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The lost opportunity at Spring Hill, Tenn.--General Cheatham's reply to General Hood.

[Some time ago Captain W. O. Dodd, President Louisville Southern Historical Society, notified us that General Cheatham was preparing a paper on the failure at Spring Hill, and requested us not to publish his paper until General Cheatham's could accompany it. Accordingly we have the pleasure of following Captain Dodd's by this paper, which was read before the Louisville Society on December 1st.]

In pursuance of orders from Army Headquarters, my command crossed Duck river on the morning of the 29th of November, 1864, the division of Major-General Cleburne in advance, followed by that of Major-General Bate, the division of Major-General Brown in the rear. The march was made as rapidly as the condition of the road would allow, and without occurrence of note, until about 3 o'clock P. M., when I arrived at Rutherford's creek, two and one-half miles from Spring Hill. At this point General Hood gave me verbal orders, as follows: That I should get Cleburne across the creek, and send him forward toward Spring Hill, with instructions to communicate with General Forrest, who was near the village, ascertain from him the position of the enemy, and attack immediately; that I should remain at the creek, assist General Bate in crossing his division, and then go forward [525] and put Bate's command in to support Cleburne; and that he would push Brown forward to join me.

As soon as the division of General Bate had crossed the creek, I rode forward, and, at a point on the road about one and a half miles from Spring Hill, I saw the left of Oleburne's command just disappearing over a hill to the left of the road. Halting here, I waited a few minutes for the arrival of Bate, and formed his command with his right upon the position of Cleburne's left, and ordered him forward to the support of Cleburne. Shortly after Bate's division had disappeared over the same range of hills, I heard firing toward Cleburne's right, and just then General Brown's division had come up. I thereupon ordered Brown to proceed to the right, turn the range of hills over which Cleburne and Bate had crossed, and to form line of battle, and attack to the right of Cleburne. The division of General Brown was in motion to execute this order, when I received a message from Cleburne that his right brigade had been struck in flank by the enemy, and had suffered severely, and that he had been compelled to fall back and reform his division with a change of front.

It so happened that the direction of Cleburne's advance was such as had exposed his right flank to the enemy's line. When his command was formed on the road by which he had marched from Rutherford's creek neither the village of Spring Hill nor the turnpike could be seen. Instead of advancing directly upon Spring Hill his forward movement was a little south of west and almost parallel with the turn-pike toward Columbia, instead of northwest upon the enemy's lines south and east of the village. A reference to the map will show Cleburne's line of advance.

General Cleburne was killed in the assault upon Franklin the next day, and I had no opportunity to learn from him how it was that the error of direction occurred.

Meanwhile General Bate, whom I had placed in position on the left of Cleburne's line of march, continued to move forward in the same direction until he had reached the farm of N. F. Cheairs, one and a half miles south of Spring Hill.

After Brown had reached the position indicated to him and had formed a line of battle he sent to inform me that it would be certain disaster for him to attack, as the enemy's line extended beyond his right several hundred yards. I sent word to him to throw back his right brigade and make the attack. I had already sent couriers after General Bate to bring him back and direct him to join Cleburne's left. Going to the right of my line, I found Generals Brown and Cleburne, [526] and the latter reported that he had reformed his division. I then gave orders to Brown and Cleburne that, as soon as they could connect their lines, they should attack the enemy, who were then in sight; informing them at the same time that General Hood had just told me that Stewart's column was close at hand, and that General Stewart had been ordered to go to my right and place his command across the pike. I furthermore said to them that I would go myself and see that General Bate was placed in position to connect with them, and immediately rode to the left of my line for that purpose.

During all this time I had met and talked with General Hood repeatedly, our field Headquarters being not over one hundred yards apart. After Cleburne's repulse I had been along my line, and had seen that Brown's right was outflanked several hundred yards. I had urged General Hood to hurry up Stewart and place him on my right, and had received from him the assurance that this would be done; and this assurance, as before stated, I had communicated to Generals Cleburne and Brown.

When I returned from my left, where I had been to get Bate in position, and was on the way to the right of my line, it was dark; but I intended to move forward with Cleburne and Brown and make the attack, knowing that Bate would be in position to support them. Stewart's column had already passed by on the way toward the turnpike, and I presumed he would be in position on my right.

On reaching the road where General Hood's field headquarters had been established, I found a courier with a message from General Hood, requesting me to come to him at Captain Thompson's house, about one and a fourth miles back on the road to Rutherford's creek. I found General Stewart with General Hood. The Commanding General there informed me that he had concluded to wait till morning, and directed me to hold my command in readiness to attack at daylight.

I was never more astonished than when General Hood informed me that he had concluded to postpone the attack till daylight. The road was still open-orders to remain quiet until morning-and nothing to prevent the enemy from marching to Franklin.

About 11 o'clock that night General Hood sent Major-General Johnson, whose division had marched in rear of Stewart's corps, to report to me. I directed Major Bostick, of my staff, to place Johnson on my extreme left. A reference to the map will show the position of my corps and that of Johnson's division during the night.

About midnight Major Bostick returned and reported that he had been near to the turnpike, and could hear straggling troops passing [527] northward. While he was talking about this to Colonel Porter, my Chief of Staff, a courier from headquarters brought a note from Major Mason, to the effect that General Hood had just learned that stragglers were passing along the road in front of my left, and “the Commanding General says you had better order your picket line to fire on them.” Upon reading the note, I ordered Major Bostick to return to General Johnson, whose command was on my left and nearest the pike, and say to him that he must take a brigade, or, if necessary, his whole division, and go on to the pike and cut off anything that might be passing. Major Bostick afterward informed me that General Johnson commenced complaining bitterly at having been “loaned out,” and asked why General Cheatham did not order one of his own divisions to go in; but at length ordered his horse and rode with Major Bostick close up to the turnpike, where they found everything quiet and no one passing. General Johnson came with Major Bostick to my quarters, and informed me of what they had done. It was now about 2 o'clock on the morning of the 30th.

This suggestion that I had better order my pickets to fire upon stragglers passing in front of my left was the only order, if that can be called an order, that I received from General Hood after leaving him at his quarters early in the night, when he had informed me of his determination to wait until daylight to attack the enemy.

What reason General Stewart gave for not reaching the turnpike I do not know. As I have already stated, General Hood said to me repeatedly, when I met him between 4 and 6 o'clock in the afternoon, “Stewart will be here in a few minutes.” Stewart's column did not come up until about dark.

General Stewart says he was at Rutherford's creek before General Brown's division crossed that stream. He also says that General Hood there ordered him to form line of battle on the south side of the creek, and that he was not allowed to move thence until dusk. If General Stewart had followed Brown he would have been in position on my right, across the turnpike, before dark. That he would have executed an order to make such disposition of his command no one who knows that officer will doubt; and he would have done it in the darkness of midnight as surely and as certainly as in the day.

General Hood wrote what he supposed would be accepted as history. Truth, and justice to myself, demand a brief review of certain statements made by him.

General Hood writes:

Since I had attempted this same movement on the 22d of July, and [528] 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. * * * I rode with my staff to Cheatham's right, passed over the (pontoon) bridge soon after daybreak, and moved forward at the head of Granberry's Texas brigade of Cheburne's division.

--Advance and Retreat, pp. 283, 284.

Lowry's not Granberry's, brigade of Cleburne's division, was in front. General Lowry states that General Hood rode with him a large part of the day.

“ 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 sharpshooters in his front.” --[Advance and Retreat, p. 284.

General John C. Brown states that “at or near Bear creek the Commanding General, apprehending an attack on our left flank, ordered your (Cheatham's) corps, in its march from that point, to move in two parallel columns, so that it could come instantly into action in two lines of battle.” General Brown's division marched “five or six miles through fields and woods and over rough ground” some four hundred yards to the right of the road, necessarily causing more or less delay. General Brown further states that “about the commencement of this movement, or soon afterward, by the orders of the Commanding General, in person, the whole of Gist's and about one-half of Strahl'a brigade were detached for picket duty.”

“ 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, [529] aid 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 doublequick his men to the front.’ ” --Advance and Retreat, pp. 284, 285.

There is not a bit of truth in this entire paragraph. At the hour named, 3 P. M., there was no movement of “wagons and men” in the vicinity of Spring Hill. Moreover, from the crossing at Duck river to the point referred to by General Hood the turnpike was never in view, nor could it be seen until I had moved up to within three-quarters of a mile of Spring Hill. Only a mirage would have made possible the vision which this remarkable statement professes to record.

“ They immediately sent staff officers to hurry the men forward, and moved off with the 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.” --Advance and Retreat, p. 285.

General Hood conveniently forgot to mention in his account of this affair the facts as to his orders to me at Rutherford's creek. And he also forgot that, at the very moment he claims to have sent staff officers to the rear, with orders to Stewart and Johnson to make all possible haste, Stewart was forming line of battle on the south side of Rutherlord's creek, in pursuance of orders from him; nor did he remember that Stewart's corps was not ordered forward until about dusk.

“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 opsition, or had formed line across the pike, north of the town, and entrenched without coming into 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 [530] 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.” --Advance and Retreat, pp. 285, 286.

Here again General Hood's memory proved treacherous. As to the preliminary statements of this paragraph, I refer to that portion of my account which covers the doings of the hours from 4 to 6 P. M., during most of which time General Hood was on the ground and in frequent personal communication with me. The dramatic scene with which he embellishes his narrative of the day's operations only occurred in the imagination of General Hood.

“It was reported to me after this hour that the enemy was marching along the road, almost under the light of the camp-fires 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. * * * I could not succeed in arousing the troops to action, when one good division would have sufficed to do the work. * * * Had I dreamed for 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.” Advance and Retreat, p. 287.

The next order, in a shape of a suggestion that I had better have my pickets to fire upon straggling troops passing along the pike in front of my left, was received, and was immediately communicated to General Johnson, whose division was on my left and nearest the pike. This note from Major Mason, received about midnight, was the only communication I had from General Hood after leaving him at his quarters at Captain Thompson's.

“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, [531] 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 shortcoming, 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 7, 1864.
Hon. J. A. Seddon:
I withdraw my recommendation 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 8, 1864.
Hon. James 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 8, 1864.
Hon. 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 11th of December I wrote to Hon. Mr. Seddon: * * * 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. * * * *--[Advance and Retreat, pp. 289, 290.


In order to make clear what I have to say in this connection, I will quote Governor Isham G. Harris:

Dear Sir: * * * * General Hood, on the march to Franklin, spoke to me, in the presence of Major Mason, of the failure of General Cheatham to make the night attack at Spring Hill, and censured him in severe terms for his disobedience of orders. Soon after this, being alone with Major Mason, the latter remarked that “General Cheatham was not to blame about the matter last night. I did not send him the order.” I asked if he had communicated the fact to General Hood. He answered that he had not. I replied that “it is due General Cheatham that this explanation should be made.” Thereupon Major Mason joined General Hood and gave him the information. Afterward General Hood said to me that he had done injustice to General Cheatham, and requested me to inform him that he held him blameless for the failure at Spring Hill, and on the day following the battle of Franklin I was informed by General Hood that he had addressed a note to General Cheatham assuring him that he did not censure him with the failure to attack.

Very respectfully,

The first intimation made to me, from any source, that my conduct at Spring Hill, on the 29th of November, 1864, or during the night of that day, was the subject of criticism, was the receipt of a note from General Hood, written and received on the morning of the 3d of December. This is the communication referred to in the letter of Governor Harris, above quoted. This note was read, so far as I know, by only four persons beside myself — my chief of staff, James D. Porter; Governor Isham G. Harris, Major J. F. Cummings, of Georgia, and John C. Burch. Not having been in the habit of carrying a certificate of military character, I attached no special value to the paper, and it was lost somewhere during the campaign in North Carolina. Governor Porter and Major Cummings agree with me that the following was the substance of the note:

December 13, 1864.
My Dear General: I do not censure you for the failure at Spring Hill. I am satisfied that you are not responsible for it. I witnessed the splendid manner in which you delivered battle at Franklin on the 30th ult. I now have a higher estimate of [533] you as a soldier than I ever had. You can rely upon my friendship.

Yours very truly,

On the morning of the 4th of December I went to the Headquarters of General Hood, and, referring to his note and the criticism of my conduct, that had evidently been made by some one, I said to him: “A great opportunity was lost at Spring Hill, but you know that I obeyed your orders there, as everywhere, literally and promptly.” General Hood not only did not dissent from what I said but exhibited the most cordial manner, coupled with confidence and friendship. The subject was never again alluded to by General Hood to myself, nor, so far as I knew, to any one. When he wrote, under date of December 11, 1864, to Mr. Seddon that “Major-General Cheatham has frankly confessed the great error of which he was guilty, and attaches much blame to himself,” he made a statement for which there was not the slightest foundation.

General Hood concludes this extraordinary chapter of his history of the campaign into Tennessee with some reflections:

The discovery that the army, after a forward march of 180 miles, was still, seemingly, unwilling to accept battle, unless under protection of breast-works, caused me to experience great concern. In my in-most heart I questioned whether or not I would ever succeed in eradicating this evil.

--Advance and Retreat, p. 290.

I have only attempted to state truthfully the events of the period under review. During my service as a soldier under the flag of my country in Mexico, and as an officer of the Confederate armies, I cannot recall an instance where I failed to obey an order literally, promptly and faithfully. Military operations, however well conceived, are not always successful; and I have had my share of failures and disappointments, but I have never found it necessary to seek for a scape-goat to bear my transgressions, nor to maintain my own reputation by aspersions of my subordinates. No chieftain since the world began has ever commanded an army of men more confident in themselves, more ready to endure and to dare whatever might be required of them, or more capable of exalted heroism than that which obeyed the will of their General from Peach-Tree creek to Nashville. The Army of Tennessee needs no defense against the querulous calumnies which disfigure General Hood's attempt at history.

B. F. Cheatham. Peach Grove, Tenn., November 30, 1881.


Corroborative statements.

General Cheatham supports his paper with the following letters:

General Hood's note.

Nashville, October 19, 1881.
Major J. F. Cummings
Dear Sir: I enclose for your inspection a substantial copy of a letter written by General Hood to General Cheatham, in December, 1864. The original letter has been lost or mislaid. I have a perfect recollection of the substance of it, and I have repeated it so often to my friends that I believe the inclosed is almost a verbatim copy. You read it in my presence at your breakfast-table in Mobile, Ala., a few weeks after it was written, and I write to request that you will inform me if your recollection of the character and substance of it accords with my own.

Yours very truly,


December 3, 1864.
My Dear General:
I do not censure you for the failure at Spring Hill. I am satisfied that you are not responsible for it. I witnessed the splendid manner in which you delivered battle at Franklin on the 30th ultimo. I now have a higher estimate of you as a soldier than I ever had. You can rely on my friendship.

Yours very truly,

Dear Sir: Your letter of the 19th instant is received, and my excuse for not answering sooner is that I have been very busy in connection with our Cotton Exposition. I have read the memorandum note you inclosed, and, according to my recollection, it is strictly, entirely correct.

Yours truly,

General Stewart's statements.

Chancellor's Office, University of Mississippi, Oxford,. Miss., February 8, 1881.
Captain W. O. Dodd, Louisville, Ky.
My Dear Sir: My account of the Spring Hill affair is in possession of the War-records office, in charge of General General Marcus J. Wright, and will be published with the other papers collected by that office. I have not time now to write out an account of the matter. I will say, however, that on that occasion General Hood was at the front with Cheatham's [535] and Forrest's troops, and should have compelled the execution of his orders. I was not allowed to cross Rutherford's creek until dark. When I reached the creek, riding in advance of my troops, Cheatham's corps was crossing. A staff officer of his informed me that an attack was to be made. I expected to be hurried forward to support the attack. Instead, I was ordered to form in line of battle before crossing the creek, and about at right angles to it. This, in my poor judgment, was the fatal error. My impression is that Cheatham and his officers thought themselves in great danger of being outflanked and crushed. Had they known my command was coming up to their support, it is likely they would not have hesitated to make the attack. When, about dusk, I received orders to move on across the creek, and rode forward to find the Commanding General, he complained bitterly that his orders to attack had not been obeyed. But he was there himself. I asked him why he had halted me at Rutherford's creek. He replied that he confidently expected Cheatham would attack and rout the enemy; that there was a road leading to Murfreesboro on the other side of the creek. He wished me there to prevent the escape of the routed foe in that direction. Here, I think, was the error. Johnson's division of Lee's corps was with me. That division, reinforced if necessary by one of mine, would have been sufficient to guard that road. The rest of my command should have been pressed forward to reinforce Cheatham and Forrest. I have a note from General Hood, written after we moved round into North Carolina, fully exonerating me from all censure on that occasion.

Very sincerely yours,

Chancellor's Office, University of Mississippi, Oxford, Miss., October 24, 1881.
Hon. James D. Porter, Nashville, Tenn.:
My Dear Governor,--Your favor of 20th received. You ask me to “read page 286 of Hood's Advance and Retreat, and inform me if he ‘exclaimed with deep emotion’ in your presence to General Cheatham, ‘General, why in the name of God have you not attacked the enemy and taken possession of that pike?’ An immediate answer is requested.”

I have to say, in reply, that I do not think General Hood means to say that this conversation took place in my presence. If he does mean that he is in error, for according to the best of my recollection Generals Hood and Cheatham and myself were at no time together on the day in question, and no such exclamation by Hood to Cheatham could have been made in my presence. I presume he means to say he sent me orders to halt. Such orders, however, were not received; but one of [536] Cheatham's staff came to me from General Hood to show me, as he stated, the position my troops were to occupy.

Yours very truly,

General Lowry's statement.

[extract from letter of General M. P. Lowry.]

... After I made the attack my command was not struck in flank by the enemy, as you seem to have understood from General Cleburne, and I only had to make a slight change of direction, by swinging my left round, which was done without much confusion. As I drove the enemy from his rail protection, a command of the enemy was left in line on my right, and I saw demonstrations by the officers which led me to believe they were attempting to charge me in flank. I reported this to General Cleburne, and he moved against them with Govan's Arkansas brigade. The only trouble I had with these fellows on my right was to give them a few shots from my right flank to keep them demoralized; and as their flank was to my flank they could not have charged us without changing front, and as I was in full view of them I watched them. I did not see the enemy's wagons during the day. Rather, I should say, I do not remember it if I did.

I lost my papers, and do not remember exactly my loss. But all that were lost in the engagement were my men, except, I believe, five or six wounded in Govan's brigade — probably one or two killed. I think I had 1,400 to 1,600 men in line that day, but can not state definitely.

Yours truly,

General Brown's statement.

Dear General: Complying with your request to state my recollection of the operations of your corps in the “Hood campaign” from Columbia to Franklin, and especially the part taken in that movement by my division of your corps, I must premise the statement with an expression of regret that the full and comprehensive report made by me soon after the close of that campaign, with list of casualties and just mention of meritorious conduct of officers and men of my command, should have been lost. The copies retained by me were destroyed with other military papers, and I now have but little to rely [537] upon for my statement, except my own recollection of the events as they transpired.

My division comprised four brigades of infantry, commanded respectively by General Gist, of South Carolina; Generals Strahl, Gordon and Carter, of Tennessee. The whole command on the morning of November 29, 1864, when I left my bivouac on the Mooresville turnpike in front of Columbia, Tenn., numbered not exceeding 2,750 effective men. Gist's brigade was the largest, and Strahl's was next in numerical strength; those of Gordon and Carter being about equal in the number of effective men.

We started on the march about sunrise, and, after traversing cedar brakes and pathless woods, crossed Duck river by a pontoon previously laid, about four miles above Columbia, at or near what was known as “Davis' Ferry,” or “Davis' Ford.” Conforming to the daily alternations in column, my division was on that march in the rear of your corps. After crossing Duck river, and, as I now recollect, at or near Bear creek, the Commanding General, apprehending an attack on our left flank, ordered your corps, in its march from that point, to move in two parallel columns, so that it could come instantly into action in two lines of battle, if attacked on the flank. Accordingly my division was ordered to form the supporting column, and for that purpose to leave the road by which the main body was moving, and so conform its movements to that of the other two divisions (Cleburne's and Bate's) as that, in coming into action to meet an attack on our left flank, it would occupy a place in rear of, and about 400 yards distant from the front line of battle. The march thence to Rutherford's creek was made pursuant to these orders, and the whole distance thus traversed (five or six miles) was through fields and woods and over rough ground, adding greatly to the fatigues of the day. About the commencement of this movement, or soon afterward, by the orders of the commanding general in person, the whole of Gist's, and about one-half of Strahl's brigade were detached for picket duty, to be relieved by the orders of the Commanding General, thus leaving me with about one-half of my division.

When near Rutherford's creek, learning that a crossing was not practicable east of the road, I changed the direction of the march to the left into the road, and found Bate's division preparing to cross the stream. After reaching the north bank of the stream I was ordered to pursue the road leading in the direction of the Caldwell place, while Cleburne's and Bate's divisions moved at an angle to the left, but, before reaching the Dr. Caldwell house, I was ordered to change the [538] direction of my column to the left, and we reached the Lewisburg or Rally Hill pike, near the toll-gate, a distance of one and one-half miles from Spring Hill. This was within an hour or an hour and a half of sunset. I could distinctly see the enemy in force both of infantry and artillery, at Spring Hill, but I did not, and perhaps could not, at that point, see either troops or wagons moving on the Columbia pike. Forrest's cavalry were on higher ground, northeast of my position. I was ordered to form line of battle and “take” Spring Hill. Gist's brigade and the detachment from Strahl had not reported. I formed my line as speedily as worn troops could move, and, after throwing forward a skirmish line, advanced four hundred or five hundred yards, when I discovered a line of the enemy thrown out of Spring Hill, across and threatening my right flank, and I then discovered for the first time that General Forrest's cavalry, which I had been assured would protect my right, had been ordered to another part of the field, leaving me without any protection on my right flank or support in the rear. I had neither artillery nor cavalry, and was left in a position where I must meet with inevitable disaster if I advanced on Spring Hill. A hasty consultation with my brigade commanders resulted in a determination to suspend the advance and confer with the corps commander. I need not remind you that in a very few minutes you were upon the field and fully approved of what had been done, as also did General Hood a little later, when he directed that the attack should be delayed until the arrival of Generals Stewart and Gist, and in the meantime that the whole command should be held under orders to advance at a moment's notice.

General Gist's brigade reported a little after nightfall, and was immediately placed in position on my right. General Stewart's corps came up later and went into bivouac on the stream in rear of my right, where it remained until the following morning.

I received no further orders that evening or during the night to. advance or change my position. After daylight on the morning of the 30th November, I took up the line of march for Franklin, the enemy in the meantime having preceded us, under circumstances of which you are fully advised.

On the march to Franklin General Cleburne, with whom I had long enjoyed very close personal relations, sent a message to the head of my column requesting an interview. Allowing my column to pass on, I awaited his arrival. When he came up we rode apart from the column through the fields, and he told me with much feeling that he had heard that the Commanding General was endeavoring to place upon him the [539] responsibility of allowing the enemy to pass our position on the night previous. I replied to him that I had heard nothing on that subject, and that I hoped he was mistaken. He said: “No, I think not; my information comes through a very reliable channel,” and said that he could not afford to rest under such an imputation, and that he should certainly have the matter investigated to the fullest extent, so soon as we were away from the immediate presence of the enemy. General Cleburne was quite angry, and evidently was deeply hurt, under the conviction that the Commander-in-Chief had censured him. I asked General Cleburne who was responsible for the escape of the enemy during the afternoon and night previous. In reply to that inquiry he indulged in some criticisms of a command occupying a position on the left, and concluded by saying that “of course the responsibility rests with the Commander-in-Chief, as he was upon the field during the afternoon and was fully advised during the night of the movement of the enemy.” The conversation at this point was abruptly terminated by the arrival of orders for both of us from yourself or the Commanding General. As he left he said: “We will resume this conversation at the first convenient moment,” but in less than three hours after that time this gallant soldier was a corpse upon the bloody field of Franklin.

Yours very truly,

John C. Brown, Major General.

Extract from official report of Major-General William B. Bate, January 25, 1865.

I left Florence, Alabama, on the 21st of November with my command, moving with its corps via Waynesboro and Mount Pleasant, near Columbia, Tennessee, and into bivouac on the 26th of November, on the Shelbyville turnpike. The succeeding day and night was followed with slight skirmishing on the line around Columbia. At daylight on the morning of the 29th I moved to Duck river, four miles above Columbia, and crossed on the pontoon bridge at 7:30 o'clock, which was assoon as I could do so, having to wait for General Cleburne's division, which had the advance. I moved that day in rear of that division to the neighborhood of Spring Hill, a distance of twelve miles. After moving rapidly for several miles and wading the creek, I deployed my division in line of battle, in obedience to orders from General Cheatham to form and move on Cleburne's left — Jackson on the right and Smith in echelon on the left of front line, Colonel R. Bullock (commanding the Florida brigade) supporting the left. Not seeing General Cheatham at the moment of forming my line of battle, General Hood, [540] who was personally present, directed me to move to the turnpike and sweep toward Columbia. General Cleburne, being in advance, formed and moved forward before it was possible for me to do so, and “changed front” without stopping and without my knowing the fact, owing to intervening hills obstructing the view. As soon as ascertained, I conformed to the movement as well as I could, and pushed forward in the direction of the enemy, who held the turnpike. It was now getting dark, and I had moved more than a mile in line of battle. Cleburne had been engaged, with what success I did not know. Procuring a guide, learning the exact locality of the enemy, and the general direction of the turnpike, I “changed direction to the right” again, and was moving so as to strike the turnpike to the right of Major Nat. Cheair's residence, which I believed would bring me near Cleburne's left. Caswell's battalion of sharpshooters, deployed as skirmishers, was in a hundred yards of and commanded the turnpike, checking the enemy's movement along it in my front; and my lines were being adjusted for a further forward movement, when I received an order, through Lieutenant Schell, from General Cheatham to halt and join my right to General Cleburne's left. My main line was in two hundred yards of the turnpike, when Major Caswell's battalion fired into the enemy on the pike. He (the enemy) veered to his left, as I subsequently ascertained, and took a road leaving the pike near Dr. McKissick's. I obeyed the order of General Cheatham, and with delay and difficulty (it being in the night and near the enemy), I ascertained the left of Cleburne's line, which had retired some distance to the rear of my right. I made known to General Cheatham the fact of the enemy threatening my left, and called for force to protect it. My left brigade was retired to confront any movement from that direction, and during the night, perhaps 10 o'clock, General Johnson's division of Lee's corps, moved to my left. My command was so disposed as to be an extension of Cleburne's line, with its left retired. I bivouaced between 9 and 10 o'clock for the night.

At daylight there was no enemy in my front.

General Bate's statement.

Dear General: I am just in receipt of your note requesting me to give you, in writing, the conversation that obtained between General Hood and myself, touching the situation in our front on the occasion of my going to his headquarters at Thompson's house, at a late hour at night, November 29, 1864. [541]

In response I state: “After you had ordered me to retire my lines so as to align my right with Cleburne's left, and the order obeyed, skirmishers placed, pickets posted and the men sleeping on their arms in line of battle — it being then a late hour, between 10 and 12 o'clock at night — I, accompanied by a staff officer and one or more couriers, did go to General Hood's quarters, at a farm-house, and made known to him the situation in my front and what had occurred there that evening and night, the same in substance, as shown in my official report forwarded through your office soon thereafter, a copy of which I suppose you have.”

On my arrival at his quarters I found General Hood in conference with General Forrest, consequently I waited some time for an interview. I informed the General of having, about dark, come near to, in line of battle, and commanded, with my skirmish line, the turnpike south of Spring Hill, and caused a cessation in the movements of wagons, horsemen, etc., which were passing; but I did not “pass on to the turnpike and sweep toward Columbia” as you (General Hood) had directed me to do, because just at that time I received an order from my corps commander, General Cheatham, to halt and align the right of my division with the left of Cleburne's, which I declined to do until I received a second order to the same effect, and then I did so. General Hood replied in substance: “It makes no difference now, or it is all right anyhow, for General Forrest, as you see, has just left and informed me that he holds the turnpike with a portion of his forces north of Spring Hill, and will stop the enemy if he tries to pass toward Franklin, and so in the morning we will have a surrender without a fight.” He further said, in a congratulatory manner: “We can sleep quiet to night.” I said to the General I was glad to hear what he told me, and immediately left. The staff officer with me, if I remember correctly, was Lieutenant Charles B. Rogan, who now lives in Sumner county, Tennessee, either heard the conversation or I immediately informed him of it, for it was discussed as we returned to our lines, and on our arrival at our bivouac made it known to Captain H. J. Cheeny, my A. A. G. (now a citizen of this county), and also to other staff officers, nearly all of whom are yet living.

You can imagine my surprise next morning when I learned the enemy had come from our front.

The foregoing is in substance what was said on the occasion referred to as I recollect it.

I am, General, very respectfully yours,

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