December 15-16, 1862
(Taken From the Confederate Military History)

       On the morning of December 2d, Major-General Bate was ordered by the commanding general to go "over to Murfreesboro" with his division, with instructions to destroy the railroad, and burn the bridges and blockhouses from that place to Nashville. His three brigades and Slocum's battery did not exceed 1,600 men; Col. B. J. Hill with 150 mounted men was to co-operate with him. It was discovered that Murfreesboro had not been evacuated, as Bate was led to believe from the character of his orders, and on the morning of the 4th he notified General Hood that the place was strongly fortified and held by from 8,000 to 10,000 troops, commanded by Major-General Rousseau. Bate had a sharp combat that evening in which the enemy was punished and driven with loss from the field of attack, Bate sustaining a loss of 15 killed and 59 wounded. On the morning of the 5th he captured and burned three blockhouses and the bridges they guarded, and at this time Major-General Forrest arrived with two divisions of cavalry and Sear's and Palmer's brigades of infantry, assumed command and initiated offensive operations under Hood's orders against Murfreesboro.
       General Forrest reported that on the morning of the 6th the enemy declined his offer of battle, but on the next morning moved out on the Salem turnpike in force and drove in his pickets, when the infantry, except Smith's (Tennessee) brigade, made a shameful retreat with the loss of two pieces of artillery. Failing with Bate's assistance to rally the troops, he called for Armstrong's and Ross' brigades of Jackson's division, who charged the enemy and checked his advance. On the 9th, Smith's brigade of Cleburne's division, under Colonel Olmstead, relieved Bate, who joined his proper command. On the 13th, Brig.-Gen. W. H. Jackson captured a train of 17 cars and the Sixty-first Illinois regiment of infantry, with 60,000 rations intended for the garrison at Murfreesboro.
       Forrest was pushing his investment of Murfreesboro with great vigor when he was advised by Hood of the disaster at Nashville. He then withdrew at once and rejoined the army at Columbia. On the 18th he wrote, "Most of the infantry under my command were barefooted and in a disabled condition. My march over almost impassable roads was therefore unavoidably slow."
       The army of Tennessee rested in position before Nashville from the 2d to the 13th of December. Two brigades left in the rear joined their commands, but three were in front of Murfreesboro with Forrest and did not participate in the battle of the 16th. From Ridley's Hill on the Nolensville pike, the center of Cheatham's corps, there was an unobstructed view of Federal movements and preparations for battle. The arrival of troops, the concentration of Wilson's cavalry, was all in plain view. The weather was very severe and the suffering of the men was great. There was no supply of shoes, and the men covered their bare feet with raw hide taken from animals freshly slaughtered. Hundreds of Tennesseeans passed their own doors on the march without halting, and many were in sight of their homes when the guns opened.
       On December 15th the enemy, having completed his preparation, moved out to attack the left held by Stewart and the right held by Cheatham. The enemy, says General Stewart, appeared in force along his entire line with the purpose of turning the left flank of the army. The commanding general dispatched Manigault's and Deas' brigades of Johnson's division, Lee's corps, to Stewart's assistance, and they were placed in line parallel to the Hillsboro pike, opposite redoubt No. 4. Under attack the two brigades made but a feeble resistance, and the enemy captured redoubts No. 4 and No. 5, with all artillery in them, and killed and wounded many of our men. A battery from Loring's division was brought over and placed in position and the same brigades brought up to its support, but they again fled, causing the capture of the battery, after which the enemy pressed forward and gained the rear of Walthall and Loring. Walthall, after a gallant resistance, retired his line, when the entire corps formed between the Granny White and Franklin turnpikes, night closing the conflict.
       The attack on Cheatham was made by Major-General Steedman with the Twelfth, Thirteenth and One Hundredth regiments of colored troops, under command of Col. Charles R. Thompson of the Twelfth colored; the Fourteenth, Seventeenth (commanded by Col. William R. Shafter), Forty-fourth and a detachment of the Eighteenth colored under Col. T. J. Morgan of the Fourteenth colored; the Sixty-eighth Indiana, Eighteenth Ohio, and the Second battalion, under command of Lieut.-Col. C. H. Grosvenor, Eighteenth Ohio, and the Twentieth Indiana and Eighteenth Ohio batteries. The assault was received by Cheatham in the forenoon of the 15th, Granbury's brigade having been placed by the corps commander in a lunette with a section of Turner's battery. Lieutenant-Colonel Grosvenor with his brigade assaulted the salient angle of this field work, and claimed in his official report that one of his captains with 100 men gained the interior of the work, but the men of Granbury's brigade, 300 strong, reserved their fire under orders until the assaulting column was in short range. The volley was terrific, and to escape it part of Grosvenor's force doubtless undertook to seek the cover of the ditch in front of the field work and were there killed. No attempt was made to gain the interior of the work; it would have been an impossible undertaking. It was held and defended by a body of trained veterans, who possessed a capacity for successful resistance against five-fold the number reported to have effected the entrance. If it had been possible there would have been no survivors, and there were no Federals killed[ inside the work. Cheatham's entire line was well intrenched and no impression was made upon it, and no losses sustained by its defenders except from sharpshooters.
       Colonel Morgan, commanding the two colored brigades, reported that his line "advanced very Close to the enemy's line." His troops did come forward as if on dress parade. Our men had never before encountered them on the battlefield, and were amazed at their soldierly bearing. There was no cover to conceal the advance, and it was difficult to restrain our men from mounting the works to witness the novel and imposing spectacle. Morgan's line was permitted to advance "very close," but when a volley was delivered it was a race between the poor, deluded blacks and their officers for a place of safety.
       The description by Lieutenant-Colonel Grosvenor of the conduct of his own command answers for that of the whole attacking column. He said: "The troops were mostly new conscripts, convalescents, and bounty-jumpers, and on this occasion behaved in the most cowardly and disgraceful manner. The enemy, seeing the men hesitating and wavering, fired a heavy volley and stampeded the whole line, and nearly all the men fled from the field." The hillside in our front was covered with the Federal dead and wounded. No effort was made to succor the wounded after this "sham battle" was determined. Orders were received from General Hood to move Cheatham's corps to the left of our army, and after a volley was delivered at Morgan's command, the movement was begun, and very soon completed. In spite of the abandonment of the entire line, Captain Osborne, of the Twentieth Indiana battery, who had "passed to the rear" with Morgan's, Thompson's and Grosvenor's brigades, reports officially that he maintained "a continual fire until night." Before that hour Cheatham's corps had marched two or three miles and gone into position to the left of Stewart's corps. That the wounded were not cared for was no fault of the Confederates, as they retired from the hill immediately after the stampede. The Federal loss was 825 killed, wounded and missing, and of this number 120 were killed.
       On the morning of the 16th, Thomas made a general attack on the Confederate line of battle, but was repulsed at all points. About noon an attempt was made to turn Hood's left, held by Govan's brigade of Cleburne's division; the attack being made by Wilson's dismounted cavalry. It was vigorously prosecuted and the position carried, but not until General Govan, and Colonel Green, the officer next in rank, were severely wounded. So soon as the result was ascertained, Col. Hume R. Feild, First Tennessee, commanding Carter's brigade, was dispatched to the left with orders to retake the position at any cost. It could be said of him: "Thou bearest the highest name for valiant acts." In four years of war he had never known failure. It was a critical period, the enemy's shots were taking us in reverse, and before many minutes a lodgment would be made in our rear; but Feild's advance was equal to the emergency, and in a few minutes the ground was recovered and the enemy forced to retire. Colonel Feild immediately reported the result to the corps commander through his gallant aide-de-camp, Charles H. Thompson, with the information that he had deployed his brigade as a skirmish line to cover the enemy's front, and if the assault was repeated he could not maintain himself against a line of battle, and asked for reinforcements. General Cheatham replied: "The colonel must not expect reinforcements; there are no reserves. I sent him to the left because I can trust him to hold any position." But in a short time Gist's brigade, commanded by Col. John H. Anderson, Eighth Tennessee, was sent to his assistance. In the afternoon there was a concentration of artillery in Cheatham's front, with a furious cannonade upon the hill occupied by Bate's division.
       Col. A. J. Kellar, Fourth Tennessee, commanding Strahl's brigade, held the right of Cheatham's division, commanded by Brig.-Gen. M. P. Lowrey. In a report made to General Hood on the 18th, he states that the hill occupied by Bate's division "was given up to the enemy without a struggle." Colonel Kellar was on Bate's immediate left. General Hood, referring to the disaster, said: "A portion of our line to the left of the center suddenly gave way, causing in a few minutes our line to give way at all points, our troops retreating rapidly down the Franklin pike." This assault was made by the troops commanded by Generals Schofield and A. J. Smith. Referring to it, Major-General Thomas reported, "Our loss was remarkably small, scarcely mentionable."
       When the line gave way, Cheatham dispatched a staff officer to the commanding general, to report the condition of the left and to ask that some body of troops should be halted east of the Granny White pike to cover the withdrawal of his left. There was no panic there, but he decided not to attempt to bring out the organizations, and directed the men to retire without order and cross the hills to the Franklin road. Lowrey's and Granbury's brigades of Cheatham's division, under Brig.-Gen. J. A. Smith, who had been sent in the forenoon to support the center, were ordered back to the left just as the disaster occurred, halted and put into position, and they checked the advance of the enemy long enough to enable the troops on the extreme left to retire in safety. Brig.-Gens. Henry R. Jackson and Thomas B. Smith, Bate's division, were not affected by the panic and were captured. Col. M. Mageveny, Jr., One Hundred and Fifty-fourth Tennessee, unable to climb the hills when his regiment was ordered to retire, was captured, and the gallant Col. W. W. Shy, Twentieth Tennessee, was killed.
       The casualties were inconsiderable in numbers. There was no serious resistance to the Federal advance; it was a battle without an engagement or a contest; and the wonder is that Thomas, with a large and well-appointed army, more than treble the strength of Hood, did not press his right, seize the Franklin turnpike and capture the entire army. Hood's army was in a wretched state, the clothing of the men was scant, and the per cent of the barefooted was distressing. On the retreat out of Tennessee the weather was very severe, rain, sleet and snow falling upon the army after the second. day's march; but the spirit of endurance seemed to rise as difficulties multiplied.
       Maj.-Gen. George H. Thomas in his official report says of Hood's army: "With the exception of his rear guard, his army had become a disheartened and disorganized rabble of half-armed and barefooted men, who sought every opportunity to fall out by the wayside and desert their cause to put an end to their suffering. The rear guard, however, was undaunted and firm, and did its work bravely to the last." This report was prepared more than a month after the battle, and assumed to be historically correct.
       Hood's field return, made on the 10th of December, 1864, shows his effective strength at 23,053, and General Thomas states that "during the two days' operations there were 4,462 prisoners captured," leaving Hood in retreat with an army 18,591 strong. The first return of strength after the campaign was made at Tupelo, Miss., on the 20th of January, 1865, showed an effective total of 16,913, after every soldier from west Tennessee had been furloughed at Corinth, Miss., for thirty days. They represented the One Hundred and Fifty-fourth, Second, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Ninth, Twelfth, Thirteenth, Fifteenth, Twenty-first, Twenty-second, Thirty-first, Thirty-third, Thirty-eighth, Forty-sixth, Forty-seventh, Fifty-first, Fifty-second, Fifty-fifth Tennessee regiments, which would not average more than 100 men to the regiment; adding these to the last report, the army would have shown an effective total of 18,813. It was evident that while we had large numbers of poorly-clad and barefooted men, the accusation that they "sought every opportunity to fall out by the wayside and desert their cause" was without foundation.
       Immediately after the break in our line the troops sought their own organizations, reformed under their officers, and marched out of the State in perfect order. The formation was made just south of the hills in the rear of our left, a few hundred yards from the abandoned line of battle, where, on account of the timid policy of the Federal commander, and his proverbial want of enterprise, our army was not molested. The men, with an occasional exception, had arms in their hands. At Franklin there were several thousand stand of arms, a very large proportion captured from the enemy; and after the loss of fifty pieces of artillery, the army retired with fifty-nine field pieces and an ample supply of ammunition. The successful resistance to the assault of the Federal cavalry near Franklin by the rear guard of Lee's corps, repeated at Spring Hill the next day by the rear guard of Cheatham's corps, does not sustain the Federal general's report that our army was a "disorganized rabble."
       While disasters had multiplied and the suffering was great, the spirit of the men was unbroken. It was well illustrated by Colonel Kellar, Fourth Tennessee, who in his report to Hood said: "For the first time in this war we lost our cannon. Give us the first chance and we will retake them." In the loss of artillery at Nashville, that of three 12-pounder Napoleon guns by Turner's Mississippi battery caused infinite regret in Cheatham's division. With other pieces they had been captured at Perryville, and had been served in all the subsequent battles of the Southwest with the greatest distinction by the company of noble Mississippians who manned them.
       General Hood had been over-confident and too enthusiastic. When he retreated from Nashville his only hope was to save the remnant of his army, and he looked to the indomitable Forrest to accomplish this result. The cavalry had suffered from constant exposure to the trying winter weather and was not in condition unaided to check the advance of the enemy long enough to secure Hood's retreat, therefore it was decided to detach Major-General Walthall with instructions to organize a rear guard 3,000 strong, and report to Major-General Forrest. Walthall selected the brigades of Reynolds, Ector and Quarles, of his own division; Featherston's, of Loring's division; Carter's (formerly Maney's), of Cheatham's division, commanded by Col. H. R. Feild; Strahl's, of Cheatham's division, commanded by Col. C. H. Heiskell, and Smith's, of Cleburne's division. Instead of 3,000 men, the effective total was 1,601, but it was a splendid command, led with consummate skill and courage. "Walthall was the youngest division general in the army of Tennessee, and when he drew his sword in command over the rear guard to cover its retreat, there was not a soldier in it, from the commanding general down, who did not believe he would do it or perish in the effort." General Forrest said of him: "He exhibited the highest soldierly qualities; many of his men were without shoes, but they bore their sufferings without murmur, and were ever ready to meet the enemy."
       General Walthall said of his command, "For several days the ground was covered with snow, and numbers of the men made the march without shoes, some had no blankets, and all were poorly clad for the season;" but despite these difficulties and privations there was no complaint. Every day there was a skirmish or a combat, in which the cavalry and artillery of Forrest participated with the infantry of Walthall. The danger was a common one, and the two arms of the service were alike conspicuous for courage and endurance. The Federal advance was beaten and punished day by day so thoroughly that General Thomas was forced to admit that "the rear guard was undaunted and firm, and did its work bravely to the last." The rear guard recrossed the Tennessee on the 27th of December, Ector's brigade under Col. D. Coleman, Thirty-ninth North Carolina, in the rear.
       General Forrest, in his report of the campaign, said that from the 21st of November to the 27th of December his command was engaged every day with the enemy. "I brought out three pieces of artillery (taken from the enemy), more than I started with. My command captured and destroyed 16 blockhouses and stockades, 20 bridges, 4 locomotives, 100 cars, 10 miles of railroad, and have turned over to the provost-marshal 1,600 prisoners, besides the capture of several hundred horses, mules and cattle." In an address to his troops issued by Forrest on his return to Corinth, Miss., he said: "During the past year (1864) you have fought 50 battles, killed and captured 16,000 of the enemy, captured 2,000 mules and horses, 67 pieces of artillery, 4 gunboats, 14 transports, 20 barges, 300 wagons, 50 ambulances, 10,000 stand of small-arms, 40 blockhouses, destroyed 36 railroad bridges, 200 miles of railroad, 6 engines, 100 cars, and $15,000,000 worth of (Federal) property. Your strength never exceeded 5,000, 2,000 of whom have been killed or wounded; in prisoners you have lost about 200."
       This summary of his operations doubtless stimulated General Sherman to advise the assassination of Forrest and to commit other atrocities. An order, or letter of instructions, dated Savannah, Ga., January 21, 1865, addressed to Gen. George H. Thomas (see Vol. XLV, War Records, Part 2, page 621), giving "such instructions as fall within my province as commander of the division," General Sherman advised him to march on Columbus, Miss., Tuscaloosa and Selma, "destroying farms, gathering horses, mules (wagons to be burned), and doing all possible damage, burning Selma and Montgomery, Ala., and all iron foundries, mills and factories," and adds: "I would like to have Forrest hunted down and killed, but doubt if we can do that yet." If the Spanish Captain-General Weyler, of Cuba, had issued and published this letter of instructions to a subordinate officer, the press, the pulpit, the halls of Congress of the United States would have rung with fierce denunciation of the savage spirit of its author, and public opinion would outlaw his memory.
       The remnant of the army of Tennessee retired from Corinth to Tupelo, Miss., on the 23d of January, 1865. General Hood was relieved and Lieut.-Gen. Richard Taylor assigned to command.