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The Union cavalry in the Hood campaign.

by James Harrison Wilson, Major-General, U. S. V., and Brevet Major-General, U. S. A.

Bridge over the Cumberland at Nashville

Until after Sheridan's victory of the Opequon, September 19, 1864, I had led the Third Cavalry Division. Toward the close of October, 1864, I reported to Sherman at Gaylesville, Alabama, at which place the latter had suspended his northward pursuit of Hood, and after a full and interesting conference I was announced, on October 24th, as chief-of-cavalry, and placed in absolute command of all the mounted forces of the three armies, only a small proportion of which were actually with the colors for duty. This force was by the same order detached entirely from the control of the army commanders and designated as the Cavalry Corps of the Military Division of the Mississippi. General Sherman, after issuing all the necessary instructions and unfolding his plans for the operations of the army, and especially of this new corps, generously added: “Do the best you can with it, and if you make any reputation out of it I shall not undertake to divide it with you.” Thus the paper organization had its origin; but inasmuch as most of the force was dismounted and detachments of it were scattered from east Tennessee to south-western Missouri, much the greater part of the real work of reorganization had yet to be done.

By special orders Kilpatrick's division of something over five thousand men, and a full complement of horses taken from other divisions and brigades, was detached from the corps and marched down to the sea with Sherman, while the nuclei of the six other divisions into which the corps was divided, commanded then or afterward by Generals E. M. McCook, Eli Long, Emory Upton, Edward Hatch, R. W. Johnson, and Joseph F. Knipe, in the order named, took part in the campaign against Hood and in the final overthrow of the rebellion. Meanwhile the work went on of collecting, remounting, and reequipping these troops and disposing them so as to cover the operations of the Federal infantry and to develop the plans and movements of Hood.

On the 30th of October, 1864, Hood's army crossed the Tennessee on its northward march, three miles below Bainbridge, and this circumstance was promptly detected by General Croxton, commanding the First Brigade of McCook's division, lately remounted at Louisville, and was reported at once to General Thomas, who had just taken post at Nashville. Without waiting for orders Croxton then made haste to collect his brigade and lead it against the enemy; but as he could not muster over a thousand troopers for duty, he failed to check the rebel advance and was soon forced to take up a position of observation behind Shoal Creek, where he was joined on the 5th of November by General Hatch, with the Fifth Division, which had but recently come from west Tennessee. A few days later these united forces, under Hatch, with not over 3000 men in the saddle, took the offensive, recrossed Shoal Creek, and drove the rebel cavalry sharply back upon the infantry at Florence, capturing a part of the unfinished field-works at that place. By great activity and vigilance, General Hatch discovered every movement of the enemy and promptly and correctly reported every indication of his intentions to Stanley, Schofield, or Thomas, or to me. After becoming convinced that Hood would soon advance, Hatch employed his force in felling trees in the roads and obstructing the fords so as to delay his march as much as possible.

I arrived at Nashville on the 6th of November, and by the aid of a large staff, mostly from the regular army, pressed forward the preparations of the corps for the campaign which it was now evident that the resolute Hood was about to begin for the capture of Nashville and the possession of middle Tennessee. The Federal forces in that region, infantry as well as cavalry, were widely scattered. They were the remnants of three armies, and although the supreme command had been conferred on Thomas, a host in himself, aided by such able lieutenants as Generals Stanley, Schofield, Steedman, Cox, and Thomas J. Wood, and finally by A. J. Smith, it was by no means certain that their forces could be welded into an efficient army in time to check the onset of Hood's fleet-footed and fiercely aggressive veterans.

On the 19th of November the enemy was reported by the cavalry pickets as marching north in force on the west side of Shoal Creek, and this was confirmed without delay by a cavalry reconnoissance in force, which resulted in the capture of the headquarters trains belonging to Chalmers's and Buford's divisions, and in a severe engagement with those commands. Constant marching, accompanied by heavy fighting and many skirmishes, followed. The Federal cavalry, under the immediate direction of Hatch, who showed great coolness and steadiness, slowly fell back through Lexington, Lawreneeburg, Pulaski, and Lynnville to Columbia, where all its detachments then in that theater of operations were for the first time collected under my command. Having as far as possible completed my arrangements at Nashville, I had taken the field in person a few days before. At this juncture Hatch's division had been reduced to 2500 men and horses for duty, Croxton's brigade to about 1000, and Capron's to 800--in all only 4300 men.

After the concentration of the National forces in the strongly fortified camp at Columbia, where Schofield had paused to give the army a breathing-spell [466] and to insure the safety of its materiel, the cavalry withdrew to the north side of Duck River, and was so disposed as to watch the enemy's movements either to the right or the left. It was here strengthened by the arrival of several regiments from the remount camp at Louisville, and notwithstanding the terrible work and waste of the campaign that followed, it grew stronger and stronger till after the battle of Nashville.

At noon of November 28th the pickets of Croxton's and Capron's brigades gave notice of the appearance of the Confederate cavalry at the various fords of the Duck River between Columbia and the crossing of the Lewisburg turnpike. Shortly afterward the pickets were driven in, and at 2:10 P. M., on the same day, I notified General Schofield of the enemy's determined advance and that I should therefore concentrate the cavalry that night on the Lewisburg turnpike near Rally Hill, so as to prevent the enemy from occupying that highway and marching rapidly to Franklin, at the crossing of the Harpeth River, and also at the junction of the Lewisburg and the Columbia turnpikes. I assumed, as a matter of course, that Schofield would fall back on the last-mentioned turnpike, and that this arrangement would force the enemy to advance slowly and with caution, by either of these roads, or still move slowly by the dirt road, from Huey's Mills to Spring Hill. By 7 P. M. the entire cavalry, after much skirmishing and rapid marching, was concentrated at Hurt's Cross-roads, near Rally Hill, and by midnight it had become certain that Forrest's entire command, followed by the infantry of Hood's army, were crossing at Huey's Mills, and would probably move at early dawn toward Spring Hill. Accordingly, at 1 A. M. of that night, I sent a dispatch by courier to General Schofield informing him of these facts, and suggesting that he should reach Spring Hill, only twelve miles away, with the infantry of his army, by 10 A. M., because Hood's advance-guard would probably get there by noon. This dispatch was received at daylight on the 29th, and thereupon Stanley, with one division, was ordered to march at once to that place, while the remainder of the army held on at Columbia, and in its vicinity, till the next night. Meanwhile Hood had marched in the direction and by the road indicated in my dispatch, but fortunately he was met by the gallant and capable Stanley already in position covering Spring Hill and held at bay till Schofield, under cover of darkness, was enabled to rescue his imperiled command and make good his retreat into the fortified camp at Franklin. Forrest followed me along the Lewisburg turnpike, as had also been foreseen, but, thanks to the steadiness of the imperturbable Croxton (who declined all assistance from Hatch, and coolly declared that he needed nobody's help to cover a retreat, if the rest of the corps would only get out of the way and give him a clear road), the Confederate cavalry commander not only gained no advantage but was foiled in all his efforts to overthrow the rear-guard, or to strike the retreating column in flank.

The battle of Franklin occurred the next day, and, as is well known, resulted in a signal victory for the National arms, and also in irreparable loss of men and officers to Hood's gallant army. On the Union side the heroes were Stanley and Cox and Opdycke. Their prompt action neutralized the faults of others, and wrested victory from the intrepid Cleburne and his no less intrepid companions.

One important circumstance connected with this battle has been persistently dwarfed or neglected altogether by historians. Simultaneously with Hood's infantry assault, his cavalry under Chalmers advanced to the attack, driving back Croxton and his pickets from the Lewisburg turnpike to the north side of the Harpeth River, where Hatch, Johnson, and Harrison's troopers had been disposed so as to cover and watch the fords and protect the left and rear of Schofield's army. Realizing the importance of holding this position, as soon as the rebel cavalrymen had made their appearance on the north side of the river, which properly formed the real line of defense for the Union army, I ordered Hatch and Croxton to attack with vigor, and drive the enemy into the river if possible, while Harrison with Capron's old brigades would look well to the left and rear. The field was broken by hills, covered with woods and small clearings, not specially unfavorable to mounted men; but the occasion was a grave one. It indicated either the advance of Hood's whole army, as at Duck River, or a turning movement by his cavalry; and in either case, from the fact that the National infantry and artillery were still on the south side of the river, it was absolutely necessary for their safety that my orders should be carried out to the letter. My subordinate commanders dismounted every man that could be spared, and went in with a rush that was irresistible. The fight was at first somewhat desultory, but toward the middle of the afternoon it became exceedingly sharp. The enemy's troopers fought with their accustomed gallantry, but the Union cavalrymen, outnumbering their antagonists for the first time and skillfully directed, swept everything before them. So closely did they press the enemy that they drove them into the water wherever they reached it. No time was allowed them to find the fords, and no rest was given them till the last man was driven to the south side of the river. Upon this occasion Hood made a fatal mistake, for it will be observed that he had detached Forrest with two divisions of his corps on a side operation, which left him only Chalmers's division to cooperate as described with the main attack of his infantry. Had his whole cavalry force advanced against me it is possible that it would have succeeded in driving us back.

Immediately after the close of the cavalry battle, and when it was certain that there was no further attack to be expected that night, I rode to General Schofield's headquarters, which I found in the square redoubt on the north side of the river. It was then dark and the arrangements for the withdrawal of the army to Nashville had been completed. Schofield and Stanley, the latter severely wounded, were together discussing the [467] events of the day. After I had made my report Schofield thanked me for my services, and added: “Your success is most important; it insures the safety of this army, for, notwithstanding our great victory to-day over Hood, we should not have been able to withdraw from Franklin, or to maintain ourselves there, but for the defeat and repulse of Forrest's cavalry, which was evidently aiming to turn our left flank and throw itself upon our line of retreat.” He then gave me orders to hold the position till daylight the next morning, after which I should withdraw, covering the rear and flanks of the infantry as it marched toward Nashville. This duty was successfully performed with but little skirmishing. The infantry had already occupied the fortifications at Nashville, and, there being no room for the cavalry immediately behind them, late on the evening of December 2d it crossed the Cumberland and went into camp at Edgefield.

For forty days my force had been constantly engaged in marching and fighting or in watching the enemy, and therefore it was in great need of rest. It had lost heavily, especially in horses. Many troopers had been dismounted, and many more were coming from furlough or detached service without horses or equipments; hence it was necessary to make the most extraordinary efforts to obtain remounts and otherwise to fit the corps for the field.

General Thomas now resolved to take a few days for repairing the losses and perfecting the organization of his hastily improvised army, especially the cavalry, upon which so much depended. He frankly made his plans and views known to the War Department and to the general-in-chief, but without receiving their proper sympathy and support. [See p. 454.] General Grant issued positive orders to march out and attack Hood in his intrenched position without further delay. In spite, however, of the doubts at first, and of the urgent orders afterward, Thomas stood fast behind his intrenchments. I sent out through Tennessee and Kentucky to impress horses, which the Secretary of War had cheerfully and promptly authorized me to do at the first intimation of a necessity for such an extreme measure. The cavalry officers did their duty well and rapidly, sparing no man's horses provided they were fit for cavalry service. Governor Johnson, then vice-president elect, no less than the farmers, the street-car companies, and the circuses, was called upon to give up his horses, and did so without a murmur. It was a busy time for the division, brigade, and regimental commanders as well as for the cavalry corps staff. Every man and officer did his best. A. J. Alexander, chief-of-staff; E. B. Beaumont, the adjutant-general; L. M. Hosea, the mustering officer; E. B. Carling, the quartermaster; J. C. Read, the commissary of subsistence; Bowman, Green, and H. E. Noyes, the inspectors; J. N. Andrews, W. W. Van Antwerp, G. H. Kneeland, Webster, and Pool, the aides-de-camp,--all officers of rare experience and intelligence,--threw themselves into the work and kept it up night and day till it was completed. Clothing was drawn for the men, the horses were shod, extra shoes were fitted, and every horse in the corrals or hospitals fit for service, or that could be found in the country, cities, towns, and villages, was taken and issued to the troopers, who were now flocking in from all quarters. In just seven days the effective force of the corps was reported to General Thomas at 12,000 men, mounted, armed, and equipped, besides about 3000 for whom it was impossible to find remounts, but who were organized as infantry. They were all present for the impending struggle, except the brigades of La Grange and Watkins, which had been sent to drive a raiding party under Lyon and Crossland out of Kentucky.

At a meeting of the corps commanders, called by General Thomas the night of the 10th, the feasibility of carrying out General Grant's urgent orders to fight was fully considered. The plan of battle, which had already been outlined by General Thomas, involved a grand turning movement by the cavalry, and the active cooperation of that arm with the infantry at every stage of the engagement. I fully understood this, when, as the junior officer present, I was asked to speak first. I gave it as my decided opinion that it was folly to jeopard the chances of success by moving in such a storm and over the ground covered, as it then was, by a continuous glare of ice. I added that if the movement were delayed till the thaw, which in that climate might be expected soon, had set in, success was certain, and, in conclusion, declared that if I were occupying such an intrenched line as Hood's, with my dismounted cavalrymen, each armed with nothing more formidable than a basket of brickbats, I would agree to defeat the whole Confederate army if it should advance to the attack under such circumstances. At this remark the assembled officers, including Thomas, broke into a smile, where-upon the veteran Thomas J. Wood, commanding the Fourth Corps, a much older and more experienced cavalryman of the regular army than I, expressed his hearty concurrence. This was also entirely in accord with Thomas's own opinion, and, inasmuch as no one in that meeting expressed a different one or made a different suggestion, the meeting was dismissed with the information that no movement would be made for the time being. I was asked to remain after the others had gone, and it was upon that occasion that General Thomas, after repeating the orders he had received and the reply he had made to them before he had consulted his officers, added, with a depth of feeling and emotion which he did not attempt to conceal: “Wilson, they [:meaning General Grant and the War Department] treat me as though I were a boy and incapable of planning a campaign or fighting a battle. If they will let me alone I will fight this battle just as soon as it can be done, and will surely win it; but I will not throw the victory away nor sacrifice the brave men of this army by moving till the thaw begins. I will surrender my command without a murmur, if they wish it; but I will not act against my judgment when I know I am right, and in such a grave emergency.”

Fortunately for him and for the country the thaw set in on the night of the 13th, and had so [468] far progressed that the action was begun on the morning of the 15th, just as he had planned it. The story of what followed has been told and retold many times, and never better than by Colonel Stone [see p. 456], but even he has failed, for want of space, to set forth the decisive part performed by the cavalry corps in the great events which followed.

The official reports reveal how it was arranged on the night of the 14th that the cavalry, which had recrossed to the south side of the river and encamped in the suburbs of the city, behind the right wing of the infantry, should sally from the fortified line against the Confederate left as soon as it was light enough to see, and how A. J. Smith's veterans of the Sixteenth Corps should move to their position in line of battle by the rear of the cavalry rather than across its front, so as not to delay it, but failed to carry out the arrangement, and thereby delayed the beginning of the battle an hour and a half longer than the time of delay due to the fog which prevailed in the early morning.1 Fortunately, however, this did not derange the plan of operations, though it cut an hour and a half off the period of daylight in which to press the advantages of the first day, and the pursuit after Hood's lines were broken and put to flight on the evening of the second day.

Most historians of the Rebellion have followed the official reports of the great battle which ensued, but these reports were written too soon afterward, especially that of General Thomas, to give a strictly accurate account of the various movements, and of the results produced by them, or to consider properly the delay caused by the fog, and by Smith's movement. They have also fallen into error in giving McArthur's gallant infantry credit for entering the Confederate works on the first day, simultaneously with or ahead of the dismounted cavalry, while the fact is that the infantry joined in the charge against the works because they saw Hatch's men on their right advancing gallantly and successfully to the assault. The conduct of the infantry on that occasion was all that could be desired; it did not hold back for orders, but led by the intrepid McArthur it sprang gallantly to the attack, and did its best to overtake and outstrip the dismounted cavalrymen, as they swept up the steep hillsides and over the enemy's works, after having broken through and driven back his attenuated left wing. The race for victory which followed between rival arms of the service was an unusual scene in that or any other army. Up to that time the cavalry in the West had been reserved for independent operations, and had rarely been seen assaulting fortified positions. Such work had been, by common consent, left for the infantry; but now, under the influence of organization and discipline, the cavalry, with their Spencer repeating rifles, felt themselves equal to any task. And so well did they perform the one before them that McArthur and his gallant men, in the heat and exultation of the moment, were loud in their praises of the dismounted cavalrymen, and generously awarded them the trophies of victory, together with the honor of being first to enter the works.

It is impossible within the limits of a single chapter to give any adequate account of the gallant deeds of Hatch, Croxton, Hammond, Johnson, Knipe, Coon, Stewart, Spalding, and their nameless but invincible followers upon that glorious day. Using the horses, which they had called for so lustily, for the purpose of moving the fighting force of the corps with celerity, but without fatigue, across the hills and plowed fields, now softened by thawing weather, to the vital points in the enemy's line, they were everywhere successful. Neither artillery nor musketry, nothing but darkness, could stay their onward progress, and after their first onset they looked upon fortifications and breastworks, abatis and entanglements, as new incitements to victory. Night found the bulk of their force a united and compact mass, bivouacked in the left and rear of the enemy's position, six miles from Nashville, and facing that city, with a firm grip on the Harding and Hillsborough turnpikes, and ready to press on toward the Granny White turnpike and the enemy's left center and rear at dawn the next day. They had captured sixteen field-guns from behind breastworks and redoubts and had taken many flags and prisoners.

Early on the 16th the cavalry resumed its operations in accordance with General Thomas's original plan; Hatch continuing to press the enemy's extreme left and rear, Hammond moving farther to the right, and Croxton in position to support either, as might be required, while Johnson was sweeping in the same direction from the Charlotte turnpike on a wider circle. The country was still more hilly and densely covered with timber, and the enemy's line more compact and better able than the day before to resist attack from any quarter. As a consequence it was again necessary for the National cavalry to dismount and fight on foot, and its progress was correspondingly slow, except in Hammond's front. Indeed, Hood, discerning at an early hour that his principal danger lay in the direction of the cavalry attack, made extra exertions to hold it in check, and so stubbornly did his men bar the way that it seemed for a while impossible to advance farther. The exact dispositions made by Hood were concealed by the thick woods and undergrowth of the Brentwood Hills, and it was surmised that his new position might be found to be impregnable. To meet this contingency I suggested to General Thomas, about 10 A. M., that it might be well to transfer the whole or a part of the cavalry corps to the left, to see what effect it could produce upon the enemy's right flank. General Thomas agreed to the proposition, should another determined push from the various positions then occupied by the cavalry not be followed by satisfactory results. Fortunately, however, while this suggestion was being considered, the dismounted men, urged on by their gallant officers, continued their pressure, and by noon had driven the skirmishers close in upon Hood's main line, and had formed a continuous line [469] from the right of Schofield's corps to and beyond the Granny White turnpike, which passed north and south through Hood's left center. Thus it will be seen that Hood's entire left wing was enveloped front and rear, and would be obliged to give way whenever it was vigorously and simultaneously assailed from opposite sides. Riding close up to the front, and perceiving the advantageous position which my men had gained, I sent my staff-officers, one after another, to Generals Schofield and Thomas with information of the success, accompanied by suggestions that the infantry should attack with vigor. It was during this stage of the battle that a most important dispatch from. Hood to Chalmers (Forrest was still absent) was captured and brought to me, and forwarded by me at once to General Thomas. This dispatch seems to have been lost after the battle; at all events it has disappeared, but its character impressed it upon the memory of all who saw it. It ran, in substance, as follows: “For God's sake drive the Yankee cavalry from our left and rear, or all is lost.” I found Thomas with Schofield in rear of the right of the line, and explained to them the situation, which was fortunately made entirely clear to them by the sight of the dismounted cavalrymen in full view, skirmishing heavily with the Confederate left, and also by the fire of a section of horse artillery, which had been dragged up the steep hillsides to a commanding position in rear of the Confederate works, and was pouring a heavy fire into them. Occasionally a shot would pass over the heads of the enemy and fall into our own lines. Seeing all this Thomas turned to Schofield and indicated that the time had come for the infantry to advance.

This was between half-past 3 and four o'clock. Schofield ordered his men forward at once, and as they charged the Confederate lines in front Hatch's dismounted cavalrymen entered them from the rear. Pressed on all sides, and perceiving that further resistance was futile if not impossible, the Confederates broke and fled in confusion from the field, leaving nearly all their artillery and many prisoners to fall into our hands. The cavalrymen had, however, become separated from their horses by an unusual distance, and, although the latter were hurried forward as rapidly as possible, and Croxton, who was most available, was ordered to mount and push without delay through Brentwood, to be followed by Hatch and Hammond as soon as they could mount, it had become so dark before they were well under way in pursuit that the men could scarcely see their horses' ears. It was a rainy and disagreeable night, but nevertheless Hatch, Knipe, Croxton, Hammond, Coon, and Spalding dashed forward, each vying with the other for the advance, and each doing his best to reach the Franklin turnpike that night so as to drive the now thoroughly disorganized

Major-General James H. Wilson. From a photograph.

enemy from his last line of retreat. Orders were also sent to Johnson to move rapidly by the Hillsborough turnpike, and after crossing the Harpeth to turn up its south bank and fall upon the enemy at or near Franklin. Every one obeyed orders with alacrity, but darkness and distance were against them. Hatch's column had not gone more than two miles when its advance under Colonel Spalding encountered Chalmers's cavalry strongly posted across the road behind a fence-rail barricade. They charged it at once, and a spirited hand-to-hand melee ensued, in which many men were killed and wounded on each side. Colonel Spalding had the honor of capturing Brigadier-General Rucker, in a personal encounter, in which each had seized and wrested the other's saber from him, and used it against its owner. It was a scene of pandemonium, in which every challenge was answered by a saber stroke or pistol shot, and the flash of the carbine was the only light by which the combatants could recognize each other's position. The gallant Confederates were driven in turn from every fresh position taken up by them, and the running fight was kept up till nearly midnight. Chalmers had, however, done the work cut out for him gallantly and well. He was overborne and driven back, it is true, but the delay which he forced upon the Federal cavalry by the stand he had made was sufficient to enable the fleeing Confederate infantry to sweep by the danger-point that night, to improvise a rear-guard, and to make good their retreat the next day.

During the hurrying night ride down the Granny [470] White turnpike I was overtaken by General Thomas after it was so dark that men could recognize each other only by their voices. Thomas, riding up on my right, exclaimed in a tone of exultation never to be forgotten: “Didn't I tell you we could lick'em? didn't I tell you we could lick'em, if they would only let us alone?” (referring of course to the Washington authorities). After a few words of congratulation he turned about and leisurely rode back into camp.

The pursuit was resumed at the earliest dawn next morning and was kept up throughout the day, with a succession of sharp engagements, in which the Union cavalry was always victorious.

Late in the evening, apparently exhausted with rapid marching, the enemy took up a strong position in the open fields about a mile north of the West Harpeth River. It was then so dark from fog and approaching night that the men of Hatch's division, who had become somewhat intermingled with the sullen and taciturn Confederate stragglers, began to doubt that the ranks which were now looming up in their front were really those of the enemy's rear-guard. The momentary hesitation caused by this doubt gave Forrest an opportunity to straighten his lines and to post his single remaining battery in position so as to sweep the turnpike. Hatch on the left and Knipe on the right were at once ordered to charge the enemy's flanks, while the Fourth regular cavalry, under Lieutenant Hedges, was directed straight against his center. Seeing what was about to burst upon him, the battery commander opened with canister at short range, but had hardly emptied his guns before the storm broke upon him as well as upon the entire rebel line. Forrest did his best to hold his ground, but it was impossible. Hedges rode headlong over the battery and captured a part of his guns, while Hatch's horsemen, under a counter-fire from their own guns, with irresistible fury swept everything before them. Before the fight was over night closed in and covered the field with a pall of impenetrable darkness. The scene, like that of the night before, was one of great confusion, but every musket-flash and every defiant shout was a guide to the gallant and unrelenting pursuers. Hammond, passing around the enemy's left, forded the West Harpeth, and with the Tenth Indiana Cavalry, Lieutenant-Colonel Ben. Gresham commanding, struck a new line, formed a short distance south of the river, and in a desperate hand-to-hand fight, mounted men against footmen, saber and pistol against stout hearts and clubbed muskets, with the pall of darkness still over all, again scattered the enemy, capturing their remaining guns, and spreading confusion and terror throughout the retreating mass of now completely disorganized Confederates. It was 10 o'clock before the National cavalry ceased the pursuit, and an hour later before order could be restored to its ranks. Men and horses were ravenously hungry and almost worn out with three days of continuous marching and fighting, and there was nothing left them but to bivouac on the field. At early dawn the next morning, the 19th, the cavalry corps, although entirely out of rations, resumed the pursuit, Hatch and Knipe pressing close upon the enemy's rear-guard, which had again been formed and was now commanded by Forrest in person, while Croxton and Johnson endeavored to reach around it and strike the retreating Confederates at Spring Hill. The densely wooded hills, the muddy roads, the plowed fields, rendered almost impassable by the constant rains, and, above all, the now rapidly rising streams made it impossible for the flanking columns traveling through the open country to overtake the enemy and again bring him to action. Late in the afternoon, in a violent winter rain-storm, the advanced guard was halted at Rutherford Creek, a considerable stream, now full to the hills on either side. The enemy had succeeded in destroying the bridges. The country had been entirely denuded of supplies for both men and horses; the haversacks and forage-bags were empty, and there was no alternative but to wait for the supply trains which had been ordered forward, and which joined late in the night. But during the night the rain turned into a snow-storm, and by order of General Thomas the larger part of the cavalry corps remained in bivouac the next day, while Hatch was trying to repair the railroad bridge.

The pontoon-train was also behind, and did not arrive till the next day. Meanwhile the pioneers of the cavalry were not idle. Those of Hatch's division, by dint of hard work, soon made the railroad bridge passable for skirmishers, and by the morning of the 20th had built a floating bridge out of the debris of another railroad bridge. This enabled him to cross the creek with his whole command, but a few miles beyond he was again stopped by the Duck River, which was also at flood. The delay of the pursuit at Rutherford Creek was short, but it gave the enemy a breathing-spell, which was of great value to him. It enabled him to get safely across the last considerable river between him and the Tennessee, to destroy the bridges which he had maintained at Columbia for the purpose of keeping communication open with the South, and, what was of still greater importance, to form all of his infantry that had not thrown their arms away into an effective rear-guard of eight brigades, each about five hundred strong. The Duck River proved impassable for the National cavalry till the single pontoon-train of the army could be brought forward, and this, owing to the condition of the roads and a mistake which had started it in the wrong direction, involved a further delay of twenty-four hours.

However, the bridge was completed by the evening of the 23d, and that night the whole corps, except the dismounted men who had been sent back to Nashville, crossed to the south side of the river, and early next morning resumed the pursuit. Hood's reorganized rear-guard, under the redoubtable Forrest, was soon encountered by the cavalry advanced guard, and he was a leader not to be attacked by a handful of men, however bold. The few remaining teams and the rabble of the army had been hurried on toward the Tennessee, marching to Pulaski by turnpike and thence to Bainbridge by the dirt roads of the country. The rear-guard had thus a clear road, and when hard [471] pressed could fall back rapidly. The open country to the right and left of the turnpike was much broken, heavily wooded, and almost impassable, while the turnpike itself, threading the valleys, depressions, and gorges, offered many advantageous positions for defense; hence with a few men the pursuing force could be made to develop a front almost anywhere, and hence its progress was at times comparatively slow. But, withal, the enemy was closely pressed and every opportunity was seized upon to bring him to bay. In the vicinity of Lynnville, the country being somewhat more open, he was driven back rapidly, and at Buford's station, while General Hatch was engaging him upon the turnpike, General Croxton struck him in the flank, captured one flag and a number of prisoners, wounded General Abram Buford, and drove his cavalry rapidly beyond Richland Creek.

Just before sundown on Christmas day Forrest, in a fit of desperation, made a stand on a heavily wooded ridge at the head of a ravine, and by a rapid and savage counter-thrust drove back the skirmishers of Thomas Harrison's brigade, capturing one gun, which he succeeded in carrying away, as the sole trophy of that desperate campaign. This was the last flicker of aggressive temper shown by any part of Hood's beaten and demoralized army. Hammond, Hatch, and Croxton hastened to the front, and falling upon the flanks of the gallant Confederates drove them from the field into the cover and safety of darkness.

From that time till the Tennessee River was reached Forrest made a frequent show of resistance, each of which ended with nothing more serious than an insignificant skirmish. The weather had become worse and worse; it was cold and freezing during the nights, and followed by days of rain, snow, and thaw. The country, which was poor and thinly settled at best, had been absolutely stripped of forage and provisions by the march of contending armies. The men of both forces suffered dreadfully, but the poor cavalry horses fared still worse than their riders. Scarcely a withered corn-blade could be found for them, and thousands, exhausted by overwork, famished with hunger, or crippled so that death was a mercy, with hoofs dropping off from frost and mud, fell by the roadside never to rise again. By the time the corps found rest on the Tennessee River it could muster scarcely 7000 horses fit for service.

The failure of the light-draught gun-boats on the Tennessee River to reach and destroy the pontoon-bridge which Hood had kept in position insured his safe retreat. The cavalry advanced guard, under the active and enterprising Spalding, reached the north bank of the river just as the bridge had been swung to the south side and the last of the rebels were disappearing in the distance. Another part of the cavalry corps under General W. J. Palmer sallied out from Decatur with General Steedman and finally overtook the remnant of Hood's army, destroyed his pontoon-train, with all of his remaining wagons, and captured several hundred prisoners.

The report of the provost-marshal shows that, during the operations beginning at Nashville on the 15th, and ending at the Tennessee River 175 miles south, on the 28th of December, the cavalry corps captured 32 field-guns, 11 caissons, 12 colors, 3332 prisoners, including one general officer, one train of 80 pontoons, and 125 wagons, and compelled the enemy besides to abandon or destroy a large number of wagons. Its own losses were one field-gun, 122 officers and men killed, 521 wounded, and 259 missing.

It may be fairly claimed that the organization of the cavalry corps of the Military Division of the Mississippi, during the progress of an active campaign, and in the presence of an invading army, the increase of that part of its force left in Tennessee from 4500 to 12,000 mounted men, the increase of its effective horses by impressment, the successes it gained in battle, and the persistency with which it pursued the flying enemy, are without a parallel in the history of this or any other war. It may also be fairly claimed that there was no success gained over the enemy's left wing on either the first or second day of the battle of Nashville which was not primarily and directly due to the operations of the cavalry, and this is particularly true of the final assault which broke the enemy's lines and sent his army to the rear in confusion.

It has been said in criticism of General Thomas, whose reputation as a great general as well as a winner of battles is more firmly founded upon his defeat of Hood at Nashville than upon any other event in his glorious career, that he made a mistake in waiting to rest and especially to remount his cavalry. The same writer also cites the fact that the cavalry fought mostly on foot as full justification for this remarkable criticism. It is sufficiently answered by the statement that the horses were used upon that occasion, as in all modern wars where cavalry has appeared, mainly for the transportation of the fighting men, and not to fight themselves, and by the further and conclusive fact that Hood's army was effectually destroyed by the defeat at Nashville and the subsequent pursuit.2

1 See General Wilson's report, “Report of the Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War,” Supplement, Part I., pp. 409-422.--J. H. W.

2 When Hood reached Tupelo his whole army numbered about 21,000. Forrest took his cavalry to Mississippi, and the infantry brigades of Gibson, Holtzclaw, Ector, Cockrell, and Sears, with some batteries of artillery, went to General Maury, at Mobile. Of the remainder, perhaps five thousand joined General Johnston in North Carolina the next spring. General Hood ( “Advance and retreat,” p. 510) says that nine thousand left the ranks between Tupelo and North Carolina.--editors.

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