- Grant orders Thomas to attack Hood or relinquish the command -- Thomas's Corps commanders support him in delay -- Grant's Intentions in sending Logan to relieve Thomas -- change of plan before the battle of Nashville -- the fighting of December 15 -- expectation that Hood would retreat -- delay in renewing the attack on the 16th -- Hopelessness of Hood's position -- letters to Grant and Sherman -- transferred to the East -- financial burden of the War -- Thomas's attitude toward the War.
the perilous character of the situation in Tennessee, in which it was left by Sherman's premature start for the sea and Thomas's tardy concentration of troops, wholly disappeared with the repulse of Hood at Franklin. There was no further obstacle to the concentration of Thomas's forces at Nashville, the organization and equipment of his army, and the necessary preparations to assume the offensive. Hood's army was too much shattered and crippled to make any serious movement for some days, during which it was easy for Thomas to prepare for battle all his troops except the cavalry, of which latter, however, it required a longer time to complete the remount. Indeed, Thomas could have given battle the second or third day after Franklin with more than a fair prospect of success. Considering the feeling of nervous anxiety which prevailed in Washington and throughout the country at the time, possibly he ought to have assumed the offensive  on the 2d or 3d of December. But that state of anxiety was at first unknown at Nashville, even to General Thomas, and was never fully appreciated or understood. No one at Nashville, so far as I am aware, shared that feeling. We knew, or thought we knew, that Hood could do nothing, unless it were to retreat, before we would be prepared to meet him, and that every day's delay strengthened us far more than it possibly could him. His operations, which were closely watched every day, indicated no intention to retreat; hence all at Nashville awaited with confidence the period of complete preparation which was to give us decisive victory. The anxiety felt elsewhere, especially by General Grant, was probably due to some doubt of the wisdom of Sherman's plan of going off with his main army before disposing of Hood, contrary to Grant's first advice; to the discovery of Sherman's error in supposing he had left Thomas in complete condition to cope with Hood; to some misapprehension as to the degree in which the situation in Tennessee had been changed by the battle of Franklin; as well as to lack of confidence in General Thomas on account of his well-known deliberation of thought and action. Little was known of this state of anxiety by me, or, I believe, by the corps commanders, until December 9, when General Thomas, calling us together at his headquarters, informed us that he was ordered to attack Hood at once or surrender his command (not saying to whom), and asked our advice as to what he ought to do. One of the officers present asked General Thomas to show us the order, which he declined to do. This confirmed the belief which I had at first formed that the successor named by General Grant could be no other than myself—a belief formed from the fact that I was, next to General Thomas, the highest officer in rank on the ground where immediate action was demanded, and from my knowledge of  General Grant's confidence, which belief has since been fully justified by the record. This, as I conceived, imposed upon me the duty of responding at once to General Thomas's request for advice, without waiting for the junior members of the council, according to the usual military custom. Hence I immediately replied: ‘General Thomas, I will sustain you in your determination not to fight until you are fully ready.’ All the other commanders then promptly expressed their concurrence. I do not know whether or not my declaration of purpose to sustain General Thomas was made known to General Grant, or to any one in Washington, either then or afterward. I have never made any inquiry on that subject. Of course such information must have been conveyed confidentially and indirectly, if at all, and hence would probably not appear in the official records, though despatches and letters marked ‘confidential’ are sometimes published as official. I have only conjectured that some knowledge of my opinion and decision may, perhaps, have influenced General Grant's final determination to go to Nashville himself. If some officer must go there to fight a battle, Grant could get there about as soon as any other he could well select. The records now published seem to verify the belief then (December 9, 1864) existing in my mind, that I had only to withhold my support from General Thomas in his determination to delay, and the chief command would have fallen to my fortune, where I believed brilliant victory was as nearly certain as anything in war can be. But I never had the remotest idea of superseding General Thomas. As I explained to General Sherman, I volunteered to go back to Tennessee, not to supersede Thomas, but to help him. I knew him and his subordinates well, as I did also the antagonist, my West Point classmate, whom they would have to meet. I appreciated Thomas's high qualities, his distinguished services, and, above all, the  profound affection and confidence of his troops—an element of strength in a commander far greater than is generally understood, even by military men, some of whom appear to be altogether ignorant of its value as a factor in war. A doubt of our complete success under his leadership, after our troops were united, never entered my mind, much less a desire to diminish or dim the laurels he might win. General Grant's great anxiety on account of the situation at Nashville was manifested for several days by urgent despatches to General Thomas to attack at once without waiting for further preparations; then by an order to Thomas to turn over the chief command to me, Thomas to become subordinate, which order was suspended; and finally by starting for Nashville himself to direct operations in person. In the meantime he ordered General John A. Logan to go to Nashville to relieve Thomas in command of the Army of the Cumberland, without thought, as he has said, of the question whether Logan or myself should command the combined armies of the Cumberland and of the Ohio. Grant had reached Washington from City Point, and Logan had gone as far as Louisville, when the report of Thomas's victory of December 15 made it unnecessary for either of them to proceed farther. The following letters from Grant to Logan are interesting as explaining the reasons and motives of his action in sending Logan to Nashville, as well as his estimate of the services I had rendered in the preceding operations:
The passion and prejudice begotten in the minds of Thomas's soldiers and their friends by injustice, real or fancied, done or proposed to be done to him by his superiors in rank, have rendered impossible any calm discussion of questions touching his military career. There is not yet, and probably will not be in our lifetime, a proper audience for such discussion. But posterity will award justice to all if their deeds have been such as to save their names from oblivion. Time works legitimate ‘revenge,’ and makes all things even. When I was a boy at West Point I was courtmar-tialed for tolerating some youthful ‘deviltry’ of my classmates, in which I took no part myself, and was sentenced to be dismissed. Thomas, then already a veteran soldier, was a member of the court, and he and one other were the only ones of the thirteen members who declined to recommend that the sentence be remitted. This I learned in 1868, when I was Secretary of War. Only twelve years later I was able to repay this then unknown stern denial of clemency to a youth by saving the veteran soldier's army from disaster, and himself from the humiliation of dismissal from command on the eve of victory. Five years later still, I had the satisfaction, by intercession with the President, of saving the same veteran general from assignment to an inferior command, and of giving him the military division to which my assignment had been ordered. When death had finally relieved him from duty, and not till then, did I consent to be his successor. In 1879 I had the satisfaction, after many months of patient investigation, of rendering justice to the other of those two unrelenting soldiers who,  of all the thirteen, could not find it in their hearts to recommend clemency to an erring youth: I was president of the board which reversed the judgment of the court-martial in the case of Fitz-John Porter. I believe it must now be fully known to all who are qualified to judge and have had by personal association or by study of history full opportunities to learn the truth, that General Thomas did not possess in a high degree the activity of mind necessary to foresee and provide for all the exigencies of military operations, nor the mathematical talent required to estimate ‘the relations of time, space, motion, and force’ involved in great problems of war. His well-known high qualities in other respects obscured these imperfections from the great majority of those who surrounded him during the war, and rendered the few educated soldiers who were able to understand his true merits the more anxious to aid him and save him from personal defeat. And no one, I am sure, of his comrades in arms desires to detract from the great fame which is justly his due; for, according to the best judgment of mankind, moral qualities, more than intellectual, are the foundation of a great and enduring fame. It was ‘Old Pap’ Thomas, not General Thomas, who was beloved by the Army of the Cumberland; and it is the honest, conscientious patriot, the firm, unflinching old soldier, not the general, whose name will be most respected in history. Of the general details of the battle of Nashville I do not propose to speak, but simply to notice a few of its most important points. The plan of battle, as published, placed my command—the Twenty-third Corps—in the left center of our line, where only a feint was to be made. The Fourth Corps was to carry a salient advanced line, while the main attack was to be made on the enemy's extreme left by A. J. Smith's corps and the cavalry. After the order was prepared I went to General Thomas  with a map of the position showing the exact length of the several parts of the enemy's line, and explained to him that the force he had assigned to our left wing was at least 10,000 men more than could be used to any advantage unless for a real attack; and that, on the other hand, Smith's force was not large enough for the real attack, considering the extent of the ground occupied by the enemy on that flank. Hence I suggested that my corps should support Smith instead of remaining on the left of Wood. To this suggestion General Thomas readily acceded, and orally authorized me to carry it into effect, but made no change in his written order. The result of this change of plan was that the close of the first day's engagement found the Twenty-third Corps on the extreme right of our infantry line, in the most advanced position captured from the enemy. Yet General Thomas, in his official report, made no mention of this change of plan, but said ‘the original plan of battle, with but few alterations, [was] strictly adhered to.’1 The ‘alterations’ were certainly ‘few.’ A change from 10,000 to 20,000 infantry in the main attacking force may not properly be described as many ‘alterations,’ but it looks like one very large one—sufficient, one would suppose, to determine the difference between failure and success. The plan of battle issued December 14 had been matured and made known to the principal subordinate commanders several days before, when General Thomas intended to attack, but was prevented by the storm Hence there had been ample time for critical consideration and discussion of the details of that plan, the result of which was the modification made at the conference in the afternoon or evening of December 14, which modification was not embodied in the written order, but was orally directed to be carried out. If General Thomas had caused that clerical work to be done in the evening of December  14, his published orders and his battle of December 15 would have been in complete harmony. There would not, so far as I know, have been even a ‘few alterations.’ In this connection, the difference between the ‘Special Field Order No. 342,’ of December 14, as recorded in General Thomas's order-book, and the copy embodied in his official report, as explained in a foot-note in the War Records, is not unimportant.2 In the order-book he says: ‘Major-General Schofield will mass the remainder of his force in front of the works and cooperate with General Wood, protecting the latter's left flank against an attack by the enemy’; but in his report the words ‘will move with’ are substituted for ‘will mass.’ The latter, in military parlance, meant placing my corps in reserve, with a view to ‘cooperate with General Wood,’ etc., whenever such cooperation might be necessary; while the words used in Thomas's final report meant active cooperation with General Wood from the beginning of the engagement. In the body of his report General Thomas spoke of the position of the Twenty-third Corps as ‘in reserve,’ from which position it was ordered to the right to join A. J. Smith's troops in the attack. Hence it would seem that a position ‘in reserve’ was what General Thomas had in mind both when he prepared his order of battle and when he wrote his report, and that the change to the words ‘will move with’ was simply a clerical error. After darkness had ended the first day's battle (December 15), I received an order in writing from General Thomas, which was in substance to pursue the retreating enemy early the next morning, my corps to take the advance on the Granny White pike, and was informed that the cavalry had been or would be ordered to start at the same time by a road to the right, and cross the Harpeth below Franklin. These orders seemed to be so utterly inapplicable to the actual situation that I  rode to the rear to where General Thomas's headquarters were supposed to be, and there found that he had gone back to his house in Nashville, to which place I followed him. He appeared surprised at my suggestion that we would find Hood in line of battle ready to receive us in the morning, or even ready to strike our exposed right flank before we could renew the attack, instead of in full retreat, as he had assumed. I told him I knew Hood much better than he did, and I was sure he would not retreat. Finally, after considerable discussion I obtained a modification of the order so far as to direct the cavalry to remain where it was until Hood's action should be known, and an order for some of A. J. Smith's troops to support the right if necessary. But no orders whatever were given, to my knowledge, looking to a battle the next day—at least none for my troops or the cavalry. The next morning revealed the enemy in his new position, his left remaining where it was the night before, in my immediate front, but the rest of his line far back from the ground on which the other portions of Thomas's army had passed the night. Some time was of course required for the other corps to come up and get in contact with the enemy, and the whole forenoon was passed by me in impatient anxiety and fruitless efforts to get from General Thomas some orders or authority that would enable us all to act together—that is, the cavalry and the two infantry corps on the right. At length the cavalry, without orders from General Thomas, had worked well round on the enemy's left so as to threaten his rear; I had ordered Cox, commanding my right division, to advance his right in conjunction with the movement of the cavalry, and at the proper time to attack the left of the enemy's intrenchments covering the Granny White pike, and that movement had commenced; while, having been informed by General Darius  N. Couch, commanding my left division, that one of Smith's divisions was about to assault, I had ordered Couch to support that division, which movement had also commenced. Then General Thomas arrived near our right, where I stood watching these movements. This, about four o'clock P. M., was the first time I had seen or heard from General Thomas during that day. He gave no order, nor was there time to give any. The troops were already in motion, and we had hardly exchanged the usual salutations when shouts to our left announced that McArthur's division of Smith's corps had already carried the enemy's work in its front, and our whole line advanced and swept all before it. In my judgment, General Thomas gave a little less than full credit to McArthur's division, and considerably more than full justice to the other troops, in his description of that assault, which was distinctly seen by him and by me. The resistance along the whole left and center of Hood's line cannot be said to have been strong or obstinate. Our total losses were comparatively insignificant; and whatever may have been the appearance to the troops under fire, to a cool observer out of the smoke the enemy's fire seemed no more than that of an ordinary skirmish. But with the exception of the comparatively feeble resistance of the enemy, that splendid assault of McArthur's division, as I saw it, was very accurately described by its gallant commander in his official report, and also in that of General A. J. Smith. The fact is that Hood's left wing had been much weakened to strengthen his right, which had been heavily pressed a short time before, as fully described by General Thomas, and his army was already substantially beaten. Its spirit seemed to be gone. What little fight was left in it after November 30 had been greatly diminished on December 15. Hood, almost alone of that army, was  not whipped until the 16th. He, the responsible leader of a desperate cause, could not yield as long as there was a ray of hope. Under any ordinary circumstances a commander even of the most moderate capacity must have admitted his campaign a failure the morning after Franklin. It would be absurd to compare the fighting of Hood's troops at Nashville, especially on the second day, with the magnificent assaults at Atlanta and Franklin. My own appreciation of the result was expressed in the following despatch:
It now appears to be fully established by the records that Hood's infantry force in the battle of Nashville was very far inferior to that of Thomas, and he had sent a large part of his cavalry, with some infantry, away to Murfreesboroa. This disparity must have been perfectly well known to Hood, though not to Thomas. Hence it would seem that Hood must have known that it was utterly  impossible for his army to resist the assaults which he must expect on December 16. Since all this has become known, it is impossible not to see now that the comparatively feeble resistance offered by the Confederate troops at Nashville was due not so much, perhaps, to any lack of valor on the part of those troops, as to their comparatively small numbers. I recall distinctly the conversation I had with a Confederate field-officer a few minutes after he was captured that day, and which I reported to General Thomas that evening. In answer to my question as to when the Confederate troops recognized the fact that they were beaten, he answered, ‘Not till you routed us just now.’ I did not believe him then, for I thought they must have recognized their defeat at Franklin, or at least on the 15th, at Nashville. But now I think he probably told me the exact truth. I doubt if any soldiers in the world ever needed so much cumulative evidence to convince them that they were beaten. ‘Brave boys were they!’ If they had been fighting in a cause that commanded the sympathy and support of the public conscience of the world, they could never have been beaten; it is not necessary to search for any other cause of the failure of the Confederate States. The most notable feature, on our side, of the battle of December 16 was the wasting of nearly the entire day, so that operations ended with the successful assault at dark. What was left of Hood's army had time to retreat across the Harpeth during the night and destroy the bridges before the pursuit could be commenced. But the results of the two days operations at Nashville were too gratifying to admit of contemporaneous criticism. The battle has been generally accepted as a perfect exemplification of the art of war. It is certainly a good subject for the study of military students, and it is partly for their benefit that I have pointed out some of its prominent defects as I understand them. Its commendable  features are sufficiently evident; but in studying the actions that have resulted in victory, we are apt to overlook the errors without which the victory might have been far more complete, or even to mistake those errors for real causes of success. The pursuit from Nashville was necessarily an imperfect one from the start, simply because the successful assault having been made at the close of day, the broken enemy had time to get across the Harpeth and destroy the bridges before morning. The singular blunder by which General Thomas's pontoon-train was sent toward Murfreesboroa instead of Franklin added somewhat to the delay, but probably did not essentially change the result. The state of all the roads except the one turnpike, the soft condition of the fields everywhere, the bad weather,— rain, sleet, and ice,—made the movements of troops which were necessary to an effective pursuit extremely difficult, and often impossible. The energy and determination of General Thomas and of all who could take any active part in that pursuit were probably never surpassed in military history, but the difficulties to be overcome were often insurmountable. Under the conditions at that season of the year and in that state of weather, the only possible chance of reaping fruits commensurate with the brilliant victory at Nashville and with the great preparations which had been made for pursuit was to make the final assault at Nashville early enough in the day to leave time before dark to prevent the enemy from crossing the Harpeth and destroying the bridges. If Hood had retreated in the night of December 15, as Thomas presumed he would, the result would doubtless have been even less serious to the enemy; for he would not have suffered at Nashville the great losses and demoralization which occurred to him on the 16th, and would have been in better condition to make an effective  retreat, and even better able to cross the Harpeth in the night and destroy the bridges. But this would have been difficult, if not impossible, to prevent on the 15th, on account of the great extent and nature of the movements necessarily required to open the battle on that day. I now recall very distinctly the desire manifested by General Thomas that those initial operations might, if possible, be expedited. As we sat together on horseback just in rear of Wood's right and of Smith's left, on ground overlooking nearly the entire field, the general would frequently reach for my glasses, which he had occasionally used before and said were the only field-glasses he had ever found of much use to him, and try to peer through the misty atmosphere far over the woods and fields where his infantry and cavalry were advancing against the enemy's left. After thus looking long and earnestly, he would return the glasses to me, with what seemed to be a sign of irritation or impatience, for he uttered very few words in that long time, until late in the afternoon, when, after using my field-glasses for the last time, he said to me, with the energy which battle alone could arouse in his strong nature: ‘Smith has not reached far enough to the right. Put in your troops!’ Occasionally, when a shell struck and exploded near where we were, causing his horse to make a slight start, and only a slight one,—for the nature of the horse was much the same as that of the rider,—the only change visible in the face or form of that stout-hearted soldier was a slight motion of the bridle-hand to check the horse. My own beautiful gray charger, ‘Frank Blair,’ though naturally more nervous than the other, had become by that time hardly less fearless. But I doubt if my great senior ever noticed that day what effect the explosion of a shell produced on either the gray horse or his rider. He had on his shoulders the responsibilities  of a great battle, while I then had better than ever before opportunity to study the character of my chief. A wiser commander than Hood might very probably have saved his army from that terrible and useless sacrifice of December 16. But that last and bravest champion of a desperate cause in the west appears to have decided to remain and invite the total destruction of his army. The position which the Confederates occupied in the morning of the 16th was so close to that of more than half of the Union troops that Hood's left could easily have been crushed by an infantry assault and his rear reached by Thomas's cavalry before noon, and nothing less than a miracle could have prevented the capture of Hood's army. It is worthy of note as instructive comparisons that on November 30 Hood advanced from Spring Hill to Franklin and made his famous assault in just about the same length of time that it took our troops to advance from the first to the second position at Nashville and make the assault of December 16; and that the Fourth and Twenty-third corps on November 29 and 30 fought two battles—Spring Hill and Franklin—and marched forty miles, from Duck River to Nashville, in thirty-six hours. Time is an element in military problems the value of which cannot be too highly estimated, yet how seldom has it been duly appreciated! The remnant of Hood's army having made its escape across the Tennessee River, the pursuit terminated, and General Thomas issued his remarkable General Orders, No. 169, announcing that ‘the rear-guard of the flying and dispirited enemy was driven across the Tennessee River. . .’3 Orders were then issued by General Thomas distributing his army along the Tennessee River in winter quarters, and he commenced planning a campaign for the  ensuing spring, the general features of which he telegraphed me, asking my opinion. His proposition seemed to show so different an appreciation from my own of the actual state of the war and of the demands of the country upon its army at that momentous crisis, and views so different from mine in respect to the strategic principles that should govern future operations, that I wrote to General Grant and General Sherman, giving them briefly my views upon the subject, and requesting an order to join them on the Atlantic coast, to aid in terminating the rebellion. My letter to General Grant was promptly followed by a telegram to General Thomas directing him to send me east with the Twenty-third Corps, which enabled me to participate in the closing campaign of the war. The following are the letters, above referred to, to Grant and Sherman, whose appreciation of the views therein expressed is sufficiently shown by the published history of subsequent operations, and the orders sent to Thomas by General Grant and the War Department during that time:
On my passage through Washington in January, 1865, Mr. Stanton, the Secretary of War, confirmed the view I had taken of the situation, and gave reasons for it before unknown to me, by telling me it was regarded by the administration as an absolute financial necessity that the war be ended in the campaign then about to begin. It is, perhaps, not strange that General Thomas had not thought of this; but it does seem remarkable that he should have proposed to let a broken and dispirited enemy have several months in which to recuperate before annoying him any further. The expectation and instructions of General Grant and General Sherman were that General Thomas should, as soon as he was ready to take the offensive, pursue Hood into the Gulf States. General Thomas appears to have forgotten that part of his instructions. As soon as he had driven Hood across the river, he proposed to go into winter quarters, and ‘hold the line of the Tennessee’ till some time the next spring. If General Sherman  had confided to General Thomas, as he did to General Grant, his ulterior purpose to march from Savannah toward Richmond, for which reason he wanted Hood kept out of his way, Thomas would have perceived the necessity of pressing the pursuit of Hood into the Gulf States. But if Thomas supposed, as he might naturally have done, that Sherman had only shifted his base with a view to further operations in Georgia and the Gulf States, under the plan of the last autumn, with which Thomas was perfectly familiar, he may well have seen no necessity for his pressing the pursuit beyond the Tennessee River in midwinter. Some of our military operations in the Civil War remind me of the spirit of ‘fair play’ shown by our old doctors in the West in the days of malarial fever. When the poison had fully developed its power, and threatened the destruction of its victim, the good doctor would come in and attack the enemy with heroic doses of quinine. In a few days medical science would prevail. Then the fair-minded physician would retire, and give the worsted malaria a chance to recuperate and ‘come to time’ for another attack; and so on indefinitely until either the man or the malaria—often the man—finally got ‘knocked out.’ It was not until after much study and some practice of the art of war that I conceived for myself the idea of giving the enemy of my youth, which still clung to me, no chance to recover after I once got him down. He has never got the better of me since. Had Thomas's plan been carried out, he would have been ready, with a fine army splendidly equipped and supplied, to start from the Tennessee River to invade the Gulf States, as had been done the year before, just about the time the plans actually adopted resulted in the surrender of all the Confederate armies. In Thomas's mind war seems to have become the normal condition of the country. He had apparently as yet no thought of its  termination. The campaign from the Tennessee River as a base had then become, like the ‘autumn maneuvers’ of a European army, a regular operation to be commenced at the proper time every year. In his general order of December 29, he said the enemy, ‘unless he is mad, must forever relinquish all hope of bringing Tennessee again within the lines of the accursed rebellion’; but the possible termination of that rebellion appeared to be a contingency too remote to be taken into account in planning future military operations.