What if Hood had caught Schofield at Spring Hill?

JSylvester

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Chapter 1: The Battle of Spring Hill

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On November 29, 1864, General John Bell Hood Hood sent Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham's and Lieutenant General Alexander P. Stewart's corps on a flanking march north across the Duck River to Davis's Ford east of Columbia, while the two divisions of Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee's corps and most of the army's artillery remained on the south bank to deceive Major General John M. Schofield into believing that a general assault was planned against Columbia. Hood, riding near the head of the column with Cheatham's corps, plans to interpose his army between Schofield and Major General George Thomas, hoping to defeat Schofield during the Federals retreat north from Columbia. Stewart's corps followed Cheatham, and they were trailed by Major General Edward "Allegheny" Johnson's division (Lee's corps). The rest of Lee's corps remained south of Columbia, making a demonstration against Schofield's men north of the Duck River.

Cavalry skirmishes between Brigadier General James H. Wilson's Union cavalry and Lieutenant General Nathan B. Forrest's Confederate troopers continued throughout the day as the Confederates advanced. Forrest's broad turning movement with 4,000 troops pushed Wilson back north from Hurt's Corner, preventing Union cavalry from interfering with Hood's infantry advance. At 10 a.m. on November 29, Forrest ordered his men to turn west toward Spring Hill. Wilson sent several messages to Schofield warning him of Hood's advance, but it was not until dawn on November 29, that Schofield believed the reports, understood the deception represented by Lee, and realized the situation he was in. He sent Major General David S. Stanley north with Brigadier General Nathan Kimball's IV Corps division, the rest of Brigadier General George D. Wagner's division, and the bulk of the Federal artillery reserve. Their mission was initially to protect the trains, but also to hold the crossroads at Spring Hill to allow the entire army to withdraw safely to Franklin.

Forrest's horsemen approached Spring Hill at about 11:30 a.m. and ran into the IV Corps pickets. Stanley moved north quickly and formed positions with Wagner's division protecting Spring Hill village and the huge supply trains on three sides. Forrest received a message from Hood to hold the position at all costs until the infantry arrived. Major General Patrick R. Cleburne's division from Cheatham's corps arrived mid-afternoon on Forrest's left. Forrest's men moved north to cover the line.

Back in Columbia, Schofield was convinced by about 3:00 p.m. that the Confederates would not attack him here, and by 3:30 p.m. he joined two brigades of Brigadier General Thomas H. Ruger's division on the march to Spring Hill. He ordered his remaining forces to stay until dark, then join him on the march north. As soon as Schofield left, Stephen D. Lee coincidentally launched an attack on the Union position, although he had great difficulty deploying floating bridges across the river. By the time the bulk of his two divisions were able to cross, the senior Union commander left behind at Columbia, Brigadier General Jacob D. Cox, began to withdraw.

Major General Patrick R. Cleburne's 3,000 men began an echelon attack against Bradley's brigade at about 4 p.m. While Cheatham expected Cleburne to move north on Spring Hill, Hood's intention was to use this formation to make a turning movement toward the turnpike and turn left to intercept Schofield's incoming units, but apparently he had not observed the location of the Union positions south of the town. The echelon formation was therefore less effective against Bradley's position on their right and in front, allowing only Lowrey's brigade to engage them at first. Govan's and Lowrey's attack overwhelmed Bradley and his men fled in disarray. Cleburne's two brigades drove them off vigorously, and they were stopped short of the turnpike only by heavy fire from the IV Corps artillery, placed earlier by Stanley on a hill north of the creek.

By this time, Cheatham's division under Major General John C. Brown (Cheatham's division before he took command of the corps) had crossed Rutherford Creek and was being set up by Cheatham on Cleburne`s right. Earlier in the afternoon, Hood sent Stewart's corps behind Rutherford Creek and ordered them to move north from Spring Hill and cut off the Federal column. At around 6:15 p.m. Stewart arrived on Brown`s right flank and deployed his corps in a right angle across the Columbia Pike.

As darkness fell, Wagner`s lone division of 4,500 men was blocked to the north by Stewart`s 9,500 strong corps, while Brown`s 4,400-men-division threatened the right flank. Along Columbia Pike to the south were Cleburne`s still 4,200-strong division, Major General William B. Bate`s 2,500 troops and Johnson`s 3,100 men. Forrest sent Brigadier General Abraham Buford`s and James R. Chalmers` divisions, another 4,300 troopers, northwest to Carter`s Creek Pike to cover Stewart`s right flank.

When the remainder of Schofield`s nearly 30,000-man army arrived at Spring Hill around midnight of 29th November, the commander realized that a onward march to Franklin was impossible due to Stewart`s blockade. The dispatch of Wilson`s troopers to a parallel road led to the discovery that it had also been blocked.

With a concentrated night attack out of the question, Schofield attempted a makeshift regroup in the darkness. The remaining two divisions of IV Corps under Brigadier General Nathan Kimball and Thomas J. Wood extended Wagner`s lines opposite Stewart, Brown, and Cleburne to the west and south, with Wilson`s 5,600 cavalrymen deploying to Stanley`s left opposing Forrest. The Second Division of XXIII Corps under Ruger deployed along Columbia Pike opposite Bate and Johnson, while the Third Division, commanded by Brigadier General James W. Reilly was to secure the rear against Lee`s approaching 6,000 infantrymen from Major General Carter Stevenson`s and Henry D. Clayton`s divisions.

Daybreak on November 30, 1864, fully revealed the precarious position of Northerners. Hood`s 38,500 Confederates had them surrounded on three sides and possessed superior numbers. Schofield made a half-hearted attempt to reopen Columbia Pike toward Franklin with an attack by Wagner, but was easily repulsed by Major General Edward C. Walthall`s division from Stewart`s Corps. In turn, Hood gave the order to build up pressure in the rear through Clayton and Stevenson. With Clayton`s lines already visibly overlapping those of Reilly, it was only a matter of time before the entire Northern formation would collapse domino-like. At 10:30 a.m., Schofield dispatched a rider with a white flag to Hood`s lines. Only an hour later, after brief negotiations, the Army of the Ohio surrendered unconditionally. With one stroke of the hand, the Union Army`s forces in Tennessee had been more than halved.​
 

JSylvester

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Alright, lovely chapter. I do have some criticisms though.
For one: How would Wilson's Cavalry have been included in the surrender? Earlier they were split from the army at Spring Hill by Forrest's Cavalry. Even if Schofield including them in the surrender, Wilson would not have accepted it as his men wouldn't be in such a precarious position as the infantry. You can rewrite the bit of Forrest's horsemen rearming with repeaters by saying they got them from the 23rd Corps infantrymen (as numerous units had repeating and breechloading arms).
Also, the creation of new artillery units would be stymied by a general lack of infantry. Cleburne's division has barely 1000 men per brigade, while units like D. H. Reynolds' brigade have around 500 men. Diluting the infantry strength further than it was would be stretching things. Maybe replacing the confederate pieces with the higher quality union guns would make more sense, maybe having the existing batteries fill out their strength, rather than form new batteries alltogether, requiring not only manpower but horses to pull them, which wouldn't be many.
Thanks for the feedback and critique. I was convinced to have read once that in Johnston's and Lee's surrender only a small part of the cavalry did not honor it and those who did not, at least tried to disengage from the enemy without fighting. I am happy to be proven wrong, however. In the present case, according to my sources, the situation was such that even in the cavalry segment the Confederates were numerically slightly superior and accordingly many of Wilson's men could have been caught up in pursuit. I am also aware of the general weakness in infantry, referring to your strength report from a 2017 thread, among others. I assume 60 men per battery for a minimum manning, which would put us at 840 for 14 batteries. Divided among the nine divisions, that works out to me as a quite manageable number. This is also in view of the fact that new volunteers could be expected due to the military success (I always keep in mind that even the grandiose failed raid of Sterling Price in 1864 provided 6,000 new recruits). In my opinion, the quality of the guns plays only a minor role in this context, since the crews would also be completely untrained for them and they would therefore only be used defensively. The draught horses would not disappear without a trace in the event of a surrender, I think.

To summarize: I think it is possible that a third to half of the cavalry could have escaped (if that seems realistic, then I'll amend the post so). As for the artillery, I think the military gain of 14 batteries in exchange for the loss of less than 1,000 infantrymen is absolutely advantageous.
 

Luke Freet

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Thanks for the feedback and critique. I was convinced to have read once that in Johnston's and Lee's surrender only a small part of the cavalry did not honor it and those who did not, at least tried to disengage from the enemy without fighting. I am happy to be proven wrong, however. In the present case, according to my sources, the situation was such that even in the cavalry segment the Confederates were numerically slightly superior and accordingly many of Wilson's men could have been caught up in pursuit. I am also aware of the general weakness in infantry, referring to your strength report from a 2017 thread, among others. I assume 60 men per battery for a minimum manning, which would put us at 840 for 14 batteries. Divided among the nine divisions, that works out to me as a quite manageable number. This is also in view of the fact that new volunteers could be expected due to the military success (I always keep in mind that even the grandiose failed raid of Sterling Price in 1864 provided 6,000 new recruits). In my opinion, the quality of the guns plays only a minor role in this context, since the crews would also be completely untrained for them and they would therefore only be used defensively. The draught horses would not disappear without a trace in the event of a surrender, I think.

To summarize: I think it is possible that a third to half of the cavalry could have escaped (if that seems realistic, then I'll amend the post so). As for the artillery, I think the military gain of 14 batteries in exchange for the loss of less than 1,000 infantrymen is absolutely advantageous.
you make a solid point regarding the artillery (though my word is not an expert opinion).
On the cavalry thing: At Spring Hill, Schofield had only a few cavalry regiments (detached), I think one was at full strength and hte rest detachements. These provided a screening force delaying Forrest until Wagner's men arrived. The bulk of the cavalry was driven off to the northeast, and would have been cut off by Forrest's Cavalrymen from the bulk of the army, though not encircled. I'd say edit (while you have the two day window to do so, stupid feature, tbh) to my suggestion: say it came from cavalry detachments and the men of 23rd Corps.
 

Lubliner

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You should assess the Union position in Knoxville at this stage as well. In history the men were being drawn from Kentucky in late 1863 and cavalry operations were being floated. Now it is one year later with Longstreet back in Virginia, and Grant calling Thomas' shots. Thomas will do nothing without a direct order form Grant, which should be promptly forthcoming!
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Chapter 2: Maintaining the Momentum

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The surrender ceremony on November 30 turned out to be simple but expedient due to the circumstances, although the thoroughly pompous Hood would certainly have pushed for a high-profile performance at one point. Only Brigadier General Daniel Reynolds` Arkansas Brigade stood guard as Schofield dismounted and handed Hood his officer`s sword. The presentation of regimental standards and arms also took place without a hitch. Only when a goodly number of Confederate soldiers kindly but firmly requested the surrender of the coveted brogans in exchange for the rags they themselves had left, did the blue-clad soldiers briefly show their displeasure. However, since one of the first Confederate announcements made it clear that not a single prisoner would be taken to a camp, but that they would be given their parole and allowed to go their separate ways during the course of that day and the following day, the majority of them were able to come to terms with the agreement.

On December 1, 1864, the Army of Tennessee triumphantly moved into the small town of Franklin to take up temporary quarters and reorganize. In addition to a large number of hand weapons, fourteen artillery batteries had also come into the possession of the rebels. For these, hundreds of infantrymen now had to be converted to artillerymen. Nathan B. Forrest, meanwhile, insisted on equipping his troopers with the repeaters captured from Wilson's cavalry without delay. With new weapons, new tents and utensils, and footwear in top condition as well as an abundance of food, Hood's army was now suddenly in the best condition logistically of its entire existence.

The Carter House quarters in Franklin hosted the first Confederate command meeting since the battle. First it was Forrest's turn to express his appreciation to Hood for the successful maneuver, which must have been a great overcoming because of past disagreements. The commander responded diplomatically and cordially, reminding Forrest that without his blockade of the parallel route, the success probably would not have been so overwhelming. With that out of the way, the focus of the meeting shifted to the following course of action.

According to the latest reports, George Thomas had at least 20,000 men at his disposal in Nashville, which is why it was quickly agreed that the city's formidable defenses could not be overcome with a frontal attack, since the necessary superiority and expendability of the troops to be deployed was far from given. In order to stop the approach of further reinforcements from the southeast, it seemed to those present that it was inevitable to cut the railroad connection between Chattanooga and Nashville. Since there was to be a handsome garrison at Mufreesboro, it seemed only logical to isolate it and place oneself in an advantageous position between it and Nashville. Hood`s original thoughts of a march through to Kentucky were deemed impracticable as long as a larger Union army would still be organized in their rear. A siege of Nashville was also discarded, since a supply by water would be assured at all times and there was a lack of sufficient men to actually hermetically seal the city.

Finally, it was Forrest again who stepped forward with the suggestion of a dual strategy. He suggested that Mufreesboro be ostensibly besieged with troops of division strength and, if necessary, small cavalry support, while the main army north of it would take up a position on the right flank at Stones River. This would be likely to draw Thomas out of his entrenchments if the latter could be convinced that the rebels were engaged in taking the garrison town. At the same time, half of the cavalry, preferably the Tennessee-majority brigades, would move against the scattered Union bases at Shelbyville, Wartrace, Manchester, and McMinnville, forcing them to surrender and gaining new recruits along the way. Taken together, the two approaches would ensure that Thomas would be forced to move and that the Northern High Command would have to march massive troop movements from other departments. This, in turn, would allow other forces new space to maneuver and could also reduce the pressure on Lee in Virginia. If Thomas massed enough forces for an attack sometime in the coming weeks, the Confederates would still have a realistic chance of achieving victory in their prepared positions on the Stones River.​

This proposal was accepted after a short debate, also against the background of a lack of counterproposals on the part of John Bell Hood, and planning for its implementation began immediately.
Wilson was not at Spring Hill, so he and his troopers (excepting the 8th Michigan Cav. and a few others companies of other cavalry regiments) would still be providing a screen for Thomas - south of Nashville near Franklin.
 

JSylvester

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Chapter 3: In Nashville

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By evening of the same day, James Wilson, who had left a few hundred men to shadow Hood near Franklin, reached Nashville with his remaining 3,000 cavalrymen and was able to report the defeat and subsequent surrender to Thomas. Thomas, who did not think too highly of Schofield's qualities as an independent commander, followed the report with a petrified expression.

In the immediate vicinity of the city he had at that time, including the new arrivals, not much more than 25,000 men, including 6,000 cavalry, 10,000 veterans of the XVI Corps under A. J. Smith and a large number of second and third rate troops from the District of the Etowah and various garrisons. Even the requisitioned men of the USCT, who were still on their way from West Tennessee, would bring his numbers up to just 28,000 soldiers. He needed more reinforcements and he needed them as soon as possible. He could figuratively imagine the reaction of the political leaders in Washington and of Commander-in-Chief Grant if Hood's army were actually allowed to take up winter quarters unhindered and undisturbed at the gates of Nashville.

He immediately telegraphed for Major General S. G. Burbridge, the commander of the Military District of Kentucky, requesting the fastest possible assistance. Burbridge's reply was received towards the afternoon of 2 December. The latter, fortunately, gave little heed to the chain of command and assured Thomas that he would immediately send him two divisions worth of infantry, consisting of all the men he could spare, all told about 7,000 more soldiers.

Since even this number was not enough from the point of view of the cautious Thomas, he had to bite the bullet. Moving troops under Canby or Sherman was logistically impossible, which is why he turned to Grant and asked for the subordination of the VI Corps, which had actually been destined to support the Army of the Potomac at Petersburg after the victory over Lieutenant General Jubal Early at Cedar Creek in the Shenandoah Valley.

Grant too recognised the need for this manoeuvre, not least in view of the fact that Lee remained firmly fixed in place by the siege. However, the commander-in-chief attached a strict condition to this concession: as soon as the last units of the VI Corps had arrived in Nashville, Thomas had to immediately seize the initiative and attack Hood, absolutely before the year 1864 finally came to an end. Of necessity, Thomas agreed. ​
 

JSylvester

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I think Thomas would look across the Mississippi at Steele's command (?) and see if the troops could transfer east. Also, Canby and Banks would be notified of the Confederate options for the remaining winter, and troops would be adjusted accordingly via Washington and Grant.
Lubliner.
I do not imagine that more troops could have been detached from west of the Mississippi. A. J. Smith came directly from Missouri after Price's raid had been repulsed. Steele's last campaign (Camden Expedition) was a huge failure and I don't think he had enough troops to secure the Indian Territory border, hold Little Rock and send reinforcements to Thomas at the same time. I think the same applies to Banks. It should be noted that Kirby Smith had 6 infantry divisions totalling just under 20,000 men (Forney, Polignac, Churchill, Parsons and two under Walker) and 6 cavalry divisions of 19,500 men (Maxey, Brent, Wheaton, Marmaduke, Fagan, Cooper) that had to be held in check by Union troops.
 

Luke Freet

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I do not imagine that more troops could have been detached from west of the Mississippi. A. J. Smith came directly from Missouri after Price's raid had been repulsed. Steele's last campaign (Camden Expedition) was a huge failure and I don't think he had enough troops to secure the Indian Territory border, hold Little Rock and send reinforcements to Thomas at the same time. I think the same applies to Banks. It should be noted that Kirby Smith had 6 infantry divisions totalling just under 20,000 men (Forney, Polignac, Churchill, Parsons and two under Walker) and 6 cavalry divisions of 19,500 men (Maxey, Brent, Wheaton, Marmaduke, Fagan, Cooper) that had to be held in check by Union troops.
Should note, Walker's two divisions would have been Forney and Polignac. Unless I've just not read the September '64 oobs properly.
Correction, I've looked up the OoB's. Seems Walker had a division of infantry and a division of cavalry under his command. But this seems to be department troops: the infantry "division" has no commander, and all the regiments would have served in garrison duty back in Texas. In reality, it would have been the 4 divvisions of infantry plus the 6 cavalry divisions already mentioned operating at the time.
 

JSylvester

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Should note, Walker's two divisions would have been Forney and Polignac. Unless I've just not read the September '64 oobs properly.
Correction, I've looked up the OoB's. Seems Walker had a division of infantry and a division of cavalry under his command. But this seems to be department troops: the infantry "division" has no commander, and all the regiments would have served in garrison duty back in Texas. In reality, it would have been the 4 divvisions of infantry plus the 6 cavalry divisions already mentioned operating at the time.
Thanks for the reference! I organised the information via Nafziger's OOBs, which are not always entirely accurate. Nevertheless, I think the core of the argument remains valid: Rather no Union reinforcements from west of the Mississippi River.
 

Psr77777

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I have just finished reading "Let Us Die Like Men, The Battle of Franklin" by William Lee White and he wrote that Schofield was actually in a bad situation before arriving at Spring Hill. Stewart's Corps was guarding the Columbia Pike that evening but somehow his Confederates did not hear the passing of Schofield's army. If Hood had given more explicit orders to Stewart and Cheatham about guarding the Pike, your scenario could have come about and his army would never have made it to Franklin.
 

JSylvester

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Chapter 4: At the gates of Savannah

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Lieutenant General William J. Hardee found himself in probabmly one of the most thankless positions a commander could find himself in. His Confederate Department of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida had no organised troops above division level, let alone any kind of army with which to confront the 62,000 Union troops Major General William T. Sherman was leading south to meet him. Until 30 November 1864, Hardee could not even be definitively sure of Sherman's specific objective. Only the landing of two brigades from the Federal Department of the South under Brigadier General John P. Hatch in Beauford County, South Carolina, which attempted to disrupt the railway line between Charleston and Savannah, confirmed that the latter city was indeed the object of desire. While Hatch had been decisively defeated by a thousand and a half reservists and militiamen at Honey Hill, Lieutenant General Joseph Wheeler's less than 8,000 cavalrymen had failed to even significantly slow the advance of Sherman's main force. The rallying of units to defend Savannah had been slow. Besides the Georgia Militia under Gustavus W. Smith, a provisional division of North Carolina garrison troops, Georgia Reserves and individual regular regiments under Lafayette McLaws and two brigades of local defence troops under Ambrose R. Wright had arrived, by no means a sufficient defence against Sherman's veterans.

The news from Spring Hill, however, was to blow everything out of proportion. Hardee, a practised strategist who had hitherto envisaged a staggered retreat, realised instantly that Sherman would now be under massive pressure either to send troops to Tennessee or to achieve a local success as quickly as possible. The protracted encirclement and siege of Savannah feared by the Confederates, analogous to the situation in Virginia, was apparently out of the question. He instructed his subordinates, including William Taliaferro, who commanded in South Carolina, to really send every available and combat-capable man to Savannah immediately. Without going through the local governor, Hardee dispatched a large number of orderly officers with the task of mobilising the South Carolina militia and the local junior and senior reserves on his own initiative. Savannah would not be surrendered without a fight.​
 

Lubliner

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I do know the confederates were pushed back, one station after another, continually trying to come to grips with Sherman's advance on Savannah. They confederates were meagerly supplied with men for the defenses, and had to move back well before much action took place, hoping to buy time and conserve manpower. The clock was ticking, and every second lost could not be regained. The whole affair was as bleak as bad weather, and all traction lost as the Yankees progressed onward toward their goal.
Lubliner.
 

wausaubob

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In the real world Bragg and Longstreet handed Rosecrans a stinging defeat at Chickamauga. But the bulk of the Cumberland Army survived. Two months later the US held the initiative and regained all that was lost at Chickamauga. Schofield's force knew where they headed and they were moving towards reinforcements. Schofield might have relieved, but Thomas probably was not going to held responsible for an action in which he was not present, and was not supposed to be present.
 

OpnCoronet

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Assuming Hood sees through his physical discomforts to see the situation clearly. It does seem that advancing on Nashville would be pointless and retreating unprofitable, and invading Ky, not feasible(at the moment anyway), then I think military logic would dictate that Hood should do that which was possible at the time, Isolate Nashville and turn it into an island in a confederate lake.

The only really important question is the capability of the Western Theatre of providing reinforcements quickly enough that little or no assistance need be sent from Grant's Army. In real terms, I think a disaster at Spring Hill would be a minor set back. It would certainly be a propaganda black eye, but little material damage to the Union war effort. At the same time, a confederate army cannot be allowed to move at will in the West, without an overpowering response. The question is, can Thomas do this quickly enough, with the resources already available in the West?
 

Lubliner

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Assuming Hood sees through his physical discomforts to see the situation clearly. It does seem that advancing on Nashville would be pointless and retreating unprofitable, and invading Ky, not feasible(at the moment anyway), then I think military logic would dictate that Hood should do that which was possible at the time, Isolate Nashville and turn it into an island in a confederate lake.

The only really important question is the capability of the Western Theatre of providing reinforcements quickly enough that little or no assistance need be sent from Grant's Army. In real terms, I think a disaster at Spring Hill would be a minor set back. It would certainly be a propaganda black eye, but little material damage to the Union war effort. At the same time, a confederate army cannot be allowed to move at will in the West, without an overpowering response. The question is, can Thomas do this quickly enough, with the resources already available in the West?
Public opinion and the safety of the citizens in west Tennessee was an important point for the Union war effort. To have much of the land retaken by confederate army troops and perpetrating vengeance against loyalists was a serious matter. They could not afford to let the confederates run freely into once occupied territory.
Lubliner.
 
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