What if Hood had caught Schofield at Spring Hill?

JSylvester

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Jul 28, 2021
Chapter 1: The Battle of Spring Hill

SpringHill.jpg

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.​
 

OpnCoronet

Lt. Colonel
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Feb 23, 2010
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.
True enough, but that is only one facet of speculating on the result of a confederate victory at Spring Hill.

Hood has time constraints also, it is late December and the war has only a few months to go. If Grant does not have to reinforce the Western Theatre, what benefit the confederacy gains from Spring Hill, will not matter. Victory will swallow up all mistakes.

In the dead of winter, with little in the way of food and supplies, short of manpower.

Can Hood reorganize his army, gather supplies and wage an active mobile operations against multiple targets, quickly enough distract Washington and Grant from a rapidly approaching confederate defeat in Va.?
 

Lubliner

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True enough, but that is only one facet of speculating on the result of a confederate victory at Spring Hill.

Hood has time constraints also, it is late December and the war has only a few months to go. If Grant does not have to reinforce the Western Theatre, what benefit the confederacy gains from Spring Hill, will not matter. Victory will swallow up all mistakes.

In the dead of winter, with little in the way of food and supplies, short of manpower.

Can Hood reorganize his army, gather supplies and wage an active mobile operations against multiple targets, quickly enough distract Washington and Grant from a rapidly approaching confederate defeat in Va.?
As to whether Hood had supplies, the Union raids that were launched into Mississippi and Alabama certainly had success in destroying a vast amount. Supposing these raids could not have been launched, there was plenty of subsistence in these two States, and with any mobility at all with Forrest's and Chalmer's, and Vaughn's, and Roddy's Cavalry, they could have skirted Nashville and wreaked havoc in Kentucky and other parts of Tennessee. All Hood would have to do is demonstrate enough in front of Franklin and Nashville to keep the Union Army occupied and pinned down. Grant would have tossed Thomas out on his ear, and maybe put Palmer in his place.
Lubliner.
 

OpnCoronet

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As to whether Hood had supplies, the Union raids that were launched into Mississippi and Alabama certainly had success in destroying a vast amount. Supposing these raids could not have been launched, there was plenty of subsistence in these two States, and with any mobility at all with Forrest's and Chalmer's, and Vaughn's, and Roddy's Cavalry, they could have skirted Nashville and wreaked havoc in Kentucky and other parts of Tennessee. All Hood would have to do is demonstrate enough in front of Franklin and Nashville to keep the Union Army occupied and pinned down. Grant would have tossed Thomas out on his ear, and maybe put Palmer in his place.
Lubliner.
All good speculations on an event that did not happen(like mine). But, time for a reality check and realize the real importance of Schofield's force was not its numbers, but the fact it was the solid combat experienced force around which Thomas planned to from his army. Without it, reinforcements were still streaming in from almost all points of the Western Theatre.. Certainly Scofield's forces was important, but, was it vital?

Confederate raids, especially by Forrest, was endemic in the West, nothing new there. Whatever was lost was soon replaced and nothing permanent gained without confederate infantry to secure their success.

In actual fact, I think what would have happened with a Union disaster at Spring Hill, Hood would have done what he did in reality, i.e., Advance on Nashville as soon as possible and try to besiege a larger army behind the defenses of the most fortified Union City, excepts perhaps Washington D.C. Thomas would, I believe, would be calm and imperturbable , knowing he still outnumber, or soon would be and if Washington did not panic, and after 4 years of experience, I do not think it likely.

Grant did not doubt Thomas' generalship, only his aggressiveness and initiative in action. But, in the event of the loss of Schofield's corps, a strict defensive posture was dictated at Nashville and I think Grant would not doubt Thomas's ability on the defensive.

Victory at Spring Hill would IMO, be most likely another confederate victory that was too little, too late, to affect the outcome of the war.
 

Irishtom29

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Kent, Washington
All good speculations on an event that did not happen(like mine). But, time for a reality check and realize the real importance of Schofield's force was not its numbers, but the fact it was the solid combat experienced force around which Thomas planned to from his army.

Which goes back to the assumption that had a battle been fought at Spring Hill the rebels would've whipped the 4th and 23rd Corps, quite an assumption given the experience, fighting spirit and capable leadership of those corps and the inept leadership of the Army of Tennessee.

So often these might have beens rely on people acting out of character and beyond their abilities.
 

Lubliner

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Which goes back to the assumption that had a battle been fought at Spring Hill the rebels would've whipped the 4th and 23rd Corps, quite an assumption given the experience, fighting spirit and capable leadership of those corps and the inept leadership of the Army of Tennessee.

So often these might have beens rely on people acting out of character and beyond their abilities.
It is possible to throw in a weather change and have it sunny and warm that December instead of bitter cold and icy. I have always wondered how much the weather factored into the battle at Nashville because of its severity on the troops.
Lubliner.
 

FPT

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Jun 28, 2012
At first I`d like to thank everyone for contributing!


That's true in a way, of course, but that's where the fun of the whole thing comes from for me.


With regard to Hood, in addition to Wiley Sword`s "The Confederacy`s Last Hurrah", I have also studied Stephen Hood`s book as a contrast program, where various good arguments are made. A direct attack on Nashville I consider as not characteristic. Regarding Hood`s mentality, I find it important to note that already at Columbia he did not attack Schofield head-on in his urban fortifications, but rather flanked him. What seems realistic to me, as actually happened, is an advance against Mufreesboro to draw Thomas out. To do this, however, the latter must first bring in reinforcements, which in the short term would denude West Tennessee and parts of Kentucky. This, of course, will have a corresponding impact on the Eastern Theater, and Sherman will also come under additional pressure as a result of the mix-up.


There, I politely allow myself to disagree. At Franklin, Hood succeeded, at least in part and under far worse conditions, in breaking through Schofield's lines, and even the wreck of the Army of Tennessee at Nashville put up a good fight, at least on the first day of the battle. In the present situation, outnumbered and boxed in, I do not believe that a Schofield`s victory would be likely. Regardless of how one feels about Hood, enough capable commanders existed at the division level to play the existing advantage with aplomb.

Is there anything preventing Hood from simply paroling the prisoners? This would take them out of play for the current campaign and eliminate the need for supplies. Since the situation around the prisoner exchange fluctuated, this would mean that months could pass before the troops could be led into the field again.
The prisoners did not have to accept a parole in which case the Confederate army would have been stuck with feeding and housing them until properly transferred to the military prison system.
 

OpnCoronet

Lt. Colonel
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Feb 23, 2010
Which goes back to the assumption that had a battle been fought at Spring Hill the rebels would've whipped the 4th and 23rd Corps, quite an assumption given the experience, fighting spirit and capable leadership of those corps and the inept leadership of the Army of Tennessee.

So often these might have beens rely on people acting out of character and beyond their abilities.
True, I can't argue against that, except I believe Hood's original plan for Spring Hill was not a set piece battle against a prepared foe, but a trap. I think the plan was to surprise Schofield's force strung out on the road as it was retreating.
 

wausaubob

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Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
Schofield's people could fight. They would have handled it a lot like the VIth corp at Cedar Creek. Most of them would have gotten away regardless.
Schofield admitted it was a tight spot. But the US veterans would not have panicked. The US force had other roads I believe.
 
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