for Cause and for Country: A Study of the Affair at Spring Hill and the Battle of Franklin, Part 5

by Brett Schulte on July 31, 2006 · 0 comments

for Cause & for Country: A Study of the Affair at Spring Hill and the Battle of Franklin
by Eric A. Jacobson and Richard A. Rupp

for Cause and for Country

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519 pages!

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519 pages!

Last week I only managed to take a look at the Confederate movement from Columbia to Spring Hill and the Federal efforts to decipher and resist against this movement. This week, I’ve managed to cover the rest of the Spring Hill Affair. From what I’ve gathered in reading these chapters, author Eric Jacobson strives to present a fair assessment of the numerous mistakes made on November 29, 1864. He presents the readers with known facts and then goes on to relate the speculation of others, making sure to present it as such.

Note: If you haven’t already, I highly suggest reading Part 1 of this series right now, before moving on below, to get a feel for Wiley Sword’s version of events. I’ll also be pointing out differences in the text below. Also note that I call the Franklin-Columbia Pike the Columbia Pike when referring to the road south of Spring Hill, and the Franklin Pike when referring to the same road north of town. In any event, remember that this was the road Schofield and the Union Army needed to keep open in order to make good their escape to Franklin and Nashville.

For Cause & for Country: A Study of the Affair at Spring Hill and the Battle of Franklin
by Eric A. Jacobson and Richard A. Rupp

Chapter 4: Passing Right Through Hood’s Army

At the start of Chapter 4, Cleburne’s Division of 3,000 men had crossed Rutherford Creek and was now in position to attack the thinly held Union lines near Spring Hill. He aligned his troops facing west and en echelon, with Mark Lowrey’s Brigade on the left flank the farthest forward. This shows that Hood wanted Cleburne to turn to the south once he reached the Columbia Pike. However, Bradley’s Brigade of Federals soon fired on Lowrey’s right flank, and this plan was obsolete almost at once. While Lowrey struggled to reorient his brigade to face north, Govan’s Brigade swung around to his right and assisted. The combined brigades now flanked Bradley on his right, and his men were driven northwest to Spring Hill. It looked like Cleburne would now be able to take the Columbia Pike south of Spring Hill. In an interesting footnote, the author discusses whether or not Cleburne disobeyed orders in attacking Bradley, concluding that the only way to “eliminate the threat” posed by Bradley was for Cleburne to make that attack.

Hiram Granbury’s Brigade, Cleburne’s last, did not take part in this initial assault. Instead, Granbury had moved west toward the pike, pushing aside the 36th Illinois in the process. According to data collected from the U.S. Naval Observatory by the author, sunset occurred at 4:35, by 5:05 “twilight was quickly turning into darkness”, and it was “dark” by 5:45 to the average person. Keep this lack of sunlight in mind in all that follows, as it at least partially explains some of the confusion that occurred. Lowrey and Govan moved NNW and encountered a line of Federal artillery, planted there by Corps commander David Stanley in case his infantry line broke. Cleburne’s men moved behind a ridge to escape the deadly fire, and the Irish born general saw a new line of Yankees forming to the north. This was Lane’s Brigade, which was mostly pulled out of the breastworks facing east to confront this greater threat to the southeast. Meanwhile, Cleburne ordered Granbury to move on the pike. Lane, for his part, had sent a force consisting of a little over one regiment to extend his line east. This small force would play a huge role in the affair at Spring Hill.

By 5 o’clock, Brown’s Division had crossed Rutherford Creek and moved up on Cleburne’s right flank, over to his east. Jacobson says Cheatham wanted to field a concerted effort by all of his divisions to attack in the direction of Spring Hill. However, Hood (as we have seen) wanted at least one of Cheatham’s three divisions to move to the Columbia Pike. Here’s where the confusion really sets in. Cleburne was prepared to attack again, but Cheatham called a halt. He then went to talk to Brown and ordered that general to start the attack, with Cleburne following at the sound of Brown’s guns. Brown faced due west, according to Jacobson, while Sword (and all previous authors apparently) seems to think he faced due north. This interpretation of events is unique to Jacobson, so it is very possible he has broken new ground in the study of Spring Hill. Cheatham then rode off to talk to Bate, somewhere off to the left. He returned when he hadn’t heard the start of Brown’s attack. Lane, as stated in the last paragraph, had earlier placed the 100th Illinois and 1 company of the 40th Indiana in an extension of his line to the east. Jacobson also mentions some new research about the exact position of this flanking line by using sources never before listed by other authors. The author’s maps of the Spring Hill affair show exactly where he believed this line to be. This extension was noticed by Brown, who refused to attack because his right flank was now in the air. According to Cheatham after the battle, he rode up, told Brown to refuse his flank, and then attack anyway, but Brown and his aides vehemently disputed this version of events.

Bate’s Division of Cheatham’s Corps had moved west towards the Columbia Pike and engaged in a short, sharp fight with the 26th Ohio along that road at about 5:30. The Confederates now were in a position to block the road, as Hood had instructed Bate to do earlier in the day. However, at that point, a note came from Cheatham telling Bate to halt and form on Cleburne’s left. Bate protested and sent an aide to tell Cheatham where he was and what he was doing. As Bate lay near but not astride the Columbia Pike, Schofield and his men heading north from Columbia began slipping past.

The next section depicts a study in contrasts: the veteran 72nd Illinois, veterans of Champion Hill and Vicksburg, fought along side the extremely green 44th Missouri and 183rd Ohio in the upcoming campaign. Col. Isaac Sherwood of the 111th Ohio marched north to Spring Hill of his own accord, picking up the two company strong 24th Missouri along the way. As they moved north, they met a figure who said he belonged to Gen. Cleburne’s Division along the Columbia Pike, so they detoured west. Jacobson uses this anecdote as a way of showing how close the opposing sides were that night.

Oaklawn Plantation was Hood’s headquarters that evening and he was joined there by Tennessee Governor Isham Harris. Hood and Harris waited for Cheatham’s attack, which was not forthcoming. After some delay, Hood sent Harris to take a look. Harris found Brown and was told of the vulnerable right flank. Then the governor met Cheatham, and they and a member of Brown’s staff rode back to Hood to explain the situation. According to Major Vaulx, a member of Cheatham’s staff, Hood reacted by telling all involved to simply hold their positions for the night, and Jacobson says Brown tends to back up Vaulx’s story. Jacobson discusses (and is not really sure) how many times Cheatham ordered Brown to attack even though his right was exposed. He says “the question remains why did the delay continue indefinitely after the detection of Union troops on the right.” Hood claimed he had promised Cheatham to have Stewart support him promptly, but Stewart disagreed and said he had been ordered to form on the south bank of the creek with his right flank resting near the waterway, facing generally west. Jacobson places great weight on A.P. Stewart’s recollections. Stewart explained that Hood did not let him cross Rutherford Creek until after dark because Hood believed Cheatham could attack the Yankees alone and because Hood wanted Stewart to block any Yankees retreating in the direction of Murfreesboro. Finally Hood had answers as to why there was a delay, says Jacobson, and he ordered Stewart to form on Brown’s right and try to extend around to the north of Spring Hill to block the Franklin Pike. Hood’s recollections implied that Cheatham refused to attack and disobeyed his orders. Cheatham countered that Hood had told him to halt any further attacks for the night. Jacobson leans more towards Hood’s side of the story, finding it hard to believe that Hood called off all forward movement at this early stage. The author gives weight to the recollections of Hood’s staff officer Maj. Joseph B. Cumming, who said he had personally delivered an order to Cheatham to attack, but who later found that general arguing with Hood about the dangers of a night assault. Jacobson further mentions that Cumming was not fully a Hood partisan based on other statements the Major had made about the commanding general. By this time Bate’s staff officer had ridden up to explain Bate’s situation very near the Columbia Pike to Cheatham. Cheatham again ordered Bate to fall back and hook up with Cleburne’s left. Jacobson is puzzled by this because Hood had to have been present also, and he had ordered Bate to move to block the Columbia Pike in the first place!

The two Divisions still left in Columbia as nightfall neared were those of Jacob Cox and Thomas Wood. The 12th and 16th Kentucky acted as rear guard. S. D. Lee had built pontoon bridges over the Duck River fairly early in the day, but he delayed making a serious demonstration, which had allowed Cox to send troops north as early as noon. Around 7 P.M., the last of Cox’s Division had started north, and Wood’s Division followed. They met up with Kimball’s Division, then holding the Rutherford Creek crossing, and Kimball fell in behind on the march to Spring Hill. Schofield, already in Spring Hill, moved Ruger’s Division north towards Thompson’s Station to clear the way to Franklin. Thompson’s Station had been guarded by the 175th Ohio, quite by accident, when Ross’s Cavalry Brigade came storming in from the east on the morning of November 29. The Ohioans put up a stiff resistance, but eventually they retreated south to Spring Hill. Ross’s men burned the railroad bridge at Thompson’s Station, and Jacobson writes that it was a wonder they didn’t have a nighttime clash with Ruger’s Division, then heading north from Spring Hill. Schofield then sent a small party to ride to Franklin and apprise General Thomas of the situation by telegraph. A. P. Stewart had his Corps across Rutherford Creek by this point and was moving to block the Franklin Pike north of Spring Hill. However, one of Hood’s staff officers rode up and mentioned that Stewart was now to connect to the right flank of Brown’s Division. Interestingly, Jacobson’s interpretation of the facing of Brown’s Division is a new one. He believes Brown was facing west toward Spring Hill, while others believe he was facing north somewhat to the east of Spring Hill. Stewart’s men went into bivouac northeast of Spring Hill, and they still had not blocked the Franklin Pike. The author says they must have been within a few hundred yards of Lane’s Union Brigade, then covering the eastern and northeastern approaches to Spring Hill. Brown was asked repeatedly by many why he would not attack, and he continued to repeat “I have no orders.” Lane later claimed that his position was extremely vulnerable to attack and that Brown would have done great damage if he
had moved forward. Jacobson, for the first time anywhere, then attempts to piece together the order and facing of the regiments in Lane’s Brigade. I found this to be an interesting piece of detective work.

Bate’s Division formed on Cleburne’s left around 10 at night, and General Bate asked for someone to support his left flank if he had to move in that direction Believing this order to be a mistake, Bate went to Hood to argue his case that the Columbia to Franklin Pike should be taken and held. Jacobson, in a departure from all previous authors, refutes claims of laudanum use by Hood on the night of November 29, 1864. He cites the numerous works which have claimed drug use of Hood, but none of the sources these books used are trustworthy or offer any proof. This section may be the most important find of the entire book, IMHO. The author instead offers that Hood and his staff had simply reached a breaking point and were tired. A similar example I immediately thought of would be June 30, 1862, when Stonewall Jackson simply went to sleep north of White Oak Swamp instead of trying to attack the Federals northeast of Glendale. On that occasion as well, a portion of a Federal army was vulnerable to being cut off. A. P. Stewart and Nathan Bedford Forrest visited Hood shortly after 11 P.M. At the meeting, Stewart asked if Hood still wanted the Franklin Pike blocked, and Hood said yes. Stewart claimed that Hood told him to leave his men where they were and that the Confederates would resume in the morning. According to Governor Harris, however, it was clear Hood wanted the road blocked. He asked Stewart if he could at least place one brigade across the pike, and when Stewart said his men were too tired, Hood asked Forrest if he could do something The cavalry general, in a move which seems to me to be rather unlike him, promised to do his best to block the road but was not optimistic. In any case, says Jacobson, it seems clear that Stewart was never ordered to attack or move forward. Bate approached soon thereafter and told Hood that the Columbia Pike was not blocked. However, Hood told him it was okay because Forrest had the road north of town blocked! Jacobson takes Hood to task for this statement, since he had received only a lukewarm response from Forrest that he could even cover the road only a few minutes before. The author also calls the fact that Hood never wrote of these meetings in his memoirs “disturbing.”

The Federal troops moving past Bate’s and Cleburne’s divisions could tell just how close they were to disaster. Numerous Federals reported the close call that night and noted the activity and campfires just to the east of the Columbia. For their part, the Confederates along the Pike knew that the Yankees were escaping, and Cleburne himself sent a message to Hood that there was movement to the north in his front. Jacobson notes Cleburne received no response. Cox’s Division was in Spring Hill by midnight, and when they stopped Schofield ordered them on. The head of Wood’s Division approached town around this time. Stanley and Schofield had an argument about the immense wagon train at this point. Schofield wanted it burned while Stanley hoped to save it. Eventually Stanley received permission to try to save the train and Schofield rode north with his staff in the direction of Franklin.

Wood’s Division formed east of the pike and marched north, protecting the Federal Wagon train; this force started north out of Spring Hill around 1 A.M. Two brigades of Kimball’s Division moved into Spring Hill around 1 A.M., where they were joined by Whitaker’s Brigade. Wood’s three brigades then helped to guard the wagon train. Ruger’s Division joined the march once it reached Thompson’s Station, and some Federals were nearly left behind in the darkness. Edward Johnson and his division of Lee’s Corps were ordered by Cheatham to move out and block the road at this late hour, but Johnson refused initially, resenting the fact that Cheatham didn’t have men from his own Corps take care of this matter. Johnson and Major Bostick of Cheatham’s staff rode to the Columbia Pike around 2 A.M. and found no Yankees. They had just missed the tail end of Kimball’s Division. The only Federals yet to arrive would be the rear guard near Columbia, and they didn’t reach the area for several more hours. Because of this silence, the attack was called off. Hood blamed Cheatham for the lack of an attack, Hood’s biographer Dyer believed the situation called foe a personal reconnaissance by Hood, but that the General was perhaps too fatigued or ill to go out into the cold night. Forrest tried to block the road to Franklin at Thompson’s Station when he sent Ross’ and Armstrong’s Brigades to attack the Yankee column there. However, Armstrong was too far away to ever actually participate. Ross attacked around 2 A.M., and actually held the road for around 30 minutes, but heavy Yankee pressure from both north and south forced him to retire east of the road. From this position, the Texans watched the Federal army escape to the north as the sun rose. Many men, Jacobson says, both North and South, during and after the war, believed the Yankees would have been trapped had Hood blocked the Franklin Pike. Some authors such as Thomas Connelly have suggested as many as three other routes the Federals could have used. Schofield, Jacobson writes, claimed to believe that his army was in no real danger. Reports of others who talked to him that night, especially David Stanley, make this claim a rather weak one according to the author. The 12th and 16th Kentucky, the extreme rear guard from Columbia to Spring Hill, arrived around 4 A.M. Railroad locomotives and cars still in Spring Hill were burned around 5 A.M. to prevent them from falling into Confederate hands. Emerson Opdycke’s Brigade of Wagner’s Division, one of the first units to arrive at Spring Hill, now became the new rear guard on the road to Franklin. By 6 A.M., all of the Yankees were gone. Schofield had, by the thinnest of margins, managed to extract his entire army from a possible disaster.

The thing that struck me the most throughout this chapter was Jacobson’s willingness to discuss the alternative explanations for any given situation. Rather than saying beyond a shadow of a doubt “this is the way it was”, he instead tells the reader what he believes the MOST LIKELY conclusion is, but does not hesitate to at least discuss other possibilities. In a situation as complicated as Spring Hill was, and where we will never have all of the answers, this was extremely appreciated. What strikes me the most are some of the author’s new interpretations and conclusions. Chief among these are the north-south alignment of Brown’s Division (others describe him as occupying an east-west line), a complete lack of valid sources concerning the possibility of Hood using laudanum or being drunk on November 29, and the location and formation of Lane’s Brigade that caused so much confusion for the Confederates.

Chapter 5: The Legend and Legacy of Spring Hill

According to the author, the biggest question of the entire night was: why didn’t John Brown attack? Jacobson thinks it is because Cheatham never gave him a second order, but that Brown is still to blame for not taking matters into his own hands. Some claimed Brown was drunk, but the author disputes this. Cheatham’s “role leaves unanswered questions” as well. For instance, where was Cheatham between 7 P.M. and midnight? Was the general at Jessie Peters house, the woman whose rumored affair with Earl Van Dorn had caused her husband to shoot the Southern cavalry leader? Jacobson doesn’t think so. Instead, he says that Cheatham probably retired for the night because he believed the attack called off, calling this scenario possible and even likely. Others believed Cheatham stopped the attack because he feared his friend Brown was drunk. Jacobson believes this was possible, but that Cheatham should then be held responsible for not relieving that general and placing a fit commander in his place. Another rumor was that Cheatham was drunk. The author also disputes this due to reports of reliable witnesses to the contrary. Governor Harris left a vague 1894 letter alluding to the “true story of Spring Hill”, which he strongly preferred not to bring up. Hood to his dying day blamed Cheatham for the failure. In fact, he had wanted Cheatham relieved shortly after Spring Hill, but quickly recanted. Cheatham’s claims on the subject don’t seem to correspond with telegrams Hood sent to Richmond. The Corps commander and Hood talked over Spring Hill at a meeting in early December, and Jacobson says both parties “left the meeting encouraged.” However, Hood had apparently been two-faced at the meeting, according to Governor Harris. Hood did not blame A.P. Stewart for the failure, but Stewart strongly blamed Hood. Ultimately, says Jacobson, the failure lies with Hood. If his subordinates were not obeying orders, only he had the power to ride to the front and do something about it. The author, to be fair, points out that Hood admitted he was at least partly at fault by stating that he “failed utterly to bring on battle at Spring Hill” in his memoirs. He says Cheatham was also “largely responsible” for Spring Hill. Cheatham made an effort to get his divisions moving together, but seemed to give up after this first effort fell apart. Jacobson says Cheatham made his biggest mistakes by “halting Cleburne without learning how close the Irishman was to capturing the turnpike, and calling Bate away from the pike without ever determining why Bate put up opposition to such a move.” The author, getting to the likely truth of the matter, says very possibly both Cheatham and Hood partially lied about the facts to protect themselves. The author believes it very possible that Hood and Cheatham agreed to call off the attack until morning, but sought to remove themselves from blame after learning the Yankees had escaped under their noses. In any event, both Cheatham and Hood suffered from overconfidence and poor attention to detail. In addition, Spring Hill adversely affected the optimism of the Army of Tennessee. Men who just a week earlier had been full of confidence realized they had lost a grand opportunity. Jacobson touches on Hood blaming the troops of the Army of Tennessee for their unwillingness to fight except when behind breastworks. He dismisses this claim by a bitter and disappointed Hood and says only the upper level leadership of the army was to blame. He also comments that Cleburne and Forrest might have made a difference, but they were “handcuffed” by higher level leaders. Lest readers believe that the Confederates were operating in a vacuum, the author says “don’t forget the Federals”, especially those in the Wagner’s Division of Bradley’s and Lane’s Brigades. Lane’s decision to deploy a small force to sit on Brown’s right flank may have saved the entire army. Despite all of the talk of inaction on the part of the Confederates, the fighting actually “resulted in significant casualties”, up to 700 combined. Cleburne’s Division lost around 250, Forrest under 100, and the Federals around 350-400.

After reading both Sword’s and Jacobson’s books, I have come to the conclusion that Spring Hill was simply a bad day for almost every Confederate leader in position to make a difference. These men, Hood, Cheatham, Brown, Bate, Stewart, Johnson, and Forrest, all contributed to the defeat to one degree or another. Hood never went forward to order anyone to do anything. Cheatham erred in his orders to have the cautious Brown start the fight rather than the aggressive Cleburne. He also called Bate back from the Columbia Pike when he was in a position to block a large portion of the Federal Army. Brown, as a Division commander, had plenty of men to deal with the threat to his right, but refused to do anything even when others plainly saw that the Yankees were getting away. Bate, in my opinion, could have done more to insist on blocking the road north. Stewart, after moving north to Brown’s right flank, then lost the will to move a little more to block the Franklin Pike. The cantakerous Johnson, in a fit of petty jealousy, refused for quite some time to move west to block the Columbia Pike because he thought Cheatham should use one of his own divisions instead. Forrest removed Armstrong’s Division from Brown’s right, thus causing that general to worry about that flank in the first place. The typically aggressive cavalryman seems strangely reluctant here to block the Franklin Pike north of Spring Hill, although to be fair, it might have been too late anyway. Obviously, the Southern commanders had all had better days. To me, no one person should be held responsible for the failure, especially considering the darkness and the fatigue of these men. As Jacobson says though, Hood was and is ultimately responsible for not taking a more active role when the attack bogged down. Spring Hill was especially harmful to the Southern cause when you consider what happened the next day at Franklin.
I was happy to make a big dent in the book this past week. Look for next week’s entry to be of the same length or possibly even longer. We’ll move on to Franklin with the armies and see what types of new interpretations author Eric Jacobson has for the tragic day of November 30, 1864. As always, I look forward to your comments and hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed putting it together. If it makes some of you decide to buy this excellent book, so much the better.

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