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
I first heard about this promising new book at the Dispatch Depot Civil War Message Board in the book reviews area. As an added bonus, author Eric Jacobson joined in the discussion. He promises some different conclusions from the commonly held views on the battle, including the controversial topic of Hood’s alleged use of laudanum. Further, the author has made some changes to the commonly accepted Order of Battle for the 1864 Tennessee Campaign, adding units never before listed and discussing the role of some brigades at Franklin in greater detail than previous works on the topic. In order to understand Jacobson’s revisions, one needs to understand some of the previous views on the topic. One good place to go for one of these views is Wiley Sword’s book The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah: Spring Hill, Franklin, and Nashville, originally published as Embrace An Angry Wind. With that in mind, this first part of a multi-part series will cover Sword’s views, noting especially his discussions of various leaders including of course John Bell Hood. Future entries will take a look at Jacobson’s book in detail and discuss the differences and improvements Jacobson and Rupp have added to the subject.
Here’s a description of the book from the Publisher:
The battles at Spring Hill and Franklin, Tennessee were watershed moments in American Civil War history. Thousands of veterans and recruits, as well as former West Point classmates, found themselves moving through Middle Tennessee in the last great campaign of a long and bitter war. Replete with bloodshed and controversy, the battles led directly to the conclusion of action in the Western Theater. Long ignored and seldom understood, Spring Hill and Franklin stand as one of the most compelling episodes of the Civil War. Through exhaustive research and the use of sources never before published, the story of both battles comes vividly to life in this remarkable book. The lost opportunity at Spring Hill is evaluated in detail and the truth of what happened there may at last be discovered. The horrific battle at Franklin is told like never before. From what motivated John Bell Hood to make the attack, to the vital role of Union regiments either forgotten or ignored, the reader will see the confrontation in an entirely new light. Events such as the assault on the Union left flank, the attack made by the Confederate Missouri Brigade, General John Adams’ death, and General William Bate’s assault are given the thorough examination they have so long been denied. The book numbers 519 pages, contains over 325 material sources, and is illustrated with black and white, as well as color, photographs. Released by O’More Publishing the book could well become the definitive work on the subject. For Cause and For Country offers a balanced and richly detailed study of these crucial battles. Students of Spring Hill and Franklin will appreciate the dearth of new information and may conclude that these battles had a greater scope than even they realized. Those not familiar with the story will find themselves drawn to the amazing events of late 1864, when Middle Tennessee stood center stage as the country defined itself through blood and fire.
The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah: Spring Hill, Franklin, and Nashville
Since it has been quite some time since I last read Sword’s book, I decided to refresh my memory by reading chapters 12-23 of The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah. These chapters cover the campaign from the standoff at Columbia through Spring Hill and on to Franklin from November 24-December 1, 1864. What follows is a not-so-brief discussion covering the campaign from Columbia to Spring Hill and Sword’s thoughts concerning them. I’ll continue on with Sword’s description of Franklin next week. By far the most controversial topic concerns the leadership of General John Bell Hood. Sword pulls no punches, stating in no uncertain terms that he believes Hood was promoted beyond his capabilities. He also blames Confederate President Jefferson Davis and General Braxton Bragg for promoting Hood over more deserving men, especially Patrick Cleburne. Sword’s treatment of Hood is especially galling to “Lost Cause” types judging from the reviews of the book one finds online. Jacobson has hinted on more than one occasion that he holds a better view of Hood than Sword does and has found no evidence of Hood’s alleged drug use during the campaign, so it will be interesting to see how that plays out in for Cause and for Country. I’ll cover other, lesser issues on a chapter by chapter basis below.
Chapter 12: Playing Both Ends Against the Middle
Sword mainly discusses the choices available to Schofield, the Federal commander defending Columbia. Schofield had the IV and XXIII Corps present, along with James Wilson’s Cavalry Corps. The author is critical of Schofield and describes the general’s indecisiveness when bombarded with information that Hood might be flanking him to the east or west of his current position. Schofield did not want to get cut off from Thomas and reinforcements at Nashville, so he could not let Hood get behind him on the Franklin-to-Columbia Pike. His cavalry commander Wilson is also criticized. Wilson had heard that Confederate cavalry were crossing the Duck River east of the main Federal concentration at Columbia, so he concentrated the Federal cavalry along the Lewisburg Pike. Unfortunately for the Union Army, this concentration was too far east of the Rebel cavalry’s crossing point, and Forrest was soon across the river in force. This led to all kinds of rumors spreading that Confederate infantry was following close behind. Schofield sent some of his troops north along the road back to Franklin, but he didn’t initially send any kind of reconnaissance in force east to check out exactly who Hood had sent across the river and in what force. Sword concludes that Schofield was acting like a “vacillating and indecisive commander.”
Chapter 13: The Spring Hill Races
Union Cavalry Corps commander James Wilson had a rough November 29, 1864, according to Sword. The brash, ambitious 26 year old had decided to concentrate his troops at Hurt’s Crossroads on the Lewisburg Pike by pulling them back from their picket lines on the Duck River upon hearing that Forrest’s Confederate cavalry had crossed that obstacle. Wilson then withdrew further after being attacked by William H. Jackson’s Division, but he was led into a trap. Forrest had taken the rest of his command and moved quickly around Wilson’s flank, attacking him at Mount Carmel five miles north of Hurt’s Crossroads. Wilson continued to pull back to Franklin along the Lewisburg Pike, but the pressure to his front soon faded. He wondered where Forrest had gone, and concluded that he had flanked Wilson again and moved on to Nashville. To make matters even more confusing for Wilson, he then heard the sounds of fighting to the south at Spring Hill. Only late in the evening of the 29th did Wilson even bother to send a courier to Schofield asking what had happened to the south. Wilson was thoroughly perplexed, and as Sword puts it “if not moving toward Nashville, where had Forrest gone?”
If John Bell Hood started the day in fine spirits, according to Sword, he soon found reason to frown. Hood’s plan was to move east around Schofield’s left flank and head north for twelve miles to the little town of Spring Hill along the Davis’ Ford road. Hood would leave several divisions of S.D. Lee’s Corps and most of his artillery behind at Columbia to hold Schofield in place. Hood’s problems started occurring when he found to his dismay that the straight, twelve mile long road he saw on his map was actually a winding 17.5 mile long march along “one of the worst roads in Maury County.” Later in the day, Hood’s worries grew when Yankee were seen further ahead on his line of march. Hood had his men switch from marching column into formations better suited to combat any sudden attacks, and this slowed and tired the column even more, especially Bate’s Division slogging along through the mud off of the main road. Sword believes that the presence of these Federals along his line of march “was to have a profound effect on his thinking during the remainder of the day.” Hood’s troops neared Rutherford Creek southeast of Spring Hill around 3 in the afternoon, and small arms fire broke out.
Sword next answers the question “where had Forrest gone?” After attacking Wilson at Mount Carmel, Forrest had sent only a single brigade to pursue the Union cavalry north towards Franklin. He took the rest of his command, around 4,500 men, and moved due west to Spring Hill. Around 11 A.M., he ran into a hodgepodge force of Union cavalry regiments which happened to be in the vicinity, many armed with Colt Revolving Rifles and Spencer repeaters. The Federals managed to frustrate Forrest with a slow withdrawal, and he was only to the outskirts of Spring Hill by noon. This was the firing hood heard as his infantry approached from the southeast, and he ordered Forrest to hold on.
David Stanley had been assigned to escort the immense Union wagon train north to Spring Hill and on to Franklin with a division of his IV Corps, and he moved with little urgency most of the morning of November 29. This changed however, when he received word from the Spring Hill commander around 11:30 A.M. that the town was under attack. Opdycke’s and Lane’s Brigades were sent north in a hurry, Opdycke moving north of town (ironically to a quiet sector says Sword) with Lane heading east to take on Forrest. The Federal infantry slammed the door shut on any possibility Forrest had of taking the town. He instead had to wait for Hood’s infantry. It was 3:30 P.M. by this time, and Forrest was still waiting.
Chapter 14: Listening for the Sound of Guns
(Note: I’ve tried to make the following summary of Sword’s account of the “Affair at Spring Hill” as detailed as possible, since author Eric Jacobson has mentioned that he has a bit of a different interpretation of events than does Sword.)
Hood heard Forrest’s fight going on to the north and hurried Cheatham’s Corps forward, holding Stewart’s Corps in reserve. Hood ordered Cheatham to attack to the northwest and take Spring Hill. Hood road forward to a hill and conferred with Forrest at this point, and Sword believes he changed his plans here, deciding that the main enemy threat would be from the south in the direction of Columbia. Hood and Cheatham did not see each other again that afternoon, and Sword depicts two commanders working in opposite directions: Cheatham to the north and Hood to the south. Cleburne’s Division, say Sword, was aligned en echelon facing west, with the northernmost brigade farthest ahead. Sword says Hood ordered this formation so that Cleburne could rapidly wheel left, AWAY from Spring Hill, once he hit the Franklin Pike south of town. However, Cleburne was attacked on his right flank by Bradley’s Union Brigade and he was forced to change direction to deal with this threat. Cleburne sent Bradley running rather quickly, but he was stopped by a concentration of Union artillery just south of Spring Hill. David Stanley had formed this line after anticipating trouble from that direction. Cheatham, still operating under Hood’s first set of orders, gathered the rest of his command in support of a renewed attack by Cleburne.
David Stanley was busy trying to oppose this coming assault. He reformed Bradley’s routed men behind the artillery line, and he took a calculated risk by ordering Lane’s Brigade to move south, all but abandoning their eastward facing line from which they had earlier repulsed Forrest’s Cavalry. If Forrest again moved against Spring Hill, Lane’s men would be flanked and possible captured. Lane even moved some of his men east to produce a flanking fire on any northward attack.
John C. Brown’s Division of Cheatham’s Corps was to lead the attack north from the right of the line, and Cleburne and Bate (still off to the left somewhere) would follow after hearing Brown’s guns signal the start of the attack. Sword here mentions that Cheatham went to speak with Hood some time before 5:00 P.M., but the object of the attack was never discussed. Hood assumed Cheatham would move south down the Franklin Pike, while Cheatham instead was following the initial orders to attack Spring Hill to the north and northwest. I find this more than a little difficult to believe, and I look forward to reading Jacobson’s interpretation of this event. In any case, the assault’s objective remained the town. However, Bate was not attacking in the growing darkness. He had noticed Lane’s troops to his right front and knew that his men would be flanked by this force. He further noticed that Forrest’s men who were supposed to be in that area protecting his right were no longer around (they had moved to the north of Spring Hill to try to get at the Union wagon trains). In this uncertain situation, Bate sent couriers to find Cheatham, who had gone southwest in search of Bate’s Division. Victory now lay in the hands of Cheatham if he could be found in time, according to Sword. The author describes Cheatham as a man whose idea of war was to attack the enemy if he presented himself. In this case, though, Cheatham had reservations. He was a newly appointed Corps Commander, and he had never before been in charge of an entire battle. Brown’s worries about his right and the tired condition of his men from marching through the woods earlier in the day weighed on Cheatham’s mind as well. Sword says that around 6:15 P.M. Cheatham went to Hood to have him decide whether or not to attack. During the late afternoon, Hood waited for an attack to occur, and he fully expected this to happen shortly after the 5 P.M. visit of Cheatham. Sword says that Hood believed Cheatham had taken Spring Hill without opposition of had blocked the Franklin Pike facing south. (My question here is, if Sword’s hypothesis that Hood expected Cheatham to move south on the Franklin Pike was correct, why would Hood assume anything about Cheatham taking Spring Hill?) Hood started complaining to his corps commander Stewart that his orders to attack had not been followed. He then ordered Stewart to move to block the Franklin Pike north of Spring Hill. Cheatham arrived and Hood demanded to know why cheatham had not attacked. Cheatham explained the issues facing him and asked for Stewart’s help. Hood sent couriers to change Stewart’s orders from blocking the Pike to instead supporting Cheatham’s right. Interestingly, Bate’s Division had moved west and reached the Franklin Pike south of Spring Hill near the Nathaniel Cheairs home. Bate had followed Hood’s initial orders. However, he was soon ordered to abandon the road by Cheatham, still intent on the attack to the north. Bate complied and reached Cleburne’s left flank to the northeast around 10 P.M. Stewart found Forrest’s headquarters on his move north and then west to strike the Franklin Pike, and he questioned Forrest on the situation. Forrest believed that the Federals were using a road further west than Spring Hill to escape, and he wanted to send a courier to Hood to help him close it. Sword writes that Hood had too many other things going on to do much about this problem if it were true. This information about a possible Federal escape had led Forrest to abandon his support of Brown’s right flank, thus causing the fatal delay in Cheatham’s attack. Sword calls this “the flaw that had altered the complexion of the battle.” Stewart had by now received word that he was needed on Cheatham’s right flank. He could hardly believe this, since Hood had just ordered him north of Spring Hill. More time was wasted conferring with Cheatham about the reasons for this order. By the time things were figured out, it was after 10 P.M. Hood had already gone to bed around 9, and Sword implies that the general had “perhaps” taken some laudanum, citing Bromfield L. Ridley’s Battles and Sketches of the Army of Tennessee (Dayton, OH, 1978) as a source. If anyone knows more about that book I’d love to hear from you in the comments section. In any event, Sword concludes that “Cheatham’s one-dimensional concept” (i.e. to attack the enemy in front of him) had caused “one of the greatest overreactions in the history of the Army of Tennessee.” Rather than blocking the Franklin Pike to the south (Bate) and the north (Stewart) of Spring Hill, at 11 P.M. on November 29, 1864 that critical road was now left open for a Federal escape. Sword concludes the chapter by mentioning that “a host of frustrated and thoroughly confused Confederate generals were in the process of descending upon Hood’s headquarters.”
Chapter 15: A Hand Stronger than Armies
Schofield’s November 29th is chronicled in the first part of this chapter. After Wilson’s cavalry had been driven back in the morning , Schofield worried that Hood would attack his left (or eastern) flank after following Forrest’s Cavalry over the Duck River. Accordingly, at around 8:15 A.M. he sent about 1,600 men in five regiments under Colonel P. Sidney Post to the east to discover if any Rebel infantry had gotten around his flank on the Lewisburg Pike. They ran into what they believed to be infantry at Cooper’s Mineral Well. Schofield decided to try to keep the enemy off of his flank until dark and then withdraw. apparently it did not yet occur to him that Hood would move north to Spring Hill. Schofield received a shock, then, at 3:00 P.M., when Post brought word of a heavy enemy movement in that direction. At 3:30, the Federal commander took two brigades of Thomas Ruger’s Division and headed north to Spring Hill. Incredibly, his orders remained for the rest of the army to hold out until dusk and only then retire to Spring Hill. These two brigades discovered Rebel camps very near the road in the darkness as they approached Spring Hill, and they gingerly and quietly moved north into the town. Schofield was relieved to see that Spring Hill hadn’t fallen, but he now received other bad news. Confederate Cavalry had attacked the railroad and Franklin Pike several miles north of Spring Hill on the direct road to Franklin. Schofield was worried that with his slow moving wagon train, Hood would be able to beat him to Franklin and cut the Federal forces off from Nashville and Thomas. There was even talk of surrendering to Hood the next morning.
The Confederates in the front lines near Spring Hill that night were astonished that they had not attacked, according to Sword. Gen. Cleburne was one of these men, but he was under orders not to attack until Brown did. So what of Brown? Sword says that the General “had no orders” [Brown’s words, not the authors] pending the resolution of Cheatham’s meeting with Hood. Several on Brown’s staff as well as Cavalry General James Chalmers urged Brown to attack, orders or no orders. Brown declined to take that risk, and no attack was made. Sword next details the line of commanders who went to see Hood that night. He again makes a claim to a laudanum using Hood, again qualifying this with a “perhaps”. The first general to see Hood was Stewart, and he asked why he had been diverted from cutting the Franklin Pike north of Spring Hill. Hood had believed that Brown was facing west rather than north, so in his mind an extension of Brown’s right would have still allowed Stewart to extend his right northwestward to the Franklin Pike. When Stewart explained that Brown was facing north and extending to the right would place him farther east (i.e. AWAY from the Franklin Pike), Hood decided to wait until morning to send Stewart to cut the road. Forrest saw Hood next, and he received permission to move on Thompson’s Station and attempt to block the Pike north of Spring Hill. William Bate spoke with Hood next. His men had been blocking the Franklin Pike south of Spring Hill late that afternoon, but Cheatham had altered Bate’s instructions and moved him northeast to take his place on Cleburne’s left (or western) flank facing north. Bate was visiting now to see about cutting off the Pike again, but Hood replied that he had given Cheatham Edward Johnson’s Division for that purpose. A private next came in and explained that he had wandered into the Yankee lines. While there, he had seen mass confusion as well as large numbers of troops using the Franklin Pike to make their escape. Hood responded by having one of his staff send a note to Cheatham to move troops to the road. It wasn’t done, however. Ed Johnson was displeased that he had been “loaned” to another Corps, and he was further perturbed that he had to move out onto the flank of the line in a rather exposed position. Around 2 A.M., he rode to the Pike and found no Union troops moving along it. Johnson reported all of these things to Cheatham and the general allowed the road to go unblocked. Johnson’s men were only several hundred yards from the Yankee escape route. Meanwhile the Yankees continued to move north into Spring Hill, although they tried to stay as quiet as possible so as not to alert the Rebels whose campfires could be plainly seen. Schofield and Ruger’s Division had gone to Thompson’s Station to see if the Rebel Cavalry still blocked the Franklin Pike. They did not, and Schofield posted Ruger to cover the road from forces to the east. Schofield went back to Spring Hill and got his forces in motion to the north around midnight, even bringing along the immense wagon train. The rear guard units at Columbia reached Spring Hill around 4 A.M. on the 30th, and Schofield felt he had escaped. Around this time, Stanley (still in Spring Hill) had received word that the head of the wagon train had been attacked at Thompson’s Station. He was worried that this might mean disaster.
Ross’s Brigade of Forrest’s Cavalry was responsible for both attacks on Thompson’s Station. After the earlier attack, they had fallen back to Forrest for new instructions. He sent them back with orders to block the Pike. They were able to do this around 3 or so in the morning, and they burned 40 odd wagons in the process. However, Ruger’s Division was nearby and soon drove Ross and his troopers away. Schofield then assigned infantry divisions to march on either side of the wagons, preventing ross from doing further damage. By 5 A.M., everyone, including the rear guard from Columbia, had cleared Spring Hill and were on their way to Franklin. They had miraculously escaped the net Hood had set for them. Sword calls this “one of the greatest missed opportunities of the entire war.” He says that Hood’s poor map was the first problem, causing the Confederates to arrive at Spring Hill much later in the day than Hood had planned. Second was the appearance of Yankee troops on the left flank of his march, causing Hood to become conservative and cautious the rest of the day. But Sword mainly blames “Hood’s impromptu decision making and the lack of cohesive, prior planning in defining tactical objectives” as the largest issue of the day. He blames Hood for remaining too far in the rear and being unavailable for his commanders to communicate with him. He also blames Hood for not communicating his change of plan from attacking Spring Hill to blocking the Franklin Pike to Benjamin Cheatham. Oddly enough, he compares Hood’s handling of the situation to the way Lee dealt with Stonewall Jackson, using a “hands off” method of leadership. Sword calls Cheatham a “major accomplice” in the missed opportunity. Cheatham, according to Sword, did not realize that blocking the Franklin Pike was far more important than attacking the Yankees already in Spring Hill. Cheatham’s confusing orders throughout the day resulted in nothing being done in any direction, what Sword calls “the worst possible result.” Hood had relied on Cheatham as his battlefield commander, and the “result had proved fatal.” Sword further mentions that he believes Cleburne should have had the position Cheatham held. The author also blames John Brown and his refusal to attack when only 300 or so men confronted him on his right flank. He believes Ed Johnson “showed a lack of reasoned judgment”, and he censures Forrest for removing Jackson’s Cavalry division from Brown’s right flank. Sword (correctly IMHO) calls this a “general command breakdown”, but he seems to place most of the blame on Hood, again insinuating that he “possibly” could have been taking laudanum.
To me, from Sword’s description of events the largest blame would go to Cheatham and Brown. One or the other should have taken the responsibility to attack and should have ordered it done. Either way, Brown would have gone forward, freeing the other divisions to attack as well. The actions of Ed Johnson are more than a little questionable as well. I find it odd that when directly ordered to take the road he would desist. So what if there were no Federals on the road when he made his reconnaissance? Another column might show up later. Hood mainly is to blame for recalling Stewart from his mission to block the Franklin Pike north of Spring Hill. Surely he could have used some other force to watch Brown’s right. An entire Corps does not seem to have been needed. Of course the benefit of hindsight makes decision making much, much easier for armchair generals like me. The biggest problem seems to have been the lack of daylight left in which to attack. Hood had a two hour window from 4 P.M. to 6 P.M. Once that window closed and darkness fell, confusion was going to be inevitable. Night attacks rarely succeeded (or were even attempted, for that matter) during the war, so the likelihood of success after 6 P.M. seems to have been extremely small at best.
Next week I’ll take a look at Sword’s depiction of Franklin, and then I’ll move on to Eric Jacobson’s book in a manner similar to what I did for Fred Ray’s Shock Troops of the Confederacy.