Report of General John B. Hood, C. S. Army,
Commanding Army of Tennessee
Battle of Nashville
February 15, 1865.
General S. COOPER,
Adjutant and Inspector General, Richmond, Va.
Forrest's cavalry joined me on the 21st of November and the movement began, Major-General Cheatham's corps taking the road toward Waynesborough, and the other two corps moving on roads somewhat parallel with this, but more to the eastward, with the cavalry under General Forrest in the advance and upon their right flank. The enemy's forces at this time were concentrated at Pulaski, with some force also at Lawrenceburg. I hoped to be able to place the army between these forces of the enemy and Nashville; but he evacuated Pulaski upon the 23rd, hearing of our advance (our cavalry having furiously driven off their forces at Lawrenceburg), and moved rapidly by the turnpike and railroad to Columbia.
The want of a good map of the country, and the deep mud through which the army marched, prevented our overtaking the enemy before he reached Columbia, but on the evening of the 27th of November our army was placed in position in front of his works at that place. During the night, however, he evacuated the town, taking position on the opposite side of the river about a mile and a half from the town, which was considered quite strong in front.
Late in the evening of the 28th of November General Forrest, with most of his command, crossed Duck River a few miles above Columbia, and I followed early in the morning of the 29th with Stewart's and Cheatham's corps, and Johnson's division, of Lee's corps, leaving the other divisions of Lee's corps in the enemy's front at Columbia. The troops moved in light marching order, with only a battery to the corps, my object being to turn the enemy's flank, by marching rapidly on roads parallel to the Columbia and Franklin pike, at or near Spring Hill, and to cut off that portion of the enemy at or near Columbia. When I had gotten well on his flank the enemy discovered my intention and began to retreat on the pike toward Spring Hill. The cavalry became engaged near that place about midday, but his trains were so strongly guarded that they were unable to break through them. About 4 p.m. our infantry forces, Major-General Cheatham in the advance, commenced to come in contact with the enemy about two miles from Spring Hill, through which place the Columbia and Franklin pike runs. The enemy was at this time moving rapidly along the pike, with some of his troops formed on the flank of his column to protect it. Major-General Cheatham was ordered to attack the enemy at once vigorously and get possession of this pike, and, although these orders were frequently and earnestly repeated, he made but a feeble and partial attack, failing to reach the point indicated. Had my instructions been carried out there is no doubt that we should have possessed ourselves of this road. Stewart's corps and Johnson's division were arriving upon the field to support the attack. Though the golden opportunity had passed with daylight, I did not at dark abandon the hope of dealing the enemy a heavy blow. Accordingly, Lieutenant-General Stewart was furnished a guide and ordered to move his corps beyond Cheatham's and place it across the road beyond Spring Hill. Shortly after this General Cheatham came to my headquarters, and when I informed him of Stewart's movement, he said that Stewart ought to form on his right. I asked if that would throw Stewart across the pike. He replied that it would, and a mile beyond. Accordingly, one of Cheatham's staff officers was sent to show Stewart where his (Cheatham's)right rested. In the dark and confusion he did not succeed in getting the position desired, but about 11 p.m. went into bivouac. About 12 p.m., ascertaining that the enemy was moving in great confusion, artillery, wagons, and troops intermixed, I sent instructions to General Cheatham to advance a heavy line of skirmishers against him and still further impede and confuse his march. This was not accomplished. The enemy continued to move along the road in hurry and confusion, within hearing nearly all the night. Thus was lost a great opportunity of striking the enemy for which we had labored so long--the greatest this campaign had offered, and one of the greatest during the war.
Lieutenant-General Lee, left in front of the enemy at Columbia, was instructed to press the enemy the moment he abandoned his position at that point. The enemy did not abandon his works at that place till dark, showing that his trains obstructed the road for fifteen miles during the day and a great part of the night.
At daylight we followed as fast as possible toward Franklin, Lieuten-ant-General Stewart in the advance, Major-General Cheatham following, and General Lee, with the trains, moving from Columbia on the same road. We pursued the enemy rapidly and compelled him to burn a number of his wagons. He made a feint as if to give battle on the hills about four miles south of Franklin, but as soon as our forces began to deploy for the attack and to flank him on his left he retired slowly to Franklin.
I learned from dispatches captured at Spring Hill, from Thomas to Schofield, that the latter was instructed to hold that place till the position at Franklin could be made secure, indicating the intention of Thomas to hold Franklin and his strong works at Murfreesborough. Thus I knew that it was all important to attack Schofield before he could make himself strong, and if he should escape at Franklin he would gain his works about Nashville. The nature of the position was such as to render it inexpedient to attempt any further flank movement, and I therefore determined to attack him in front, and without delay.
On the 30th of November Stewart's corps was placed in position on the right, Cheatham's on the left, and the cavalry on either flank, the main body of the cavalry on the right, under Forrest. Johnson's division, of Lee's corps, also became engaged on the left during the engagement. The line advanced at 4 p.m., with orders to drive the enemy into or across the Big Harpeth River, while General Forrest, if successful, was to cross the river and attack and destroy his trains and broken columns. The troops moved forward most gallantly to the attack. We carried the enemy's first line of hastily constructed works handsomely. We then advanced against his interior line, and succeeded in carrying it also in some places. Here the engagement was of the fiercest possible character. Our men possessed themselves of the exterior of the works, while the enemy held the interior. Many of our men were killed entirely inside the works. The brave men captured were taken inside his works in the edge of the town. The struggle lasted till near midnight, when the enemy abandoned his works and crossed the river, leaving his dead and wounded in our possession. Never did troops fight more gallantly. The works of the enemy were so hastily constructed that while he had a slight abatis in front of a part of his line there was none on his extreme right. During the day I was restrained from using my artillery on account of the women and children remaining in the town. At night it was massed ready to continue the action in the morning, but the enemy retired.
We captured about 1,000 prisoners and several stand of colors. Our loss in killed, wounded, and prisoners was 4,500. Among the killed was Maj. Gen. P. R. Cleburne, Brigadier-Generals Gist, John Adams, Strahl, and Granbury. Major-General Brown, Brigadier-Generals Carter, Manigault, Quarles, Cockrell, and Scott were wounded, and Brigadier-General Gordon captured.
The number of dead left by the enemy on the field indicated that his loss was equal or near our own.
The next morning at daylight, the wounded being cared for and the dead buried, we moved forward toward Nashville, Forrest with his cavalry pursuing the enemy vigorously.
On the 2d of December the army took position in front of Nashville, about two miles from the city. Lieutenant-General Lee's corps constituted our center, resting upon the Franklin pike, with Cheatham's corps upon the right and Stewart's on the left, and the cavalry on either flank, extending to the river. I was causing strong detached works to be built to cover our flanks, intending to make them inclosed works, so as to defeat any attempt of the enemy should he undertake offensive movements against our flank and rear. The enemy still held Murfrees-borough with about 6,000 men, strongly fortified; he also held small forces at Chattanooga and Knoxville. It was apparent that he would soon have to take the offensive to relieve his garrisons at those points or cause them to be evacuated, in which case I hoped to capture the forces at Murfreesborough, and should then be able to open communication with Georgia and Virginia. Should he attack me in position I felt that I could defeat him, and thus gain possession of Nashville with abundant supplies for the army. This would give me possession of Tennessee. Necessary steps were taken to furnish the army with supplies, which the people were ready and willing to furnish. Shoe-shops were in operation in each brigade. We had captured sufficient railroad stock to use the road to Pulaski, and it was already in successful operation. Having possession of the State, we should have gained largely in recruits, and could at an early day have moved forward to the Ohio, which would have frustrated the plans of the enemy, as developed in his campaign toward the Atlantic coast.
I had sent Major-General Forrest, with the greatest part of his cavalry and Bate's division of infantry, to Murfreesborough, to ascertain if it was possible to take the place. After a careful examination and reconnaissance in force, in which, I am sorry to say, the infantry behaved badly, it was determined that nothing could be accomplished by assault. Bate's division was then withdrawn, leaving Forrest with Jackson's and Buford's divisions of cavalry in observation. Mercer's and Palmer's brigades of infantry were sent to replace Bate's division. Shortly afterward Buford's division was withdrawn and ordered to the right of the army, on the Cumberland River.
Nothing of importance occurred until the morning of the 15th of December when the enemy, having received heavy re-enforcements, attacked simultaneously both our flanks. On our right he was handsomely repulsed, with heavy loss, but on our left, toward evening, he carried some partially completed redoubts of those before mentioned.
During the night of the 15th our whole line was shortened and strengthened; our left was also thrown back; dispositions were made to meet any renewed attack. The corps of Major-General Cheatham was transferred from our right to our left, leaving Lieutenant-General Lee on our right, who had been previously in the center, and placing Lieutenant-General Stewart's corps in the center, which had been previously the left.
Early on the 16th of December the enemy made a general attack on our lines, accompanied by a heavy fire of artillery. All his assaults were repulsed with heavy loss till 3.30 p.m., when a portion of our line to the left of the center, occupied by Bate's division, suddenly gave way. Up to this time no battle ever progressed more favorably; the troops in excellent spirits, waving their colors and bidding defiance to the enemy. The position gained by the enemy being such as to enfilade our line caused in a few moments our entire line to give way and our troops to retreat rapidly down the pike in the direction of Franklin, most of them, I regret to say, in great confusion, all efforts to reform them being fruitless. Our loss in artillery was heavy--54 guns. Thinking it impossible for the enemy to break our line, the horses were sent to the rear for safety, and the giving way of the line was so sudden that it was not possible to bring forward the horses to move the guns which had been placed in position. Our loss in killed and wounded was small. At Brentwood, some four miles from our line of battle, the troops were somewhat collected, and Lieutenant-General Lee took command of the rear guard, encamping for the night in the vicinity. On leaving the field I sent a staff officer to inform General Forrest of our defeat, and to direct him to rejoin the army with as little delay as possible to protect its rear, but owing to the swollen condition of the creeks, caused by the heavy rain then falling, he was unable to join us until we reached Columbia, with the exception of a portion of his command, which reached us while the enemy was moving from Franklin to Spring Hill.
On the 17th we continued the retreat toward Columbia, encamping for the night at Spring Hill. During this day's march the enemy's cavalry pressed with great boldness and activity, charging our infantry repeatedly with the saber, and at times penetrating our lines. The country being open was favorable to their operations. I regret to say that also on this day Lieutenant-General Lee, commanding the covering force, was severely wounded in the foot. We continued our retreat across Duck River to Columbia, the corps alternating as rear guards to the army. Lieutenant-General Lee and the corps commanded by him deserve great credit.
After the fight at Nashville I at first hoped to be able to remain in Tennessee, on the line of Duck River; but after arriving at Columbia I became convinced that the condition of the army made it necessary to recross the Tennessee without delay; and on the 21st the army resumed its march for Pulaski, leaving Major General Walthall, with Ector's, Strahl's, Maney's, Granbury's, and Palmer's infantry brigades, at Columbia as a rear guard, under General Forrest. From Pulaski I moved by the most direct road to the Bainbridge crossing on the Tennessee River, which was reached on the 25th, where the army crossed without interruption, completing the crossing on the 27th, including our rear guard, which the enemy followed with all his cavalry and three corps of infantry to Pulaski, and with cavalry between Pulaski and the Tennessee River. After crossing the river the army moved by easy marches to Tupelo, Miss. Our pontoon and supply trains were ordered at once to the vicinity of Columbus, Miss., by the most direct route, that the animals might be more easily foraged, and while on the march there were pursued by a small body of the enemy's cavalry, and owing to the neglect of Brigadier General Roddey's cavalry were overtaken and the pontoon train and a small portion of the supply train destroyed. Here, finding so much dissatisfaction throughout the country as in my judgment to greatly impair, if not destroy, my usefulness and counteract my exertions, and with no desire but to serve my country, I asked to be relieved, with the hope that another might be assigned to the command who might do more than I could hope to accomplish. Accordingly, I was so relieved on the 23d of January by authority of the President.
My reasons for undertaking the movement into Tennessee have, I think, been sufficiently stated already. Had I not made the movement I am fully persuaded that Sherman would have been upon General Lee's communication in October, instead of at this time.
From Palmetto to Spring Hill the campaign was all that I could have desired. The fruits ought to have been gathered at that point. At Nashville, had it not have been for an unfortunate event which could not justly have been anticipated, I think we would have gained a complete victory. At any time it was in the power of the army to retire from Tennessee in the event of failure, as is established by the leisurely retreat which was made under the most difficult and embarrassing circumstances. It is my firm conviction that, notwithstanding that disaster, I left the army in better spirits and with more confidence in itself than it had at the opening of the campaign. The official records will show that my losses, including prisoners, during the entire campaign do not exceed 10,000 men. Were I again placed in such circumstances I should make the same marches and fight the same battles, trusting that the same unforseen and unavoidable accident would not again occur to change into disaster a victory which had been already won.
In support of the statement touching the strength and losses of the army, I respectfully tender the official records of the assistant adjutant-general (Maj. Kinloch Falconer), alike on duty with General Johnston and myself. Those who have seen much service in the field during this war will at once understand why it was that desertion, which had been so frequent on the retreat from Dalton to Atlanta, almost entirely ceased as soon as the army assumed the offensive and took a step forward. I did not know of a desertion on the march from Palmetto to Dalton or from Dalton to Florence. I am informed that the provost-marshal general of the Army of Tennessee reports less than 300 desertions during the whole Tennessee campaign. The Tennessee troops entered the State with high hopes as they approached their homes; when the fortunes of war were against us the same faithful soldiers remained true to their flag, and, with rare exceptions, followed it in retreat as they had borne it in advance.
But few of the subordinate reports have reached me. I am, consequently, unable, without risk of injustice, to describe the instances of individual skill and gallantry.
I invite special attention to the report of Maj. Gen. G. W. Smith of the operations of the Georgia militia in the vicinity of Atlanta, the reports of Lieutenant-General Stewart and his subordinate officers, herewith submitted. Maps of the campaign accompany this report.
Respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. B. HOOD,
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