Vivid account from 50th OVI soldier at Franklin

Corporal Erastus Winters, 50th Ohio Volunteer Infantry saw action at Franklin. His unit was on the west side (right) of the Union line, beside the Carter House as the Confederates under Cheatham made several charges upon the works.

I have read a great many descriptions by both Union and Confederate writers who have tried to describe as it appeared to them as the enemy charged across what may be called the field of death but all have failed to show it up as it was. There is no words in the English language that will fitingly describe it – it is painted on the canvas of the memories of those who saw it and stands out in bold relief but no eye witness I care not how clever he may be with the pen can do it justice on paper…

Source: Cowan’s Auction, online (2007)

A great opportunity was lost at Spring Hill, Cheatham.

Maj.-Gen. B. F. Cheatham.

“On the morning of the 4th of December,” says General Cheatham, “I went to the headquarters of GenBenjamin F. Cheathameral Hood, and referring to his note and the criticism that had evidently been made by some one, I said to him, ‘A great opportunity was lost at Spring Hill, but you know that I obeyed your orders there, as everywhere, literally and promptly.’ General Hood not only did not dissent from what I said, but exhibited the most cordial manner, coupled with confidence and friendship.”

At daylight Cheatham’s corps passed through the village of Spring Hill, and between 1 and 2 o’clock p.m. the army reached the vicinity of Franklin, and Stewart’s and Cheatham’s corps were put in positions. The enemy was heavily intrenched and was superior in numbers and equipment. On the morning of the battle, General Schofield, commanding the Federal army, had behind his works 23,734 infantry and artillery, and his cavalry numbered 5,500. Maj.-Gen. J. D. Cox, U. S. A., upon whose authority these figures are given, states in his history of the battle of Franklin that Hood delivered the assault on the Federal lines with “two or three hundred less than 24,000” men, and gives Forrest’s strength at 9,000. Maj.-Gen. John C. Brown reported that on the morning of November 29, 1864, he had not exceeding 2,750 men in his division, the largest in Cheatham’s corps, and the three divisions did not exceed 6,000. Smith’s brigade of Cleburne’s division was not present. Stewart’s corps after Allatoona was less than 7,000, and with Johnson’s division of Lee’s corps, the assaulting column did not exceed 16,000 men. General Forrest stated in his official report that the entire cavalry force under his command was about 5,000.

Bate’s division was on the left, Brown’s in the center, Cleburne’s on the right. General Bate says his line “charged the works of the enemy. right got to the works (the second line) and remained there until morning;’the left was driven back. The enemy’s works were strong and defiant, constructed on a slight elevation, with few obstructions in front for several hundred yards. The works to the left of Carter’s creek turnpike were not strong, and with a vigorous assault should have been carried; a fact, however, not known until next day.” Bate’s division sustained a loss of 47 killed and 253 wounded. Capt. Todd Carter (right), on staff duty with Smith’s Tennessee brigade, fell mortally wounded near the enemy’s works and almost at the door of his father’s house.

No more magnificent spectacle was ever witnessed than the advance of the two divisions commanded by Cleburne and Brown; no two divisions of the army were ever led with greater skill and gallantry; no generals of division were ever supported with better ability by brigade, regimental and company officers. The troops were veterans who had never failed to respond to orders, although discouraged by recent and frequent disasters; and fully alive to the desperation of the assault about to be made, they advanced with noble courage. Before troops of equal numbers in the open field they would have been irresistible, but to attack intrenched troops, superior in numbers, advancing over an open plain without cover, was a disregard of the rules of war, a waste of precious lives, and a wrecking of an army once the pride and hope of the Southwest.

Source: Confederate Military History Volume 8:
Tennessee Chapter X

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

The slow Confederate response in Spring Hill, November 29th

On the 21st of November General Hood began his march to Nashville; on the 29th crossed Duck river three miles above Columbia, and then, with Cheatham’s and Stewart’s corps and a division of Lee’s corps, marched to Spring Hill.

Cheatham was in front, and in his official report, dated December 11, 1864, General Hood stated that

Benjamin F. Cheatham“Major-General Cheatham was ordered at once to attack the enemy vigorously and get possession of this pike [the road to Franklin], and although these orders were frequently and earnestly repeated, he made but a feeble and partial attack, failing to reach the point indicated.”

Again, in his history of the campaign (“Advance and Retreat,” pp. 285,286) it is related:

General A.P. Stewart, 1821-1908, was an Army officer, college professor, and Chancellor of the University of Mississippi“General Stewart was then ordered to proceed to the right of Cheatham and place his corps across the pike north of Spring Hill. By this hour, however, twilight was upon us, when General Cheatham rode up in person. I at once directed Stewart to halt, and turning to Cheatham I exclaimed with deep emotion, as I felt the golden opportunity fast slipping from me, ‘General, why in the name of God have you not attacked the enemy and taken possession of the pike?'”

Lieutenant-General Stewart, referring to this statement in a published letter, says that “no such exclamation by Hood to Cheatham could have been made in my presence.”

Source: Confederate Military History, Volume 8:
Tennessee Chapter X