Southern Historical Society Papers
Vol IX. Richmond, Va., Oct., Nov And Dec., 1881. Nos. 10, 11 & 12.
Reminicences Of Hood’s Tennessee Campaign.
By Captain W.O. Dodd,
(The following is also one of the valuable series of papers read before the Louisville Branch of the Southern Historical Society)
It is my purpose to give only personal observation and experience of the important movement of the Western armies in the fall and winter of 1864. The advance of General Hood on Nashville was the last important movement in the West during the war.
In the summer of 1864 General Sherman, with a large and victorious army, occupied Atlanta, the very centre of the Confederacy. General Johnston had been removed, causing much dissatisfaction both in military and civil life, and General Hood placed in command, whose patriotism and courage were recognized by all, but whose ability to command the entire army was much questioned.
It had been demonstrated that Gen. Hood must either be reinforced or retreat before the advancing columns of Sherman.
Reinforcements could not be supplied, and an emergency had to be met. General Thomas commanded a large force in Tennessee, which was protecting Sherman’s rear and guarding his lines of communication and supplies. Should Sherman advance southward from Atlanta with Hood in front, Thomas could easily overrun Alabama and capture Selma, Montgomery and Mobile.
It was determined to throw Hood’s army in the rear of Sherman and destroy the railroad, hoping thereby to draw Sherman out, leaving a portion of his army in Atlanta, and give Hood an opportunity of fighting him in detail. The movement was made, and in the main successful, except no opportunity was given for engaging Sherman’s forces in detail. It was then resolved to move Hood’s army into Tennessee and destroy Thomas and then take possession of Kentucky and threaten Ohio.
The conception was a bold one. Its execution involved leaving a large Federal army in Georgia, which could march unobstructed to the sea, cutting again in twain the Confederacy, or it would move back and join Thomas, securing the destruction of Hood. It was at first determined to cross the Tennessee river above Decatur, but Forrest was near Jackson, Tennessee, and unacquainted with the plan of campaign, and on account of the swollen condition of the Tennessee river could not cross below Florence.
So it was determined to cross the entire army at that point, and as soon as our commander (Forrest) received orders we hastened to Tuscumbia, where we joined Hood’s army. Some delay was occasioned in repairing the Memphis and Charleston railroad so as to bring sufficient supplies for the expedition. The country is poor from Florence northward until you reach the neighborhood of Pulaski and Mount Pleasant, and we were required to take sufficient forage to last until we could reach the fertile country of Middle Tennessee.
Our division, commanded by General Chalmers, covered the left of the army, and about the 19th of November, 1864, the army was put in motion.
General Hood commanded the expedition, with three army corps of infantry commanded by Generals Stewart, S.D. Lee and Cheatham, with Forrest in command of the cavalry. The entire force numbered about thirty thousand. It was as gallant an army as ever any Captain commanded. The long march from Atlanta had caused the timid and sick to be left behind, and every man remaining was a veteran. Then the long and sad experience of retreating was now reversed, and we were going to redeem Tennessee and Kentucky, and the morale of the army was excellent.
We hoped to cut off a large body of Federals at Pulaski, but by a forced march they got into Columbia just in time to prevent capture. On the 27th of November we formed around Columbia, the two wings of the army resting on Duck river, Cheatham being to the right.
General Schofield retired to the north side of Duck river, and an artillery fire was kept up daring the 28th. General Hood supposed Schofield would remain a day or two on the opposite side of the river, <shv9_520> which could not easily be crossed under the fire of Schofield’s guns. So he concluded to leave General Lee, with two divisions at Columbia, who was ordered to make demonstrations as if to cross the river, while he would cross the river a few miles above, and intercept the rear of Schofield at Spring Hill, twelve miles in rear, on the Franklin pike. Our command moved up and crossed the river (fording it) on the evening of the 28th, about eight miles from Columbia, and early next morning made a detour through a rough country, skirmishing most of the time until, shortly after noon, we reached the beautiful country near Spring Hill.
I remember distinctly the beautiful day, and as we got in sight of the little village of Spring Hill the old rugged veterans of Cheatham’s corps came marching up on our left with their battle flags waving in the mellow sunlight, and we felt., that a long sought opportunity had at last arrived. Lee’s guns at Columbia kept up lively music, admonishing us that he was meeting his part of the contract. We were satisfied that a few minutes — at most an hour — would be ample time in which to place our command across the pike, and then the surrender of Schofield would follow as night follows day. The command under Hood had crossed the river that morning about four miles above Columbia, Cheatham in front, followed by Stewart and Johnson’s division of Lee’s corps. We had but little artillery, as the roads were too rough for moving it.
It was about 3 or 4 o’clock when everything was ready to advance. Every soldier realized that we would have a fight, but the result was not a question. The Federals only had one division at Spring Hill, numbering about four thousand men, while we had two corps and a division of infantry and the greater part of Forrest’s cavalry. Our force was fully sixteen thousand men, and I think nearer twenty thousand, and it was a fair open field fight. It was said at the time, and I have always believed it to be true, that General Forrest asked permission to place his command across the pike, but was refused.
Cheatham’s corps was put forward and deployed as if they were going to do all the work and have all the glory. I remember how anxiously we sat on our horses on a hillside overlooking the fertile fields around Spring Hill, and expected, in vain, to at least see the battle. But alas! night came on and we went into camp, at first cautioned not to make fires, but in a little time were asleep before good fires, having plenty of forage for our horses from the adjoining fields. General Schofield was permitted to march by that night without firing a gun, and the great and only opportunity of the campaign was lost.
Who was to blame for the blunder?
No one accuses either General Stewart or Forrest of being in any way responsible. It was either the fault of General Hood or of General Cheatham, in my opinion both were to blame, but the principal fault is at the door of General Cheatham. In giving this opinion, I know some gentlemen present whose opinions are entitled to more weight than mine, will differ with me, and I invite the fullest criticism, hoping thereby to get at the real truth of history. I know it was stated on the field on that ill fated day that General Cheatham was ordered by General Hood to take Spring Hill and cut off Schofield, every necessary support being promised him, and that he did not do it. His command was in advance, and naturally he would bring on the engagement. It was not denied at the time by Cheatham’s friends that he received such orders. It subsequently appeared in the newspapers of the South, and he was charged with being responsible for the fatal mistake, and I have never seen or heard of a denial from him. Finally, General Hood, in his book, “Advance and Retreat,” charges the calamity on Cheatham, and brings forward strong corroborating testimony to support it, and so far as I know, General Cheatham has never denied it, or in any way questioned the correctness of General Hood’s statements. But I do not think Cheatham alone to blame. The General commanding the armies was on the ground and in sight of the pike, and could clearly see the Federals retreating in confusion, and the position was such that he could not but know what Cheatham was doing. There was plenty of time, and he could have seen the order executed before dark. Again, General Hood intimates that the soldiers were unwilling to fight except behind breastworks. Those who witnessed the battle of Franklin on the next day will not allow such an imputation to be made.
Even after dark there would have been no material trouble in crossing the pike. General Hood says it got dark about 4 o’clock, which is not correct; and then he says there were so many shade trees that darkness was hastened and increased from that cause. It was a clear day and a starlight night, and while there were quite a number of trees just around Spring Hill, the battle would have been largely in a corn field and an open piece of woodland. Schofield’s command did not reach Spring Hill until 11 o’clock at night, and it would have been an easy matter to rout them even at that hour. A soldier has a mortal dread of the enemy in the rear. But — we slept, and the Federals marched by without molestation. As I said before, there was not a soldier who did not realize that a golden opportunity was at hand, and every one felt mortified at the inglorious result. We lost confidence in General Hood, not that we doubted his courage, but we clearly saw that his capacities better suited him to command a division. This whole thing was a wretched affair, let the fault be wherever it may.
It reminded me more of the death of General Albert Sidney Johnston on the battlefield at Shiloh than any other event of the war. No one doubts but that his death prevented the destruction of Grant’s army, and a victory such as his life guaranteed on that eventful April day would have produced results such as imagination can hardly picture. So, if we had captured Schofield, as could easily have been done at a trifling loss, we would have taken Nashville without a battle and pushed on into Kentucky, and, while I do not claim that it would have changed the result, yet it would certainly have prolonged the war and thrown an uncertain factor into the great problem.
It seemed then, as it looks now as we glance back over the scene, that a hand stronger than armies had decreed our overthrow.
On the following morning, at the dawn of day, we were in our saddles, and pushed on after Schofield’s command, which was rapidly hastening to Franklin. Our division crossed over to the extreme left and approached Franklin over the Carter’s creek pike, and about 3 o’clock P.M. we were on the high range of hills just south of Franklin and overlooking the town. The Federal army was in line of battle in front of the town, and we had a fine view of the situation.
The soldiers were in fine fighting trim, as they felt chagrined and mortified at the occurrence of the preceding day, and each man felt a pride in wiping out the stain caused by a superior’s fault. I will not undertake to picture or in any way describe the battle that was fought in the old field near a gin house in front of Franklin, that memorable afternoon and evening. No man who took part in it or witnessed it can help being proud of American soldiery. The battle lasted until long after dark, and the two armies at some points came to hand to hand contest.
Our artillery was not much used, but the enemy used one battery, situated in a locust grove, with great effect. I do not believe there was any battle of the war to compare to it in severity, considering the number engaged and the time it lasted. The principal destruction was about sundown and a little later.
Soon after night the Federals commenced retreating, and about one o’clock in the morning I went with the advance into town. As soon as it was discovered that the enemy were gone, I made a torch and went over the battlefield. To those unaccustomed to such things, no description can give an idea of the sight. The dead were literally piled up, and to my sorrow I saw that our loss was much the greatest. We had pressed them into their last line, and there the dead lay mangled together. Entire companies were literally gone. And just a little back the gallant old soldier, General Pat Cleburne, lay dead. He was the idol of his command, and a better soldier never died for any cause. Brigadier General Adams was killed, he and his horse falling together, just on the earthworks of the enemy. Our loss was about 5,000 men including five Generals killed and six wounded.
I could not but feel that the lives of these men were a useless sacrifice. It seemed to me to be a rashness occasioned by the blunder of the day before. It was an attempt to make good by reckless daring the blunder which incapacity had occasioned the preceding day. Schofield had as many or more men in Franklin than we had. He was gathering strength from all quarters as he fell back, while we were losing.
The next morning we should have buried our dead, and those of the enemy, and retired from the State. While we held the battlefield, and the dead of our adversaries, we were disheartened and demoralized. We had witnessed on one day a brilliant flank movement terminate by lying down by the roadside in order to let the enemy pass by, and on the next day saw the army led out in a slaughter pen to be shot down like animals. Soldiers are quick to perceive blunders, and when confidence is destroyed in a superior officer he should be removed. There is nothing so wholesome with a good soldier as perfect confidence in the courage and judgment of superior officers. While the majority of the army believed General Cheatham mainly responsible for the misfortune at Spring Hill, yet General Hood did not escape censure. And when at Franklin the attempt was made to do by storm against an entrenched and reinforced foe, what strategy failed to do the day before, the morale of the army was almost destroyed.
But instead of retreating at once and saving the remnant of a magnificent army, we moved up and formed around Nashville. Our little army, now about 23,000 strong, was stretched for miles around the city. We were on the extreme left, near the Cumberland river, and were not strong enough to make a good picket line. The rout and retreat were inevitable. Thomas accumulated an army of 82,000. The only wonder is that he did not capture us all. General Walthall, one of the bravest and best of all our gallant army, with a picked command, and aided by Forrest, covered the retreat and enabled us to get out with 18,000 men. We recrossed the Tennessee river on the 26th and 27th days of December.The campaign would have been brilliant and successful but for the fatal action or inaction at Spring Hill.
I am well aware that we can look back after events have occurred and detect errors which it seems reasonable prudence would have avoided; but I have never seen more clearly the opportunity and the error than on the 29th day of November, 1864.
What stirring events were then happening! Sherman started on his march to the sea about the same day Hood started to the North. In quick succession reverse after reverse came to our arms until, suddenly, the whole structure crumbled and fell to the ground.
Death has drawn his cold mantle over the brave Hood, but he left his version of the unfortunate period about which I have written, and my own conviction is that in the main his story is true.
General Cheatham is still living, and surely if General Hood is wrong the truth of history demands that he speak.
If what has been written should provoke those familiar with the facts to tell their version I shall be more than paid.