December 20, 1864 – December 24, 1864 – Conditions in Franklin and Columbia in the wake of Hood’s retreat
• See December 23, 1864–“. . . raising their little hands in joy and crying “o’er yonder’s Gen’l. Forrest! Yonder’s Gen’l. Forrest! howd’y Gen’l. Forrest. . . ” The scene during Forrest’s occupation of Columbia
“Letter from a Returned Columbia Refugee
Correspondence of the Nashville Dispatch Columbia, Tenn. Dec., 24, 1864
I left Nashville on the morning of the 20th inst., and arrived at Franklin about sundown. After getting supper, I visited Bate’s Rebel hospital, where I made the acquaintance of Dr. Hill, of the 10th Tennessee cavalry, with whom I conversed some two hours. He informed me that there were between 1200 and 1500 wounded and sick Rebels in Franklin; that Hood’s army was perfectly demoralized; that his whole army was down on him; that they wanted Joe Johnston, and that unless a change was made the entire army would desert him. I also conversed with a number of citizens, all of whom represented Hood’s army as a fleeing mob. They did little or no damage in returning through Franklin, having pillaged stores and private houses, and laid waste and devastated everything on the onward march to Nashville. They conscripted every man between eighteen and forty five in Franklin, but succeeded in getting only one man to go with them, the balance remaining. A large number of Williamson county men deserted from Hood’s army. The next morning [21st] after breakfast I set out on foot for Columbia. When I reached the pace where the battle of Franklin was fought I stopped and surveyed, and as far as I could see on both sides of the road, it looked like a vast burying ground. Getting within three miles of Columbia, and learning that General Forrest and his cavalry occupied the place, and feeling quite sore from my tramp, I concluded to stop for the night with the fond hopes of reaching home and loved ones the next morning. When morning came [22nd] I was informed that on the evening before, the Rebels had sent in a flag of truce, requesting that the Federals would not fire on them, as they had no desire for an engagement of any kind, stating that the were none left in the town, but old men, women, children and sick and wounded soldiers, which was granted and strictly complied with, until Gen. Thomas got ready to lay his pontoon bridge, which was early the next morning. The pontoon across Rutherford creek was completed late on Wednesday evening, and his forces crossed over it during the night. So on Thursday [22nd] morning a skirmish was commenced for the possession of the south bank of Duck river, which was attained in a few minutes, with the loss of one Federal and two Rebels killed. I did not hear of any wounded on either side.
About eleven o’clock I learned that the Rebels had evacuated Columbia, when I came to the river, but did not succeed in getting across until late in the afternoon. The pontoon bridge was completed during the night. I scarcely know where to commence in speaking of the acts of the Rebels during the time they held Columbia. With only a few exceptions, every storehouse in the place was broken open and robbed of its contents. Many private residences were also robbed, their carpets being torn up from the floors [Note 1 ], and but very few families were left any thing in the way of eatables. They took from my wife and children the very last mouthful I had to eat, besides every dollar’s worth of my stock. Every book, paper and memorandum belonging to the corporation of the city was destroyed. The dockets of every magistrate in my district were also destroyed. They entered the Masonic Hall and robbed it of all its contents, leaving not the smallest thing as a memorial that they “had been there since we had gone.” They also took the hall of the Odd Fellows for a hospital. They conscripted every man between eighteen and forty-five, and herded them in a livery stable. They succeeded in getting some fifteen or twenty away with them, the greater portion of whom have returned since the occupation of the town by the Federals. Not more than five or six are now out. There are but two or three who volunteered, while hundreds of Maury county men have deserted them. Nearly all the refugees who returned with Hood’s army, have remained at home, including A. O. P. Nicholson. To sum the whole up in a nut-shell, they have created a perfect revolution. No one, not even the most radical secessionist, desires the return of the Rebel army. Such was the feeling of the people of this county [i.e., Maury] upon my return. Hood had done more for the Union cause than the Federal army could possibly have done, and had the Federal commanders seized upon it in a proper manner, they could easily have made Maury county an unconditional Union county. But, alas! discipline was wanted with the 4th army corps. The men of this corps were suffered to come into town, and what the Rebels left they seized, to a great extent. Last night several storehouses which had not yet been molested, were broken open and robbed by straggling soldiers of this corps. Many private houses were also entered and property, such as spoons, knives and forks, cups and saucers, etc. was taken off. About three o’clock today the 24th Indiana (belonging to the 23d corps) under command of Col. Orr, entered the town to do patrol duty: and for the sake of protecting innocent women and children, he guaranteed to everyone who applied, regardless of political sentiments, a guard for their residences. He also put out a strong provost guard, with strict orders to arrest and place in the guard house, all stragglers and depredators. Things soon began to have a much more favorable aspect, and the citizens will long remember Col. Orr, Capt. Connor, Lt. Walker, and the soldiers of the 124th Indiana.
Nashville Dispatch, December 27, 1864.