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Chapter 16:

General Beauregard's approval of a forward movement into Tennessee was soon made known to the Army. The prospect of again entering that State created great enthusiasm, and from the different encampments arose at intervals that genuine Confederate shout so familiar to every Southern soldier, and which then betokened an improved state of feeling among the troops.

With twenty days rations in the haversacks and wagons, we marched, on the 22d of October, upon all the roads leading from Gadsden in the direction of Guntersville, on the Tennessee river, and bivouacked that night in the vicinity of Bennetsville.

I here received information that General Forrest was near Jackson, Tennessee, and could not reach the middle portion of this State, as the river was too high. It would, therefore, be impossible for him to join me, if I crossed at Guntersville; as it was regarded as essential that the whole of Wheeler's cavalry remain in Georgia, I decided to deflect westward, effect a junction with Forrest, and then cross the river at Florence. General Beauregard sent orders to him to join me without delay; also dispatched a messenger to hasten forward supplies to Tuscumbia. [271]

The succeeding day, the movement was continued toward Florence, in lieu of Guntersville as I had expected. Lieutenant General Lee's Corps reached the Tennessee, near Florence, on the 30th; Johnson's Division crossed the river, and took possession of that town. My headquarters were during the 27th and 28th at the house of General Garth, near Decatur, where also stopped General Beauregard. While the Army turned Decatur, I ordered a slight demonstration to be made against the town till our forces passed safely beyond, when I moved toward Tuscumbia, at which place I arrived on the 31st of October. Johnson's Division, which held possession of Florence, was reinforced the same day by Clayton's Division.

Thus the Confederate Army rested upon the banks of the Tennessee one month after its departure from Palmetto. It had been almost continuously in motion during this interim; it had by rapid moves and manoeuvres, and with only a small loss, drawn Sherman as far north as he stood in the early Spring. The killed and wounded at Allatoona had been replaced by absentees who returned to ranks, and, as usual in such operations, the number of desertions became of no consequence. In addition to the official returns, my authority for the last assertion is Judge Cofer, of Kentucky, who was provost marshal of the Army at this period, and is at present one of the district judges of his State. About two years ago, in Louisville, he informed me that he had been impressed by the small number of desertions reported to him during the campaigns to the rear of Sherman, and into Tennessee.

Notwithstanding my request as early as the 9th of October that the railroad to Decatur be repaired, nothing had been done on the 1st of November towards the accomplishment of this important object, as the following dispatch from the super-intendent of the road will show:

I fear you have greatly over-estimated the capacity and condition of this railroad to transport the supplies for General Hood's Army. [272]

Most of the bridges between here and Okolona were destroyed and recently only patched up to pass a few trains of supplies for General Forrest, and are liable to be swept away by freshets which we may soon expect. The cross-ties are so much decayed that three trains ran off yesterday, and the track will be still worse in rainy weather.

I have called upon General Taylor for additional labor, and will use every effort to forward the supplies, but deem it due to you to advise you of the true condition of the road.


L. J. Fleming, Chief Engineer and General Superintendent M. & O. R. R.

I had expected upon my arrival at Tuscumbia to find additional supplies, and to cross the river at once. Unfortunately, I was constrained to await repairs upon the railroad before a sufficient amount of supplies could be received to sustain the Army till it was able to reach Middle Tennessee.

General Beauregard remained two weeks at Tuscumbia and in its vicinity, during which interval the inaugurated campaign was discussed anew at great length. General Sherman was still in the neighborhood of Rome, and the question arose as to whether we should take trains and return to Georgia to oppose his movements south or endeavor to execute the projected operations into Tennessee and Kentucky. I adhered to the conviction I had held at Lafayette and Gadsden, and a second time desired General Beauregard to consult the corps commanders, together with other officers, in regard to the effect a return to Georgia would produce upon the Army. I also urged the consideration that Thomas would immediately overrun Alabama, if we marched to confront Sherman. I had fixedly determined, unless withheld by Beauregard or the authorities at Richmond, to proceed, as soon as supplies were received, to the execution of the plan submitted at Gadsden.

On the 6th of November, I sent the following dispatch to the President:

[no. 37.]

headquarters Tuscumbia, November 6th.
his Excellency, President Davis, Richmond.
General Wheeler reports from Blue Mountain that Sherman is moving one corps to Tennessee, and three to Marietta. I hope to march for [273] Middle Tennessee by the eighth or ninth (8th or 9th) inst. Should he move two or three corps south from Atlanta, I think it would be the best thing that could happen for our general good. General Beauregard agrees with me as to my plan of operation. Would like to be informed if any forces are sent from Grant or Sheridan, to Nashville.

J. B. Hood, General.

At this juncture, I was advised of the President's opposition to the campaign into Tennessee previous to a defeat of Sherman in battle, as is clearly indicated by his reply:

Richmond, November 7th, I864. Via Meridian.
General J. B. Hood.
No troops can have been sent by Grant or Sheridan to Nashville. The latter has attempted to reinforce the former, but Early's movements prevented it. That fact will assure you as to their condition and purposes. The policy of taking advantage of the reported division of his forces, where he cannot re-unite his Army, is too obvious to have been overlooked by you. I therefore take it for granted that you have not been-able to avail yourself of that advantage, during his march northward from Atlanta. Hope the opportunity will be offered before he is extensively recruited. If you keep his communications destroyed, he will most probably seek to concentrate for an attack on you. But if, as reported to you, he has sent a large part of his force southward, you may first beat him in detail, and, subsequently, without serious obstruction or danger to the country in your rear, advance to the Ohio river.

The President, as indicated, was evidently under the impression that the Army should have been equal to battle by the time it had reached the Alabama line, and was averse to my going into Tennessee.1 He was not, as General Beauregard and myself, acquainted with its true condition. Therefore, a high regard for his views notwithstanding, I continued firm in the belief that the only means to checkmate Sherman, and co-operate with General Lee to save the Confederacy, lay in speedy success in Tennessee and Kentucky, and in my ability finally to attack Grant in rear with my entire force. [274]

On the 9th, I telegraphed to the Secretary of War:

[no. 38.]

headquarters Tuscumbia, November 9th.
Hon. J. A. Seddon, Richmond, Va.
Information received places Sherman's Army as follows: One corps at Atlanta, two corps at or near Marietta; and three at or north of Chattanooga. Heavy rains will delay the operations of this Army a few days.

J. B. Hood, General.

Although every possible effort was made to expedite the repairs upon the railroad, the work progressed slowly. Heavy rains in that section of the country also interfered with the completion of the road.

I informed General Beauregard of the President's opposition to my plan, and, on the 12th, replied to His Excellency, as follows:

[no. 39.]

headquarters near Florence, Alabama, November 12th, 1864.
his Excellency, the President, Richmond, Virginia.
Your telegram of the 7th received to-day. When I moved out from Atlanta, he (Sherman) came with five corps, and kept them united until I moved from Gadsden to this point, entrenching himself wherever he halted. It was only after I reached this point that he divided his force. After my descent upon the railroad and upon Dalton, I did not regard this Army in proper condition for a pitched battle. It is now in excellent spirits, and confident. Before leaving Gadsden, I urged on General Beauregard to send General Forrest across the Tennessee river. This he ordered; and I intended, when leaving Gadsden, to cross the river at or near Gunter's Landing. Finding, however, when I reached that vicinity, that Forrest had not crossed, I could not, without his co-operation, pass the river there, as I required Wheeler to look after my right flank. Forrest has not yet crossed over, but is moving upon this side of the river, and will join me here.

This circumstance, high water, and the fact that I had to draw supplies from and through a department not under my command-involving delay in their reaching me — have retarded my operations. As soon as Forrest joins me, which will be in a few days, I shall be able to move forward. Without the assistance of Forrest, I cannot secure my wagon trains when across the river. You may rely upon my striking the enemy whenever a suitable opportunity presents itself, and that I will spare no effort to make that opportunity.

J. B. Hood, General.


On the 13th, I established my headquarters in Florence, upon the north branch of the Tennessee, and the following day General Forrest, with his command, reported for duty. On the 15th, the remainder of Lee's Corps crossed the river, and bivouacked in advance of Florence. Stewart's and Cheatham's Corps were instructed also to cross the same day. Upon this date, I received the following from General Beauregard:

Headquarters Military Division of the West, Tuscumbia, Alabama, November 15th, 1864.
General:--As you seemed on yesterday to have misunderstood my verbal communication of the 13th inst., through my chief of staff, I deem it of sufficient importance to communicate in writing, what I had instructed him to say relative to the movement of the Army of Tennessee. I instructed him to tell you that in consequence of the information received the night previous, to-wit, the apparent confirmation of the concentration of the bulk of Sherman's Army in Middle Tennessee (at Pulaski, Huntsville, and Decatur), the arrival of Canty and part of his forces at Memphis, and the condition of Cobb's and Smith's forces at Lovejoy's Station, I desired to confer further with you before you commenced the projected movement into Middle Tennessee, now partly in process of execution; that is, Lee's Corps already in advance of Florence, and Stewart's and Cheatham's Corps under orders to cross the river.

My purpose was to call again your attention as I did yesterday:

1st. To the necessity of guarding well your left flank, and rear, in advancing towards Lawrenceburg and Pulaski, against a sudden offensive movement of the enemy from Huntsville or Athens, across the Elk river.

2d. To securing against the passage of the enemy's gunboats another point (about Savannah or Clifton) besides Florence for the Army to recross the Tennessee, in the event of disaster.

3d. To giving still greater protection to Corinth, and the M. and O. R. R. to that point.

I was aware that these points had already been discussed between us, but my anxiety for the safety of the troops under your command, made it incumbent on me to call again your attention to these important matters.

I wish also to inform you that the third point mentioned may require greater time than was at first supposed necessary. All orders for completing the defences of Corinth, repairing and prosecuting vigorously the work on the M. and C. R. R. to this place, and for repairing the [276] M. and O. R. R. from Okolona to Bethel, have been given, and are being carried out as rapidly as the limited means of the engineer and quarter master's departments will permit. It is at present reported that the railroads referred to will be completed in from fifteen to twenty days; but it is not unreasonable to suppose that the prevailing unfavorable weather will delay the work one or two weeks longer.

General Taylor and myself will always be anxious to aid you in your present campaign, with all the means at our control; but, these being limited, ample previous notice of what may be required, should be given to enable us to make all necessary preparations.

It will also give me pleasure to confer on you such powers as you may deem necessary to secure your communications, repair roads, and hasten supplies to your Army, whilst operating in the department of General Taylor.

Respectfully, your obedient servant,

About the time all necessary preparations verged to a completion, and I anticipated to move forward once more, heavy rains again delayed our supplies, as will be shown by the subjoined communication from Colonel Brent:

Headquarters Military Division of the West, Tuscumbia, Alabama, November 17th, 1864.
General:--General Beauregard instructs me to say that a bridge about three miles from Tuscumbia on road to Cherokee, is now being constructed, and that, for want of workmen, it cannot be completed in less than five or six days, and at this point the road is almost impassable. There are also other points on the road which will become impassable, should the rain continue. He thinks it important that a proper force should be sent to complete the improvements as early as possible.

Respectfully, your obedient servant,

George W. Brent, Colonel and A. A. G.

In compliance with this request, working parties were at once detailed, and sent to different points on the railroad; wagons were also dispatched to aid in the transportation of supplies. The officer in charge was instructed to require the men to labor unceasingly toward the accomplishment of this important object. [277]

On the 17th, General Beauregard issued the following order previous to his departure for Montgomery, Alabama:

Headquarters Military Division of the West, Tuscumbia, Alabama, November 17th, 1864.
General:--General Beauregard desires me to say that he desires you will take the offensive at the earliest practicable moment, striking the enemy whilst thus dispersed, and by this means distract Sherman's advance into Georgia.

To relieve you from any embarrassment whilst operating in North Alabama and Middle Tennessee, he authorizes you to issue all such orders, in General Taylor's Department, you may deem necessary to secure the efficient and successful administration and operation of your Army — sending General Taylor copies of all orders.

He wishes you to send forthwith to Major General Wheeler one brigade of cavalry of Jackson's Division, and the balance of that Division as soon as it can be spared, should Sherman advance into Georgia; and also to advise General Wheeler that in such case Clanton's brigade is subject to his orders.

The headquarters of this military division will be removed, in the morning, from this place to Montgomery, Alabama.

I am, General, respectfully, your obedient servant,

George W. Brent, Colonel and A. A. G. General J. B. Hood, Commanding Army of Tennessee.

The ensuing day, I replied:

[no. 537.]

Florence, Alabama, November 18th, 1864.
I will send two batteries from the Army to Corinth. General Forrest thinks his force of cavalry entirely insufficient without Jackson's Division.

J. B. Hood, General.

The working parties on the railroad having succeeded in pushing forward the supplies, I also telegraphed to him, on the I9th, that I would resume the line of march at the earliest practicable moment.

Information had, in the meantime, reached me that Sherman was advancing south, from Atlanta. He marched out of that fated city on the 16th, and thus describes his going forth: 2 [278]

About 7 a. m., of November 16th, we rode out of Atlanta by the Decatur road, filled by the marching troops and wagons of the Fourteenth Corps; and reaching the hill, just outside of the old rebel works, we naturally paused to look back upon the scenes of our past battles. We stood upon the very ground whereon was fought the bloody battle of July 22d, and could see the copse of wood where McPherson fell. Behind us lay Atlanta, smouldering and in ruins, the black smoke rising high in air, and hanging like a pall over the ruined city.

Thus were two opposing Armies destined to move in opposite directions, each hoping to achieve glorious results.

I well knew the delay at Tuscumbia would accrue to the advantage of Sherman, as he would thereby be allowed time to repair his railroad, and at least start to the rear all surplus material. I believed, however, I could still get between Thomas's forces and Nashville, and rout them; furthermore, effect such manceuvres as to insure to our troops an easy victory. These convictions counterbalanced my regret that Sherman was permitted to traverse Georgia “unopposed,” as he himself admits.

General Beauregard had moved in the direction of Georgia to assemble all available forces to oppose Sherman's advance. At the time I made my official report, I was furnished a copy of his letter to President Davis, stating in full the reasons which had induced him to approve my campaign, and enumerating the difficulties, at this crisis, to be encountered in a movement southward to Georgia. This letter is dated the 6th of December, but I insert it at this point, since it treats of events under consideration, and which occurred just prior to the advance into Tennessee:

Augusta, Georgia, December 6th, 1864.
to his Excellency, Jefferson Davis, President Confederate States.
Sir:--Your letter of the 30th ult., acknowledging the receipt of my telegram of the 24th November, was received by me on the road from Macon to this place.

With the limited reliable means at our command, I believe that all that could be, has been done, under existing circumstances to oppose the advance of Sherman's forces towards the Atlantic coast. That we have not thus far been more successful, none can regret more than [279] myself; but he will doubtless be prevented from capturing Augusta, Charleston, and Savannah, and he may yet be made to experience serious loss before reaching the coast.

On the i6th of November, when about leaving Tuscumbia, Alabama, on a tour of inspection to Corinth, Mississippi, I was informed by General Hood of the report just received by him, that Sherman would probably move from Atlanta into Georgia. I instructed him at once to repeat his orders to General Wheeler to watch closely Sherman's movements, and, should he move as reported, to attack and harass him at all favorable points.

I telegraphed to Lieutenant General Taylor at Selma, Alabama, to call on Governor Watts, of Alabama, and Governor Clarke, of Mississippi, for all the State troops that they could furnish; and with all the available moveable forces of his department, to keep himself in readiness to move at a moment's notice, to the assistance of Major General Howell Cobb and Major General G. W. Smith, who were then at or about Griffin, Georgia, threatening Atlanta.

I also telegraphed to General Cobb to call upon Governor Brown, of Georgia, and Governor Bonham, of South Carolina, for all the State troops that could be collected.

I made all necessary preparations to repair forthwith to Georgia, in the event of Sherman's executing his reported movement.

On my arrival at Corinth, on the 18th of November, having been informed that Sherman had commenced his movement, I issued all necessary orders to meet the emergency, including an order to General Hood to send one division of cavalry (Jackson's) to reinforce Wheeler; but this order was suspended by him, his objection being that his cavalry could not be reduced without endangering the success of his campaign in Tennessee, and that General Wheeler had already thirteen brigades under his command. I finally instructed him to send only one brigade. if he contemplated taking the offensive at once, as had already been decided upon. I then left Corinth for Macon, where I arrived on the 24th of November.

I did not countermand the campaign in Tennessee to pursue Sherman with Hood's Army for the following reasons:

1st. The roads and creeks from the Tennessee to the Coosa river across Sand and Lookout Mountains had been, by the prevailing heavy rains, rendered almost impassable to artillery and wagon trains.

2d. General Sherman, with an Army better appointed, had already the start about two hundred and seventy-five miles on comparatively good roads. The transfer of Hood's Army into Georgia could not have been more expeditious by railway than by marching through the country, on account of the delays unavoidably resulting from the condition of the railroads. [280]

3d. To pursue Sherman, the passage of the Army of Tennessee would, necessarily, have been over roads with all the bridges destroyed, and through a devastated country, affording no subsistence or forage; and, moreover, it was feared that a retrograde movement on our part would seriously deplete the Army by desertions.

4th. To have sent off the most or the whole of the Army of Tennessee in pursuit of Sherman, would have opened to Thomas's force the richest portion of the State of Alabama, and would have made nearly certain the capture of Montgomery, Selma, and Mobile, without insuring the defeat of Sherman.

5th. In October last, when passing through Georgia to assume command of the Military Division of the West, I was Governor Brown that he could probably raise, in case of necessity, about six thousand (6000) men, which I supposed might be doubled in a levy “en masse.”

General Cobb informed me, at the same time, that atAugusta, Macon, and Columbus, he had about six thousand five hundred (6500) local troops, and that he hoped shortly to have collected at his reserve and convalescent camps, near Macon, twenty-five hundred (2500) men. Of these nine thousand (9000) men, he supposed about one-half, or five thousand (5000), could be made available as moveable troops for an emergency.

To oppose the advance of the enemy from Atlanta, the State of Georgia would thus have probably nineteen thousand (19,000) men, to which number must be added the thirteen brigades of Wheeler's cavalry, amounting to about seven thousand (7000) men. The troops which would have been collected from Savannah, South Carolina, and North Carolina, before Sherman's forces could reach the Atlantic coast, would have amounted, it was supposed, to about five thousand (5000) men.

Thus it was a reasonable supposition that about twenty-nine or thirty thousand (29,000 or 30,000) men could be collected in time to defend the State of Georgia, and insure the destruction of Sherman's Army, estimated by me at about thirty-six thousand (36,000) effectives of all armstheir cavalry, about four thousand (4000), being included in the estimate.

Under these circumstances, after consultation with General Hood, I concluded to allow him to prosecute with vigor his campaign into Tennessee and Kentucky, hoping that by defeating Thomas's Army and such other forces as might hastily be sent against him, he would compel Sherman, should he reach the coast of Georgia or South Carolina, to repair at once to the defence of Kentucky and, perhaps, Ohio, and thus prevent him from reinforcing Grant. Meanwhile, supplies might be sent to Virginia from Middle and East Tennessee, thus relieving Georgia from the present constant drain upon its limited resources.

I remain very respectfully, your obedient servant.


The writer of the above letter greatly over-estimated the number of troops which he hoped to collect for the defence of Georgia. He published a stirring appeal to the people of the State to rally and drive back the enemy, but he was not successful in obtaining even one-half the number of men he anticipated, and a great portion of those who responded to his call were irregular troops. The Honorable B. H. Hill, in an eloquent address, also urged the people to action, but, as I have already stated, the country at this period was well nigh drained of all its resources.

General Beauregard, as previously mentioned, left me on the I7th of November. On the 19th, the preliminaries to the campaign being completed, the cavalry was ordered to move forward. The succeeding day, Lee's Corps marched to the front a distance of about ten miles on the Chisholm road, between the Lawrenceburg and Waynesboroa roads.

The same day, I received the following dispatch from General Beauregard:

West Point, November 20th, 10 a. m.
General J. B. Hood.
Push on active offensive immediately. Colonel Brent informs me first order for movement of one of Jackson's brigades to Wheeler has been suspended by you. It is indispensable it should be sent by best and quickest route to Newnan to cut off communications of enemy with Kingston, and to protect (here in cipher, of which I have not the key). I have appealed to the people of Georgia to defend their homes.

On the 20th of November, Stewart's Corps having crossed the Tennessee and bivouacked several miles beyond on the Lawrenceburg road, orders were issued that the entire Army move at an early hour the next morning. Lee's and Stewart's Corps marched upon the Chisholm and the Lawrenceburg roads, and Cheatham's Corps upon the Waynesboroa road.

Early dawn of the 21st found the Army in motion. I hoped by a rapid march to get in rear of Schofield's forces, then at Pulaski, before they were able to reach Duck river. That [282] night headquarters were established at Rawhide, twelve miles north of Florence, on the Waynesboroa road.

The march was resumed on the 22d, and continued till the 27th, upon which date the troops, having taken advantage of every available road, reached Columbia, via Mount Pleasant. Forrest operated in our front against the enemy's cavalry which he easily drove from one position to another.

The Federals at Pulaski became alarmed, and, by forced marches day and night, reached Columbia, upon Duck river, just in time to prevent our troops from cutting them off. Van Home, in his History of the Army of the Cumberland, thus mentions their narrow escape: 3

General Hood's rapid advance had been made with the hope of cutting off General Schofield from Columbia, and barely failed in this object, as the National troops gained the place by a night march.

The enemy having formed line of battle around Columbia, Lee's Corps filed into position with its right upon the Mount Pleasant pike; Stewart's formed on Lee's right, his own right flank extending to the Pulaski pike; and Cheatham established his left on the latter pike, with his right resting on Duck river. Army headquarters were established at the residence of Mrs. Warfield, about three miles south of Columbia.

The two Armies lay opposite each other during the 27th. The Federals being entrenched, I determined not to attack them in their breastworks, if I could possibly avoid it, but to permit them to cross undisturbed to the north bank of Duck river that night, as I supposed they would do; to hasten preparations, and endeavor to place the main body of the Confederate Army at Spring Hill, twelve miles directly in the enemy's rear, and about mid-way upon the only pike leading to Franklin; to attack as the Federals retreated, and put to rout and capture, if possible, their Army which was the sole obstacle between our forces and Nashville — in truth, the only barrier to the success of the campaign. [283]

I was confident that after Schofield had crossed the river and placed that obstruction between our respective Armies, he would feel in security, and would remain in his position at least a sufficient length of time to allow me to throw pontoons across the river about three miles above his left flank, and,by a bold and rapid march together with heavy demonstrations in his front, gain his rear before he was fully apprised of my object.

The situation presented an occasion for one of those interesting and beautiful moves upon the chess-board of war, to perform which I had often desired an opportunity. As stated in a letter to General Longstreet, I urgently appealed for authority to turn the Federal left at Round Top Mountain. I had beheld with admiration the noble deeds and grand results achieved by the immortal Jackson in similar manceuvres; I had seen his Corps made equal to ten times its number by a sudden attack on the enemy's rear, and I hoped in this instance to be able to profit by the teaching of my illustrious countryman. As I apprehended unnecessary and fatal delay might be occasioned by the appearance of the enemy on the line of march to the rear, I decided to bridge the river that night, and move at dawn the next morning with Cheatham's Corps — whose right was then resting near the point selected for a crossing — together with Stewart's Corps and Johnston's Division, of Lee's Corps, and to leave Lieutenant General Lee with Stevenson's and Clayton's Divisions and the bulk of the artillery, to demonstrate heavily against Schofield, and follow him if he retired.

Since I had attempted this same movement on the 22d of July, and had been unable to secure its success, I resolved to go in person at the head of the advance brigade, and lead the Army to Spring Hill.

Colonel Prestman and his assistants laid the pontoons during the night of the 28th, about three miles above Columbia; orders to move at dawn the following day having been issued to the two corps and the division above mentioned, I rode with my staff to Cheatham's right, passed over the bridge soon [284] after daybreak, and moved forward at the head of Granberry's Texas brigade, of Cleburne's Division, with instructions that the remaining corps and divisions follow, and at the same time keep well closed up during the march.

General Forrest had crossed the evening previous and moved to the front and right. I threw forward a few skirmishers who advanced at as rapid a pace as I supposed the troops could possibly proceed.

During the march, the Federal cavalry appeared on the hills to our left; not a moment, however, was lost on that account, as the Army was marching by the right flank and was prepared to face at any instant in their direction. No attention, therefore, was paid to the enemy, save to throw out a few sharp-shooters in his front. I well knew that to stop and lose time in reconnoitering would defeat my object, which was to reach the enemy's rear and cut him off from Nashville.

I also knew that Schofield was occupied in his front, since I could distinctly hear the roar of Lee's artillery at Columbia, whilst a feint was made to cross the river.

Thus I led the main body of the Army to within about two miles and in full view of the pike from Columbia to Spring Hill and Franklin. I here halted about 3 p. m., and requested General Cheatham, commanding the leading corps, and Major General Cleburne to advance to the spot where, sitting upon my horse, I had in sight the enemy's wagons and men passing at double-quick along the Franklin pike. As these officers approached, I spoke to Cheatham in the following words which I quote almost verbatim, as they have remained indelibly engraved upon my memory ever since that fatal day: “General, do you see the enemy there, retreating rapidly to escape us?” He answered in the affirmative. “Go,” I continued, “with your Corps, take possession of and hold that pike at or near Spring Hill. Accept whatever comes, and turn all those wagons over to our side of the house.” Then addressing Cleburne, I said, “General, you have heard the orders just given. You have one of my best divisions. Go with General Cheatham, [285] assist him in every way you can, and do as he directs.” Again, as a parting injunction to them, I added, “Go and do this at once. Stewart is near at hand, and I will have him double-quick his men to the front.”

They immediately sent staff officers to hurry the men forward, and moved off with their troops at a quick pace in the direction of the enemy. I dispatched several of my staff to the rear, with orders to Stewart and Johnson to make all possible haste. Meantime I rode to one side, and looked on at Cleburne's Division, followed by the remainder of Cheatham's Corps, as it marched by seemingly ready for battle.

Within about one-half hour from the time Cheatham left me, skirmishing began with the enemy, when I rode forward to a point nearer the pike, and again sent a staff officer to Stewart and Johnson to push forward. At the same time, I dispatched a messenger to General Cheatham to lose no time in gaining possession of the pike at Spring Hill. It was reported back that he was about to do so.

Listening attentively to the fire of the skirmishers in that direction, I discovered there was no continued roar of musketry, and being aware of the quick approach of darkness, after four o'clock at that season of the year, I became somewhat uneasy, and again ordered an officer to go to General Cheatham, inform him that his supports were very near at hand, that he must attack at once, if he had not already so done, and take and hold possession of the pike. Shortly afterwards, I entrusted another officer with the same message, and, if my memory is not treacherous, finally requested the Governor of Tennessee, Isham G. Harris, to hasten forward and impress upon Cheatham the importance of action without delay. I knew no large force of the enemy could be at Spring Hill, as couriers reported Schofield's main body still in front of Lee, at Columbia, up to a late hour in the day. I thought it probable that Cheatham had taken possession of Spring Hill without encountering material opposition, or had formed line across the pike, north of the town, and entrenched [286] without coming in serious contact with the enemy, which would account for the little musketry heard in his direction. However, to ascertain the truth, I sent an officer to ask Cheatham if he held the pike, and to inform him of the arrival of Stewart, whose Corps I intended to throw on his left, in order to assail the Federals in flank that evening or the next morning, as they approached and formed to attack Cheatham. At this juncture, the last messenger returned with the report that the road had not been taken possession of. General Stewart was then ordered to proceed to the right of Cheatham and place his Corps across the pike, north of Spring Hill.

By this hour, however, twilight was upon us, when General Cheatham rode up in person. I at once directed Stewart to halt, and, turning to Cheatham, I exclaimed with deep emotion, as I felt the golden opportunity fast slipping from me, “General, why in the name of God have you not attacked the enemy, and taken possession of that pike?” He replied that the line looked a little too long for him, and that Stewart should first form on his right. I could hardly believe it possible that this brave old soldier, who had given proof of such courage and ability upon so many hard-fought fields, would even make such a report. After leading him within full view of the enemy, and pointing out to him the Federals, retreating in great haste and confusion, along the pike, and then giving explicit orders to attack, I would as soon have expected midday to turn into darkness as for him to have disobeyed my orders. I then asked General Cheatham whether or not Stewart's Corps, if formed on the right, would extend across the pike. He answered in the affirmative. Guides were at once furnished to point out Cheatham's right to General Stewart, who was ordered to form thereon, with his right extending across the pike. Darkness, however, which was increased by large shade trees in that vicinity, soon closed upon us, and Stewart's Corps, after much annoyance, went into bivouac for the night, near but not across the pike, at about eleven or twelve o'clock. [287]

It was reported to me after this hour that the enemy was marching along the road, almost under the light of the campfires of the main body of the Army. I sent anew to General Cheatham to know if at least a line of skirmishers could not be advanced, in order to throw the Federals in confusion, to delay their march, and allow us a chance to attack in the morning. Nothing was done. The Federals, with immense wagon trains, were permitted to march by us the remainder of the night, within gunshot of our lines. I could not suceeed in arousing the troops to action, when one good division would have sufficed to do the work. One good division, I re-assert, could have routed that portion of the enemy which was at Spring Hill; have taken possession of and formed line across the road; and thus have made it an easy matter to Stewart's Corps, Johnston's Division, and Lee's two Divisions from Columbia, to have enveloped, routed, and captured Schofield's Army that afternoon and the ensuing day. General Forrest gallantly opposed the enemy further down to our right to the full extent of his power; beyond this effort, nothing whatever was done, although never was a grander opportunity offered to utterly rout and destroy the Federal Army.

Had I dreamed one moment that Cheatham would have failed to give battle, or at least to take position across the pike and force the enemy to assault him, I would have ridden, myself, to the front, and led the troops into action. Although it is right and proper that a Commander-in-Chief, in the event of disaster to a portion of his line during an engagement, should endeavor in person to rally the troops, it is not expected nor considered expedient that he should inaugurate a battle by leading a division or brigade. Had I done so, my opponents would have just cause for the charge of recklessness. I would, nevertheless, have risked my life in this instance, had I conceived the possibility of the disregard of my orders, on the part of this officer. General Lee was in a measure thwarted by the same want of prompt action, at Gettysburg. Whilst I failed utterly to bring on battle at Spring Hill, he was unable [288] to get the corps of his Army to attack and co-operate, as desired. He was thus checkmated for two days, and finally lost the battle. Had our immortal Chieftain foreseen the result of this inactivity, he would, doubtless, have ordered and acted differently.

Before proceeding further, I will produce additional evidence from Federal sources, in order to make still more manifest the opportunity which was lost to the Confederate arms on the 29th of November, at Spring Hill.

Shortly after the war, I met in New Orleans Colonel Fullerton, of the United States Army; he was Schofield's adjutant general at the time of these events, in connection with which he wrote me the following:

New Orleans, La., October 20th, 1865.
to General Hood.
General:--The only body of United States troops on the battlefield of Spring Hill, Tennessee, on the 29th of November, 1864, was the Second Division of the Fourth Army Corps. I think the division was less than four thousand (4000) strong. There were no other United States troops in or about Spring Hill on that day but one or two hundred cavalrymen and perhaps fifty or sixty infantrymen (post troops). The rest of General Schofield's Army was in the vicinity of Columbia, on the north side of Duck river, and none of these troops began to arrive at Spring Hill until after 9 p. m. I arrived in Spring Hill with the Second Division of the Fourth Corps, and remained there till nearly daylight when I went to Franklin with the rear of the Army. I was at the time lieutenant colonel and assistant adjutant general of the Fourth Army Corps.

J. S. Fullerton, Brevet Brigadier General, United States Volunteers.

Van Horne; in his History of the Army of the Cumberland, informs us that at 3 p. m., when the Confederate Army was already at Spring Hill, the Federal commander became apprised of our move in his rear, and thus describes his retreat: 4

His (Lee's) repeated attacks were all repulsed by General Cox, and at 3 p. m., General Schofield became satisfied that the enemy would not attack on Duck river, but was moving two corps directly on Spring Hill. He then gave orders for the withdrawal. * * * [289]

There was some delay at Rutherford's creek, as the bridge was inadequate for the emergency, but nevertheless the divisions, one after another, arrived at Spring Hill — the foremost of the three at 11 p. m. The enemy's pickets fired into the column frequently, but as they did not come upon the road, the National troops gave no response. The enemy were so close to the road, that when a column was not moving upon it, it was difficult for a single horseman to pass. 5

There was momentary expectation that this great Army would take a step forward, and press troops, artillery, and trains from the road in confusion and rout; but still the movement went on without interruption by the enemy. 6

Rarely has an Army escaped so easily from a peril so threatening. 7

In connection with this grave misfortune, I must here record an act of candor and nobility upon the part of General Cheatham, which proves him to be equally generous-hearted and brave. I was, necessarily, much pained by the disappointment suffered, and, a few days later, telegraphed to Richmond, to withdraw my previous recommendation for his promotion, and to request that another be assigned to the command of his Corps. Before the receipt of a reply, this officer called at my headquarters — then at the residence of Mr. Overton, six miles from Nashville — and, standing in my presence, spoke an honest avowal of his error, in the acknowledgment that he felt we had lost a brilliant opportunity at Spring Hill to deal the enemy a crushing blow, and that he was greatly to blame. I telegraphed and wrote to the War Department to withdraw my application for his removal, in the belief that, inspired with an ambition to retrieve his short-coming, he would prove in the future doubly zealous in the service of his country.

The following are the dispatches above referred to:

headquarters, six miles from Nashville, on Franklin pike, December 7th, 864.
Honorable J. A. Sepdon.
I withdraw my recommendation 8 in favor of the promotion of Major General Cheatham for reasons which I will write more fully.

J. B. Hood, General.


headquarters, six miles from Nashville, on Franklin pike, December 8th, 1864.
Honorable J. A. Seddon, Secretary of War.
General G. T. Beauregard, Macon, Ga.
A good Lieutenant General should be sent here at once to command the corps now commanded by Major General Cheatham. I have no one to recommend for the position.

J. B. Hood, General.

headquarters, six miles from Nashville, on Franklin pike, December 8th, 1864.
Honorable J. A. Seddon.
Major General Cheatham made a failure on the 30th of November, which will be a lesson to him. I think it best he should remain in his position for the present. I withdraw my telegrams of yesterday and to-day on this subject.

J. B. Hood, General.

On the I ith of December I wrote the Hon. Mr. Seddon: 9

* * * * “Major General Cheatham has frankly confessed the great error of which he was guilty, and attaches much blame to himself. While his error lost so much to the country, it has been a severe lesson to him, by which he will profit in the future. In consideration of this, and of his previous conduct, I think that it is best that he should retain, for the present, the command he now holds.” * * * * * * * *

The best move in my career as a soldier, I was thus destined to behold come to naught. The discovery that the Army, after a forward march of one hundred and eighty miles, was still, seemingly, unwilling to accept battle unless under the protection of breastworks, caused me to experience grave concern. In my inmost heart I questioned whether or not I would ever succeed in eradicating this evil. It seemed to me I had exhausted every means in the power of one man to remove this stumbling block to the Army of Tennessee. And I will here inquire, in vindication of its fair name, if any intelligent man of that Army supposes one moment that these same troops, one year previous, would, even without orders to [291] attack, have allowed the enemy to pass them at Rocky-faced Ridge, as he did at Spring Hill.

Lieutenant General Lee performed his duty, at Columbia, with great skill and fidelity which were crowned with entire success: he attained the object of the demonstration, which was to keep the Federals in ignorance of our movements till sufficient time had been allowed the Army to reach the desired point. Colonel Beckham, chief of artillery in Lee's Corps, and one of the most promising officers of his rank, was unfortunately killed on the 29th, during the heavy cannonade in front of that town. On the morning of the 30th of November, Lee was on the march up the Franklin pike, when the main body of the Army, at Spring Hill, awoke to find the Federals had disappeared.

I hereupon decided, before the enemy would be able to reach his stronghold at Nashville, to make that same afternoon another and final effort to overtake and rout him, and drive him in the Big Harpeth river at Franklin, since I could no longer hope to get between him and Nashville, by reason of the short distance from Franklin to that city, and the advantage which the Federals enjoyed in the possession of the direct road.

1 Almost every writer upon the subject of my campaign into Tennessee, has fallen into the popular error that the President ordered me into that State; and, strange to say, General Taylor, brother-in-law of Mr. Davis, has also grossly crred in this regard, when he could have addressed a note to the Chief Executive of the Confederacy and have ascertained the truth.

2 Sherman's Memoirs, vol. II, page 178.

3 Van Horne's Army of the Cumberland, vol. II, page 189.

4 Vol. II, page 194.

5 Vol. II, page 195.

6 Vol. II, pages 194, 195.

7 Van Horne's A. C., vol. II, page 196.

8 The words in italics were in cypher.

9 See letter and telegram to Secretary of War, Appendix, page 356.

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