Report of Maj. Gen. Nathan B. Forrest, C.S. Army,
Commanding Cavalry, Of Operations In
North Alabama and Middle Tennessee Relating to
The Battle of Nashville
HEADQUARTERS FORREST'S CAVALRY CORPS,
Verona, Miss., January 24, 1865.
Col. A. P. MASON,
COLONEL: I have the honor to submit the following report of the operations of the troops under my command during the recent movements in Middle Tennessee:
While in West Tennessee I received orders from General Beauregard on the 30th of October, to report without delay to General Hood at Florence, Ala. I was then actively operating against Johnsonville, and so soon as I completed the destruction of the enemy's fleet and stores at that place I commenced moving up the Tennessee River. I halted my command at Perryville with a view of crossing the river at that point, but being without facilities, and the river already high and rising rapidly, I found it impossible to cross over. I succeeded, however, in throwing across a portion of Rucker's brigade, while I moved to Corinth with the balance of my command. My men and horses were much jaded, but I moved at once to Florence and crossed the river on the 16th and 17th of November. On my arrival at Florence I was placed in command of the entire cavalry then with the Army of Tennessee, consisting of Brigadier-General Jackson's division and a portion of Dibrell's brigade, under command of Colonel Biffle, amounting to about 2,000 men, together with three brigades of my former command, making in all about 5,000 cavalry. I bivouacked my command at Shoal Creek until the morning of the 21st, when, in obedience to orders from General Hood, I commenced a forward movement. My command consisted of three divisions--Chalmers', Buford's, and Jackson's. I ordered Brigadier-General Chalmers to advance via West Point, Kelly's Forge, Henryville, and Mount Pleasant. Brigadier-Generals Buford and Jackson were ordered to move up the military road to Lawrenceburg, and thence southeastward in the direction of Pulaski. Both these divisions had several engagements with the enemy, and were almost constantly skirmishing with him, but drove him in every encounter.
At Henryville Brigadier-General Chalmers developed the enemy's cavalry and captured forty-five prisoners. At Fouche Springs the enemy made another stand. I ordered General Chalmers to throw forward Rucker's brigade and to keep up a slight skirmish with the enemy until I could gain his rear. I ordered Lieutenant-Colonel Kelley to move by the left flank and join me in rear of the enemy. Taking my escort with me I moved rapidly to the rear. Lieutenant-Colonel Kelley being prevented from joining me as I had expected, I made the charge upon the enemy with my escort alone, producing a perfect stampede, capturing about 50 prisoners, 20 horses, and 1 ambulance. It was now near night, and I placed my escort in ambush. Colonel Rucker pressed upon the enemy, and as they rushed into the ambuscade my escort fired into them, producing the wildest confusion. I ordered Colonel Rucker to rest his command until 1 a.m., when the march was renewed toward Mount Pleasant, where he captured 35,000 rounds of small-arm ammunition and the guard left in charge of it. Meantime Brigadier-Generals Buford and Jackson had proceeded from Lawrenceburg toward Pulaski and encountered Hatch's division of cavalry at Campbellsville, and routed him after a short but vigorous engagement, in which he lost about 100 prisoners and several in killed and wounded. Most of my troops having reached Columbia on the evening of the 24th I invested the town from Duck River to the extreme north, which position I held until the arrival of the infantry on the morning of the 27th, when I was relieved.
Columbia having been evacuated on the night of the 28th [27th] I was ordered to move across Duck River on the morning of the 28th. Chalmers' division was ordered to cross at Carr's Mill, seven miles above Columbia, Jackson's, at Holland's Ford, while I crossed at Owen's Ford with a portion of Colonel Biffle's regiment. Before leaving Columbia I sent my escort to Shelbyville for the purpose of ascertaining the movements of the enemy and destroying the railroad, and I regret to announce that Captain Jackson was seriously wounded on this expedition. On the night of the 28th I was joined by Chalmers' division about eight miles from Columbia on the Spring Hill and Carr's Mill road. Jackson's division was ordered to proceed to the vicinity of Hurt's Cross Roads on the Lewisburg pike. At 11 o'clock at night I received a dispatch from General Buford informing me that the enemy had made such s stubborn resistance to his crossing that he could not join the command until the morning of the 29th. I ordered General Jackson to move along the Lewisburg pike toward Franklin until he developed the enemy. Brigadier-General Armstrong notified me that he had struck the enemy, when I ordered him not to press too vigorously until I reached his flank with Chalmers' division. The enemy gradually fell back, making resistance only at favorable positions. After waiting a short time for my troops to close up, I moved rapidly toward Spring Hill with my entire command. Two miles from town the enemy's pickets were encountered and heavy skirmishing ensued. I ordered General Armstrong to form his brigade in line of battle. I also ordered a portion of the Kentucky brigade and the Fourteenth Tennessee Regiment, under Colonel White, to form, which being done I ordered a charge upon the enemy, but he was so strongly posted upon the crest of a hill that my troops were compelled to fall back. I then dismounted my entire command and moved upon the enemy. With a few men I moved to the left on a high hill, where I discovered the enemy hurriedly moving his wagon train up the Franklin pike. I ordered my command to push the enemy's right flank with all possible vigor. At the same time I ordered Brigadier-General Buford to send me a regiment mounted. He sent the Twenty-first Tennessee, Colonel Wilson commanding, which I ordered to charge upon the enemy. Colonel Wilson at the head of his splendid regiment made a gallant charge through an open field. He received three wounds, but refused to leave his command. About this time I received orders from General Hood to hold my position at all hazards, as the advance of his infantry column was only two miles distant and rapidly advancing. I ordered up my command, already dismounted. Colonel Bell's brigade was the first to reach me, when I immediately ordered it to the attack. Major-General Cleburne's division soon arrived, and, after some delay, was formed in line of battle and moved upon the enemy on my left. Colonel Bell reported that he had only four rounds of ammunition to the man when I ordered him to charge the enemy. This order was executed with a promptness and energy and gallantry which I have never seen excelled. The enemy was driven from his rifle-pits, and fled toward Spring Hill. I then ordered Brigadier-General Jackson to move with his division in the direction of Thompson's Station and there intercept the enemy. He struck the road at Fitzgerald's, four miles from Spring Hill, at 11 o'clock, just as the front of the enemy's column had passed. This attack was a complete surprise, producing much panic and confusion. Brigadier-General Jackson had possession of the pike and fought the enemy until near daylight, but receiving no support, he was compelled to retire, after killing a large number of horses and mules and burning several wagons.
Chalmers' and Buford's divisions being out of ammunition, I supplied them from the infantry (my ordnance being still at Columbia), when I ordered Brigadier-General Chalmers to move at daylight on the morning of the 30th to the Carter's Creek turnpike, between Columbia and Spring Hill, and there intercept a column of the enemy reported to be cut off. General Chalmers moved as ordered, but reported to me that the enemy had passed unmolested on the main pike during the night. Buford and Jackson were ordered to move forward with their divisions on the Franklin pike and to attack the enemy. They overtook his rear two miles from where General Jackson had cut his column the night previous and pushed him on to Winstead's Hill, where he was strongly posted. General Stewart's corps arriving upon the ground, I moved with Buford's and Jackson's divisions to the right, my right extending to Harpeth River, and ordered Brigadier-General Chalmers on the left. The enemy retired from Winstead's Hill toward their fortifications at Franklin. I ordered Brigadier-General Chalmers to advance on the left, which he did, charging and dislodging the enemy from every position he had taken. The enemy was posted on a strong hill on the opposite side of Harpeth River, from which position he was firing upon our troops on the Lewisburg pike. I ordered Brigadier-General Jackson to cross over and drive the enemy from this hill and to protect our right. I ordered Brigadier-General Buford to dismount his command and take position in line of battle on the right of Stewart's corps, covering the ground from the Lewisburg pike to Harpeth River. Skirmishing at once commenced, and Buford's division rapidly advancing drove the enemy across Harpeth River, where he joined the cavalry. Brigadier-General Jackson engaged the united forces of both infantry and cavalry, and held him in check until night, when he threw forward his pickets and retired across Harpeth for the purpose of replenishing his ammunition. The enemy held strong position commanding all the fords. I ordered Brigadier-General Buford to remount his command and hold himself in readiness for action at a moment's warning. Brigadier-General Jackson's troops being out of ammunition, and my ordnance still in the rear, Captain Vanderford furnished me with the necessary supply.
At daylight on the 1st of December I moved across Harpeth River and advanced up the Wilson pike, and struck the enemy at Owen's CrossRoads, in strong force. I ordered Captain Morton to open upon him with his battery. Soon afterward I ordered Brigadier-General Buford to charge, which order he executed by dislodging the enemy and capturing several prisoners. I then moved with Jackson's and Buford's divisions to Brentwood, where I was joined by Brigadier-General Chalmers. Ordering Chalmers to proceed with his division up the Franklin and Hillsborough pike, and to cross over and intercept, if possible, the enemy retreating toward Nashville, I moved with Buford's and Jackson's divisions toward the Nashville pike, and, learning the enemy had reached Nashville, I camped for the night.
On the following morning (the 2d) I ordered Brigadier-General Chalmers to move on the left and to guard the Hillsborough and Hardin pikes, while I proceeded to the right with Buford's and Jackson's divisions and took position in sight of the capitol at Nashville. I ordered Brigadier-General Buford to move with his division across to Mill Creek and to form line of battle near the lunatic asylum on the Murfrees-borough pike. Jackson's division was ordered into position so as to cover the Nashville and Mill Creek pike. My command being relieved by the infantry I commenced operating upon the railroad, block-houses, and telegraph lines leading from Nashville to Murfreesborough. I ordered Buford's division on the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad for the purpose of destroying stockades and block-houses.
On the 3d of December stockade No. 2 surrendered, with 80 prisoners, 10 men killed, and 20 wounded in the attack by Morton's battery. On the day previous, while assaulting stockade No. 2, a train of cars came from Chattanooga loaded with negro troops. The train was captured, but most of the troops made their escape.
On the 4th I ordered Brigadier-General Buford to attack block-house No. 3, but the demand for surrender was complied with, and the garrison of thirty-two men made prisoners. An assault was also ordered on stockade No. I, on Mill Creek, but the garrison unhesitatingly surrendered. I ordered the destruction of the block-house and two stockades, in which were captured 150 prisoners.
On the morning of the 4th I received orders to move with Buford's and Jackson's divisions to Murfreesborough, and to leave 250 men on the right to picket from the Nashville and Murfreesborough pike to the Cumberland River. Colonel Nixon, of Bell's brigade, was left for this purpose.
On the morning of the 5th I moved, as ordered, toward Murfreesborough. At La Vergne I ordered Brigadier-General Jackson to move on the right of town and invest the fort on the hill, while I moved with Buford's division to block-house No. 4. The usual demand for surrender was sent under flag of truce and a surrender made. The garrison on the hill, consisting of 80 men, 2 pieces of artillery, several wagons, and a considerable supply of stores, also surrendered to Brigadier-General Jackson. A large number of houses, built and occupied by the enemy, were ordered to be burned.
Four miles from La Vergne I formed a junction with Major-General Bate, who had been ordered to report to me with his division for the purpose of operating against Murfreesborough. I ordered Brigadier-General Jackson to send a brigade across to the Wilson [Wilkinson] pike, and moving on both pikes the enemy was driven into his works at Murfreesborough. After ordering General Buford to picket from the Nashville and Murfreesborough to the Lebanon pikes on the left and Jackson to picket on the right to the Salem pike, I encamped for the night.
The infantry arrived on the morning of the 6th, when I immediately ordered it in line of battle and to move upon the enemy's works. After skirmishing for two hours the enemy ceased firing, and showed no disposition to give battle. I ordered a regiment from Brigadier-General Armstrong's brigade, with which I made a careful reconnaissance of the enemy's position and works. On the evening of the 6th I was re-enforced by Sears' and Palmer's brigades of infantry. I ordered Colonel Palmer in position on the right upon a hill, and to fortify during the night.
On the morning of the 7th I discovered from the position occupied by Colonel Palmer the enemy moving out in strong force on the Salem pike, with infantry, cavalry, and artillery. Being fully satisfied that his object was to make battle, I withdrew my forces to the Wilkinson pike, and formed a new line on a more favorable position. The enemy moved boldly forward, driving in my pickets, when the infantry, with the exception of Smith's brigade, from some cause which I cannot explain, made a shameful retreat, losing two pieces of artillery. I seized the colors of the retreating troops and endeavored to rally them but they could not be moved by any entreaty or appeal to their patriotism. Major-General Bate did the same thing, but was equally as unsuccessful as myself. I hurriedly sent Major Strange, of my staff, to Brigadier-Generals Armstrong and Ross, of Jackson's division, with orders to say to them that everything depended on their cavalry. They proved themselves equal to the emergency by charging on the enemy, thereby checking his farther advance. I ordered the infantry to retire to Stewart's Creek, while my cavalry encamped during the night at Overall's Creek. The enemy returning to Murfreesborough, I ordered my cavalry to resume its former position.
It is proper to state here that I ordered Brigadier-General Buford to protect my left flank, but he was so remote the order never reached him. While the fight was going on, however, he made a demonstration on Murfreesborough, and succeeded in reaching the center of town, but was soon compelled to retire.
On the 9th General Hood sent to my support Smith's brigade, commanded by Colonel Olmstead, and ordered Bate's division to report back to his headquarters. On the 11th I ordered Brigadier-General Buford to proceed to the Hermitage, and to picket the Cumberland River, so as to prevent any flank movement in that direction. On the 12th I ordered the infantry to destroy the railroad from La Vergne to Murfreesborough, which was most effectually done. Brigadier-General Jackson, who had been previously ordered to operate south of Murfreesborough, captured, on the 13th, a train of seventeen cars and the Sixty-first Illinois Regiment of Infantry, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Grass. The train was loaded with supplies of 60,000 rations, sent from Stevenson to Murfreesborough, all of which were consumed by fire, after which the prisoners, about 200 in number, were sent to the rear.
On the 14th I moved with Colonels Olmstead's and Pahner's brigades across Stone's River and east of Murfreesborough, with a view of capturing the enemy's forage train, but on the evening of the 15th I received notice from General Hood that a general engagement was then going on at Nashville, and to hold myself in readiness to move at any moment. Accordingly, on the 16th I moved my entire command to the Wilkinson Cross-Roads, at the terminus of the Wilkinson pike, six miles from Murfreesborough. On the night of the 16th one of General Hood's staff officers arrived, informing me of the disaster at Nashville and ordering me to fall back via Shelbyville and Pulaski. I immediately dispatched orders to Brigadier-General Buford to fall back from the Cumberland River, via La Vergne, to the Nashville pike, and to protect my rear until I could move my artillery and wagon train. From this position General Buford was ordered across to the Nashville and Columbia pike, for the purpose of protecting the rear of General Hood's retreating army. My sick, wounded, and wagon train being at Triune, I did not retreat via Shelbyville, but moved in the direction of Lillard's Mills, on Duck River. I ordered Brigadier-General Armstrong to the Nashville and Columbia pike. Most of the infantry under my command were barefooted and in a disabled condition, and being encumbered with several hundred head of hogs and cattle, my march along the almost impassable roads was unavoidably slow. On reaching Duck River at Lillard's Mills I ordered everything to be hurried across, as the stream was rapidly rising. After putting over a part of my wagon train the stream became unfordable. I was therefore compelled to change my direction to Columbia, which place I reached on the evening of the 18th.
On the morning of the 19th the enemy was reported at Rutherford's Creek in strong force. I immediately commenced disposing of my troops for the purpose of preventing his crossing. Everything being across Duck River I was ordered by General Hood to withdraw my command at 3 o'clock, which I did, and went into camp at Columbia. Chalmers' division having been sent to the right, I am unable to state anything from personal knowledge as to his operations from the 3d to the 19th; but I learn from his official report that his line extended from the Hillsborough pike, on the right, across the Hardin and Charlotte pikes to the river, on the left; that he captured two transports laden with horses and mules; that the transports were recaptured, but leaving on his hands 56 prisoners and 197 horses and mules; that the enemy made several attempts with his monitors and gun-boats to silence his river batteries, all of which were unsuccessful; that he maintained a strict blockade of the river and his position until Ector's brigade of infantry fell back; that he prevented Hatch from gaining the rear of our army; and that he was constantly and severely engaged every day while protecting the rear of General Hood's army until he crossed Rutherford's Creek.
On the 20th General Hood, on leaving Columbia, gave me orders to hold the town as long as possible, and when compelled to retire to move in the direction of Florence, Ala., via Pulaski, protecting and guarding his rear. To aid me in this object he ordered Major-General Walthall to report to me with about 1,900 infantry, 400 of whom were unserviceable for want of shoes. The enemy appeared in front of Columbia on the evening of the 20th and commenced a furious shelling upon the town. Under a flag of truce I proceeded to the river and asked an interview with General Hatch, who I informed by verbal communication across the river that there were no Confederate troops in town, and that his shelling would only result in injury to the women and children and his own wounded, after which interview the shelling was discontinued.
The enemy succeeded in crossing Duck River on the morning of the 22d. I at once ordered my troops to fall back in the direction of Pulaski. Brigadier-General Chalmers was ordered on the right down the Bigbyville pike toward Bigbyville. The infantry moved down the main pike from Columbia to Pulaski, the rear protected by both Buford's and Jackson's divisions of cavalry, while a few scouts were thrown out on the left flank. The enemy made his first demonstration on my rear pickets near Warfield's, three miles south of Columbia. He opened upon us with artillery, which forced us to retire farther down the road in a gap made by two high hills on each side of the road, where he was held in check for some time. On the night of the 23d I halted my command at and near Lynnville, in order to hold the enemy in check and to prevent any pressure upon my wagon train and the stock then being driven out.
On the morning of the 24th I ordered the infantry back toward Columbia on the main pike and my cavalry on the right and left flanks. After advancing about three miles the enemy was met, where a severe engagement occurred and the enemy was held in check for two hours. I retreated two miles, where I took position at Richland Creek. Briga-dier-General Armstrong was thrown forward in front and General Ross on the right flank. Chalmers and Buford formed a junction, and were ordered on the left flank. Brigadier-General Armstrong was ordered to the support of six pieces of my artillery, which were placed in position immediately on the main pike and on a line with Buford's and Chalmer's divisions and Ross' brigade, of Jackson's division. After severe artillery firing on both sides two pieces of the enemy's artillery were dismounted. The enemy then flanked to the right and left and crossed Richland Creek on my right, with the view of gaining my rear. I immediately ordered Armstrong and Ross, of Jackson's division, to cross the bridge on the main pike and move around and engage the enemy, who were crossing the creek. Both Buford and Chalmers were heavily pressed on the left, and after an engagement of two hours I ordered them to fall back across Richland Creek. I lost 1 killed and 6 wounded in this engagement. The enemy lost heavily. Brigadier-General Buford was wounded in this engagement, and I ordered Brigadier-General Chalmers to assume command of Brigadier-General Buford's division together with his own. I reached Pulaski without further molestation.
On the morning of the 25th, after destroying all the ammunition which could not be removed from Pulaski by General Hood and two trains of cars, I ordered General Jackson to remain in town as long as possible and to destroy the bridge at Richland Creek after everything had passed over. The enemy soon pressed General Jackson, but he held him in check for some time, killing and wounding several before retiring. Seven miles from Pulaski I took position on King's Hill, and awaiting the advance of the enemy, repulsed him, with a loss of 150 killed and wounded, besides capturing many prisoners and one piece of artillery. The enemy made no further demonstrations during the day. I halted my command at Sugar Creek, where it encamped during the night.
On the morning of the 26th the enemy commenced advancing, driving back General Ross' pickets. Owing to the dense fog he could not see the temporary fortifications which the infantry had thrown up and behind which they were secreted. The enemy therefore advanced to within fifty paces of these works, when a volley was opened upon him, causing the wildest confusion. Two mounted regiments of Ross' brigade and Ector's and Granbury's brigades of infantry were ordered to charge upon the discomfited foe, which was done, producing a complete rout. The enemy was pursued for two miles, but showing no disposition to give battle my troops were ordered back. In this engagement he sustained a loss of about 150 in killed and wounded; many prisoners and horses were captured and about 400 horses killed. I held this position for two hours, but the enemy showing no disposition to renew the attack, and fearing he might attempt a flank movement in the dense fog, I resumed the march, after leaving a picket with orders to remain until 4 o'clock. The enemy made no further attack between Sugar Creek and Tennessee River, which stream I crossed on the evening of the 27th of December. The infantry were ordered to report back to their respective corps, and I moved with my cavalry to Corinth.
The campaign was full of trial and suffering, but the troops under my command, both cavalry and infantry, submitted to every hardship with an uncomplaining patriotism; with a single exception, they behaved with commendable gallantry.
From the day I left Florence, on the 21st of November, to the 27th of December my cavalry were engaged every day with the enemy. My loss in killed and wounded has been heavy. I brought out of the campaign three pieces of artillery more than I strutted with.
My command captured and destroyed 16 block-houses and stockades, 20 bridges, several hundred horses and mules, 20 yoke of oxen, 4 locomotives, and 100 cars and 10 miles of railroad, while I have turned over to the provost-marshal-general about 1,600 prisoners.
To my division commanders--Brigadier-Generals Chalmers, Buford, and Jackson--I take pleasure in acknowledging the promptitude with which they obeyed and executed all orders. If I have failed to do justice in this report it is because they have not furnished me with a detailed report of the operations of their respective commands.
I am also indebted to Major-General Walthall for much valuable service rendered during the retreat from Columbia. 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.
I am again under obligations to my staff for their efficient aid during the campaign.
All of which is respectfully submitted,
N. B. FORREST,
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