Advance & Retreat, John Bell Hood

From 1993 reprint book description on Amazon:

When John Bell Hood entered into the services of the Confederate Army, he was 29 years old, a handsome man and courageous soldier, loyal to the ideal of Confederate Independence and eager to fight for it. He led his men bravely into the battles of Second Manassas, Gaines’s Mill, Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, and Chickamauga. He rose fast, attaining the temporary rank of full general, only to fall faster. Hood emerged from the war with his left arm shattered and uselss, his right leg missing, his face aged far beyond his 33 years, and with his military reputation in disgrace. Blamed by contemporaries for contributing to the defeat of his beloved Confederacy, Hood struggled to refute their accusations. His most vehement critic, General Johnston, charged Hood with insubordination while serving under him and, after succeeding him in command, of recklessly leading Confederate troops to their “slaughter” and “useless butchery.” Sherman, too, in his Memoirs,took a harsh view of Hood. Born of controversy, Advance and Retreat is of course a highly controversial book. It is also full of invaluable information and insights into the retreat from Dalton in early 1864, the fighting around Atlanta, and the disastrous Tennessee Campaign in winter of that year. Far from being a careful, sober, objective account, this book is the passionate, bitter attempt of a soldier to rebut history’s judgment of himself as general and man.

Within about three miles of Franklin, the enemy was discovered on the ridge over which passes the turnpike. As soon as the Confederate troops began to deploy, and skirmishers were thrown forward, the Federals withdrew slowly to the environs of the town.

It was about 3 p. m. when Lieutenant General Stewart moved to the right of the pike and began to establish his position in front of the enemy. Major General Cheatham’s Corps, as it arrived in turn, filed off to the left of the road, and was also disposed in line of battle. The artillery was instructed to take no part in the engagement, on account of the danger to which women and children in the village would be exposed. General Forrest was ordered to post cavalry on both flanks, and, if the assault proved successful, to complete the ruin of the enemy by capturing those who attempted to escape in the direction of Nashville. Lee’s Corps, as it arrived, was held in reserve, owing to the lateness of the hour and my inability, consequently, to post it on the extreme left. Schofield’s position was rendered favorable for defence by open ground in front, and temporary entrenchments which the Federals had had time to throw up, notwithstanding the Confederate forces had marched in pursuit with all possible speed. At one or two points, along a short space, a slight abatis had been hastily constructed, by felling some small locust saplings in the vicinity.

Soon after Cheatham’s Corps was massed on the left. Major General Cleburne came to me where I was seated on my horse in rear of the line, and asked permission to form his Division in two, or, if I remember correctly, three lines for the assault. I at once granted his request, stating that I desired the Federals to be driven into the river in their immediate rear and directing him to advise me as soon as he had completed the new disposition of his troops. Shortly afterward, Cheatham and Stewart reported all in readiness for action, and received orders to drive the enemy from his position into the river at all hazards. About that time Cleburne returned, and. expressing himself with an enthusiasm which he had never before betrayed in our intercourse, said, “General, I am ready, and have more hope in the final success of our cause than I have had at any time since the first gun was fired.” I replied, “God grant it!” He turned and moved at once toward the head of his Division; a few moments thereafter, he was lost to my sight in the tumult of battle. These last words, spoken to me by this brave and distinguished soldier, I have often recalled; they can never leave my memory, as within forty minutes after he had uttered them, he lay lifeless upon or near the breastworks of the foe.

The two corps advanced in battle array at about 4 p. m., and soon swept away the first line of the Federals, who were driven back upon the main line. At this moment, resounded a concentrated roar of musketry, which recalled to me some of the deadliest struggles in Virginia, and which now proclaimed that the possession of Nashville was once more dependent upon the fortunes of war. The conflict continued to rage with intense fury; our troops succeeded in breaking the main line at one or more points, capturing and turning some of the guns on their opponents.

Just at this critical moment of the battle, a brigade of the enemy, reported to have been Stanley’s, gallantly charged, and restored the Federal line, capturing at the same time about one thousand of our troops within the entrenchments. Still the ground was obstinately contested, and, at several points upon the immediate sides of the breastworks, the combatants endeavored to use the musket upon one another, by inverting and raising it perpendicularly, in order to fire; neither antagonist, at this juncture, was able to retreat without almost a certainty of death. It was reported that soldiers were even dragged from one side of the breastworks to the other by men reaching over hurriedly and seizing their enemy by the hair or the collar.

Just before dark Johnston’s Division, of Lee’s Corps, moved gallantly to the support of Cheatham; although it made a desperate charge and succeeded in capturing three stands of colors, it did not effect a permanent breach in the line of the enemy. The two remaining divisions could not unfortunately become engaged owing to the obscurity of night.* The struggle continued with more or less violence until 9 p. m., when followed skirmishing and much desultory firing until about 3 a. m. the ensuing morning. The enemy then withdrew, leaving his dead and wounded upon the field. Thus terminated one of the fiercest conflicts of the war.

Nightfall which closed in upon us so soon after the inauguration of the battle prevented the formation and participation of Lee’s entire Corps on the extreme left. This, it may safely be asserted, saved Schofield’s Army from destruction. I might, with equal assurance, assert that had Lieutenant General Lee been in advance at Spring Hill the previous afternoon, Schofield’s Army never would have passed that point.

Shortly afterward I sent the following dispatch to the Secretary of War and to General Beauregard:

“Headquarters, Six Miles To Nashville,

“December 3d. ) “About 4 p. m., November 30th, we attacked the enemy at Franklin, and drove him from his outer line of temporary works into his interior line which he abandoned during the night, leaving his dead and wounded in our possession, and rapidly retreated to Nashville, closely pursued by our cavalry. We captured several stands of colors and about one thousand (1000) prisoners. Our troops fought with great gallantry. We have to lament the loss of many gallant officers and brave men. Major General Cleburne, Brigadier Generals Gist, John Adams, Strahl, and Granberry, were killed; Major General Brown, Brigadier Generals Carter, Manigault, Quarles, Cockrell, and Scott, were wounded, and Brigadier General Gordon, captured.

I rode over the scene of action the next morning, and could but indulge in sad and painful thought, as I beheld so many brave soldiers stricken down by the enemy whom, a few hours previous, at Spring Hill, we had held within the palm of our hands. The attack which entailed so great sacrifice of life, had, for reasons already stated, become a necessity as imperative as that which impelled General Lee to order the assault at Gaines’s Mills, when our troops charged across an open space, a distance of one mile, under a most galling fire of musketry and artillery,against an enemy heavily entrenched. The heroes in that action fought not more gallantly than the soldiers of the Army of Tennessee upon the field of Franklin. These had been gloriously led by their officers, many of whom had fallen either upon or near the Federal breastworks, dying as the brave should prefer to die, in the intense and exalted excitement of battle.

Major General Cleburne had been distinguished for his admirable conduct upon many fields, and his loss, at this moment, was irreparable. In order to estimate fully the value of his services at this particular juncture, I will, in a few words, advert to our past relations. He was a man of equally quick perception and strong character, and was, especially in one respect, in advance of many of our people. He possessed the boldness and the wisdom to earnestly advocate, at an early period of the war, the freedom of the negro and the enrollment of the young and able-bodied men of that race. This stroke of policy and additional source of strength to our Armies, would, in my opinion, have given us our independence. He was for the first time under my immediate command at New Hope Church where his Division, formed for action according to my specific instructions, achieved the most brilliant success of Johnston’s campaign. He had full knowledge of all the circumstances and difficulties which attended the battles of the 20th, and 22d of July. It will be remembered that h,e called at my headquarters after these two engagements, and communicated to me Hardee’s unfortunate words of caution to the troops, in regard to breastworks, just before thebattle of the 20th. He knew also in what manner my orders at Spring Hill had been totally disregarded. After our last brief interview which was followed so quickly by his death, I sought to account for his sudden revolution of feeling and his hopefulness, since he had been regarded as not over sanguine of the final triumph of our cause. I formed the conviction that he became satisfied on the morning of the 30th of November, after having reviewed the occurrences of the previous afternoon and night, and those of the 20th and 22d of July, that I was not the reckless, indiscreet commander the Johnston-Wigfall party represented me; that I had been harshly judged, and feebly sustained by the officers and men; that I was dealing blows and making moves which had at least the promise of happy results, and that we should have achieved decided success on two occasions around Atlanta as well as at Spring Hill. He therefore made a sudden and firm resolution to support me in all my operations, believing that my movements and manner of handling troops were based upon correct principles. It has been said he stated, upon the morning after the affair of Spring Hill, that he would never again allow one of my orders for battle to be disobeyed, if he could prevent it. For these reasons his loss became doubly great to me. The heroic career and death of this distinguished soldier must ever endear the memory of his last words to his commander, and should entitle his name to be inscribed in immortal characters in the annals of our history.

A similar revolution in feeling took place to a great extent among both officers and men, the morning of the day upon which was fought the battle of Franklin; this change—and in a measure the improved morale of the Army, which had resulted from a forward movement of one hundred and eighty miles—occasioned the extraordinary gallantry and desperate fighting witnessed on that field.

The subjoined extract from Van Horne’s History of the Army of the Cumberland, will confirm my assertion- in regard to our nearly-won victory. Referring to the main breach in the Federal works, the author says : *

“Toward the breach, the enemy’s heavy central lines began to press, and to his lateral lines were turned, in seemingly overwhelming convergence. To General Hood, the advantage so easily gained, premised the capture or destruction of the National Army, and he and his Army were inspired to quickest action to maintain and utilize it for this grand achievement. “And he certainly could have maintained his hold of the National line, and used for extreme success, had time been given him to thrust into the breach his rapidly advancing and massive rear lines; and as it was, he began to gain ground, right and left, from the Columbia road.”

As shown by Colonel Mason’s official report, made on the 10th of December, ten days after the battle, our effective strength was: Infantry, eighteen thousand three hundred and forty-two (18,342); artillery, two thousand four hundred and five (2405); cavalry, two thousand three hundred and six (2306); total, twenty-three thousand and fifty-three (23,053). This last number, subtracted from thirty thousand six hundred (30,600), the strength of the Army at Florence, shows a total loss from all causes of seven thousand five hundred and fortyseven (7547), from the 6th of November to the 10th of December, which period includes the engagements at Columbia, Franklin, and of Forrest’s cavalry.

The enemy’s estimate of our losses as well as of the number of Confederate colors captured is erroneous, as will be seen by the following telegram:

“Headquarters Near Nashville, On Franklin Pike,

December 15th, 1864. 

Honorable J. A. Seddon, Secretary of War, Richmond.

The enemy claim that we lost thirty colors in the fight at Franklin. We lost thirteen, capturing nearly the same number. The men who bore ours were killed on or within the enemy’s interior line of works.

One thought on “Advance & Retreat, John Bell Hood

  1. Pingback: John Bell Hood’s version of the Franklin action in ‘Advance & Retreat’ «

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