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Chapter XI

  • The correspondence with General Thomas previous to the battle of Franklin
  • -- the Untenable position at Pulaski -- available troops which were not sent to the front -- correspondence with General Thomas -- instructions usually received too late -- advantage of delaying the retreat from Duck River -- no serious danger at Spring Hill -- General Thomas hoping that Hood might be delayed for three days at Franklin.

I will now add to the foregoing sketch what seems to me necessary to a full understanding of the operations preceding and immediately following the battle of Franklin, referring briefly, as necessary to an exact understanding of some things that occurred, to the relation in which I stood to General Thomas. He was my senior by thirteen years as a graduate of the Military Academy, where I had known him well as my highly respected instructor. He had won high distinction in Mexico, and had been twice brevetted for gallant services in that war. He had seen far more service in the field than I had, and in much larger commands, though almost always under the immediate command of a superior— Buell, Rosecrans, and Sherman. Even in the Atlanta campaign, then recently ended, his command was nearly five times as large as mine. In 1864 he had already become a brigadier-general in the regular army, having risen to that rank by regular stages, while I was only a captain thirty-three years of age. It will also be necessary [190] for the reader to realize that when I asked for and received orders to report with the Twenty-third Corps to General Thomas in Tennessee, I felt in the fullest degree all the deference and respect which were due to his seniority in years and rank and services.

When I went back to Tennessee my only anxiety respecting the situation, so far as General Thomas's personality affected it, was on account of his constitutional habit of very deliberate action. I was apprehensive that, in some emergency created by the action of the daring and reckless, though not over-talented, antagonist he would have to meet, General Thomas might not be able to determine and act quickly enough to save from defeat his army, then understood to be so far inferior to the enemy in numerical strength. I had far too high an opinion of his capacity as a general to doubt for a moment that with sufficient time in which to mature his plans to resist Hood's invasion and to execute those plans so far as was in his power, he would do all that the wisest generalship could suggest.

I will also refer to the official returns of that period, which show what troops General Thomas had elsewhere in his department and available for service, as well as the effective strength of the force then under my immediate command in the field, and that of General A. J. Smith's three divisions, which had been ordered from Missouri to join the forces of General Thomas. In his entire department, excluding the Fourth and Twenty-third corps in the field, the infantry and artillery force, present for duty equipped, officers and men, November 20, 1864, amounted to 29,322; the two corps in the field, to 24,265; and A. J. Smith's corps, to about 10,000. The entire cavalry force, mounted and equipped, was about 4800; that unmounted, about 6700.

It is necessary to exclude from this statement of troops available for service in middle Tennessee those [191] in Kentucky and East Tennessee, belonging to the Department of the Ohio, for the reason that just at that time unusual demand was made upon those troops for service in East Tennessee, where some of the State forces had met with disaster. This probably accounts in part for the discrepancies in General Sherman's estimates referred to later.

Hood's forces were then understood by General Thomas to consist of from 40,000 to 45,000 infantry and artillery, and 10,000 to 12,000 cavalry, including Forrest's command. I find from General Sherman's despatch to Thomas, dated October 19, that his estimate of Hood's strength, October 19, 1864, was about 40,000 men of all arms.

I do not find in General Thomas's report or despatches any exact statement of his own estimate; but the following language in his official report of January 20, 1865, seems quite sufficiently explicit on that point: ‘Two divisions of infantry, under Major-General A. J. Smith, were reported on their way to join me from Missouri, which, with several one-year regiments then arriving in the department, and detachments collected from points of minor importance, would swell my command, when concentrated, to an army nearly as large as that of the enemy. Had the enemy delayed his advance a week or ten days longer, I would have been ready to meet him at some point south of Duck River. . . .’

This must of course be accepted as General Thomas's own estimate of the enemy's strength, on which his own action was based. And it should be remembered that military operations must be based upon the information then in possession of the commander, and just criticism must also be based upon his action upon that information, and not upon any afterward obtained.

General Sherman estimated the force left with Thomas1 at about 45,000 (exclusive of the Fourth and Twentythird [192] corps, and Smith's corps coming from Missouri), in which he included about 8000 or 10,000 new troops at Nashville, and the same number of civil employees of the quartermaster's department. The Fourth and Twenty-third corps he estimated at 27,000 men, and Smith's at 10,000, and the cavalry in the field at 7700. All this was sufficiently accurate if no account were taken of men unfit for duty or not equipped. But the official returns show that the number of officers and men present for duty equipped amounted to 29,322 in the department, and in the two corps in the field to 24,265, and in the cavalry in the field, to 4800. There were therefore the following discrepancies in Sherman's estimate, due in part to the discharge of men whose terms had expired, as well as to the usual number of men not equipped for duty in the ranks: in the troops in the department, a discrepancy of 8000; in the army corps in the field, 2735; in the cavalry in the field, 29002—a total discrepancy of 13,635. That is to say, Sherman's own estimate was in excess of Thomas's actual strength by a force greater than either of the two army corps he sent back to help Thomas. If he had sent back another large corps,—say the Fourteenth, 13,000 strong, having besides the moral strength due to the fact that it was Thomas's old corps,—the discrepancy in his own estimate would doubtless have been sufficiently overcome, and the line of Duck River at least, if not that of the Tennessee, as Sherman had assured Grant, would have been securely held until A. J. Smith arrived and Thomas could assume the offensive.

Hood's force was ready to invade Tennessee in one [193] compact army, while Thomas then had in the field ready to oppose it a decidedly inferior force, even admitting the lowest estimate made of that hostile army.

The superiority of the enemy's cavalry made it necessary that the garrisons of all essential posts and the guards of important railroad bridges should be strong enough to resist attack from a large force of dismounted cavalry and light artillery, so long as Thomas was compelled to remain on the defensive. The records of that time indicate that Thomas then appreciated, what mature consideration now confirms, that if Hood's advance had induced him (Thomas) to draw off sufficient troops from garrisons and railroad guards to enable him to give battle on equal terms to Hood at Pulaski or Columbia, a raid by Hood's cavalry would probably have resulted in the destruction or capture of nearly everything in the rear, not only in Tennessee, but also in Kentucky, except perhaps Nashville and Chattanooga. It was only wise forethought which suggested that such might be the nature of Hood's plans, especially in view of the season of the year and the condition of the roads, which made aggressive operations of a large army, where all the hard roads were held by the opposing forces, extremely difficult. The official returns, now published in the War Records,3 show that the troops were sufficient only for the purpose of garrisons and guards and defensive action in the field until after the arrival of A. J. Smith; and this is true even if Hood's cavalry force was no larger than that which now appears from Forrest's report—5000; for Forrest might easily have got a day or two the start of his pursuer at any time, as had often been done on both sides during the war.

It is true that Sherman's instructions to Thomas appear to have contemplated the possibility, at least, that Thomas might be reduced to the extreme necessity of [194] holding Nashville, Chattanooga, and Decatur defensively, even during a long siege, and of abandoning all points of less importance than the three named, so that all the garrisons of such minor points and all the railroad guards might be concentrated with the garrisons of those three important strategic points, for their defense luring a siege. This must of course have referred to the defensive period of the campaign only, for the moment that Thomas's reinforcements should enable him to assume the offensive all the necessities above referred to must have disappeared. It must, I think, be admitted as beyond question that, in view of his daily expectation of the arrival of A. J. Smith's troops from Missouri, Thomas was perfectly right in not acting upon Sherman's suggestion of extreme defensive action, and thus abandoning his railroads to destruction.

If, on the other hand, Thomas's reinforcements had arrived in time to enable him to take the initiative by moving against Hood from Pulaski or Columbia, then he might have drawn quite largely from his garrisons in the rear to reinforce his army in the field, since his ‘active offensive’ operations would have fully occupied Hood's cavalry, and thus have prevented a raid in Thomas's rear. But until he was strong enough to advance, unless forced to the extreme necessity of defending Nashville, Chattanooga, and Decatur, and abandoning all else, Thomas could not prudently have reduced his garrisons or guards.

I knew nothing at that time of Sherman's instructions to Thomas, and little about the actual strength of Thomas's garrisons and railroad guards. But I was under the impression that some reinforcements must be available from his own department, and felt a little impatient about the long delay in their arrival, and hence telegraphed General Thomas, November 24, suggesting the concentration of R. S. Granger's troops and those along the railroad. The despatches to me at that time, [195] to be found in the War Records,4 fully show the earnest determination of General Thomas to send forward reinforcements as soon as possible, and even in detail, and to fight Hood at or near Columbia. Indeed, those despatches misled me somewhat as to what I might expect.

Notwithstanding this earnest desire, General Thomas does not appear to have realized the existence of a force available for the purpose he had in view, The railroad guards from Atlanta to Chattanooga or Dalton, withdrawn after Sherman started on his march, and convalescents, men returning from furlough and others going to the front, but failing to reach Sherman's army in time, all assembled at Chattanooga, made a surplus force at that point of about 7000 men.5 Some of these troops had been sent to East Tennessee, as well as all the mounted troops available in Kentucky, for the purpose of retrieving the disaster which had befallen the Tennessee military governor's troops there, under Gillem. But all sent from Chattanooga had been returned by November 21, about the time when Hood's advance from Florence had become certainly known. Yet it does not appear that General Thomas even inquired what force was available at Chattanooga until November 25, when, in reply to a telegram, he learned that Steedman could raise 5000 men (in fact, 7000), in addition to all necessary garrisons and guards, ‘to threaten enemy in rear,’ in case he should ‘get on Chattanooga railroad.’ It may then (November 25) have been too late to send those 5000 or 7000 men to the line of Duck River, or perhaps even to Franklin. They were sent to Nashville, reaching there after the battle of Franklin. If they had been ordered to Columbia by rail, via Nashville, as soon as Hood's advance was known to General Thomas, they must have reached Duck River some time before Hood attempted [196] to cross that stream. This addition to the Fourth and Twenty-third corps would have raised the infantry in the field to nearly an equality with that of Hood in fact, though not nearly to what Hood's force was then supposed to be. That increased force would doubtless have made it possible to prevent Hood from crossing Duck River anywhere near Columbia for several days, and perhaps to force him to select some other line of operations, or to content himself with sending his cavalry on another raid. In any case, the arrival of A. J. Smith a few days later would have enabled Thomas to assume the aggressive before Hood could have struck a serious blow at Thomas's army in the field. In view of the earnest desire of General Thomas to reinforce the army in the field at Columbia, there does not appear to be any rational explanation of the fact that he did not send those 7000 men from Chattanooga to Columbia. His own report states the fact about those ‘7000 men belonging to his [General Sherman's] column,’ but does not give any reason why they were not used in his ‘measures to act on the defensive.’ As General Thomas says: ‘These men had been organized into brigades, to be made available at such points as they might be needed.’ At what other point could they possibly be so much needed as that where the two corps were trying to oppose the advance of the enemy long enough for Thomas to get up his other reinforcements?

General Thomas appears to have been puzzled by doubt whether Hood would aim for Nashville or some point on the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad, and not to have realized that his own plan should have been to concentrate all his available active force into one army, so as to move against the enemy with the greatest possible force, no matter what the enemy might do. With the exception of those 7000 men belonging to Sherman's column, Thomas had for necessary garrisons and railroad [197] guards essentially the same number of men as had been employed in that service all the preceding summer,—no more and no less,—and the necessity for that service had not been very much diminished, except at and about Decatur, Stevenson, and Tullahoma, which Hood's advance from Florence had rendered of no further consequence at that time. But the 7000 men available at Chattanooga ought unquestionably to have been sent to Columbia, or at least moved up to Nashville or Franklin, where they could ‘join the main force,’ as suggested in my despatch of November 24 to Thomas,6 instead of being left at Chattanooga ‘to threaten enemy in rear.’7 As suggested in my despatch of November 24, R. S. Granger's force and others along the railroad south of Duck River, as well as Steedman's, might have joined the main force at Columbia, if orders had been given in time, thus increasing the army in the field by fully 10,000 men.

If R. S. Granger's force had been left at Decatur, it would have drawn off from Hood's invading army at least an equal force to guard his bridges at Florence, or else would have destroyed those bridges and cut off his retreat after the battle of Nashville. This was practically what had been suggested by Sherman in his instructions to Thomas. But the withdrawal of Granger's troops and their detention at Murfreesboroa, instead of sending them to ‘join the main force,’ served no good purpose at the time, and prevented their use in the capture of Hood's defeated and retreating troops. The failure to make this timely concentration was the one great fault in Thomas's action, instead of his delay in attacking at Nashville, for which he was so much criticized. But Hood's repulse at Franklin had made this previous mistake a matter of past history, and hence it was lost sight [198] of in view of the imminent danger afterward supposed to exist at Nashville, just as the brilliant victory at Nashville was accepted as demonstrating the wisdom of all that had gone before, even including Sherman's division of his army between himself and Thomas before his march to the sea. Such is the logic of contemporaneous military history!

In my long conversations with General Grant on the steamer Rhode Island in January, 1865, I explained to him fully the error into which he had been led in respect to Thomas's action or non-action at Nashville in December, and he seemed to be perfectly satisfied on that point. But he did not ask me anything about what had occurred before the battle of Franklin, and hence I did not tell him anything.

In connection with the action of General Thomas previous to the battle of Franklin, the following instructions from General Sherman on October 31 are important: ‘You must unite all your men into one army, and abandon all minor points, if you expect to defeat Hood General Schofield is marching to-day from here. . . .’ 8 Again, on the same date, he telegraphed: ‘Bear in mind my instructions as to concentration, and not let Hood catch you in detail.’9

Sherman thus gave the most emphatic warning against the mistake which Thomas nevertheless made by failing to concentrate all his own available troops until it was too late to meet Hood's advance, thus leaving two corps to bear the entire brunt of battle until the crisis of the campaign was passed at Franklin.

The following correspondence relating to the command of the army in the field, to increasing the Fourth and Twenty-third corps, and to the use to be made of R. S. Granger's troops, and the reason why Thomas should assume the offensive as soon as possible, is also important, [199] especially as showing that Sherman expected the two corps to be increased to 50,000 men, and that Thomas should command in person:

Kingston, November 7, 1864, 10 A. M.
Major-General Thomas: Despatch of 12:30 P. M. yesterday received. General Schofield is entitled to the command lover Stanley] by virtue of a recent decision of the War Department. I would advise you to add to those corps new regiments until they number 25,000 men each. If Beauregard advances from Corinth, it will be better for you to command in person. Your presence alone will give confidence. Granger should continue all the time to threaten the rear, and as soon as possible some demonstration should be made from the direction of Vicksburg against the Mobile and Ohio Railroad. Also I want you to assume the offensive as quick as possible, as I have reason to believe all of Beauregard's army is not there, but that he has also divided his forces.

W. T. Sherman, Major-General.10

On the same day Thomas telegraphed to Sherman in reply to the above:

It is, and always has been, my intention to command the troops with me in person. My object in giving the preference to General Schofield lover Stanley] was merely that he should exercise command should accidental circumstances prevent my presence.11

Sherman and Thomas were equally right—Sherman in saying, ‘It will be better for you to command in person. Your presence alone will give confidence’; and Thomas in replying, ‘It is, and always has been, my intention to command the troops with me in person.’ The proper place for a general-in-chief is with his army in the field, where battles are to be fought, and not in the rear, where there is little to do but to assemble reinforcements, which his chief of staff could do as well as he. Thomas could have reached the army at Columbia by rail in two [200] hours, and at Franklin in one hour; yet he left a subordinate to fight against a superior force, while he remained in Nashville until he had collected there an army superior to that of his adversary. But General Thomas must have had some reason which seemed to him good and sufficient for his absence from the field. He was the last man in the world to shrink from his duty in battle.

Before the above correspondence between General Sherman and General Thomas was known to me I had written the following: ‘The relations existing between General Thomas and me, and the confidence he had shown in all his despatches, commencing with those received at Pulaski, left little room for hesitation or doubt about doing, in every emergency, what my own judgment dictated, as if I had been in chief command, confident of the approval which he so fully expressed after the events. Yet my experience then, as always, led me to the opinion that it is better for the general-in-chief, in all operations of a critical nature, to be present with the troops in the field, if possible; he must be able to act with more confidence than any subordinate can possibly feel. He was the sole judge as to the necessity of his remaining in Nashville, and no good reason could now be given for questioning the correctness of his judgment. It is only intended as an expression of a general rule for the consideration of military students.’

General Thomas's orders to General D. S. Stanley upon his being sent to Pulaski, and his subsequent orders to me, dated November 19, to fight the enemy at Pulaski if he advanced against that place, were, as shown in the following despatch from me, quite inapplicable to the then existing situation:

Pulaski, November 20, 1864.
Major-General Thomas: After full consideration I am of the opinion that this is not the best position for the main body of our troops, at least so long as we are inferior in strength to [201] the enemy. If Hood advances, whether his design be to strike this place or Columbia, he must move via Lawrenceburg on account of the difficulty of crossing Shoal Creek. Under cover of his cavalry, he can probably reach Lawrenceburg without our knowledge, and move his forces a day's march from that point toward Columbia before we could learn his designs, and thus reach that point ahead of us; or he might move upon this place, and while demonstrating against it throw his forces on to the pike north of us, and thus cut us off from Columbia and from our reinforcements. Lynnville would be free from these objections as a point of concentration for our forces. On the other hand, a force at this point covers the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad to the best advantage; but a brigade in the inclosed works at this place could hold out against any force until relieved, while the main force at Lynnville would be sure of concentrating with the troops still in rear. I respectfully submit these views for your consideration.

J. M. Schofield, Major-General.

To this General Thomas replied at once:

Nashville, November 20, 1864.
General Schofield: Your despatch of 2 P. M. this day just received. Two other despatches of to-day were received previous to this one. Do you mean that one brigade in the intrenchments at Pulaski could hold out for a week? The reason I ask is, General Smith cannot get here before next Friday. If one brigade can hold the fortifications of Pulaski for a week or ten days, you are authorized to leave a brigade or a division there, and concentrate the rest of your force at Lynnville preparatory to support Hatch, or fall back on Columbia, whichever may be necessary. Part of Ruger's troops will start for Columbia to-night, the remainder at two o'clock to-morrow, and the railroad superintendent says he will have them at Columbia by to-morrow night. The very moment Smith's troops arrive I will start them for Columbia. In any event, all surplus transportation should be sent to Columbia. I have just received General Hatch's of this P. M., and it seems from it that Hood is advancing. His movements will indicate to you what disposition you should make—whether to concentrate at Columbia or remain at Lynnville. [202] If Hood's entire army should advance, you must use your own discretion as to holding the fortifications at Pulaski or withdrawing the troops.

Geo. H. Thomas, Major-General.

General Thomas thus gave me the full freedom of action demanded by the situation in which I was placed, in lieu of his previous embarrassing orders about fighting the enemy at Pulaski.

The following correspondence,12 with the above, shows the situation as reported by me to General Thomas, and his ‘plans and wishes’ as then explained to me immediately before and after Hood began his advance:

Thomas to Schofield.

November 24, 1864.
. . . Have the fords above Columbia as well guarded as you can, and I think you will then have checked the advance of Hood, and we shall have time to get up our reinforcements.

Schofield to Thomas.

November 24, 1864, 1:39 P. M.
Do you think it important to hold Columbia? My force is not large enough to cover the town and railroad bridge. I can hold a shorter line covering the railroad bridge, leaving the town and railroad depot outside; but in any case the enemy can turn the position by crossing above or below, and render my withdrawal to the north bank very difficult. Please give me your views soon.

Thomas to Schofield.

November 24, 1864.
If you cannot hold Columbia, you had better withdraw to the north bank of the river. From the description given I supposed the line was sufficiently short to enable you and Stanley to hold it securely and have a reserve. But it is better, of course, to substantially check the enemy than to run the risk of defeat by risking too much. Where is Stanley? Is he with you?


Schofield to Thomas.

Columbia, November 24, 1864, 8:30 P. M.
I have examined the ground and considered the situation carefully. My troops are in position on the outer line, covering the railroad depot and bridge, and pretty well intrenched. The line is too long; yet if Hood wishes to fight me on it to-morrow, I am willing. I think he will attack to-morrow, if at all. If he does not, I must prepare to meet any attempt to cross Duck River above or below. For this purpose I am preparing an interior line covering the railroad bridge, which can be held by about seven thousand men, which I propose to occupy, and put the rest of my troops and material on the north bank of the river, ready to move as may be necessary. With the fords guarded, as will then be practicable, I think Hood cannot get the start of me. I think it best not to risk much now; for a few days' delay, if we concentrate rapidly, will make us strong enough to drive Hood back. My theory is that he will operate against the Chattanooga Railroad, and I do not see how we can save it from some damage at least. But if we concentrate Granger's troops and those along the road promptly, so that they can join the main force, there can be no doubt of the final result. Please inform me whether my proposed arrangements meet with your approval.

Thomas to Schofield.

Nashville, November 24, 1864.
. . . Can you not cover the pontoon bridge with a bridgehead, and hold it so as to preserve the bridge for crossing whenever we get ready to advance? General Rousseau informed me that the blockhouses protecting the railroad bridge cannot be reached by the enemy's artillery; therefore the enemy could not get near enough to the bridge to destroy it if the blockhouses are held. . .

As stated in my official report, I did prepare and hold a bridge-head covering both the railroad and the pontoon bridges over Duck River at the same time, for which purpose I floated the pontoons down the river to a point near the railroad bridge, having found that the blockhouses [204] referred to by General Rousseau could not be made available for the protection of the pontoon bridge where it before was—at the crossing of the turnpike. I abandoned that bridge-head on the night of November 27, upon receipt of information leading me to believe that Hood intended to cross Duck River above Columbia.

On November 25 General Thomas telegraphed me, in the following terms, his approval of the dispositions I had made, and the information that he had already ordered the concentration of troops which I suggested in my despatch of the 24th:

Your cipher despatch of 8:30 P. M. is just received; some difficulty in transmission the cause. Your arrangements are judicious and approved. I gave orders two days ago to make the concentration you suggest, and hope it will be nearly or quite completed to-day. Will telegraph you further this morning.

This despatch was more than twelve hours in transmission.

Again, November 26, I reported the situation at Columbia, and my action, as follows; also suggesting that infantry be sent forward at once:

The enemy has kept up a strong demonstration with dismounted cavalry since yesterday morning. He now shows a column of infantry on the Mount Pleasant pike, about three miles distant. I cannot yet tell how great the force. I have drawn my force in the interior line, and will fight him there. If you have any infantry available, I think it should be sent forward at once.

Yet no infantry reinforcements were sent, although the ‘7000 men’ at Chattanooga could easily have reached Columbia before that time.

At 8 A. M. the next day General Thomas replied as follows: [205]

Your despatch of 10 A. M. yesterday received. I will send you all the available infantry force I can raise. I expect some of Smith's command here to-day, and will send it forward as rapidly as possible. Sent you two regiments of cavalry day before yesterday, two yesterday, and will send another to-day. If you can hold Hood in check until I can get Smith up, we can whip him.

Thus it appears that even as late as November 27 General Thomas had not thought of sending the 7000 men at Chattanooga to ‘join the main force,’ although so anxious that I should hold Hood in check until he could get Smith up. He was still relying entirely upon A. J. Smith, whose advance, so surely expected on the 25th, was still expected on the 27th. It seems incredible that General Thomas had not thought of sending Steedman's troops from Chattanooga, instead of waiting for the uncertain arrival of A. J. Smith.

On November 27 I received an important despatch from General Thomas, dated November 25. It was written under the apprehension that Hood's design might be to move upon the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad, as I had suggested to Thomas on the 24th, and informed me fully of his plans and instructions to meet such a movement, requesting me to give him my views in reply. In that despatch General Thomas said:

In case you have to move to the north bank of Duck River, I wish you to keep some cavalry on the south side to observe and delay Hood's advance on the Chattanooga Railroad as much as possible. I hope to have five regiments of Granger's troops in Murfreesboroa to-day. Have made arrangements for Milroy to fall back to Murfreesboroa or this side of Duck River also, if the enemy advances. The cavalry on the south side of Duck River should cover the approaches to Shelbyville, and cross at that place, and hold the bridge in case of an advance in force. I have asked General Steedman how large a force he can raise to threaten the enemy's rear, should he get on the Chattanooga road, and expect an answer soon. About 1000 of Hatch's [206] cavalry have arrived here from Memphis, dismounted, but they will be mounted here as soon as possible and sent to the front; three regiments should start to-day, making about 1000 men. I have not heard from any of Smith's troops yet; some of them will surely be here to-day. If Hood moves on the Chattanooga road, I will send Smith to Murfreesboroa, as we shall be enabled thereby to concentrate more rapidly. If you can hold Hood on the south side of Duck River, I think we shall be able to drive him back easily after concentrating. Answer, giving your views.

Although that despatch of the 25th was not deciphered so as to be read by me until the 27th, forty-eight hours after it was sent, nevertheless it gave me timely information that Thomas had concentrated all his available troops (except Steedman's, which he appears to have overlooked until the 25th, and about which I had no knowledge) at Murfreesboroa, from which place they could ‘join the main force,’ as I had suggested, in a few hours, either by rail or by wagon-road, as circumstances might indicate. I was also led to infer from Thomas's language on the 25th—‘Some of them [A. J. Smith's troops] will surely be here to-day’—that on the 27th Smith's corps was already at Nashville, and that Thomas was only waiting for information respecting the enemy's designs to select his point of concentration and order all his available troops to join the army in the field at that point. And it was still expected on the 27th that this junction might be effected on the north bank of Duck River, opposite Columbia. Hence I telegraphed General Thomas, November 27, at 12:30 P. M.:

The enemy has made no real attack, and I am satisfied he does not intend to attack. My information, though not very satisfactory, leads me to believe that Hood intends to cross Duck River above Columbia, and as near it as he can. I shall withdraw to the north bank to-night and endeavor to prevent him from crossing. Wilson is operating mainly on my left, with a portion of his command south of the river. I have no late information [207] from him. I have succeeded in getting your cipher of the 25th translated. I believe your dispositions are wise.

It appears from his despatch of November 25 that Thomas hoped we might be able to hold the line of Duck River from Columbia as far east as Shelbyville, as well as west to the Tennessee River. Although this proved to be impracticable on account of the enemy's superiority in cavalry at that time, the point (Murfreesboroa) which Thomas had selected for his concentration was far enough in the rear of that line (Duck River) to make the concentration certain if orders were given in due time.

I learned in the afternoon of November 27, by General Thomas's despatch of 8 A. M., already quoted, that A. J. Smith's troops were not, as I had supposed, already in Nashville, but that some of them were expected there that day, and would come forward to join me at once.

In the morning of November 28, at 8:45, I reported my withdrawal to the north side of the river, saying:

My troops and material are all on the north side of Duck River. The withdrawal was completed at daylight this morning without serious difficulty. Cox holds the ford in front of Columbia, and Ruger the railroad bridge, which I partially destroyed. Stanley is going into position a short distance in rear of Cox. I think I can now stop Hood's advance by any line near this, and meet in time any distant movement to turn my position. I regret extremely the necessity of withdrawing from Columbia, but believe it was absolute. I will explain fully in time. Reinforcements will have to march from Spring Hill or Thompson's Station. Supplies should be sent to Thompson's Station.

After withdrawing to the north bank of Duck River I telegraphed on the morning of November 28:

I am in doubt whether it is advisable, with reference to future operations, to hold this position or to retire to some point from [208] which we can move offensively. Of course we cannot recross the river here. I could easily have held the bridge-head at the railroad, but it would have been useless, as we could not possibly advance from that point. Please give me your views and wishes.

This was answered by General Thomas at ‘8 P. M.,’ the answer being received by me next morning, November 29.

It is thus seen that up to the morning of November 28 I was still hoping for reinforcements on the line of Duck River, and thought I could stop Hood's advance by any line near the Columbia and Franklin pike, which I then held, as well as meet in good time any distant movement to turn my position. Accordingly, at 9:10 A. M. that day I telegraphed General Thomas:

I have all the fords above and below this place well watched and guarded as far as possible. Wilson is operating with his main force on my left. The enemy does not appear to have moved in that direction yet to any considerable distance. I will probably be able to give you pretty full information this evening. Do you not think the infantry at the distant crossings below here should now be withdrawn and cavalry substituted? I do not think we can prevent the crossing of even the enemy's cavalry, because the places are so numerous. I think the best we can do is to hold the crossings near us and watch the distant ones.

But I learned soon after noon of the same day that our cavalry found the fords so numerous that they could hardly watch them all, much less guard any of them securely; and a little later I learned that the enemy's cavalry had forced a crossing at some point only a few miles above, between Huey's Mill and the Lewisburg-Franklin pike. At 2:30 P. M. I telegraphed General Thomas:

The enemy was crossing in force a short distance this side of the Lewisburg pike at noon to-day, and had driven our cavalry [209] back across the river on the pike at the same time. The force is reported to be infantry, but I do not regard it as being probable. Wilson has gone with his main force to learn the facts, and drive the enemy back, if practicable.

In the appendix to General Thomas's report the date of the above despatch is given as ‘3:30 A. M.’ It was answered by General Thomas at ‘10:30 P. M.’ and his answer was received by me November 29 (no hour mentioned in the records). The Department of the Ohio records say that I sent it at ‘2:30 P. M.’ The appendix to my report mentions the date ‘November 29,’ but does not give the hour. My official report, as published, also says this information was received ‘about 2 A. M. on the 29th’; but this is evidently a clerical error: clearly the report should read, ‘about 2 P. M. on the 28th.’

But our cavalry was unable to drive that of the enemy back, and hence Hood was free to lay his pontoon bridge and cross his infantry and artillery at any point above Columbia. We had not been able to hold even the crossings near us.

The same day, November 28, at 4 P. M., I telegraphed:

If Hood advances on the Lewisburg and Franklin pike, where do you propose to fight him? I have all the force that is necessary here, and General Smith's troops should be placed with reference to the proposed point of concentration.

And again, at 6 P. M.:

The enemy's cavalry in force has crossed the river on the Lewisburg pike, and is now in possession of Rally Hill.

Wilson is trying to get on to the Franklin road ahead of them. He thinks the enemy may swing around in between him and me, and strike Spring Hill, and wants Hammond's brigade to halt there. Please give it orders if you know where it is. Also, I think it would be well to send A. J. Smith's force to that place.


In the night of November 28-9, about 2 A. M., I received the report of the cavalry commander, conveying the information given him by prisoners that the enemy had commenced to bridge the river near Huey's Mill, and urging the necessity of immediate retreat to Franklin.13 The staff officer who handed me the despatch called my attention especially to the words urging immediate action, and I considered the subject quite a long time. But there did not seem to me to be any necessity for such haste. The enemy could not accomplish much before morning. It would then be early enough to decide what must be done. Besides, it was not yet certain that Hood was attempting to cross his infantry at Huey's Mill. The vigorous action of his cavalry might be intended only to induce me to fall back, and thus give him the use of the crossing at Columbia, and of the turnpike from that place, for the movement of his infantry, artillery, and trains.

In the morning, November 29, I sent a brigade of infantry toward Huey's Mill to reconnoiter and report the enemy's movements. At the same time Stanley was ordered to Spring Hill, with two divisions of his corps, to occupy and intrench a good position commanding the roads at that place and protecting the trains and reserve artillery which had been ordered to be parked there. Ruger's division of the Twenty-third Corps, except one regiment, was ordered to follow Stanley. The army was ready to occupy Spring Hill in full force, and in ample time to meet any possible movement of the enemy either on that place or, by the Lewisburg pike, on Franklin.

In my orders to Ruger, dated 8 A. M., directing him to move at once to Spring Hill, he was ordered to leave one regiment to guard the river until dark and then join him at Spring Hill. It was then intended, in any event, to hold Spring Hill until the morning of November 30. [211] At the same time Ruger was directed to order his troops guarding the river below to march at once for Franklin.

But very soon after those orders were issued—that is, soon after 8 A. M.—a courier from Franklin brought me the two following despatches from General Thomas:

Franklin, November 28, 1864. (By telegraph from Nashville. 9 P. M.)
To Major-General Schofield:
If you are confident you can hold your present position, I wish you to do so until I can get General Smith here. After his arrival we can withdraw gradually and invite Hood across Duck River, and fall upon him with our whole force, or wait until Wilson can organize his entire cavalry force, and then withdraw from your present position. Should Hood then cross river, we can surely ruin him. You may have fords at Centreville, Bean's [Beard's] Ferry, Gordon's Ferry, and Williamsport thoroughly obstructed by filling up all the roads leading from them with trees, and then replace your infantry by cavalry. Send an intelligent staff officer to see that the work is properly done. As soon as relieved, concentrate your infantry; the cavalry will be able to retard, if not prevent, Hood's crossing, after the roads are thoroughly obstructed, if they do their duty. The road leading from Centreville to Nashville should be thoroughly obstructed. I am not sure but it would be a good plan to invite Hood across Duck River if we can get him to move toward Clarksville. Is there no convenience for unloading beyond Thompson's Station?

Geo. H. Thomas, Major-General, Commanding.14

The published records give this despatch as having been sent at ‘8 P. M.’ The Department of the Cumberland records say that it was telegraphed in cipher to Franklin at 9 P. M., and there deciphered and sent by courier to my position near Columbia. The records do not show the hour of receipt by me; but my reply to General Thomas of 8:30 A. M., November 29, and my orders to Ruger of 8 and 8:45 A. M., and to Stanley before [212] and after 8 A. M., and my despatch to Wilson of 8:15 A. M., fix the time of the receipt by me of this despatch from General Thomas at a few minutes after 8 A. M., November 29.

The other despatch was as follows:

(U. S. Military Telegraph.)

Franklin, Tenn., November 28, 1864.

(By telegraph from Nashville. 9:30 P. M.) To Major-General Schofield:
Your despatch of 3:30 [2:30] P. M. just received. If Wilson cannot succeed in driving back the enemy, should it prove true that he has crossed the river, you will necessarily have to make preparation to take up a new position at Franklin, behind Harpeth, [while] immediately, if it become necessary to fall back. (Signed) Geo. H. Thomas, Major-General, Commanding.

The records of the Department of the Cumberland merely state that this despatch was sent in ‘cipher.’ The appendix to my report gives the hour ‘9:30 P. M.’ The appendix to General Thomas's report fixes it at ‘10:30 P. M.’ The despatch from General Thomas to General Halleck of 10 P. M., November 28, forwarding my despatch of ‘8:45 A. M.,’ indicates that at 10 P. M. Thomas had not received my report of ‘2:30 P. M.’ Hence ‘10:30 P. M.,’ as given by General Thomas, must be the correct hour of the above despatch. It was answered by me, together with the preceding telegram, at 8:30 A. M., November 29; and was probably received by me at the same time as the previous despatch,—very soon after 8 A. M.,—as indicated by my despatch to Wilson of 8:15 A. M.

I thus learned, a short time after eight o'clock on the morning of the 29th, that A. J. Smith had not yet arrived at Nashville, and that the position behind the Harpeth River at Franklin was that to which I must retire when compelled to fall back. [213]

(Another despatch from Thomas, dated November 28, 10 A. M., appears in the records, in which he said: ‘. . . General Smith will certainly be here in three days. . . .’ But when that despatch reached my headquarters in the field, the cipher-operator had left his post and gone to Franklin. Hence the despatch could not be read by me in time to be of any service. The records do not show when I received it.)

I was then confronted with the grave question, How long might it be possible to hold Hood back, and thus gain time for Thomas to get up his reinforcements? By holding on to the crossing of Duck River at Columbia until dark that night, and thus preventing Hood from using the turnpike for the movement of his artillery and trains until the next day, we would practically gain twenty-four hours; for he could not move them readily over his mud road from Huey's Mill. To do this, I must not only head Hood off at Spring Hill, but defeat any attempt he might make to dislodge me from the north bank of Duck River.

Early on November 29, I sent the following brief despatch in reply to both of those which had been received a few minutes before from General Thomas:

The enemy's cavalry has crossed in force on the Lewisburg pike, and General Wilson reports the infantry crossing above Huey's Mill, about five miles from this place. I have sent an infantry reconnoissance to learn the facts. If it proves true, I will act according to your instructions received this morning. Please send orders to General Cooper,15 via Johnsonville. It may be doubtful whether my messenger from here will reach him.

The appendix to General Thomas's report says that I sent this despatch at ‘8:30 A. M.’ The appendix to my report says ‘8:20 A. M.’ This despatch was evidently in [214] answer to those from General Thomas of 8 P. M. and 10:30 P. M., November 28, as indicated by my orders to Stanley and Ruger, and my despatch of 8:15 A. M. to Wilson.

Soon after 10 A. M., November 29, the first report from the brigade sent toward Huey's Mill showed that the enemy's infantry was crossing the river at that place. That report is not found in the records, and I do not recollect its words. But it did not produce the impression upon my mind that Hood's movement was so rapid or energetic as to prevent me from doing what seemed of such vital importance. Therefore I decided not to yield my position unless compelled by force to do so. While considering this question I had detained one of Stanley's two divisions (Kimball's), and had suspended the orders for Ruger's division to march to Spring Hill. When the decision was reached, I put Kimball's and Wood's divisions in position between Duck River and Rutherford's Creek, and Ruger's north of that creek, to resist any attempt the enemy might make upon our position. I then sent the following to Stanley at Spring Hill:

near Columbia, Tenn., November 29, 1864, 10:45 A. M.
Major-General Stanley, Commanding Fourth Army Corps.
General: General Wood's reconnoissance shows a considerable force, at least, on this side of the river. I have halted Kimball's division this side of the creek and put it in position. I will try to hold the enemy until dark, and then draw back. Select a good position at Spring Hill, covering the approaches, and send out parties to reconnoiter on all roads leading east and southeast. Try to communicate with Wilson on the Lewisburg pike. Tell him to cover Franklin and Spring Hill, and try not to let the enemy get between us.

Very respectfully,

J. M. Schofield, Major-General.

The situation early in the morning had been a very simple one, free from any embarrassment or unusual [215] danger. If the plan then decided on and ordered had been carried out, three divisions of infantry and nearly all the artillery of the army would have been in position at Spring Hill and well intrenched long before the head of Hood's column, without any artillery, came in sight of that place late in the afternoon. That position would have been secured beyond doubt until the next morning. The other two divisions (Cox's and Wood's) would have withdrawn from Duck River and marched to Spring Hill early in the afternoon, before the enemy could seriously interfere with them. Ruger's one regiment, without impedimenta, was directed to march along the railway track to Spring Hill, and thus avoid any interference from the enemy. The army would have marched to Franklin early in the night of the 29th, instead of after midnight as it actually did. That would have given the enemy the afternoon and night in which to lay his pontoons and cross his artillery and trains at Columbia. But that would not have been a serious matter, in view of the situation as it was understood by me up to about 8 A. M. of the 29th; for the information I had received up to that hour justified the belief that both A. J. Smith's troops and those concentrated at Murfreesboroa would meet me at Franklin, or perhaps at Spring Hill, where we would be able to give battle to the enemy on equal terms.

But in view of the information received by me after eight o'clock that morning, and the altered plan decided on soon after ten o'clock, the situation became very materially different. Under this plan the army must be ready to encounter a formidable enemy either in the position then occupied on Duck River, or at some point on the road between that place and Spring Hill. Hence I determined to keep the main body of the troops together, and trust to Stanley's one division to hold Spring Hill until the army should reach that point. That is to [216] say, I decided to take the chances of a pitched battle at any point the enemy might select between Duck River and Spring Hill, as well as that of holding the latter place with one division against any hostile force which might reach it before dark.

There was no anxiety in my mind about what might happen at Spring Hill after dark. The danger which actually developed there between dark and midnight —of which I knew nothing until several days afterward—resulted entirely from faulty execution of my orders.

I arrived at Spring Hill at dusk with the head of the main column, having ordered all the troops to follow in close order, and (except Ruger's troops, which I took to Thompson's) to form line on the right of Stanley's division at Spring Hill, covering the pike back toward Columbia. Cox's division, being the last, was to form our extreme right. In that contemplated position, if Hood had attacked at any time in the night we would have had decidedly the advantage of him. I had no anxiety on that point. When informed, about midnight, that Cox had arrived, I understood that my orders had been exactly executed, and then ordered Cox to take the lead and the other divisions to follow, from the right by the rear, in the march to Franklin.

But it happened that only Whitaker's brigade of Kimball's division, to which I gave the orders in person, followed Ruger's. Hence that one brigade was the only force we had in line between Hood's bivouac and the turnpike that night. If that fact had been known to the enemy, the result would have been embarrassing, but not very serious. If the enemy had got possession of a point on the pike, the column from Duck River would have taken the country road a short distance to the west of Spring Hill and Thompson's Station, and marched on to Franklin. The situation at Spring Hill in the night was [217] not by any means a desperate one. Veteran troops are not so easily cut off in an open country.

The annotation upon the copy filed in the War Department of the order actually given to the troops on November 29 explains how that mistake occurred. In brief, the draft of an order prepared in writing for another purpose, but not issued, was by some unexplained blunder substituted for the oral orders actually dictated to a staff officer. It was an example of how the improvised staff of a volunteer army, like the ‘non-military agencies of government,’ may interfere with military operations.

The serious danger at Spring Hill ended at dark. The gallant action of Stanley and his one division at that place in the afternoon of November 29 cannot be overestimated or too highly praised. If the enemy had gained a position there in the afternoon which we could not have passed round in the night, the situation would then have become very serious. But, as I had calculated, the enemy did not have time to do that before dark, against Stanley's stubborn resistance.

The following, from the official records, has been quoted as an order from General Thomas to me, though I never received it, the enemy's cavalry having got possession of the road between Franklin and Spring Hill:

Nashville, November 29, 1864, 3:30 A. M.
Major-General Schofield, near Columbia:
Your despatches of 6 P. M. and 9 P. M. yesterday are received. I have directed General Hammond to halt his command at Spring Hill and report to you for orders, if he cannot communicate with General Wilson, and also instructing him to keep you well advised of the enemy's movements. I desire you to fall back from Columbia and take up your position at Franklin, leaving a sufficient force at Spring Hill to contest the enemy's progress until you are securely posted at Franklin. The troops at the fords below Williamsport, etc., will be withdrawn and take up a position behind Franklin. General A. J. Smith's [218] command has not yet reached Nashville; as soon as he arrives I will make immediate disposition of his troops and notify you of the same. Please send me a report as to how matters stand upon your receipt of this.

Geo. H. Thomas, Major-General U. S. Vols., Commanding.16

This despatch does not appear upon any of the records as having been received by me. If it was telegraphed in cipher to Franklin, and there deciphered and sent by courier, the same time being occupied as with other such despatches, this should have reached me not long after noon. But the courier was probably driven back or captured by the enemy's cavalry, who had possession of the direct road, near Spring Hill, about noon.

If any ‘orders’ had been necessary in such a case, they had been rendered unnecessary by Hood's movement to cross Duck River, of which I had already learned at 2 A. M. the same day (November 29). The only question in my mind that General Thomas could solve—namely, to what place I must retire—was settled by his despatch of 10:30 P. M., November 28, above quoted, received by me about 8 A. M. of the 29th. But there still remained the question when I must do it; and that I must solve myself, for General Thomas was much too far away, and communication was much too slow and uncertain, for him to give me any help on that subject.

I had received information of Hood's movement at 2 A. M., six hours earlier, and I had had ample time to get out of his way before morning. After 8 A. M. it would, of course, not have been so easy. Yet a retreat to Franklin that day (November 29), commencing at eight or nine in the morning, and across the Harpeth that night, would not have been at all difficult or dangerous. There would have been some fighting with Hood's cavalry, but little or none with his infantry. Hood would [219] have had to lay a pontoon bridge at Columbia, after my rear-guard had withdrawn, before his advance from that point could begin; and, as events proved, he could not reach Spring Hill by his mud road from Huey's Mill until late in the afternoon. I had time to pass Spring Hill with my entire army before Hood's infantry advance-guard could reach that place. Hence I had ample time to consider the mathematical and physical questions involved before deciding finally that I would not let Hood drive me back from Duck River that day. But I did not at any time contemplate a retreat that day farther back than Spring Hill, as is shown by my direction to Ruger to have his regiment from Ducktown join him there that night.

I am entirely willing to leave to intelligent military criticism any question in respect to the accuracy of my calculations, also the question whether I was justifiable, under the conditions then existing or understood to exist respecting Thomas's preparations in the rear to fight a decisive battle, in taking the risks, which are always more or less unavoidable, of failure in the execution of plans based upon so close an estimate of what could be done by my adversary as well as by myself. I content myself with the simple remark that, in my opinion, if my own orders had been carried out as I gave them, and my reasonable suggestion to my superior in the rear to bridge the Harpeth at Franklin had been promptly acted on, there would have been far less risk of failure than must frequently be incurred in war.

If I had had satisfactory assurance of the timely arrival of sufficient reinforcements on the line of Duck River, I would have been justified in dividing my infantry into several detachments to support the cavalry in opposing the crossing of Duck River at the numerous places above Columbia. But, sooner or later, Hood could have forced a crossing at some one of those places, and thus have interposed [220] a compact body of troops, larger than my entire army, between my detachments. If that had occurred before my reinforcements arrived, I would have been caught in the worst possible condition. Hence, in the absence of certain information in respect to when reinforcements would arrive, and their aggregate strength, a division of my force was inadmissible. An inferior force should generally be kept in one compact body, while a superior force may often be divided to great advantage.

I now direct attention to the correspondence between General Thomas and myself, on November 30, before the battle of Franklin, showing that he was not ready for battle at Nashville, and his desire that I should, if possible, hold Hood back three days longer; and showing that my estimate of the importance of time when I was at Columbia was by no means exaggerated; also showing General Thomas's views and mine of the military situation before the battle, and the action then determined on and ordered and partially executed by the movement of trains toward Nashville before the battle opened. The results of the battle were not such, even if they had been fully known at the time, as to have rendered admissible any change in those orders.

Nashville, [November] 30, [1864,] 4 A. M.
Captain W. J. Twining, Franklin:
Your despatch of 1 A. M. to-day is received. Please inform General Schofield that Major-General Smith's troops have just arrived at the levee and are still on boats, and that it is impossible for them to reach Franklin to-day. He must make strong efforts to cover his wagon-train, protecting it against the enemy, as well as to reach Franklin with his command and get into position there. I will despatch him further in a few hours.

The next despatch from General Thomas was at 10:25 A. M. By that time he had received two more despatches [221] from me, as follows, I having arrived at Franklin between 4 and 5 A. M.:

Franklin, November 30, 1864, 5 A. M.
Have just seen your despatch to Captain Twining of 4 A. M. If Smith is not needed for the immediate defense of Nashville, I think he had better march for Franklin at once. He could at least cover my wagon-train if I have to fall back from here.

Franklin, November 30, 1864, 5:30 A. M.
I hope to get my troops and material safely across the Harpeth this morning. We have suffered no material loss so far. I shall try and get Wilson on my flank this morning. Forrest was all around us yesterday, but we brushed him away in the evening and came through. Hood attacked in the front and flank, but did not hurt us.

This last despatch was written before daylight, on my arrival at Franklin, before I learned that there were no bridges across the river. If pontoons had been laid or the wagon and railroad bridges improved on the 29th, as was done by me after my arrival, all could have crossed by noon of the 30th.

General Thomas's reply of 10:25 A. M. was as follows:

Your despatches of 5:30 and 5:50, and Wilson's despatches, forwarded to you, have been received. It will take Smith quite all day to disembark; but if I find there is no immediate necessity to retain him here, will send him to Franklin or Brentwood, according to circumstances. If you can prevent Hood from turning your position at Franklin, it should be held; but I do not wish you to risk too much. I send you a map of the environs of Franklin.

Again I telegraphed at 9:50 A. M.:

My trains are coming in all right, and half of the troops are here and the other half about five miles out, coming on in good order, with light skirmishing. I will have all across the river [222] this evening. Wilson is here, and has his cavalry on my flank. I do not know where Forrest is. He may have gone east, but, no doubt, will strike our flank and rear again soon. Wilson is entirely unable to cope with him. Of course I cannot prevent Hood from crossing the Harpeth whenever he may attempt it. Do you desire me to hold on here until compelled to fall back?

And at 11 A. M. I telegraphed: ‘Troops and trains in all right.’

At noon I answered as follows General Thomas's last despatch:

Your despatch of 10:25 A. M. is received. I am satisfied that I have heretofore run too much risk in trying to hold Hood in check while so far inferior to him in both infantry and cavalry. The slightest mistake on my part, or failure of a subordinate, during the last three days might have proved disastrous. I don't want to get into so tight a place again; yet I will cheerfully act in accordance with your views of expediency, if you think it important to hold Hood back as long as possible. When you get all your troops together, and the cavalry in effective condition, we can easily whip Hood, and, I believe, make the campaign a decisive one. Before that, the most we can do is to husband our strength and increase it as much as possible. I fear the troops which were stationed on the river below Columbia will be lost. I will get my trains out of the way as soon as possible, and watch Hood carefully. Possibly I may be able to hold him here, but do not expect to be able to do so long.

This despatch shows not only my opinion at that time of the kind of ‘place’ I had been in, but my belief that the character of that situation had been due largely to Thomas's action in leaving me without the expected reinforcements, and in not providing the means of crossing the Harpeth River.

The following seems to show that General Thomas did not even then see the importance of prompt concentration of all his available force in front of the enemy, but expected me, with two corps, to fight the entire hostile [223] force until he could complete his concentration at Nashville. Even before the battle of Franklin he seems to have thought he could take his time to concentrate, reorganize his cavalry, and then ‘try Hood again.’

General Smith reported to me this morning that one division of his troops is still behind; we must therefore try to hold Hood where he now is until those troops can get up, and the steamers return. After that we will concentrate here, reorganize our cavalry, and try Hood again. Do you think you can hold Hood at Franklin for three days longer? Answer, giving your views; and I should like to know what Wilson thinks he can do to aid you in holding Hood.

Geo. H. Thomas, Major-General U. S. Vols., Commanding.

Thereupon, in the following telegram, dated 3 P. M., I proposed Brentwood as a point where A. J. Smith's and all the other troops could surely unite with mine:

I have just received your despatch asking whether I can hold Hood here three days. I do not believe I can. I can doubtless hold him one day, but will hazard something in doing that. He now has a large force, probably two corps, in my front, and seems preparing to cross the river above and below. I think he can effect a crossing to-morrow in spite of all my efforts, and probably to-night, if he attempts it. A worse position than this for an inferior force could hardly be found. I will refer your question to General Wilson this evening. I think he can do very little. I have no doubt Forrest will be in my rear to-morrow, or doing some greater mischief. It appears to me that I ought to take position at Brentwood at once. If A. J. Smith's division and the Murfreesboroa garrison join me there, I ought to be able to hold Hood in check for some time. I have just learned that the enemy's cavalry is already crossing three miles above. I will have lively times with my trains again.


This despatch gives a very accurate estimate of the true situation at that time, except perhaps that I did not then fully appreciate how much our cavalry had gained in effective strength by the reinforcements that had joined the corps in the field during the retreat. I judged by the experience of the previous day (November 29). But the result was very different in the afternoon of the 30th, when our cavalry repulsed and drove back that of the enemy; at the same time the infantry assault was repulsed at Franklin. There was no apprehension of the result of an attack in front at Franklin, but of a move of Hood to cross the river above and strike for Nashville before I could effect a junction with the troops then at that place.

The following despatches must have been sent either during the progress of the battle, or very soon afterward:

Please send A. J. Smith's division to Brentwood early tomor-row morning. Also please send to Brentwood to-morrow morning 1,000,000 rounds infantry ammunition, 2000 rounds 3-inch, and 1000 rounds light twelve artillery.

In reply to my advice, the following order to fall back to Nashville was sent by Thomas before the battle, but was received by me after the heavy fighting had ceased. Communication was interrupted for a short time during the transfer of the telegraph station from the town of Franklin to a place on the north side of the Harpeth, rendered necessary by the battle.

Nashville, November 30, 1864.
Your despatch of 3 P. M. is received. Send back your trains to this place at once, and hold your troops in readiness to march to Brentwood, and thence to this place, as soon as your trains are fairly on the way, so disposing your force as to cover the wagon-train. Have all railroad trains sent back immediately. Notify General Wilson of my instructions. He will govern [225] himself accordingly. Relieve all garrisons in blockhouses and send back by railroad trains last over the road. Acknowledge receipt.

Geo. H. Thomas, Major-General.

The following is my first report to General Thomas, sent immediately after the battle:

The enemy made a heavy and persistent attack with about two corps, commencing at 4 P. M. and lasting until after dark. He was repulsed at all points with very heavy loss—probably five or six thousand men. Our losses probably not more than one fourth that number.17 We have captured about one thousand men, including one brigadier-general. Your despatch of this P. M. is received. I had already given the orders you direct, and am now executing them.

Before the battle, and in anticipation of the order from General Thomas, the trains had been sent back and the preparations made for the army to retire to Brentwood, the troops to commence withdrawing from the line on the south side of the river immediately after dark. In consequence of the battle, the movement of the troops was suspended until midnight. General Thomas promptly replied to my first report in these words:

Your telegram is just received. It is glorious news, and I congratulate you and the brave men of your command; but you must look out that the enemy does not still persist. The courier you sent to General Cooper, at Widow Dean's, could not reach there, and reports that he was chased by rebel cavalry on the whole route, and finally came into this place. Major-General Steedman, with five thousand men, should be here in the morning. When he arrives I will start General A. J. Smith's command and General Steedman's troops to your assistance at Brentwood.

1 See his ‘Memoirs,’ Vol. II, pp. 162, 163.

2 It appears from General Thomas's report that he did have in his department, by November 29, the mounted cavalry force stated by General Sherman—viz., 7700; but only 4800 of that force joined the army in the field before the enemy forced the crossing of Duck River. The remaining 2900 were not available for service in the field until after the crisis of the campaign was passed so far as the cavairy could affect it.

3 See Vol. XLV, parts i and II.

4 See Vols. XXXIX and XLV.

5 See General Thomas's report: War Records, Vol. XLV, part i, p. 33.

6 War Records, Vol. XLV, part i, p. 1017.

7 Thomas to Steedman, November 25: War Records, Vol. XLV, part i, p.1050.

8 War Records, Vol. XXXIX, part III, p. 535.

9 I bid., p. 536.

10 War Records, Vol. XXXIX, part III, p. 685.

11 I bid.

12 War Records, Vol. XLV, part i.

13 War Records, Vol. XLV, part i, p. 1143.

14 War Records, Vol. XLV, part i, p. 1108.

15 1 Cooper commanded the brigade guarding the river below Columbia.

16 War Records, Vol. XLV, part i, p. 1137.

17 At that time I did not know of our loss in prisoners, having thought nearly all of Wagner's two brigades had come in with those I had seen running to the rear.

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Rutherford Creek (Tennessee, United States) (1)
Rhode Island (Rhode Island, United States) (1)
Rally Hill (Tennessee, United States) (1)
Mexico (Mexico, Mexico) (1)
Kingston (Tennessee, United States) (1)
Johnsonville, Tenn. (Tennessee, United States) (1)
Franklin (Tennessee, United States) (1)
Ducktown (Tennessee, United States) (1)
Dalton, Ga. (Georgia, United States) (1)
Atlanta (Georgia, United States) (1)

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