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HDQRS. CAVALRY CORPS, MIL. DIV. OF THE MISSISSIPPI, Three Miles North of Thompson’s Station, on West Harpeth, December 17, 1864-6 p. m.

Brigadier General W. D. WHIPPLE,

Chief of Staff:

GENERAL: We have “bust up” Stevenson’s division of infantry, a brigade of cavalry, and taken three guns. The Fourth Cavalry and Hatch’s division, supported by Knipe, made several beautiful charges, breaking the rebel infantry in all directions. There has been a great deal of night firing, volleys and cannonading from our guns-the rebels have none. It is very dark, and our men are considerably scattered, but I’ll collect them on this bank of the stream-West Harpeth. Hatch is a brick!

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

J. H. WILSON,

Brevet Major-General, Commanding.

The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies

You are currently in Volume XLV | Page 238

he Corps Commander (Gen. Wilson) says of this incident (Dec 17):†

Late in the evening, apparently exhausted with a rapid marching, the enemy took up a strong position in the open field about a mile north of the West Harpeth. It was then so dark from fog and approaching night that the men of Hatch’s division who had become somewhat intermingled with the sullen and taciturn Confederate stragglers, began to doubt that the ranks which were now looming up in their front were really those of the enemy’s rear-guard. The momentary hesitation caused by this doubt gave Forrest an opportunity to straighten his lines and to push his single remaining battery in position so as to sweep the turnpike. Hatch on the left and Knipe on the right were at once ordered to charge the enemy’s flanks, while the Fourth Regular Cavalry, under Lieut. Hedges, was directed straight against his centre. Seeing what was about to burst upon him, the battery commander opened with canister at short range, but had hardly emptied his guns before the storm broke upon him. Forrest did his best to hold his ground, but it was impossible. Hedges rode headlong over the battery and captured a part of his guns. * * * “Lieut. Hedges, outstripping his men, was captured three different times, but throwing his hat away and raising the cry, ‘The Yankees are coming, run for your lives,’ succeeded in getting away.”

*War Records XXIII, part 1, 231.
† “Battles and Leaders of the Civil War.”

Sources:

  • Spurs to Glory: The Story of the U.S. Cavalry, Merrill, James M., (Chicago: Rand McNally 1966)

Note:

Several sources incorrectly record that the action for which Hedges was awarded his Medal of Honor took place on Dec 24th. For example, this article. But Thomas’ report verifies it was on 17th Dec 1864, not the 24th.

The Wikipedia article even confuses the account with the Battle of Nashville.

George H. Thomas
O.R.–SERIES I–VOLUME XLV/1 [S# 93] NOVEMBER 14, 1864-JANUARY 23, 1865.–Campaign in North Alabama and Middle Tennessee.
No. 1.–Report of Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas, U. S. Army, commanding Department of the Cumberland.

Read it online – http://www.aotc.net/nashv-rep.htm

On the evening of the 16th Dec…

The Corps bivouacked for the night: Knipe, Croxton, and Hatch’s on the Granny White pike, and Johnson, on the Hillsboro pike, near the Harpeth River. Before daylight (17th Dec) they were in motion again; Knipe’s in the advance, marched through the country to the Franklin pike; Croxton crossed and marched over on the other side, through the fields, to its left; Hatch and Croxton crossed soon after at the fords above the town. At Franklin the enemy’s hospitals, with two thousand wounded, fell into our hands; two hundred of our own wounded, left there on the retreat to Nashville, were also recovered, together with 1,700 rations. The prusuit was immediately continued, Knipe and Hatch moving in parallel columns were directed to push rapidly forward, and endeavor to press round the flanks of the enemy’s rear-guard, composed almost entirely of infantry, while a strong force of skirmishers across the pike should press it continually, and compel it to form line as frequently as possible. By these means I hoped to break up their last organized force, and disperse their disorganized and flying mass they were covering. My orders were obeyed with great alacrity, but the enemy finding his flank so much endangered, retired as rapidly, but skirmishing heavily with Hatch and Knipe. Late in the evening, apparently exhausted with rapid marching, the rebels took a strong position in the open fields, about a mile north of the West Harpeth. It was then almost dark from fog and approaching night. The men of General Hatch’s advance, by their rapid movements, had become so intermingled with the sullen and disheartened enemy, he began to doubt that the forces in his front were really those of the rebel rear guard. The momentary hesitation caused by this uncertainty gave the rebels an opportunity to put their batteries in position and reform their line. I immediately gave orders for Hatch and Knipe to collect their men and charge both flanks of the enemy, and directed my escort, the fourth United States Cavalry, about two hundred strong, Lieutenant Hedges commanding, to charge their centre on the pike. These orders had scarcely been given, before the enemy opened a rapid fire from their battery, not over three hundred yards from us. Hatch’s battery promptly replied; Lt. Hedges, thinking that I simply wished him to ascertain the real character of the force in our front, hastily moved his regiment about, and to the front side of the road, out of the range of the rebel guns, but, at my order, as promptly resumed his original formation in, columns of fours, in the road, and dashing forward at the gallop, with sabres drawn, broke through the enemy’s battery. Hatch’s division and Hammond’s brigade, dismounted, dashed forward at the same time. The enemy, broken in the centre and pressed back on both flanks, fled rapidly from the field, withdrawing his guns at a gallop. Lieutenant Hedges, outstripping his men, was captured three different times, but throwing away his hat and raising the cry, “the Yankees are coming; run for your lives,” succeeded in getting away. The rout was complete, although then it was very dark, everybody pressed rapidly forward; the fourth cavalry and General Hatch, with a handful of men, in advance on the pike, and the fifth division on the right and left. General Hammond, with the tenth Indiana cavalr, Lieutenant Colonel Gresham commanding, fording the West Harpeth, a few hundred yards to the right, again struck the rebels on the flank. Pressed in all directions, the artillerymen left their guns and saved themselves as best they could; the infantry scattered in all directions. Darkness alone enabled the entire command to escape. The rebel force was found to be Stevenson’s division of Lee’s corps, under command of General Forrest, who had just returned from Murfreesboro.

Source: report of Major General Thomas (web site)
Cited on page 419: Reports of Committees: 30th Congress, 1st Session – 48th Congress, 2nd

Note: It was for this action Hedges was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Additionally, Wilson awarded Hedges to be Captain and brevet Major for this action.
” I have the honor to recommend and request brevet appointments for the following-named officers:  First Lieut. Joseph Hedges, Fourth U.S. Cavalry, to be captain and brevet major for conspicuous gallantry during the pursuit of Hood after the battle of Nashville, charging the enemy’s rear guard on the West Harpeth River, leading his regiment, capturing three pieces of artillery” (May 19, 1865)

Dec. 17    Action, West Harpeth River

ILLINOIS–3d, 6th, 7th, 9th and 16th Cavalry;
Battery “I,” 1st Light Arty.

INDIANA–9th, 10th and 11th Cavalry.

IOWA–2d and 5th Cavalry.

OHIO–7th Cavalry;
14th Indpt. Battery Light Arty.

PENNSYLVANIA –19th Cavalry.

TENNESSEE–1st, 2d, 4th, 10th and 12th Cavalry.

UNITED STATES–4th Cavalry.
1864.

Official records citation (TN)
Source: web site

Note: above list does not include 12th MO Cav

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Summary of the Battle of Franklin

The Battle of Franklin was fought on November 30, 1864 in Franklin, Tennessee; in Williamson County. John Bell Hood's Army of Tennessee (around 33,000 men) faced off with John M. Schofield's Army of the Ohio and the Cumberland (around 30,000 men). Often cited as "the bloodiest five hours" during the American Civil War, the Confederates lost between 6,500 - 7,500 men, with 1,750 dead. The Federals lost around 2,000 - 2,500 men, with just 250 or less killed. Hood lost 30,000 men in just six months (from July 1864 until December 15). The Battle of Franklin was fought mostly at night. Several Confederate Generals were killed, including Patrick Cleburne, and the Rebels also lost 50% of their field commanders. Hood would limp into Nashville two weeks later before suffering his final defeat before retreating to Pulaski in mid December. Hundreds of wounded Confederate soldiers were taken to the John and Carrie McGavock home - Carnton - after the battle. She became known as the Widow of the South. The McGavock's eventually donated two acres to inter the Confederate dead. Almost 1,500 Rebel soldiers are buried in McGavock Confederate Cemetery, just in view of the Carnton house.

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