Columbus, Mississippi, January 30th, 1865.
I have the honor to offer the following as my official report of the operations of my corps during the offensive movement commencing at Palmetto station, Georgia, September 29th, 1864. It is impracticable now, in consequence of the movement of troops and my temporary absence from the army, to obtain detailed reports from my division commanders.
As a corps commander, I regarded the morale of the army greatly impaired after the fall of Atlanta, and in fact before its fall the troops were not by any means in good spirits. It was my observation and belief that the majority of the officers and men were so impressed with the idea of their inability to carry even temporary breastworks, that when orders were given for attack, and there was a probability of encountering works, they regarded it as recklessness in the extreme. Being impressed with these convictions, they did not generally move to the attack with that spirit which nearly always insures success. Whenever the enemy changed his position, temporary works could be improvised in less than two hours, and he could never be caught without them. In making these observations, it is due to many gallant officers and commands to state that there were noticeable exceptions, but the feeling was so general that anything like a general attack was paralyzed by it. The army having constantly yielded to the flank movements of the enemy, which he could make with but little difficulty, by reason of his vastly superior numbers, and having failed in the offensive movements prior to the fall of Atlanta, its efficiency for further retarding the progress of the enemy was much impaired; and, besides, the advantages in the topography of the country south of Atlanta were much more favorable to the enemy for the movements of his superior numbers than the rough and mountainous country already yielded to him. In view of these facts, it was my opinion that the army should take up the offensive, with the hope that favorable opportunities would be offered for striking the enemy successfully, thus insuring the efficiency of the army for future operations. Those opinions were freely expressed to the Commanding General.
My corps crossed the Chattahoochee river on September 29th, and on October 3d took position near Lost mountain, to cover the movement of Stewart’s corps, on the railroad, at Big Shanty and Altoona. On October 6th, I left my position near Lost mountain, marching via Dallas and Cedartown, crossing the Coosa river at Coosaville October 10th, and moved on Resaca, partially investing the place by four P.M. on October 12th. The surrender of the place was demanded in a written communication, which was in my possession, signed by General Hood. The commanding officer refused to surrender as he could have easily escaped from the forts with his forces and crossed the Oustenaula river. I did not deem it prudent to assault the works, which were strong and well manned, believing that our loss would have been severe. The main object of appearing before Resaca being accomplished, and finding that Sherman’s main army was moving from the direction of Rome and Adairsville towards Resaca, I withdrew from before the place to Snake Creek gap about midday on the 13th. The enemy made his appearance at the gap on the 14th in large force and on the 15th it was evident that his force amounted several corps. Several severe skirmishes took place on the 15th, in which Deas’ and Brantley’s brigades of Johnson’s division were principally engaged. This gap was held by my command till the balance of the army had passed through Matex’s gap, when I followed with the corps through the latter. The army moved to Gadsden, where my corps arrived on October 21st. At this point clothing was issued to the troops, and the army commenced its march towards Tennessee. My corps reached the vicinity of Leighten, in the Tennessee Valley, October 29th. Stewart’s and Cheatham’s corps were then in front of Decatur. On the night of the 29th I received orders to cross the Tennessee river at Florence, Alabama. By means of the pontoon boats two brigades of Johnson’s division were thrown across the river two and a half miles above south Florence, and Gibson s brigade of Clayton’s division was crossed at south Florence. The enemy occupied Florence with about 1,000 cavalry, and had a strong picket at the railroad bridge. The crossing at this point was handsomely executed and with much spirit by Gibson, under the direction of General Clayton, under cover of several batteries of artillery. The distance across the river was about one thousand yards. The troops landed, and, after forming, charged the enemy and drove him from Florence. The crossing was spirited, and reflected much credit on all engaged in it. Major General Edward Johnson experienced considerable difficulty in crossing his two brigades, because of the extreme difficulty of managing the boats in the shoals. He moved from the north bank of the river late in the evening with one brigade, Sharp’s Mississippi, and encountered the enemy on the Florence and Huntsville road about dark. A spirited affair took place, in which the enemy were defeated with a loss of about forty killed, wounded and prisoners. The enemy retreated during the night to Shoal creek, about nine miles distant. The remainder of Johnson’s and Clayton’s divisions were crossed on the night of the 30th and on the morning of the 31st.
Stevenson’s division was crossed on November 2d. My corps remained in Florence till November 20th, when the army commenced moving for Tennessee, my command leading the advance and marching in the direction of Columbia via Henryville and Mount Pleasant. I arrived in front of Columbia on the 26th, relieving Forest’s cavalry then in position there, which had followed the enemy from Pulaski.
The force of the enemy occupying Columbia was two corps. They confined themselves to the main works around the city, and their outposts and skirmishers were readily driven in. On the night of the 27th the enemy evacuated Columbia and crossed Duck river. Stevenson’s division of my corps entered the town before daylight. After crossing, the enemy took a strong position on the opposite side of the river and entrenched, his skirmishers occupying rifle pits 250 yards from the river. There was considerable skirmishing across the river during the day, and some artillery firing, resulting in nothing of importance.
On the morning of the 29th Johnson’s division of my corps was detached and ordered to report to the General Commanding. I was directed to occupy and engage the enemy near Columbia, while the other two corps and Johnson’s division would be crossed above and moved to the rear of the enemy in the direction of Spring Hill. The entire force of the enemy was in front of Columbia till about midday on the 29th, when one corps commenced moving off — the other remaining in position as long as they could be seen by us, or till dark. I had several batteries of artillery put in position, to drive the skirmishers of the enemy from the vicinity of the river bank, and made a display of pontoons — running several of them down to the river, under a heavy artillery and musketry fire. Having succeeded in putting a boat in the river, Pettus’ brigade of Stevenson’s division was thrown across, under the immediate direction of Major General Stevenson, and made a most gallant charge on the rifle pits of the enemy, driving a much superior force and capturing the pits. The bridge was at once laid down and the crossing commenced. During the affair around Columbia the gallant and accomplished soldier, Colonel R. F. Beckham, commanding the artillery regiment of my corps, was mortally wounded while industriously and fearlessly directing the artillery firing against the enemy. He was one of the truest and best officers in the service.
The enemy left my front about 2:30 A.M. on the morning of the 30th, and the pursuit was made as rapidly as was prudent in the night time. The advance of Clayton’s division arrived at Spring Hill about 9 A.M., when it was discovered that the enemy had made his escape, passing around that portion of the army in that vicinity. My corps, including Johnson’s division, followed immediately after Cheatham’s corps towards Franklin. I arrived near Franklin about 4 P.M. The Commanding General was just about attacking the enemy with Stewart’s and Cheatham’s corps, and he directed me to place Johnson’s, and afterwards Clayton’s, division in position to support the attack. Johnson moved in rear of Cheatham’s corps. Finding that the battle was stubborn, General Hood directed me to move forward in person, to communicate with General Cheatham, and, if necessary, to put Johnson’s division in the fight. I met General Cheatham about dark, and was informed by him that assistance was needed at once. Johnson was immediately moved forward to the attack, but owing to the darkness and want of information as to the locality, his attack was not felt by the enemy till about one hour after dark. This division moved against the enemy’s breastworks under a heavy fire of artillery and musketry, gallantly driving the enemy from portions of his line. The brigades of Sharp and Brantley (Mississippians), and of Deas (Alabamians), particularly, distinguished themselves.
Their dead were mostly in the trenches and in the works of the enemy, where they fell in a desperate hand to hand conflict. Sharp captured three stand of colors. Brantley was exposed to a severe enfilade fire. These noble brigades never faltered in this terrible night struggle. Brigadier General Manigault, commanding a brigade of Alabamians and South Carolinians, was severely wounded in this engagement, while gallantly leading his troops to the fight; and his two successors in command, Colonel Shaw was killed and Colonel Davis wounded. I have never seen greater evidences of gallantry than was displayed by this division, under command of that admirable and gallant soldier, Major General Ed. Johnson. The enemy fought gallantly and obstinately at Franklin, and the position he held was for infantry defence one of the best I had ever seen. The enemy evacuated Franklin hastily during the night of the 30th. My corps commenced the pursuit about 1 P.M. on December 1st, and arrived near Nashville about 2 P.M. December 2d. The enemy had occupied the works around the city. My command was the centre of the army in front of Nashville; Cheatham’s corps being on my right and Stewart’s on my left.
[Editor’s note: Nashville battle content removed].
I have the honor to be, yours respectfully,
Stephen Dill Lee,
Colonel A. P. Mason, A.A.G