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[370] Smith's troops were enabled to cross. The weather had changed from dismal rain to bitter cold, very materially retarding the work in laying the bridge, as the regiment of colored troops, to whom the duty was entrusted, seemed unmanned by the cold and totally unequal to the occasion. On the completion of the bridge at Rutherford's creek, sufficient material for a bridge over Duck river was hastily pushed forward to that point, and the bridge constructed in time enough to enable Wood to cross late in the afternoon of the twenty-second, and get into position on the Pulaski road, about two miles south of Columbia. The water in the river fell rapidly during the construction of the bridge, necessitating frequent alterations and causing much delay. The enemy in his hasty retreat had thrown into the stream several fine pieces of artillery which were rapidly becoming uncovered and were subsequently removed.

Notwithstanding the many delays to which the command had been subjected, I determined to continue the pursuit of Hood's shattered forces, and for this purpose decided to use General Wilson's cavalry and General Wood's corps of infantry, directing the infantry to move on the pike while the cavalry marched on its either flank across the fields; the remainder of the command, Smith's and Schofield's corps, to move along more leisurely, and to be used as the occasion demanded.

Forrest and his cavalry, and such other detachments as had been sent off from his main army while besieging Nashville, had rejoined Hood at Columbia. He had formed a powerful rear guard, made up of detachments from all his organized force, numbering about four thousand infantry under General Walthall, and all his available cavalry under Forrest. With the exception of his rear guard, his army had become a disheartened and disorganized rabble of half-armed and barefooted men, who sought every opportunity to fall out by the wayside and desert their cause, to put an end to their sufferings. The rear guard, however, was undaunted and firm, and did its work bravely to the last.

During the twenty-third General Wilson was occupied crossing his command over Duck river, but took the advance on the twenty-fourth, supported by General Wood, and came up with the enemy just south of Lynnville, and also at Buford's station, at both of which places the enemy made a short stand, but was speedily dislodged, with a loss in killed, wounded, and prisoners. Our advance was so rapid as to prevent the destruction of the bridges over Richland creek. Christmas morning, the twenty-fifth, the enemy, with our cavalry at his heels, evacuated Pulaski and was pursued toward Lamb's Ferry, over an almost impracticable road, and through a country devoid of sustenance for man or beast. During the afternoon Harrison's brigade found the enemy strongly intrenched at the head of a heavily-wooded and deep ravine, through which ran the road, and into which Colonel Harrison drove the enemy's skirmishers, and then waited for the remainder of the cavalry to close up before attacking; but before this could be accomplished, the enemy, with something of his former boldness, sallied from his breastworks and drove back Harrison's skirmishers, capturing and carrying off one gun belonging to battery I, Fourth United States artillery, which was not recovered by us, notwithstanding the ground lost was almost immediately regained. By nightfall the enemy was driven from his position, with a loss of about fifty prisoners. The cavalry had moved so rapidly as to out-distance its trains, and both men and animals were suffering greatly in consequence, although they continued uncomplainingly to pursue the enemy. General Wood's corps kept well closed up on the cavalry, camping on the night of December twenty-five six miles out from Pulaski, on the Lamb's Ferry road, and pursuing the same route as the cavalry, reached Lexington, Alabama, thirty miles from Pulaski, on the twenty-eighth; on which date, having definitely ascertained that the enemy had made good his escape across the Tennessee at Bainbridge, I directed further pursuit to cease. At Pulaski the enemy's hospital, containing about two hundred patients fell into our hands, and four guns were found in Richliand creek. About a mile south of the the town he destroyed twenty wagons loaded with ammunition, belonging to Cheatham's corps, taking the animals belonging to his trains to help pull his pontoons. The road from Pulaski to Bainbridge, and indeed back to Nashville, was strewn with abandoned wagons, limbers, small arms, blankets, &c., showing most conclusively the disorder of the enemy's retreat.

During the foregoing operations with the advance, Smith's and Schofield's troops were in motion toward the front, General Smith's command reaching Pulaski on the twenty-seventh, while General Schofield was directed to remain at Columbia for the time being.

On our arrival at Franklin, on the eighteenth, I gave directions to General Steedman to move with his command across the country from that point to Murfreesboro, on the Chattanooga railroad, whence he was to proceed by rail to Decatur, Alabama, via Stevenson, being joined at Stevenson by Brigadier-General R. S. Granger, and the troops composing the garrisons of Huntsville, Athens, and Decatur. Taking general direction of the whole force, his instructions were to reoccupy the points in Northern Alabama evacuated at the period of Hood's advance, then cross the Tennessee with the balance of his force and threaten the enemy's railroad communications west of Florence.

General Steedman reoccupied Decatur on the twenty-seventh, and proceeded to carry out the second portion of his instructions, finding, however, that the enemy had already made good his escape to the south side of the Tennessee, and any movement on his railroad would be useless.

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