Memoirs

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Author: John Bell Hood  | Date: 1892–1894

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Last Campaign in the West (1864)

BY GENERAL JOHN BELL HOOD

. . . WHEN our army arrived at Florence [October 31] it had entirely recovered from the depression that frequent retreats had created. The enemy having for the first time divided his forces, I had to determine which of the two parts to direct my operations against. To follow the forces about to move through Georgia under Sherman would be to again abandon the regained territory to the forces under Thomas, with little hope of being able to reach the enemy in time to defeat his movement, and also to cause desertion and greatly impair the morale or fighting spirit of the army by what would be considered a compulsory retreat. I thought the alternative clear that I should move upon Thomas. If I succeeded in beating him the effect of Sherman’s movement would not be great, and I should gain in men sufficiently to compensate for the damages he might inflict. If beaten I should leave the army in better condition than it would be if I attempted a retrograde movement against Sherman. . . .

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. . . .

. . . 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. . . .

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 Murfreesborough 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. . . . 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.

. . . on the 21st the army resumed its march for Pulaski. . . . 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. . . . 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. . . .

. . . 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.

The War of the Rebellion: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, First Series (Washington, 1892–1894), XXXIX, pt. i, 803; XLV, pt. i, 652–656 passim.

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Chicago: John Bell Hood, "Last Campaign in the West (1864)," Memoirs in American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. Albert Bushnell Hart (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1903), Original Sources, accessed July 20, 2019, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=Q6NLMQK2IR5F8QQ.

MLA: Hood, John Bell. "Last Campaign in the West (1864)." Memoirs, Vol. XLV, in American History Told by Contemporaries, edited by Albert Bushnell Hart, Vol. 4, New York, The Macmillan Company, 1903, Original Sources. 20 Jul. 2019. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=Q6NLMQK2IR5F8QQ.

Harvard: Hood, JB, 'Last Campaign in the West (1864)' in Memoirs. cited in 1903, American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. , The Macmillan Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 20 July 2019, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=Q6NLMQK2IR5F8QQ.