Holland’s Ford while Forrest, riding with CSA Colonel Jacob Biffle’s 10th Tennessee Cavalry crossed closest to Columbia, at Owen’s Ford. Buford’s Division was not able to cross as they were opposed, at Hardison’s Mill, by a heavily reinforced Federal cavalry brigade, commanded by Capron. Forrest, after reaching the north bank, pushed east to attack Capron’s brigade, successfully scattering them and allowing Buford’s Division to cross. By the morning on November 29, Forrest’s cavalry was concentrated at Rally Hill.
On November 29, Schofield became aware of Forrest’s cavalry being north of the Duck River, and also had heard rumors that portions of Hood’s infantry may have also crossed the river. He ordered cavalry commander, James Wilson to determine the extent of the Rebel force, and report back to headquarters. Wilson had acted preemptively when he first learned of Forrest’s crossing and ordered the majority of his cavalry to a defensive line at Hurt’s Crossroads, a couple of miles north of Rally Hill. Unfortunately, with most of Wilson’s cavalry removed from the river, more of Forrest’s command was able to cross the river, catching the 7th Ohio Cavalry, and portions of Capron’s cavalry on the Lewisburg Pike. Surprised by the sudden assault on their flank, an entire company of the 7th Ohio would be captured along with several colors. This would leave the remainder of Capron’s brigade cut off, further south, near the Hardison’s Mill Ford. US Major Morris Young, of the 5th Iowa Cavalry, was able to cut his way out of the trap suffering approximately 30 casualties from his effective strength of 1,500. Wilson, realizing his scattered cavalry could not contain Forrest’s troopers, and that they would reach Spring Hill, sent an urgent dispatch to Schofield, “you had better look out for that place.”(xii) Wilson was also able to gather valuable intelligence, from a captured Rebel cavalier, stating that Hood’s infantry was crossing the Duck River in force.
Schofield had by then learned from IV Corps division commander, Thomas Wood, that Confederate cavalry was close by. Wood was astounded that Wilson had pulled his cavalry from the river fords, sending his corps commander, David Stanley, a telegram, “As the country is wide open the whole Rebel army may be over on our left flank without hindrance.” Schofield sent a terse telegram to Wilson, “The river in our immediate vicinity should not be left without cavalry pickets.”(xiii) With darkness settling in, the immediate threat seemed to have passed. Schofield’s last order was for Stanley to send two of Nathan Kimball’s infantry brigades to guard the supply train. Meanwhile, responding to Schofield’s desperate calls for reinforcements, Thomas advised that Major General A.J. Smith’s provisional corps, from the Army of the Tennessee, should be arriving in Nashville by December 1 – obviously they would be of no help to Schofield – he would have to handle Hood by himself. More or less unaware of the extent of Schofield’s difficulties near Columbia, Thomas would send an additional dispatch to Schofield at 8:00 PM, “If you are confident you can hold your present position, I wish you to do so until I can get General Smith here. After his arrival we can withdraw gradually, and invite Hood across the Duck River and fall upon him with our whole force, or wait until Wilson can organize his entire cavalry force, and then withdraw from your present position. Should Hood then cross the river we surely can ruin him.” A later dispatch, received from Thomas after news of the crossing, stated the obvious, “If Wilson cannot succeed in driving back the enemy, should it prove true that he has crossed the river, you will necessarily have to make preparations to take up a new position at Franklin, behind [the] Harpeth [river], immediately, if it becomes necessary to fall back.”(xiv) Schofield had permission to pull his troops back. However, with artillery shelling starting to develop from Columbia, Schofield was not sure of Hood’s intentions. He did not believe Hood would leave behind much of his artillery and infantry and make a general assault north of the River – Hood’s order for Lee to remain at Columbia had completely fooled Schofield. Wilson, fearing that Bedford Forrest’s command was heading towards Spring Hill, and that infantry was soon to follow, sent an urgent message to Schofield, “I think it very clear that they are aiming for Franklin, and that you ought to get to Spring Hill by 10:00 a.m. I’ll keep on this road [Lewisburg pike] and hold the enemy all I can. Get back to Franklin without delay, leaving a small force to detain the enemy. The rebels will move by this road toward that point.” Unfortunately, the courier did not deliver the message. A couple of hours later, Wilson would send it again.(xv) Schofield would not receive this message, which was issued beyond Wilson’s command authority, until 7:00 a.m. on November 29.
On the morning on November 29, Wilson found his position had worsened. His cavalry, approximately 3,500 strong was barricaded at Hurt’s Crossroads. Knowing his position would be untenable, Wilson ordered a retreat to Mount Carmel, five miles further north. Leaving behind Croxton’s brigade, as a rear guard, they were attacked by Jackson’s Confederate cavalry division at first light. They were able to keep Jackson at bay with dismounted troopers, but were not aware that the action was a diversion. The main assault would come from Chalmers’ division further north as they attacked the leading brigade of Hatch’s cavalry division. Wilson quickly assembled a defensive position at Mount Carmel as Forrest’s command rushed out of the trees to attack. With their superior Spencer repeating carbines, they were able to turn back the first attack. A short time later, Croxton’s brigade joined them after retreating from Hurt’s Crossroads – with Jackson’s cavalry hot on their heels. Once again, Forrest’s command charged Wilson’s position. After a sharp fight the Confederates pulled back and the fighting all but ceased. Fearing that Forrest was again attempting to get behind him, Wilson began to pull back towards Franklin. Hatch’s cavaliers remained dismounted as a rear guard. At 2:00 p.m., from the vicinity of Franklin, Wilson sent a dispatch to Thomas, “My impression is that Forrest is aiming for Nashville, via Triune and Nolensville. You had better look out for Forrest at Nashville tomorrow at noon. I’ll be there before or very soon after he makes his appearance.”(xvi) Wilson’s withdrawal to Franklin left Schofield with no cavalry support. Additionally, he could hear artillery fire from the south, presumably at Spring Hill. As stated by historian, Wiley Sword in “The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah,” Wilson was preoccupied with Bedford Forrest and the potential for him to reach Nashville. He failed to provide Schofield with intelligence on the movements of Hood’s infantry.
Sam Hood would arise by 3:00 a.m. on November 29. He had provided an overview of his plans to his commanders: they were to cut off Schofield’s route to Nashville. Two divisions of Lee’s Corps would remain at Columbia, to keep Schofield in place, while Lee’s third division and his remaining two corps pushed to Spring Hill. Once in Spring Hill, he would have two options. If Schofield pushed to the north, he would be caught at Spring Hill between Hood’s two corps and S.D. Lee’s two divisions pushing after them, from Columbia. If Schofield remained at Columbia, Hood could push north to Nashville. Speed being of the essence, Hood left his supply train and all but two artillery batteries with Lee. Marching at first light, the Confederate van was led by Cleburne’s Division, of Cheatham’s Corps. Hood rode with the advance infantry. All told, by 9:30 a.m., nearly 20,000 infantrymen were marching north from their camps along the Duck River.
Movement of the Army of Tennessee was slow. The road they had chosen was a small road, that meandered thoughout the countryside along property lines. This created a zig-zag course that turned a twelve mile direct line, to Spring Hill, into a seventeen mile march. By mid-morning, Hood also learned that his advanced scouts, of the 48th Tennessee, had encountered enemy infantry skirmishers at Bear Creek. This caused much consternation for the Confederate commander and he ordered his marching infantry to separate into two columns, separated by 400 yards. Additionally, Hood sent two brigades, from John Brown’s Division, to protect Cleburne and Bate’s left flank. The resulting march, through woods and fields, took their toll on Hood’s men. One soldier described the men as “weary and worn out.”(xvii)
Meanwhile, Forrest’s cavalry, less CSA Brigadier General Lawrence S. Ross’ Texas brigade, which was continuing to harass Wilson’s Federal cavalry, near Franklin, detoured towards Spring Hill. As they thundered towards town, they ran into blue clad soldiers behind barricades. The soldiers, part of the newly formed 12th Tennessee Cavalry (U.S.), had just arrived from Nashville and were ordered to picket the roads coming into town from the east. In Spring Hill, the road from Columbia was packed with the Federal supply train and portions of the 73d Illinois and 103d Ohio infantry, which were guarding the supply wagons. Marching north from Columbia, were some of Schofield’s only cavalry, the 3d Illinois and 11th Indiana. They would be joined by Company M, 2d Michigan Calvary, on the road to Mount Carmel, east of Spring Hill. All these forces were coming together, at the right time, to protect the Federal supply line. It was written by Wiley Sword, that “Forrest’s men came on like a very whirlwind.”(xviii) – charging first mounted, and then dismounted. The Federal cavalry was nearly all outfitted with repeating carbines, or breech-loaders. Their withering fire would hold back Forrest’s numerically superior cavalry until they became outflanked, at which point they were forced into a fighting withdrawal. Continuing to fight Forrest, as they pulled back from one ridge to another, the Union cavalry performed extremely well, and kept the Rebels from reaching Spring Hill for some time.
This extra time was important. It gave the 73d Illinois and 103d Ohio enough time to throw up a rudimentary defensive position. east of Spring Hill. Arriving on a hill, east of the village, Bedford Forrest was pleased to see the long line of Federal supply wagons moving north on the Franklin and Columbia Pike. Believing the supply line could easily be taken, Forrest ordered the 21st Tennessee Cavalry to charge the wagon train. Galloping across an open field, the entire regiment would be decimated by Company M, 2d Michigan. Firing Spencer repeating carbines, the lead came like hail, forcing the Tennesseans to retreat – their regimental commander wounded three times. This assault continued to provide the Federal army additional time. Hood, marching his Army of Tennessee at quick time, could hear the rattle of musketry coming from the area of Spring Hill. Sending courier, with a dispatch to Forrest, he encouraged him to hold his position, that the infantry was only a few miles distant. Forrest, the ever aggressive “Wizard of the Saddle,” needed very little encouragement, quickly ordering CSA Colonel Tyree H. Bell’s Brigade to push the enemy.
John Bell Hood, while an ever aggressive fighter, was concerned by the sounds of a significant battle coming from the northwest. Most unsettling for Hood was the possibility that Schofield had abandoned his Columbia lines, and had marched his army to Spring Hill, along a shorter line, and was waiting to spring a trap on the Army of Tennessee. With no reports coming from S.D. Lee, at Columbia, and the majority of his mounted forces already in Spring Hill, he had no idea what size of force was awaiting his infantry. Hood was quickly approaching the village. As Wiley Sword states, “About 3:00 p.m., while at Rutherford Creek, two and a half miles from Spring Hill, Hood issued his first fateful instructions.”(xix) Ordering Frank Cheatham’s entire corps to reinforce Bedford Forrest at Spring Hill. Containing three divisions, commanded by Cleburne, Bate and Brown, this corps was in the van of his line and was closest to Spring Hill. Cleburne was considered one of the best division commanders, in any Confederate army, his division was comprised of Mississippians, Arkansans and Tennesseeans – all veterans of many western battles. Brown and Bate’s divisions were also veteran fighters with Bate being promoted to division command after the Chattanooga Campaign and Brown being promoted after the Atlanta Campaign. Both division commanders had much to prove. Hood also ordered A.P. Stewart’s Corps to march as far as Rutherford Creek where he was to be held in reserve. From that position he could quickly come to the support of Cheatham or push north, cutting off the escape route for Schofield’s army.
David Stanley’s IV Corps was on the march to Spring Hill, by 10:00 a.m. Ordered to guard the supply line, Stanley was less than enthusiastic about his assignment. As senior corps commander in Schofield’s army, his performance on the march lacked alacrity. US Brigadier General Walter C. Whitaker’s brigade, of Kimball’s division, arrived at Rutherford Creek, along the Franklin and Columbia Pike, ahead of the rest of the corps, reaching that destination by midmorning. Instead of sending Whitaker’s brigade to Spring Hill, Stanley ordered him to wait there for the rest of his corps. US Colonel Emerson Opdyke’s brigade led Stanley’s van and was slowed to a crawl by the slow moving supply train. Arriving at Rutherford Creek around 10:30 a.m., Stanley ordered Nathan Kimball’s entire division to stay there to guard against a Confederate flanking movement along the creek. By 11:30 a.m., a terrified cavalryman arrived at Stanley’s headquarters with a message, from Spring Hill, that they were under attack by Buford’s Cavalry Division. Stanley found his celerity and quickly ordered George Wagner’s division to Spring Hill. Opdyke’s brigade was the closest infantry to the village and rapidly marched on the west side of the Pike – a direction that would allow him to ultimately bypass much of the fighting and arrive in the northwest section of the village. Closely following Opdyke were colonels John Q. Lane and Luther P. Bradley’s brigades. Reaching Spring Hill, Opdyke would deploy his brigade west of the Columbia Franklin Turnpike. Lane and Bradley would deploy their brigades east of the Turnpike along a ridge bisected by McCutcheon Creek. Their relative elevation provided a solid defensive position. Lane would hold the left flank while Bradley’s brigade would hold the right, just south of the creek.
Hood, reaching Spring Hill, would ride to the crest of a large hill, west of Rally Hill Pike. There, with Cleburne, he was able to see the vast Federal supply train moving along the Columbia Franklin Turnpike. Taking in the situation, Hood believed the Federal soldiers already arrayed before him, were not the real threat. He believed they would not attack. The most serious threat would be from the direction of Columbia. Meeting with Cleburne, he directed him to deploy his entire division en echelon, south of the tollgate on Rally Hill Pike, in a corn field facing due west. Once in position he was to push westward, the en echelon alignment allowing the entire division to reach the turnpike, where they were to wheel left, blocking the road, where they would face the approaching Federal troops. Cleburne’s brigades were commanded by brigadier generals Mark Lowrey, Daniel C. Govan and Hiram B. Granbury. Lowrey’s Brigade held the right flank with Govan’s Brigade in the center and Granbury’s Brigade on the left flank. As Bate’s Division arrived it would fall in on Cleburne’s left flank. Tyree Bell’s Cavalry Brigade was assigned to support Cleburne’s right flank. At 4:00 p.m., Cleburne’s Division stepped off, pushing towards the Columbia Franklin Turnpike in superb fashion. Seeing Cleburne off, Hood rode south to confer with William Bate, to make sure he understood the objective: reach the Turnpike, wheel left and face the enemy coming from Columbia. Bate, already had his division arranged en echelon and was ready to push forward after Cleburne. Unfortunately, Cheatham was not present for either of Hood’s conferences with his two division commanders. With Hood not properly sending orders through Cheatham, to his division commanders, Cheatham did not know the objective had changed from an attack northwards, towards the rapidly growing Federal detachment (Wagner’s division - Opdyke, Lane and Bradley - of Stanley’s IV Corps), to an en echelon attack facing towards Columbia along the Columbia Franklin Turnpike. Perhaps one of the worst communication failures in the history of the Army of Tennessee, it would set in motion events that would prevent Hood’s army from keeping Schofield between Stewart and Cheatham’s Corps at Spring Hill and S.D. Lee’s Corps pushing north from Columbia – a potentially devastating situation for Schofield. After Bate’s Division began its movement toward the Turnpike, Hood removed himself from the battlefield to his temporary headquarters at the Absalom Thompson farm. This further exacerbated the breakdown in communications between Hood and his senior field commander, Cheatham. Meanwhile, the last instructions A.P. Stewart had received from Hood had him maintaining the position of his corps at Rutherford Creek – still within easy supporting distance of Cheatham.
Cleburne’s march from Rally Hill Pike towards the Turnpike started in a fine fashion, with Nathan Bedford Forrest moving with Bell’s Brigade. Bell’s men described Bedford Forrest going forward with “a promptness….energy, and gallantry which I have never seen excelled.” Just over half way to the Turnpike, Lowrey’s brigade leading the en echelon formation, and on the right flank, crossed in front of a woodlot to their right. Suddenly, they were hit by a hail of minie balls from the position held by Bradley’s Federal brigade. Many Confederate foot soldiers fell in the the initial blast of musketry, but Lowrey coolly responded by right wheeling his left regiments, forming a line of battle facing Bradley’s infantrymen. A Union officer noted that the men, “…pulled down the rims of their old hats over their eyes, bent their heads to the storm of missiles pouring upon them, and changed direction to their right on the double quick.(xx) While Bradley’s effective strength was nearly 2,000 men, he had earlier refused his right most regiment, the 42d Illinois, to prevent having his flank turned. This regiment was protected by a rail fence, and was separated from the rest of the brigade by approximately 150 yards. The 64th Ohio, after having recently returned from skirmishing with Tyree Bell’s cavalry, was within supporting distance of the 42d Illinois. Seeing Lowrey’s men marching towards the vulnerable flank, Bradley ordered the Ohioans forward. Unfortunately, Cleburne was caught is a tough spot. The en echelon formation allowed a quick left wheel, but his men were not in a position to quickly reform to the north. Lowrey quickly found Cleburne and told him he was going to be flanked. Cleburne’s only available infantry was Govan’s Brigade, which he personally repositioned and led towards the enemy fire. Granbury’s Brigade, further south, continued to push towards the Columbia Franklin Turnpike.
The new Confederate formation pushed directly towards Bradley’s exposed right flank, where the 42d Illinois and the 64th Ohio quickly became flanked. Confusion reigned amongst Bradley’s brigade. The refused flank quickly crumbled with the Illinoisans and Ohioans running for the rear. Many were shot in their backs as the excited Rebels yelled, “Halt, you Yankee son-of-bitches!” Bradley quickly pulled the 51st Illinois, from his opposite flank, in an attempt to stabilize his rapidly deteriorating right flank. While directing his brigade’s movements, Bradley would take a minie ball to his upper left arm, and would be carried from the field. Command of his brigade would devolve to the senior regimental commander, Joseph Conrad. As Cleburne’s two brigades hastily pushed after Bradley’s fleeing infantry, they would be stopped in their tracks by Stanley’s artillery – specifically Battery B, Pennsylvania Light Artillery. With Bradley’s men fleeing past the Pennsylvania artillery, they were forced to limber up and pull back to the rest of the IV Corps artillery line. Once in position there, there were eighteen artillery pieces firing into Cleburne’s Division, stopping them in their tracks. By this point, it had become apparent that Hood leaving nearly all of his artillery with S.D. Lee, at Columbia, was a mistake.
Stanley, who earlier in the day was disappointed with what he considered a boring task of guarding the supply train, responded well to the fierce Confederate onslaught. Having received a telegram from Schofield, earlier in the day, advising him that Hood’s Army of Tennessee had crossed the Duck River, he was not caught totally unprepared. He would later recall, “It was the biggest day’s work I ever accomplished for the United States.”(xxi)
Meanwhile, Cleburne had sent a note to Frank Cheatham advising of the stiff attack. While reforming his two brigades, to renew his attack, Cleburne could see another Federal brigade rushing to support Bradley’s battered position (this was Lane’s Brigade). Cheatham, still unaware that Hood had ordered Cleburne and Bate’s divisions to block the Turnpike, advised Cleburne to halt his attack and await the rest of his corps, before they renewed their assault against Stanley’s infantry. With Hiram Granbury’s Brigade continuing to push towards the turnpike, they faced minimal resistance as the 36th Illinois, the only regiment between them and the Turnpike, was falling back quickly. Cleburne ordered Granbury back to his line, as light was quickly fading. Cheatham, hoping to overwhelm the Federal position at Spring Hill quickly ordered his remaining division, commanded by John C. Brown, to Cleburne’s line. This would bring his entire corps into position to crush the Union lines at Spring Hill, but would ultimately doom Hood’s plans to block Schofield’s path to Nashville.
As Stanley quickly worked to set up a defensive position, in front of his artillery, he could see the rapidly forming Confederate line ready to attack. While he still had Opdyke’s brigade in reserve, north of town, he could not bring them forward as reinforcements due to a continued threat of cavalry attacks on his supply train. This left him Lane’s brigade. Division commander, George Wagner, ordered Lane to send half his brigade to form up on Bradley’s left flank. With approximately half of his brigade facing south, Lane’s line, while behind hastily constructed field works, was stretched very thin. Lane chose to gamble at this point. Believing his left east facing flank would not be engaged, he sent the 100th Illinois and Company F, 40th Indiana, to a position east of Rally Hill Pike, in an effort to enfilade the Confederate line when they attacked.
John C. Brown’s Division arrived at Rally Hill Pike at 4:00 p.m. By then the afternoon light was quickly fading. After conferring with Hood, at Hood’s headquarters, Cheatham was given approval to press the attack against the Federal troops at Spring Hill. As Hood was removed from the action, and could only hear the sounds of battle, he trusted Cheatham’s assessment of the tactical situation. Arriving back at the battlefield, Cheatham gave Brown his orders. He was to attack in two ranks against the Federal position. Upon hearing Brown’s attack, Cleburne was ordered to renew his assault against the Union line. Additionally, Forrest’s cavalry was to support Brown’s attack on the far right flank. Having been told that Stewart’s Corps was nearby, they would be ordered to a position on the Turnpike north of Spring Hill – again in an effort to block Schofield’s route of retreat. As Bate’s Division was still not present, Cheatham rode off to direct them to the battlefield.
All along Cleburne’s line, the infantrymen awaited the sounds of Brown’s attack. While organizing his lines for attack, Brown was approached by CSA Brigadier General Otho F. Strahl. Strahl’s Brigade, on Brown’s right flank had observed the 100th Illinois, and lone Company F, 40th Indiana, on their right flank. With the gathering darkness, they were unsure the size of the Federal position near Rally Hill Pike. After riding to his right, with Strahl, Brown quickly became concerned about being caught in a crossfire from the front and along his right flank. Still not at full strength, as his largest brigade, commanded by CSA Brigadier General States Rights Gist, was still not up, Brown quickly lost his nerve. Additionally, he could not locate any of Bedford Forrest’s cavalry, which were supposed to protect his right flank. Brown quickly made his decision. Sending off couriers to his brigade commanders, he called off the attack until he could discuss the situation with Cheatham. Cheatham, not finding Bate’s Division, determined to find out why Brown had not attacked. Turning back to return to Brown’s lines, he found two of Brown’s staff who had been sent to find him. Learning of the situation in Brown’s sector, and with total darkness enveloping the battlefield, Cheatham sustained his lieutenant’s decision to halt the attack.
By 6:15 p.m., Hood was at his headquarters, at the Thompson house, with A.P. Stewart. Not hearing any sounds of battle from Spring Hill, Hood became concerned and sent one of his staff officers to determine what was happening. Stewart later recalled that Hood was complaining that his orders to attack had not been carried out by Cheatham. Hood, still concerned about blocking the Columbia Franklin Turnpike, ordered Stewart to take his division north of Spring Hill and block the road. Stewart immediately set off with a local guide to carry out Hood’s order. Cheatham arrived at the Thompson house, a short time later, where Hood chastised him, “Why in the name of God have you not attacked the enemy and taken possession of that pike?”(xxii) While Hood was upset that Brown had not pushed his attack, he was not on the battlefield and did not clearly understand the tactical situation Brown and Cleburne faced. In the end, Hood did not peremptorily order Cheatham to attack.
Unknown to either Hood, or Cheatham, they nearly held the Pike. After initially being ordered, earlier in the day, to push with Cleburne towards the Pike, Bate ordered his division to advance. As they were advancing, they became separated from Cleburne, as Cleburne’s Division tangled with Bradley’s brigade. Pushing forward, they had engaged the 26th Ohio, of Lane’s Federal brigade. The Ohio regiment was assigned the task of guarding a cross road that connected to the Nashville and Decatur Railroad – and the Union supply line. Coming under fire from a battalion of Georgia sharpshooters, the 26th Ohio was overmatched. They quickly fell back. The noise from the engagement allowed Cheatham’s staff officers to locate Bate and give him orders, from Cheatham, to reinforce Cleburne’s line, to the north. While Bate was hesitant to pull back from the Pike, he issued orders for his division to pull back. It would be 10:00 p.m. before Bate would locate Cleburne and order his men to bivouac.
Confusion reigned amongst the Confederate high command. Bate was confused by the conflicting orders and went to find Hood. Meanwhile, A.P. Stewart had gone as far north as Forrest’s headquarters and had found him resting his worn out cavalry. Going back to his horse, to continue pushing north to the Pike, a staff officer brought him a new order from Hood – return to support Brown’s division. Stewart was astounded. Riding with one of Cheatham’s staff officers he went to find Cheatham. Upon arriving at Brown’s lines which were fronting to the north, Hood’s order seemed even more perplexing – if he were to extend Brown’s line, his corps would be positioned away from the enemy at Spring Hill. At this point Stewart sent one of his staff to order his men into bivouac, where they were. He also set off to confer with Hood. Across the entire Army of Tennessee battle line, the pull back from the Columbia Franklin Turnpike was complete. While the Confederates bivouacked nearby the road, the road was clear of any Confederate presence. Before midnight, CSA Major General Edward Johnson’s Division, from S.D. Lee’s Corps, arrived at the battlefield. All told, the Confederate strength, in the early morning hours of November 30, was nearly 20,000. Opposing them were no more than 6,000 men commanded by David Stanley. The Confederates squandered several opportunities to block the Turnpike and crush the Federal division facing them. By this time, the portion of the Army of Tennessee at Spring Hill had bivouacked. John Bell Hood, and his staff, were asleep at the Thompson house.
Throughout the day, on November 29, John Schofield was north of Columbia, trying to discern Hood’s intentions. Facing him was a large amount of infantry, under the command of S.D. Lee and approximately twenty cannon. The artillery, commanded by CSA Colonel Robert F. Beckham, fired at regular intervals into the Federal artillery position north of the Duck River. The Federal cannon would respond. Schofield, had to decided to withdraw that evening once darkness would conceal his movements. By midafternoon, Schofield received word from Colonel P. Sidney Post, of the 59th Illinois Infantry, that a heavy column of Confederate infantry were moving north towards Spring Hill, having crossed the Duck River. Confirmation of the movement came by was of distant artillery fire, presumed to be coming from Spring Hill. Schofield later wrote, “About 3:00 p.m. I became satisfied the enemy would not attack my position on [the] Duck River, but was pushing two corps direct for Spring Hill.” Determined to ascertain what was happening in Spring Hill, Schofield led two of Thomas Ruger’s brigades towards Spring Hill, at 3:30 p.m. The remaining forces would pull back from the river, heading to Spring Hill, after dark.(xxiii)
S.D. Lee, following orders to press the Federals, ordered a crossing of the river when he observed the departure of Ruger’s troops. By dusk, Lee had forced a pontoon crossing of the river, and established a bridgehead on the north bank. With word arriving from Hood, at Spring Hill, that the enemy was cut off, Lee believed Schofield’s army would be crushed by the two opposing Confederate forces. It was late in the evening before Lee had his two divisions across the river. By then, they were only opposed by two Kentucky regiments manning the Union works. Corps commander Jacob Cox had already put his divisions in motion for Spring Hill. The night was clear, but dark. The movement was arduous as the infantrymen slowly pushed north. After a very slow crossing of Rutherford Creek, caused by the small bridge, the weary soldiers began to see the glimmer of campfires in the distance. The 86th Indiana, in the van of Thomas Wood’s IV Corps division, abruptly halted as one of Wood’s staff officers quietly rode along their line, “Boys, this is a Rebel camp lying near the road, and we must march by as quickly as possible. Arrange everything so there will be no noise.”(xxiv)
Schofield, having arrived in the vicinity of Spring Hill found his situation dire. After Ruger had thrown out skirmishers, one of Granbury’s staff officers was captured. Schofield and his detachment were able to reach Spring Hill, where he met with Stanley. With the enemy bivouacked south of town, easily confirmed by long rows of campfires, Schofield found himself in a most desperate situation. With his army separated, and strung out for nearly ten miles, he faced the majority of Hood’s Army of Tennessee at Spring Hill. Word also came from north of Spring Hill that the Confederates had blocked the Columbia Franklin Turnpike at Thompson’s Station, just short distance above Spring Hill. Schofield’s other concern was his supply train, which carried their food, ammunition and supplies. Should it be captured, he would have little in the way of ordnance, and small arms ammunition, to fight with. The last straw for Schofield was the engine of a southbound train rushing into Spring Hill. The frightened engineer advised that Thompson’s Station was in fact controlled by Forrest’s cavalry. Later, David Stanley wrote of the danger at Spring Hill, “…it was like treading upon the thin crust covering a smoldering volcano.”(xxv)
After receiving the news of the capture of Thompson’s Station, Schofield decided to do a recognizance in force, with the ultimate goal being to clear the road to Franklin. He realized, at this point, that he may have to burn his supply train, or in a worse case scenario he may need to surrender to Hood. This thought was very unsettling. At 9:00 p.m., Schofield left Spring Hill with Ruger’s entire division.
Meanwhile, at around 11:00 p.m., Alexander P. Stewart arrived at the Thompson house, to see Hood. He advised Hood that he was unsure why his order to march north of Spring Hill to block the Turnpike, had been rescinded and he was called back to support Brown’s Division. Hood, more than likely, was not in a clear state of mind. It was common for him to take laudanum, which contained opium, to help alleviate his pain. He advised Stewart that it was not his original plan to countermand the original order, but that Cheatham had arrived stating that Brown’s Division was flanked and needed support. Hood, stated he was unaware that Brown was facing north and that by supporting him Stewart’s Division would push further away from the Columbia Franklin Turnpike. He told Stewart to keep his troops where they were and that they would “find the Yankees in the morning.” After Stewart’s departure, Bedford Forrest arrived to discuss matters with Hood. He was stated to be in an irascible mood, having had his son, Willie, wounded during the day’s fight. Advising Hood that the enemy was reported moving north along the Carter’s Creek Pike, west of Spring Hill, he received authorization to send Chalmers’ Division to intercept that movement. With the Turnpike north of Spring Hill still open, Forrest asked to send Jackson’s Division north to Thompson’s Station – Hood acceded. Next to visit Hood was William Bate. Bate was concerned about Cheatham’s order to reinforce the left flank of Cleburne, when he was so close to completing his original objective of blocking the Turnpike, south of Spring Hill. A somnolent Hood advised that it would make little difference, as Forrest was in the process of blocking the Turnpike at Thompson’s Station. Concluding his conversation with the division commander, Hood stated, “…in the morning we will have a surrender without a fight.” Bate, somewhat appeased, left Hood’s headquarters. Well into the early morning hours, Hood received another visitor – a private no less. He brought news to Hood that indicated the Federals were moving on the Turnpike, in great confusion. Hood asked his staff officer, Major A.P. Mason to send an order to Cheatham to move to road if he had already not done so. Once again, confusion in Hood’s orders prevailed as Hood had already ordered Bate to the relief of Cleburne. And the confusion did not end there. In the morning, Mason did not even recall issuing the order to Cheatham, although he did send a written order to that effect. Cheatham was unconcerned as Edward Johnson’s Division had earlier been ordered to the Turnpike. Unfortunately, Johnson determined it too risky to push to the road, in the dark, where friendly soldiers may be confused with the enemy. After 2:00 a.m., Johnson had ridden to the road and had found it deserted. Reporting back to Cheatham, Johnson provided his recent intelligence, and his concern about friendly-fire casualties. Cheatham concurred that Johnson’s Division could not be moved, “intelligently or safely,” and essentially let the matter die.(xxvi)
Around 11:00 p.m., Jacob Cox’s van, of the XXIII Corps, began arriving in Spring Hill. While ordered to have everything tied down, to prevent unnecessary noise, a large army force can only be so quiet. With the rattle of pans, cooking utensils, spades and rolling artillery, Cox’s weary soldiers plodded north along the Columbia Franklin Turnpike. At one point they received fire from Confederate skirmishers, sending the 40th Missouri into a ditch alongside the road. Shortly they were all moving again. Once in Spring Hill, Cox set his infantry to work digging rude fortifications to repel the inevitable Confederate attack. Before midnight, Schofield returned to Spring Hill with Ruger’s Division. Their scouting mission had determined that the road to Franklin was, in fact, clear – the Confederate cavalry having left Thompson’s Station hastily as the Federal infantry approached. Schofield promptly issued orders to begin an immediate movement towards Franklin. The line was to be led by Cox’s XXIII Corps – the same exhausted soldiers who had just reached Spring Hill. As written by Wiley Sword, in “The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah,” one of Cox’s officers was claimed to state, “the men would have chosen to fight a battle there rather than resume the march.” Nonetheless, the soldiers were again marching by midnight. By 1:00 a.m., after a deliberate debate between Stanley and Schofield regarding the feasibility of removing their supply train, Stanley determined to try to move them. With continued pressure from Johnson’s Confederate skirmishers, it would be 1:30 a.m. before the last Federal division, commanded by Nathan Kimball, would reach Spring Hill. Thus, when “Allegheny” Johnson reconnoitered the Turnpike, at 2:00 a.m., the road was empty.
After midnight, Bedford Forrest ordered Lawrence Ross’ cavalry brigade back to Thompson’s Station. Arriving at 2:00 a.m., the cavalrymen could see the van of the Federal army’s vast wagon train. Firing a volley into the wagons, they scattered the men guarding the wagons. Yelling, the cavaliers rushed the supply wagons, capturing nearly 40 wagons. After they rifled through their prizes, the 700 mounted soldiers were posted as to block further passage. In order to stay warm the cavalrymen started fires. Between 2:30 and 3:00 a.m., they were able to observe Federal infantry approaching from the south, and north. Unable to determine their strength, Ross ordered his cavalry to some hills overlooking the Turnpike. While the first infantrymen were a small group of soldiers from the 24th Illinois, two of Stanley’s divisions, commanded by Nathan Kimball and Thomas Wood, were close behind. With the troops and supply train clogging the road, Ross’ cavalry brigade found a wooded spot with several wagons that appeared unguarded. Approaching the wagons, they were greeted by a blast of artillery from some nearby Parrott rifles. This ended the Confederate action at Spring Hill. By 5:00 a.m., the village was completely vacated by the Federal army. Stanley assigned Opdyke’s brigade as the rear guard, as the infantry and supply train snaked their way north, towards Franklin.
On the morning of November 30, one of Hood’s staff officers described the Army of Tennessee commander, “He is as wrathy as a rattlesnake this morning, striking at everything.”(xxvii) Hood could not believe the Federal army was no longer in Spring Hill. Hood placed most of the blame for the fiasco squarely on Frank Cheatham’s shoulders, calling his actions “feeble and partial attack.” During a conference at the Nathianel Cheairs house, Hood vented on his corps commanders. Stephen D. Lee, whose corps had begun arriving in the morning, was told to let his troops rest, while Cheatham and Stewart’s corps pursued the Union army. During the march to Franklin, Hood continued to upbraid Cheatham. Hood, finding General Brown along the road had this to say to the division commander:
I wish you to bear in mind this military principle: that when a pursuing army come up with the retreating enemy he must be immediately attacked. If you have a brigade in front as advance guard, order its commander to attack as soon as he comes up with him. If you have a regiment in advance and it comes up to the enemy, give the colonel orders to attack him; if there is but a company in advance, and it overtakes the entire Yankee army, order the captain to attack forthwith; and if anything blocks the road in front of you today, don’t stop a minute, but turn out into the fields or woods and move on to the front.(xxviii)
And so, Hood’s Army of Tennessee marched towards Franklin – and towards infamy.
During the day, on November 29, John Bell Hood had numerous opportunities to bag Schofield’s army. His plan, prior to leaving Columbia, was bold. But by late afternoon, he was in a position to catch the Federal forces in a pincer between Cheatham and Stewart’s two corps plus one division of S.D. Lee’s corps and Lee’s other two divisions marching north, from Columbia. Hood made a serious blunder by issuing orders directly to Pat Cleburne and William Bate. This kept Cheatham from fully understanding the tactical goals of his three divisions. By ordering Cleburne, and Bate, to attack en echelon, Cleburne was in a poor position to respond to an attack on his right flank – a very real threat that both Hood and Cleburne understood. After the attack started, Cheatham was slow to bring in John Brown’s Division to reinforce Cleburne. Hood had A.P. Stewart’s Corps in reserve and never utilized them. Throwing them in, early in the battle, would have overwhelmed David Stanley’s single division. In issuing orders, through Cheatham, to have Brown’s Division attack, Hood did not follow through to ensure their right flank was covered by Bedford Forrest’s cavalry. John Brown deserves much of the fault for not pushing his attack. He could easily have sent a small detachment, or regiment, to determine what the Union strength was on his right flank. Lastly, Hood’s last remaining opportunities to block the Columbia Franklin Turnpike were failures. Bate’s Division could have easily blocked the Turnpike – they only had one regiment between them - and the road. Forrest had a chance to block the Turnpike at Thompson’s Station but only sent one of his brigades there – and that unit arrived too late.
For additonal reading about the Atlanta and Franklin-Nashville campaigns, check out these book selections that I used to research this article.
Watch, in the coming days, for the next two battle narratives in this campaign analysis: The Battle of Franklin and the Battle of Nashville.
(i) Bonds, Russell S., War Like the ThunderBOLT: The Battle and Burning of Atlanta, published by Westholme Publishing, LLC in 2009, Pgs. 65–66.
(ii) Bonds, Russell S., War Like the ThunderBOLT: The Battle and Burning of Atlanta, published by Westholme Publishing, LLC in 2009, Pg. 291.
(iii) Bonds, Russell S., War Like the ThunderBOLT: The Battle and Burning of Atlanta, published by Westholme Publishing, LLC in 2009, Pg. 333.
(iv) Sword, Wiley, The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah: Spring Hill, Franklin & Nashville, published by the University Press of Kansas, Pg. 60.
(v) Sword, Wiley, The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah: Spring Hill, Franklin & Nashville, published by the University Press of Kansas, Pg. 56.
(vi) Jacobson, Eric A. and Rupp, Richard A., For Cause & For Country: A Study of the Affair at Spring Hill and the Battle of Franklin, published by O’More Publishing in 2007, Pg. 42.
(vii) Jacobson, Eric A. and Rupp, Richard A., For Cause & For Country: A Study of the Affair at Spring Hill and the Battle of Franklin, published by O’More Publishing in 2007, Pg. 52.
(viii) Jacobson, Eric A. and Rupp, Richard A., For Cause & For Country: A Study of the Affair at Spring Hill and the Battle of Franklin, published by O’More Publishing in 2007, Pg. 57.
(ix) Jacobson, Eric A. and Rupp, Richard A., For Cause & For Country: A Study of the Affair at Spring Hill and the Battle of Franklin, published by O’More Publishing in 2007, Pgs. 57–58.
(x) Sword, Wiley, The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah: Spring Hill, Franklin & Nashville, published by the University Press of Kansas, Pg. 100.
(xi) Sword, Wiley, The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah: Spring Hill, Franklin & Nashville, published by the University Press of Kansas, Pg. 94.
(xii) Sword, Wiley, The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah: Spring Hill, Franklin & Nashville, published by the University Press of Kansas, Pg. 105.
(xiii) Sword, Wiley, The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah: Spring Hill, Franklin & Nashville, published by the University Press of Kansas, Pg. 106.
(xiv) Sword, Wiley, The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah: Spring Hill, Franklin & Nashville, published by the University Press of Kansas, Pg. 108.
(xv) Sword, Wiley, The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah: Spring Hill, Franklin & Nashville, published by the University Press of Kansas, Pgs. 105–106.
(xvi) Sword, Wiley, The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah: Spring Hill, Franklin & Nashville, published by the University Press of Kansas, Pg. 113.
(xvii) Sword, Wiley, The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah: Spring Hill, Franklin & Nashville, published by the University Press of Kansas, Pg. 115.
(xviii) Sword, Wiley, The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah: Spring Hill, Franklin & Nashville, published by the University Press of Kansas, Pg. 119.
(xix) Sword, Wiley, The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah: Spring Hill, Franklin & Nashville, published by the University Press of Kansas, Pg. 124.
(xx) Sword, Wiley, The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah: Spring Hill, Franklin & Nashville, published by the University Press of Kansas, Pg. 127.
(xxi) Sword, Wiley, The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah: Spring Hill, Franklin & Nashville, published by the University Press of Kansas, Pg. 129.
(xxii) Sword, Wiley, The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah: Spring Hill, Franklin & Nashville, published by the University Press of Kansas, Pgs. 135–136.
(xxiii) Sword, Wiley, The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah: Spring Hill, Franklin & Nashville, published by the University Press of Kansas, Pgs. 141–142.
(xxiv) Sword, Wiley, The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah: Spring Hill, Franklin & Nashville, published by the University Press of Kansas, Pg. 143.
(xxv) Sword, Wiley, The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah: Spring Hill, Franklin & Nashville, published by the University Press of Kansas, Pg. 145.
(xxvi) Sword, Wiley, The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah: Spring Hill, Franklin & Nashville, published by the University Press of Kansas, Pgs. 147–149.
(xxvii) Sword, Wiley, The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah: Spring Hill, Franklin & Nashville, published by the University Press of Kansas, Pg. 156.
(xxviii) Sword, Wiley, The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah: Spring Hill, Franklin & Nashville, published by the University Press of Kansas, Pg. 157.