Robert Underwood Johnson.

Battles and leaders of the Civil War : being for the most part contributions by Union and Confederate officers : based upon The Century War series online

. (page 72 of 145)
Online LibraryRobert Underwood JohnsonBattles and leaders of the Civil War : being for the most part contributions by Union and Confederate officers : based upon The Century War series → online text (page 72 of 145)
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the plans and movements of Hood.

On the 30th of October, 1864, Hood's army
crossed the Tennessee on its northward march,
three miles below Bainbridge, and this circum-
stance was promptly detected by General Croxton,
commanding the First Brigade of MeCook's divi-
sion, lately remounted at Louisville, and was re-
ported at once to General Thomas, who had just
taken post at Nashville. Without waiting for orders
Croxton then made haste to collect his brigade
and lead it against the enemy ; but as he could not
muster over a thousand troopers for duty, he failed

to check the rebel advance and was soon forced
to take up a position of observation behind Shoal
Creek, where he was joined on the 5th of Novem-
ber by General Hatch, with the Fifth Division,
which had but recently come from west Tennessee.
A few days later these united forces, under Hatch,
with not over 3000 men in the saddle, took the
offensive, recrossed Shoal Creek, and drove the
rebel cavalry sharply back upon the infantry at
Florence, capturing a part of the unfinished field-
works at that place. By great activity and vigi-
lance. General Hatch discovered every movement
of the enemy and promptly and correctly reported
every indication of his intentions to Stanley, Scho-
field, or Thomas, or to me. After becoming con-
vinced that Hood would soon advance, Hatch
employed his force in felling trees in the roads
and obstructing the fords so as to delay his march
as much as possible.

I arrived at Nashville on the 6th of November,
and by the aid of a large staff, mostly from the
regular army, pressed forward the preparations
of the corps for the campaign which it was now
evident that the resolute Hood was about to be-
gin for the capture of Nashville and the posses-
sion of middle Tennessee. The Federal forces in
that region, infantry as well as cavalry, were widely
scattered. They were the remnants of three armies,
and although the supreme command had been con-
ferred on Thomas, a host in himself, aided by such
able lieutenants as Generals Stanley, Schofield,
Steedman, Cox, and Thomas J. Wood, and finally
by A. J. Smith, it was by no means certain that
their forces could be welded into an efficient army
in time to check the onset of Hood's fieet-footed
and fiercely aggressive veterans.

On the 19th of November the enemy was reported
by the cavalry pickets as marching north in force
on the west side of Shoal Creek, and this was con-
firmed without delay by a cavalry reconnoissance
in force, which resulted in the capture of the head-
quarters trainsbelonging to Chalmers's and Buf ord's
divisions, and in a severe engagement with those
commands. Constant marching, accompanied by
heavy fighting and many skirmishes, followed.
The Federal cavalry, under the immediate direction
of Hatch, who showed great coolness and steadi-
ness, slowly fell back through Lexington, Law-
renceburg, Pulaski, and Lynnville to Columbia,
where all its detachments then in that theater of
operations were for the first time collected under
my command. Having as far as possible com-
pleted my arrangements at Nashville, I had taken
the field in person a few days before. At this
juncture Hatch's division had been reduced to
2500 men and horses for duty, Croxton's brigade
to about 1000, and Capron's to 800 — in all only
4300 men.

After the concentration of the National forces
in the strongly fortified camp at Columbia, where
Schofield had paused to give the army a breathing-



spell and to insure the safety of its maUriel, the
cavalry withdrew to the north side of Duck Kiver,
and was so disposed as to watch the enemy's move-
ments either to the right or the left. It was here
strengthened by the arrival of several regiments
from the remount camp at Louisville, and not-
withstanding the terrible work and waste of the
campaign that followed, it grew stronger and
stronger till after the battle of Nashville.

At noon of November 28th the pickets of Crox-
ton's and Capron's brigades gave notice of the
appearance of the Confederate cavalry at the vari-
ous fords of the Duck River between Columbia and
the crossing of the Lewisburg turnpike. Shortly
afterward the pickets were driven in, and at
2:10 P. M., on the same day, I notified General
Schofield of the enemy's determined advance and
that I should therefore concentrate the cavalry
that night on the Lewisburg turnpike near Kally
Hill, so as to prevent the enemy from occupying
that highway and marching rapidly to Franklin,
at the crossing of the Harpeth River, and also at
the junction of the Lewisburg and the Columbia
turnpikes. I assumed, as a matter of course,
that Schofield would fall back on the last-men-
tioned turnpike, and that this arrangement would
force the enemy to advance slowly and with cau-
tion, by either of these roads, or still move slowly
by the dirt road, from Huey's Mills to Spring Hill.
By 7 P. M. the entire cavalry, after much skirmish-
ing and rapid marching, was concentrated at
Hurt's Cross-roads, near Rally Hill, and by mid-
night it had become certain that Forrest's entire
command, followed by the infantry of Hood's
army, were crossing at Huey's Mills, and would
probably move at early dawn toward Spring Hill.
Accordingly, at 1 A. M. of that night, I sent a dis-
patch by courier to General Schofield informing
him of these facts, and suggesting that he should
reach Spring Hill, only twelve miles away,
with the infantry of his army, by 10 A. M., be-
cause Hood's advance-guard would probably get
there by noon. This dispatch was received at
daylight on the 29th, and thereupon Stanley, with
one division, was ordered to march at once to that
place, while the remainder of the army held on at
Columbia, and in its vicinity, till the next night.
Meanwhile Hood had marched in the direction
and by the road indicated in my dispatch, but
fortunately he was met by the gallant and capa-
ble Stanley already in position covering Spring
Hill and held at bay till Schofield, under cover
of darkness, was enabled to rescue his imperiled
command and make good his retreat into the for-
tified camp at Franklin. Forrest followed me
along the Lewisburg turnpike, as had also been
foreseen, but, thanks to the steadiness of the
imperturbable Croxton (who declined all assist-
ance from Hatch, and coolly declared that he
needed nobody's help to cover a retreat, if the rest
of the corps would only get out of the way and
give him a clear road), the Confederate "cavalry
commander not only gained no advantage but was
foiled in all his efforts to overthrow the rear-
guard, or to strike the retreating column in flank.

The battle of Franklin occurred the next day.

and, as is well known, resulted in a signal victory
for the National arms, and also in irreparable loss
of men and ofBcers to Hood's gallant army. On
the Union side the heroes were Stanley and Cox
and Opdycke. Their prompt action neutralized
the faults of others, and wrested victory from the
intrepid Cleburne and his no less intrepid com-

One important circumstance connected with
this battle has been persistently dwarfed or neg-
lected altogether by historians. Simultaneously
with Hood's infantry assault, his cavalry under
Chalmers advanced to the attack, driving back
Croxton and his pickets from the Lewisburg tiu-n-
pike to the north side of the Harpeth River,
where Hatch, Johnson, and Harrison's troopers
had been disposed so as to cover and watch the
fords and protect the left and rear of Schofield's
army. Realizing the importance of holding this
position, as soon as the rebel cavalrymen had
made their appearance on the north side of
the river, which properly formed the real line
of defense for the Union army, I ordered Hatch
and Croxton to attack with vigor, and drive the
enemy into the river if possible, while Harrison
with Capron's old brigades would look well to the
left and rear. The field was broken by hills, cov-
ered with woods and small clearings, not specially
unfavorable to mounted men; but the occasion
was a grave one. It indicated either the advance of
Hood's whole army, as at Duck River, or a turning
movement by his cavalry ; and in either case, from
the fact that the National infantry and artillery
■were stillon the south side of the river, it was
absolutely necessary for their safety that my
orders should be carried out to the letter. My
subordinate commanders dismounted every man
that could be spared, and went in with a rush that
was irresistible. The fight was at first somewhat
desultory, but toward the middle of the afternoon
it became exceedingly sharp. The enemy's troop-
ers fought with their accustomed gallantry, but
the Union cavalrymen, outnujtnbering their antag-
onists for the first time and skillfully directed,
swept everything before them. So closely did they
press the enemy that they drove them into the
water wherever they reached it. No time was
allowed them to find the fords, and no rest was
given them till the last man was driven to the
south side of the river. Upon this occasion Hood
made a fatal mistake, for it will be observed that
he had detached Forrest with two divisions of his
corps on a side operation, which left him only
Chalmers's division to cooperate as described with
the main attack of his infantry. Had his whole
cavalry force advanced against me it is possible
that it would have succeeded in driving us back.

Immediately after the close of the cavalry bat-
tle, and when it was certain that there was no
further attack to be expected that night, I rode to
General Schofield's headquarters, which I foimdin
the square redoubt on the north side of the river.
It was then dark and the arrangements for the
withdrawal of the army to Nashville had been
completed. Schofield and Stanley, the latter
severely wounded, were together discussing the



events of the day. Alter I had made my report
Sohofield thanked me for my services, and added :
"Your success is most important ; it insures the
safety of this army, for, notwithstanding our great
victory to-day over Hood, we should not have
heen able to withdraw from Franklin, or to main-
tain ourselves there, but for the defeat and repulse
of Forrest's cavalry, which was evidently aiming
to turn our left flank and throw itself upon our
line of retreat." He then gave me orders to hold
the position till daylight the next morning, after
which I should withdraw, covering the rear and
flanks of the infantry as it marched toward Nash-
ville. This duty was successfully performed with
hut little skirmishing. The infantry had already
occupied the fortifications at Nashville, and, there
being no room for the cavalry immediately behind
them, late on the evening of December 2d it
crossed the Cumberland and went into camp at

For forty days my force had been constantly
engaged in marching and fighting or in watching
the enemy, and therefore it was in great need of
rest. It had lost heavily, especially in horses.
Many troopers had been dismounted, and many
more were coming from furlough or detached
service without horses or equipments ; hence it
was necessary to make the most extraordinary
efforts to obtain remounts and otherwise to fit the
corps for the field.

General Thomas now resolved to take a few days
for repairing the losses and perfecting the organiza-
tion of his hastily improvised army, especially
the cavalry, upon which so much depended. He
frankly made his plans and views known to the
War Department and to the general-in-chief, but
without receiving their proper sympathy and
support. [See p. 454.] General Grant issued
positive orders to march out and attack Hood in
his intrenched position without further delay. In
spite, however, of the doubts at first, and of the
OTgent orders afterward, Thomas stood fast be-
hind his intrenchments. I sent out through Ten-
nessee and Kentucky to impress horses, which the
Secretary of War had cheerfully and promptly
authorized me to do at the first intimation of a
necessity for such an extreme meastire. The cav-
alry ofBcers did their duty well and rapidly, spar-
ing no man's horses provided they were fit for
cavalry service. Governor Johnson, then vice-
president elect, no less than the farmers, the
street-ear companies, and the circuses, was called
upon to give up his horses, and did so without a
murmur. It was a busy time for the division, bri-
gade, and regimental commanders as well as for
the cavalry corps staff. Every man and officer did
his best. A. J. Alexander, chief -of-staffi ; E. B.
Beaumont, the adjutant-general ; L. M. Hosea, the
mustering officer; E. B. Carling, the quartermas-
ter ; J. C. Read, the commissary of subsistence ;
Bowman, Green, and H. E. Noyes, the inspectors ;
J. N. Andrews, W. W. Van Antwerp, G. H. Knee-
land, Webster, and Pool, the aides-de-camp, — all
officers of rare experience and intelligence, — threw
themselves into the work and kept it up night and
day till it was completed. Clothing was drawn

for the men, the horses were shod, extra shoes
were fitted, and every horse in the corrals or hos-
pitals fit for service, or that could be found in the
coimtry, cities, towns, and villages, was taken and
issued to the troopers, who were now flocking in
from all quarters. In just seven days the effective
force of the corps was reported to General Thomas
at 12,000 men, mounted, armed, and equipped,
besides about 3000 for whom it was impossible
to find remounts, but who were organized as in-
fantry. They were all present for the impending
struggle, except the brigades of La Grange and
Watkins, which had been sent to drive a raiding
party under Lyon and Crossland out of Kentucky.

At a meeting of the corps commanders, called by
General Thomas the night of the lOth, the feasi-
bility of can'ying out General Grant's urgent orders
to fight was fully considered. The plan of battle,
which had already been outlined by General
Thomas, involved a grand turning movement by
the cavalry, and the active cooperation of that arm
with the infantry at every stage of the engagement.
I fully understood this, when, as the junior officer
present, I was asked to speak first. I gave it as
my decided opinion that it was folly to jeopard
the chances of success by moving in such a storm
and over the ground covered, as it then was, by a
continuous glare of ice. I added that if the move-
ment were delayed till the thaw, which in that
climate might be expected soon, had set in, success
was certain, and, in conclusion, declared that if I
were occupying such an intrenched line as Hood's,
with my dismounted cavalrymen, each armed with
nothing more formidable than a basket of brick-
bats, I would agree to defeat the whole Confederate
army if it should advance to the attack under such
circumstances. At this remark the assembled offi-
cers, including Thomas, broke into a smile, where-
upon the veteran Thomas J. Wood, commanding the
Fourth Corps, a much older and more experienced
cavalryman of the regular army than I, expressed
his hearty concurrence. This was also entirely in
accord with Thomas's own opinion, and, inasmuch
as no one in that meeting expressed a different
one or made a different suggestion, the meeting
was dismissed with the information that no move-
ment would be made for the time being. I was
asked to remain after the others had gone, and it
was upon that occasion that General Thomas,
after repeating the orders he had received and the
reply he had made to them before he had consulted
his officers, added, with a, depth of feeling and
emotion which he did not attempt to conceal:
"Wilson, they [meaning General Grant and the
War Department] treat me as though I were a boy
and incapable of planning a campaign or fighting
a battle. If they will let me alone I will fight this
battle just as soon as it can be done, and will
surely win it ; but I will not throw the victory away
nor sacrifice the brave men of this army by mov-
ing till the thaw begins. I will surrender my com-
mand without a murmur, if they wish it ; but I will
not act against my judgment when I know I am
right, and in such a grave emergency."

Fortunately for him and for the country the
thaw set in on the night of the 13th, and had so



far progressed that the action was begun on the
morning of the 15th, just as he had planned it.
The story of what followed has "been told and re-
told many times, and never better than by Colonel
Stone [see p. 456], but even he has failed, for
want of space, to set forth the decisive part per-
formed by the cavalry corps in the great events
which followed.

The official reports reveal how it was arranged on
the night of the 14th that the cavalry, which had
recrossed to the south side of the river and en-
camped in the suburbs of the city, behind the right
wing of the infantry, should sally from the fortified
line against the Confederate left as soon as it was
light enough to see, and how A. J. Smith's veterans
of the Sixteenth Corps should move to their posi-
tion in line of battle by the rear of the cavalry
rather than across its front, so as not to delay it,
but failed to carry out the arrangement, and
thereby delayed the beginning of the battle an
hour and a half longer than the time of delay due
to the fog which prevailed in the early morning. -5!^
Fortunately, however, this did not derange the
plan of operations, though it out an hour and a half
off the period of daylight in which to press the
advantages of the first day, and the pursuit after
Hood's lines were broken and put to flight on the
evening of the second day.

Most historians of the Rebellion have followed
the official reports of the great battle which ensued,
but these reports were written too soon afterward,
especially that of General Thomas, to give a strictly
accurate account of the various movements, and of ,
the results produced by them, or to consider prop-
erly the delay caused by the fog, and by Smith's
movement. They have also fallen into error in
giving McArthur's gallant infantry credit for en-
tering the Confederate works on the first day,
simultaneously with or ahead of the dismounted
cavalry, while the fact is that the infantry joined
in the charge against the works because they saw
Hatch's men on their right advancing gallantly and
successfully to the assault. The conduct of the
infantry on that occasion was all that could be de-
sired ; it did not hold back for orders, but led by
the intrepid Mc Arthur it sprang gallantly to the
attack, and did its best to overtake and outstrip
the dismounted cavalrymen, as they swept up the
steep hillsides and over the enemy's works, after
having broken through and driven back his attenu-
ated left wing. The race for victory which fol-
lowed between rival arms of the service was
an unusual scene in that or any other army. Up
to that time the cavalry in the West had been re-
served for independent operations, and had rarely
been seen assaulting fortified positions. Such work
had been, by common consent, left for the in-
fantry ; but now, under the influence of organiza-
tion and discipline, the cavalry, with their Spencer
repeating rifles, felt themselves equal to any task.
And so well did they perform the one before them
that MoArthur and his gallant men, in the heat and
exultation of the moment, were loud in their praises
of the dismounted cavalrymen, and generously

awarded them the trophies of victory, together
with the honor of being first to enter the works.

It is impossible within the limits of a single
chapter to give any adequate acooimt of the gal-
lant deeds of Hatch, Croxton, Hammond, Johnson,
Knipe, Coon, Stewart, Spalding, and their name-
less but invincible followers upon that glorious day.
Using the horses, which they had called for so lust-
ily, for the purpose of moving the fighting force of
the corps with celerity, but vfithout fatigue, across
the hills and plowed fields, now softened by thaw-
ing weather, to the vital points m. the enemy's line,
they were everywhere successful. Neither artil-
lery nor musketry, nothing but darkness, could
stay their onward progress, and after their first
onset they looked upon fortifications and breast-
works, abatis and entanglements, as new incite-
ments to victory. Night found the bulk of their
force a united and compact mass, bivouacked in
the left and rear of the enemy's position, six miles
from Nashville, and facing that city, with a firm
grip on the Harding and Hillsborough turnpikes,
and ready to press on toward the Granny White
turnpike and the enemy's left center and rear at
dawn the next day. They had captured sixteen
field-guns from behind breastworks and redoubts
and had taken many flags and prisoners.

Early on the 16th the cavalry ' resumed its
operations in accordance with General Thomas's
original plan ; Hatch continuing to press the en-
emy's extreme left and rear, Hammond moving
farther to the right, and Croxton in position to
support either, as might be required, while John-
son was sweeping in the same direction from the
Charlotte turnpike on a wider circle. The country
was still more hilly and densely covered with
timber, and the enemy's line more compact and
better able than the day before to resist attack
from any quarter. As a consequence it was
again necessary for the National cavalry to dis-
mount and fight on foot, and its progress was
correspondingly slow, except in Hammond's front.
Indeed, Hood, discerning at an early hour that his
principal danger lay in the direction of the cavalry
attack, made extra exertions to hold it in check,
and so stubbornly did his men bar the way that it
seemed for a while impossible to advance farther.
The exact dispositions made by Hood were con-
cealed by the thick woods and undergrowth of the
Brentwood Hills, and it was surmised that his
new position might be found to be impregnable.
To meet this contingency I suggested to General
Thomas, about 10 A. M., that it might be well to
transfer the whole or a part of the cavalry corps to
the left, to see what effect it could produce upon
the enemy's right flank. General Thomas agreed
to the proposition, should another determined push
from the various positions then occupied by the cav-
alry not be followed by satisfactory results. For-
tunately, however, while this suggestion was being
considered, the dismounted men, urged on by their
gallant officers, continued their pressure, and by
noon had driven the skirmishers close in upon
Hood's main line, and had formed a continuous line

i^ See General Wilson's report, "Report of the Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War,"
Supplement, Part I., pp. 409-i22.— J. H. W.



from the right of Schofield's corps to and
teyond the Granny White turnpike, which
passed north and south through Hood's
left center. Thus it will Tdb seen that
Hood's entire left wing was enveloped
front and rear, and would be obliged to
give way whenever it was vigorously
and simultaneously assailed from opposite
sides. Riding close up to the front, and
perceiving the advantageous position
■which my men had gained, I sent my
staff-of&eers, one after another, to Gen-
erals Schofield and Thomas with infor-
mation of the success, accompanied by
suggestions that the infantry should at-
tack with vigor. , It , was .during this stage
of the battle that a most important dis-
patch from Hood to Chalmers (Forrest
was still absent) was captured and brought
to me, and forwarded by me at once to
General Thomas. This dispatch seems to
have been lost after the battle; at aU
events it has disappeared, but its charac-
ter impressed it upon the memory of all
who saw it. It ran, in substance, as fol-
lows : "For God's sake drive the Yankee
oavahy from our left and rear, or all is
lost." I found Thomas with Schofield in
rear of the right of the line, and explained
to them the situation, which was fortu-
nately made entirely clear to them by the
sight of the dismounted cavalrymen in
full view, skirmishing heavily with the
Confederate left, and also by the iire of a sec-
tion of horse artillery, which had been dragged up
the steep hillsides to a commanding position in
rear of the Confederate works, and was pouring a
heavy fire into them. Occasionally a shot would
pass over the heads of the enemy and fall into our
own lines. Seeing all this Thomas turned to Scho-
field and indicated that the time had come for the

Online LibraryRobert Underwood JohnsonBattles and leaders of the Civil War : being for the most part contributions by Union and Confederate officers : based upon The Century War series → online text (page 72 of 145)