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Report of the operations of Clayton's division North of the Tennessee river in the campaign of the winter of 1864.
[from the original Ms.]

headquarters Clayton's division, in the field, 28th February, 1865.
Major — I have the honor to submit the following, being a report of the operations of this division in the campaign north of the Tennessee river, embracing a period from the 20th November to the 27th December.

On the 20th November the line of march was taken up from Florence, Alabama, in the direction of Nashville. The division reached Columbia on the 27th without incident worthy of mention except the usual bad roads and bad weather incident to the season of the year. Here the enemy, having massed his forces from Pulaski and other neighboring points, was found strongly entrenched. On the 29th, the enemy having withdrawn across Duck river, the balance of the army was moved to the right, leaving Stevenson's division and my own to confront him at this point. Preparations were made for crossing the river, which was accomplished on the evening of the 29th and the morning of the 30th November. Moving rapidly up the road to Franklin, we came up with the balance of the army at Spring Hill, and all soon moved on to Franklin, which was reached late in the afternoon of that day. We found that bloody and disastrous engagement begun, and were put in position to attack, but night mercifully interposed to save us from the terrible scourge which our brave companions had suffered. On the following morning this division, being in front, resumed the march to Nashville, where it arrived in front of the enemy's works on the 1st December, and, driving in his videttes, took position, which was established as line of battle of the whole army. From this time until the morning of the 15th was spent in almost incessant work upon lines of entrenchments, of which four were constructed by this division.

Upon the morning of the 15th the engagement was begun by the enemy, who attacked the extreme right and left of the army and demonstrated along my front. It becoming necessary to send reinforcements to the left, my line was extended in that direction, until Stovall's and Holtzclaw's brigades were deployed to cover the whole front occupied by the corps in the morning, and Gibson's brigade, [87] which was upon the left, was taken out of the trenches and thrown back perpendicularly to check the advance of the enemy, who was sweeping down the line from the left. This manoeuvre and night stopped the further progress of the enemy.

About midnight this division was moved back and took position on what is known as the “Overton Hill,” four miles from the city, upon the extreme right of the army, conforming to the position already taken by the left. Here breastworks were constructed. The enemy made their appearance early on the morning of the 16th, and soon developed along our whole line.

Having placed several batteries in position along my front with concentrated fire upon the “Overton Hill,” which was mainly occupied by Stovall's brigade, the enemy opened a terrible fire, which did considerable damage to that brigade, and very materially injured Standford's battery, which was in position on the left of Stovall's and right of Holtzclaw's brigade. At 1 P. M. the enemy, having driven in the skirmish line, made a vigorous assault upon portions of Gibson's and Holtzclaw's brigades, which was subsequently renewed twice along my whole front, except the extreme right of Stovall's brigade. One of these charges was made by negro troops. In these assaults the enemy suffered great slaughter, their loss being estimated at 1,500 or 2,000 killed and wounded. It was with difficulty that the enthusiasm of the troops could be repressed so as to keep them from going over the works in pursuit of the enemy. Five color-bearers with their colors were shot down in a few steps of the works, one of which having inscribed on its folds “Thirteenth regiment, United States colored infantry, presented by the colored ladies of Murfreesboroa,” was brought in.

About 4 P. M., while the division was thus in the highest state of enthusiasm, I received a message from the Lieutenant-General commanding corps, through Lieutenant Hunter, Aid-de-Camp, that “he would expect me to bring off my division in order.” I enquired “when; what was going on upon the left, and whether I should do so at once?” but could get no information. I turned to a staff officer and directed the batteries to be ready to limber up, and ordered Brigadier-General Stovall, who was standing by, to be in readiness to move out in order, but to wait until I could make an effort to bring off Standford's battery. I then saw the troops on my left flying in disorder, and it having been reported to me that Standford's battery was so disabled as to make it impossible to bring it off, I ordered the Eufaula light artillery to withdraw, and, so soon [88] as it had begun to move, directed the same orders to be given to the several brigade commanders. The whole army, except this division, Pettus' brigade of Stevenson's division and the Thirty-ninth Georgia regiment of Cummings' brigade, also of Stevenson's division, which had a short time before been sent to me as a support and held in reserve, was then in complete rout. Some confusion existed even in these commands, though scarcely perceptible in Stovall's brigade and the Thirty-ninth Georgia regiment above referred to, which latter deserves great credit for the manner in which it responded to my appeal to halt and check the advance of the enemy's skirmish line, which had then reached the top of the hill. Having gone about a half a mile I found the Eufaula light artillery about to move off from a position in which it had been halted. Halting the Thirty-ninth Georgia regiment as a support to the battery, I ordered it to continue the firing. Sending my staff to halt the division and Lieutenant Jones, Aid-de-Camp, especially to Brigadier-General Stovall to halt his brigade and put it in position, I soon after ordered the battery and regiment supporting it to withdraw, and rode off to take command of the division. Too much praise cannot be awarded the officers and men of this battery for the coolness and deliberation with which they managed their guns under these trying circumstances.

Upon coming up with the division, being unable to find Brigadier-General Stovall, I ordered Colonel A. Johnson, the senior colonel, to take the command and halt it in a position which I indicated. In a few moments the whole division and Pettus' brigade were in line. This occurred in about one mile of the breastworks. Night soon coming on, Holtzclaw's brigade was placed across the road with skirmishers in front, and the balance of the command moved off towards Franklin. About 2 o'clock at night it was halted seven miles from Franklin, and bivouacked until 5 o'clock.

Daylight on the morning of the 17th found us in position at Hollow-Tree gap, five miles from FranklinStovall's brigade and a section of Bledsoe's battery being upon the right and Pettus' brigade upon the left of the road, and the other two brigades in rear.

About 8 A. M. the enemy's cavalry made their appearance, driving in our own cavalry in a most shameful manner, a few pursuing them even through the line of infantry and cutting with their sabres right and left. A few shots from the infantry, however, drove them back with the loss of a stand of colors. About [89] 9 A. M. they again advanced upon this position, when we succeeded in capturing about one hundred men with their horses and another stand of colors. At about 10 A. M. we were withdrawn from this position and crossed Harpeth river. A few miles from this place, after some slight skirmishing, we were relieved by Major-General Stevenson's division.

For the particulars of the capture of seventy-five officers and men of Holtzclaw's brigade and a like number from Gibson's brigade, I refer to the reports of their respective brigade commanders. For this occurrence I think no one to blame but our cavalry, who all the day long behaved in a most cowardly manner. It is proper, however, that I should make one bright exception to this general remark. I refer to the case of Colonel Falconer, commanding a brigade, who, when about to cross the Harpeth river, seeing the enemy charging upon Gibson's brigade, drew his revolver and, gathering less than one hundred brave followers, dashed upon the enemy more than twenty times his numbers.

After having been relieved, as above stated, by General Stevenson, the division was moved on slowly, halting occasionally, so as to keep within a short distance of his command. Six miles south of Franklin, the division being at a halt in the road, I learned that the enemy were moving around General Stevenson. I immediately placed my command across the road — Stovall's brigade (Colonel R. J. Henderson commanding) on the right, Gibson's in the centre, and Holtzclaw's (Colonel Bush Jones commanding) upon the left. Hearing considerable firing in the rear, I ordered Colonel Jones to move Holtzclaw's brigade forward in line of battle, keeping his right resting on the pike, so as to render any assistance that might be necessary to General Stevenson. Having given some general instructions to General Gibson as to keeping out skirmishers and scouts, I directed him to take command of the two brigades, and with my staff rode up the pike to communicate with General Stevenson. Upon coming up with Colonel Jones, I learned that the enemy in large force was forming upon his left as if for the purpose of charging. I then rode forward and informed General Pettus, whose brigade was near by, of the disposition I had made for his support, and started back to where I had left General Gibson with the two brigades. When in about one hundred yards of the left of General Gibson's command, which rested upon the pike, I saw a column of cavalry moving obliquely and just entering the road a few paces in my front. An infantry soldier of my command [90] recognizing me (it being then quite dark), ran up to me and whispered “They are Yankees.” Turning my horse to the left so as to avoid them, I moved rapidly to the right of General Gibson's line, and after narrowly escaping being killed by several shots fired at me through mistake, I communicated the information to General Gibson, who promptly wheeled his brigade to the left and delivered a volley which scattered the enemy, killing many of them. I then, at the suggestion of General Gibson, moved back these two brigades behind a fence in order to better resist a charge and also for greater security against firing into our own men. This position was scarcely taken when the enemy again began to move from the left upon the pike in our immediate front. Demanding to know who they were, I was promptly answered “Federal troops,” which was replied to by a volley, killing several and again driving them off, leaving a stand of colors, which was secured.

The enemy having finally retired and the firing having ceased, I communicated my intentions to General Stevenson and moved off my command. In this affair, so trying to both officers and men, all behaved in the best possible manner. Whilst I cheerfully concede all that is due to General Stevenson's division in checking the advance of the enemy and thus helping to save the army, without entering into anything farther than the above brief recital of facts, I believe it is not claiming too much to say that this division, by preventing the enemy from massing in his rear, saved that division.

I tender to Brigadier-General Gibson especially my cordial thanks for the part performed by him on this occasion, and also to Colonels Henderson and Jones, of whose brigade commanders I may say, without reflecting upon them, that their commands lost nothing by their absence on this trying occasion.

After moving back a few miles the division bivouacked for the night, and resumed the march on the following day for the Tennessee river, which it reached at Bainbridge on the 25th December, after a most painful march, characterized by more suffering than it had ever before been my misfortune to witness.

H. D. Clayton, Major-General. Major J. W. Ratchford, A. A. G.

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R. L. Gibson (12)
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