Benjamin F, Cheatham’s report on the Spring Hill situation

Major-General Cheatham gave the following account of the affair at Spring Hill:

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 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 mile from Spring Hill, I saw the left of Cleburne’s command just disappearing over the hill to the left of the road. Halting there, 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 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 turnpike 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 mile 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, 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 100 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 quarters 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 and 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.

Source: Confederate Military History Volume 8:
Tennessee Chapter X

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