While the weary but hardy veterans of Sherman's army were enjoying a short but sorely needed breathing spell on the wooded hills of Cherokee County, Ala., Gen. Hood with his army, equally worn and more destitute of supplies, was content to rest at a fairly safe distance near Florence, on the Tennessee River.
After he was compelled to abandon the Atlanta stronghold, the intrepid Southron had determined to destroy our Cracker line, the army name for the railroads over which our supplies were transported, and to prevent this audacious movement there had been a severe strain of constant watching and tedious night marches on the part of our army.
Sherman, in his quick, nervous way would direct his Corps Commanders, as they started off in the darkness, to occasionally set a house afire to let him know where they were.
Hood's wily and energetic cavalry leader, Gen. Forrest, had with his force been almost constantly in their saddles, and this temporary suspension gave him the opportunity to rest his jaded steeds and recruit with fresh mounts. On one of these quiet days our great commander stood on the slope in front of his quarters, grimly peering down the smoky valleys and over the purple ranges that separated him from his impulsive antagonist, and deliberately planned the boldest military movement recorded in history, the famous "March to the Sea."
THE ATLANTA CAMPAIGN.
When on one bright morning of early May Sherman's 100,000 marched out on the red-clay hills of northern Georgia to battle against the 75,000 that Johnston had held together, it was well known the contest would be mighty and that the oak-shaded hills and cottonfields on the path of war would be bathed with blood. The ablest commander in the Confederate army was opposed to us, and the proof of his military genius was manifested by his masterly retreat upon his stronghold, where for 120 consecutive days of fighting, with spirited skirmishes every day and general engagements every week, he entered the fortifications of Atlanta without having lost by capture a single fieldpiece, wagon or even a camp kettle.
The long Summer had cruelly tested the endurance of both armies, and during the first three months of the campaign, in the frequent assaults of the blue-uniformed warriors against the strong field works that formed a gridiron across our lines of advance, we lost 20,000 brave men, and in the fourth month the Confederate army, under their new commander, lost an equal number in their mad rushes and sallies against our fortified cordon, and this, with the train loads they carried back over the Etowah and Chattahoochee Valleys, together with those buried on the battlefields, swelled their losses to 3,000.
In the early days of November, 1864, Sherman's army, divided at Gaylesville, the General, taking the Fourteenth, Fifteenth, Seventeenth and Twentieth Corps, numbering over 60,000 men, formed them into two wings and started for the Atlantic coast.
He left the Fourth and Twenty-third Corps, mustering 26,000 men, to oppose Hood's army of 54,000 men in all branches of service.
It seemed perhaps natural for Hood to believe that the way was left open for him to lead his army where he pleased, and that he could easily sweep away anything that would confront him in his triumphal march to Nashville, Louisville and Cincinnati.
But Sherman selected from his able associates the two commanders in whom he had the greatest confidence--Thomas and Schofield; having full knowledge of the former's wonderful power in organization, and the brains and capacity of the latter for execution.
As he marched his splendid army down through the mountain valleys of northern Alabama and Georgia toward Atlanta, he realized that the fighting would be done by those he left behind. But his experience in the Summer campaign gave him full reliance that their work would be well done, and that the two Generals would make no mistakes, but with the forces under them would accomplish as much as might be done by any two leaders in any country or age. The Twenty-third and Fourth Corps, upon whom so much depended, marched in quick order. The former to Resaca and Dalton, where transportation awaited to take them by rail to Nashville, and thence to Pulaski, arriving there the second week in November.
This movement was ordered by Thomas, the senior officer, but was under the direct command of Schofield.
The commanding General made his headquarters at Nashville, and remained there to organize a strong force, made up of detachments that had been on duty in the rear, also new regiments that had been recently recruited, and those, together with Gen. A. J. Smith's Corps, which had been ordered from the West, would reinforce the army at the front to an equal or larger number than Hood's, and enable us to face him, or even overcome his army.
At the same time vigorous efforts were made to remount, equip and place our cavalry on a better footing, with Gen. Wilson in command, who was expected to cope with the same branch of Hood's army, under Forrest, which numbered over 12,000 men.
Schofield's duty was to watch and retard Hood while this concentration about Nashville was progressing. Hood, however, was not inclined to wait for our preparations, and was ordered by Beauregard, who was his superior in command, to push forward from Florence, which he did on the 20th of November, expecting to flank Schofield at Lawrenceburg and cut off his retreat by rail from Pulaski. Hood's friends, spies and scouts, in and about Nashville, kept him accurately informed as to Thomas's movements, so that he determined upon as rapid an advance as possible; but bad roads retarded him so that almost a week had passed before he was able to concentrate his whole force at Columbia.
In the meantime Capron's, Croxton's and Hatch's cavalry were covering his front and on the lookout, and sent word to Schofield, who immediately prepared to fall back to Columbia.
Gen. Cox's Division of the Twenty-third Corps left its camps and started on the Columbia pike on the 22d and marched to Lynville, where it was joined by Wagner's Division, Fourth Corps.
On the afternoon of the 23d we marched to the junction of the Mt. Pleasant and Shelbyville roads. Before daylight of the 24th we were ordered to march to Columbia, and arrived there just after sunrise. As we approached the town the well-kept farms and spacious .lawns, with long, straight lanes bordered with trees, leading up to the handsome mansions, gave us the impression of peace and comfort. But how quickly there was to be a change.
We were met, south of the town, by an officer of Ruger's staff, who informed us that Capron's cavalry were pouring into the town, and that the Confederates were not far behind them. Gen. Cox took in the situation at once, and with the instinct of an engineer, having a full knowledge of the lay of the ground, from the study of maps that were furnished him, decided not to enter the town; but the head of the column, then coming up, was double-quicked by a diagonal shortcut, at the outskirts of the place, and arrived on the Mt. Pleasant pike just at the critical lucky moment to meet the tail-end of Capron's fagged-out cavalrymen, closely pursued by Forrest's exultant troopers. A dashing Captain on a splendid black charger with foam-flecked shoulders and a yellow saddle blanket, was in the advance, deliberately shooting our men in the back of their heads with his revolver. He was dropped from his seat by the first infantryman that crossed the road. The plucky 100th Ohio was in one short minute deployed as skirmishers and advanced rapidly to meet the enemy, but, as usual, when cavalry meet an infantry line, they stopped, falling back on the road and through the fields beyond the range of our skirmish fire.
Gen. Cox's Division was soon in position, and before noon Gen. Stanley arrived with the Fourth Corps, approaching Columbia by a parallel road, and with the addition of Strickland's Brigade of Ruger's Division, Twenty-third Corps, reinforcements of cavalry and a Regular battery which joined us here, we were in better shape as to numbers than we were at Pulaski. Our stay at first in this position was rather monotonous, with only cavalry in our front, but an occasional skirmish added to the interest. When Hood's infantry arrived, and his batteries were placed in position, there was more excitement, with artillery practice but they evidently did not like the looks of our position, for they made no demonstrations leading to an assault, but kept our cavalry on the flanks uneasy, as though they contemplated flanking us out of our positions.
Schofield was anxious to preserve the railroad and wagon road bridges that spanned Duck River, which he could only do by remaining on the town side; but he knew, too, that this would not be important if Hood should cross the river at some other point and get between him and Nashville; so, at the end of two days, after dark, Cox's Division was crossed over to the north side of the river, and works were thrown up to protect the bridge crossings. Two days later the balance of our troops. with artillery and trains, were brought over, and to prevent the enemy from using the bridges they were destroyed; but that did not prevent some of the venturesome from crossing in the darkness of the night, and our pickets had considerable trouble from the enemy's skirmishers. This annoyance was so great that Gen. Cox determined to drive them into the river, and sent word to his Inspecting Officer that one of the regiments of the First Brigade should charge them with the bayonet. and demonstrate right there whether or not those iron candlesticks they were carrying around with them could be turned to any other use as implements of war. The attempt failed, because their men were too well protected by the skirmishers and artillery on the opposite bank, their covered batteries pouring in a rapid plunging fire as soon as our line formed for the charge. The men were ready and eager to go, and had started a yell which invariably accompanied a double-quick advance, but the staff officer ordered them back under cover when he saw the attempt would result in too great a loss for the advantage to be gained.
On the morning of the 29th we learned that Hood was crossing some of his troops a few miles above Columbia, at Huey's Mill.
Gen. Stanley moved in the forenoon with a part of the Fourth Corps to guard the wagon trains then on the way to Spring Hill, and reached that place at noon. They were just in time, and Wagner's Division deployed at double-quick. Bradley on the right, Lane next, and Opdycke on the left, and pushed forward through the eastern suburbs of the town against Forrest's cavalry, which command had been repulsed by Wilson at Mt. Carmel, five miles east of the Franklin pike, and had turned over to Spring Hill by the Murfreesboro road to obstruct our trains. They were driven back to the woods by our infantry, and moved under cover to Thompson's Station, two or three miles toward Franklin. When Gen. Schofield arrived at Spring Hill with Ruger's Division, soon after dark, he learned from Stanley that some of the enemy were across the road at Thompson's Station, and he pushed on with a brigade of Ruger's command, leading the troops in person, gallantly charging, and drove them from their position.
Leaving Ruger there, he returned to Spring Hill, arriving there just as Cox at midnight reached the place in the lead of the Twenty-third Corps. A small body of the enemy reached the pike between Spring Hill and Columbia, but were easily driven back by the wagon guard and artillery.
Col. Lyman Bridges, Chief of Artillery of the 4th Corps, had charge of and posted the batteries on the left of the pike, and Maj. W. F. Goodspeed, Assistant Chief of Artillery, had charge of the batteries on the right, which were handled so admirably against the assaulting lines of Cheatham's Corps. There was some slight skirmishing until the middle of the afternoon, when the head of Hood's infantry column arrived, with Cheatham's Corps of nine brigades in the lead. Hood was aware from the artillery firing that Schofield was still at Columbia with a portion of his command, and he ordered Cheatham to march in line against anything he should meet and drive them across the pike. Cheatham did push forward, and with solid force struck the right of our line, crowding Bradley's Brigade back in confusion almost to the pike; Bradley being wounded in the assault. The loss was about 250 men. The other two brigades were not much engaged. This attack was followed up vigorously until they struck a slight line of fortifications occupied by a single battery and a small regiment of infantry. The battery was commanded by the valiant Alec Marshall, who was absolutely fearless in short-range work, and the regiment by Col. Harry Pickands, as full of mettle as anyone that ever commanded men. The men of this regiment were what were left of the 103d Ohio. They had been so cut up and reduced in numbers during the Atlanta campaign that they were detailed as Gen. Schofield's headquarters guard, and were the first troops to reach Spring Hill, arriving there with the train between 10 and 11 o'clock in the morning. Gen. Fullerton, of Stanley's staff, saw them there when he arrived, and ordered them in line to support the battery. As Stanley's report does not mention their presence, even, it would seem proper to here note the part they took in the engagement. Bradley's men as they fell back rushed by them on either side, but they remained to support the battery. The officers had broken open boxes of ammunition and built a little parapet of cartridges in front of the men, from which they loaded; and a rapid, withering fire was poured into the advancing lines, doing terrible execution at this short range. The guns also were handled by Lieut. Bills with wonderful rapidity. This furious, driving storm of lead and iron had never been surpassed, and rarely equalled, by the same quality and number of arms. Cheatham's troops, encountering at this point such fierce opposition, and believing they had struck our main line of fortifications, halted, fell back, and commenced building a line of earthworks. Of course, it is not probable, nor is it claimed, that a small regiment of infantry, no matter with how much bravery they fought, could, under the same circumstances, hold in check a line that a well-tried and splendid brigade had retreated from; but the situation here was such that the rebel General commanding was deceived as to the force confronted. At the same time, the little band is entitled to the credit of staying where it was put. If the men of the 103d Ohio had fallen back with the brigade, Cleburne would have crossed the pike, Brown would have followed him, we would have lost possession of the road, our army would have been cut in two and the result might have been different.
The officers of the 103d Ohio tried to check the fleeing troops, and taunted their officers with the bad example they were showing their men. Capt. Charley Sargeant grabbed one officer who was tearing past him, who shouted "For God's sake, don't stop me! I'm a Chaplain!" Additional troops coming up, the rebels pushed out some to feel Wagner's left flank, but made no further attempt to carry our position.
The officers commanding the regiment and battery were old friends, and had not met for years, but during the fight there had not been time for even a nod or a handshake; but when the engagement was over, Marshall came forward to the infantry line, which was only a few yards in advance, and greeted his friend in a modest manner, with the remark: "Well, this was a warm reception!"
An eye-witness said that he had noticed the artillery officer in action, and he was holding his men and handling the guns with the fury of a demon, and while he stood talking with the Colonel his face was still flushed, the big veins were bulging on his temples, and perspiration and smoke had streaked his face, but in other ways he appeared as serene and smiling as though nothing had happened.
Col. Pickands showed a hearty pride in the action of his men, with whom he mingled from beginning to end, steadying and encouraging them, and the last one would have died for their Colonel, for they fairly worshiped him. Their duty having been well done during this emergency, they were led back to their train.
Darkness was now approaching, and Stewart's Corps of four divisions arrived, and together with Cheatham's command went into bivouac for the night.
THAT TRYING NIGHT MARCH.
About this time Gen. Cox's Division, which had been under a heavy artillery fire all day from Hood's guns stationed in and near Columbia, started for Spring Hill, leaving Wood and Kimball, who had been ordered to follow soon after. This night march was a very rapid one, and, with the exception of a halt at Rutherford Creek to help out some artillery and teams that were there clogged, the distance to Spring Hill, about 12 miles, was made at the rate of four miles an hour. The rearguards were ordered positively to use the bayonet on fence--corner stragglers, and the orders were in several instances obeyed. When the General and staff reached Spring Hill we were stopped on the road by Col. George Northrup, of a Kentucky regiment of infantry. He cautioned us, "Hist," with finger to his lips, not to speak above a whisper, and pointed to the camp-fires on the rolling slopes within sight of the road.
We could plainly see that the soldiers standing and moving about the flaring lights were Johnnies, and in the quiet of the night could hear their voices. An officer was left to repeat the caution to the advancing column.
Farther along on the road we found Gen. Stanley at his headquarters in the dooryard of a mansion, and from whom we learned the whole situation. While mingling with the staff officers, we found them quietly commenting on the loss of one of their number, who, accompanied by an Orderly, had been sent with orders to the line, and then pushing out on a quiet reconnoissance, was captured by the rebel pickets; the Orderly, fortunately escaping, reported the circumstances.
The proximity of the two armies was such that it seems incredible there were not frequent clashes during the night, or even a general attack to break our line on the night march.
Gen. Schofield, arriving at this time from Thompson's Station, ordered an immediate march to Franklin, and Gen. Cox's Division to lead the advance. Keeping up the long, steady stride of four miles an hour, in the clear starlight, without meeting a soul on the road, we reached Winstead Hills about 3 o'clock in the morning.
The General and staff then pushed on rapidly to Franklin, awoke Col. Carter, and made headquarters at his little brick cottage, the last house in the southern suburbs of the town, on the Columbia pike.
In the absence of the Inspecting Officer, who was with the rear-guard, the writer was instructed to place the troops in position; and while sitting out in front of the house, waiting for the head of column to arrive, everything was as still as the grave, and there was time to ponder on what the following day would bring forth.
I did not realize, and very few, perhaps, anticipated, the dreadful and bloody outcome: but, rather, looked for another flank movement, as at Columbia. Presently the tramp of horses in the distance and the rattle of tin cups against bayonet clasps foretold the coming of the troops. First the brigade officers, mounted, appeared, and they were led off to the right of the road, where a hasty inspection of the ground was made in the darkness; then the weary men came marching by the left flank. The night tramp had been wearing to those on foot, for they had been pressed to unusual speed, and their anxiety about the train, that was strung along by their side, kept them peering out into the dim
distance, lest Forrest's cavalry might strike them at any point, although every regiment had a company deployed in the fields to our right. The Third Division of the Twenty-third Corps was led into position on the east side of the pike--Stiles, commanding Henderson's Brigade, first, Casement next, and Riley last, all facing the south. Col. Henderson was temporarily unwell, and had requested Col. Stiles, of the 63d Ind., to relieve him of personal command of his brigade; but he remained with the brigade during the engagement, and watched every movement with as much solicitude as though he were giving the orders direct to the regimental commanders. Gen. Cox was placed in command of the two divisions, his own and Ruger's, and was instructed--as soon as the troops could get a short breathing spell, a few winks of sleep, and their morning coffee--to strongly intrench themselves.
It was deemed expedient by Gen. Schofield to make our stand on the south side of the town and river, so that the trains could mass in the streets and open spaces in the village. while a wagon road bridge was being built and planks laid on the sleepers of the railroad bridge for their transfer across. Gen. Schofield had the previous day sent an urgent request to Thomas to ship by rail a pontoon bridge to Franklin for the Harpeth crossing, and expected to find it there, but in this was disappointed. It had instead been sent by the wagon road , in charge of Maj. Jenny, of the Engineer Corps, and did not arrive in time to be of service.
In this embarrassing situation there was nothing to do but construct the bridges with the meager facilities at hand; so, with his Engineer Battalion and details of troops, the work was performed, requiring his constant personal attention. He remained in this position up to the time of the engagement, so as to better superintend the crossing, and at the same time be near the railroad and telegraph station; while from Fort Granger, on the bluff east of the railroad and near the river, he had perfect command during the battle of the entire field, and to direct the fire of the artillery stationed there with him. During the forenoon the troops, in close order, kept pouring in, the infantry on the right side of the road and wagon trains and artillery to their left.
The march was not so rapid as during the night, for they were continually harassed by Forrest's cavalry attaching in weak points on the road. Wood's Division of the Fourth Corps passed through the town and formed in position on the north of the Harpeth; Kimball's Division of the same corps was ordered to report to Gen. Cox, and was placed by him on the right of the Twenty-third Corps, with its right flank resting on the Harpeth River. Two brigades of Wagner's Division, Fourth Corps (Lane's and Conrad's), were countermarched, and placed something over 100 rods in our front, across the Columbia pike, to watch the approach of the enemy, and to their right and front, on a little knoll, a section of' Marshall's Battery, supported by an infantry regiment.