Report of Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas, U.S. Army,
Commanding Department of the Cumberland,
Battle of Nashville
DEPARTMENT OF THE CUMBERLAND,
Eastport, Miss., January 20, 1865.
Lieut. Col. R. M. SAWYER,
Asst. Adjt. Gen.,
Military Division of the Mississippi.
On the 12th of November communication with General Sherman was severed, the last dispatch from him leaving Cartersville, Ga., at 2.25 p.m. on that date. He had started on his great expedition from Atlanta to the seaboard, leaving me to guard Tennessee or to pursue the enemy if he followed the commanding general's column. It was therefore with considerable anxiety that we watched the forces at Florence, to discover what course they would pursue with regard to General Sherman's movements, determining thereby whether the troops under my command, numbering less than half those under Hood, were to act on the defensive in Tennessee, or take the offensive in Alabama.
The enemy's position at Florence remained unchanged up to the 17th of November, when he moved Cheatham's corps to the north side of the river, with Stewart's corps preparing to follow. The same day part of the enemy's infantry, said to be Lee's corps, moved up the Lawrenceburg road to Bough's Mill, on Shoal Creek, skirmishing at that point with Hatch's cavalry, and then fell back a short distance to some bluffs, where it went into camp.
The possibility of Hood's forces following General Sherman was now at an end, and I quietly took measures to act on the defensive. Two divisions of infantry, under Maj. Gen. A. J. Smith, were reported on their way to join me, from Missouri, which, with several one-year regiments then arriving in the department, and detachments collected from points of minor importance, would swell my command, when concentrated, to an army nearly as large as that of the enemy. Had the enemy delayed his advance a week or ten days longer, I would have been ready to meet him at some point south of Duck River, but Hood commenced his advance on the 19th, moving on parallel roads from Florence toward Waynesborough, and shelled Hatch's cavalry out of Lawrenceburg on the 22d. My only resource then was to retire slowly toward my re-enforcements, delaying the enemy's progress as much as possible, to gain time for re-enforcements to arrive and concentrate.
General Schofield commenced removing the public property from Pulaski preparatory to falling back toward Columbia. Two divisions of Stanley's corps had already reached Lynnville, a point fifteen miles north of Pulaski, to cover the passage of the wagons and protect the railroad. Capron's brigade of cavalry was at Mount Pleasant, covering the approach to Columbia from that direction; and, in addition to the regular garrison, there was at Columbia a brigade of Ruger's division, Twenty-third Army Corps. I directed the two remaining brigades of Ruger's division, then at Johnsonville, to move---one by railroad around through Nashville to Columbia, the other by road via Waverly to Centerville---and occupy the crossings of Duck River near Columbia, Williamsport, Gordon's Ferry, and Centerville.
Since the departure of General Sherman about 7,000 men belonging to his column had collected at Chattanooga, comprising convalescents returning to their commands and men returning from furlough. These men had been organized into brigades, to be made available at such points as they might be needed. My command had also been re-enforced by twenty new one-year regiments, most of which, however, were absorbed in replacing old regiments whose terms of service had expired.
On the 23d, in accordance with directions previously given him, General Granger commenced withdrawing the garrisons from Athens, Decatur, and Huntsville, Ala., and moved off toward Stevenson, sending five new regiments of that force to Murfreesborough, and retaining at Stevenson the original troops of his command. This movement was rapidly made by railroad, without opposition on the part of the enemy. That same night General Schofield evacuated Pulaski and moved toward Columbia, reporting himself in position at that place on the 24th. The commanding officer at Johnsonville was directed to evacuate that post, after removing all public property, and retire to Fort Donelson, on the Cumberland, and thence to Clarksville. During the 24th and 25th the enemy skirmished with General Schofield's troops at Columbia, but showed nothing but dismounted cavalry until the morning of the 26th, when his infantry came up and pressed our line strongly during that day and the 27th, but without assaulting. As the enemy's movements showed an undoubted intention to cross above or below the town, General Schofield withdrew to the north bank of Duck River during the night of the 27th and took up a new position, where the command remained during the 28th, undisturbed. Two divisions of the Twenty-third Corps were placed in line in front of the town, holding all the crossings in its vicinity, while Stanley's corps, posted in reserve on the Franklin pike, was held in readiness to repel any vigorous attempt the enemy should make to force a crossing; the cavalry, under command of Brevet Major-General Wilson, held the crossings above those guarded by the infantry. About 2 a.m. on the 29th the enemy succeeded in pressing back General Wilson's cavalry, and effected a crossing on the Lewisburg pike; at a later hour part of his infantry crossed at Huey's Mills, six miles above Columbia. Communication with the cavalry having been interrupted and the line of retreat toward Franklin being threatened, General Schofield made preparations to withdraw to Franklin. General Stanley, with one division of infantry, was sent to Spring Hill, about fifteen miles north of Columbia, to cover the trains and hold the road open for the passage of the main force, and dispositions were made preparatory to a withdrawal and to meet any attack coming from the direction of Huey's Mills. General Stanley reached Spring Hill just in time to drive off the enemy's cavalry and save the trains; but later he was attacked by the enemy's infantry and cavalry combined, who engaged him heavily and nearly succeeded in dislodging him from the position, the engagement lasting until dark. Although not attacked from the direction of Huey's Mills, General Schofield was busily occupied all day at Columbia resisting the enemy's attempts to cross Duck River, which he successfully accomplished, repulsing the enemy many times, with heavy loss. Giving directions for the withdrawal of the troops as soon as covered by the darkness, at a late hour in the afternoon General Schofield, with Ruger's division, started to the relief of General Stanley, at Spring Hill, and when near that place he came upon the enemy's cavalry, but they were easily driven off. At Spring Hill the enemy was found bivouacking within 800 yards of the road. Posting a brigade to hold the pike at this point, General Schofield with Ruger's division, pushed on to Thompson's Station, three mile's beyond, where he found the enemy's campfires still burning, a cavalry force having occupied the place at dark, but had disappeared on the arrival of our troops. General Ruger then quietly took possession of the cross-roads.
The withdrawal of the main force from in front of Columbia was safely effected after dark on the 29th; Spring Hill was passed without molestation about midnight, and making a night march of twenty-five miles, the whole command got into position at Franklin at an early hour on the morning of the 30th; the cavalry moved on the Lewisburg pike, on the right or east of the infantry.
At Franklin General Schofield formed line of battle on the southern edge of the town to await the coming of the enemy, and in the meanwhile hastened the crossing of the trains to the north side of Harpeth River.
On the evacuation of Columbia orders were sent to Major-General Milroy, at Tullahoma, to abandon that post and retire to Murfrees-borough, joining forces with General Rousseau at the latter place. General Milroy was instructed, however, to maintain the garrison in the block-house at Elk River bridge. Nashville was placed in a state of defense and the fortifications manned by the garrison, re-enforced by a volunteer force, which had been previously organized into a division, under Bvt. Brig. Gen. J. L. Donaldson, from the employés of the quartermaster's and commissary departments. This latter force, aided by railroad employés, the whole under the direction of Brigadier-General Tower, worked assiduously to construct additional defenses. Major-General Steedman, with a command numbering 5,000, composed of detachments belonging to General Sherman's column, left behind at Chattanooga (of which mention has heretofore been made), and also a brigade of colored troops, started from Chattanooga by rail on the 29th of November, and reached Cowan on the morning of the 30th, where orders were sent him to proceed direct to Nashville. At an early hour on the morning of the 30th the advance of Maj. Gen. A. J. Smith's command reached Nashville by transports from Saint Louis. My infantry force was now nearly equal to that of the enemy, although he still outnumbered me very greatly in effective cavalry; but as soon as a few thousand of the latter arm could be mounted I should be in a condition to take the field offensively and dispute the possession of Tennessee with Hood's army.
The enemy followed closely after General Schofield's rear guard in the retreat to Franklin, and upon coming up with the main force, formed rapidly and advanced to assault our works, repeating attack after attack during the entire afternoon, and as late as 10 p.m. his efforts to break our line were continued. General Schofield's position was excellently chosen, with both flanks resting upon the river, and the men firmly held their ground against an overwhelming enemy, who was repulsed in every assault along the whole line. Our loss, as given by General Schofield in his report transmitted herewith (and to which I respectfully refer), is, 189 killed, 1,033 wounded, and 1,104 missing, making an aggregate of 2,326. We captured and sent to Nashville 702 prisoners, including I general officer, and 33 stand of colors. Maj. Gen. D. S. Stanley, commanding Fourth Corps, was severely wounded at Franklin whilst engaged in rallying a portion of his command which had been temporarily overpowered by an overwhelming attack of the enemy. At the time of the battle the enemy's loss was known to be severe, and was estimated at 5,000. The exact figures were only obtained, however, on the reoccupation of Franklin by our forces, after the battles of December 15 and 16, at Brentwood Hills, near Nashville, and are given as follows: Buried upon the field, 1,750; disabled and placed in hospital at Franklin, 3,800, which, with the 702 prisoners already reported, makes an aggregate loss to Hood's army of 6,252, among whom were 6 general officers killed, 6 wounded, and I captured. The important results of the signal victory cannot be too highly appreciated, for it not only seriously checked the enemy's advance, and gave General Schofield time to remove his troops and all his property to Nashville, but it also caused deep depression among the men of Hood's army, making them doubly cautious in their subsequent movements.
Not willing to risk a renewal of the battle on the morrow, and having accomplished the object of the day's operations, viz, to cover the withdrawal of his trains, General Schofield, by my advice and direction, fell back during the night to Nashville, in front of which city line of battle was formed by noon of the 1st of December, on the heights immediately surrounding Nashville, with Maj. Gen. A. J. Smith's command occupying the right, his right resting on the Cumberland River, below the city; the Fourth Corps (Brig. Gen. T. J. Wood temporarily in command) in the center; and General Schofield's troops (Twenty-third Army Corps) on the left, extending to Nolensville pike. The cavalry, under General Wilson, was directed to take post on the left of General Schofield, which would make secure the interval between his left and the river above the city.
General Steedman's troops reached Nashville about dark on the evening of the 1st of December, taking up a position about a mile in advance of the left center of the main line, and on the left of the Nolensville pike. This position being regarded as too much exposed, was changed on the 3d, when, the cavalry having been directed to take post on the north side of the river at Edgefield, General Steedman occupied the space on the left of the line vacated by its withdrawal. During the afternoon of the 2d the enemy's cavalry, in small parties, engaged our skirmishers, but it was only on the afternoon of the 3d that his infantry made its appearance, when, crowding in our skirmishers, he commenced to establish his main line, which, on the morning of the 4th, we found he had succeeded in doing, with his salient on the summit of Montgomery Hill, within 600 yards of our center, his main line occupying the high ground on the southeast side of Brown's Creek, and extending from the Nolensville pike--his extreme right--across the Franklin and Granny White pikes, in a westerly direction, to the hills south and southwest of Richland Creek, and down that creek to the Hillsborough pike, with cavalry extending from both his flanks to the river. Artillery was opened on him from several points on the line, without eliciting any response.
The block-house at the railroad crossing of Overall's Creek, five miles north of Murfreesborough, was attacked by Bate's division, of Cheatham's corps, on the 4th, but held out until assistance reached it from the garrison at Murfreesborough. The enemy used artillery to reduce the block-house, but although seventy-four shots were fired at it, n? material injury was done. General Milroy coming up with three regiments of infantry, four companies of the Thirteenth Indiana Cavalry, and a section of artillery, attacked the enemy and drove him off. During the 5th, 6th, and 7th Bate's division, re-enforced by a division from Lee's corps and 2,500 of Forrest's cavalry, demonstrated heavily against Fortress Rosecrans, at Murfreesborough, garrisoned by about 8,000 men, under command of General Rousseau. The enemy showing an unwillingness to make a direct assault, General Milroy, with seven regiments of infantry, was sent out on the 8th [7th] to engage him. He was found a short distance from the place on the Wilkinson pike, posted behind rail breast-works, was attacked and routed, our troops capturing 207 prisoners and two guns, with a loss of 30 killed and 175 wounded. On the same day Buford's cavalry entered the town of Murfreesborough, after having shelled it vigorously, but he was speedily driven out by a regiment of infantry and a section of artillery.
On retiring from before Murfreesborough the enemy's cavalry moved northward to Lebanon and along the bank of the Cumberland in that vicinity, threatening to cross to the north side of the river and interrupt our railroad communication with Louisville, at that time our only source of supplies, the enemy having blockaded the river below Nashville by batteries along the shore. The Navy Department was requested to patrol the Cumberland above and below Nashville with the gun-boats then in the river, to prevent the enemy from crossing, which request was cordially and effectually complied with by Lieut. Commander Le Roy Fitch, commanding Eleventh Division, Mississippi Squadron. At the same time General Wilson sent a cavalry force to Gallatin to guard the country in that vicinity.
The position of Hood's army around Nashville remained unchanged, and, with the exception of occasional picket-firing, nothing of importance occurred from the 3d to the 15th of December. In the meanwhile I was preparing to take the offensive without delay; the cavalry was being remounted, under the direction of General Wilson, as rapidly as possible, and new transportation furnished where it was required.
During these operations in Middle Tennessee the enemy, under Breckinridge, Duke, and Vaughn, was operating in the eastern portion of the State against Generals Ammen and Gillem. On the 13th of November, at midnight, Breckinridge, with a force estimated at 3,000, attacked General Gillem near Morristown, routing him and capturing his artillery, besides taking several hundred prisoners; the remainder of the command, about 1,000 in number, escaped to Strawberry Plains, and thence to Knoxville. General Gillem's force consisted of 1,500 men, comprising three regiments of Tennessee cavalry, and six guns, belonging formerly to the Fourth Division of Cavalry, Army of the Cumberland, but had been detached from my command at the instance of Governor Andrew Johnson, and were then operating independently under Brigadier-General Gillem. From a want of cooperation between the officers directly under my control and General Gillem may be attributed, in a great measure, the cause of the latter's misfortune.
Following up his success, Breckinridge continued moving southward through Strawberry Plains to the immediate vicinity of Knoxville, but on the 18th withdrew as rapidly as he had advanced. General Am-men's troops, re-enforced by 1,500 men from Chattanooga, reoccupied Strawberry Plains on that day.
About that period Major-General Stoneman (left at Louisville by General Schofield to take charge of the Department of the Ohio during his absence with the army in the field) started for Knoxville, to take general direction of affairs in that section, having previously ordered Brevet Major-General Burbridge to march with all his available force in Kentucky, by way of Cumberland Gap, to Gillem's relief. On his way through Nashville General Stoneman received instructions from me to concentrate as large a force as he could get in East Tennessee against Breckinridge, and either destroy his force or drive it into Virginia, and, if possible, destroy the salt-works at Saltville and the railroad from the Tennessee line as far into Virginia as he could go without endangering his command. November 23, General Stoneman telegraphed from Knoxville that the main force of the enemy was at New Market, eight miles north of Strawberry Plains, and General Burbridge was moving on Cumberland Gap from the interior of Kentucky, his advance expecting to reach Barboursville that night. On the 6th of December, having received information from East Tennessee that Breckinridge was falling back toward Virginia, General Stoneman was again directed to pursue him, and destroy the railroad as far across the State line as possible---say, twenty-five miles.
Leaving him to carry out these instructions, I will return to the position at Nashville.
Both armies were ice-bound for a week previous to the 14th of December, when the weather moderated. Being prepared to move, I called a meeting of the corps commanders on the afternoon of that day, and having discussed the plan of attack until thoroughly understood, the following Special Field Order, No. 342, was issued:
Paragraph IV. As soon as the state of the weather will admit of offensive operations the troops will move against the enemy's position in the following order:
Maj. Gen. A. J. Smith, commanding Detachment of the Army of the Tennessee, after forming his troops on and near the Hardin pike, in front of his present position, will make a vigorous assault on the enemy's left.
Major-General Wilson, commanding the Cavalry Corps, Military Division of the Mississippi, with three divisions, will move on and support General Smith's right, assisting, as far as possible, in carrying the left of the enemy's position, and be in readiness to throw his force upon the enemy the moment a favorable opportunity occurs. Major-General Wilson will also send one division on the Charlotte pike to clear that road of the enemy and observe in the direction of Bell's Landing, to protect our right rear until the enemy's position is fairly turned, when it will rejoin the main force.
Brig. Gen. T. J. Wood, commanding the Fourth Army Corps, after leaving a strong skirmish line in his works from Laurens' Hill to his extreme right, will form the remainder of the Fourth Corps on the Hillsborough pike, to support General Smith's left, and operate on the left and rear of the enemy's advanced position on the Montgomery Hill.
Major-General Schofield, commanding Twenty-third Army Corps, will replace Brigadier-General Kimball's division, of the Fourth Corps, with his troops, and occupy the trenches from Fort Negley to Laurens' Hill with a strong skirmish line. He will move with(*) the remainder of his force in front of the works and co-operate with General Wood, protecting the latter's left flank against an attack by the enemy.
Major-General Steedman, commanding District of the Etowah, will occupy the interior line in rear of his present position, stretching from the reservoir on the Cumberland River to Fort Negley, with a strong skirmish line, and mass the remainder of his force in its present position, to act according to the exigencies which may arise during these operations.
Brigadier-General Miller, with the troops forming the garrison of Nashville, will occupy the interior line from the battery on Hill 210 to the extreme right, including the inclosed work on the Hyde's Ferry road.
The quartermaster's troops, under command of Brigadier-General Donaldson, will, if necessary, be posted on the interior line from Fort Morton to the battery on Hill 210.
The troops occupying the interior line will be under the direction of Major-Gen-oral Steedman, who is charged with the immediate defense of Nashville during the operations around the city.
Should the weather permit the troops will be formed [in time] to commence operations at 6 a.m. on the 15th, or as soon thereafter as practicable.
On the morning of the 15th of December, the weather being favorable, the army was formed and ready at an early hour to carry out the plan of battle promulgated in the special field order of the 14th. The formation of the troops was partially concealed from the enemy by the broken nature of the ground, as also by a dense fog, which only lifted toward noon. The enemy was apparently totally unaware of any intention on our part to attack his position, and more especially did he seem not to expect any movement against his left flank. To divert his attention still further from our real intentions, Major-General Steedman had, on the evening of the 14th, received orders to make a heavy demonstration with his command against the enemy's right, east of the Nolensville pike, which he accomplished with great success and some loss, succeeding, however, in attracting the enemy's attention to that part of his lines, and inducing him to draw re-enforcements from toward his center and left. As soon as General Steedman had completed his movement, the commands of Generals Smith and Wilson moved out along the Hardin pike and commenced the grand movement of the day, by wheeling to the left and advancing against the enemy's position across the Hardin and Hillsborough pikes. A division of cavalry (Johnson's) was sent at the same time to look after a battery of the enemy's on the Cumberland River at Bell's Landing, eight miles below Nashville. General Johnson did not get into position until late in the afternoon, when, in conjunction with the gun-boats under Lieut. Commander Le Roy Fitch, the enemy's battery was engaged until after nightfall, and the place was found evacuated on the morning of the 16th. The remainder of General Wilson's command, Hatch's division leading and Knipe in reserve, moving on the right of General A. J. Smith's troops, first struck the enemy along Richland Creek, near Hardin's house, and drove him back rapidly, capturing a number of prisoners, wagons, &c., and continuing to advance, whilst slightly swinging to the left, came upon a redoubt containing four guns, which was splendidly carried by assault, at 1 p.m., by a portion of Hatch's division, dismounted, and the captured guns turned upon the enemy. A second redoubt, stronger than the first, was next assailed and carried by the same troops that captured the first position, taking 4 more guns and about 300 prisoners. The infantry, McArthur's division, of General A. J. Smith's command, on the left of the cavalry, participated in both of the assaults; and, indeed, the dismounted cavalry seemed to vie with the infantry who should first gain the works; as they reached the position nearly simultaneously, both lay claim to the artillery and prisoners captured.
Finding General Smith had not taken as much distance to the right as I expected he would have done, I directed General Schofield to move his command (the Twenty-third Corps) from the position in reserve to which it had been assigned over to the right of General Smith, enabling the cavalry thereby to operate more freely on the enemy's rear. This was rapidly accomplished by General Schofield, and his troops participated in the closing operations of the day.
The Fourth Corps, Brig. Gen. T. J. Wood commanding, formed on the left of General A, J. Smith's command, and as soon as the latter had struck the enemy's flank, assaulted the Montgomery Hill, Hood's most advanced position, at 1 p.m., which was most gallantly executed by the Third [Second] Brigade, Second [Third] Division, Col: P. Sidney Post, Fifty-ninth Illinois, commanding, capturing a considerable number of prisoners. Connecting with the left of Smith's troops (Brigadier-General Garrard's division), the Fourth Corps continued to advance, and carried by assault the enemy's entire line in its front and captured several pieces of artillery, about 500 prisoners, some stands of colors, and other material. The enemy was driven out of his original line of works and forced back to a new position along the base of Harpeth Hills, still holding his line of retreat to Franklin--by the main pike, through Brentwood, and by the Granny White pike. Our line at night-fall was readjusted, running parallel to and east of the Hillsborough pike--Schofield's command on the right, Smith's in the center, and Wood's on the left, with the cavalry on the right of Schofield; Steedman holding the position he had gained early in the morning.
The total result of the day's operations was the capture of sixteen pieces of artillery and 1,200 prisoners, besides several hundred stand of small-arms and about forty wagons. The enemy had been forced back at all points, with heavy loss; our casualties were unusually light. The behavior of the troops was unsurpassed for steadiness and alacrity in every movement, and the original plan of battle, with but few alterations, strictly adhered to.
The whole command bivouacked in line of battle during the night on the ground occupied at dark, whilst preparations were made to renew the battle at an early hour on the morrow.
At 6 a.m. on the 16th Wood's corps pressed back the enemy's skirmishers across the Franklin pike to the eastward of it, and then swinging slightly to the right, advanced due south from Nashville, driving the enemy before him until he came upon his new main line of works, constructed during the night, on what is called Overton's Hill, about five miles south of the city and east of the Franklin pike. General Steedman moved out from Nashville by the Nolensville pike, and formed his command on the left of General Wood, effectually securing the latter s left flank, and made preparations to co-operate in the operations of the day. General A. J. Smith s command moved on the right of the Fourth Corps (Wood's), and establishing connection with General Wood's right, completed the new line of battle. General Schofield's troops remained in the position taken up by them at dark on the day previous, facing eastward and toward the enemy's left flank, the line of the corps running perpendicular to General Smith's troops. General Wilson's cavalry, which had rested for the night at the six-mile post on the Hillsborough pike, was dismounted and formed on the right of Schofield's command, and by noon of the 16th had succeeded in gaining the enemy's rear, and stretched across the Granny White pike, one of his two outlets toward Franklin.
As soon as the above dispositions were completed, and having visited the different commands, I gave directions that the movement against the enemy's left flank should be continued. Our entire line approached to within 600 yards of the enemy's at all points. His center was weak, as compared with either his right, at Overton's Hill, or his left, on the hills bordering the Granny White pike; still I had hopes of gaining his rear and cutting off his retreat from Franklin. About 3 p.m. Post's brigade, of Wood's corps, supported by Streight's brigade, of the same command, was ordered by General Wood to assault Overton's Hill. This intention was communicated to General Steedman, who ordered the brigade of colored troops commanded by Colonel Morgan, Fourteenth U.S. Colored Troops, to co-operate in the movement. The ground on which the two assaulting columns formed being open and exposed to the enemy's view, he, readily perceiving our intention, drew re-enforcements from his left and center to the threatened point. This movement of troops on the part of the enemy was communicated along the line from left to right.
The assault was made, and received by the enemy with a tremendous fire of grape and canister and musketry; our men moved steadily onward up the hill until near the crest, when the reserve of the enemy rose and poured into the assaulting column a most destructive fire, causing the men first to waver and then to fall back, leaving their dead and wounded--black and white indiscriminately mingled--lying amid the abatis, the gallant Colonel Post among the wounded. General Wood readily reformed his command in the position it had previously occupied, preparatory to a renewal of the assault.
Immediately following the effort of the Fourth Corps, Generals Smith's and Schofield's commands moved against the enemy's works in their respective fronts, carrying all before them, irreparably breaking his line in a dozen places, and capturing all his artillery and thousands of prisoners, among the latter four general officers. Our loss was remarkably small, scarcely mentionable. All of the enemy that did escape were pursued over the tops of Brentwood and Harpeth Hills.
General Wilson's cavalry, dismounted, attacked the enemy simultaneously with Schofield and Smith, striking him in reverse, and gaining firm possession of the Granny White pike, cut off his retreat by that route.
Wood's and Steedman's troops, hearing the shouts of victory coming from the right, rushed impetuously forward, renewing the assault on Overton's Hill, and although meeting a very heavy fire, the onset was irresistible, artillery and innumerable prisoners falling into our hands. The enemy, hopelessly broken, fled in confusion through the Brentwood Pass, the Fourth Corps in a close pursuit, which was continued for several miles, when darkness closed the scene and the troops rested from their labors.
As the Fourth Corps pursued the enemy on the Franklin pike, General Wilson hastily mounted Knipe's and Hatch's divisions of his command, and directed them to pursue along the Granny White pike and endeavor to reach Franklin in advance of the enemy. After proceeding about a mile they came upon the enemy's cavalry, under Chalmers, posted across the road and behind barricades. The position was charged by the Twelfth Tennessee Cavalry, Colonel Spalding commanding, and the enemy's lines broken, scattering him in all directions and capturing quite a number of prisoners, among them Brig. Gen. E. W. Rucker.
During the two days' operations there were 4,462 prisoners captured, including 287 officers of all grades from that of major-general, 53 pieces of artillery, and thousands of small-arms. The enemy abandoned on the field all his dead and wounded.
Leaving directions for the collection of the captured property and for the care of the wounded left on the battle-field, the pursuit was continued at daylight on the 17th. The Fourth Corps pushed on toward Franklin by the direct pike, whilst the cavalry moved by the Granny White pike to its intersection with the Franklin pike, and then took the advance.
Johnson's division of cavalry was sent by General Wilson direct to Harpeth River, on the Hillsborough pike, with directions to cross and move rapidly toward Franklin. The main cavalry column, with Knipe's division in advance, came up with the enemy's rear guard strongly posted at Hollow Tree Gap, four miles north of Franklin; the position was charged in front and in flank simultaneously, and handsomely carried, capturing 413 prisoners and 3 colors. The enemy then fell back rapidly to Franklin, and endeavored to defend the crossing of Harpeth River at that place; but Johnson's division coming up from below on the south side of the stream, forced him to retire from the river-bank, and our cavalry took possession of the town, capturing the enemy's hospital, containing over 2,000 wounded, of whom about 200 were our own men.
The pursuit was immediately continued, by Wilson, toward Columbia, the enemy's rear guard slowly retiring before him to a distance of about five miles south of Franklin, where the enemy made a stand in some open fields just north of West Harpeth River, and seemed to await our coming. Deploying Knipe's division as skirmishers, with Hatch's in close support, General Wilson ordered his body guard--the Fourth U. S. Cavalry, Lieutenant Hedges commanding--to charge the enemy. Forming on the pike in column of fours, the gallant little command charged, with sabers drawn, breaking the enemy's center, whilst Knipe's and Hatch's men pressed back the flanks, scattering the whole command and causing them to abandon their artillery. Darkness coming on during the engagement enabled a great many to escape, and put an end to the day's operations.
The Fourth Corps, under General Wood, followed immediately in rear of the cavalry as far as Harpeth River, where it found the bridges destroyed and too much water on the fords for infantry to cross. A trestle bridge was hastily constructed from such materials as lay at hand, but could not be made available before night-fall. General Steedman's command moved in rear of General Wood, and camped near him on the banks of the Harpeth. Generals Smith and Schofield marched with their corps along the Granny White pike, and camped for the night at the intersection with the Franklin pike. The trains moved with their respective commands, carrying ten days' supplies and 100 rounds of ammunition.
On the 18th the pursuit of the enemy was continued by General Wilson, who pushed on as far as Rutherford's Creek, three miles from Columbia. Wood's corps crossed to the south side of Harpeth River and closed up with the cavalry. The enemy did not offer to make a stand during the day. On arriving at Rutherford's Creek the stream was found to be impassable on account of high water, and running a perfect torrent. A pontoon bridge, hastily constructed at Nashville during the presence of the army at that place, was on its way to the front, but the bad condition of the roads, together with the incompleteness of the train itself, had retarded its arrived. I would here remark that the splendid pontoon train properly belonging to my command, with its trained corps of pontoniers, was absent with General Sherman.
During the 19th several unsuccessful efforts were made by the advanced troops to cross Rutherford's Creek, although General Hatch succeeded in lodging a few skirmishers on the south bank. The heavy rains of the preceding few days had inundated the whole country and rendered the roads almost impassable. Smith's and Schofield's commands crossed to the south side of Harpeth River, General Smith advancing to Spring Hill, whilst General Schofield encamped at Franklin. On the morning of the 20th General Hatch constructed a floating bridge from the debris of the old railroad bridge over Rutherford's Creek, and crossing his entire division pushed out for Columbia, but found, on reaching Duck River, the enemy had succeeded the night before in getting everything across, and had already removed his pontoon bridge; Duck River was very much swollen and impassable without a bridge. During the day General Wood improvised a foot bridge over Rutherford's Creek, at the old road bridge, and by night-fall had succeeded in crossing his infantry entire, and one or two of his batteries, and moved forward to Duck River.
The pontoon train coming up to Rutherford's Creek about noon of the 21st, a bridge was laid during the afternoon and General Smith's troops were enabled to cross. The weather had changed from dismal rain to bitter cold, very materially retarding the work in laying the bridge, as the regiment of colored troops to whom that duty was intrusted seemed to become unmanned by the cold and totally unequal to the occasion. On the completion of the bridge at Rutherford's Creek sufficient material for a bridge over Duck River was hastily pushed forward to that point, and the bridge constructed in time to enable Wood to cross late in the afternoon of the 22d and get into position on the Pulaski road, about two miles south of Columbia. The water in the river fell rapidly during the construction of the bridge, necessitating frequent alterations and causing much delay. The enemy, in his hasty retreat, had thrown into the stream several fine pieces of artillery, which were rapidly becoming uncovered, and were subsequently removed.
Notwithstanding the many delays to which the command had been subjected, I determined to continue the pursuit of Hood's shattered forces; and for this purpose decided to use General Wilson's cavalry and General Wood's corps of infantry, directing the infantry to move on the pike, whilst the cavalry marched on its either flank across the fields; the remainder of the command, Smith's and Schofield's corps, to move along more leisurely, and to be used as the occasion demanded.
Forrest and his cavalry, and such other detachments as had been sent off from his main army whilst besieging Nashville, had rejoined Hood at Columbia. He had formed a powerful rear guard, made up of detachments from all his organized force, numbering about 4,000 infantry, under General Walthall, and all his available cavalry, under Forrest. With the exception of his rear guard, his army had become a disheartened and disorganized rabble of half-armed and barefooted men, who sought every opportunity to fall out by the wayside and desert their cause to put an end to their sufferings. The rear guard, however, was undaunted and firm, and did its work bravely to the last.
During the 23d General Wilson was occupied crossing his command over Duck River, but took the advance on the 24th, supported by General Wood, and came up with the enemy just south of Lynnville, and also at Buford's Station, at both of which places the enemy made a short stand, but was speedily dislodged, with a loss in killed, wounded, and prisoners. Our advance was so rapid as to prevent the destruction of the bridges over Richland Creek. Christmas morning, the 25th, the enemy, with our cavalry at his heels, evacuated Pulaski, and was pursued toward Lamb's Ferry over an almost impracticable road and through a country devoid of subsistence for man or beast. During the afternoon Harrison's brigade found the enemy strongly intrenched at the head of a heavily wooded and deep ravine, through which ran the road, and into which Colonel Harrison drove the enemy's skirmishers; he then waited for the remainder of the cavalry to close up before attacking; but before this could be accomplished the enemy, with something of his former boldness, sallied from his breast-works and drove back Harrison's skirmishers, capturing and carrying off one gun belonging to Battery I, Fourth U.S. Artillery, which was not recovered by us, notwithstanding the ground lost was almost immediately regained. By night-fall the enemy was driven from his position, with a loss of about 50 prisoners. The cavalry had moved so rapidly as to out-distance the trains, and both men and animals were suffering greatly in consequence, although they continued uncomplainingly to pursue the enemy. General Wood's corps kept well closed up on the cavalry, camping on the night of December 25 six miles out from Pulaski, on the Lamb's Ferry road, and pursuing the same route as the cavalry, reached Lexington, Ala., thirty miles from Pulaski, on the 28th, on which date, having definitely ascertained that the enemy had made good his escape across the Tennessee at Bainbridge, I directed farther pursuit to cease. At Pulaski the enemy's hospital, containing about 200 patients, fell into our hands, and four guns were found in Richland Creek. About a mile south of the town he destroyed twenty wagons loaded with ammunition, belonging to Cheatham's corps, taking the animals belonging to the train to help pull his pontoons. The road from Pulaski to Bainbridge, and indeed back to Nashville, was strewn with abandoned wagons, limbers, small-arms, blankets, &c., showing most conclusively the disorder of the enemy's retreat.
During the foregoing operations with the advance Smith's and Schofield's troops were in motion toward the front, General Smith's command reaching Pulaski on the 27th, whilst General Schofield was directed to remain at Columbia for the time being.
On our arrival at Franklin, on the 18th, I gave directions to General Steedman to move with his command across the country from that point to Murfreesborough, on the Chattanooga railroad, from whence he was to proceed by rail to Decatur, Ala., via Stevenson, being joined at Stevenson by Brig. Gen. R. S. Granger and the troops composing the garrisons of Huntsville, Athens, and Decatur. Taking general direction of the whole force, his instructions were to reoccupy the points in Northern Alabama evacuated at the period of Hood's advance, then cross the Tennessee with the balance of his force and threaten the enemy's railroad communications west of Florence.
General Steedman reoccupied Decatur on the 27th, and proceeded to carry out the second portion of his instructions, finding, however, that the enemy had already made good his escape to the south side of the Tennessee, and any movement on his railroad would be useless.
On announcing the result of the battles to Rear-Admiral S. P. Lee, commanding Mississippi Squadron, I requested him to send as much of his force as he could spare around to Florence, on the Tennessee River, and endeavor to prevent Hood's army from crossing at that point; which request was most cordially and promptly complied with. He arrived at Chickasaw, Miss., on the 24th, destroyed there a rebel battery, and captured two guns with caissons at Florence Landing. He also announced the arrival at the latter place of several transports with provisions.
Immediately upon learning of the presence at Chickasaw, Miss., of the gun-boats and transports with provisions, I directed General Smith to march overland from Pulaski to Clifton, via Lawrenceburg and Waynesborough, and take post at Eastport, Miss. General Smith started for his destination on December 29.
On the 30th of December I announced to the army the successful completion of the campaign, and gave directions for the disposition of the command, as follows: Smith's corps to take post at Eastport, Miss.; Wood's corps to be concentrated at Huntsville and Athens, Ala.; Schofield's corps to proceed to Dalton, Ga.; and Wilson's cavalry, after sending one division to Eastport, Miss., to concentrate balance at or near Huntsville. On reaching the several positions assigned to them the different commands were to go into winter quarters and recuperate for the spring campaign.
The above not meeting the views of the general-in-chief, and being notified by Major-General Halleck, chief of staff, U.S. Army, that it was not intended for the army in Tennessee to go into winter quarters, orders were issued on the 31st of December for Generals Schofield, Smith, and Wilson to concentrate their commands at Eastport, Miss., and that of General Wood at Huntsville, Ala., preparatory to a renewal of the campaign against the enemy in Mississippi and Alabama.
During the active operations of the main army in Middle Tennessee General Stoneman's forces in the northeastern portion of the State were also very actively engaged in operating against Breckinridge, Duke, and Vaughn. Having quietly concentrated the commands of Generals Burbridge and Gillem at Bean's Station, on the 12th of December General Stoneman started for Bristol, his advance under General Gillem striking the enemy, under Duke, at Kingsport, on the North Fork of the Holston River, killing, capturing, or dispersing the whole command. General Stoneman then sent General Burbridge to Bristol, where he came upon the enemy, under Vaughn, and skirmished with him until the remainder of the troops--Gillem's column--came up, when Burbridge was pushed on to Abingdon, with instructions to send a force to cut the railroad at some point between Saltville and Wytheville, in order to prevent re-enforcements coming from Lynchburg to the salt-works. Gillem also reached Abingdon on the 15th, the enemy under Vaughn following on a road running parallel to the one used by our forces. Having decided merely to make a demonstration against the salt-works and to push on with the main force after Vaughn, General Gillem struck the enemy at Marion early on the 16th, and after completely routing him, pursued him to Wytheville, Va., capturing all his artillery and trains and 198 prisoners. Wytheville, with its stores and supplies, was destroyed, as also the extensive lead-works near the town and the railroad bridges over Reedy Creek. General Stoneman then turned his attention toward Saltville, with its important salt-works. The garrison of that place, re-enforced by Giltner's, Cosby's, and Witcher's commands and the remnant of Duke's, all under the command of Breckinridge in person, followed our troops as they moved on Wytheville, and on returning General Stoneman met them at Marion, where he made preparations to give Breckinridge battle, and disposed his command so as to effectually assault the enemy in the morning, but Breckinridge retreated during the night, and was pursued a short distance into North Carolina, our troops capturing some of his wagons and caissons.
General Stoneman then moved on Saltville with his entire command, capturing at that place 8 pieces of artillery and a large amount of ammunition of all kinds, 2 locomotives, and quite a number of horses and mules. The extensive salt-works were destroyed by breaking the kettles, filling the wells with rubbish, and burning the buildings. His work accomplished, General Stoneman returned to Knoxville, accompanied by General Gillem's command, General Burbridge's proceeding to Kentucky by way of Cumberland Gap. The country marched over was laid waste to prevent its being used again by the enemy--all mills, factories, bridges, &c., being destroyed. The command had everything to contend with as far as the weather and roads were concerned, yet the troops bore up cheerfully throughout, and made each twenty-four hours an average march of forty-two miles and a half.
The pursuit of Hood's retreating army was discontinued by my main forces on the 29th of December, on reaching the Tennessee River; however, a force of cavalry, numbering 600 men, made up from detachments of the Fifteenth Pennsylvania, Second Michigan, Tenth, Twelfth, and Thirteenth Indiana Regiments, under command of Col. William J. Palmer, Fifteenth Pennsylvania, operating with Steedman's column, started from Decatur, Ala., in the direction of Hood's line of retreat in Mississippi. The enemy's cavalry, under Roddey, was met at Leighton, with whom Colonel Palmer skirmished and pressed back in small squads toward the mountains. Here it was ascertained that Hood's trains passed through Leighton on the 28th of December and moved off toward Columbus, Miss. Avoiding the enemy's cavalry, Colonel Palmer left Leighton on the 31st of December, moved rapidly via La Grange and Russellville and by the Cotton-gin road, and overtook the enemy's pontoon train, consisting of 200 wagons and 78 pontoon-boats, when ten miles out from Russellville. This he destroyed. Having learned of a large supply train on its way to Tuscaloosa, Colonel Palmer started on the 1st of January toward Aberdeen, Miss., with a view of cutting it off, and succeeded in surprising it about 10 p.m. on the same evening, just over the line in Mississippi. The train consisted of 110 wagons and 500 mules, the former of which were burned, and the latter sabered or shot. Returning via Toll-gate, Ala., and on the old military and Hacksburg roads, the enemy, under Roddey, Biffle, and Russell, was met near Russellville and along Bear Creek, whilst another force, under Armstrong, was reported to be in pursuit of our forces. Evading the force in his front, by moving off to the right under cover of the darkness, Colonel Palmer pushed for Moulton, coming upon Russell when within twelve miles of Moulton, and near Thorn Hill attacked him unexpectedly, utterly routing him, and capturing some prisoners, besides burning five wagons. The command then proceeded to Decatur without molestation, and reached that place on the 6th of January, after a march of over 250 miles. One hundred and fifty prisoners were captured and nearly 1,000 stand of arms destroyed. Colonel Palmer's loss was 1 killed and 2 wounded.
General Hood, while investing Nashville, had sent into Kentucky a force of cavalry numbering about 800 men and two guns, under the command of Brigadier-General Lyon, with instructions to operate against our railroad communications with Louisville. McCook's division of cavalry was detached on the 14th of December and sent to Bowling Green and Franklin to protect the road. After capturing Hopkins-ville, Lyon was met by La Grange's brigade near Greensburg, and after a sharp fight was thrown into confusion, losing one gun, some prisoners, and wagons; the enemy succeeded, however, by making a wide detour via Elizabethtown and Glasgow, in reaching the Cumberland River and crossing at Burkesville, from whence General Lyon proceeded, via McMinnville and Winchester, Tenn., to Larkinsville, Ala., on the Memphis and Charleston Railroad, and attacked the little garrison at Scottsborough on the 10th of January. Lyon was here again repulsed and his command scattered, our troops pursuing him toward the Tennessee River, which, however, he, with about 200 of his men and his remaining piece of artillery, succeeded in crossing; the rest of his command scattered in squads among the mountains. Col. W. J. Palmer, commanding Fifteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry, with 150 men, crossed the river at Paint Rock and pursued Lyon to near Red Hill, on the road from Warrenton to Tuscaloosa, at which place he surprised his camp during the night of the 14th of January, capturing Lyon himself, his one piece of artillery, and about 100 of his men, with their horses. Lyon being in bed at the time of his capture, asked his guard to permit him to dress himself, which was acceded to, when, watching his opportunity, he seized a pistol, shot the sentinel dead upon the spot, and escaped in the darkness. This was the only casualty during the expedition.
To Colonel Palmer and his command is accorded the credit of giving Hood's army the last blow of the campaign, at a distance of over 200 miles from where we first struck the enemy on the 15th of December, near Nashville.
To all of my sub-commanders--Major-Generals Schofield, Stanley, Rousseau, Steedman, Smith, and Wilson, and Brig. Gen. T. J. Wood--their officers and men, I give expression of my thanks and gratitude for their generous self-sacrifice and manly endurance under the most trying circumstances and in all instances. Too much praise cannot be accorded to an army which, hastily made up from the fragments of three separate commands, can successfully contend against a force numerically greater than itself and of more thoroughly solid organization, inflicting on it a most crushing defeat--almost an annihilation.
Receiving instructions unexpectedly from General Sherman, in September, to repair to Tennessee and assume general control of the defenses of our line of communication in the rear of the Army of the Mississippi, and not anticipating a separation from my immediate command, the greater number of my staff officers were left behind at Atlanta and did not have an opportunity to join me after General Sherman determined on making his march through Georgia, before the communications were cut. I had with me Brig. Gen. W. D. Whipple, my chief of staff; Surgeon G. E. Cooper, medical director; Capts. Henry Stone, Henry M. Cist, and Robert H. Ramsey, assistant adjutants-general; Capt. E. C. Beman, acting chief commissary; Capts. John P. Willard and S. C. Kellogg, aides-de-camp; and Lieut. M. J. Kelly, chief of couriers; all of whom rendered important services during the battles of the 15th and 16th, and during the pursuit. I cordially commend their services to favorable consideration.
There were captured from the enemy during the various actions of which the foregoing report treats, 13,189 prisoners of war, including 7 general officers and nearly 1,000 other officers of all grades, 72 pieces of serviceable artillery, and -- battle flags. During the same period over 2,000 deserters from the enemy were received, to whom the oath was administered. Our own loss will not exceed 10,000 in killed, wounded, and missing.
I have the honor to transmit herewith a consolidated return of casualties, the report of Col. J. G. Parkhurst, provost-marshal-general, and that of Capt. A. Mordecai, chief of ordnance.
I have the honor to be, colonel, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
GEO. H. THOMAS,
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