The American Civil War, day by day - Page 100 - Politics | PoFo

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November 22, Tuesday

As the first week of Sherman’s march comes to an end, the two wings of the army turn toward each other, as planned, to converge on the Georgia state capital, Milledgeville. On the way there, Sherman finds himself on a lush 6,000-acre plantation that he learns is the property of Howell Cobb, the former governor, who is in Macon trying to figure out how to defend his state. Federal foragers have already removed the easily portable supplies, Hitchcock notes, but there is “plenty left—fodder, corn, oats, bins full of peanuts—twenty sacks fine salt—500 gallons or more of sorghum molasses.” Sherman, who places the blame for the start of the war on Cobb and other Southern politicians of his ilk, decides to strip the place thoroughly. He tells the slaves and soldiers on the scene to take whatever they want and burn the rest. “Of course we confiscated his property,” Sherman will remember. “I sent back word to General Davis to explain whose plantation it was and instructed him to spare nothing. That night huge bonfires consumed the fence rails to keep our soldiers warm.”

Meanwhile to the south, just ten miles east of Macon, one of the few battles to occur during the trek from Atlanta to Savannah is shaping up. This morning, the ragtag brigades of Georgia militia, on their way to the coast as ordered, are approaching the town of Griswoldville. General Smith has remained in Macon arranging for supplies, and in temporary command of the Confederate troops is a novice brigadier named P.J. Phillips. Directly in the Georgians’ path is a single brigade of Federal infantry acting as rearguard for General Osterhous’ XV Corps. The brigade numbers only 1,513 men—half the size of the Confederate force—but they are veteran campaigners, and one regiment is armed with Spencer repeating rifles. Their leader, Brigadier General Charles C. Walcutt, an efficient and prudent officer from Ohio, has ordered his troops to construct temporary timberworks on a hill just beyond Griswoldville in case roving Confederate troops attack. Phillips and his green militiamen have been instructed to avoid an engagement with the enemy. But Phillips is either nervous or hungry for glory—or possibly, as some of his man will later say, having a bout with the bottle. He determines that his militiamen, untrained and ill-armed as they are, outnumber the troops in Walcutt’s brigade, and he decides to attack. As the Federals cook their noon meal in a grove of trees, Phillips leads his men into an open field and deploys them for the assault.

The Federals among the trees look up in astonishment to see a line of Confederates coming toward them. A second line follows, and a third, crossing a stubbled field in front of Walcutt’s well-placed works. The Georgians hold their fire and it is so quiet as they approach that the Federals can hear the enemy officers giving their commands. Walcutt coolly waits until the first line is very close before he allows his men to shoot. A Federal volley rips through the first line, but the survivors return the fire and march forward without wavering, the rear lines following steadily. The repeating rifles open a savage fire and the Confederates fall in droves. But those not hit continue to move forward, too inexperienced to realize what is happening. The rapid fire empties the Federals’ cartridge boxes, and drummer boys run for more ammunition. The incredible charge comes within fifty yards—murderous range—before it breaks. There is a ravine nearby and the remaining Georgians bolt for it, then retreat eastward. Later an Illinois captain, Charles Wills, walks onto the field. “Old grey haired and weakly looking men and little boys, not over 15 years old, lay dead or writhing in pain,” he will write. “I hope we will never have to shoot at such men again. They knew nothing at all about fighting, and I think their officers knew as little.” Gustavus Smith, bitterly angry at this useless wasting of lives, reports Phillips’ losses as 51 killed, 472 wounded. Federal casualties total 13 men dead and 79 wounded.

In Milledgeville, alarm reigns as the Federal army nears. “Thick and fast the rumors flew,” reports a woman who signs herself Miss A.C. Cooper. “The excitement increased; we could neither eat nor sleep. Scouts were sent out up this road, down that, across the country.” In the town itself, she continues, “women cried and prayed, babies yelled, dogs howled, mules brayed, Negro drivers swore—we rushed out on the front veranda and listened for the guns. We could not have heard a cannon, for from every house came the sound of weeping and heart-rending cries.” The state legislature decides that the wise course is to get out of town before Sherman arrives. Governor Brown, back from Macon, busies himself loading furniture from the governor’s mansion on the last train to leave town. The legislature meets in panic preparatory to its own flight. There are approximately 650 Confederate troops in Milledgeville—mostly schoolboys and convicts released from the penitentiary—under the command of Brigadier General Harry Wayne. Wayne wisely recognizes the impossibility of repulsing the Federal army and orders his ragtag soldiers to march eastward. Perhaps they can be of help in the defense of Savannah. Most of Milledgeville’s civilian inhabitants decide to remain despite their fear of General Sherman, whom Miss Cooper will describe as “a huge octopus who stretched out his long arms and gathered in, leaving only ruin and desolation.” As the last of Wayne’s Confederates leave, three scouts, “their horses white with foam, flashed by shouting a goodbye,” Miss Cooper will write. The first of the Federal troops aren’t far behind. “Bullets thick as hail whistled past us, burying themselves in the pillars and back of the veranda where we stood so paralyzed we could not move.” In the afternoon, the 107th New York raises its flag over the capitol.

By first light in Tennessee, Schofield’s five divisions, 62 guns, and 800 wagons at Pulaski are starting up the Columbia Turnpike, making as good time as rain and mud will allow. Schofield is in a life-and-death race with Hood’s Confederates, and he knows it. In the Confederate advance toward Nashville there is action at Lawrenceburg, Tennessee. Schofield knows the Confederates at Lawrenceburg are in a position to flank him and get in his rear.

Minor action flares at Front Royal and Rude’s Hill, Virginia, and Federals scout from Devall’s Bluff to Augusta, Arkansas.

President Davis wires officers in Georgia “that every effort will be made by destroying bridges, felling trees, planting sub-terra shells and otherwise, to obstruct the advance of the enemy.” Supplies in danger are to be destroyed. Bragg is told to go to Georgia from Wilmington to join Hardee, Beauregard, and others.
November 23, Wednesday

General Sherman and his staff arrive at Georgia’s capital, spend a night in the now-bare governor’s mansion, using planks placed across the backs of camp chairs for tables and sleeping on the floor. He finds in the mansion the first newspapers he has seen since he left Atlanta; editors throughout the Confederacy are proving fiery verbal fighters, assuring the people that Sherman and his Federal army are doomed. Sherman will report that he is amused, but many of his men are angered by this bombast. Young officers from New York and Wisconsin stage a mock session in the legislative chamber. Some are having “bourbon fits,” as they repeal the state’s Ordnance of Secession and then at the shout “The Yankees are coming!” flee in panic, in a parody of the recently departed legislators. Soldiers roam the statehouse, scattering papers and hurling state library books from the windows. Despite a considerable chorus of complaints from the city’s residents at such behavior, the damage done to Milledgeville is minor. Rumors that the Federals are planning to burn the place turn out to be false, though the arsenal and ammunition magazine are destroyed in explosions that damage some nearby structures.

Schofield’s Union force in Tennessee moves northward from Pulaski toward Columbia. A few miles to the west, Hood’s Confederates advance toward the same place. There is skirmishing at Henryville, Fouche Springs, and Mount Pleasant, Tennessee.

Other skirmishes occur at Ball’s Ferry and the Georgia Central Railroad Bridge on the Oconee River. General William J. Hardee takes command of troops opposing Sherman, a difficult assignment, since he doesn’t know Sherman’s intended route and has too few troops to block even one road.

Elsewhere, the action includes skirmishes at Morganza, Louisiana; an expedition by Federals lasting until December 10th from Fort Wingate against Amerinds in New Mexico Territory; and a Federal expedition from Vicksburg to Yazoo City, Mississippi, which lasts until December 4th.

General Grant and other officers confer with the President, Secretary Stanton, and General Halleck in Washington.
November 24, Thursday

Schofield’s Federal column retreating to Columbia, Tennessee, is harassed at every turn by Forrest’s indefatigable troopers, who are leading Stewart’s advance. It falls to James Wilson’s outnumbered horsemen to hold off the enemy riders until the Federal infantry can reach Columbia. Illinois Major Henry C. Connelly—part of Colonel Horace Capron’s brigade—will remember watching the Federal rearguard give way under Confederate attack. As Forrest’s horsemen thunder down on the brigade, Connelly warns Capron that the troopers “could not hold for a minute against the troops pressing us in rear and on the flanks.” Capron replies that he has been ordered to hold, but after further encouragement from Connelly reluctantly orders his men back—too late to avoid the Confederate charge. The Union cavalry is confined to a narrow lane. Worse, they had been previously captured and paroled, and the men had been stripped of their fast-firing Burnside carbines. They are armed with Springfield rifles, which after the first volley are “about as serviceable to a cavalryman thus hemmed in as a good club.” Then men can’t reload while mounted, the only thing that can be done is to get out as promptly as possible. This they do, but not without loss. In such delaying action, Capron’s brigade is reduced from 1,200 men to about 800. The troopers’ stubborn fighting, however, helps stall Forrest just long enough to allow General Cox and his 5,000-man division to reach Columbia. It is a hairbreadth affair. “In another hour Forrest would have been in possession of the crossings of Duck River, and the only line of communication with Nashville would have been in the hands of the enemy.” Soon General Stanley and his IV Corps, having marched thirty miles nonstop, arrive to reinforce Cox, saving the little army from destruction. As the Federal troops file into Columbia, they set to work building an arc of trenches south of the town.

Action at Campbellsville and at Lynnville, Tennessee, also mark the campaign.

The Federal occupation of the Georgia capital is brief, Sherman riding southeastward from Milledgeville today, the left wing following him on roads that head in the direction of Savannah. General Howard’s right wing, which approached within fourteen miles of Milledgeville at the town of Gordon, has already turned toward Savannah, still marching on a path roughly parallel to the other column. As the army slogs along, Sherman reduces the required day’s march from fifteen miles to ten so that foragers will have extra time to gather supplies—and other troops can more thoroughly destroy railroad tracks, mills, cotton gins, and anything else useful to the Confederacy’s war effort. The most difficult of the tasks is railroad wrecking. Working in shifts, the men of one division and then another pry up the rails with crowbars. The ties “would be gathered and piled up crosswise to a height of four feet with the rails placed on top. When the ties were fired the rails would become red hot and could be twisted and destroyed.” A division, working hard, can wreck ten miles of road in a day. The pinewood ties, Sergeant Rice Bull will remember, burn like pitch and the smoke covers “our hands and faces with a black veneer that could only be removed by soap and water, and we had no soap.”

Except for Wheeler’s harassing horsemen, there is little danger from the enemy. The only organized opposition that looms is Harry Wayne’s force of 650 boys and convicts. Wayne briefly plans to make a stand at the Oconee River, but as Sherman’s right wing bears down on his paltry force, the hopelessness of his position becomes painfully apparent. After firing a few volleys at the approaching Federals, the Confederates abandon their Oconee line. Slocum’s two corps then cross on pontoon bridges, “noisily gay, keeping up an incessant roar, singing, shouting, and imitating the cries of bird and beast.” The men enter new country, a marshy land drained by the Oconee and Ogeechee Rivers and studded with pine barrens where the forests grow thick and gloomy. Gone are the rich fields and large plantations that have filled foragers’ wagons with booty: This land has a poor look, in land and people alike. In one tumble-down cabin, 18-year-old Captain Charles Belknap and his foraging party find two abandoned girls dressed only in sacks, three and five years of age, able only to wail, “Mama gone, mama gone.” Belknap and his men build a fire, heat water to give the grimy children a bath, wash their hair and feed them. The young captain then takes the waifs to nearby cabins, but none of the neighbors will take the little girls in. Finally the soldiers steal clothes for the children, put them on the back of a pack mule, and carry them along to Savannah as mascots. Eventually the children will be taken North by a wounded officer on furlough, and homes will be found for them there.

Referring to Sherman, President Davis tells General W.J. Hardee, “When the purpose of the enemy shall be developed, every effort must be made to obstruct the route on which he is moving, and all other available means must be employed to delay his march, as well to enable our forces to be concentrated as to reduce him to want of the necessary supplies.”

As Sherman sweeps across Georgia, the Army of the Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia huddle in their trenches and try to keep warm. To shelter themselves from the snow and rain, the soldiers build sprawling cities of huts made from logs and mud, which they keep heated with fireplaces fashioned from sticks and more mud. Despite the rudeness of their shelter, the Federals are well fed and well clothed. The Confederates, however, are on the verge of starvation. Hampton’s captured herd of beef cattle didn’t last long, and there is little to replace it. North of the James, in a region not so thoroughly despoiled, foraging provides some relief from hunger. But for Confederates south of the river, the winter is a long season of deprivation. Sometimes the men go a week without meat of any kind. When some rancid beef from Nassau filters through the Federal blockade, one Confederate speculates, “It would not be incredible for the blockading fleet to allow it to come through in hope of poisoning us.” Despite the Confederates’ cold and hunger, the work of siege life has to go on, further debilitating the ill-clad and undernourished men. They dig several mines, none of which they ever explode; they excavate more and more trenches and build up more fortifications. Sometimes they have to dig through frozen ground; at other times they work in endless muck. Hundreds of brave men who have faced every danger for nearly four years simply cannot take any more, and they desert.

It is no surprise that, in a time of such travail, a religious revival spreads through the Federal and Confederate camps. “The whole army has taken to praying,” writes one Louisiana artilleryman. There are nightly prayer meetings, and some regiments, exhausted as the men are, find the energy to construct rude chapels. But the average man changes neither his allegiance nor his religion; he simply endures. “The soldiers cooked, ate and slept, played cards, checkers, cribbage and chess, laughed, talked, jested and joked,” recorded Private Polley, “and, strange to say, were not altogether unhappy.” When pay arrives—for the Confederates it is four months late in coming—the men spend it with abandon. When the money is gone, they revert to bartering through the lines, exchanging newspapers, tobacco, peanuts, coffee, and bacon. Officers generally are tolerant of this illicit trade, and it is understood that no one will shoot while the trading takes place. “When we weren’t killing each other,” one Federal will remember, “we were the best of friends.” Today, the last Thursday of November, proclaimed Thanksgiving Day by President Lincoln, the Federal armies outside Richmond and Petersburg, now 120,000 strong and growing, enjoy a feast of turkey or chicken, pies, and fruit. The 57,000 men of the Army of Northern Virginia, however envious, cease firing in recognition of the Union holiday. There is no such celebration for Lee’s troops. “We lay in grim repose,” Captain James F.J. Caldwell of Carolina will write, “and expected the renewal of the mortal conflict. The conviction everywhere prevailed that we could sustain but one more campaign.”

Skirmishes take place at St. Charles, Arkansas, and near Prince George Court House, Virginia.

Federal Attorney General Edward Bates, who has gradually found himself out of place in the Cabinet, resigns.
November 25, Friday

In ten days Sherman’s army has covered nearly half the distance to Savannah with almost no opposition. Sherman moves his headquarters to General Howard’s right wing, traveling with Frank Blair’s XVII Corps while Howard rides with Osterhaus’ XV Corps. Since the threat from Confederates at Macon is past, Kilpatrick’s cavalry moves over to the left wing to demonstrate toward Augusta, threaten the garrison there and prevent those troops from moving out to harass the Federal rear. The only substantial force ahead is the 10,000 men under Hardee at Savanah—and the roving troopers under Joseph Wheeler, still a threat.

The public isn’t aware just what Sherman is doing in Georgia; at least he has departed Atlanta for the sea. They are uncertain, too, just what is up in Tennessee south of Nashville, but they do learn the details of a flamboyant, somewhat harebrained scheme to set fire to New York City.

By Election Day on the 8th, the Confederacy’s so-called Canadian operations have proven a series of dismal failures. The plots have all collapsed, and expected popular support has never materialized. In the face of these frustrations, a group of six determined Confederates headed by Lieutenant John W. Headley are determined to burn the city of New York in “one dazzling conflagration.” The six saboteurs slip into New York, each equipped with ten bottles of a flammable phosphorous liquid known as Greek fire. Each of the six men take rooms in three or four different hotels across the city. At dusk, the raiders set to work. Going from hotel to hotel, each man piles mattresses and linens on the floor of the room that he has rented, then douses everything with Greek fire. In all, the act is repeated in nineteen hotels across the city and Barnum’s Museum, but the Greek fire proves unreliable. Those fires that do catch are quickly contained, and the rest smolder and sputter out. There will be rumors that the chemist who compounded the combustibles purposely made them defective. The total failure leaves the authorities free to turn their whole attention to capturing the Confederates. R.C. Kennedy is caught and later hanged; the rest manage to board a train and get away. In the end the raiders have caused a great deal of excitement, but little damage.

At Columbia, Tennessee, Schofield is entrenching both south and north of the Duck River, while Hood is delayed in getting his force to Columbia. Fighting occurs against Amerinds at Plum Creek Station, Nebraska Territory, and Adobe Fort on the Canadian River, New Mexico Territory. There is also an affair at Raccourci, near Williamsport, Louisiana.
November 26, Saturday

This night near Augusta, Kilpatrick discovers just how dangerous Wheeler’s Confederates can be. Wheeler’s horsemen suddenly override a Federal cavalry campsite at Sylvan Grove, galloping among the sleeping troopers and taking prisoners, regimental colors, and about fifty horses. Kilpatrick himself is staying at a nearby house—he escapes with shirttails flying, his horse leaping over fences.

General Sherman has his own encounter with Wheeler’s cavalry when the army’s right wing, with which he is riding, approaches the town of Sandersville. Word comes back that the advance guard has been fired upon from buildings and street corners. Assuming that the snipers are local citizens, Sherman vows to burn the town in reprisal. It soon develops, however, that the riflemen had been members of Wheeler’s cavalry corps. Sherman swiftly cancels his order; only the courthouse, which has been fortified, will be burned.

In the West action includes an affair near Plum Creek Station and a skirmish at Spring Creek, Nebraska Territory; a skirmish at Osage, Missouri; and a Union expedition until December 2nd from Lewisburg to Strahan’s Landing, Arkansas. In northern Virginia troops skirmish at Fairfax Station, Virginia.

President Lincoln offers the post of Attorney General to Joseph Holt but he refuses.
November 27, Sunday

Hood’s three corps soon draw up, facing the Federal defenses at Columbia, Tennessee. Now Schofield is in a dangerous position, with his back to the river. Worse, it is clear that the Confederates can easily throw a pontoon bridge across the Duck above or below the town and circle the Federal rear. Schofield is getting erroneous reports from his cavalry commander, James H. Wilson, that Forrest has crossed the Duck to the east of Columbia. Come nightfall, Schofield draws his army across the stream and destroys Columbia’s two bridges. The Confederates immediately occupy the town. Snow is falling on frozen ground, but Hood is in “the best of health and spirits, and full of hope.” Hood has formulated a plan that he is sure will succeed. Tomorrow Forrest will move upriver—eastward—and ford the Duck, clearing the way for the infantry. Cheatham’s and Stewart’s corps will follow, crossing a bridge to be laid at Davis’ Ford, and aim for Spring Hill, a hamlet twelve miles north of Columbia on the Turnpike. This “by a bold and rapid march,” as Hood will write later, the Confederate army would gain Schofield’s rear before he knows what is happening. To hold Schofield in place, Stephen Lee will stay in Columbia with two if his three divisions and the bulk of the Confederate artillery, which will make a loud demonstration. Altogether, it is a Stonewall Jackson-like scheme, Hood thinks—“one of those interesting and beautiful moves upon the chessboard of war, which I had often desired an opportunity.”

Kilpatrick’s troopers, advancing ahead of the rest of Sherman’s forces, have come too close to Augusta, and Wheeler’s men buzz around the various units of Federal cavalry like swarms of angry hornets. Today Kilpatrick and his troopers have to fight for their lives, barely holding off repeated attacks by Wheeler. Squadrons of troopers gallop head on into each other, sabers clashing and pistols cracking at close range. By Wheeler’s account, his men kill, wound, and capture 200 Federal cavalrymen.

Otherwise there is skirmishing at Moorefield, West Virginia; and the usual scouts, one by Federals from Little Rock to Benton, Arkansas; and another lasting until December 13th, from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, against the Mobile & Ohio Railroad. General Butler’s headquarters, the steamer Greyhound, is destroyed, apparently by saboteurs, on the James River, Virginia.
November 28, Monday

Forrest’s troopers ford the Duck east of Columbia, Tennessee, driving back the Union cavalry. Schofield sits on the north bank of the Duck across from Columbia, fearful of what his foe might do but unwilling as yet to fall back. He ignores a message from General Wilson reporting Forrest’s attack. Schofield has taken an immediate dislike to the energetic but quarrelsome Wilson and discounts the young cavalry general’s warning that a full-scale crossing by Hood’s infantry is likely. Come nightfall, Hood’s chief engineer, Lieutenant Colonel Stephen W. Presstman, lays a pontoon bridge across the river. Units of both armies skirmish at Shelbyville, Tennessee.

Fighting increases in Georgia, with action at Buckhead Church and Buckhead Creek or Reynolds’ Plantation. Cavalry fight again near Davisborough and Waynesborough, Kilpatrick himself again barely escaping capture when he and a single Michigan regiment are surprised by most of Wheeler’s corps and have to fight their way to the main body of Union troopers. Finally, prudence overcomes vainglory and Kilpatrick humbly asks the Federal infantry for help.

Thomas L. Rosser leads his Confederate cavalry from the Shenandoah Valley to New Creek west of Cumberland, Maryland, and the Baltimore & Ohio, capturing prisoners and extensive supplies. After knocking out the railroad bridge they pull out, but they show that Confederate raiders are not through in the East. Skirmishes occur at Goresville, Virginia; Cow Creek, Kansas; and several lesser scouts and expeditions operate.

The captured CSS Florida sinks due to damage it suffered in a collision with an army transport nine days ago.
November 29, Tuesday

Well before dawn, Cheatham’s corps crosses unimpeded the pontoon bridge laid across the Duck River east of Columbia, Tennessee, followed by Stewart’s. Hood is up at 3 am to oversee the move, attended by Bishop Quintard, who calls down God’s blessing on the general and his men.

Schofield, having ignored yesterday’s warning of Forrest’s assault across the Duck pushing back the Union cavalry, now ignores another warning from General Wilson that the Confederates have their pontoon bridge in place and that their vanguard might well reach Spring Hill via the turnpike by 10:00 am. He finally bestirs himself after dawn when yet another message arrives from Wilson, reporting enemy movements. Alerting General Stanley, Schofield sends him with two divisions up the turnpike, with orders to post one of the divisions halfway to Spring Hill. Then, rather astonishingly, Schofield sends a brigade up the Duck River on a reconnaissance in force to see if what his own cavalry has reported is true. He refuses, however, to move the rest of his force. Stephen Lee is keeping up a steady bombardment, which makes the Union general suspect that he might be attacked where he is. If Confederate infantry is in fact crossing the Duck, they can easily come back down the river’s north bank and assail his flank. So he waits on the heights overlooking Columbia—“just what his opponent wanted him to do,” Wilson later growls.

Meanwhile, through the early hours of the morning, Hood is riding northward with Cheatham’s corps, certain his chessboard maneuver is going as planned. Schofield is evidently still on the banks of the Duck and Forrest’s horsemen, having pushed the main body of Wilson’s cavalry well to the north toward the town of Franklin, are closing in on Spring Hill. The infantry is marching in good order, unseen and unmolested, on a road heading north parallel to the Columbia Pike. Hood expects that lead elements will join the cavalry in Spring Hill by early afternoon, firmly closing Schofield’s route of escape.

But a hitch in Hood’s scheme soon develops. The energetic Stanley, hastening up the turnpike with Brigadier General George D. Wagner’s division and all of the Federal reserve artillery, is already in striking distance of Spring Hill. Marching at the head of this column is a veteran brigade commanded by Colonel Emerson Opdycke, a 34-year-old Ohioan who is a natural soldier and a tough disciplinarian nonetheless popular for the care he takes of his men. As Opdycke and his brigade near the village, they meet a badly frightened Federal trooper who breathlessly reports that Forrest’s horsemen, having swung wide around the town, are coming at a gallop from the north and east. Opdycke responds immediately. Taking his men into Spring Hill on the run, he deploys them quickly and drives back the initial assault by the Confederate cavalry, who are surprised to find more than a tiny garrison defending the place. While Forrest’s riders fall back to regroup, Stanley and Wagner hurry the rest of the division forward and place their 34 guns on a rise south of the town. This is done “not a moment too soon,” for the Confederates again attack, charging from a quarter of a mile away straight at Opdycke’s hastily established line. The enemy horsemen come on, “like waves angrily rolling upon a stormwashed beach.” But Opdycke’s seasoned defenders hold their fire until the attackers are near and then blast them with repeated volleys, which are supported by fire from the Federal guns. Again the Confederate troopers retreat, now too battered and low on ammunition to make another attack.

Given a respite, General Stanley arranges his defenses, posting his three brigades—about 5,000 men overall—in a semicircle around Spring Hill. The troops immediately begin dismantling fences to construct their breastworks with the wooden rails. It seems clear that Hood’s entire army is on the move and means to take the Spring Hill crossroads. It is equally clear to Stanley and his soldiers that they have to hold open the escape route for the rest of the army.

A Confederate assault isn’t long in coming. At 3 pm, Cheatham’s infantry corps has almost reached Spring Hill, with Major General Patrick Cleburne’s famous, hard-hitting division in the lead. Now the Confederates deploy into attack formation and move forward. Their numbers mean they must win: Cheatham’s corps alone outnumbers Stanley’s single division by at least 2 to 1. And with Stanley out of the way and the Columbia Turnpike in Confederate hands, “the surrender of Schofield would follow as night follows day.” But things begin to go wrong for the Confederates. Cleburne’s troops, making the first assault, evidently have no clear idea of where the Federal defense line is located because Forrest’s cavalrymen have failed to scout the ground. Cleburne’s men veer left, exposing their right flank to Federal fire, rather than attacking head on in proper order. The Federal defense bends, but doesn’t break. Then three batteries of the Federal artillery reserve open up, raking the Confederate attackers with a murderous fire. Cleburne’s troops drop back to wait for reinforcements.

As the fresh troops arrive, Cheatham has his division under Major General William B. Bate deploy on Cleburne’s left and instructs Major General John C. Brown to move his division behind Cleburne’s battered infantry and prepare to renew the assault. Again there is confusion. Afternoon is dwindling to winter twilight as the units shuffle into place, and it is near dark before Brown’s division finds its position. When his troops are ready to move, Brown discovers that the Federal lines aren’t where the Confederates think. The attack as planned won’t work. Brown sends for new orders but receives only vague instructions in reply. In any event, Brown never launches his attack—and the other divisions are waiting for his assault before they will move. As the last moments of daylight slip away, Hood’s Confederates begin to settle down for the night; cooking fires wink and then blaze in the frosty darkness.

The stalled attack is serious enough for the Confederates, but at the moment no one in the camp notices something much worse. The Confederate infantry approached Spring Hill at a 45-degree angle to the turnpike. Now the troops are camped along the hamlet’s southeastern edge. Their bivouacs are parallel to the road—and don’t cross it. The Federal escape route is still open. Hood is unaware of this oversight when, having set up his headquarters at Absalom Thompson’s house just below Spring Hill, he calls a meeting of his officers. They are surprised to find that Hood seems undisturbed by the failure of the attack and astounded to hear Hood declare that they will strike in the morning after a rest. “I was never more astonished than when General Hood informed me that he had concluded to postpone the attack until daylight,” Cheatham will insist later. Others report that Cheatham is distracted this night by the company of the charming Mrs. Jessie Peters. This vivacious woman has a dangerous attraction for Confederate generals; only last year, her husband in a jealous rage shot and killed the indefatigably amorous General Earl Van Dorn. Some time well after nightfall it seems to occur to Hood that the turnpike is still open. Apparently the thought doesn’t alarm him, probably because he has convinced himself that Stephen Lee’s bombardment will rivet Schofield indefinitely. At any rate, Hood’s response is anything but forceful. First he asks General Stewart, who has just arrived with his corps, to put a brigade across the Columbia Pike. Stewart says that his men are tired and hungry and that he would rather not disturb them. How about Forrest? The cavalryman is willing, as always, but two of his divisions are out of ammunition and the third has only a handful of cartridges taken from Federal prisoners. At that Hood lets the matter drop. It is late, and he may need to believe that all is well. He tells General Bate that the turnpike north of Spring Hill is blocked by cavalry, “and so in the morning we will have a surrender without a fight. We can sleep quietly tonight.”

But Schofield is awake. By midafternoon he recognized Hood’s intention at last, and he immediately set out northward on a forced march, riding ahead with Brigadier General Thomas H. Ruger’s division. Cox’s division was to follow. By 7 pm—about the time Hood was conferring with his generals—Schofield and Ruger’s lead brigade has already stolen past the Confederates camped along the turnpike and reached Spring Hill. There Schofield hears a dismaying report that Confederates are astride the pike three miles to the north at Thompson’s Station. He hurries on with Ruger’s men—and discover only the coals of recent campfires. One of Forrest’s patrols has just decamped. Schofield then sends his chief engineer, Captain William J. Twining, galloping to Franklin with instructions to send a message to Thomas at Nashville. Schofield listens as hoofbeats drumming on frozen ground fades into the distance: That part of the turnpike, too, is still open. Soon Twining is wiring Schofield’s report: “He regards his situation as extremely perilous.” The Federals strung out behind Schofield also feel in danger, marching up the turnpike within a stone’s throw of Hood’s army. They are so close to the Confederates that they can see their long line of campfires as they burn brightly; can hear the rattle of their canteens; see the officers and men standing around the fires. The wooden bridges spanning the local streams are covered with the blankets hastily taken from knapsacks to keep the Federal outposts from hearing the tread of men and horses.

One of the strangest and most daring escapes of the war is taking place, and of course it doesn’t go entirely undetected. Several Union regiments report challenges from Confederate pickets and scattered exchanges of small-arms fire. But no Confederate force of any size moves to block the turnpike as most of two entire Federal corps and a five-mile-long wagon train moves past in the darkness. Hood goes to sleep at 11 pm. Soon he is awakened to hear a report that Federal troops have been seen on the turnpike, but the news is hours old and there has been no confirmation. Sometime later a barefoot private appears at headquarters on his own to report that the Yankees are moving. Awakened again, Hood says to tell Cheatham, and once more he seeks the warmth of his blankets. Cheatham is pondering similar information from a staff officer, Captain Joseph Bostick, when the word from Hood arrives. Cheatham now sends Bostick to Major General Edward Johnson with orders to advance his division to the turnpike. General Johnson—“Old Clubby,” who had been captured at Spotsylvania in May and then exchanged and sent west—greets the order with a display of his celebrated temper. His division is part of Stephen Lee’s corps temporarily attached to Cheatham, and he resents taking orders from a strange commander—especially in the middle of the night. He demands of Bostwick to know why General Cheatham didn’t order out one of his own divisions. Despite his choleric outburst, Johnson stirs himself and rides away to the turnpike with Bostick—only to find the road empty. How he misses the marching Federals will remain unclear; perhaps there is a gap between units.

Through much of the night Ruger’s, Cox’s, and Nathan Kimball’s divisions continue their march past the Confederates and on beyond Spring Hill. Well before dawn Stanley’s troops, now bringing up the rear, have cleared the village, and by early morning the small Federal army is intact eight miles to the north in Franklin. Thus Schofield has escaped. But it was close. A single Confederate brigade “planted squarely across the pike, either south or north of Spring Hill, would have effectually prevented Schofield’s retreat, and daylight would have found his whole force cut off from every avenue of escape by more than twice its numbers, to assault whom would have been impossible.”

Sand Creek, Colorado Territory, will remain forever a blot on American history in the opinion of most historians. The citizens of the Denver area feel the need to put down the Amerinds who have been taking advantage of the lack of Federal troops and have committed numerous depredations. With some nine hundred volunteers, Colonel J.M. Chivington moves out to the Amerind camp in Sand Creek, some forty miles south of Fort Lyon, where there are over five hundred Arapahos and Cheyennes. The Amerinds have insisted they are peaceable and contend they haven’t taken part in recent raids. Chivington’s force attacks the village without warning and massacres warriors, women, and children. Chivington reports, “It may perhaps be unnecessary for me to state that I captured no prisoners.” Chivington claims between five hundred and six hundred killed, although that boast may be high. Among the dead is Black Kettle, a major chief. Some westerners approve, but easterners as a whole are aghast. Eventually the government condemns the massacre and pays indemnity to the survivors.

In the Georgia Campaign, two brigades of Federal foot soldiers have come to the rescue of the cavalry. “Kilpatrick drew up his whole division in the open fields this morning at 7 o’clock,” Major James Connolly, a divisional staff officer who is there will write. Kilpatrick’s men “whipped Wheeler soundly,” Connolly will continue, “killing, wounding and capturing about 300 of his men, and losing only about 50 themselves.” But then, Connolly will add with amused disdain that with the infantrymen reserve for cavalry, “Kilpatrick’s men had the moral support of two of our brigades that were formed in line right behind them and kept moving forward as they moved, so that our cavalry all the time knew that there was no chance of their being whipped.” After driving Wheeler’s main body up the railroad track to Waynesboro and then through the town, Kilpatrick’s troopers check other Confederate riders at a place called Reynold’s Plantation. With his ultimate victory at the end of what will be collectively known as the Battle of Waynesboro, Kilpatrick and his men join Slocum’s columns on the roads leading to Savannah. Sherman’s men continue their destructive romp through Georgia with a skirmish near Louisville.

Union forces, anticipating Sherman's arrival on the coast, move from Hilton Head inland to cut the Savannah & Charleston Railroad east of Grahamville, South Carolina. Major General John G. Foster, commander of the Department of the South headquartered at Hilton Head Island, orders Brigadier General John P. Hatch to move up the Broad River from Port Royal Sound to Boyd's Neck, ten miles east of the railroad at Grahamville. Hatch and his 5,500 men spent today fortifying their position. His way is “blocked” by the few companies of South Carolina cavalry.

There is also fighting near Boyd’s Landing, South Carolina; Charles Town, West Virginia; Doyal’s Plantation, Louisiana. Confederate guerrillas attack the steamer Alamo on the Arkansas River, near Dardanelle, Arkansas.

General Hurlbut replies to President Lincoln’s letter from the 14th reporting of the appearance of military opposition to the new Louisiana state government. Hurlbut responds that Lincoln is misinformed and adds that the new government has done nothing “to protect and prepare the emancipated bondsmen for their new status & condition.”
November 30, Wednesday

When General Hood awakens to find that the Federals he had thought bottled up in Columbia, Tennessee, have eluded his troops, he is as “wrathy as a rattlesnake.” Breakfast this morning, to which Hood summons Brown and all of his other chief subordinates, is an unseemly affair marked by shouted recriminations and heated denials. Men white with anger accuse each other, utter threats, demand apologies. Hood scorches them all for, as he puts it, ruining “the best move in my career as a soldier.” His chief blame falls on Cheatham, who vehemently denies the charge. At no time does Hood condemn himself in any way for the debacle. It wasn’t his own negligence or confusion—or even plain mishap—that has let the Federals escape. As he ruminates on the wrongs done him, he decides ultimately that not only his generals but also his men are at fault. They have, he says, lost their courage. He hadn’t crushed Stanley yesterday afternoon because, very simply, his men are afraid to fight. This is a theme that Hood has harped on in the past. As he sees it, the army’s previous commander, Joseph Johnston, had softened the men during the summer when he retreated all the way from Chattanooga to Atlanta. According to Hood, the troops are “Still, seemingly, unwilling to accept battle unless under the protection of breastworks.” As before, when he had assumed command of the army from Johnston in front of Atlanta, Hood decides that the only cure for such cowardice is to throw his troops into battle.

The Confederate army’s morale, already depressed by the failure at Columbia, plummets further. Despite their anger and misgivings, the Confederate officers and men quickly break camp, obeying Hood’s orders to pursue the enemy up the Columbia Pike toward Franklin. In the lead is Patrick Cleburne’s division of Cheatham’s corps. Born in Ireland, Cleburne migrated to America as a young man, settling in Helena, Arkansas. He organized a rifle company when the war began and went on to prove himself a remarkable soldier in battle after battle. Although he is known as “the Stonewall Jackson of the West” and his men admire him passionately, Confederate politics have blocked his advance to corps or army command and he remains a division head under men less competent than he. As the war has wore on, a romantic strain in Cleburne’s personality has become evident. His adjutant, Captain Irving A. Buck, noticed it particularly as they neared Spring Hill yesterday. They paused in the village of Ashwood, where “the beautiful little Episcopal church was in the purest Gothic style, its walls and sharp-pointed roof concealed by ivy, while the flowers and shrubbery looked fresh and green even on this bleak November day.” Cleburne reined in his horse, Buck will recall, and stopping a moment to admire the place murmured “that it was almost worth dying for, to be buried in such a beautiful spot.”

At Franklin, while the Confederates hasten in pursuit, General Schofield surveys his options. He doesn’t like what he sees. The town is tucked in a tight bend of the Harpeth River on the south bank—an awkward place, as he sees it, to make a stand. He itches to get his forces on the move again, to hurry them the final eighteen miles to Nashville and a union with the troops of General Thomas. But Schofield fears that he won’t be able to get his wagon trains across the Harpeth before Hood arrives. The two bridges at Franklin are damaged and unusable; Schofield deems the river unfordable, and he scuttled his pontoons when he left Columbia to lighten his train for the forced march north. The commander had asked Thomas to send a pontoon bridge to Franklin, but he now discovers to his dismay that none have yet arrived. The situation shakes Schofield, who is worn out in body and mind by the struggles of the past week. There seems to be nothing to do for the moment but stand and fight, so Schofield orders General Jacob Cox to have the two divisions of Schofield’s own XXIII Corps dig in astride the turnpike, then to deploy one IV Corps division on the right flank. Cox is to “hold Hood back at all hazards till we can get our trains over, and fight with the river in front of us.”

Cox, examining the ground, is delighted to discover that he could not have asked for a better position to defend. The handsome brick house he has chosen for his headquarters, owned by a farmer named Fountain Branch Carter, stands at the high point of a wide, almost treeless and slightly undulating plain. If Hood attacks, he will have to cross almost two miles of open ground, extending from a low ridge to the south known as Winstead Hill. Using the Carter house and its cotton gin as a central point, Cox stretches his line in an arc anchored on the Harpeth below and above the town and enclosing the tight bend in the river. The men, despite their fatigue, are soon busy digging rifle pits and building entrenchments as they listen to skirmish firing in the distance and see the “ever present and everlasting wagon train coming in on the run.”

While the troops work, Schofield shakes off his alarm and fatigue to make further defensive dispositions. Having discovered that the Harpeth is fordable after all, he crosses a dozen of his guns and posts them on the far side of the river in a redoubt called Fort Granger, built last year to protect Franklin’s two bridges. He also instructs General Thomas Wood’s division of IV Corps to ford the river and protect the wagon train when it crosses. James Wilson’s cavalry, meanwhile, scout along the north bank, ready to delay the Confederates should they bypass Franklin and cross the river to fall on Schofield’s rear. And the engineers get busy rebuilding the two half-destroyed bridges so the wagons can cross. Gradually Schofield begins to breathe more easily. By nightfall all his wagons will be on the north bank and he will be ready to put his men on the pike to Nashville—assuming, of course, that Hood doesn’t attack him first.

The Confederates are now close. The Federal rearguard, made up of General Wagner’s division with Colonel Opdycke’s brigade covering, is giving ground but retiring in good order. When Hood reaches the south side of Winstead Hill about 2 pm, Wagner’s regimental flags already dot its slope. Hood sends Stewart’s corps forward to flank the hill and force the Federals off it, then rides up for a look. For a long time he studies the Federal line through his field glasses, standing on his crutches under a tree. Forrest, who is with him, counsels against a head-on attack. he has fought here before and knows the strength of the Union position. But he thinks Schofield’s flanks vulnerable. “Give me one strong division of infantry with my cavalry,” he says, “and within two hours I can flank the Federals from their works.” Hood refuses. He is determined to smash the Federal lines in a frontal assault. General Cheatham finds the prospects appalling. “I do not like the looks of this fight; the enemy has an excellent position and is well fortified.” Hood snaps that he prefers to fight them here, and remarks that the Federals here have had only a few hours to build defenses, whereas at Nashville “they have been strengthening themselves for three years.” Cleburne, already criticized for supposedly not pressing hard enough at Spring Hill, declines to counsel against an attack. he rests his field glasses on a stump and studies the enemy line, murmuring at last, “They are very formidable.” He writes briefly in a small notebook, sitting on the stump. At last Hood closes his glasses, cases them, and turns to his officer. “We will make the fight,” he says.

At his headquarters in a nearby house Hood outlines his plans. They are murderously simple. Without waiting for Stephen Lee’s corps or for most of his artillery, which is still hours away on the road from Columbia, he will hurl Cheatham’s and Stewart’s men at the Federal trenches. What is more, the main attack will be made directly up the turnpike, striking the middle of the enemy line, although it is evident that this is the Federals’ strongest point. It will be a headlong assault in the old manner—and it will restore the nerve, as Hood sees it, od his jaded troops. He has always associated valor with heavy casualties, even questioning the courage of subordinates who have kept their losses down. Now he will force his men into a bloodbath for their own good as an army. So deep is his conviction—and so intense his rage over Spring Hill—that Hood doesn’t bother to deploy his troops effectively for what is already a risky assault. The principal thrust up the turnpike will be made by only seven of the eighteen brigades Hood has at his disposal: the three in Cleburne’s division, the four in John C. Brown’s. Brown, who will move up the west side of the pike, puts two brigades—under Brigadier Generals States Rights Gist and George Washington Gordon—in his front line. The two others, commanded by Brigadier Generals John C. Carter and Otho F. Strahl, will form a second line. Cleburne, who has a wider front to cover on the right side of the pike, is forced to spread out his three brigades in a single line: Hiram Granbury’s Texans on the left, Daniel Govan’s troops in the center, and Mark Lowrey’s on the right. The other division in Cheatham’s corps—three brigades under General Bate—is sent off to the left to make an attack in conjunction with a division of Forrest’s cavalry. On the far right, Stewart’s corps is deployed with its right flank on the river. Forrest and two of his divisions will attempt to drive back Wilson’s Federal horsemen north of the river.

At this point the two armies are probably evenly matched, since Hood has denied himself the use of one of his three corps and virtually all of his artillery. But numbers are less important than the terrain—those two miles of open ground the Confederates will have to cross, unprotected by even a fence or an occasional stand of trees. Hood will later avow that Cleburne supports the plan of attack with high enthusiasm, but the Irishman’s brigade commander and friend, Govan, a fellow Arkansan, will remember that “General Cleburne seemed to be more despondent than I ever saw him. I was the last one to receive any instructions from him and as I saluted and bade him goodbye I remarked, ‘Well, general, there will not be many of us that will get back to Arkansas,’ and he replied, ‘Well, Govan, if we are to die, let us die like men.’ ”

On the Federal side, all this morning General Cox has been refining their position. One weakness is the point where the Columbia Turnpike runs through the Federal trenches; here a gap in the breastworks has been purposely left open to allow the last of the artillery and wagons, as well as the men of Wagner’s rearguard, to pass through. To protect the gap, Cox posts four guns at the opening. Then he has a second trench line dug 200 feet to the rear across the road. On both sides of the turnpike the main line angles back in gradual steps, conforming to the perimeter of the town. A second line protecting the turnpike angles back similarly on higher ground, and here more artillery is deployed to fire over the first line and sweep the field in front. By midafternoon Cox has done what he can, and he takes a few moments to rest and survey the scene, as do his men. Many have eaten and some are dozing. At Cox’s headquarters the horses are fed and saddled and the orderlies lounge on the grass, while the officers are sitting on the veranda smoking or sleeping as the mood takes them. The day has proven to be a bright and warm one, “a good example of Indian summer.” Except for the occasional straggler, nothing is to be seen between the Federal lines and Winstead Hill two miles away.

But despite the atmosphere of calm readiness, the Federal dispositions are flawed in one crucial way. The mistake was made after George Wagner’s division—the Federal rearguard—abandoned Winstead Hill in response to Stewart’s flanking move. As his three retreating brigades neared the main Federal works, Wagner received an order—perhaps from Schofield, although the records will be unclear—directing him to halt his troops astride the turnpike about half a mile out. Wagner is to remain there, or so several postbattle accounts will maintain, only until Hood shows signs of advancing in force. Then he is to retreat inside the trench line, forming a reserve near the Carter house and its big cotton gin. Wagner takes his orders to mean that he is to hold his exposed forward position no matter what. Colonel Opdycke, whose brigade is bringing up the rear of Wagner’s division, apparently objects to this. He declares that troops stationed in front of the main breastworks are in a position to aid the enemy—and no one else. Adding that his men are utterly worn out and need relief, Opdycke marches his brigade the last half mile up the pike and into the Federal lines. Wagner stays where he is, however, placing his other two brigades on opposite sides of the turnpike and ordering them to scratch hasty entrenchments in the earth. And there they remain, fatally exposed, until Hood’s advancing troops are upon them.

A bare half-hour before sunset, Hood’s regiments in their yellowish brown “butternut” uniforms begin their advance, marching onto the plain in battle order. The Federal soldiers watch transfixed as the low sun burnishes the enemy bayonets and the Confederate bands play “The Bonnie Blue Flag” and “Dixie.” Rabbits bound ahead of the advancing Confederate lines. Quail coveys burst upward. The attacking brigades march to within a mile of the Federal lines, then pause before beginning their charge. The men wait quietly. General Cleburne marks out squares on the soft ground and begins a game of checkers with leaves of different colors. A few of the troops eat all the rations they carry, in the expectation of being killed. The bands strike up again as a skirmish line starts out soon the entire army is on the move.

As the Confederates near, panic begins to build in the two Federal brigades Wagner is holding in the two Federal brigades Wagner is holding all alone 470 yards to the front. Everyone in the Federal line expects Wagner’s men to fall back when a direct attack comes, but there they stand, their flanks in the air and about to be overlapped. Several Federal officers gallop to Wagner’s command post, warning him to move his men. “The orders are not to stand except against cavalry and skirmishers,” one shouts. But Wagner, perhaps confused, perhaps thirsting for glory, refuses to order his men back. Striking the ground with his walking stick, he replies, “Never mind; fight them.” Wagner’s troops, veterans and new recruits alike, know that a disastrous blunder is occurring. The Confederates are close now. Then the enemy troops pause, redress their lines, and charge. At last Wagner’s subordinate officers give the order to fire, and a heavy volley crashes up and down the line. Some Confederates fall but the others pick up speed, screaming as they dash forward. This is too much for Wagner’s brigades; the troops break, streaming back toward the Federal breastworks. Scores are shot as the run, and nearly 700 are taken prisoner.

It quickly becomes evident that Wagner’s foolhardy stand has placed the entire Federal army in jeopardy. The gunners and riflemen in the center of the main line aren’t able to fire at Cleburne’s and Brown’s attacking troops without running the risk of hitting their own retreating men. The Confederates immediately see this, too. The shout is raised, “Go into the works with them!” and the Confederates charge forward right on the heels of Wagner’s troops. Many of Wagner’s fleeing men become entangled in an abatis of felled locust trees in front of the Federal earthworks. The Confederate attackers shoot, bayonet, or club the trapped soldiers through the brush. At last the surviving fugitives, most of them veering toward the gap in the earthworks at the turnpike, stagger to safety inside the Union lines. Given a clear field of fire, the Federal infantry and artillery open up with a roar. But it is too late to halt the oncoming Confederates, who continue to advance in a solid body, “with their hats drawn down over their eyes, just as if advancing against a hailstorm.” A raw Ohio regiment happens to be deployed at the gap, and among those men a panic is kindled. As they see their comrades from the advance line rushing to the rear, they too turn and flee. The contagion spreads and in a few minutes a disorderly stream is pouring down the pike past the Carter house toward the town. The guns, posted on each side of the pike, are abandoned, and the works, for the space of more than a regimental front, both east and west of the pike, are deserted. Into this gap the jubilant Confederates swarm, urged on by Cleburne and Brown, and take possession of both works and guns.

The Confederates are winded by their long charge into the Federal breastworks, and the wild excitement of their unexpected success throws some of the units into confusion. But their position seems brilliant. Three Confederate divisions led by Generals Cleburne, Brown, and French have converged on the gaping hole torn in the Union line when George Wagner’s Federal brigades stampeded rearward. If the Confederates can maintain their headlong drive, they will widen the gap—and possibly destroy General Schofield’s entire Federal army. The only man in a position to prevent the breakthrough is Colonel Emerson Opdycke, the strong-minded Ohio officer who marched his brigade inside the Union lines an hour ago, refusing to remain in the exposed position occupied by Wagner. Having gotten his weary troops to safety, Opdycke—who will come out of this day a brigadier general—placed them in the first open spot he saw. This was a meadow about 200 yards behind the Carter house and just east of where the dangerous hole would be torn in the Union line. Opdycke’s men, their weapons stacked and coffeepots bubbling over small fires, are eating and resting around 4 pm when the noise of battle grows louder. Opdycke immediately orders them to form in line. The troops have hardly grabbed their rifles before “a most horrible stampede of our front line troops” come surging and rushing back past Carter’s house. On their heels come the Confederates. Opdycke shouts, “First Brigade, forward to the works!” and his men surge past the Carter house and directly into the gap in the Federal defenses. Just at that moment General Stanley, Opdycke’s corps commander, arrives on the scene to see Opdycke near the center of his line urging his men forward. Deciding that there’s no point in giving orders to a man already doing what needs to be done, Stanley rides forward to offer what help he can only for his horse to be shot from under him and a musket ball to pass through the back of his neck, knocking him out of action.

Opdycke’s brigade gathers reinforcements as it rushes ahead. Two Kentucky regiments and the remnants of Wagner’s other two brigades join the charge. Yelling, weapons held high, the Federals crash into the oncoming Confederates, beginning one of the most savage hand-to-hand struggles of the entire war. Some fight with entrenching tools, the bayonet is freely used, while other club their guns and knock each other’s brains out. When the combatants have a chance to fire their weapons, it’s at point-blank range. Finally, the weight of Opdycke’s counterattack proves too heavy for the Confederates. Because Hood disposed his attacking divisions carelessly, there are no reserves to back up the initial assault and capitalize on the breakthrough. Forced it fall back, the attackers first seek refuge inside the Federal trench line, then scramble over the earthworks to huddle on the outer side, safe for the moment from the firestorm. Federal troops reoccupy most of the main line and throw up a barricade that plugs the gap. It has taken the Federals less than an hour to check the assault and close the gap. But the battle rages on with unabated fury as Confederate attacks strike both front and flank.

The assault on the Federal left by Stewart’s corps moves swiftly at first but then runs into trouble. At a railroad cut, two of Stewart’s Mississippi brigades are caught in a deadly enfilading fire from Federal artillery posted across the Harpeth River to the east. Then several Confederate brigades stumble into a grove of locust trees that the Union defenders have turned into a tough, thorny abatis. This barrier slows the attack; Federal repeating rifles, especially those of Colonel John S. Casement’s brigade, do the rest. One of Walthall’s brigades, led by Brigadier General William A. Quarles, finally breaks through the abatis and rushes to the Federal earthworks, only to be pinned down by a murderous crossfire. Quarles is wounded in the head; within hours the ranking officer in his brigade is a captain.

Artillery fire from across the river also chews into Major General William W. Loring’s division, which is advancing on the far right of the Confederate line, even as the whole division is suffering from galling musketry fire by the enemy entrenched in their immediate front. Especially hard hit is the brigade led by Brigadier General John Adams. Seeing his men start to falter, Adams gallops forward, waving his sword and urging on his troops. Adams’s headlong charge carries him directly onto the Federal earthworks. Awestruck, Lieutenant Colonel W .Scott Stewart, commanding an Illinois regiment, shouts for his men to hold their fire because “Adams was too brave to be killed.” But when the Confederate general tries to snatch the regimental flag, the color sergeant shoots him down in a flash. Adams’ horse is also shot and falls partly on top of him, its forelegs over the parapet. Federal soldiers haul the carcass off the wounded enemy general. Then they give Adams water, but he dies a few minutes later. Still farther to the right Loring’s other brigade, under Brigadier General Winfield S. Featherston, is also in trouble. Faced by withering Federal fire, the brigade advances hesitantly, stops, then begins to fall back. This brings Loring on the scene, white with rage. A fiery individual, swift to anger, the one-armed general gallops to the head of the brigade shouting, “Great God! Do I command cowards?” Then to show the men how it is done, he turns his horse’s head toward the Federal earthworks and sits motionless in the saddle for more than a minute, a perfect target in his impeccable general’s uniform, sword belt about his waist, a large dark ostrich plume sweeping from his hat. Somehow, he comes through unscathed.

Despite Loring’s dramatic gesture, his men fail to dent the Federal line. Many of them, along with survivors from Walthall’s division, are pinned down within a few yards of the Union works. Over on the Confederate left the assault also stalls. There General Bate’s division had had considerable ground to cover before reaching the Federal trenches. When Bate finally gets close enough to order the attack, it is almost dark. His force of Georgians and Floridians is relatively small, and the defenders—two sizable divisions commanded by Generals Nathan Kimball and Thomas Ruger—are able to hold off the Confederate charges, then pin down many of the attackers.

As dusk approaches, Confederate troops along the line cling to the outer edge of the Federal works. Many hope that if they stay long enough the defenders will break. “We had never seen the Federals fail to run under like circumstances,” an Arkansas private will boast. But the Federals troops aren’t about to abandon the fight, especially since they know the Harpeth River is at their backs, making an orderly retreat impossible. The battle becomes an endurance contest, the pinned-down attackers pressing themselves to the earth, unable to go forward but perfect targets if they try to go back. Every man who tries it is “at once exposed and shot down without exception.” In many places the two armies are separated by only a few feet. Occasionally men on both sides of the barricades climb to the top, thrust loaded pieces over, and shoot blindly. Some soldiers who raise their heads are seized by the hair, pulled over the parapet, and killed. A number of Confederates remain in the bottom of the ditch, clutching handfuls of earth. When they see Federal rifle barrels poking under the head log, they hurl the dirt to blind the shooters.

Across the field, the Federal musketry and artillery fire slaughters Hood’s men—officers as readily as privates. General Adams is dead. So is Brigadier General Hiram Granbury, commander of the famous Texas Brigade; he was shot within a few yards of the Federal works. States Rights Gist, the hard-fighting South Carolinian, is also mortally wounded. Then a rumor runs through the ranks that chills the men: Their beloved Irish-born general, Patrick Cleburne, is down. Cleburne had ridden into action on a borrowed horse, which was killed under him. One of Cleburne’s messengers had jumped from his own mount and handed the reins over to Cleburne. The Irishman had one leg up when a Federal canon shot killed the second horse. At that point Cleburne, according to General Daniel Govan, had drawn his sword and started running forward on foot. “He then disappeared in the smoke of battle and that was the last time I ever saw him alive.”

Sporadic firing continues as dusk deepens into night, gun flashes flickering along the trench line. Some Confederate officers conclude that their position is hopeless. General Gordon, still pinned to the earthworks, discusses the situation with a young soldier who is lying beside him in the ditch. They agree their only chance of survival is to give up. So they shout to the enemy across the works to cease firing, then when the firing eventually ceases cross the works and surrender. other Confederate generals, however, are determined to continue the fight. Otho Strahl, trapped like Gordon in the ditch outside the Federal trenches, stands among the dead as he loads rifles for infantrymen to fire over the earthworks at Federals dimly visible on the other side. Federal fire soon hits Strahl, knocking him down. Strahl calls for Colonel Stafford to turn over his command. A Tennessean Sergeant Cunningham crawls over the dead, the ditch being three deep, about twenty feet to Colonel Stafford. The wounded Strahl has only moments to live—his staff officers start to carry him to the rear, but he is hit by another shot, then a third that kills him instantly. Meanwhile, Cunningham finds that Colonel Stafford has also been killed. With both of the brigade’s ranking officers gone, Cunningham decides that he and the handful of men left need new orders. Racing to the rear, he reports to division headquarters, only to fund that Major General John C. Brown has also been put out of action by a serious wound. An overbearing staff officer instructs Cunningham to report to General Strahl. “This assured me,” Cunningham will later write, “that those in command did not know the real situation.”

In fact, the Confederate leaders have been out of touch almost from the beginning. General Hood has remained on Winstead Hill, more than two miles to the south, throughout the battle. His view has been obscured by the guns’ dense smoke, which hangs motionless in the still air, and then by growing darkness. The commander of Hood’s largest corps, General Cheatham, is stationed on another high point, Privet Knob, his view equally obscured. The two men have communicated little during the battle; neither issue any fresh orders. The commander of the other Confederate corps involved in the fight, Alexander Stewart, has his hands full on the right and can do nothing to direct the army’s overall movements. Hood’s third corps, headed by General Stephen Lee, is still toiling up the Columbia Pike when the battle begins. Only one of Lee’s divisions manage to make a belated attack, and it is repulsed. Handicapped by a lack of coordination, Hood’s army has beaten itself to death in piecemeal assaults against the Federal ramparts, the soldiers fighting on their own until they are either dead, wounded, or exhausted beyond caring.

On the Federal side, the hovering smoke has also obscured what is happening. But the alarm caused by the early collapse of the center of the line has been followed by a calm determination to hold on at all costs. Soon it becomes clear to the Union officers and men that their rifle and artillery fire are inflicting dreadful losses on the attackers. As darkness approaches, Major General Jacob Cox, architect of the Federal defenses, can sense that the fight is won. But General Schofield’s orders to fall back across the Harpeth River and retreat to Nashville still hold. Cox sends his brother and aide, Captain Theodore Cox, to Schofield’s headquarters to urge a change. Hood has taken such punishment, General Cox believes, that the Federals can counterattack in the morning and destroy the enemy. Schofield, however, will have none of it. He has been in a command post on the northern bank of the Harpeth throughout the battle and has little feel for what has happened. And he evidently discounts the fact that while the battle was raging around Franklin, his cavalry chief, General James Wilson, has been handing the redoubtable Nathan Bedford Forrest an unprecedented shellacking. Forrest crossed the Harpeth south of town with two divisions, intending to fall upon Schofield’s flank and rear. Wilson, attacking in full force, drove Forrest’s troopers back upon and then across the river. It is the first time that Forrest has been beaten by a smaller force in a stand-up fight. Wilson’s victory has removed the threat of the fast-moving Confederate cavalry. Despite this, Schofield remains uncertain, imagining that Hood’s army might yet cross the river and circle in his rear. The withdrawal will proceed as ordered.

The Federal troops begin pulling back about 11 pm. By midnight they are marching quietly through Franklin toward the bridges. By 3 am the men of the rearguard have crossed the river and burned the bridges behind them. The army is again on its way north. Schofield abandons his wounded. Hundreds of men unable to walk are left in makeshift hospitals in Franklin to await the Confederates. Other wounded soldiers are still up on the line. So are a good number of perfectly healthy troops. To avoid alerting the enemy, Federal officers passed the order to withdraw in whispers; many men who slept in exhaustion didn’t hear it. They will awaken in the morning to find themselves prisoners.

Before the departure, Federal Colonel Tristram T. Dow from Illinois had walked onto the field. “No enemies were there but those disabled or dead,” he will recall, “and the cries of the wounded for help were very distressing.” The scene is equally appalling for the many Confederates who, despite their fatigue, are soon prowling about in the dark trying to find friends and relatives. Searching for his brother near the center of the Federal line, “I could have trodden on a dead man at every step,” Chaplain James McNeilly will write. “The dead were piled up in the trenches almost to the top of the earthworks.” McNeilly finds his brother’s corpse less than fifty yards from the Federal line, near the body of Patrick Cleburne. He lay “flat on his back, as if asleep.” He had taken a bullet squarely in the heart. Cleburne’s body will be buried tomorrow in the beautiful churchyard at Ashwood that had brought him a moment’s peace yesterday. Also wandering the battlefield on this dark night is an elderly slave known as Uncle Wiley Howard, a servant to General States Rights Gist. Howard finds his master at last, lying in a field hospital on the Confederate far left. When the general dies, Howard remains with the body until morning, then takes it for burial. For the Confederates, the toll is a 1,750 killed, 3,800 wounded, and 702 missing for a staggering 6,252 lost out of 20,000 to 27,000 men in action. Schofield’s Federals number between 22,000 and 27,000 engaged and they suffer far fewer casualties: 189 killed, 1,033 wounded, and 1,104 missing for 2,326. Most of the Federal casualties are from Wagner’s division, incurred in the breaching of the forward line.

This morning General Hatch’s command of Sherman’s army moves toward Grahamville. By now a large force on Confederates, including troops from Charleston as well as elements of Gustavus Smith's Georgia militia from Savannah, that suffered such bloody losses against Sherman’s rearguard at Griswoldville. When the Federal advance began, General Hardee and Lieutenant General Taylor, who had been together at Macon, were gravely concerned. The Savannah & Charleston Railroad is their sole route of withdrawal to Charleston. If they lose it, Hardee’s whole force, such as it is, would be trapped in Savannah when Sherman arrives.

It happens that the battered militiamen reached Savannah this very day as the Federals are approaching the railroad. As soon as Smith’s troops get there, Smith hustles them over to the South Carolina side of the river. The militiamen take careful position along a causeway at Honey Hill Honey Hill, three miles south of Grahamville. There, 1,400 men, along with five artillery pieces, dig in. Hatch’s force is delayed by the Confederates, who set the fields and woods afire to confine the Federals to the road. Hindered by “dense undergrowth and swamps,” the Unionists make little progress. By afternoon the Federals began to withdraw and by 7:30 pm they have retreated from the field. Hatch suffered over 750 casualties; Smith, less than 50. The fighting is a reverse of their last bloody encounter with Sherman—they inflict ten casualties for each one of their own and keep open Hardee’s railroad escape route into South Carolina.

Sherman marches on, with a skirmish at Louisville, Georgia. There is also action near Dalton, Georgia; Kabletown, West Virginia; and Snicker’s Gap, Virginia. At Honey Hill or Grahamville, near the South Carolina coast, Federal troops from Hilton Head move out to attack. their purpose is to enlarge Union holdings and outposts in the area and cut the Charleston & Savannah Railroad. But Georgia militia throw back the Federals, who then withdraw. There is no real attempt to aid Sherman by marching from the seacoast, though this had been discussed.

In a message to Beauregard, President Davis says he believes Sherman “may move directly for the Coast.” The Confederates must concentrate and his army must be reduced and rendered ineffective. Davis thinks Hood will not have an effect on Federal strategy until the Confederates reach Union territory.
When General Hood awakens to find that the Federals he had thought bottled up in Columbia, Tennessee, have eluded his troops, he is as “wrathy as a rattlesnake.” Breakfast this morning, to which Hood summons Brown and all of his other chief subordinates, is an unseemly affair marked by shouted recriminations and heated denials. Men white with anger accuse each other, utter threats, demand apologies. Hood scorches them all for, as he puts it, ruining “the best move in my career as a soldier.” His chief blame falls on Cheatham, who vehemently denies the charge. At no time does Hood condemn himself in any way for the debacle. It wasn’t his own negligence or confusion—or even plain mishap—that has let the Federals escape. As he ruminates on the wrongs done him, he decides ultimately that not only his generals but also his men are at fault. They have, he says, lost their courage. He hadn’t crushed Stanley yesterday afternoon because, very simply, his men are afraid to fight. This is a theme that Hood has harped on in the past. As he sees it, the army’s previous commander, Joseph Johnston, had softened the men during the summer when he retreated all the way from Chattanooga to Atlanta. According to Hood, the troops are “Still, seemingly, unwilling to accept battle unless under the protection of breastworks.” As before, when he had assumed command of the army from Johnston in front of Atlanta, Hood decides that the only cure for such cowardice is to throw his troops into battle.

The insanity of it all.... :roll:
Potemkin wrote:The insanity of it all.... :roll:

Yes, Hood is just the man you want as a corps commander, and the last man you want in command of an army.
December 1864

Winter doesn’t slow down military operations. The public knows Sherman is deep in Georgia, probably headed toward Savannah, but even Washington doesn’t know just where he is or how he is faring. Everyone knows that Hood and the Confederate Army of Tennessee are in front of Nashville, where George H. Thomas has effectively deployed his Federal defenders. The Petersburg-Richmond area looks relatively quiet.

In Washington, Congress is about to assemble to face the problems of constitutional abolition of slavery and the even more thorny question of reconstruction. Radical Republicans claim the seceded states are in fact out of the Union and must be readmitted on the Radicals’ own terms. President Lincoln believes the Union cannot be severed and favors a more lenient plan which he has tried to put into operation in Louisiana and Arkansas. Calls for negotiations with the Confederate government can still be heard. In Richmond, Congress and many others show discontent, but what is to be done, and how, remains unanswerable.

December 1, Thursday

General Hood’s Army of Tennessee is now close to disintegration. Confederate burial details go to work, placing a scrap of blanket over each man’s face before throwing down the dirt. Stretcher parties pick up the wounded, and soon Franklin’s buildings and homes are full of moaning men. As Hood’s troops grasp the magnitude of the disaster, bitterness begins to grow. Hood had let the enemy march past him one day; on the next he sent his own troops into “a slaughter pen to be shot down like animals.” This wasn’t the “fight with equal numbers and choice of ground” he had promised at Tuscumbia and Florence when the army started into Tennessee. The object of this growing disgust rides slowly into Franklin later this morning. Hood stops at the home of a Mrs. Sykes, dismounts, and sits in a chair in the yard. “He looked so sad,” a child will remember. Yet Hood has learned nothing from the disaster. In his memoirs he will write years later he will still claim that before Franklin his men had been afraid to attack breastworks—and he sees the battle not as having proved him wrong, but as having worked the cure for that ailment.

Hood is unaware of how badly the struggle has crippled his army. Before learning of Schofield’s nighttime retreat, he had planned to renew his attacks on the Federal earthworks at dawn. When morning revealed that the Union entrenchments were empty, Hood relentlessly ordered an immediate pursuit, sending his bone-weary troops up the Franklin Pike toward Nashville. By 1 pm most of his battered units have forded the Harpeth and are trudging northward. Hood also telegraphs a message to Richmond and to General Beauregard’s Alabama headquarters that implies that he has won a great victory—a message that touches off joyous celebrations throughout the Confederacy. Then, strapped as usual to his saddle, Hood once again sets out northward, still dreaming of victory. He arrives at the outskirts of Nashville by evening. Some minor scraps include one at Owen’s Cross Roads.

Schofield reaches Nashville early in the morning; the rest of his army arrives by noon. The city is much changed since the Federals captured it in February of 1862. The population has grown from 30,000 to about 100,000, and the town has become a communication and distribution center to an extent unimagined in prewar days. It has also become one of the most fortified cities in America, with a series of strong points sited on commanding elevations linked by miles of entrenchments. The works are especially daunting to the south, built into a solid arc that sweeps from one bend in the Cumberland River east of the city to another west of town. These fortifications are backed by a reserve line in case the first should be pierced. Schofield deploys his men in the eastern segment of the main line and then reports to General Thomas.

That methodical officer has been pulling in troops from all over Tennessee as it became more and more clear that Hood’s movements were aimed at Nashville. Long apprehensive that he lacked the numbers to defend the town, Thomas is now able to breathe more easily. Major General Andrew J. Smith and his 13,000-man XVI Corps arrived yesterday after a long, much-delayed trip from Missouri. And Schofield’s arrival means that the Federal army numbers about 50,000 and is still growing. Hood can scarcely muster 30,000, and his numbers are shrinking daily as beaten men slip silently off to their homes. Later Hood will assert that he has “an effective force of only 23,053.” There are other reasons for Thomas to feel confident. His men are fresh, well fed, well armed, and warmly clothed; and their supply lines are bulging. The Confederates, on the other hand, face shortages of everything, especially the shoes, clothing, and blankets needed to withstand the winter cold. In addition, Thomas feels he controls the tactical situation. Should Hood circle Nashville and move toward the Ohio River—his old dream—he will find the massive Federal army fatally fixed on his rear. If he retreats toward Alabama Thomas will follow, driving the Confederates until their army breaks up. In Thomas’s view, the issue is not merely winning, it is winning so thoroughly that Hood’s Army of Tennessee will be utterly destroyed. To strike such a blow, Thomas is convinced, will end the war in the west, and he is determined to do just that. Thomas is smarting inwardly that his efforts and sacrifices for the Union have never been properly appreciated in Washington—possibly because his Virginia birth still prompts some superiors to distrust his loyalty. He will prove once and for all that he is one of the Union’s most valuable generals.

As often before, however, Thomas finds something lacking in his military arrangements. His infantry is in fine shape and his artillery adequate, but his cavalry is distinctly not in good enough condition for the climactic campaign he has in mind. The cavalry corps is large enough—about 15,000 men—but much of it still isn’t mounted, and the horses that James Wilson had in the field with Schofield are badly worn. More horses and fresh ones are needed.

The next sizable town on the route for Slocum’s piece of Sherman’s advancing army is Millen, Georgia, a railroad junction on the far side of the Ogeechee River and the site of a large prisoner-of-war compound that is called Camp Lawton. Slocum hopes, of course, to rescue the thousands of Federal soldiers being held there. But Kilpatrick’s advance brigade, scouting ahead of the infantry, arrives at the river just in time to see emaciated prisoners being herded into boxcars on the opposite shore.

Federals are reported heading toward notorious Andersonville, far to the south, to free the prisoners there, possibly because of escaped Federal prisoners that totter into Milledgeville just as the troops there are eating a Thanksgiving feast of turkey and chicken. The prisoners have somehow fled the notorious prison camp at Andersonville, Georgia, and crossed the 100 miles of enemy territory without detection. They are scarecrows in rags with “a wild animal stare” in their eyes and weep at the smell of food and the sight of a US flag. The troops are “sickened and infuriated” by the sight of the pitiful escapees.

There is a skirmish at Shady Grove, of little consequence. Skirmishing also occurs at Stony Creek Station, Virginia. In the West several Federal expeditions operate against guerrillas. Other action includes a fight near Cypress Creek in Perry County, Arkansas, and operations near Waynesville, Missouri.

James Speed of Kentucky is told he is appointed Attorney General by the President, succeeding Edward Bates.
December 2, Friday

General Hood has deployed his army on a line in the Brentwood Hills, south of Nashville, with cavalry carrying out operations against blockhouses and outer positions of Thomas’ Federal defenders, with some skirmishing. With Hood’s lack of manpower the best he can manage is a line about four miles long, whereas the Federal lines facing him stretch more than ten miles. Further, the Federal entrenchments cover all eight turnpikes spoking southward from the city. Hood’s line barely covers four of them—the Granny White Pike and the Franklin Pike toward his center, the Nolensville Pike to the east, the Hillsboro Pike to the west. The flanks of this limited line are in the air, making them especially vulnerable to attack, and within the line Hood’s men are spread dangerously thin. Hood hopes that reinforcements will somehow reach him and make it possible for him to attack. Lacking additional men, his plan is “to take position, entrench around Nashville, and await Thomas’ attack which, if handsomely repulsed, might afford us an opportunity to follow up our advantage on the spot, and enter the city on the heels of the enemy.” It is the slenderest of reeds.

General Schofield’s attitude toward Hood changed as soon as he reached the safety of the Nashville entrenchments. Now he wants to sally forth immediately and whip his old enemy. Before long he is deriding Thomas as an old woman for delaying. Schofield hasn’t hesitated to undermine superiors before. Schofield’s barbs fall on fertile ground, especially at U.S. Grant’s headquarters at City Point, Virginia. Grant and the Army of the Potomac have been locked in a grinding stalemate with Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia for more than five months. Grant wants action somewhere to bolster Northern morale. So does President Lincoln, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, and Major General Henry Halleck. Why doesn’t Thomas, with his superior force, attack immediately? What if Hood circles Nashville and makes a damaging thrust to the north—or flees southward, preserving his army to fight another day? What, in short, if the promised victory is denied?

Thomas is hindered in the ensuing debate by his unwillingness or inability to explain fully to his superiors what to him seem self-evident. Thomas knows that none of the dire possibilities that so alarm Grant and Halleck at a distance will happen. He is determined to be fully prepared before he makes any sort of move—and that means getting horses. His cavalry chief, the volatile General Wilson, who admires Thomas as much as he detests Schofield, is hard at work rounding up every thoroughbred and brewery nag he can find. He seizes all of Nashville’s streetcar and livery-stable horses along with the carriage and saddle horses of the gentry. Even a favorite pair owned by Andrew Johnson, the vice president-elect, are pressed into service. A circus visiting Nashville loses every mount except its ponies; even the old white trick horse is confiscated. But all of Wilson’s preparations take time, and Grant is impatient from the start. “You should attack before he fortifies,” he wires Thomas today, adding a couple hours later, “You will now suffer incalculable injury upon your railroads if Hood is not speedily disposed of. Put forth, therefore, every possible exertion to attain this end. Should you get him to retreating, give him no peace.” Nettled, Thomas replies that he has the situation will in hand and will attack as soon as his cavalry force is large enough to contend with Forrest.

Major General Grenville M. Dodge is named to replace General Rosecrans as commander of the Department of Missouri. Rosecrans long has experienced difficulty with the various divided political forces in Missouri and has proven inept in the administration of his difficult command, one which has defeated several generals.
December 3, Saturday

With both sides dug in at Nashville that front appears to be at a standstill for awhile, although Federal authorities in Washington and General Grant in Virginia are urging Thomas to attack.

During the two days that Sherman’s XIV and XX Corps rest in Millen, Georgia, the troops have time to inspect the now-empty Camp Lawton POW camp and find it a cruel, repellent place. The only shelters are a few makeshift huts—“miserable hovels hardly fit for swine.” Most of the prisoners had lived in holes dug in the ground. “Some were quite large where several men were together,” Sergeant Rice Bull will recall; others were just large enough for a single man “to crawl in and have protection from storm and cold.” A punishment shed has stocks that look as if they have been used often. A sign by a freshly filled-in trench says “650 Buried Here.” One officer writes: “Everyone who visited this place came away with a feeling of hardness toward the Southern Confederacy he had never felt before.” The Federals burn the stockade and, venting their anger, a good part of Millen as well.

Such incidents as this and the escaped POWs reaching the troops at Milledgeville doubtless contribute to the increasing violence and cruelty that mark the second half of the army’s march across Georgia. So do reports of barbarities committed by Wheeler’s cavalrymen. The Federal troops are also angered by the Georgia newspaper editorials and articles urging noncombatants to murder any Federals they can waylay. “Let every man fly to arms,” reads one printed exhortation, and “assail the invader.” The Savannah Daily Morning News recommends that straggling Yankees “be beautifully bushwhacked.” In any event, the regular foraging parties seem to grow rougher and meaner even as the opposition grows lighter.

Worse than the regular foragers are the unsanctioned gangs of renegades and looters that appear as the army moves eastward. Some of the gang members are Federal troops who have separated from their commands and seldom report to any officer—an underclass of hobo soldiers. They are often joined by vagrant Georgia civilians, by Confederate deserters, and in some cases by troopers from Wheeler’s Confederate cavalry units. Most Federal troops stay with their units and many deplore the activities of these “bummers,” as the renegades come to be called. Indeed, there are sharp confrontations as decent soldiers try to protect women and children from the roving looters. But the gangs of bummers grow, following and moving parallel with the army. The bummers ride stolen horses and their aim, aside from sheer destruction, is whiskey and gold. In one case, a group of them hang an elderly farmer until he is nearly dead only to lay hands on his gold watch. They smash pianos and valuable furniture with rifle butts and probably set fire to more houses in Georgia than do all of the regular foraging parties combined. And they are probably responsible for a majority of the rapes committed during the march. Officers make sporadic attempts to punish the worst offenders. General Jefferson C. Davis of XIV Corps threatens to execute looters, which outrages his men, who already suspect him of being a Southern sympathizer. In any case, Davis executes no one. General Hunter threatens to shoot looters as well but backs down, commuting the sentence when a court martial condemns one of his soldiers to death. General Osterhaus fines men a month’s pay for looting and General Blair takes similar action. Sherman will insist later that he wants foraging, not pillaging, placing the blame for much of the pillage, robbery, and violence on the bummers.

There is a mild skirmish at Thomas’ Station.

Elsewhere, skirmishes take place in Perry County, Arkansas; and near New Madrid, Missouri; and a Federal naval expedition operates against salt works at Rocky Point, Tampa Bay, Florida.

President Lincoln works on his annual message to Congress and confers about the possibility of naming Salmon P. Chase Chief Justice.
December 4, Sunday

Late last night, Wheeler’s Confederate cavalry attacked troops guarding railroad wreckers at Waynesborough, Georgia. A heavy engagement, largely involving cavalry, continues throughout today. Kilpatrick advances his Federals to charge Wheeler’s Confederates, who, in turn, countercharge. Eventually the dismounted Federal troops drive the Confederates from several positions. There is also skirmishing in Georgia near Statesborough, Station No. 5 on the Georgia Central, at the Little Ogeechee River, and near Lumpkin’s Station. In Tennessee Thomas realizes he must attack Hood’s Confederates. Skirmishing develops at White’s Station and Bell’s Mills, Tennessee. Otherwise, action occurs on the new Texas Road near Morganza, Louisiana; with Amerinds on Cow Creek near Fort Zarah, Kansas; and near Davenport Church, Virginia.
December 5, Monday

The Congress of the United States gathers for the second session of the 38th Congress.

Sherman’s men fight a brief skirmish at the Little Ogeechee River in Georgia. There is also a minor skirmish to the north, at Dalton, Georgia.
December 6, Tuesday

Former Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase is named Chief Justice, succeeding the deceased Roger B. Taney. Although Lincoln had difficulties with him during his Cabinet years, the President has considered Chase at the head of the list for the Supreme Court since Taney’s death. Perhaps Lincoln thought of eliminating Chase as a perennial presidential candidate, perhaps he recognizes that Chase’s abilities are well suited to the post.

Following the custom of the day, President Lincoln sends his annual message to Congress, where it is read to the highly interested members, for all are aware of the momentous questions of war and reconstruction facing the Union. Opening the message without emphasis on the war, Lincoln notes that the state of foreign affairs is reasonably satisfactory. He mentions some previously closed ports now open and hopes foreign merchants will trade there rather than resort to blockade running. “I regard our emigrants as one of the principal replenishing streams which are appointed by Providence to repair the ravages of internal war, and its wastes of national strength and health,” he writes. Financial conditions are satisfactory and, despite the war, the Treasury showed a balance for the year ending July 1, 1863. The War and Navy departments had spent $776,525,136 (2020 $15,950,298,777) out of expenditures of $865,234,088 (2020 $17,772,434,630). He does call for increased taxation. The public debt is $1,740,690,489 (2020 $35,754,841,804). Westward expansion is continuing, the new Agricultural Department is developing. Still, “The war continues.” However, the armies have steadily advanced. He reports favorably on the reconstruction efforts in Louisiana, Maryland, and elsewhere. The President asks for reconsideration of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery, which he says the people approved in their election decision. The people are united on “the distinct issue of Union or no Union,” for “The public purpose to re-establish and maintain the national authority is unchanged, and, as we believe, unchangeable.” As to peace, the insurgents “cannot voluntarily reaccept the Union; we cannot voluntarily yield it.” The issue can only be decided by war. But if the insurgent government cannot accept peace and re-union, the people can, and some desire it. The President admits re-admission of members of Congress is not in presidential hands. “I mean simply to say that the war will cease on the part of the government, whenever it shall have ceased on the part of those who began it.”

General Grant issues new orders to General Thomas at Nashville: “Attack Hood at once and wait no longer for remount of your cavalry. There is great danger of delay resulting in a campaign back to the Ohio River.” Thomas obediently says he will attack at once, although it will be hazardous without cavalry.

A Union naval flotilla on the Cumberland engage Southern batteries near Bell’s Mills, Tennessee. Federal troops on the south Atlantic coast demonstrate against the Charleston & Savannah Railroad, but don’t break it. Other action includes a skirmish at Lewisburg, Arkansas; Federal expeditions in Arkansas and Virginia; and a Confederate raid from Paris, Tennessee, to Hopkinsville, Kentucky.
December 7, Wednesday

Federal military authorities are in ferment over Thomas’s failure to attack Hood at Nashville. Grant tells Stanton if Thomas doesn’t attack promptly he should be removed. About this time, realizing that someone is feeding Washington damaging reports, Thomas’s staff officers nose about and discover the draft of a critical wire in Schofield’s handwriting. “Why does he send such telegrams?” Thomas says wonderingly to one of his division commanders, Major General James B. Steedman. Steedman smiles at “the noble old soldier’s simplicity” and says, “General Thomas, who is next in command to you and would succeed you in case of removal?” “Oh, I see,” he says as he mournfully shakes his head. And in fact, Grant is considering replacing Thomas with Schofield.

Hood, meanwhile, has been making preparations for the enemy assault he hopes to convert to his own triumph. The price of his frontal attack at Franklin is felt everywhere; units are shrunk in size, some are combined with others, and most are commanded by junior officers. Undaunted, however, by either his army’s weakness or its sufferings, he has ordered frequent roll calls to discourage deserters and has had his engineers lay out cunning entrenchments that take advantage of the rough, broken terrain. The men have cleared swaths through wooded areas to open up fields of fire, then shaped the felled trees into abatis. Artillerymen have positioned guns in pits along the line, set to rake attackers with canister. What troops remain of Cheatham’s battered corps are on the Confederate far right, across the Nolensville Pike; the eastern end of their line swings forward along a railroad cut that would make it difficult for enemy attackers to approach. The center of the Confederate line is held by Stephen Lee’s corps. These men are relatively fresh, having in the main missed Franklin. Lee’s position reaches from the Franklin Pike to the Granny White Pike, the latter named for a long-dead widow whose tavern had been a local institution. Stewart’s corps, badly hurt at Franklin, holds the Confederate left, reaching to the Hillsboro Pike. There Stewart’s line bends back, the men digging rifle pits and working on a series of five redoubts. The redoubts—only three will actually be completed—are designed to be impregnable little forts with as many as fifty artillerists working four guns in each one and with 100 infantrymen in support. The redoubts are supposed to protect Hood’s vulnerable left flank, which the massive Federal line overlaps by several miles.

Then, with all his hopes pinned on withstanding an assault so well that a counterattack might succeed, Hood makes an inexplicable move. Today he sends most of Forrest’s horsemen as well as some infantry units to attack the town of Murfreesboro, thirty miles to the southeast, holding back only one division of cavalry under Brigadier General James R. Chalmers. Perhaps Hood thinks that Thomas will respond by detaching troops to reinforce Major General Lovell Rousseau’s Murfreesboro garrison and this weaken his own force at Nashville. If that is Hood’s scheme, it doesn’t succeed. Forrest’s raid, though the fighting is severe, will accomplish little, and the cavalry’s absence costs Hood many of his best fighters, reducing sharply his already-slender chances in the battle to come. Only when the Federal attack is imminent will Hood attempt to recall Forrest—who will fail to get back in time.

Sherman’s marauding army, getting closer to Savannah daily, skirmishes at Jenks’ Bridge on the Ogeechee River, at Buck Creek and Cypress Swamp near Sister’s Ferry, Georgia. At Fort Monroe, Virginia, ships, men, and supplies are being gathered for the forthcoming expedition to Fort Fisher, North Carolina, aimed at cutting off the last major Confederate port open to blockade runners. Fighting breaks out at Moselle Bridge near Franklin, Missouri, and near Paint Rock Bridge, Alabama. Federal expeditions continue around Devall’s Bluff and elsewhere in Arkansas and in Virginia.
December 8, Thursday

Sherman’s marching army can almost smell the sea; the changing terrain and vegetation indicate that they are fast approaching their goal. But as the Federals approach Savannah, what began as a joyous liberation of the slaves along the army’s route of march has increasingly become a nightmare. A huge train of Blacks trails after the marching columns—about 25,000 in all have left the farms and plantations where they live to follow the troops. Sherman has urged them to stay home and await the war’s end, and often exhorted Black spokesmen, usually clergymen, to spread the word that the army can’t afford to encumber its columns with so many noncombatants. But nothing Sherman can say diminishes the stream of liberated slaves. The urge for freedom is too strong to be denied. An Indiana officer writes his wife: “It was very touching to see the vast numbers of colored women following after us with babies in their arms, and little ones like our Anna clinging to their tattered skirts. One poor creature, while nobody was looking, hid two boys, five years old, in a wagon, intending, I suppose, that they should see the land of freedom if she couldn’t.”

As the army moves closer to Savannah, through country that grows ever more swampy, this situation leads to tragedy. The streams of refugees are becoming more and more cumbersome. Officers dread the results should a real battle start. Finally General Davis’s impatience with the refugee hordes crystallizes into action. His corps is bringing up the rear of Slocum’s left wing and represents the last chance of freedom for about 650 of the Blacks, many of them women and children, who are following on its heels. Then Davis comes to Ebeneezer Creek, a brown stream more than 100 feet wide, little more than twenty miles from Savannah. He hurries an Indiana regiment ahead to throw a pontoon bridge over the stream. Davis marches the troops across while the ex-slaves are held back under guard. As the men cross the bridge many of the Blacks work forward to the water’s edge, but guards keep them away from the span. When the last unit is over, the guards board the bridge, cut it loose from the shore, and pull themselves to the far bank, leaving the Blacks stranded.

As the Blacks realize they have been abandoned, there goes up “from that multitude a cry of agony.” They look back along the causeway into the dark swamp through which they have come: Wheeler’s troopers are in there, for they have been following closely all day, and now the slaves’ protectors are gone. The wail grows louder. There are shouts that Wheeler is there and those at the rear surge forward, thrusting those in front into the water. There is “a wild rush.” Some of the people plunge into the water and swim across. Others run “wildly up and down the banks, shaking with terror.” Almost immediately women and children are drowning. The canvas pontoons on the far side have already been collapsed for packing in wagons, but the engineers, horrified at the disaster General Davis’s stratagem is causing, hurl wood into the stream and fell several trees, which topple into the water. Some of the Blacks bind the logs into a small raft, then make a rope of blankets to haul the raft back and forth across the creek. It can carry no more than six people and frequently turns over, but scores of women and children ride it across. Many others, however—women with babies in arms, children cut loose from parents—disappear in the swift brown water. Others huddle as close to the edge of the water as they can get, “some crying, some praying, and all fearful that the rebels would come before they could get over.” Confederate cavalrymen appear, fire several shots that increase the panic, and then wheel away. The crossing continues as the Federal soldiers march away on the road to Savannah. A giant black man stands in the shallows hauling the raft back and forth until Wheeler’s troopers ride up again, take the remaining slaves prisoner, and start them on the cruel trip back to their owners. No one will ever know how many have drowned, but the number is considerable.

The Federals are as confident as ever, and they are amazingly healthy. Only two percent of the entire 62,000, including the wounded, have been declared unfit for duty during the nearly month-long trek. Lacking Confederates to fight, the troops hold sham battles when they encamp at night; regiments fling blazing pine knots at each other through the darkness. But ahead of them lies difficult country crossed by the wide Savannah and Ogeechee Rivers and defended by an enemy force of unknown size behind works of unknown strength. The last segment of the great march looms as the most trying. The Mid-western farmboys chat noisily about how they will gorge themselves on oysters when they reach saltwater. But they know that a bloody assault might be necessary before they can get them.

Skirmishing flares near Bryan Court House, Georgia.

General Grant tells Halleck in Washington, “If Thomas has not struck yet, he ought to be ordered to hand over his command to Schofield.” Grant admits he fears Hood will get to the Ohio River. Halleck demurs, saying the decision to remove Thomas is up to Grant. Grant again urges Thomas directly to attack, but Thomas wires that his cavalry will not be ready until the 11th. But he is feeling the pressure, and issues orders setting the attack for the 10th.

There is skirmishing on the Petersburg front at Hatcher’s Run, Virginia. Out in Missouri an affair takes place at Tuscumbia.
December 9, Friday

Down in Georgia Sherman and his army of 62,000 men move close to Savannah, particularly to the immediate south of the city, marching along on what is proving to be an extended holiday. It is all stunningly unwarlike. The grime of war is far behind them and they stride along examining the new sights. “The weather was fine, the roads good and everything seemed to favor us,” Sherman will write. “Never do I recall a more agreeable sensation than the sight of our camps by night lit up by the fire of fragrant pine-knots. No enemy opposed us, and we could only occasionally hear the faint reverberation of a gun to our left rear, where Kilpatrick was skirmishing with Wheeler’s cavalry.” The soil is sandy in these Georgia lowlands, and more and more often the men encounter swamps and flooded rice fields. Since corn is scarce, the men are reduced to eating rice. It is a new grain for most of them, and many go hungry until they learn to hull it. Still, they are within a dozen miles of the oyster beds, and a bit farther beyond, Navy supply ships. Until then, as an Ohio colonel tells his men, “the only thing I can advise is to draw in your belts one more hole each day.” The ground grows steadily more marshy until it is unrelieved swamp.

The marchers begin to encounter opposition, though it is more courageous than effective. Here and there handfuls of intrepid Confederates have built emplacements; some are substantial, but others are mere depressions hastily scraped out behind newly felled trees. In any case, the approaching army scarcely pauses in sweeping the enemy aside. The lead brigade of each advancing column simply sends a regiment to each side of the obstacle, taking it in flank. Skirmishing breaks out at the Ogeechee Canal between Eden and Pooler stations, at Cuyler’s Plantation, and Monteith Swamp.

The day before Thomas’s ordered assault on Hood’s army at Nashville is to go forward, the worst storm of the winter strikes, with torrents of sleet that sheet central Tennessee in glittering ice. The temperature plummets and the ground freezes solid. Thomas postpones the attack. General Grant issues an order replacing Thomas with General Schofield. He suspends the order when Thomas tells him he had planned to attack tomorrow and informs him of the storm.

In the Confederate lines, the misery is intense. “We are suffering more for shoes than anything else, and there is no chance to get new ones,” writes Captain Sam Foster in his diary. “At Brigade Head Quarters there has been established a Shoe Shop, not to make shoes, for there is no leather, but they take an old worn out pair of shoes and sew Moccasins over them of green cow hide with the hair side in. The shoe is put on and kept there, and as the hide dries it draws closer and closer to the old shoe.” The Confederate troops are suffering as well from lack of shelter. The men have to retreat to holes they hack in the frozen earth. A few feet deep and lined with twigs, these offer a little warmth to three men under a couple of blankets. The holes are, however, uncomfortably like graves.

Activity increases at Petersburg; a two-day Federal reconnaissance to Hatcher’s Run involves several skirmishes. USS Otsego and a tug are sunk by torpedoes in the Roanoke River near Jamesville, North Carolina.
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