The Battle of Nashville: A Commemoration

The assault on Shy's Hill, during the Battle of Nashville, broke the back of the Confederate left and spelled doom for the Rebel army.
The assault on Shy’s Hill, during the Battle of Nashville, broke the back of the Confederate left and spelled doom for the Rebel army.

   “Six men are on a hill—a general and his staff.  Below, in the gray fog of a winter morning, an army, which has left its entrenchments, is moving upon those of the enemy—creeping silently into position.  In an hour the whole wide valley for miles to left and right will be all aroar with musketry stricken to seeming silence now and again by thunder claps of big guns.  In the meantime the risen sun has burned a way through the fog, splendoring a part of the beleaguered city.”  –Lt. Ambrose Bierce

Today, December 15, 2014 was a foggy morning in Nashville, much like it was that cold December morning in 1864.  Of the six men Bierce was with that morning, when he wrote his memoir of the battle, he was already the sole survivor.  Today there are none; even their children’s children are few and far between.  That fifteenth of December the hills surrounding what is now downtown Nashville erupted in a massive bombardment as the big guns of Fort Negley and the other Union hilltop forts burst forth against the starving and shoeless troops of the Confederate Army of Tennessee.

On December 15-16th, The Army of the Cumberland, under General Thomas, launched their counterattack, virtually annihilating the once proud Army of Tennessee.
On December 15-16th, The Army of the Cumberland, under General Thomas, launched their counterattack, virtually annihilating the once proud Army of Tennessee.

Outnumbered and lacking the abundance of munitions and supplies the Federals enjoyed, the Rebels initially resisted the massive blue onslaught.  On the far right flank of Hood’s army, the Confederates repulsed an attack by regiments of the United States Colored Volunteers.

Elsewhere, the Rebels were not so successful.  General Thomas, the Federal commander launched a massive assault against the Confederate left flank, throwing all of Wilson’s Cavalry Corps, backed by large numbers of infantry.  The Army of Tennessee was overwhelmed and where yuppie suburbanites now throng Green Hills Mall, masses of blue and gray fought that day to the death.  One by one the Confederate redoubts fell to the Union tide, relentlessly driving the Rebels back.

The following day, the sixteenth, Johnnies continued to resist, but as the day wore on the weight of numbers began to tell and finally the once proud Army of Tennessee broke–shattered is more like it.  Confederate units that had gone toe to toe with the Yankees at Shiloh, Stones River, Chickamauga and Atlanta now fled helter skelter or surrendered.  For the one time in the entire four years of war, a Confederate army was thoroughly and completely defeated.  Stanley Horn, a pioneering historian of the war in the western theatre, described the Battle of Nashville as the “Decisive Battle of the Rebellion.”  While later historians have not always been in agreement with Horn, there is no denying the magnitude of its success.  Contrary to what one recent scholar said of Gettysburg, it was Hood’s Autumn Campaign and the Battle of Nashville which were in fact “the Last Invasion” by the Confederacy.

Fort Negley, the strongpoint of Union defenses, fired the opening salvoes of the battle.  The fort was notable for being the largest stone fort constructed by the North during the war.
Fort Negley, the strongpoint of Union defenses, fired the opening salvoes of the battle. The fort was notable for being the largest stone fort constructed by the North during the war.

Most modern historians have regarded Hoods invasion as doomed from the start; certainly it was a desperate gamble.  John Bell Hood himself described it as a “Forlorn Hope.”  But despite all the mistakes by Hood, the broken promises made to him by Jefferson Davis and General Beauregard, the fact is that he and his men came very close to destroying at least part of General Thomas’ army at both Spring Hill and Franklin.  Moreover, if historians regard the Battle of Nashville as a forgone conclusion, the Lincoln administration–and in particular General Grant–did not.  The prospect of taking Nashville and its treasure trove of munitions and supplies, would have emboldened the entire South and enabled Hood to march on the Ohio Valley and beyond–a prospect that sent shivers down the Federal’s collective spine.

Belmont Mansion, the humble abode of Adelicia Acklen, was headquarters of the IV Union Corps during the Battle of Nashville.
Belmont Mansion, the humble abode of Adelicia Acklen, was headquarters of the IV Union Corps during the Battle of Nashville.

It is true that the Civil War was won in the East, when General Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox in April of 1865; but it is also true that the Civil War was lost the winter before, in the West, at the Battle of Nashville on December 15 and 16, 1864.

 

 

For more on the Civil War in Tennessee, see Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground and Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War, both published by HarperCollins.

 

 

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Of Maps and Men: Lt. Ambrose Bierce and Capt. Levi T. Scofield

Hood's men assaulting the main Union line after Levi T Scofield
Hood’s men assaulting the main Union line after Levi T Scofield

After devoting several years delving deeply into the military career of Ambrose Bierce, famed American satirist and short story writer, I am always interested in finding new first hand accounts of campaigns and battles he fought in.  In the Autumn of 1864, Bierce was a staff officer with the Army of the Cumberland, fulfilling the role as Topographical Engineer with a division of the IV Corps.  He was, as happened many times during the war, an eyewitness to bitter and bloody fighting.

Pen and kink sketch General Adams (CSA) and his horse falling at the barricades before Franklin, after Levi T. Scofield
Pen and ink sketch depicting General Adams (CSA) and his horse falling at the barricades before Franklin, (after Levi T. Scofield)

It was therefore with some interest when I came across a short book by another “engineer” who, like Bierce, was with 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 (no relation to the general) was on the staff of General Cox’s division, with the XXIII Corps.  Both corps were part of General Schofield’s force on the “retreat” (actually a holding action, ordered by Thomas) from Pulaski, Tennessee all the way back to Nashville.

While technically part of Thomas’ Army of the Cumberland for this campaign, Schofield, in his official report on the campaign pointedly lists his XXXIII 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.

Federal commander Casement rallying his troops at Franklin after Levi T. Scofield
Federal commander Casement rallying his troops at Franklin after Levi T. Scofield

Both General Schofield, commanding the Union troops during the march north, and General Hood, in charge of the Rebel forces, have both generally received criticism 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.  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 historian 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.

 

After exposing them to certain destruction, General Wagner tries to rally his broken brigades.  After Scofield
After exposing them to certain destruction, General Wagner tries to rally his broken brigades. (After Scofield)

One thing is clear, however; 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.

 

Rebel drummer boy just before he  "explodes like a tomato."   After  Captain Scofield
Rebel drummer boy just before he
“explodes like a tomato.” (After Captain Scofield)

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 Theater, 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 the British slang for a staff officer).

 

During the Battle of Franklin, Bierce and the IV Corps were north of the Harpeth River, 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 and which is related in some detail in Period of Honorable Strife.

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 perhaps less deserving of the artist’s touch.

View of Battle from State Capitol on Dec 15 BARNARD low rez
A stereo photo by Barnard taken on the first day of battle, viewing the battlefield from the state capitol. Unfortunately, there was a heavy ground fog the morning of December 15 obscuring the view.

In Nashville, Federal photographer George N. Bernard did photograph the Union defenses about the time of the Battle of Nashville.  Many of Bernard’s photos of Nashville taken during the battle were originally taken with a stereo camera, although I have only discovered a few mounted on stereo cards.  Perhaps others of this same series are squirreled away in some archive or collection. There were other photographers present as well and their work too is waiting to come to light.

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 great weight to their value as historical source.  A number of the anecdotes of the Battle of Franklin which he narrates he illustrates with his sketches.

While Scofield’s sketches were not able to be incorporated into my current book on Lt. Bierce, they are nonetheless of value documenting the Battle of Franklin and have hitherto been poorly known.  This, therefore, seemed to be an opportune time to publish a few of them as they relate to the battle. Let us commemorate those who fought and died on both sides with reverence and respect. There is special place in Hell for those who desecrate the graveyards and memorials of the war dead.

Carnton Cemetery in Franklin where many of the Confederate lie.  According to Captain Scofield, the Union dead were dumped in a section of trench where they still may lay.
Carnton Cemetary in Franklin where many of the Confederate lie. According to Captain Scofield, the Union dead were dumped in a section of trenches–where they may still be.

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.

Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife cover
Ambrose Bierce’s and the Period of Honorable Strife, chronicling his experiences in the Civil War, published by the University of Tennessee Press
Paranormal Presidency cover suitable for online use 96dpi
Documenting Abraham Lincoln’s encounters with the paranormal and his beliefs about them. The Paranormal Presidency relates his prophetic dreams, premonitions and beliefs, as well as his active participation in séances.

Show and Tell: the Franklin Civil War Show

Opdycke's Brigade (US) repulses the Confederate Breakthrough near the Carter House.  The Battle of Franklin, (Don Troiani).
Opdycke’s Brigade (US) repulses the Confederate Breakthrough near the Carter House. The Battle of Franklin, (Don Troiani).

Normally I don’t blog about current events and prefer to focus on subjects directly related to the Civil War, especially the more esoteric or unusual aspects of the Late Unpleasantness.  Since there is so much going on in Middle Tennessee regarding the Sesquicentennial, however, I am going to digress a bit this go round.  Hopefully I will be able to get back on track with blog entries before the big Battle of Nashville celebrations coming up next week.

While there has been a number of interesting 150th events going on in the Mid South since September, this author has been distracted putting his latest book “to bed,” dealing with Ambrose Bierce and his Civil War experiences (more of that at another time), so I have been very remiss of late.  However, this weekend I did have a booth at Mike Kent’s venerable Mid South Civil War Show, now named (I think) the Franklin Civil War Show, ever since the powers that be in Music City decided turning their state fair grounds into a quick profit for developers would be a good idea.  That the voters in Nashville did not agree with the politicians and their developer friends has only temporarily delayed them, unfortunately.

The Battle of Nashville has been called "Decisive" by historian  Stanley Horn.   Next week is the 150th Anniversary of it.  Howard Pyle, artist
The Battle of Nashville has been called “Decisive” by historian
Stanley Horn. Next week is the 150th Anniversary of it. Howard Pyle, artist

 

As an aside, any travelers to Nashville for the anniversary of the battle should be aware that the state fairground itself is smack dab in the middle of battlefield.  There is a Confederate “lunette” just down the road on a hill overlooking Nolensville Pike on a small road that leads over a railroad cut and over to Murfreesboro Road.  This is the same part of the Nashville battlefield I blogged about in “Captain Aldrich and the Dance of Death” (July, 2014).

In any case, only fifteen minutes south of Nashville by interstate sits Franklin, which, while it too loves its developers and their bulldozers, has done a great deal to not only preserve its historic heritage, but in recent years been highly pro-active in reclaiming parts of the Battle of Franklin battlefield.  Yes, you can have prosperity and history side by side and the city of Franklin is proving it–which is one good reason why one of the largest Civil War shows in the South moved down the road to Franklin a few years back.

As usual, Mike Kent’s show had an army of people attending, many in mufti, and there were excellent booths of all descriptions lining both levels of the Williamson County Agricultural Center.  In between selling and jabbering about my Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War and The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln books, I talked with a number of nice folks on various topics of the War, (many of which are still in dispute) and learned a thing or three I didn’t know about before.  Besides the two main Civil War books, I also had Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground on sale, as well as Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee, which also cover a number of Civil War topics and I sold a few of those as well.  I also did a bit of jawboning about my upcoming Bierce book and ran into one Civil War enthusiast from Indiana was quite knowledgeable about the Ninth Indiana Infantry regiment.  Apropos of Civil War ghosts, several of the visitors to my booth told me about their family’s encounters with the supernatural at Civil War sites, which I will relate in a later blog or two.

When time allowed, I also went to the other booths to take a look see at what they had available.  While I did buy one or two items, I wish my budget had been as big as my eyes, as there were quite a few collector’s gems on display there.  Of course, by gems I mean uniforms, bayonets, swords, muskets and the like.  Military Images magazine, a gold mine of pictorial information about the war, also had a booth there and I got to meet Ron Coddington there.  In case you are not familiar with him and his work, he is the go-to expert for Civil War photography, especially cartes de visites and the like, and has written extensively, not only for MI for Civil War News and the New York Times.  If ya’ll have never seen Military Images, I recommend it highly.

An officer orders his men to attention, but their attention is elsewhere.  Civil War "patriotic" envelope.
An officer orders his men to attention, but their attention is elsewhere. Civil War “patriotic” envelope

 

There were some unusual booths as well.  I have blogged about sex and single soldier before and I still have hopes of convincing some publisher to let me do a book just on real romances of the Civil War (yes, folks, grandpa and grandma somehow managed to meet and reproduce, even during the Civil War), but one lady had a booth which was a revelation even to me.  It had a wealth of documents, photos and other memorabilia about the distaff side of the Civil War, especially with regard to the armies of “shady ladies” who served their country in way not often written about.  All of her displays were interesting and some surprisingly risqué for the 1860’s.  Almost all of what her booth on exhibit has never been published before—which goes to show that there is quite a lot still out there about the war all of which have yet to see their way into print.

All in all, the 26th annual show was a success, both for my own books, but for Civil War enthusiasts attending in general.  This year in particular the show occurred at an ideal time, bracketing as it does the sesquicentennials of both the Battle of Franklin and the Battle of Nashville.  Not to be down on my home town, but compared to little Franklin, one would expect Nashville to have done more over the years regarding its Civil War heritage and preservation.  In fairness, there have been some very active people interested in promoting Nashville’s Civil War sites and their preservation; and coming up in mid month there will be a lot going on in Nashville to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the battle one historian called  “decisive.” If anyone out there reading this happens to be traveling through the city for the holidays on their way towards other destinations, be sure to take a day or two to linger and take in one or another of the special events happening for the Battle of Nashville anniversary.  You’ll be glad you did.

On December 15-16th, The Army of the Cumberland, under General Thomas, launched their counterattack, virtually annihilating the once proud Army of Tennessee.
On December 15-16th, The Army of the Cumberland, under General Thomas, launched their counterattack, virtually annihilating the once proud Army of Tennessee.

 

General Debility and General Winter: A Civil War Christmas, Part 11

During the Battle of Nashville, General Thomas broke the back of the Confederate Army of Tennessee--the South's last best hope-- sealing the fate of the Confederacy.
During the Battle of Nashville, General Thomas broke the back of the Confederate Army of Tennessee–the South’s last best hope– sealing the fate of the Confederacy.

Christmas, 1864  The valiant Army of Tennessee had been smashed and its tattered remnants were in full retreat as they were closely pursued by General Thomas’ Army of the Cumberland.

During the pursuit, a Union brigadier sends an urgent message to his divisional headquarters: “please relieve me;” the dispatch read, “I am suffering from an attack of General Debility.”

The odd dispatch was met with some derision at division headquarters, but the divisional commander wrote a prescription to cure his brigade commander’s ailment: three regiments of infantry and a battery of Rodman guns.  Far more formidable than General Debility that December, however, was General Winter.

You may not have heard of General Winter before, yet this general was the most effective presence on the field of battle during the Civil War, more so than any field commander North or South. Winter influenced the outcome of many major battles. In the campaigns of the Western Theatre, in particular, General Winter played a commanding role.

Reading many of the soldier’s accounts of the era, one gets the impression that the Army of the Potomac during the winter months simply hunkered down in their comfortable quarters surrounding Washington, DC and waited until life was more pleasant in the field. General McClellan did not want his precious boys getting their feet wet, or otherwise suffering discomfort and the easterners of his army appreciated him for preserving them from harm–so did the Confederates. The Rebel Army of Northern Virginia did not pass the winter in such luxury, but they also chose not to go on the offensive when the weather turned cold.

In stark contrast, in the West, the Federals campaigned repeatedly in the midst of bone-chilling cold and foul winter weather, and their Butternut-clad foes did likewise.  The war in the West did not stop simply because General Winter was abroad in the land.

Looking for survivors on the battlefield. Many men who could have survived, froze to death after the battle
Looking for survivors on the battlefield. Many men who survived the battle, froze to death due to exposure.

In January of 1862, for example, General Grant led the expedition against Confederate fortresses of Forts Donelson and Henry. It was bitter cold that winter and the Rebel troops were inadequately clothed. During the siege, the Union troops who fell assaulting Fort Donelson were caught out in the open between the opposing lines. The cries of the wounded, exposed and freezing, tore at the hearts of their comrades who were unable to rescue them. Many who could have survived otherwise died of exposure.

Lt. Ambrose Bierce, future journalist, editor and author, was one of the "barbarous Yankees" besieged by Hood's Army of Tennessee in Dec. 1864.
Lt. Ambrose Bierce, future journalist, editor and author, fought at Stones River & Nashville.

At the Battle of Stone’s River in late December of 1862, both sides were also affected by the bitter cold. On the night of the first day’s fight, the Federal Army of the Cumberland was forbidden to light any fires, lest the enemy use them for target practice; to add to the misery, most troops had shed their backpacks containing blankets in the chaos of battle and Rebel cavalry had destroyed most of the wagons containing tents. But it was the wounded left on the field after the first day’s fight who suffered the most. Ambrose Bierce graphically described the situation in a forgotten small piece called “A Cold Night.” Men on both sides, wounded and unable to move, froze to death in the dark.

On December 15-16th, The Army of the Cumberland, under General Thomas, launched their counterattack, virtually annihilating the once proud Army of Tennessee.
On December 15-16th, The Army of the Cumberland, under General Thomas, launched their counterattack, virtually annihilating the once proud Army of Tennessee.

 

 

Returning to the Autumn Campaign of 1864 and the Battle of Nashville, General Winter also played an important role here as well. While the Federals had comfortable quarters within the siege lines of Nashville, without, the Rebels shivered, ill fed, ill clothed and short of most other supplies. Whole forests outside the city were cut down to keep warm by the Confederate Army of Tennessee and the resulting deforestation was called even by sympathetic citizens as “Hood’s Waste.”

However, the Federals too were affected by the winter weather in December of 1864. Although General Thomas had gathered together a mighty army to counter Hood’s Confederates, his counterattack had to be delayed. A terrible ice storm hit the city in the early part of December, making all roads impassable for his cavalry, without which Thomas was unable to attack.

Union General George Thomas, the Rock of Chickamauga, was nearly defeated, not by General Hood but by General Winter
Union General George Thomas, the Rock of Chickamauga, was nearly defeated, not by General Hood but by General Winter

While waiting for the roads the thaw out, General Thomas, the “Rock of Chickamauga” was almost sacked by Grant, who sitting in comfort back east, accused Thomas of being “slow.” General Thomas came near to defeat, not due to General Hood, but due to General Winter. In the end, Thomas unleashed the Army of the Cumberland and achieved an overwhelming victory.

While most historians aver that the Civil War was won Appomattox in 1865, in truth the war was lost for the South at Nashville, in December of 1864.

 

 

 

For more true tales of the Civil War, see Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War and The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln.  Now in print, Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife is an in depth look at the famous author and his war experiences.

ambrose-bierce-and-the-period-of-honorable-strife-cover

Ambrose Bierce is famed as a noted American writer, satirist and cynic. Less well known is Bierce’s military career during the Civil War, where he fought with distinction in many of the major battles of the war. Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife chronicles his wartime experiences in depth for the first time.

 

Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War for a compendium of uncanny but true accounts of Civil War ghosts, haunts and other unexplained phenomena.
Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War. (HarperCollins)
The Paranormal Presidency delves into the more esoteric aspects of Abraham Lincoln and his presidency
The Paranormal Presidency (Schiffer)

 

The Battles and Bleaters of the Civil War: Some Thoughts on the History of the History of the War

The Skirmish Line by Gilbert Gaul
The Skirmish Line by Gilbert Gaul

This edition of the Late Unpleasantness deals not so much about any specific person or event of the Civil War as it does about the search for the truth of what really happened between 1860 and 1866.  That may seem a simple task; after all, every week another book comes out about what happened in the first fifteen minutes of the second hour of the first day of Gettysburg; or of how General Grant won the war single-handedly; what a great guy Lincoln was and how he freed the slaves.

Yet, as any Civil War buff worth his salt knows, or should know, determining what actually happened in the chaos of battle is not a simple task, nor is the consensus of leading historians about some leaders and their actions necessarily based on fact, but rather on inherited opinions which have come to become accepted as truth.  I will confess to have been as guilty of this latter fault as some of the more famous writers whose books have gone on to become the “bible” on certain battles and leaders.

In my research for The Paranormal Presidency, for example, I made ample use of the Historical Society of Illinois online Lincoln Papers as well as the Library of Congress’ ample resources as well as numerous other primary and secondary sources.  Not much new here; all well worn territory insofar as Lincoln scholars go.  Yet my take on those same sources and on Lincoln the man clearly does not square with the dominant consensus which generations of Lincoln scholars—one might more properly call them hagiographers—have arrived at.  I, like his scholarly acolytes, regard Lincoln as a great President; but where I differ is that I do not ignore or disregard evidence where it does not square with the received views of him that have become academic dogma.

Disputes over certain campaigns, battles and leaders are nothing new; some have been going on since before the war was over.  However, two recent books raise old issues and to varying degrees promise to throw a new light on what we thought was established fact.

Stephen Hood’s new book, John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General, has stirred no little controversy among Civil War enthusiasts and scholars.  Hood the Younger makes no bones about his revisionism regarding General Hood’s military career and takes aim at several well respected historian’s previous work on the subject.  His work has been criticized as biography; in fact, it is not a biography per se, but explicitly a work of historiography.  Mr. Hood has gone back into the primary sources and his reading of them varies considerably from previous writers on the subject.  He has weighed their arguments in the balance and found them wanting.

General John Bell Hood, controversial commander of the Army of Tennessee
General John Bell Hood, controversial commander of the Army of Tennessee

While I leave it up to Civil War enthusiasts to read his book and decide for themselves how well Stephen Hood has succeeded in his task, I will cite incident which caused me to begin to question the consensus views on General Hood.  When Jefferson Davis sought General Lee’s views on appointing John Bell Hood as commander of the Army of Tennessee, Lee replied that in his view, Hood was “all lion and none of the fox,” and I have even seen the statement footnoted with the source cited; so it must be true, right?  Except, that Lee never actually said that.  As Stephen Hood reveals, that phrase was coined after the war and whether true or not, it was not Lee who said it.  On checking the citation, I found it did indeed go back to the Lee/Davis correspondence about Hood, but nowhere in those messages does that phrase attributed to Lee appear.  A minor point, admittedly, but it is a cautionary tale about accepting authority at face value.

Another new work takes aim at that icon of the Union cause, General Ulysses S. Grant, questioning the accepted narratives of the battles for Chattanooga and Grant’s claims to being the mastermind of that campaign.  In the past Grant has been the subject of criticism, but in recent decades the consensus of historians has been generally favorable to him and have generally accepted Grant and his supporter’s version of his campaigns with little question.  However, in General Grant and the Rewriting of History, Frank Varney  disputes that consensus, at least insofar as the war in the west is concerned.

Grant and his commanders at Orchard Knob watch the Battle of Missionary Ridge
Grant and his commanders at Orchard Knob watch the Battle of Missionary Ridge

There are many, myself included, who feel that Grant has been given a pass by many historians on a number of points.  In my forthcoming work on Ambrose Bierce and the Civil War, in researching the context behind Bierce’s service with the Army of the Ohio and with the Army of the Cumberland, I found much of Bierce’s critique of Grant to be well founded and largely grounded in a greater debate in the postwar era over the credit and blame for the bloodletting at Shiloh.  Bierce’s criticisms of Grant were well known, although his overall assessment of Grant was generally positive.

Chickamauga and Chattanooga have also been the subject of much controversy over the years, with much blame and praise being disbursed by various historians.  The modern view of Grant and Sherman as the heroes of the campaign has generally been the dominant narrative however.  So Varney’s revisionism had been initially received in some quarters as a much needed correction to the record.  Varney takes eminent historians to task for shoddy scholarship.  While I reserve final judgment on Varney’s work and encourage others to also make their own assessment, from what I’ve read so far, it is Varney’s scholarship which has been found wanting.  Civil War bloggers have checked several of his citations, backing his criticisms of what other historians have written, and in too many cases have found them in error or just plain bogus.

General Grant’s Personal Memoirs were very well written and his narrative has been often taken at face value by generations of historians.  There remains much about Grant’s career that requires a more critical review of the facts.  It remains to be seen whether Varney was up to the task or whether that remains for others to do.

John Bell Hood: Eminent Confederate

General John Bell Hood, controversial commander of the Army of Tennessee
General John Bell Hood, controversial commander of the Army of Tennessee

CONTROVERSY, n. A battle in which spittle or ink replaces the injurious cannon-ball and the inconsiderate bayonet.  Ambrose Bierce, Devil’s Dictionary.

There are many controversial individuals who fought in the Civil War on both sides of the conflict, just as there are battles and campaigns which have been argued and debated over almost continuously for the last century and a half.  In the beginning, it was the veterans themselves who argued over these issues.  Then, in attempting to make sense of the war, historians since then have frequently come to conclusions based on their reading of the evidence and also make certain assumptions that they infer from those facts.  Just as frequently, other historians have taken issue with them.  This is nothing new.

For example, in my recent book revealing the more esoteric aspects of Abraham Lincoln’s life and career, my researches into the archives turned up a number of documents which contravene the accepted narratives about the Sixteenth President; I have also found that some well known published eyewitness accounts have been used selectively by previous writers to impose their views on the great man’s life and career.  So yes, that sort of thing goes on all the time; but Civil War researchers can honestly come to radically different conclusions using essentially the same sources.  Much depends on how much weight one gives to certain statements over others and how much weight one gives to the testimony of one witness over another.  That’s how the writing of history works.

Stephen “Sam” Hood, a relative of General John Bell Hood, has just published John Bell Hood: the Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General.  His publisher’s promotional copy says that “the shocking revelations in John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General will forever change our perceptions of Hood as both a man and a general, and those who set out to shape his legacy.”

Perhaps; we shall see.  Sam Hood’s book analyzes other historian’s work on his forebear and not only finds them wanting, but consciously false.  I prefer to reserve judgment on both sides of the controversy, not only until I read his book, but also until the cache of new Hood documents is published and analyzed by the Civil War community as a whole.

For some reason, my little blog attracted the attention of Mr. Hood and also his ire.  More specifically, a short article about the Autumn Campaign earned his condemnation.  The reader is invited to re-read it; I recently reposted it, along with his comment about it.  While one would hope one’s scribblings would be met with praise, the fact that he thought my minor posting was worthy of his attention is a compliment of sorts, even if it is a left-handed one.

The study of the Civil War is chock full of controversies, some of which began even before the firing stopped.  In the process of researching and writing my 80,000 (or so) word book on Ambrose Bierce and the Army of the Cumberland, I weigh in on several such issues, especially since in his postwar writings Bierce saw fit to wade deeply into those controversies.  Shiloh and Chickamauga were two particularly contentious battles in this regard, with recriminations on both sides.  Of course, most of Bierce’s venom was reserved for Federal commanders, not Confederates.

Coincidently, Mr. Hood and Ambrose Bierce do share some things in common: both share a gift for invective and both are alumni of the Kentucky Military Institute.  When Bierce went there in the 1850’s it was a place where gentlemen learned to become officers and officers learned to become gentlemen.  In Bierce’s case I’m afraid, he learned neither; but he did end up becoming a damn fine soldier.

General John Bell Hood was no stranger to controversy, even during his own lifetime.  In the postwar era, Hood crossed swords in print with several of his former officers.  Even enlisted men sometimes expressed bitter opinions about their former commander in chief.

Carter House lit by thousands of candles to symbolize the thousand of soldiers who died unnecessarily that terrible night in November, 1864
Carter House lit by thousands of candles to symbolize the thousand of soldiers who died unnecessarily that terrible night in November, 1864

Modern historians have weighed in on Hood on a number of occasions as well, especially with regard to his actions and decisions during the Autumn Campaign of 1864.  From his public pronouncements and also his comment on my minor posting, I gather that Sam Hood believes that those who do not agree with his conclusions regarding his ancestor are not only a shoddy historians but in many cases are also willfully malicious and deliberately slandering his spotless forebear.  Again, having only read one chapter out of many in his book, I do not feel competent to say whether he is right or wrong in the many criticisms expressed in his book.  Moreover, I have many other fish to fry regarding the Late Unpleasantness; however, his book is definitely on my to-do list to read and looks to become one of those must-have books for Civil War enthusiasts.

As to my short piece on the campaign, Mr. Hood says that “there are numerous assertions in your article that have no historical evidence” and that I am merely repeating “opinions of later authors such as Thomas Connolly and Wiley Sword.”  Well, in researching my book on Ambrose Bierce and the Army of the Cumberland I did read several secondary works on the battles and campaigns of the western theatre, including the Autumn Campaign.  But I also delved deeply into many primary sources, including archival material, newspaper accounts, the Official Record (both online and the hard copy in the TSLA), as well as postwar articles and memoirs and, of course, Ambrose Bierce’s own writings on the subject.  So while I do consult secondary works when researching the Civil War (or any other period) I do not simply regurgitate some other author’s opinions.

While I suppose Mr. Hood’s criticism of my short article is mild compared to the barrage he has aimed at Wiley Sword and others, I do take his criticism seriously and went back over the article to see if there were specific errors of fact (versus opinion) which required correction.  Although I am perfectly willing to correct errors as such, and am also willing to change my opinions as new information comes to light, I could not detect any egregious errors in my short piece, “For Want of a Nail.”  Blog postings, as a rule, tend to be short, general in nature and not footnoted.  Even magazine articles, where there is more room to discuss a topic, tend not be footnoted; scholarly journals and books are usually the proper place for both in depth discussion and documentation.

Battle of Springhill, where confusion reigned on the Confederate side and the Federals miraculously escaped the trap
Battle of Springhill, where confusion reigned on the Confederate side and the Federals miraculously escaped the trap

In summarizing the Autumn Campaign in a few paragraphs, I touch lightly on a number of contentious issues that have swirled about that tragic last effort of the Confederacy: the “Springhill Affair,” the “Miracle of Springhill” (so called by the Union troops), the Battle of Franklin, and the Battle of Nashville.  In such a short space I, of course, engage in broad generalizations and touch on the issues without resolving them.  One is free to take issue with how I characterize them: whole books could—and have—been written about them without resolving anything.

When I wrote the article, I actually thought I was being rather generous to Hood.  The very title of the posting, “For Want of a Nail” implies that John Bell Hood came very close to victory, that had a few key factors been different, his campaign might have been crowned with success at least to some degree.  This view is widely at variance with the dominant view of the Autumn Campaign by most historians.

Based on my readings to date and lectures on the subject I have hitherto attended, the consensus seems to be that even had Hood beaten Schofield, the Union superiority in men and materiel was such that the Federals would still have prevailed.  This, however, was not the attitude of General Grant or the administration in Washington, who were quite concerned about Hood and kept badgering Thomas to attack before the “Rock of Chickamauga” was ready.  Grant was literally on the verge of leaving for Nashville to relieve Thomas and take personal command until he heard the news that “Old Slow Trot” had achieved an overwhelming victory.  So no, I don’t think Federal success was a foregone conclusion.

Battle of Franklin: Opdycke's Brigade repulse the Confederate Breakthrough at Franklin, by Don Troiani.
Battle of Franklin: Opdycke’s Brigade repulse the Confederate Breakthrough at Franklin, by Don Troiani.

Those who have read Mr. Hood’s pronouncements on the Autumn Campaign will also note one issue my article left out: the question of whether General Hood was using alcohol and/or drugs during the campaign.  Several historians have previously suggested it and Sam Hood is particularly vehement in his condemnation of their very mention of it.  He asserts that there is no explicit written evidence that Hood partook of either alcohol, morphine or similar substances during the campaign and I think on this score we must agree with Mr. Hood.  There is nothing solid in print nor do we know of any eyewitnesses who went on the record to say so.  Point conceded.

However, let me add that, even if it could be proved that Hood used such substances, that does not mean he was either “drunkard” or “drug addict,” as his publishers blog accuses others of characterizing Hood.  John Bell Hood had his leg amputated up to the hip at Gettysburg and suffered a shattered arm at Chickamauga—both very severe and painful wounds, and even a year later he would still have been in a great deal of pain.  Moreover, during the Autumn Campaign Hood was in the saddle for long hours, which undoubtedly placed a great deal of additional strain and pain on him.  Alcohol and opiates were virtually the only pain killers available to doctors during the Civil War and both were dispensed freely by army surgeons, when available, to soldiers.  In raising this issue, we need to recognize that the issue of alcohol and drug use during the war is a much broader issue than simply a personal attack on one controversial commander. Moreover, Hood is not the only Confederate general whom historians have suggested may have used opiates—a similar claim has been made against Braxton Bragg, and for similar reasons.  Then too, we have the ongoing controversy about General Grant’s recreational use of alcohol.
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General Hood lost a leg at Gettysburg and his arm was shattered at Chickamauga (shown).  He was still suffering the effects of those wounds a year later.  Engraving by Frank Vizetelly
General Hood lost a leg at Gettysburg and his arm was shattered at Chickamauga (shown). He was still suffering the effects of those wounds a year later. Engraving by Frank Vizetelly

So no, there is no concrete evidence that Hood used pain killers during the Autumn Campaign: but if he did, what of it?  If anything, if used properly as medicine, such pain killers may have actually allowed him to think more clearly, not less, by being free of the intense suffering he surely experienced!

Now, in my brief essay, I did engage in one piece of hyperbole which perhaps requires correction.  In making the point that there were better strategies available to Hood than a direct frontal assault against prepared defenses over wide open fields I say that, “everyone in the Army of Tennessee knew it was folly–all except General Hood.”  No doubt there were some soldiers in Hood’s army who thought it a glorious thing to hurl themselves across cleared fields with no cover for two miles within full sight of well prepared enemy, dug in and waiting, who were in any case, merely a rearguard.  How many thought it a good idea—or not—is impossible to quantify, as so many of them died in the attempt.  But there were many who survived that battle and the campaign who did have a low opinion of their commander in chief and were not shy about expressing it in writing in later years.

Perhaps it would best to provide a sampler of some of those views, unfiltered by any historian’s spin on them, with the understanding that, even among eyewitnesses, their viewpoints are also subjective and far from unanimous:

On the Battle of Springhill:  “Why Stanley was not immediately effaced is still a matter of controversy.  Hood, who was early on the ground, declared that he gave the needful orders and tried vainly to enforce them; Cheatham, in command of his leading corps, that he did not.  Doubtless the dispute is still being carried on between these chieftains from their beds of asphodel and moly in Elysium.”  Ambrose Bierce, “What Happens Along a Road.”

“Here {Springhill} as at Atlanta, Hood, sought to shift the responsibility for his failure upon a subordinate.”                                                                                                                        “But a commander who is personally with the head of column in such a movement and upon the field, has the means of enforcing his orders by direct commands to the division.” General Jacob D. Cox (commanding the Union troops during the Battle of Franklin), The March to the Sea—Franklin & Nashville, (Campaigns of the Civil War, volume X), (1882, reprinted Edison, NJ: Castle Books, 2002), 79-80.

“The idea of a commanding general reaching his objective point, that required prompt and immediate action and skillful tactics, to turn away and go to bed surpasses the understanding. The truth is Hood had been outgeneraled, and Stanley with the Federal troops got to Spring Hill before Hood did. What information Hood received of the enemy, when he reached the pike, if any, no one will ever know. Why did he not in person form his line of battle and attack the enemy at Spring Hill ?”  General Samuel  G. French, Two Wars: An Autobiography, (Nashville: Confederate Veteran, 1901),  292.

On Hood’s mental state on the morning of the Battle of Franklin:  “General Hood is mad about the enemy getting away last night, and he is going to charge the blame of it on somebody.  He is as wrathy as a rattlesnake this morning, striking at everything.  As he passed along to the front a while ago, he rode up to me and said ‘Gen. Brown, in the movement to-day I wish you to bear in mind this military principle : That when a pursuing army comes up with a retreating enemy, he must be immediately attacked. If you have a brigade in front as advance guard, order its commander to attack the enemy as soon as he comes up with him ; if you have a regiment in advance, and it comes up with the enemy, give the colonel orders to attack him; if there is but a company in advance, and it overtakes the entire Yankee army, order the captain to attack it forthwith ; and if anything blocks the road in front of you to-day, don’t stop a minute, but turn out into the fields or woods, and move on to the front.’”  Henry M Field, Bright Skies and Dark Shadows (NY: Scribners, 1890), 219.

Captain John W. Lavender, Company F, 4th Arkansas Inf., Battle of Franklin:  “This Great and Distructive Battle was the least called for and most useless Sacrifice of men of any that was Fought in the Middle or Department of Tennessee. As Every Priveet Soldier Saw afterwards, a slight Flank Movement would have Forced the Enemy out of their works without loosing a man. Our Ranks was So Badly Reduced and seing it Brought on by such useless Reckless Generalship Caused Grate Dissatisfaction in our Ranks. … They Could see the serious mistakes made that cost our army such serious loss and no material to recruit from. They could all see that the time was near that our Strength would be exhausted.”  The War Memoirs of Captain John W. Lavender, C.S.A., edited by Ted R. Worley. (Pine Bluff, AR: The Southern Press, 1956).

Captain Foster, 24th Texas Cavalry (dismounted) Granville’s Brigade, Cleburne’s Division after Franklin:                                                                               “Gen. Hood has betrayed us. This is not the kind of fighting he promised us at Tuscumbia and Florence, Ala., when we started into Tennessee. This was not a ‘fight with equal numbers and choice of the ground’ by no means.”                                                                     “The wails and cries of widows and orphans made at Franklin … will heat up the fires of the bottomless pit to burn the soul of Gen. J.B. Hood for Murdering their husbands and fathers. … It can’t be called anything else but cold blooded murder.”                                  Capt. Samuel T. Foster (Edited by Norman D. Brown), One of Cleburne’s Command. The Civil War Reminiscences and Diary of Capt. Samuel T. Foster, Granbury’s Texas Brigade, CSA, (Austin TX: U. of TX Press, 1980).

Carnton cemetery where most of the Confederate dead from the Battle of Franklin were buried.
Carnton cemetery where most of the Confederate dead from the Battle of Franklin were buried.

William B. Hazen, the “Best Hated” Man in the Army

General-William-Hazen ca Civil War
Brigadier General William B. Hazen, whom Ambrose Bierce called “The Best Hated Man in the Army”

If there was a single person who left an indelible impact on Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce’s life, it was Brigadier General William Babcock Hazen.

Hazen was born in Vermont in 1830, but his family moved westward from New England to the Midwest when he was still young. After graduating from West Point in 1855, Hazen spent his early military career on the frontier fighting Apaches, Comanches and other tribes; later he was posted to West Point as an instructor of infantry tactics.  If any officer in the army exuded spit and polish, it was William Hazen.

Despite his years of service, it was not until the war broke out that Hazen was promoted to captain in the 8th U.S. Infantry.  As the U.S. Army expanded, Hazen’s own career grew aw well; at last, on October 29, 1861, he was made Colonel of the 41st Ohio Infantry. Then, in January, 1862, he was put in charge of the newly formed Nineteenth Brigade as part of General Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio. It was not long after this that his new command was ordered south to occupy the formerly Rebel-held state capitol of Nashville, Tennessee.

Ambrose Bierce, who had served on Hazen’s staff during the war, described as “the best hated man that I ever knew, and his very memory is a terror to every unworthy soul in the service.” Intolerant of dishonesty and incompetence in the military, General Hazen spent almost as much time fighting his brother officers as he did fighting the enemy, both during and after the Civil War.

After a little more than a month of drilling and training his mostly green troops into a semblance of military discipline, (which many of the volunteer troops took a keen dislike to), orders came down to advance overland to the port town of Savannah, Tennessee, to rendezvous with General Grant’s army. As part of General Bull Nelson’s 4th Division they took the van in Buell’s advance, arriving near the town only a day before Easter Sunday of 1862. The next morning they awoke to the sound of distant gunfire; Hazen mustered his men, and then it was a game of hurry up and wait, until finally they were ordered to make a forced march to the rescue of Grant’s men.

Union troops under Buell struggle to recapture artillery lost by Grant at Shiloh.  Ambrose Bierce described it as "a tough tussle."
Union troops under Buell struggle to recapture artillery lost by Grant at Shiloh. Ambrose Bierce described it as “a tough tussle.”

Hazen and his brigade crossed over to Pittsburg Landing during the night of April 6, enduring a night of drenching rain and then a day of hell as Hazen’s Brigade took heavy casualties pushing back the Rebels from the captured Union camps. During the afternoon, Hazen became temporarily separated from his troops, but his stern discipline and rigorous training made them through the day, repulsing repeated Confederate counterattacks. The struggle of Hazen’s Brigade was immortalized in Ambrose Bierce’s famous memoir of the battle, “What I Saw of Shiloh.”

The following months proved frustrating, both for Hazen and his men and for the Army of the Ohio in general, as they first spent a month slowly advancing on the Rebel army in Corinth, Mississippi, only twenty miles away, and then were assigned to advance on Chattanooga while trying to both repair and defend the Memphis and Charleston Railroad, which ran through northern Mississippi and Alabama, the entire length of which was vulnerable to attack by Confederate cavalry and Rebel guerillas. The guerilla warfare became quite nasty and the Federals replied in kind. Again, one can look to the recruit from Indiana, Ambrose Bierce, who immortalized this obscure period of Hazen’s Brigade service in his short story, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.”

"An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,"  by Ambrose Bierce was based on the experiences of Hazen's men in the late spring and early summer of 1862 in northern Alabama.
“An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” by Ambrose Bierce was based on the experiences of Hazen’s men in the late spring and early summer of 1862 in northern Alabama.

By late summer, Hazen and his men were relieved of frustrating duty along the railroad and instead headed north into Kentucky in pursuit of the Army of Tennessee under General Braxton Bragg, finally halting them at the Battle of Perryville.
Following the Kentucky Campaign, the Federal army was reorganized under a new commander, General Rosecrans and renamed the Army of the Cumberland. Hazen’s Brigade was also renumbered and reorganized, having become ragged and lax (according to General Hazen’s thinking) during the chaotic summer and fall campaigning. By the time Christmas came, they were back up to his standards and fought in the bloody winter Battle of Stone’s River.

Here again Hazen’s men fought the Rebels to a standstill, preventing the enemy from rolling up the Union flank at the Round Forest. Although the brigade went on to other duties, they erected a monument on the site of the fight, which still stands on the battlefield today.

The year 1863 saw Hazen and his men heavily engaged, first in the lighting fast Tullahoma Campaign and then in the subsequent maneuvering to force Bragg out of Chattanooga. Unfortunately, having succeeded beyond all expectations, Rosecrans became overconfident and engaged in a headlong pursuit of the Army of Tennessee before he had consolidated his own army around Chattanooga, leading to the Battle of Chickamauga, in which Hazen and his men again played an important part.

In a daring night raid, General Hazen and his men seized Brown's Ferry and broke the siege of Chattanooga.
In a daring night raid, General Hazen and his men seized Brown’s Ferry and broke the siege of Chattanooga.

During the subsequent siege of Chattanooga, Genera Hazen led a dangerous night mission to seize Brown’s Landing to open up the “Cracker Line” which effectively broke the Confederate siege of the city. At the Battle of Missionary Ridge, Hazen’s men took first honors in reaching the summit and beating back the enemy—although he butted heads with General Sheridan, who tried to claim credit for reaching the summit first.

Assault on Missionary Ridge.  General Hazen's Brigade were  the first to seize the summit and capture the Confederate cannon there.
Assault on Missionary Ridge. General Hazen’s Brigade were the first to seize the summit and capture the Confederate cannon there.

During the Atlanta Campaign, Hazen’s Brigade suffered further attrition, until the by now eight regiments of his command numbered little more than one new regiment in strength. Often the brigade suffered more from the incompetence of its superior officers—such as the notorious General O. O. Howard—(or as his men called him “Uh-Oh” Howard) than from the enemy. At Pickett’s Mill, Hazen was ordered to attack a superior force, entrenched and prepared for them, without proper support. Hazen’s men suffered heavy casualties as a result.

After Atlanta, General Hazen, in recognition for his fighting abilities and qualities as commander, was given a full division in Sherman’s March to the Sea and in the subsequent Carolina Campaigns, leading troops in battle up to the end of the war.

After the war Hazen, now reduced to Colonel, served on the frontier, not only protecting settlers from the Indians, but also occasionally protecting peaceful Indians from the murderous attacks of his fellow army officers. Hazen also blew the whistle on army scandals within the Grant administration, which did not endear him to politicians or some of his fellow officers.

He died relatively young, at age 56 in 1887, and is buried at Arlington Cemetery. In his obituary, the New York Times called him “aggressive and disputatious”, while his former subordinate and close friend, Ambrose Bierce, described him as “the Best Hated Man in the Army.” Both descriptions aptly fit William B. Hazen, an irascible but brave officer and one of the best generals in the Army both during and after the war.

For more strange but true Civil War stories and events, Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War and The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln.