The March To The Sea/Franklin And Nashville
Jacob D. Cox, LL. D.,
Late Major-General Commanding Twenty-Third Army Corps
Chapter VI.--Battle Of Nashville
SCHOFIELD'S little army reached Nashville in the morning of December 1st, and was merged in the forces which General Thomas was assembling there. General A. J. Smith, after many unforeseen delays, had arrived with his detachments from the Army of the Tennessee, consisting of three divisions, aggregating nearly twelve thousand men. Of these, something over nine thousand men reached Nashville early in the morning of November 30th, and the rest on the next day. The first intention of General Thomas had been to meet Schofield at Brentwood, ten miles in front of Nashville, with these troops, while Schofield marched the ten miles from Franklin to the same point; but he concluded later to make the union at Nashville. When he received from Schofield and from Wilson the reports of Hood's movement of the 28th and 29th, by which the cavalry had been separated from Schofield, and Forrest was reported pushing eastward, he ordered Steedman to leave a garrison in Chattanooga and take his other available forces to Cowan, a station near Elk River, on the Nashville and Chattanooga Railway. Steedman reached there on the morning of the 30th and put his troops in position; but in the evening, Thomas, having learned of Hood's attack in force upon Schofield at Franklin, ordered Steedman to hasten to Nashville. The troops were accordingly put upon the railway trains again, and most of them reached their destination safely on the evening of December 1st. One train, being delayed by an accident, did not arrive till the 2d, and was attacked by Forrest five miles south of Nashville, but the troops made their way through without serious loss, though the train was captured and destroyed. Of the 8,000 men who had been at Chattanooga on the 30th, Steedman brought with him 5,200, consisting of two brigades of colored troops, and a provisional division made up of soldiers belonging to the army with Sherman, but who had arrived at the front too late to rejoin their own regiments.
Most of the troops under General R. S. Granger, in North Alabama, and of those under General Milroy, at Tullahoma, were ordered to Murfreesboro, where the whole, amounting to about eight thousand men, were placed under command of General Rousseau, and remained until after Hood's defeat on December 15th and l6th. The block-house garrison, at the important railroad bridge on the Elk River, was the only considerable detachment left along the line of the Chattanooga Road, between Murfreesboro and Stevenson.
In Nashville, on November 30th, besides Smith's forces, Thomas had about six thousand infantry and artillery, and three thousand cavalry, mostly dismounted. The Chief Quartermaster, General Donaldson, had also armed and organized into a division the employés of his and the commissary department, and these were prepared to serve as an addition to the garrison when needed. The new regiments which arrived were gradually assigned to the old divisions, and the additions to the list of Sherman's convalescents and returning men were united to those who had come with Steedman, making, by December 14th, a division of over five thousand men, under command of General Cruft.
Accepting Hood's statements of his losses thus far in the campaign, the army which he led against Nashville consisted of about forty-four thousand men of all arms. His means of information were such that he had pretty full knowledge of the concentration Thomas was now effecting, and the motives which induced a march to Nashville are matters of interesting inquiry. Beauregard, in his preliminary report to the Confederate War Department, said: "It is clear to my mind that after the great loss of life at Franklin, the army was no longer in a condition to make a successful attack on Nashville." Hood's own statement, which would be entitled to the greatest weight if his subsequent writings were not so full of evidence that they are labored apologies for his misfortunes, is that he expected reinforcements from Texas, and that he hoped by intrenching near Nashville he could maintain himself in a defensive attitude till these should arrive; or that he might even take advantage of a reverse to Thomas, if the latter should be beaten in an attack upon his fortified line. The hope of aid from Texas was a forlorn one, for no organized body of Confederates had for a long time succeeded in passing the Mississippi River. From other sources, however, we learn that the show of confidence and of success was relied upon to induce recruiting in Tennessee, and that the pretended Governor, Harris, was with Hood, endeavoring to enforce the conscription in that State. This, and the collection of supplies, give an intelligible reason for occupying as much territory as possible, and for an appearance of bravado which could hardly be justified on military grounds. Doubtless, too, Hood believed that while his veterans might be forced to retreat, they could not be routed; and he underestimated the discouragement that began to pervade them when they were taught, by the terrible lesson of Franklin, how hopeless was that dream of conquest with which their leaders had tried to inspire them when they crossed the Tennessee. Hood also says he learned that Schofield retreated in alarm; but never was a greater mistake. Schofield's officers on the line had reported their perfect confidence in their ability to hold it, and the withdrawal front the Harpeth had been based solely on the probability of the position being turned before reinforcements could be sure to arrive.
In truth, Hood's situation was a very difficult one, and to go forward or to go back was almost equally unpromising. He followed his natural bent, therefore, which always favored the appearance, at least, of aggression, and he marched after Schofield to Nashville. On approaching the town, he put Lee's corps in the centre, across the Franklin turnpike, for it had suffered least in the campaign, and was now his strongest corps. Cheatham took the right, and Stewart the left of the line, while Forrest, with the cavalry, occupied the country between Stewart and the river below Nashville. Attempts were made to repair the railway from Corinth to Decatur, and thence by Pulaski to Hood's rear. Hood tells us that he gained possession of two locomotives and several ears (perhaps at Spring Hill), and that these were used to help transport supplies.
Thomas put his troops in position upon the heights surrounding Nashville, General Smith's divisions on the right, the Fourth Corps (General Wood temporarily commanding) in the centre, and Schofield's Twenty-third Corps on the left. Steedman, who arrived later, was first put on the Nolensville road, about a mile in front of Schofield's left, but was placed on the extension of Schofield's line a day or two later, when Wilson, with the cavalry, were sent over the river to Edgefield, on the north bank.
On December 2d, Hood sent Bate's division of Cheatham's corps to destroy the railroad between Nashville and Murfreesboro. Bate reached Overall's Creek, ten miles from Murfreesboro, and attacked the block-house protecting the railway bridge there; but the little garrison held out against a severe cannonade till General Milroy arrived with reinforcements from Murfreesboro, and drove the enemy off. Bate now took the road toward Nashville, and at Stewart's Creek and two other places in that neighborhood, found the block-houses evacuated, and burned them with the bridges they were built to protect. He also reported that he had torn up several miles of track. Forrest, meanwhile, who had been directed to co-operate with Bate, had sent Buford's division against the block-houses nearest Nashville, and succeeded in reducing three of them near Mill Creek, beginning with one five miles from the city. On the 5th he united Jackson's division with Buford's, and moving toward Lavergne took two more block-houses. He now met Bate, who was moving in the opposite direction, and turned the united forces upon Murfreesboro. Here, on the evening of the 6th, he was further reinforced by Sears's brigade of French's division, and Palmer's brigade of Stevenson's, and on next morning approached the town, reconnoitring the fortifications in person. Rousseau now sent Milroy against the enemy, with seven regiments, and these attacked vigorously the left flank of Forrest's infantry, while they were moving by his orders in the same direction for the purpose of taking ground farther to the left. Milroy's attack fell obliquely upon the extremity of Bate's line, which was quickly rolled up and put to rout, losing two pieces of artillery. Bate admits 213 casualties in the infantry, but those of the cavalry are not given. Milroy took 207 prisoners, and his own losses in the affair were 30 killed, and 175 wounded. Meanwhile, Buford's division attempted to enter the town by another road, but was also defeated and driven off.
Bate's division way now recalled to Nashville, and replaced by a brigade under Colonel Olmstead (formerly Mercer's) so that Forrest retained three brigades of infantry as a support for his cavalry. He continued till the 15th to operate on the east of Nashville, and along the south bank of the Cumberland, part of his duty being to "drain the country of persons liable to military service, animals suitable for army purposes, and subsistence supplies." On the 15th Jackson's division captured a railway train of supplies going from Stevenson to Murfreesboro, for the garrison there, who, it would seem, must have been in danger of running short of rations, since the breaking of their communications with Nashville.
At Thomas's request, Lieutenant-Commander Fitch patrolled the Cumberland with gunboats above and below Nashville, to prevent the crossing of that stream by the enemy, and Wilson sent Hammond's brigade of cavalry to Gallatin to watch the north bank of the river an far as Carthage.
From the time of Hood's arrival in front of Nashville, the President and Secretary of War became very urgent in their desire that Thomas should at once assume the aggressive.
At their suggestion, General Grant telegraphed on December 2, advising Thomas to leave the defences of Nashville to General Donaldson's organized employés, and attack Hood at once. Grant's language was scarcely less imperative than an order, but Thomas was so desirous of increasing his force of mounted men that he determined to wait a few days. On the 8th, the weather, which had been good for more than a week, suddenly changed. A freezing storm of snow and sleet covered the ground, and for two or three days the alternations of rain and frost made the hills about Nashville slopes of slippery ice, on which movement was impracticable. As Hood's positions could only be reached by deployed lines advancing over these hills and hollows, everybody in Thomas's army felt the absolute necessity of now waiting a little longer, till the ice should thaw. This was not fully appreciated by the authorities at Washington, who connected it too closely with Thomas's previous wish for more time, and a rapid correspondence by telegraph took place, in which Thomas was ordered to attack at once or to turn over his command to General Schofield. He assembled his corps commanders and asked their advice, saying that he was ordered to give Hood battle immediately or surrender his command. To whom the army would be transferred was not stated, but it was matter of inference, and he declined to submit the despatch itself to the council of war, though one of the junior officers intimated a wish to know its terms. By the custom of such councils the opinion of officers is given in the inverse order of their grade; but General Schofield, feeling the delicacy of his position as senior subordinate, volunteered his own opinion first, that till the ice should melt it was not now practicable to move.
All concurred in this, and Thomas telegraphed Grant that he felt compelled to wait till the storm should break, but would submit without a murmur if it was thought necessary to relieve him. On the 13th, General Logan, who, it will be remembered, was temporarily absent from the Fifteenth Corps, was ordered to Nashville for the purpose of superseding Thomas in command of the Department and Army of the Cumberland, and Grant himself was on the way there also, when the result of the first day of the battle of Nashville (December 15th) stopped further action in that direction.
As early as December 6th, the troops had been ordered to be ready to move against the enemy, and the plan of battle afterward adopted had been in substance determined. From day to day Hood appeared to be taking ground to the east, so as to bring himself more closely into support of Forrest's operations. This led to a suggestion to Thomas from his corps commanders to modify his plan which had looked to the use of the Twenty-third Corps to demonstrate on the left, and give more weight to an attack by the right. From the 8th to the 14th, it was definitely understood in camp that an attack would be made the moment the ice melted, and on the date last mentioned a warm rain made it certain the ground would be bare next day. The position of Hood had not materially changed for a week. Chalmers was operating with a division of cavalry along the Cumberland, for some miles below Nashville, as Buford was above; but, while ordinary steamboat transportation was thus interrupted, the navy patrolled the river and prevented the enemy from crossing. Hood had sent a detachment of cavalry also, supported by Cockrell's brigade of infantry to the mouth of Duck River, on the Tennessee, to blockade that stream also, if possible. In his anxiety to cover so large a territory, the Confederate general was too much extended, and in front of Thomas's right his flank was only covered by Chalmers's division of horse. To make some connection with the river on this side, he had built a number of detached works, but these were not completed, though he had put artillery in them, supported by detachments of infantry from Walthall's division. Reports brought in by deserters indicated that he was intending to withdraw from his advanced lines since the 10th, but the same causes which prevented Thomas from moving, affected him also, and a change of quarters, to his in-clad and poorly shod troops, would have been the cause of much suffering, if it were made during the severe weather of that week.
On the morning of the 15th a heavy fog obscured the dawn and hid the early movements of Thomas's army. The ice had given place to mud, and the manoeuvres, like those of all winter campaigns, were slow. The modified order of the day directed a strong demonstration by Steedman on the extreme left, with two brigades; one commanded by Colonel Grosvenor, Eighteenth Ohio, and the other (colored troops) commanded by Colonel Morgan, Fourteenth United States Colored. General Wood, with the Fourth Corps, and General Smith, with the Sixteenth Corps, were ordered to form upon a position nearly continuous with the eastern line of the city defences, extending from a salient on the Acklen place across the Hillsborough turnpike toward the Hardin turnpike in a southwest direction. Advancing toward the southeast these corps would make the principal attack obliquely upon the left of Hood's line. General Wilson, with three divisions of cavalry, was ordered to clear the Hardin and Charlotte turnpikes of the enemy (still farther to the west) and move forward on the right of Smith's corps. General Schofield, with the Twenty-third Corps, constituted the reserve, and was placed in rear of Wood, to strengthen and extend the attack on the right. As Smith had occupied the fortifications on the right of the line about the city, these orders would be executed by wheeling the whole of both corps forward to the left, upon the salient at the Acklen place as pivot, after Wood had taken ground to the right by the distance of nay half a mile, no as to bring his left flank at the point named. Schofield, who had been in the fortifications still to the left of Wood, marched from his lines at daybreak, and passing through the works at the Hillsborough road moved to the east into the position assigned him, as noon as the wheel of the right wing made room for him. The interior lines at the city were held by General Donaldson's men, while General Cruft, with his division, occupied those from which Schofield and Steedman moved.
Standing in the salient in Wood's line, which has been mentioned, the topography of the country about Nashville is clearly seen. On the left, toward the east, is a valley in which Brown's Creek flows north into the Cumberland. It rises in the high Brentwood Hills, which shut out the view toward the south a little more than four miles away, and its course is nearly parallel to the eastern line of Thomas's intrenchments. On the right, but a little farther off, is Rich-land Creek, flowing northwest into the Cumberland. It rises also in the Brentwood Hills, not more than a mile west of Brown's Creek, and runs nearly parallel with it toward the city for some distance, when the two curve away to right and left, encircling the place, and marking its strong and natural line of defence. On the high ridge between the creeks is the Granny White turnpike. A mile eastward is the Franklin turnpike, diverging about thirty degrees. At nearly equal distances, on that side, the Nolensville and Murfreesboro turnpikes leave the city successively. Turning toward the west from our station, the Hillsboro, the Hardin, and the Charlotte turnpikes successively go out at similar angles, all radiating from the centre of the town. The ground is hilly, rising into knobs and eminences two or three hundred feet above the Cumberland, but mostly open, with groves of timber here and there.
Hood's line was over Brown's Creek, on the high ground from the Nolensville turnpike and the Chattanooga railway to the Franklin turnpike, then crossing the creek and mounting a high hill west of it, it extended to the Hillsboro road, where it turned back along a stone wall on the side of the turnpike. The detached works, of which mention has been made, were still to the southwest of this, and across Richland Creek. The relative places of his several corps were the same as when he first came before the town. His main line at his left, where it reached the Hillsboro pike, was about a mile in front of Wood, but he also occupied an advanced line with skirmishers, only half that distance away, and terminating in a strong outpost on Montgomery Hill, at the Hillsboro road.
Before six o'clock in the morning Steedman was moving forward under cover of the fog by the Murfreesboro road, on the extreme left, and about eight he attacked Hood's right between the turnpike and the railway. The vigor of the assault made it something more than a demonstration, and the rapid fire of both artillery and small arms attracted the attention of the enemy in that direction. The distance Smith's right wing had to move was found to be greater than had been reckoned on, and it was ten o'clock before McArthur's division had moved sufficiently to the left to open the way for Wilson's cavalry to advance upon the Hardin road. Johnson's division moved forward on the Charlotte turnpike, looking also after the enemy's battery at Bell's Landing, on the Cumberland; Croxton's brigade took the interval to the Hardin turnpike, Hatch's division continued the line to the flank of Smith's infantry, and Knipe's division was in reserve. Smith formed the Sixteenth Corps with Garrard's division on his left, connecting with the Fourth Corps, and McArthur's division on the right. The division of Moore was in reserve. On the other side Chalmers did what he could to oppose them, supported by Coleman's (formerly Ector's) brigade of infantry,(1) but the odds was too great, and they were driven steadily back. Half a mile southeast of the Hardin road the first of Hood's detached works, containing four guns, was found. The batteries of McArthur and Hatch were brought to bear upon it from all sides, and, after a severe cannonade, McMillan's and Hubbard's brigades of infantry and Coon's of cavalry (dismounted) attacked and carried the redoubt.(2) Stewart now recalled Coleman and directed him to report to Walthall, whose division occupied the stone wall bordering the Hillsboro turnpike. Walthall placed him on the extension of his line southward, upon some high points covering the Granny White road. This left the other redoubts to their fate, as Chalmers was far too much over-matched to make much resistance with his cavalry. He had been driven back so fast that his train, with his headquarters baggage and papers, had been captured. The next redoubt, about four hundred yards to the right, was carried by the same troops, and two guns in it were taken. Another four-gun battery, intrenched on a detached hill, was stormed and captured by the cavalry, and a two-gun battery by Hill's brigade of McArthur's division, though with the loss of Colonel Hill, who fell in the moment of success. Smith's corps now bore somewhat to the left, striking the extreme flank of the stone wall held by Walthall's division, driving Reynolds's brigade from it in confusion. At the same time, Schofield, who had followed the movement closely with the Twenty-third Corps, in accordance with Thomas's order, pushed Couch's division (formerly. Cooper's) past Smith's flank, and beyond the last redoubt which had been captured. Now advancing on the line from the Hillsboro road, eastward, across an open valley half a mile wide, Couch assaulted and carried the left of a series of hills parallel to the Granny White turnpike. The assault was made by Cooper's brigade, and the rest of the division was quickly brought up in support, while Cox's division marched still farther to the right and occupied the continuation of the line of hills along Richland Creek with two brigades, keeping the third (Stiles's) on the heights west of the creek to cover the flank.
These last movements had occurred just as darkness was falling, and completed the day's work on the extreme right. It is now necessary to go back and trace the progress of the Fourth Corps. General Wood had formed the corps with Elliott's division (formerly Wagner's) on the right, connecting with Smith's corps, while Kimball's and Beatty's extended the line to the left. The time occupied in the deployed movement of the right of the army made it one o'clock before it was time for the extreme left to move. Wood then ordered forward Post's brigade of Beatty's division to attack Montgomery Hill, the high point half a mile in front of the salient of our line, on which was Hood's advanced guard. The assault was preceded by rapid artillery fire and was gallantly executed. The general advance of the line was now progressing, and Schofield's corps was ordered away by General Thomas to support the movement of the right flank.
Wood met with a strong skirmishing resistance, but the lines went forward steadily, keeping pace with the troops on the right, till Smith's attack upon the south end of the stone wall along the Hillsboro road, which was held by Walthall. Kimball's division was opposite the angle in Hood's line where Walthall joined upon Loring, having Sears's brigade of French's division between them. Kimball pushed straight at the angle, and the right of the stone wall having already been carried, Walthall's brigades, under Johnson (formerly Quarles's) and Shelley, successively gave way. Elliott's division of Wood's corps lapped upon Garrard's of the Sixteenth, and the whole went forward with enthusiasm, capturing several guns and many prisoners.
Hood's left was now hopelessly broken, and he made haste to draw back his shattered divisions upon a new line. Schofield's advance had separated Coleman's brigade from Walt-hall, but it occupied a commanding hill (afterward known as Shy's Hill),(1) and held on with tenacity till Walthall, helped by the gathering darkness, could form along its right across the Granny White road. At the first news of the loss of the redoubts, Hood ordered Cheatham's corps (except Smith's, formerly Cleburne's division) from the right to the left, and his divisions, hurrying by the Franklin pike toward Overton's Hill, passed great numbers of stragglers streaming to the rear. Bate was ordered to relieve part of Walthall's division, so as to make a stronger line between Shy's Hill and the Granny White road, and Walthall closed to the right upon Loring. South of Shy's Hill, Lowry's (formerly Brown's) division extended the Confederate left in front of Schofield, and the whole worked diligently to intrench themselves. Lee's corps was drawn back till his right encircled Overton's Hill, on which Clayton's division was placed, supported by Brantley's brigade, while Stevenson's and Johnson's divisions extended the line to the west till it united with Loring's division of Stewart's corps.
On our left Steedman had kept his men active. He had attacked and carried an earthwork near the Raines house early in the day, and had followed up the progressive movement of the army, harassing the enemy's right as it drew back.
About nightfall there was a strong appearance of a precipitate retreat of the enemy, and Thomas ordered Wood to move his corps farther to the left, reaching the Franklin turnpike, if possible, and to push southward upon it. This direction was a wise one if the enemy continued his retreat, for it prevented the crowding of the army upon a single road; but had Thomas been sure that Hood would reform upon the new line, he would, no doubt, have continued the general movement of the day by extending his forces to the right. The darkness stopped Wood before he had reached the Franklin road, and he bivouacked where night overtook him, ready to continue the march in the morning. His right was near Smith's left, and his own left was diagonally toward the rear, in the works which Lee's corps had abandoned on the hither side of Brown's Creek.
For the results obtained, the losses had been astonishingly light. Wood reports only three hundred and fifty casualties in his corps, Smith's were about the same, and Schofield's not over one hundred and fifty. Those of Steedman and of Wilson were proportionately small, though the exact figures cannot be given, as the losses of the first and second days are not discriminated in any report but Wood's. Sixteen pieces of artillery and twelve hundred prisoners had been taken, and Hood's whole line had been driven back fully two miles. The work was not completed, but should the enemy maintain his position, the promise for the morrow was good.
Hood now realized the mistake his over-confidence had led him into, by inducing him not only to extend his lines beyond what was prudent, but, worst of all, to allow Forrest to become so far detached that he could not be recalled in time for the battle. Sears's brigade had been brought back to the lines before the 15th, but two others were still with Forrest, and Cockrell's was at Duck River. The Confederate commander set to work in earnest, however, to repair his mistake. The cavalry was too far away to join him in twenty-four hours, but orders were despatched recalling Forrest, and preparations were made to hold the new line another day. As his left still seemed his weak point, Hood ordered the whole of Cheatham's corps to that flank. Shy's Hill, which was held by Coleman's brigade, made the angle in the line, from which the sharply refused flank continued southward, Lowry's division and Smith's (formerly Cleburne's) extending it to the Brentwood Hills. Bate's division was placed, as we have already seen, between Shy's Hill and the flank of Stewart's corps, facing north. Chalmers's division of cavalry was close upon the left of the infantry, bending the line back, somewhat, toward the Granny White road.
The Confederate line now rested upon high hills, Over-ton's and Shy's, between which the ground was lower, though rolling, and was broken by the upper branches of Brown's Creek, which ran in nearly straight courses northward, crossing Hood's position at right angles. Overton's hill was a broad, rounded elevation, and the works, in curving southward around its summit, did not present any sharp angle to weaken their strength. Shy's Hill, however, though high, was of less extent, and the lines of Bate and Lowry made a right angle there. Bate complained of the position, but Hood's engineers had established it, and Cheatham did not feel at liberty to change it. Indeed, it could not have been changed much, unless the whole Confederate army were to retreat. Coleman had been driven to Shy's Hill by Schofield's advance at dusk, and had all he could do to hold on to it at all. The extension of the Twenty-third Corps along the east side of Richland Creek left only the hills directly south of Shy's unoccupied, and it was there alone that the advance of Thomas's right wing could be checked. The National skirmish lines were so close that the digging had to be done on the inside of the parapet chiefly, getting cover for the men as soon as possible. The hill on our side, held by Couch's division, was only three hundred yards from Shy's, and the work on the latter, built under fire, was weak. Farther south, the confronting hills, held by the rest of Cheatham's corps on the one side, and Schofield's on the other, were farther apart, and that in the Confederate line was considerably higher and well wooded on the top. A strong work was made upon it, revetted with timber, with embrasures for cannon, and a parapet high enough to deft-lade the interior; but the fire of our sharpshooters prevented any abatis being made.
General Thomas held a council with his corps commanders in the evening, but no new orders seem to have been issued, except some directions as to movements in the event of a retreat of Hood during the night. If he remained in position, the movements progressing at the close of the day would be continued. During the night the lines on the National side also were adjusted. In Schofield's corps, Couch's division, in making connection with Smith, opened a gap between it and Cox's division, which, after extending the two brigades, which were over Richland Creek, in single line, without reserves, was still unable to join Couch's left by as much as three hundred yards. The disadvantage of drawing in and contracting the extension of the right flank was so manifest, that, upon the report of the fact, Schofield applied to Smith for some of his reserves to complete the line, and at six o'clock in the morning, Colonel Moore reported with five regiments and a battery, and was placed there. Three of the regiments were put in the trenches already there, and two in support of the artillery in rear.
At the same hour, Wood resumed the movement of the Fourth Corps, which had been interrupted in the evening, and Steedman advanced upon the Nolensville road to the abandoned line of the Confederate works, where he half wheeled to the right and came up on Wood's left. The latter first formed his comps with Beatty's division on the left of the Franklin road, and Kimball's on the right, with Elliott in reserve; but finding a large space vacant between himself and the centre of the army, he moved Elliott's division forward into line continuous with Smith's corps. The left of the Fourth Corps, where it now connected with Steedman, remained across the Franklin road, and opposite Overton's Hill, where Hood's line bent back to the south. The National line, therefore, instead of being oblique to the enemy, and far outreaching it on the right, as on the previous day, was parallel and exterior to it from flank to flank, nowhere reaching beyond it, except where Wilson's cavalry was operating beyond Schofield on the Hillsboro road.
About noon, Steedman's troops formed a connection with Wood's, and the latter, by order of General Thomas, took direction of both. Along the whole line the skirmishers were advanced close to the enemy's works, and various points were reconnoitred to determine the feasibility of an assault. Thomas did not order an attack upon the intrenchments, but left the corps commanders to their own discretion in this respect. Wood concentrated his artillery fire upon Overton's Hill, Smith and Schofield maintained a severe cross-fire upon the angle at Shy's Hill, and at other points on the line the opposing batteries were warmly engaged.
Finding that the enemy was strongly intrenched in Wood's front, General Thomas rode to Smith, and learned the results of the reconnoissance there, and, after examining for himself the position, continued on to Schofield's lines on the right. Schofield had ordered Stiles's brigade of Cox's division to leave its position in rear of the extreme right and march farther south, then, turning to the east, to push forward upon a wooded hill on the extension of the line of the division. Thence he was to keep pace with the advance of Wilson's dismounted cavalry, and attack with the rest of the line when it should go forward. The termination of the Confederate continuous works in Cheatham's line, was the embrasured earthwork already referred to, with a recurved flank facing the south. A four-gun battery, of smooth twelve-pound guns, was in this fort, with four more in the curtain connecting it with Shy's Hill. The rifled guns of Cockerell's battery, on the west side of Richland Creek, were able to reach the embrasures of the work in front, while the shells of the smooth guns fell short in the efforts at reply, and the superiority of the National artillery was such that the Confederate gunners were forced to reload their pieces, by drawing them aside with the prolonge, to the protection of the parapet.
On learning the nature of the works in front of Schofield, and the extent of the enemy's line, Thomas ordered Smith to send one of his divisions to extend that flank, but on representations as to the condition of affairs in Smith's front, the order was withdrawn.
Wilson, however, was making good progress with his cavalry, which must now be traced. Johnson's division had not felt strong enough to attack the position of Chalmers, near Bell's Landing, on the 15th, and Wilson's movements had bean made with the rest of the corps. The concentration of Chalmers's division in the night, enabled Wilson to bring Johnson up in the morning, and he now had all three of his divisions in hand. Hammond's had pickets toward the Granny White turnpike, in rear of Hood's left, Hatch's division was ordered to move from his bivouac on the Hillsboro road, on the left of Hammond, and upon the enemy's rear. Johnson was moving across the country from near Bell's Landing. By noon, or shortly after, Wilson's skirmishers formed a continuous curved line from Schofield's right around the enemy's flank across the Granny White road. It was at this time that Schofield ordered the movement of Stiles's brigade, which has been mentioned, and had suggested the desirability of sending a full division of infantry beyond Hood's flank, if one could be spared from the line. He did not think it wise to assault the heavy work in front of Cox's division, except in connection with a general advance.
The situation at the angle on Shy's Hill, however, was opening the prospect of a successful attack there. The advance of Wilson's dismounted cavalry from one wooded hill to another on the south, was making Hood uneasy, and his vehement exhortation to Chalmers, to hold his own, not being enough to overcome the odds against that officer, he was forced to withdraw Govan's brigade from Cheatham's line, and send it to Chalmers's support. Bate was ordered to extend his left, and occupy Shy's Hill, while Coleman, who had been there, was sent to fill Govan's place. Date's line was now a good deal stretched, and he found also that the earthworks built in the night were too far back from the brow of the hill, so that they did not command its Mope. The fire upon it was too hot to change it, he could get no reinforcements, and he could only hold on to the last. Date's own words best describe his situation in the afternoon: "The enemy, he says, opened a most terrific fire of artillery, and kept it up during the day. In the afternoon, he planted a battery in the woods, in the rear of Mrs. Bradford's house (this was in McArthur's line), fired directly across both lines composing the angle, and threw shells directly in the back of my left brigade; also placed a battery on a hill diagonally to my left, which took my first brigade in reverse. (This was in Cox's line.) The batteries on the hill, in its front, not more than three hundred yards distant (in Couch's line) had borne the concentrated fire of my Whitworth rifles all day, and must have suffered heavily, but were not silenced. These rifled guns of the enemy being so close, razed the works on the left of the angle for fifty or sixty yards."
General McArthur, from his position, was able to see something of the mischief done to Date's line, and reported that an assault upon the angle was practicable. He proposed to move McMillan's brigade to the right, in front of the hill held by Couch, and to charge under the cover of Couch's guns, where the hillside gave most protection to an advance. Thomas approved the plan, and Smith sent to Schofield for directions to Couch to co-operate. Schofield acceded to this, and directed Cox also to attack the hill in his front simultaneously, while Stiles should advance beyond the flank with the cavalry. It was now near four o'clock, and Thomas was in person at Schofield's position, from which Shy's Hill, and the whole range south, to the Brentwood Hills, were in full view.
The whole connection of events will be best understood if we now return to the left flank, where Wood had been making anxious examination of the enemy's position on Overton's Hill, and upon the report of a reconnoissance by Colonel Post, had determined to try the chances of an attack there. The assault from the Fourth Corps' position was assigned to Post's brigade of Beatty's division, supported by Streight's. Thompson's colored brigade, of Steed-man's command, supported by Grosvenor's brigade, were to attack at the same time from the east. A concentrated artillery, fire upon the hill preceded the assault, and at three o'clock the order to advance was given. A cloud of skirmishers ran forward to draw the enemy's fire and to annoy the artillerists in the works, and the brigades in line followed them. Nearing the intrenchments, they rushed forward, some of the men gaining the parapet, but they were received with so hot a fire, that they could not endure it, and after a short, sharp straggle they recoiled. Their retreat was covered by the rest of Beatty's division and Steed-man's reserves, and by the artillery. These were so handled that the enemy did not venture from his works, and our wounded were brought safely off; but the casualties were probably half of all that occurred in the battle, adding; mother to the many proofs of the terrible disadvantage at which a direct assault of a well intrenched line is usually made. Colonel Post was wounded, and the loss in officers was heavy, for they exposed themselves fearlessly in leading their men.
At the angle in the Confederate works held by Bate, at Shy's Hill, the circumstances were different. His lines, as we have seen, were enfiladed and taken in reverse; his parapet was levelled for some distance; the closeness of Couch's batteries, the near approach of our skirmishers, the attenuation of Bate's troops, the cover for the approach of the assailing force under the hill-slope, all combined to neutralize the advantage of modern weapons, and to give the assault the preponderance of chances which justify it. While the fire upon the angle was kept up with increasing severity, McArthur ordered Colonel McMillan to form his brigade in the hollow before Couch's works, and when they should be half-way up the hill, the brigades to the left were to advance in éhelon, attacking the lower line before them.
Wilson's dismounted cavalry had been advancing from the south, gaining position after position, and increasing their ardor as they advanced. Their numbers enabled them to outflank Govan's brigade, which Hood had sent to assist Chalmers in holding them back, and as they approached Schofield's position Stiles's brigade of infantry came in close support. The balls from this attacking force were now falling in rear of Bate and Lowry, and the men of Cleburne's old division were vainly trying to form a line long or strong enough to match that which was coming from the south. Wilson had gone in person to Thomas, at Schofield's position, to report what his men were doing, and reached him just as McMillan's brigade was seen to rush forward upon the slope of Shy's Hill. At a sign from Schofield, Cox's division started also on the run, Doolittle's brigade in advance. Wilson turned to gallop back to his command, but before he could get half-way there, the whole Confederate left was crushed in like an egg-shell.
McMillan swept unchecked over Bate's ruined line at Shy's Hill. The gallant Colonel of the Twentieth Tennessee did all that man could do to hold it, and dying at his post, gave to the height the name it bears. The arch was broken; there were no reserves to restore it, and from right and left the Confederate troops peeled away from the works in wild confusion. From the heavy earthwork in front of Doolittle one volley of cannon and small arms was fired, but in the excitement it was aimed so high as to do no mischief, and Cox's whole division way over the works before they could reload. At the same time Hatch and Knipe, with their divisions of dismounted men, rushed in from the right, and, abandoning their artillery, the Confederates west of the Granny White road crowded eastward, running for life. Some were killed, many were captured, and Smith's and Schofield's men met upon the turnpike at right angles, and were halted to prevent their organizations from being confused together.
Hubbard's brigade, of McArthur's division, which followed McMillan's movement, met with more resistance, and suffered more severely; but though some of the Confederate regiments held tenaciously to their works, and surrendered in form, most of the troops broke their organizations entirely when the advance was taken up from centre to wings, and Wood's divisions now charged, with hardly a show of opposition, over Overton's Hill, from which they had been driven back an hour before.
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