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Though night had fallen, Hood still held out hope that his objective of cutting Schofield's retreat could be achieved. At 7 p.m., Hood met with General Cheatham for the first time since they had left each other at the Rutherford creek crossing. Capt. Joseph Cummings of Hood's staff was close enough to witness this exchange. Cummings had the distinct impression that Cheatham, after explaining Brown's situation, was convinced that it would be folly to initiate a night attack.(45) Hood, in no mood to hear excuses, said that he would detail an officer to locate Stewart and bring him up to Brown's right. Prior to dispatching an officer to locate Stewart, Hood sought Cheatham's reassurance that in redirecting Stewart's men, he would still be achieving his primary objective in cutting the pike. Either Cheatham was unfamiliar with the ground or misunderstood to which pike Hood was referring because Stewart's new assignment made cutting the pike tactically impossible.  By connecting with Brown's right, Stewart would be angling away from, not straddling, the Columbia Pike. After the officer had been sent on his way, General Hood retired to "Oaklawn," the home of Rev. Absolum Thompson, for an evening meal. Although he was aware of the stalled attack, Hood still appeared to be laboring under the assumption that his army held possession of the vital Columbia-to-Nashville Pike, since he had sent four divisions and one full corps forward for that purpose.

At 7:30 p.m., General Stewart, riding at the head of his veteran corps of 8,000, realized they had taken the wrong route. The guide General Hood had provided Stewart had attempted to take a short cut and had inadvertently taken a private lane leading up to the Caldwell home. As Stewart was untangling his corps, he learned that the Caldwell house was being used as Forrest's headquarters. After a brief conference with Forrest, Stewart returned to his corps to find that the column had been ordered to halt by the officer Hood had sent to locate Stewart. Stewart questioned the orders, puzzled that the message was delivered by a member of Cheatham's engineering staff, not an officer of Hood's staff. He determined to meet with General Brown personally before complying with the conflicting orders.(46)

Locating Brown's Division straddling the Rally Hill Pike, Stewart consulted with General Brown at approximately 8 p.m. Realizing that the placement of his corps on Brown’s right would remove him further from the pike and would take the better part of the night, Stewart thought it best to return to General Hood and advise him of this. He then ordered his men to bivouac near the Caldwell house while he and General Forrest rode back to Hood's headquarters at 9 p.m.(47) The inactivity quickly convinced the troops that an attack would not be forthcoming.

Hood would get little sleep on that evening. General Stewart, accompanied by General Forrest, were the first to awaken the general round 10 p.m. According to Isham Harris, who was sleeping in the same room, when Hood asked Stewart if he could not still send a division or a brigade north to throw across the pike, Stewart vacillated. He reminded the general that his men had been marching all day and had not been allowed to eat. Frustrated, Hood turned to Forrest and asked if he could not send a brigade. Forrest replied that he would do so if his men could be supplied ammunition. Directing Stewart to have Walthall's Division provide the ammunition, Hood dismissed the generals, confident the crucial maneuver to cut off Schofield would yet be accomplished.(48) However, Hood would not be allowed to return to bed until giving audience to an anxious General Bate, who had been pacing in the hall.

General Bate recounted his evening activities to Hood and sought reassurance that his actions thus far met with the commander's approval. General Bate later stated that Hood, in effect, assured him that Forrest had just left to attend to matters and his army would bag Schofield in the morning.(49) Shortly after Bate's departure, a barefoot private made his way to the Thompson home. The young soldier came to inform the Confederate commander that the enemy was escaping in the night and something should be done about it.(50) The lowly private and the army commander both shared the hope that the division and corps commanders would do everything in the power to cut off the Union forces. Both would share, instead, the bitter disappointment of the morrow.

Another opportunity arrived with the appearance on the field of Edward Johnson's Division at 10:30 p.m. Cheatham directed Johnson to place his men on the left of Bate, connecting with his line just north of the Nathaniel Cheairs's home. As a result of the private's late night visit to Hood, Cheatham received an order at midnight to have his men fire into the Federals on the pike. In response, Cheatham sent Major Bostick of his staff to have Johnson's men take care of the matter. Johnson complained bitterly about being loaned out and was angered by Cheatham's order.(51) Though his men were wet and tired and had just bedded down for the night, he instructed the field officers to have the men again form under arms. The order to advance was never given. Johnson and Bostick returned to Cheatham's tent at 2 a.m. to inform him that they had ridden out to the pike and found it quiet and empty.(52) Johnson's men, still under arms and awaiting orders to advance, sank one by one to the ground with exhaustion.

Johnson must have reconnoitered during a gap in Schofield's retreating columns, as Kimball's division didn't arrive from Columbia until 1:30 a.m. At 4 a.m. With the arrival of two Kentucky regiments, Schofield's troops were now all present. With the discovery of the route being clear north of Spring Hill, all thoughts of capitulation were put aside as Stanley worked to extricate the wagons. The blue columns moved inexorably north towards Franklin. Relieved at their incredible good fortune, the last of Schofield's army and wagons pulled out of Spring Hill at 5 a.m. The first Federal division to arrive at Spring Hill on the 29th was the last to leave at dawn on the 30th. Wagner's men brought up the rear of the marching column.

Not far from the rapidly retreating enemy, General Cleburne, eager to strike a blow, was "deeply moved" when he realized that movements had been suspended for the night and he would be denied the privilege.(53) He ordered Granbury's Brigade to return to their original position, one hundred yards from and adjacent to the pike, where they lay down behind a farm fence. Failing to post skirmishers beyond their lines, a Capt. R. T. English of Granbury's staff wandered out onto the pike and was captured by the 23rd Michigan. This is where Granbury's Brigade remained throughout the night, under orders to light no fires. Cleburne sent word to General Hood at 11:30 p.m. advising him the enemy could be heard moving up the pike.(54) Receiving no reply, he undoubtedly spent his last night in restless frustration, wondering what the morning would bring.

In Columbia, Lee's crossing of the Duck in front of the remnants of Schofield's army was both dangerous and time consuming. Though he was aware of the complete withdrawal of the enemy in his front at 2 a.m., he sent no word to Hood and made no further advance until daylight. Lee arrived in Spring Hill shortly before 9 a.m. the following morning to find a very different commander than the confident Hood of the day before. Breakfast at the Nathaniel Cheairs's home was far from a pleasant affair. According to S. D. Lee in his postwar writings, Hood blamed Cheatham for the escape of Schofield. Cheatham in turn blamed Cleburne and Brown.(55) Neither of these generals was present, as both were getting their men ready to give chase to the Federal army. According to Lee, Hood was so disgusted that he returned Johnson's Division to S. D. Lee, saying he did not think the enemy would halt short of Nashville.(56)

Ross's Brigade of 700 Texans was the only troopers Forrest would send north that evening, the promised ammunition not being supplied to his cavalry until the following day. Shortly after 1 a.m., they clattered into Thompson Station, six miles north of Spring Hill, just ahead of Schofield's wagon train, captured a few prisoners and destroyed thirty-nine wagons. They were too few, however, and were compelled to withdraw on the approach of two bodies of Federal infantry.(57) For Hood, a star who rose so quickly in the east from command of the "Texas Brigade" to commander of the primary Confederate army in the west, it was an ironic twist of fate that Ross's Texans should be the only men to witness the entire Federal army in retreat, and with it the falling of that star.

Until recently, little has been written of the Battle of Spring Hill -- one of Gen. Patrick Cleburne's last glorious moments in the spotlight of his military career. Of the 850 casualties of this battle, 500 were suffered by Cleburne's Division and Forrest's Cavalry, 350 by Wagner's division.(58) These losses were far overshadowed by the losses incurred by both armies the following day at Franklin, Tennessee. Upon the shoulders of Hood's generals, including Cleburne, fell the blame for allowing the escape of the Federal army here.

After the war, Stephen D. Lee wrote: "[T]he responsibility rests on one not suspected. He was drunk and it was not Cheatham either.(59) Capt. James Dinkins, of Chalmer's Escort Company, wrote: "There was a great disappointment at that time, and a certain officer was severely criticized...It was a masterly move, and somebody was responsible for not winning a great victory." Judge J. P. Young, of Forrest's Cavalry, declared, "As to the responsibility for the failure at Spring Hill, Tenn., I was on that field, and can say most emphatically that Gen. Cleburne was in no sense to blame." These statements suggest it may have been common knowledge among the higher ranking officers who was to blame, but for an unspoken code among them, it was held in confidence. In his memoirs, Pvt. Philip D. Stephenson of the 5th Washington Artillery, comments that half of the army blamed Cheatham, the other half Hood.(60)

In his official report, Brown ascertains that at the time he was ordered to attack, "...yet the whole of [States Rights] Gist's and about one-half of Strahl's Brigade had not come up." Brown further states they did not arrive until after nightfall. However, Col. Ellison Capers of the 24th South Carolina Infantry, Gist's Brigade, states his brigade arrived at sunset and the enemy was in plain view in their front. It was Capers, General Gist, and General Strahl that discovered the enemy extending his flanks beyond Brown's. Brown emphatically stated he received no second order from General Cheatham to attack, while Cheatham refuted this with his statement of accounts in his postwar writings. Irrespective of clear orders, it is as difficult now as it was to actual participants then, to understand why General Brown would halt his division, subsequently stalling the entire Confederate attack. Brown's personal papers might have been revealing. However, his family refused to publish them, and they have been presumably destroyed.

Another prevailing rumor of "the affair at Spring Hill," is that higher ranking officers were strongly under the influence of liquor. While eyewitness accounts mention several officers toasting freely, General Brown among them, this author finds little evidence to support the rumor that either Hood or Cheatham were under the influence.

Ultimately, the majority of historians believe the fault should rest on the army commander, General Hood -- it being his responsibility to ensure his orders were carried out. Perhaps the events of Spring Hill will forever remain shrouded in mystery, as the voices of so many who might have allowed us to see this day in its true light were silenced for eternity on the blood-soaked battlefields of Franklin. As to General Cleburne, we will never know what inspired some of the last words he would utter before his death the following day: "Well, Govan...if we are to die, let us die like men.(61)
 





 


45. Joseph B. Cummings, Memoir, Joseph B. Cummings Papers, (Southern Historical Collection).
46. Official Records, Lt. Gen. Alexander P. Stewart, Report #244.
47. Ibid.
48. Major Campbell Brown, Personal Memoirs, Interview with Isham Harris,
(Louisiana Historical Collection).
49. Christopher Losson, Tennessee’s Forgotten Warriors, Frank Cheatham and his Confederate Division, (Knoxville, TN, 1893), 240-241.
50. Young Article, Confederate Veteran, 30.
51. Frank H. Smith, History of Maury County.
52. Benjamin F. Cheatham, The Lost Opportunity at Spring Hill.
53. Thomas A. Head, Campaigns and Battles of the Sixteenth Regiment Tennessee Volunteers in the War Between the States. (Nashville, 1885), 372.
54. Purdue, 404.
55. Young Article, Confederate Veteran, 35-38.
56. Ibid.
57. Official Records, Brig. Gen. Lawrence S. Ross, Report #255.
58. Official Records, Maj. Gen. David S. Stanley, Report #009.
59. Young Article, Confederate Veteran, 39.
60. The Civil War Memoirs of Philip Daingerfield Stephenson, D.D., edited by Nathaniel Cheairs Hughes, Jr., (UCA Press 1995), 334-35; J. P. Young to Thomas Hay, May 23, 1918. Letter in private hands.
61. Sword, 180.


"The Last Campaign" is an excerpt from A Meteor Shining Brightly; Essays On Maj. Gen Patrick R. Cleburne, edited by Mauriel P. Joslyn, foreword by Wiley Sword. The book is a collection of 12 essays on the life, career, personality, military accomplishments of Irish Confederate General Patrick Ronayne Cleburne (1828-1864), including the one you've just read, authored by Alethea D. Sayers. 


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