Having decided to lead personally the Chancellorsville-like attempt to get behind the Union army led by General John Schofield, Confederate commander John Bell Hood got off to a good start the morning of November 29. Half his army, about 20,000 men, were moving north toward Spring Hill while Schofield was unsure of what Hood was doing. Schofield decided to split his forces, most of which were in Columbia, TN, and send 4th corps commander David Stanley north along the Columbia Pike to fend off what Schofield feared was a major strike — which it was.
Fortunately for Schofield, Hood’s men got lost along the undemarcated rural lanes, and they did not arrive until after 3 PM. This gave Stanley, with about 6000 men, time to get to Spring Hill and set up a defensive line, with considerable artillery. The Confederate offensive got underway at about 4 PM on a day when the sun would set at about 4:35. The rebel attacks were uncoordinated because of misunderstandings about orders, including a difficult-to-understand decision by Cavalry leader Forrest to halt when facing minimal opposition north of Spring Hill.
The fighting went on until about 6 PM, and Stanley was able to hold Spring Hill as darkness set in and halted the fighting. Hood, unsure whether Schofield was sending reinforcements from Columbia, gave conflicting orders which led his commanders to be cautious about their attacks. Hood did sent A.P. Stewart north to try to get behind the Union, but not surprisingly he got lost in the dark. When he returned to Confederate headquarters, he found that Hood had ordered the men into bivouac and himself had gone to sleep at 8 PM. He likely was confident that an early morning attack on the 30th against what he hoped was still a divided Union army would be successful.
Instead, once Schofield realized the danger he was in, he ordered all his forces north past Spring Hill toward Franklin, 12 miles to the north. On one of the Civil War’s most mysterious days, the entire Union army of over 20,000 engaged in a forced, silent march within sight of the rebel campfires. By midnight, they were on their way to Franklin, leaving the sleeping Confederates behind. Jacob Cox’s 3rd division led the move north, and George Wagner’s division would be designated as the rear guard.
See “Ohio Heroes of the Battle of Franklin” for this and upcoming blog posts, continuing Nov. 30.
Below are maps of the Battle of Spring Hill and an image of General Stanley