Nashville and Franklin: Destruction of the Confederate Armies in Tennessee

 

            In a short list of all the bone-headed maneuvers during all of the Civil War, CSA General John Bell Hoodıs invasion of Tennessee in late 1864 without a doubt ranks at or near the very top. Possibly influenced by his reported use of large doses of laudanum, as a pain reliever for his serious injuries from Gettysburg and Chickamauga, Hood concocted this plan after being thoroughly trounced by USA Major General William T. Shermanıs three grand armies around Atlanta in the late summer of 1864.

            Maintaining to his death that the only way to defeat Sherman was to draw him into battle on terrain of his own choosing (possibly true), Hood decided to take what was left of his Army of Tennessee and march north out of the Atlanta area, ³forcing² Sherman to follow and then defeating him by parts as the Union armies marched after him.

 

            Background to the Battle

            In May, 1864, three grand armies with a total of 110,123 men and 254 cannon under Sherman marched south out of their winter quarters at Chattanooga, aiming for the heart of the Southern Confederacy, Atlanta. Standing in their way was CSA General Joseph Eggleston Johnston with a single army of 54,500 men and 144 artillery pieces. Within four months, Sherman had torn a path through northwest Georgia, resoundingly defeated the Confederate army in nearly every battle, besieged Atlanta, and finally took the city when the last defenders slipped out during the night of September 1.

            Johnston was a defensive genius, probably delaying the inevitable far longer than any other Southern general could have. His primary handicaps, ironically, had nothing to do with his overt enemy, Sherman, but lay in the enmity of Confederate President Jefferson Davisı military advisor, CSA General Braxton Bragg and one of his own corps commanders, Hood. Both conspired against Johnston behind his back to Davis, making outrageous charges that he was ³reluctant to fight,² and that his tactics would lead to ruin. Davis was all too willing to listen; although Bragg had proved a disaster as an army commander and even CSA General Robert E. Lee warned that Hood was out of his league above a corps command (and others warned he wasnıt particularly good at that position, although a capable and outstanding divisional commander), Davis held a grudging loath of Johnston. The exact reason for this enmity is open to debate, but most likely resulted from political infighting at the very beginning of the Confederate government.

            When Johnston was finally forced south of the Chattahoochee River just north of Atlanta, Davis mocked outrage at this act of ³incompetence,² and promptly fired him. Placed in his stead was Hood, who promised to go on the offensive, and whose appointment dashed the morale of the men he was to lead. Johnston had been their hero, a man they trusted and who placed his trust in them as well, who had placed their lives above holding property, and who had been forced to withdraw nearly a hundred miles, but had done it without leaving behind any command or even a single artillery piece.

            Hood, on the other hand, was well known for his ³battlefield heroism,² actions that played well in the press but tended to get a lot of his own men killed for no real gain. His charges at Devilıs Den at Gettysburg in July of 1863 had lost him the use of an arm, and his charge at the second day at Chickamauga a little over two months later cost him his right leg. He carried this same flair for dashing off into the face of the enemy into his leadership of the Army of Tennessee, which he ordered on the offensive the same day he assumed command.

 

            Hood at Atlanta

            On July 20, 1864, Hood ordered an assault at the Battle of Peachtree Creek, just north of Atlanta. Two days later he tried another assault at the Battle of Atlanta, actually a few miles east of the city, and on July 28 he tried yet another at the Battle of Ezra Church, west of Atlanta. The only result in three actions was to reduce his fighting force to less than 37,000, with a few thousand Georgia militiamen thrown in for good measure. A final series of battles at Jonesboro shattered his own army, and Hood promptly abandoned Atlanta. Shermanıs armies walked in unmolested on September 2.

            Davis ³encouraged² Hood to attack Sherman and recapture the city, but that overwhelming task daunted even the ³attack at all costs² Texan. Instead, he proposed to march north of the city, striking and cutting Shermanıs supply line from Chattanooga, which, hopefully, would force the Union army out of the city and north in pursuit. Although neither Hood or Johnston had yet decisively defeated Sherman in a major pitched battle the entire campaign, with the Southern army intact, he now convinced the Confederate president that by choosing his defensive terrain carefully, he could defeat a well-armed, equipped and relatively fresh force four times his size. Amazingly, Davis bought the idea and approved the plan.

 

            Hood Moves North

            With three corps in his command, commanded by CSA Major General Benjamin Franklin ³Frank² Cheatham, CSA Lieutenant General Stephen Dill Lee and CSA Major General Alexander Peter Stewart, a cavalry corps commanded by CSA Major General Joseph ³Fighting Joe² Wheeler and a separate cavalry division commanded by CSA Brigadier General William Hicks ³Red² Jackson, Hood moved out off his last Atlanta base of Lovejoy on September 18, swinging wide around the western flank of the Atlanta defenses, and headed north. Sherman had anticipated Hood would do exactly this maneuver, and had already sent USA Brigadier General George Henry Thomas (the ³Rock of Chickamauga²) with three infantry divisions back to Chattanooga to prepare.

            Hood moved relatively slowly, crossing the Chattahoochee River near Campbellton on October 1, he continued north for two days, finally encamping near Hiram. Stewart was ordered to move east and attack and cut the Western & Atlantic Railroad line at Big Shanty (now Kennesaw), Acworth and Allatoona.

 

            The Attack at Allatoona Pass

            Stewartıs men surprised and captured about 170 Union troops at Big Shanty on October 4, then quickly moved north and captured a larger garrison at Acworth. Flushed with these easy successes, Hood personally ordered CSA Major General Samuel G. French to take his division on up the tracks and capture and destroy the bridge and railroad cut at Allatoona Pass. Hood was under the impression that the pass was only lightly held, as the two previous rail stops had been. However, Sherman had made the tiny settlement on the south side of the deep railway cut into a central base of logistical operations, had it heavily fortified and ordered another division under USA Brigadier General John M. Corse forward to garrison it. On both peaks over the 90 foot deep railroad cut heavily reinforced emplacements had been built. The westernmost set of peak defenses was dubbed the Star Fort, because of the arrangement of railroad ties surrounding it.

            French divided his force and approached Allatoona from the north, west and south. Once all were in position, he rather arrogantly sent Core a terse message,

 

³Sir: I have the forces under my command in such positions that you are now surrounded, and, to avoid a needless effusion of blood, I call upon you to surrender your forces at once, and unconditionally. Five minutes will be allowed for you to decide. Should you accede to this, you will be treated in the most honorable manner as prisoners of war.²

 

            Corse was somewhat less than impressed. 15 minutes later he replies, ³Your communication demanding surrender of my command, I acknowledge receipt of, and respectfully reply, that we are prepared for the Œneedless effusion of bloodı whenever it is agreeable with you.²

            French wasted no time, sending CSA Brigadier General Francis M. Cockrellıs Missouri Brigade and CSA Brigadier General William H. Youngıs (Ectorıs) Brigade assaulting from the west. Both pushed through the first line of defenses, then the second, then through a third line of defense, all the while fighting hand-to-hand with clubbed rifles and bayonets. Advancing to within a few feet of the Star Fort, the fighting rapidly intensified, with the Confederate advance finally being stopped before it could overrun the fort. Finally, with warnings coming from outposts that a Union force had been spotted moving rapidly towards the battle area, French disengaged and marched his depleted force west to rejoin Hood.

            All through the day long battle, a Union signal post at Kennesaw Mountain sent a message to Corse, ³General Sherman says hold fast; we are coming.² This message, which popularized the expression, ³hold the fort,² was nothing more than a moral booster, for Sherman did not order any additional infantry to the area until the next day, and none arrived until two days later. The forces spotted by the Confederate side were apparently just cavalry on a scouting mission.

            Casualties in the brief, little remembered battle were exceptionally high, with Corse reporting 706 dead and wounded, and French reporting 706 (including 70 officers), about 30 percent of either sides total force. Young himself was wounded just outside the fort and captured shortly afterwards. Corse reported that he, too, had been wounded in a message to Sherman, ³I am short a cheek bone and an ear but am able to lick all hell yet!² When Sherman came up later, he was unimpressed with the severity of his wounds, ³Corse, they came damn near missing you, didnıt they?²

 

            The Armies Advance in Opposite Directions

            Following the decisive loss at Allatoona Pass, Hood elected to continue north, moving west around rome through Cedartown, Cave Springs and Coosaville, while Sherman moved north after him with a force of 40,000 men (55,000 in some accounts), a partial vindication of Hoodıs audacious plan. Wheelerıs cavalry joined the campaign at this point, screening his movement from Shermanıs force, while Jacksonıs cavalry stayed below Rome near the Coosa RIver. Attacks at Resaca on October 12 and 13 were failures, but Leeıs and Cheathamıs corps were able to capture the railroad north of Resaca the next day. In one of the only real successes in north Georgia, the 2,000 man Union garrison at Dalton was forced to surrender, but with Sherman hot on his heels, Hood was unable to hold the city.

            Hood moved west again, towards northwestern Georgia near the Alabama state line, setting up a line of battle near LaFayette on October 15. Hoodıs strategy here is uncertain, as he was moving away from the mountainous terrain he had claimed would be to his advantage. There are mountains here, and rugged ones in place, but this was the same area that Sherman had already demonstrated an ability to operate in. The northeastern mountains were not specified in Hoodıs plans, but were his most likely original destination. If his plan was to keep Sherman bottled up in northern Georgia, it both succeeded and failed.

            When Hood slipped away after the Union troops deployed for battle at Lafayette on October 17, Sherman remarked that Hoodıs tactics were ³inexplicable by any common-sense theory...I could not guess his movements as I could those of Johnston.² After a total of three weeks of chasing the now fast-moving CSA Army of Tennessee, Sherman ordered his forces to return to Atlanta and prepare for a march to the south. 

            Warned by Grant that Hood was taking his army north into Tennessee and threatened his supply lines, Sherman remarked, ³No single force can catch Hood, and I am convinced that the best results will follow from our defeating Jeff Davisı cherished plan of making me leave Georgia by maneuvering.²

            At the same time, Davis was begging Hood ³not to abandon Georgia to Sherman but defeat him in detail before marching into Tennessee.² Hood replied back that it was his intent to ³draw out Sherman where he can be dealt with north of Atlanta.² In his postwar memoirs, Hood clung to this unrealistic stance and hopes of defeating both Sherman and Thoması powerful force in Tennessee:

 

³I conceived the plan of marching into Tennessee...to move upon Thomas and Schofield and capture their army before it could reach Nashville and afterward march northeast, past the Cumberland River in that position I could threaten Cincinnati from Kentucky and Tennessee...if blessed with a victory (over Sherman coming north after him), to send reinforcements to Lee, in Virginia, or to march through gaps in the Cumberland Mountains and attack Grant in the rear.²

 

            It was whispered by not a few members of the CSA Army of Tennessee that Hood was half-mad from his injuries, shot in the arm at Gettysburg and having a leg shot off at Chickamauga the year before. Widely viewed as a gallant fighter, in the sense that a lot of his men got killed by his tactics, his leadership did not impress those under him. CSA Private Sam Watkins said, ³As a soldier, he was brave, good, noble and gallant, and fought with the ferociousness of the wounded tiger, and with the everlasting grit of the bull-dog; but as a general he was a failure in every particular.²

            Hood continued his march north, and Sherman, upon hearing the news, couldnıt have been happier. ³If he will go to the Ohio River, I will give him rations.² He sent Thomas USA Major General John M. Schofieldıs Army of the Ohio, consisting of USA Major General David F. Stanleyıs IV and USA Brigadier General Jacob B. Coxıs XXIII Corps, to defend Tennessee and turned his attention on his March to the Sea.

 

            Hood in Alabama

            The CSA Army of Tennessee reached Decatur, Alabama, on October 26, where he met CSA General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, commander of the Division of the West. Beauregard approved Hoodıs plan to invade Tennessee, but made him give up Wheelerıs cavalry, which was sorely needed in the coming campaign against Sherman in south Georgia. In exchange, CSA Major General Nathan Bedford Forrestıs Cavalry Corps was moving down from eastern Tennessee to provide coverage.

            While he waited for Forrest to arrive, Hood moved his force west, retaking and fortifying Florence, Alabama, and Corinth, Mississippi, and repairing the railroad line between the cities to shuttle his supplies as needed. Forrest took nearly three weeks to arrive, finally appearing on November 17.

            To counter Hoodıs move west, Thomas sent Stanleyıs Corps reinforced with one division from Coxıs Corps to Pulaski, Tennessee, directly astride the Nashville and Decatur Railroad that he expected Hood to advance on. On November 14 Schofield arrived in Pulaski to establish his headquarters and detail the defense against Hoodıs army. At that time Schofield commanded an army of 25,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry, while Thomas had another 40,000 troops scattered between Nashville and north Georgia, nearly all relatively fresh and well-supplied. With Forrestıs arrival, Hood had about 33,000 infantry and 6,000 cavalrymen, all tired, battle-weary and poorly supplied.

 

            Hood Marches North

            On November 19, Hood at long last moved out on his great campaign, led by Forrestıs cavalry and Leeıs Corps. Rather than following the railroad as Schofield expected, Hood moved along three parallel roads to the west of that small town, heading towards Columbia 31 miles to the north. The weather was wretched, a cold rain mixed with snow and sleet turning the muddy roads to ice, which cut and burned the bare feet of most of the tattered infantrymen.

            Schofield recognized the danger of his flank being turned, and hustled all but one brigade of his army to Columbia, arriving and fortifying the bridges over the Duck River by November 24. Hoodıs army closed in on the town on the morning of November 26. That night he outlined yet another strategy to his three corps commanders. He told them that Nashville is an ³open city² and a ripe prize to be easily taken. To do so, they must move fast towards the capital city, bypassing what Union forces they can, and overwhelming those they cannot.

            Once again, it is difficult to see just what Hoodıs overall intent was. Originally moving north to draw Sherman out of Atlanta, he succeeded but then runs into Alabama rather than finding suitable terrain to fight from. Once in Alabama, he ignores Davisı pleas not to abandon Georgia completely and convinces Beauregard that he can defeat Thoması forces in Tennessee piecemeal, recover the state for the Confederacy, then either help reinforce Robert E. Leeıs army in Virginia or invade Ohio. To do either he must eliminate any Union threat from his own base of support by defeating Thomas, or at the very least forcing him to retire from Tennessee. Yet, when literally given the opportunity to challenge parts of the Union armys with a superior force, at Pulaski and now at Columbia, he chooses to outflank them and continue north.

 

            Home

            One company of Hoodıs army has arrived back home after nearly four years of combat, CSA Captain A.M. Looneyıs Company H of the 1st Tennessee Infantry Regiment, the ³Maury County Grays.² One surviving original member, CSA Private Sam Watkins, is overcome with emotion at what has happened to his friends and comrades:

 

The Maury Grays...left Columbia, four years ago, with 120 men. How many of these 120 original members are with the company today? Just twelve. Company H has twenty listed. But we twelve will stick to our colors till she goes down forever, and until five more of this number fall dead and bleeding on the battlefield.

 

 

            Spring Hill

            Realizing early on that Hood had no intent on a direct assault at Columbia, and possibly was going to try and envelope him to the north, Schofield sends Stanleyıs Corps reinforced with additional infantry and artillery to the smaller city. The Union corps arrives at Spring Hill about 2 PM.

            Hood had sent Forrest to the north to bypass the Union defenses north of Columbia, and they arrived at Spring Hill at nearly the same time Stanley did. Both sides skirmish to no real gain on either side until just before dark. Leeıs Corps had stayed outside Columbia to Œmake a racketı while Hood moved Cheathamıs and Stewartıs Corps around to the east to Davis Ford on the Duck RIver, crossing through pastures, woods and creeks before remerging on the Rally Hill (Franklin) Turnpike towards Spring Hill just at dark on November 29, neatly flanking Schofield in the maneuver.

            Arriving just at dark, part of Cheathamıs Corps comes up and helps push the Union force back into town. Stanley manages to hold the town and the road to Columbia open. Hoodıs army is exhausted by the rough marching and combat action, however, and nearly immediately lays down in the mud on either side of the road to catch some badly needed sleep.

            As the Confederate infantry sleep, Schofield slips out of Columbia and passes through a mere 200 yard-wide gap between the two Southern corps without being detected, making it to Spring Hill without incident. When Hood finds out, a huge fight between him and Cheatham erupts, where he blames Cheatham for the escape and requests Richmond send a replacement, while Cheatham complains he had not been specifically ordered to take and cut the road. While the rest of the Southern generals join in the fun and argue through the night, Schofield and the rest of his corps move out of Spring Hill and on towards Franklin, reaching the outer defenses by dawn on November 30. Once there, Schofield discovered he was not going to be able to move his men and heavy supply trains into the city until his engineers rebuilt the bridges and fords destroyed by Forrestıs raids. He ordered his men to hastily throw up earthwork defenses on the south edge of town in case Hood was following too closely. He planned on withdrawing back across the river after dark, and then move on up to Nashville during the night

 

            Franklin

            Hood was indeed following closely. After withdrawing his request for Cheathams replacement and making a few last rude comments, he got his army moving north again, chasing after Schofield. The vanguard of the Southern force arrived atop a low range of hills just south of Franklin just before 3 PM, and Hood immediately gave orders to attack the Union lines they could clearly see being constructed. The three corps commanders were incredulous. Dusk was only a bit over two hours away, the army was still in column road march formation with parts of it still hours away, and the Union troops clearly had a superior and fortified position well protected by artillery batteries.

            This is when Hood threw another one of his fits. He had habitually considered anyone who disagreed with him as an enemy, and was loath to change any plan he had created, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that it was a poor one. In addition, he had often remarked since taking command that the men and officers loyal to former Army of Tennessee commander Johnston were ³soft² and too prone to retreating in the face of the enemy. He insisted that they were to march right down there and take those works, even at the cost of their own lives, almost as a punishment for daring to disagree with him.

 

            The Battle of Franklin

            After 3 PM, the two Confederate corps present started forming in line of battle, Cheathamıs Corps on the left, Stewartıs Corps on the right. At the same time, the bridge and ford work had been completed, and Schofield was getting ready to pull his forces back north across the river. At 3:30 PM the signal trumpets blew, and a mass of butternut clad infantry charged across the open ground toward the Union emplacements. CSA Major General John Calvin Brownıs and CSA Major General Patrick Ronayne Cleburneıs Divisions briefly overran USA Brigadier General George B. Wagnerıs Division, which was left out on the pike road south of the main defense belt in an ill-thought out move.

            Mounting a strong counter-attack, USA Colonel Emerson Opdykeıs 1st Brigade (Wagnerıs Division), who had been the rear guard all day and was taking a well-deserved rest at the river,  leapt back over the defense wall and charged Cleburneıs men. A furious fight erupted with point-blank shots and hand to hand combat all along the line. One of his officers, USA Major Arthur MacArthur, father of the WWII hero Douglas MacArthur, managed to slash one Confederate regimentıs color bearer with his sword and take the prize, even though shot three times in the process.

            All along the rest of the line individual regiments and brigades reached the second Union line of defense, but none were able to pierce it. The field behind them now raked by constant cannister and shot from the Union batteries, there was no place left to retreat, either. Both sides stood just yards apart for hours, pouring musket and artillery fire into each otherıs ranks, without either side giving way.

            The slaughter finally stopped about 9 PM, well after dark, when gun by gun, the firing slowly petered out. Surviving Confederate regiments literally crawled back across the dead-strewn field to the safety of their original positions. Schofield promptly abandoned the field, leaving his dead and wounded behind, and immediately marched back to Nashville, arriving about noon on December 1.

            Hoodıs casualties were almost unreal. Of the 26,000 he had sent in battle, 5,550 were dead or wounded, with another 702 missing. 32 regimental and brigade battle flags had been taken. No less than 54 regimental commanders were killed, wounded, or missing. The worst loss was that of six generals; Cleburne, CSA Brigadier General John Adams, CSA Brigadier General Otho French Strahl, CSA Brigadier General States Rights Gist, CSA Brigadier General John Carpenter Carter and CSA Brigadier General Hiram Bronson Granbury. Of the other six generals on the battlefield, one had been captured and only two were left unwounded and fit for service.

            Schofieldıs casualties, although heavy, were still lighter than Hoodıs. Of the 28,000 men he had on the line that afternoon, 1,222 were killed or wounded, while 1,104 were captured or missing.

 

            The March to Nashville

            Hoodıs army was in no shape to fight anymore, after the beating at Franklin, but nothing would deter Hood from his determination to take the Tennessee capital back. Schofieldıs forces had quit the field at Franklin immediately after the battle, and Hood followed suit. Ordering his men up and at Œem, the depleted CSA Army of Tennessee stood outside the defenses of Nashville by December 2.

            Once again, we face the question of what Hood was planning to do. He admitted himself after the war that he knew his army was too depleted to assault the Nashville emplacements, and that Schofield was well placed, well supplied and had reinforcements on the way. It takes nearly a suspension of believe to follow his plan (as outlined in his post-war memoirs,  Advance and Retreat); wait outside for Thoması combined army to come out and attack his own fortifications, and hope that promised reinforcements (which probably did not even exist) of his own could manage to travel from Texas in time to help him.

            Thoması, on the other hand, was quite comfortable and in no mood to hurry into a fight. USA Major General Andrew Jackson Smith arrived with his three divisions of XVI Corps by the time Schofield came in from Franklin, and USA Major General James Blair Steedman brought up a division of 5,200 men detached from Shermanıs command the next day. By December 4, Thomas had a total of 49,773 men under his command,some of whom were well rested and had not seen combat recently, while Hood could muster (on paper) only 23,207, tired, cold and demoralized troops. This figure did not take into consideration the large number of desertions of battle-hardened veterans the CSA Army of Tennessee was beginning to experience.

 

            The Battle of Nashville

            Under growing pressure from Grant to go into action, Thomas made preparations to decisively defeat the weaker Confederate army and gain ³such a splendid and decisive victory as to hush censure for all time.² Finally, at 6 AM on the foggy morning of December 15, his army moved out. Thomas planned to hit both of Hoodıs flanks with a coordinating attack that would destroy his lines of battle in a matter of minutes. Thomas had no desire to simply push Hood away from Nashville, he was determined to destroy that Confederate army once and for all.

            Steedman started the attack at 8 AM on Hoodıs right, the coordinated plan falling apart immediately due to the poor weather and bad roads. Two hours later Smithıs Corps hit Hoodıs left flank, followed by Wood and Schofield over the next few hours. Hood was steadily pushed back, but his lines held fast and pulled together to form a tight,straight line of battle. By nightfall, Hood had been pushed back about a mile, where he formed a new line of battle that stretched between Shyıs Hill and Overton Hill.

            At dawn on December 17, Thoması forces started probing the new Confederate line for weakness. At 3 PM a strong attack was made against the defense atop Overton Hill, followed 1/2 hour later by initial actions against Shyıs Hill. By 4 PM the attack on Hoodıs right had been repulsed with heavy losses, but the attack on Shyıs Hill succeeded in routing the Confederate defenders, and effectively bringing the battle to an end.

            The Confederate Army of Tennessee was at long last broken. All semblance of order broke down as many soldiers either ran for the rear or allowed themselves to be taken prisoner.  Many more simply dropped their rifles and returned home, too defeated to fight any more. Hood pulled what was left south out of Nashville and marched through a brutal winter landscape all the way back down to Tupelo, Mississippi. Once there, Hood quietly asked to be relieved of command, on Friday, January 13, 1865.

            Hood insisted that his losses were ³very small,²but he was not the sort to admit defeat or desertion of his own men. Various sources give wildly disparate figures, but a rough guess is that Hood lost about 1,500 killed and wounded in the battle, with another 4,500 captured. He lost a grand total of nearly 20,000 men in the whole, failed campaign. Thomas reported losses of 387 killed, 2,562 wounded and 112 missing in the battle.

            Even after this shattering defeat, the end of this great army was not yet at hand. Reorganizing yet again, the Army of Tennessee was reunited with their beloved commander, CSA General Joseph Eggleston Johnston, and moved back east to confront Sherman once again, this time in his march through the Carolinas.



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