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General Cheatham at Spring Hill.1

by B. F. Cheatham, Major-General, C. S. A.
In pursuance of orders my command [formerly Hardee's] crossed Duck River on the morning of the 29th of November, 1864, the division of Major-General [P. R.] Cleburne in advance, followed by that of Major-General [W. B.] Bate, the division of Major-General [J. C.] Brown in the rear. The march was made as rapidly as the condition of the roads would allow, and without occurrence of note, until about 3 o'clock P. i., when I arrived at Rutherford's Creek, two and one-half miles from Spring Hill. At this point General Hood gave me verbal orders as follows: That I should get Cleburne across the creek and send him forward toward Spring Hill, with instructions to communicate with General Forrest, who was near the village, ascertain from him the position of the enemy, and attack immediately; that I should remain at the creek, assist General Bate in crossing his division, and then go forward and put Bate's command in to support Cleburne; and that he would push Brown forward to join me. [See p. 432.]

As soon as the division of General Bate had crossed the creek, I rode forward, and at a point on the road about one and a half miles from Spring Hill I saw the left of Cleburne's command just disappearing over a hill to the left of the road. Halting here, I waited a few minutes for the arrival of Bate, and formed his command with his right upon the position of Cleburne's left, and ordered him forward to the support of Cleburne. Shortly after Bate's division had disappeared over the same range of hills, I heard firing toward Cleburne's right, and just then General Brown's division had come up. I thereupon ordered Brown to proceed to the right, turn the range of hills over which Cleburne and Bate had crossed, and to form line of battle and attack to the right of Cleburne. The division of General Brown was in motion to execute this order, when I received a message from Cleburne that his right brigade had been struck in the flank by the enemy and had suffered severely, and that he had been compelled to fall back and reform with a change of front.

It so happened that the direction of Cleburne's advance was such as had exposed his right flank to the enemy's line. When his command was formed on the road by which he had marched from Rutherford's Creek, neither the village of Spring Hill nor the turnpike could be seen. Instead of advancing directly upon Spring Hill his forward movement was a little south of west and almost parallel with the turnpike toward Columbia, instead of north-west upon the enemy's lines south and east of the village. General Cleburne was killed in the assault upon Franklin the next day, and I had no opportunity to learn from him how it was that the error of direction occurred. Mean-while, General Bate, whom I had placed in position on the left of Cleburne's line of march, continued to move forward in the same direction until he had reached the farm of N. F. Cheairs, one and a half miles south of Spring Hill.

After Brown had reached the position indicated to him and had formed a line of battle, he sent to inform me that it would be certain disaster for him to attack, as the enemy's line extended beyond his right several hundred yards. I sent word to him to throw back his right brigade and make the attack. I had already sent couriers after General Bate to bring him back and direct him to join Cleburne's left. Going to the right of my line, I found Generals Brown and Cleburne, and the latter reported that he had reformed his division. I then gave orders to Brown and Cleburne that, as soon as they could connect their lines, they should attack the enemy, who were then in sight; informing them at the same time that General Hood had just told me that Stewart's column was close at hand, and that General Stewart had been ordered to go to my right and place his command across the pike. I further — more said to them that I would go myself and see that General Bate was placed in position to connect with them, and immediately rode to the left of my line for that purpose.

During all this time I had met and talked with General Hood repeatedly, our field headquarters being not over one hundred yards apart. After Cleburne's repulse I had been along my line, and had seen that Brown's right was outflanked several hundred yards. I had urged General Hood to hurry up Stewart and place him on my right, and had received from him the assurance that this would be done; and this assurance, as before stated, I had communicated to Cleburne and Brown.

When I returned from my left, where I had been to get Bate in position, and was on the way to the right of my line, it was dark; but I intended to move forward with Cleburne and Brown and make the attack, knowing that Bate would be in position to support them. Stewart's column had already passed by on the way toward the turnpike, and I presumed he would be in position on my right.

On reaching the road where General Hood's field headquarters had been established I found a courier with a message from General Hood requesting me to come to him at Captain Thompson's house, about one and a fourth miles back on the road to Rutherford's Creek. I found General Stewart with General Hood. The commanding general there informed me that he had concluded to wait until the morning, and then directed me to hold my command in readiness to attack at day-light. I was never more astonished than when General Hood informed me that he had concluded to postpone the attack till daylight. The road was still open — orders to remain quiet until morning — and nothing to prevent the enemy from marching to Franklin.

About 11 o'clock that night General Hood sent [439] Major-General [Edward] Johnson, whose division had marched in rear of Stewart's corps, to report to me. I directed Major Bostick, of my staff, to place Johnson on my extreme left. About midnight Major Bostick returned and reported that he had been near to the turnpike, and could hear straggling troops passing northward. While he was talking about this to Colonel Porter, my chief-of-staff, a courier from headquarters brought a note from Major [A. P.] Mason [Assistant-Adjutant General], to the effect that General Hood had just learned that stragglers were passing along the road in front of my left, and “the commanding general says you had better order your picket line to fire on them.” Upon reading the note I ordered Major Bostick to return to General Johnson, whose command was on my left and nearest the pike, and say to him that he must take a brigade, or, if necessary, his whole division, and go on to the pike and cut off anything that might be passing. Major Bostick afterward informed me that General Johnson commenced complaining bitterly at having been “loaned out,” and asked why General Cheatham did not order one of his own divisions to go in ; but at length ordered his horse and rode with Major Bostick close up to the turnpike, where they found everything quiet and no one passing. General Johnson came with Major Bostick to my quarters, and informed me of what they had done. It was now about 2 o'clock on the morning of the 30th.

This suggestion that I had better order my pickets to fire upon stragglers passing in front of my left was the only order, if that can be called an order, that I received from General Hood after leaving him at his quarters early in the night, when he had informed me of his determination to wait until daylight to attack the enemy. What reason General Stewart gave for not reaching the turnpike I do not know. As I have already stated, General Hood said to me repeatedly, when I met him between 4 and 6 o'clock in the afternoon, “Stewart will be here in a few minutes.” Stewart's column did not come up until about dark.

General Stewart says he was at Rutherford's Creek before General Brown's division crossed that stream. He also says that General Hood there ordered him to form line of battle on the south side of the creek, and that he was not allowed to move thence until dusk. If General Stewart had followed Brown he would have been in position on my right, across the turnpike, before dark. That he would have executed an order to make such disposition of his command, no one who knows that officer will doubt; and he would have done it in the darkness of midnight as surely and as certainly as in the day.

1 Reprinted from the “Southern bivouac” for April, 1885. dated November 30th, 1881.

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