Report of Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas, U.S. Army – Battle of Franklin

Report of Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas, U.S. Army, Commanding Department of the Cumberland, Battle of [Franklin]

Eastport, Miss., January 20, 1865.

Lieut. Col. R. M. SAWYER,
Asst. Adjt. Gen.,
Military Division of the Mississippi.


On the 12th of November communication with General Sherman was severed, the last dispatch from him leaving Cartersville, Ga., at 2.25 p.m. on that date. He had started on his great expedition from Atlanta to the seaboard, leaving me to guard Tennessee or to pursue the enemy if he followed the commanding general’s column. It was therefore with considerable anxiety that we watched the forces at Florence, to discover what course they would pursue with regard to General Sherman’s movements, determining thereby whether the troops under my command, numbering less than half those under Hood, were to act on the defensive in Tennessee, or take the offensive in Alabama.

The enemy’s position at Florence remained unchanged up to the 17th of November, when he moved Cheatham’s corps to the north side of the river, with Stewart’s corps preparing to follow. The same day part of the enemy’s infantry, said to be Lee’s corps, moved up the Lawrenceburg road to Bough’s Mill, on Shoal Creek, skirmishing at that point with Hatch’s cavalry, and then fell back a short distance to some bluffs, where it went into camp.

The possibility of Hood’s forces following General Sherman was now at an end, and I quietly took measures to act on the defensive. Two divisions of infantry, under Maj. Gen. A. J. Smith, were reported on their way to join me, from Missouri, which, with several one-year regiments then arriving in the department, and detachments collected from points of minor importance, would swell my command, when concentrated, to an army nearly as large as that of the enemy. Had the enemy delayed his advance a week or ten days longer, I would have been ready to meet him at some point south of Duck River, but Hood commenced his advance on the 19th, moving on parallel roads from Florence toward Waynesborough, and shelled Hatch’s cavalry out of Lawrenceburg on the 22d. My only resource then was to retire slowly toward my re-enforcements, delaying the enemy’s progress as much as possible, to gain time for re-enforcements to arrive and concentrate.

General Schofield commenced removing the public property from Pulaski preparatory to falling back toward Columbia. Two divisions of Stanley’s corps had already reached Lynnville, a point fifteen miles north of Pulaski, to cover the passage of the wagons and protect the railroad. Capron’s brigade of cavalry was at Mount Pleasant, covering the approach to Columbia from that direction; and, in addition to the regular garrison, there was at Columbia a brigade of Ruger’s division, Twenty-third Army Corps. I directed the two remaining brigades of Ruger’s division, then at Johnsonville, to move—one by railroad around through Nashville to Columbia, the other by road via Waverly to Centerville—and occupy the crossings of Duck River near Columbia, Williamsport, Gordon’s Ferry, and Centerville.

Since the departure of General Sherman about 7,000 men belonging to his column had collected at Chattanooga, comprising convalescents returning to their commands and men returning from furlough. These men had been organized into brigades, to be made available at such points as they might be needed. My command had also been re-enforced by twenty new one-year regiments, most of which, however, were absorbed in replacing old regiments whose terms of service had expired.

On the 23d, in accordance with directions previously given him, General Granger commenced withdrawing the garrisons from Athens, Decatur, and Huntsville, Ala., and moved off toward Stevenson, sending five new regiments of that force to Murfreesborough, and retaining at Stevenson the original troops of his command. This movement was rapidly made by railroad, without opposition on the part of the enemy. That same night General Schofield evacuated Pulaski and moved toward Columbia, reporting himself in position at that place on the 24th. The commanding officer at Johnsonville was directed to evacuate that post, after removing all public property, and retire to Fort Donelson, on the Cumberland, and thence to Clarksville. During the 24th and 25th the enemy skirmished with General Schofield’s troops at Columbia, but showed nothing but dismounted cavalry until the morning of the 26th, when his infantry came up and pressed our line strongly during that day and the 27th, but without assaulting. As the enemy’s movements showed an undoubted intention to cross above or below the town, General Schofield withdrew to the north bank of Duck River during the night of the 27th and took up a new position, where the command remained during the 28th, undisturbed. Two divisions of the Twenty-third Corps were placed in line in front of the town, holding all the crossings in its vicinity, while Stanley’s corps, posted in reserve on the Franklin pike, was held in readiness to repel any vigorous attempt the enemy should make to force a crossing; the cavalry, under command of Brevet Major-General Wilson, held the crossings above those guarded by the infantry. About 2 a.m. on the 29th the enemy succeeded in pressing back General Wilson’s cavalry, and effected a crossing on the Lewisburg pike; at a later hour part of his infantry crossed at Huey’s Mills, six miles above Columbia. Communication with the cavalry having been interrupted and the line of retreat toward Franklin being threatened, General Schofield made preparations to withdraw to Franklin. General Stanley, with one division of infantry, was sent to Spring Hill, about fifteen miles north of Columbia, to cover the trains and hold the road open for the passage of the main force, and dispositions were made preparatory to a withdrawal and to meet any attack coming from the direction of Huey’s Mills. General Stanley reached Spring Hill just in time to drive off the enemy’s cavalry and save the trains; but later he was attacked by the enemy’s infantry and cavalry combined, who engaged him heavily and nearly succeeded in dislodging him from the position, the engagement lasting until dark. Although not attacked from the direction of Huey’s Mills, General Schofield was busily occupied all day at Columbia resisting the enemy’s attempts to cross Duck River, which he successfully accomplished, repulsing the enemy many times, with heavy loss. Giving directions for the withdrawal of the troops as soon as covered by the darkness, at a late hour in the afternoon General Schofield, with Ruger’s division, started to the relief of General Stanley, at Spring Hill, and when near that place he came upon the enemy’s cavalry, but they were easily driven off. At Spring Hill the enemy was found bivouacking within 800 yards of the road. Posting a brigade to hold the pike at this point, General Schofield with Ruger’s division, pushed on to Thompson’s Station, three mile’s beyond, where he found the enemy’s campfires still burning, a cavalry force having occupied the place at dark, but had disappeared on the arrival of our troops. General Ruger then quietly took possession of the cross-roads.

The withdrawal of the main force from in front of Columbia was safely effected after dark on the 29th; Spring Hill was passed without molestation about midnight, and making a night march of twenty-five miles, the whole command got into position at Franklin at an early hour on the morning of the 30th; the cavalry moved on the Lewisburg pike, on the right or east of the infantry.

At Franklin General Schofield formed line of battle on the southern edge of the town to await the coming of the enemy, and in the meanwhile hastened the crossing of the trains to the north side of Harpeth River.

On the evacuation of Columbia orders were sent to Major-General Milroy, at Tullahoma, to abandon that post and retire to Murfrees-borough, joining forces with General Rousseau at the latter place. General Milroy was instructed, however, to maintain the garrison in the block-house at Elk River bridge. Nashville was placed in a state of defense and the fortifications manned by the garrison, re-enforced by a volunteer force, which had been previously organized into a division, under Bvt. Brig. Gen. J. L. Donaldson, from the employés of the quartermaster’s and commissary departments. This latter force, aided by railroad employés, the whole under the direction of Brigadier-General Tower, worked assiduously to construct additional defenses. Major-General Steedman, with a command numbering 5,000, composed of detachments belonging to General Sherman’s column, left behind at Chattanooga (of which mention has heretofore been made), and also a brigade of colored troops, started from Chattanooga by rail on the 29th of November, and reached Cowan on the morning of the 30th, where orders were sent him to proceed direct to Nashville. At an early hour on the morning of the 30th the advance of Maj. Gen. A. J. Smith’s command reached Nashville by transports from Saint Louis. My infantry force was now nearly equal to that of the enemy, although he still outnumbered me very greatly in effective cavalry; but as soon as a few thousand of the latter arm could be mounted I should be in a condition to take the field offensively and dispute the possession of Tennessee with Hood’s army.

The enemy followed closely after General Schofield’s rear guard in the retreat to Franklin, and upon coming up with the main force, formed rapidly and advanced to assault our works, repeating attack after attack during the entire afternoon, and as late as 10 p.m. his efforts to break our line were continued. General Schofield’s position was excellently chosen, with both flanks resting upon the river, and the men firmly held their ground against an overwhelming enemy, who was repulsed in every assault along the whole line. Our loss, as given by General Schofield in his report transmitted herewith (and to which I respectfully refer), is, 189 killed, 1,033 wounded, and 1,104 missing, making an aggregate of 2,326. We captured and sent to Nashville 702 prisoners, including I general officer, and 33 stand of colors. Maj. Gen. D. S. Stanley, commanding Fourth Corps, was severely wounded at Franklin whilst engaged in rallying a portion of his command which had been temporarily overpowered by an overwhelming attack of the enemy. At the time of the battle the enemy’s loss was known to be severe, and was estimated at 5,000. The exact figures were only obtained, however, on the reoccupation of Franklin by our forces, after the battles of December 15 and 16, at Brentwood Hills, near Nashville, and are given as follows: Buried upon the field, 1,750; disabled and placed in hospital at Franklin, 3,800, which, with the 702 prisoners already reported, makes an aggregate loss to Hood’s army of 6,252, among whom were 6 general officers killed, 6 wounded, and I captured. The important results of the signal victory cannot be too highly appreciated, for it not only seriously checked the enemy’s advance, and gave General Schofield time to remove his troops and all his property to Nashville, but it also caused deep depression among the men of Hood’s army, making them doubly cautious in their subsequent movements.

Not willing to risk a renewal of the battle on the morrow, and having accomplished the object of the day’s operations, viz, to cover the withdrawal of his trains, General Schofield, by my advice and direction, fell back during the night to Nashville, in front of which city line of battle was formed by noon of the 1st of December, on the heights immediately surrounding Nashville, with Maj. Gen. A. J. Smith’s command occupying the right, his right resting on the Cumberland River, below the city; the Fourth Corps (Brig. Gen. T. J. Wood temporarily in command) in the center; and General Schofield’s troops (Twenty-third Army Corps) on the left, extending to Nolensville pike. The cavalry, under General Wilson, was directed to take post on the left of General Schofield, which would make secure the interval between his left and the river above the city.

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