With the Union army safely over the Duck River at Columbia, TN, Union Commander John Schofield was hopeful that he would soon hear from General George Thomas in Nashville that the 16th corps had arrived to assist him and that he should withdraw to Tennessee’s capital promptly. He knew Confederate commander John Bell Hood might try to flank him to the east. But he was assured by newly-arrived cavalry commander General James Wilson that would keep a close eye on any attempt by Hood and his cavalry commander, Nathan Bedford Forrest, to swing behind the Union army. Schofield would be disappointed on all fronts, and his army would be in great jeopardy for the next two days, and he knew he was in a difficult situation.
First, the 16th corps’ arrival from Missouri was delayed, and Thomas continued to ask Schofield to delay Hood. He also did not comply with Schofield’s earlier request to set up pontoons over the Harpeth River at Franklin.
Second, on November 27, Schofield’s civilian code clerk deserted. (Note: this was one of Secretary of War Stanton’s most egregious mistakes. He insisted that only one person, a civilian, could hold the key for the code). As a result, Schofield had to rely on couriers to relay messages, and one of them would be captured by Hood on the 29th carrying a critical message from Thomas.
Third, the 26 year old Wilson made a critical mistake. Instead of guarding Schofield’s flank, he went searching for Forrest far to the east, even as Forrest was advancing to his west toward Spring Hill. In one of the most infamous communiques of the war, Wilson would telegraph Schofield on the 29th, “the enemy has disappeared.”
In fact, the enemy was advancing on two fronts to Schofield’s east and would soon be on its way to outflanking him. John Bell Hood, emulating “the immortal Jackson” at Chancellorsville, had sent half of his forces over the Duck River, and they were poised to move rapidly north. He left one corps under S.D. Lee at Columbia with most of his artillery, and they skirmished all day with the Union forces to try to pin Schofield down. Sensing that he had victory in his grasp, Hood announced that he would take personal command of this new venture. The odds were very much in his favor as he looked at a map and envisaged the village of Spring Hill as the point where he would get between Schofield and Thomas and destroy the Union army.
To be continued.
Below is a map of this part of the campaign, and pictures of Forrest and Thomas