As I noted in my previous blog, right now in Middle Tennessee we are commemorating the sesquicentennial of the Autumn Campaign, which included actions at Columbia, Springhill (or Spring Hill as they put during the War), Franklin and Nashville. Having spent several years following the career of Ambrose Bierce, especially as Topographical Engineer, with the Army of the Cumberland, I made a particular study of this campaign, since Bierce wrote extensively about it, both as non-fiction essays and also in his short fiction pieces.
It was therefore with some interest when I came across a short book by another “engineer” who, like Bierce, was with General Schofield’s little army on the road to Franklin and Nashville. While Ambrose Bierce was with Wood’s division in the IV Corps of the Army of the Cumberland, Levi T. Scofield was on the staff of General Cox’s division, with the 23rd Corps. Both corps were part of General Schofield’s force on the “retreat” (actually more a holding action, ordered by Thomas) from Pulaski, Tennessee all the way to Nashville. While technically part of Thomas’ Army of the Cumberland for this campaign, Schofield, in his official report on the campaign pointedly still lists his 23rd Corps as part of the Army of the Tennessee. Although not given an official designation, Schofield’s little army was de facto the reconstituted Army of the Ohio, which had fought during the Atlanta Campaign that summer. Levi Scofield, as a nod to that unofficial fact, put the Army of the Ohio logo on the cover of his little book.
As a side note, both General Schofield, commanding the Union troops during the march north, and General Hood, in charge of the Rebel forces, have both generally received strong criticisms from historians over the years and for similar reasons. Before being appointed commander of the Army of Tennessee, Hood has been accused of going behind his superior, General Joe Johnston, and criticizing him to superiors in Richmond, with a view to getting himself appointed in Johnston’s stead. Similarly, Schofield has been accused of much the same thing with regard to General Thomas to Washington. To what degree either Hood or Schofield were guilty of these accusations I will defer to others, save to note that recently Stephen Hood has argued vehemently in Hood’s defense and done much to rehabilitate “the Gallant Hood.” No one has yet argued similarly on behalf of Schofield.
One thing that has become clear to me, however, is that both general’s actions during this campaign have been underappreciated. To be more precise, one could argue that what previous historians have viewed as Hood’s failures as a general are better understood as Schofield’s skills as a field commander. Hood should have won at Springhill and captured Schofield’s army; likewise, because of a fatal blunder on the part of one of Schofield’s subordinates, Hood came very close to triumphing at the very start of the Battle of Franklin. Luck and Brigadier Opdycke prevented an unqualified Confederate success there.—but it was a very close thing nonetheless. The fact of the matter is that General Hood’s army came closer to success at Franklin than General Lee’s did at Gettysburg—and were more exposed to enemy fire for a longer duration during the charge.
For those unfamiliar with the role of topographical engineers during the Civil War, perhaps I should clarify their position in the War. Officially they were surveyors and map-makers, which today would be classed as a rear echelon staff position—hardly the stuff of daring-do and danger. During the Late Unpleasantness, however, their duties and responsibilities were far different. From the very start of the war, the lack of accurate maps of the South bedeviled Union commanders. During Ambrose Bierce’s tour of duty in western Virginia (today West Virginia), the lack of maps and bad guides cost the Federals several lost opportunities. They would have fared far worse save that the Confederates were as green and as ignorant as they. Over the course of the next several campaigns in the Western Theatre, however, Union commanders sought to rectify this deficiency and this is where the role of the topographical engineers came in.
Knowing what roads led where, where and of what quality were the bridges, fords, road junctions and other features of the terrain became something of the highest priority. Far from working in the rear, the topographical engineers went out ahead of the army, often working behind enemy lines, gathering tactical intelligence of the countryside and of the enemy dispositions in it. It was extremely hazardous work and there was always the danger that, if captured, they would be treated as spies and executed. It was a far cry from being a rear echelon “red tab” (to borrow a British term).
During the Battle of Franklin, Bierce and the IV Corps were north of the Harpeth, guarding the river crossing and the supply train, a position from which Lt. Bierce had a bird’s eye view of the start of the battle. Captain Scofield, by contrast, was with General Cox’s rear guard and in the front line of the battle, so his memoir of that fight is quite vivid and detailed, with a number of anecdotes about the engagement not mentioned elsewhere. Being a topographical engineer, Scofield also had a good eye for where things happened and recorded them on the maps that accompany his book. As near as I can tell, he rendered these maps in watercolor or wash; there are also a number of pen and ink sketches that accompany his narrative and as no artist is listed, I am assuming that Scofield also rendered these himself. This is important because there were no combat artists accompanying either army during this campaign, much less photographers, so the Autumn Campaign is very poorly documented in comparison to other campaigns of the war.
In Nashville, Federal photographer George N. Bernard did photograph the Union defenses about the time of the Battle of Nashville, but he apparently did not get too close to the action during the battle. I also recently discovered that Bernard’s well known photos of Nashville during the battle were originally taken with a stereo camera, although I have only discovered two so mounted on stereo cards. Perhaps the others of this series are squirreled away in some archive or collection.
Although Captain Scofield wrote many years later and his sketches and maps are presumably also of that vintage, the fact that he was an eyewitness to those events gives much weight to their veracity as historical documents. A number of the anecdotes of the Battle of Franklin which he narrates he also illustrates with his sketches. While they were not of particular value for use in my upcoming book on Lt. Bierce, they are quite important in documenting the Battle of Franklin and I believe have hitherto been poorly known. With November 30 having been the 150th anniversary, I thought this would be an opportune time to publish a few of them as they relate to the battle. Enjoy.
For more about the Battle of Franklin, see the appropriate chapters of Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground and Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War, as well as the Williamson County chapter in Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee.