|Confederate Gen. John B. Hood|
The corps marched ahead 18 miles to the small farm town of Spring Hill.2 On this route the troops were about 4 miles east of and parallel of the Columbia-Spring Hill pike and were screened by woods. Unfortunately, they were spotted, and the nervous men kept in constant readiness for an attack. When they reached open country, the troops left the road and marched across fields towards town. All in all, it was an exhausting march.
|Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010|
|Source: Civil War Maps by Hal Jesperson|
An excellent animated map of Spring Hill is available at the
Civil War Trust website
Cleburne’s men waded across a small tributary of Rutherford Creek and continued along a wagon road to the foot of a critical knoll south of town, which was defended by Gen. Luther Bradley’s brigade. Hood met Cleburne along the road and ordered him to form his 3 brigades en echelon to the left of the road, facing west. Bate had been ordered to form on his left and Brown was advancing to form on his right. It was now after 3:30 PM.
Around 4 PM, after some delay, Cleburne ordered his brigades forward to attack Bradley's fortification on the knoll. Hood then rode about a half-mile south of Rally Hill Road to where Bate's Division was deployed.
During his ride, Hood apparently decided to modify his original plan, which led to much confusion later in the day. Without notifying Cleburne or Cheatham, Hood ordered Bate to cross the fields northwestward to the pike, seize it, and then move south to Columbia. Instead of supporting Cleburne, Bate’s Division became the force to march to the pike and then on toward Columbia.
|Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010|
The Knoll on the Spring Hill Battlefield, looking northwest in the direction of
Cleburne's attack. Lowrey's Brigade marched up the center of this photo.
Late in the evening, General Forrest attacked the enemy at Spring Hill, and I moved rapidly to his assistance. The enemy had moved out one mile from the village, and had made strong breastworks of fence rails, and occupied a strong position, from which the cavalry had failed to move him. The moment I arrived on the ground I formed a line and moved against the enemy, drove him from his works, and pursued him about a mile through an open field.
As soon as Granbury could come up and formed, he followed to my left, and Govan was brought up and held in reserve. Granbury did not get into the engagement, as the whole of the enemy's line to my left gave way as my line advanced, but the line to my right stood firm, and as I advanced, I left them in my rear.
Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010Near the crest of the knoll, looking south,
over the ground on which Lowrey's men attacked
Many of these fleeing Federals sought protection behind their artillery across the Columbia turnpike. However, Granbury’s Brigade drove the Yankees with their guns in a retreat further to the outskirts of Spring Hill. It was now time for the brigadiers to reorganize their scattered men and reform their lines.
Fearing an advance by the enemy, Cleburne intended to assault this new line before it was fully formed. As Lowrey’s and Govan’s Brigades were being quickly reformed for a new attack, Cheatham abruptly halted it, and ordered Cleburne to await a concentrated attack that could overwhelm the Spring Hill defenders. Believing that Stanley's strong artillery fire portended a much larger force on Spring Hill, Cheatham was convinced that to take the town, it would be necessary for Cleburne to have the support of both Bate and Brown.3 However, Cheatham was unaware of Hood’s revised orders for Bate to move southward on the pike toward Columbia. So Cheatham's orders for Cleburne and Bate no longer reflected Hood’s revised plans.
Given the situation as he now saw it, Cheatham ordered Brown to begin an assault as soon as his division was in line of battle, and for Cleburne and Bate to take up the attack successively. At dusk, the Confederates were rapidly forming to overwhelm the enemy on Spring Hill. By 5 PM, Brown’s Division on the extreme right sent their skirmishers forward. Forrest provided support for Brown’s advance on their right flank, from across the Rally Hill pike.
|Source: Civil War Maps by Hal Jesperson|
An excellent animated map of Spring Hill
is available at the Civil war Trust website
Meanwhile, Cleburne, who had prepared an advance further to the north to destroy Stanley's wagons and artillery, also received an order from Cheatham to remain where he was until further orders. He kept his division in readiness for an attack until after dark. But Cheatham's order never came. After darkness fell, without further orders, Cleburne ordered his brigades to bivouac in line of battle, facing the town, below the knoll from which they had driven Bradley.
What transpired next has baffled participants and historians ever since.
About 6:45 PM, Granbury’s men, lying down in the dark about 90 yards from the Columbia turnpike, heard the advanced element of Schofield's division passing toward Spring Hill. Cleburne, under orders to wait for the signal to attack, held back his men while the Federals passed them. At 7:30, after the Federal column had quietly moved passed, Cleburne drew back Granbury’s Brigade and placed it facing the pike on the left extension of his other brigades. By 8 PM, Bate, who in the darkness had had difficulty finding Cleburne’s left, now faced the road, extending Granbury’s line. At 10:00, Edward Johnson’s Division, temporarily under Cheatham’s command, formed an extension of Bate’s line, which altogether stretched Cheatham’s line for nearly 2 miles along the turnpike. By 10:45, the main Federal column passed Cleburne’s troops. Cleburne sent word to Hood, but Hood took no action. Thus the opportunity for one of the greatest victories of the war was lost.4
Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010
Hood's plans for the 29th had gone terribly awry. The engagement resulted in considerable loss for both sides with no real advantage for the Confederates. The Union forces lost around 350 killed and wounded, while Confederate losses were around 500. The greater loss for the Confederates may have been the drastic reversal in mood that came over the army, which had a direct impact on the battle the next day.
Schofield had been entirely successfully with extricating his whole force from Spring Hill. By the morning of the 30th, he was was at Franklin building a new line of fortifications. Finally realizing what had happened, an enraged Hood began looking for officers to blame rather than accepting responsibility for the breakdown of his command. He immediately ordered a pursuit, and by the end of the day, would recklessly hurl his army into the climatic Battle of Franklin.5
There is a Divinity that shapes our ends, rough hew them how we may. If in the next life we are permitted an insight into the events of this life and their causes, we shall be surprised to find how much Providence, and how very little human agency and planning have to do with all really noble and grand achievements. And how little credit is due to many who pass among us as great.
Maj. Gen. Alexander P. Stewart, 1886 (Quoted in The Last Hurrah, Wiley Sword)
When the enemy began the retreat from the vicinity of Columbia, Tenn., a large portion of our army crossed Duck River at Davis' Ford, five miles above Columbia. My brigade crossed first early on the morning of the 29th of November, and moved in advance all day. We moved to intercept the enemy at Spring Hill, Tenn., but were compelled to move cautiously, for we were expecting continually to meet the enemy. The enemy made one bold demonstration on our moving columns in the evening, I suppose for the purpose of detaining us. Lt. Gen. Hood was with me in person a good part of the day, and directed me to attack the enemy wherever I found him, without regard to his numbers or position.
5Author and Battle of Franklin historian Eric A. Jacobson provides an interesting narrative of the Spring Hill Affair on the site of the battlefield: See Civil War Trust website. When my wife and I visited the Franklin battlefield in 2010, we were introduced to Jacobson at the museum there. He was gracious enough to spend more than an hour discussing the battle and answering my questions.
Sources: The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah, Wiley Sword; Pat Cleburne: Confederate General, Howell & Elizabeth Purdue; Stonewall of the West, Craig L. Symonds; For Cause & For Country, Eric A. Jacobson; The Army of Tennessee, Stanley F. Horn; Five Tragic Hours, James Le McDonough & Thomas L. Connelly; Military History of Mississippi, 1803-1898, Dunbar Rowland; Mark P. Lowrey Autobiography, Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites; Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. 9; Official Records, Vol. 45, Pt. 1