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Title: Was General Thomas Slow at Nashville?
Author: Boynton, Henry V., 1835-1905
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: GEN. GEORGE H. THOMAS]



  _The Greatest Cavalry Movement of the War_




  _Brevet Brig. Gen. U. S. V.; Historian Chickamauga
  and Chattanooga National Park Commission_




  Edition Limited to
  450 Copies.

  No. 116


A recent revival of the venerable charge that General George H. Thomas was
slow at Nashville led to the publication, in the New York _Sun_ of August
journal. A few brief additions have been made to the original text.

It seemed the more important to some of the veterans of the Army of the
Cumberland that this charge in its renewed form should be met, because it
was put forth with a show of official authority which would naturally give
it weight with readers who were not familiar with the war records.

The discussion of the subject also afforded an opportunity to present,
though in very concise form, the outlines of those magnificent cavalry
operations under General James H. Wilson in the battle of Nashville, and
in his subsequent independent campaign through Alabama and Georgia, all of
which were without parallel in our war.

Though these movements constitute one of the most brilliant chapters in
our war history,--in fact, in the history of cavalry in any war,--the
country really knows little about them, because they were performed out
of sight in Alabama and Georgia, while the attention of the country was
fixed upon the fall of Richmond and the great events immediately following
it. For this reason it is believed that the brief story here presented
will not be without interest.

H. V. B.

WASHINGTON, D. C., _September_, 1896.


A new generation has come upon the stage since our civil war. It has its
own writers on the events of that struggle. Some of these, careful
students as they are, make proper and effective use of the stores of
material which the Government has collected and published. Others,
stumbling upon interesting dispatches of notable campaigns, read them in
connection with the ill-considered and hasty criticisms of the hot times
which brought them forth, and, finding questions settled twenty years ago,
but entirely new to themselves, they proceed to reveal them as new things
to the new generation. By this process it has recently been announced that
General Thomas was slow at Nashville. To give this echo of thirty-two
years ago sufficient voice, several columns of dispatches--which a quarter
of a century since formed the basis of discussions that demolished the
theory they are now brought forward to sustain--are gravely presented as
something new.

Nothing better illustrates this situation than the very familiar story of
the Irishman who assaulted the Jew for the part he took in the
Crucifixion, and upon being remonstrated with upon the ground that the
event occurred eighteen hundred years ago, replied that it was
nevertheless new to him, as he had only heard of it the day before.

That General Thomas was not slow at Nashville is ancient history. General
Grant, who was the first to charge it, was also the first to withdraw the
imputation, by declaring in his official report that at the time he had
been very impatient over what appeared as unnecessary delay on the part of
Thomas, "but his final defeat of Hood was so complete that it will be
accepted as a vindication of that distinguished officer's judgment."

The ostensible reason for heralding Thomas as slow--so slow, indeed, as to
require his removal and lead to an order for it--was that he insisted upon
concentrating his infantry force and remounting his cavalry. Secretary
Stanton declared that the delay would be till doomsday if Thomas waited
for the latter.

A consideration of this most important, underlying, and controlling factor
in General Thomas's preparations brings up one of the most brilliant
chapters in our war history, and altogether the most brilliant in the
annals of cavalry operations.

In touching upon General Thomas's persistence in getting his cavalry
ready, it would be very natural for a surface student to quote Secretary
Stanton: "If he waits for Wilson to get ready, Gabriel will be blowing his
last horn," and treat it as conclusive proof of Thomas's dilatoriness and
Stanton's final opinion. But just far enough under the surface to escape
the eyes of historical amateurs, lies the splendid and unparalleled fact
that in eight winter days after the date of that dispatch General James H.
Wilson, Thomas's chief of cavalry, had impressed horses enough, with those
furnished on previous requisitions, to raise the effective mounted force
at Nashville from 5500 to 13,500, and that on the eighth day General
Wilson went into action with 12,000 mounted men, and had besides one
brigade of 1500 men engaged in an independent movement.

At this point a moment's consideration of the real reasons which caused
the outbreak against General Thomas, on the ground that he was slow, will
not be out of place. At City Point it was the perfectly natural but
sickening anxiety lest it should turn out that a great mistake had been
made in letting Sherman march away to the sea, thus possibly opening the
way for Hood to the Ohio. At Savannah it was the same fear, intensified by
the consciousness that Thomas had been left with unprepared forces to
contend against a veteran army which had stubbornly resisted both Thomas
and Sherman during the hundred days from Dalton to Atlanta.

And so, while Thomas, as all who were on the ground knew, was making
superhuman exertions to prepare fully for the task in hand, he was advised
to fight, pressed to fight, ordered to fight, threatened with removal if
he did not fight, and his successor dispatched to relieve him. And the
underlying cause of it all was the demoralizing fear that Hood might elude
or overthrow Thomas and strike for the Ohio, and the country rise in wrath
to inquire why Sherman, with 62,000 thoroughly equipped veterans,
including a larger force of mounted men than he left behind, had been
allowed to march away from the central theater of war. So great was this
fear at Savannah that even after receiving Thomas's dispatch giving an
account of the first day's battle at Nashville, which resulted in driving
Hood's left eight miles (which movement General Grant characterized as a
"splendid success"), Sherman telegraphed that this attack on Hood "was
successful but not complete": that he awaited further accounts "with
anxiety," as Thomas's complete success was necessary to vindicate his own
plan for this campaign.

Throughout all this inside panic in high official circles, only Thomas and
the trusted officers who supported him at Nashville were cool and unmoved
in the memorable crisis.


The concentration and organization of the fragments which finally made up
the force with which he practically annihilated his enemy was one of the
most remarkable accomplishments of the war. It was prosecuted and
consummated in the immediate presence of the enemy, and a large portion of
the work was performed during the continued movement, constant
skirmishing, frequent affairs, and one great battle of an active campaign.

Arriving at Nashville, the first point of concentration, General Thomas,
after careful study of the situation, decided upon his plan of battle. It
included, as one of its essentials, the remounting of an effective force
of cavalry. From the moment his plans were formed the utmost energy was
put forth to prepare for their execution. Greater or more effective
activity was never exerted in the Union army than was manifest at
Nashville throughout this period. Every stroke of effort was directed
toward the predetermined end, with the result which the country knows.

Naturally, the part played by the cavalry in our great battles was often
concealed or minimized, while the infantry operations filled the public
eye and for the time dimmed the credit due to the cavalry arm. The history
of the war does not afford another case where the cavalry formed the
determining factor, and, notwithstanding this, where it was so largely
overlooked in the distribution of the honors.

It is necessary to a full understanding of the brilliancy, efficiency, and
completeness of Thomas's final movements to have in mind the situation
after General Sherman had marched away from Hood and left Thomas in
Tennessee to stand between that veteran Confederate army and the Ohio.

Preparatory to the march to the sea the great army about Atlanta had been
carefully inspected both as to men and equipments. Every weak man, all
convalescents, those whose terms of service were expiring--in short, all
the "trash," as General Sherman expressed it--were sent to the rear, that
is, to Thomas. All equipments of infantry, artillery, and cavalry were
examined, and every weak or worn piece replaced by new, and all the
"trash" either destroyed or "sent to Thomas." The entire cavalry force was
dismounted for close inspection and for the perfect remounting of
Kilpatrick's column. Of the sound men whom Thomas received he lost 15,000
by expiration of terms of service and previous furloughs to vote, within a
week after Hood's movement began.

After this sifting of the armies General Sherman started for the sea with
62,000 veterans, of whom he wrote that "all on this exhibit may be assumed
to have been able-bodied, experienced soldiers, well armed, well equipped
and provided, so far as human foresight could, with all the essentials of
life, strength, and vigorous action." With this force was included the
entire equipment of trains, pontoons, and similar essentials which Thomas,
with great care, had perfected for the army of the Cumberland. Thomas's
request that he might have his old corps which he had organized, which had
fought under him so long, was refused, and, instead, two small corps were
sent him.

The nucleus around which General Thomas was to organize an army to take
care of Hood--who from May till November had taxed the offensive resources
of Sherman's three armies--was, the Fourth Corps, General Stanley, with an
effective force of 13,907, and the Twenty-third, General Schofield, with
10,358 effectives.

The means of holding Chattanooga are indicated by the instructions from
Sherman to Steedman, whose troops had almost dwindled away by expiration
of service: "You must organize and systematize the hospitals and men sent
back to Chattanooga. You could use some of them for your forts," and it
was suggested to Thomas: "To make things sure, you might call upon the
Governors of Kentucky and Indiana for some militia, cautioning them
against a stampede." Thomas was so short of men that when Steedman asked
for enough for a small but important garrison, he was obliged to reply:
"You might send a force from the organization of convalescents now being
made up by General Cruft at Chattanooga." To which Steedman replied, "So
far, all such detachments reported from the front [Sherman] are with
furloughs, and are waiting transportation home."

In place of the 15,000 veterans whose terms had expired, Thomas received
12,000 newly enlisted recruits. General A. J. Smith's veteran corps had
been ordered from Missouri, and a great parade has been made of this fact
by those whose interest it was to show that Thomas had been left with a
competent force. But the fact that it did not arrive at Nashville till
after the battle of Franklin, and that Thomas was waiting for it as well
as to remount the cavalry, was not so loudly proclaimed.

However, when Sherman was ready to start for the sea, with Hood's veteran
army concentrated behind him, and Thomas, with the above mentioned
elements of an army scattered over a territory as large as France, had
been assigned to take care of Hood, General Sherman telegraphed Halleck:
"I therefore feel no uneasiness as to Tennessee, and have ordered Thomas
to assume the offensive in the direction of Selma, Ala." And General
Grant, after receiving some inflated figures of a great force left with
Thomas, telegraphed Sherman: "With the force you have left with Thomas, he
must be able to take care of Hood and destroy him." Later, when the
anxiety at City Point referred to in the opening of this paper had become
intense, the margin of force with which General Thomas was really
operating was found to be so small that General Grant suggested that he
should "arm and put in the trenches your quartermaster employees,
citizens, etc.," and again, a few hours later, he was suggesting what he
could do "with your citizen employees armed."


It was under such circumstances and conditions which, after all, are but
faintly shadowed forth by the facts here stated, that General Thomas began
to concentrate his conglomerate forces in Hood's front, and begin under
fire the work of organizing and refitting an army. With superhuman effort,
and such loyal assistance and energy from officers and soldiers as were
not elsewhere exhibited during the war, because not previously required,
General Thomas set about the task of preparing the means of overthrowing
Hood. Deliberate action and the extreme of prudence were essentials of the
situation. The objective of Hood's campaign, under suggestions from
President Davis, was the Ohio River. There was no reserve force in sight
or within summoning distance, or immediately available anywhere in case of
reverses. Thomas could not afford to take the slightest risks so long as
his own position was not imperilled. It was not alone the immediate
interests confided to his keeping and defense which hinged upon his
success or failure, but both Grant and Sherman and possibly the Union
itself were to stand or fall with such success or failure. Had Hood
succeeded, as at the first he might have succeeded without fault of
Thomas, or even fair ground for reflection upon him, what would have been
said of Sherman for marching off to the sea, leaving the central West
without sufficient protection, or of General Grant for having allowed him
to go?

And because the deliberate, prudent, imperturbable, and always successful
Thomas appreciated the situation, and determined to be ready to annihilate
his enemy before he struck, he was hastily declared to be slow by those he
was preparing to save.

All of General Thomas's troubles at Nashville arose from his adhering, in
the face of threatened removal, to plans of action which made General
Wilson's cavalry an essential factor in the attack on Hood for which he
was energetically preparing. He was looking not only to attack, but to
crushing pursuit. In view of the great preponderance of the enemy's
cavalry, which was then double his own, and led by Forrest, one of the
ablest cavalry generals on either side, effective pursuit without a strong
mounted force would be impossible.

The correspondence with Grant--which grew until an order was issued for
General Thomas's relief by General Schofield, and, when this was held in
abeyance, until a second order for superseding him with General
Logan--began with an order from Grant not to "let Forrest get off without
punishment." As Forrest's mounted force was double Wilson's, this was
easier to write than to execute. General Thomas therefore explained the
situation fully, showing that the cavalry of Hatch and Grierson, which
were all the reinforcements he had to depend upon at first, had been
turned in at Memphis; that half his own cavalry had been dismounted to
equip Kilpatrick's column for Sherman; that his dismounted force, which he
had sent to Louisville for horses and arms, was detained there waiting for
both, and that as he was greatly outnumbered both in infantry and cavalry
he would be compelled to act on the defensive. But he added, in closing:
"The moment I can get my cavalry, I will march against Hood, and if
Forrest can be reached he shall be punished."

The day after General Schofield's brilliant and effective battle at
Franklin, Thomas made known to Halleck his confidence that Hood could not
cross the Cumberland, and therefore thought it best to wait until Wilson
could equip his cavalry, as he then felt certain he could whip Hood. Next,
the President, through Secretary Stanton, stirred General Grant up by a
telegram stating that Mr. Lincoln felt "solicitous about the disposition
of Thomas to lay in fortifications for an indefinite period, 'until Wilson
gets equipments.'"


In spite of the plainest statements of the situation, of the great
disparity of forces, of the dictates of prudence to remain on the
defensive until he could strike an effective blow, which he expected to
deliver in a few days, Thomas was prodded and nagged from City Point and
Washington as no officer in command of an army had been before, and
treated day by day as if he needed tutelage. In the last dispatch of the
series of clear explanations,--which under other circumstances than the
seething of that inside panic which a full appreciation of the
complications that Sherman's march to the sea had caused would doubtless
have been accepted,--General Thomas was peremptorily ordered to "attack
Hood at once without waiting for a remount of your cavalry. There is great
danger in delay resulting in a campaign back to the Ohio." This was sent
in reply to a telegram of Thomas showing that there was the greatest
activity in getting the cavalry ready, and he hoped to have it remounted
"in three days from this time." To this Thomas replied that he would make
all dispositions and attack according to orders, adding, "though I believe
it will be hazardous with the small force of cavalry now at my service."
Orders to prepare for attack were immediately sent out, and dispositions
for the attack began. Meantime a sleet storm came on which covered the
country with a glaze of ice over which neither horses, men, nor artillery
could move even on level ground, to say nothing of assaulting an enemy
intrenched on the hills. The same day Halleck telegraphed: "If you wait
till General Wilson mounts all his cavalry you will wait till doomsday,
for the waste equals the supply." And General Grant telegraphed orders
relieving Thomas. The latter telegraphed Halleck that he was conscious of
having done everything possible to prepare the troops to attack, and if he
was removed he would submit without a murmur.

The order of relief was suspended. The sleet storm continued. All of
General Thomas's officers agreed that it was impracticable to attack. Some
of them even found it impossible to ride to headquarters because of the
ice, and in the midst of it came an order from Grant: "I am in hopes of
receiving a dispatch from you to-day announcing you have moved. Delay no
longer for weather or reinforcements."

Thomas replied:

"I will obey the order as promptly as possible, however much I regret it,
as the attack will have to be made under every disadvantage. The whole
country is covered with a perfect sheet of ice and sleet, and it is with
difficulty the troops are able to move about on level ground."

To Halleck, Thomas replied:

"I have the troops ready to make the attack on the enemy as soon as the
sleet which now covers the ground has melted sufficiently to enable the
men to march, as the whole country is now covered with a sheet of ice so
hard and slippery that it is utterly impossible for troops to ascend the
slopes, or even move upon level ground in anything like order. Under these
circumstances I believe an attack at this time would only result in a
useless sacrifice of life."

The reply to this, unquestionably born of the panic to which allusion has
been made, was an order sending General Logan to relieve Thomas. Grant
himself then started from City Point for Nashville to assume general
command. But the ice having melted, he was met at Washington by the news
of Thomas's victory.

The delay that Thomas had insisted upon, in the face of orders twice given
for his relief, gave him the cavalry force he required for the decisive
blow he intended to strike.

While the official inside at City Point and Washington bordered on panic,
everything at Nashville was being pressed forward with activity and
vigilance, and at the same time with deliberation, prudence, and the
utmost imperturbability. At length, and at the first moment possible
consistent with a reasonable expectation of success, the attack began.


The developments of the battle, the energy and success of the pursuit, and
the marvelous results of the whole, namely, the virtual destruction of a
veteran army, reveal at every step what General Thomas had in mind when he
insisted upon waiting till he could remount his cavalry.

In no other battle of the war did cavalry play such a prominent part as in
that of Nashville. In no other pursuit did it so distinguish itself.
Students of the movement will find themselves constantly questioning, as
their investigations proceed, whether, with the force of infantry which
General Thomas had been able to gather, Hood could have been driven from
his position in front of Nashville without the co-operation of the
cavalry. Had Thomas been obliged to fight without it, as the authorities
at City Point and Washington tried to compel him to do, it is no
reflection upon his infantry to say that there is ground for serious doubt
as to the result. Hood was intrenched on strong ground. His positions were
commanding. The infantry force against him was not sufficient in numbers
and experience to make up for the usual difference due to field works
placed as Hood's were and manned by veterans. Unquestionably Wilson's
cavalry was the dominating and controlling element of the battle. To say
this does not detract from the distinguished infantry generals or their
excellent and brilliant work. But General Thomas's plan turned on cavalry
work as its directrix. His consultations with General Wilson had been
exhaustive. That officer was charged with reorganizing, remounting, and
refitting a great cavalry force, even as Thomas was organizing a new
army--under fire. There had been nothing like either of those herculean
tasks in any campaign.

Many officers have organized and built up an effective cavalry force in
times of rest and peace, but no one except General Wilson ever did it in
the heat and hurry of a desperate midwinter campaign. And he could not
have succeeded, nor could any man have accomplished it, in the face of the
interferences which were attempted, but for the protection and support of
the peerless and imperturbable Thomas.

When General Thomas felt himself to be ready, or so nearly ready that he
believed success attainable, he delivered the battle of Nashville. In his
whole career he had never struck a blow till he felt himself ready. He
looked upon the lives of his soldiers as a sacred trust, not to be
carelessly imperiled. Whenever he moved to battle, it was certain that
everything had been done that prudence, deliberation, thought, and cool
judgment could do under surrounding circumstances to insure success
commensurate with the cost of the lives of men. And so it came to pass
that when the war ended it could be truthfully written of Thomas alone
that he never lost a movement or a battle.

It was an unprecedented array for attack. The inner lines about the city
were held by quartermasters' employees. Half the outer, or main line, was
manned mostly by convalescents and new troops; the other, or right of this
line, was occupied by General A. J. Smith's division. Steedman's
provisional division and his two colored brigades were on the extreme left
of the front, and opened the battle. The order of infantry in the line
from right to left was Smith's Corps (Thirteenth), Wood's Corps (Fourth),
Schofield's Corps (Twenty-third), and Steedman's troops.


Wilson's cavalry was massed behind the extreme right. Steedman, on the
left, early December 15, delivered a vigorous and successful attack. It
was in the nature of a feint. Meantime the grand play with the cavalry
began. Its part was the imposing swinging movement of 12,000 mounted men
against and around the Confederate left. Before the short, lowering winter
day had closed, this force had overrun several redoubts on the enemy's
left, capturing them and their artillery by assaults, swept for eight
miles over ground of formidable natural difficulties, and forced itself to
the immediate flank and rear of Hood's main line of works. It rode to its
firing lines and fought dismounted.

The enemy's left being thus effectually turned, the infantry attack in
front was delivered with success, and Hood fell back to a new line, and
early the second day withdrew still further, establishing his right on the
Overton Hills.

The second day was a repetition of the first. Wilson again swung his
cavalry by a wide detour to the enemy's left and rear, and from the rear
assaulted and carried a portion of his main line, capturing both works
and guns. Thereupon the infantry corps again advanced on the front; the
enemy was everywhere forced back in confused retreat, and instantly the
most vigorous pursuit began, and was kept up that night till midnight, the
cavalry leading. It was resumed at daylight and continued night and day in
winter weather,--rain, slush, snow, and ice,--over a soggy country and mud
roads which were well-nigh impassable, leading through a region which both
armies had gleaned bare with their foraging parties. But even under these
conditions, by herculean efforts, the most vigorous pursuit was prosecuted
to the Tennessee River. The determined character of this pursuit is well
illustrated by the fact that 6000 cavalry horses were disabled, so rapid
and exhaustive was the work they performed. At the close Hood's army was
practically destroyed. It opened the campaign 55,000 strong. It lost
nearly all its guns and equipments, about 15,000 killed and wounded, and
the same number of prisoners. About 13,000 men of all arms were finally
assembled at Tupelo. Starting toward North Carolina it continued to
disintegrate, and reached the southern line of that State not over 6000
strong. It had practically disappeared as an army. When it reached
Bentonville in Sherman's front it went into action with only 3953 officers
and men of all arms. For the first time in the war one of the leading
veteran armies of the enemy operating in the open field had been
destroyed. This was the direct result of Thomas's blow at Nashville, and
the pursuit which followed.

Thomas was very deeply pained and indignant at the treatment he received
while making the most vigorous preparations for battle which it was
possible to carry forward. He called his officers together during the
sleet storm to tell them of the peremptory order to attack without regard
to weather, and of his reply that the conditions were unfavorable for
attack, that it would be made at the first possible moment, and that if
removed, as threatened, he would submit without a murmur. He found
himself fully supported by all of them. After this meeting was over he
called General Wilson aside and said: "Wilson, they treat me at Washington
and at Grant's headquarters as though I were a boy! They do not seem to
think that I have sense enough to plan a campaign or fight a battle, but
if they will only let me alone a few days I will show them that they are
mistaken. I am sure we will whip Hood and destroy his army, if we go at
them under favorable instead of unfavorable conditions."

Later, and in spite of his brilliant and complete victory, and the further
fact that such vigorous pursuit as had never before been made by a Union
army was in progress, in midwinter and under more unfavorable
circumstances, too, than a pursuing army had encountered during the war,
this nagging from Washington and City Point continued.

Secretary Stanton alone was immediate, wholesouled, and continuing in his
congratulations and praises. Grant tempered his message over the "splendid
success" with the information that he had reached Washington on his way to
relieve him, but now would not proceed, and continued: "Push the enemy now
and give him no rest until he is entirely destroyed. Much is now
expected." Mr. Lincoln added to his thanks: "You made a magnificent
beginning. A grand consummation is within your easy reach. Do not let it

In the midst of these proddings, Secretary Stanton suggested to Grant that
Thomas be made a Major-General. Grant replied: "I think Thomas has won the
Major-Generalcy, but I would wait a few days before giving it, to see the
extent of damage done."

Next came Halleck, in the midst of the almost superhuman efforts of the

"Permit me, General, to urge the vast importance of a hot pursuit of
Hood's army. Every possible sacrifice should be made, and your men for a
few days will submit to any hardship and privation to accomplish the
great result. A most vigorous pursuit on your part is therefore of vital
importance to Sherman's plans. No sacrifice must be spared to attain so
important an object."


There was one thing in which General Thomas was slow. He was not swift to
give expression to indignation over wrong treatment. To this latter, as
the culmination of the series, he at last responded with this crushing

"General Hood's army is being pursued as rapidly and as vigorously as it
is possible for one army to pursue another. We cannot control the
elements, and you must remember that to resist Hood's advance into
Tennessee I had to reorganize and almost thoroughly equip the force now
under my command. I fought the battles of the 15th and 16th inst. with the
troops but partially equipped, and notwithstanding the inclemency of the
weather and the partial equipment, have been enabled to drive the enemy
beyond Duck River, crossing the two streams with my troops, and driving
the enemy from position to position, without the aid of pontoons, and with
but little transportation to bring up supplies and ammunition.

"I am doing all in my power to crush Hood's army, and, if it be possible,
will destroy it, but pursuing an enemy through an exhausted country, over
mud roads, completely sogged with heavy rains, is no child's play, and
cannot be accomplished as quickly as thought of. I hope, in urging me to
push the enemy, the department remembers that General Sherman took with
him the complete organizations of the Military Division of the
Mississippi, well equipped in every respect as regards ammunition,
supplies, and transportation, leaving me only two corps--partially
stripped of their transportation to accommodate the force taken with
him--to oppose the advance into Tennessee of that army which had resisted
the advance of the army of the Military Division of the Mississippi on
Atlanta from the commencement of the campaign until its close, and which
is now, in addition, aided by Forrest's cavalry. Although my progress may
appear slow, I feel assured that Hood's army can be driven from Tennessee,
and eventually driven to the wall, by the force under my command, but too
much must not be expected of troops which have to be reorganized,
especially when they have the task of destroying a force in a winter
campaign which was able to make an obstinate resistance to twice its
numbers in spring and summer. In conclusion, I can safely state that this
army is willing to submit to any sacrifice to oust Hood's army, or to
strike any other blow which would contribute to the destruction of the

The next day Stanton thus again extended his steady support:

"I have seen to-day General Halleck's dispatch of yesterday and your
reply. It is proper for me to assure you that this department has the most
unbounded confidence in your skill, vigor, and determination to employ to
the best advantage all the means in your power to pursue and destroy the
enemy. No department could be inspired with more profound admiration and
thankfulness for the great deeds you have already performed, or more
confiding faith that human effort could accomplish no more than will be
done by you and the gallant officers and soldiers of your command."

To this Thomas responded in terms which show his deep appreciation of the
only unqualifiedly friendly voice that had reached his ear from those in
high authority:

"I am profoundly thankful for the hearty expression of your confidence in
my determination and desire to do all in my power to destroy the enemy and
put down the rebellion."

As pertinent to this history it is well to recall two facts: First,
Sherman reached Savannah, having avoided all fortified places, had
encountered no enemy in force during his march, sat down before the city,
and awoke one morning to find that Hardee with his 10,000 men had slipped
out of the city over the river and escaped.

Second, the Army of the Potomac, which had 87,000 present for duty
equipped, and which was not obliged to depend upon quartermasters'
employees, citizens, and convalescents for its reserves, remained quietly
in its camps in front of City Point and in sight of the enemy from
November to April, giving plenty of leisure for complaining that the Army
of the Cumberland did not attack at the dropping of a handkerchief.

With the dispersion of Hood's army General Thomas set about preparing for
a spring campaign which should open at the earliest possible day. His plan
contemplated the assembling and putting in thorough condition an army of
cavalry to penetrate the South under his trusted commander, General James
H. Wilson.


Six divisions of the cavalry corps were put in camp, extending for twelve
miles along the north bank of the Tennessee from Gravelly Springs to
Waterloo Landing. A winter campaign was laid out at army headquarters for
Thomas's army, to begin without rest or refitting--the resting to be done
by proxy in the vicinity of City Point. But owing to rains and unusual
floods this plan for Thomas could not be pursued, and the time was
improved for a vigorous and rapid refitting of his forces.

Early in March a cavalry corps of 27,000 had been gathered. The men were
veterans. The new equipment collected was excellent, but, with all that
the Cavalry Bureau could do, only 17,000 horses could be provided. This
force was raised, by drills and every form of perfecting an organization,
to a high state of efficiency. While vigorous efforts were in progress to
equip Hatch's veteran division of 10,000, the orders from Washington and
City Point for forward movement began to pour in on Thomas. While no other
national army was moving, the nine weeks of midwinter which Thomas was
using in most active measures for beginning a crushing campaign were
begrudged him, and he was again prodded to move before he was ready.
Next, the breaking up of the cavalry force which had been assembled and
prepared with such great labor began. One division, 5000 strong, was
ordered off to Canby at Mobile, where its operations proved of little
consequence, and Thomas was ordered with 5000 more to make a demonstration
on Tuscaloosa and Selma.

General Wilson then urged with great ability and power that the cavalry
should go as a body, with the purpose of destroying the various factories
of war material and breaking the interior lines of communication and
supply. Grant, who had great confidence in Wilson from his long service on
his staff, consented, and the plan, warmly approved by Thomas, was
adopted, and Wilson was started with all the powers of an independent

On the 22d of March Wilson had crossed the Tennessee and started toward
Selma. He had three divisions, Upton's, Long's, and E. M. McCook's. The
aggregate strength was 12,500 mounted, and 1500 dismounted to follow till
they could be furnished with captured horses. It was in every sense a
command thoroughly equipped and fully supplied. The divisions marched on
different roads, but the objective of each was Selma. The direct distance
was 180 miles, and the average march of each division to reach it was 250
miles. The streams were still flooded in all directions, and the roads
deep and difficult. The vigor and skill with which all these obstacles
were overcome form a brilliant chapter, not exceeded in kind during the

At Montevallo, forty-five miles from Selma, a portion of Forrest's command
was encountered, and, after a dashing fight, forced to retreat. The
Southern leader had not been able, as yet, to concentrate his command. The
capture of a courier with dispatches to Forrest showed Wilson how several
columns were moving to join Forrest, and forces were sent in various
directions to check them, while Wilson's main column rode direct for
Selma. It was an exciting and successful play. Forrest, when reached, was
found to have made the best disposition possible for an inferior force,
and maintained a stubborn resistance. But the Union troopers charged at
all points. Forrest himself fought hand to hand, and received several
saber strokes. After the lines were carried Wilson's column advanced in
pursuit twenty-five miles, and bivouacked at night only twenty miles from

Selma contained a gun foundry, arsenal, and important manufactories of war
material. The place had been sufficiently fortified, as was believed,
against any possible cavalry attack. General Wilson had succeeded in
obtaining accurate plans of these works and of the grounds in front of
them. During the day's advance, which was not retarded by Forrest, these
sketches were shown to all general officers and a plan of attack
explained. As a result, upon reaching the vicinity of the works, the
various brigades went into position with precision and celerity, and the
storming of the intrenchments began at once. Just as darkness was
gathering they were carried at every point. The resistance was stubborn,
but numbers, efficient organization, equipment, and dash won the day and
the city.

The capture of Selma was one of the most remarkable feats in the cavalry
annals of any land. The works contained 24 bastions and a number of
strong redans with deep ditches, while the curtains of the four-mile line
were generally stockaded rifle pits. There was besides an interior line of
4 detached forts. The artillery armament of these works was 30 field guns
and two thirty-pounder Parrotts. Wilson's attacking force was 8000.
Forrest, for the defense, had half that force of veteran cavalry, and some
2000 militia, home-guards, and citizens. The captures were 2700 prisoners,
nearly 2000 horses, 32 guns in service, 26 field guns mounted complete in
arsenal, 46 siege guns in the foundry, 66,000 rounds of artillery
ammunition, and 100,000 rounds for small arms. General Wilson destroyed
the Selma arsenal, with 44 buildings covering 13 acres, filled with
machinery and munitions; powder works comprising 7 buildings, with 14,000
pounds of powder; niter works, with 18 buildings equipped, 3 gun
foundries, 3 rolling mills, and several machine shops, all equipped and
turning out material of war, and vast accumulations of quartermaster and
commissary stores. It was a crushing blow to the Confederacy--this capture
of Selma with its enormous military plant on Sunday, April 2. The same day
Grant, at the other end of the line a thousand miles away, had broken the
lines at Petersburg, and the evacuation of Richmond began.


General Wilson's command remained at Selma about a week, making active
preparations for its next stroke, which was to be against Montgomery, the
former capital of the Confederacy. It was necessary to prepare a thousand
feet of bridging to cross the Alabama River, then at flood tide and filled
with floating _débris_. Equipments of every kind were looked after and the
most careful refitting of the whole command took place, the Confederate
stores taken offering abundant facilities for such important work. There
had been horses enough captured to mount the whole command, together with
a very considerable force of negroes for fatigue purposes. With Croxton's
brigade detached and moving by a circuitous route from central Alabama,
through northern Georgia toward Macon, the final objective, the force of
the main column was reduced to 11,000 men.

Upon reaching the outskirts of Montgomery they were met by the officials
of the town and leading citizens, offering surrender without conditions.
Then followed an astonishment for the people of this capital. The whole
force, marching in close column, with its flags unfurled and music
playing, made its way into and through the city without a marauder leaving
its column or a soldier entering a private house in any quarter
uninvited. And, so far as information came to the officers of the
command, not an insulting word was spoken. The main portion of the command
camped in the vicinity of the city, while its advance continued rapidly
toward Columbus, skirmishing with the retreating enemy. There was a very
considerable capture of steamboats loaded with military supplies at
Montgomery. The halt there, however, was only for the night, and the next
day the main column moved with the greatest celerity so as to secure a
bridge for crossing the Chattahoochee either at Columbus on the direct
road to Macon, or at West Point, further up the river.

By rapid movements, and bold and most brilliant fighting, both the bridge
at Columbus and that at West Point were captured. Though both were
prepared for burning and protected by heavy fortifications well manned by
a defending force, the attacks against these were pushed so vigorously as
to make it impossible for the enemy to fire them.

The bridge-head at West Point was protected by a strong redoubt with a
deep ditch mounting two guns, one a thirty-two pounder, and the work
manned by 265 men. This was twice attacked by direct assault, and carried
the second time. The captures were 3 guns, 500 stands of small arms, 19
locomotive engines, and 240 cars loaded with army supplies, but the
greatest importance of securing a crossing at West Point was that it
opened a way direct to Macon, which could be used for the entire cavalry
corps in case the attack at Columbus should fail.

The main column arrived at Girard, a small town opposite Columbus, early
in the afternoon, finding a heavy line of fortifications protecting three
bridges across the Chattahoochee. Under a vigorous attack upon the lower
bridge the Confederates found it impossible to save it from capture unless
it was destroyed, and set fire to the cotton and turpentine with which it
had been prepared for burning.

It was then decided to make a night attack upon the central bridge, and
the troops were arranged for this desperate work. The lines were very
quietly formed, and moved up to within range of the intrenchments, and at
a signal the assault began. The works were found to be strong and
thoroughly protected with ditches and slashed timber. The enemy, while
watchful, was not expecting a night assault from troops that had not
reconnoitered the fortifications by daylight. They opened fire upon the
charging columns, but in the darkness it was necessarily wild and

The Union troops went over the works at many points, and all rushed in
haste toward the bridge, which was the objective point of the attack. It
was one of the most desperate and persistent night fights of the war, but
so thoroughly organized was the attacking force that in spite of the
darkness and confusion it was able to move with sufficient unity to
preserve its columns and formations. Upon the penetration of the works
both Union and Confederate soldiers swept over the bridge toward Columbus,
and this was so crowded with the men of both forces that the enemy holding
the works at the east end of the bridge, and commanding it with artillery,
were restrained from firing till the Union forces made a rush upon them
and gained possession, and Columbus was in full possession of General
Wilson's forces.

The next morning it was ascertained that the works had been manned and
defended by 3000 Georgia militia under Generals Howell Cobb and Toombs.
The capture of the city resulted in the destruction of a great quantity of
war material, over 60 guns, the ram _Jackson_, mounting 6 guns, a large
number of small arms, 125,000 bales of cotton, 15 locomotives, 250 cars, a
navy yard and armory, 2 rolling mills, 1 arsenal and nitre works, 2 powder
magazines, 2 iron works, 3 foundries, 10 mills and factories turning out
war material, 100,000 rounds of artillery ammunition, and a great quantity
of machinery used in the manufacture of war material.


Columbus was the great manufacturing center of the Confederacy, and this
destruction inflicted irreparable damage. While little was known at the
North of this sweep of Wilson's columns through the industrial centers and
military storehouses of the Confederacy, it is easy to understand that
these fatal blows at vital points of interior military supply added to the
demoralization and discouragement attending the evacuation of Richmond and
the gathering storm about the armies of Lee and Johnson.

The column moved swiftly for Macon, and about eighteen miles out from it
the officer in advance was met with a flag of truce carrying a note from
General Beauregard notifying the commander of the forces of General
Sherman's truce with General Johnston, stating that an agreement had been
entered upon that the contending forces were to occupy their present
positions till forty-eight hours' notice had been given of the resumption
of hostilities. As General Wilson was eight or ten miles in the rear with
his main command, the note was sent to him, and the officer in the advance
pushed to and into Macon, taking possession of the city. When General
Wilson arrived in the city he went at once to the city hall, where
Generals Howell Cobb, Gustavus W. Smith, and others had been confined.
General Cobb demanded that he and his command should be released, and that
General Wilson should retire to where the flag of truce had met his
advance. General Wilson declared that after receiving the note he had lost
no time in pushing on to the head of his column, and found it in full
possession of the city. He could not accept notification of a truce
through the Confederate authorities, as they were not his channel of
communication with General Sherman, and ended the conference by a positive
refusal to acknowledge the armistice, to retire from the town, or to
release his prisoners. When he announced this decision he said to General
Cobb that he could conceive of but one adequate reason for the truce, and
that was that Lee's army had surrendered. Cobb, however, declined to give
any information, but General Smith, to whom Wilson addressed the same
remark, answered that Lee had surrendered, and that peace would soon
follow. Thereupon General Wilson announced his decision to remain at Macon
and conduct his future operations upon the principle that every man killed
thereafter was a man murdered.

This interview was held on the 20th of April just before midnight, and was
the first definite knowledge which Wilson's column had obtained of the
events which had occurred in Virginia.

The surrender at Macon included a large number of small guns and a great
quantity of military stores and supplies. The next day the Confederate
authorities opened communication over their own telegraph lines between
Wilson and Sherman, and the former received orders from the latter to
desist from hostilities pending an armistice. Soon after he received
orders from the Secretary of War, through Thomas, to disregard this
armistice and resume operations, but before this order reached him he
learned that Johnston had surrendered all the Confederate forces east of
the Mississippi, and that peace was assured.

The closing act of General Wilson's campaign was the capture of Jefferson
Davis by regiments from his command. Thus ended the most noted cavalry
movement of the war.

The above is of necessity a very concise presentation of the salient
points of General Wilson's remarkable campaign, conducted alone by mounted
troops. It is not claimed that the account is new. I have published it
heretofore in extended form, though not in the press. This briefer story
cannot but be a repetition of the facts and a synopsis of the fuller
statement of them. It is a chapter in our war history than which no other
is more replete with thrilling and brilliant incident, with skillful
planning, and bold and successful execution. No purely cavalry campaign
in our war approached it in these features. It is doubtful whether its
parallel can be found in the cavalry annals of any modern nation. And to
this general statement should be added that the officer who commanded it,
who was its organizer and its controlling spirit, the one upon whom
General George H. Thomas leaned as one of his most trusted lieutenants and
advisers, was only twenty-seven years old.

It is not strange that Lee's and Johnston's surrender fixed the attention
of the country and turned it away from General Wilson's campaign. Had
these two events been delayed a month the land would have rung with
Wilson's praises and with new honors for General Thomas. Indeed, had the
withdrawal from Richmond and the events which so quickly followed it been
only delayed in their beginning by a few days necessary to have informed
the country of Wilson's marvelous successes, it is certain that his
breaking up of these interior storehouses of military material, and the
destruction of these many plants for producing more, would have
inseparably and largely connected themselves in the minds of the people
with the eastern surrender as cause and effect.

It was a campaign whose success would have been the same had Lee been able
to hold on to Richmond, and had Johnston so eluded Sherman as to prolong
the contest in Virginia and North Carolina.


From the first this cavalry campaign had proceeded according to a clearly
formed plan. It was made after full conference with General Wilson. First,
it was decided that to render an attack upon Hood's line certain of
success a sufficient cavalry force must be in hand to turn his flank. The
next requirement, that of pursuing so effectively as to break up Hood,
could not be met without sufficient cavalry. So General Thomas held on in
the face of what has been related till he was so nearly ready to strike
that he felt certain of success. As a result, the ends in view were
attained. The cavalry flanking circuits made possible the driving of the
enemy from his extended position. The pursuit by a thoroughly equipped
cavalry force made possible and secured the virtual destruction of Hood's

The next campaign, urged by Wilson and approved by Thomas, had for its
objective the destruction of the military storehouses and manufactories,
and the fatal crippling of the Confederacy. How complete was the success
of this second campaign the outlines already presented sufficiently

In summarizing this attempt to again direct attention to this wonderful
cavalry campaign, it may be permissible to repeat the form in which I have
heretofore set it forth in a volume (the concluding chapters of Colonel
Donn Piatt's "Life of Thomas") covering the ground of this article at much
greater length:

It should be remembered forever in the annals of war that Thomas insisted
upon waiting to remount a portion of the (cavalry) corps before he would
consent to deliver battle, and that when he did march forth against the
veteran and almost invincible infantry of Hood, strongly intrenched in his
front, it was the cavalry corps which broke through his left, and wheeling
grandly in the same direction, captured twenty-seven guns from their
redoubts on the first day, and which, continuing its movement on the
second day, enveloped and took in reverse the left and left center of the
Confederate intrenchments, and so shook their entire line as to make it a
walkover for the infantry which Thomas finally hurled against them. It was
the harrassing pursuit of Hood by the cavalry corps which, notwithstanding
the rains and sleet of midwinter and the swollen rivers, broke up and
scattered the host which had so confidently invaded Middle Tennessee only
a month before. Pausing on the banks of the Tennessee till the rough edge
of winter had passed, to gather in the distant detachments, to procure
remounts, clothing, and equipments, and to weld the growing force into a
compact and irresistible army corps of horsemen, the cavalry commander,
with the full concurrence of Thomas, the beau ideal of American soldiers,
began his final and most glorious campaign. No historian or military
critic can read the story of the operations which followed without coming
to the conclusion that they were characterized by the most remarkable
series of successes ever gained by cavalry in modern warfare. They
illustrate, first, the importance of concentrating that arm in compact
masses under one competent commander, and in operations of the first
importance; second, the tremendous advantage of celerity of movement,
especially in modern warfare, where improved firearms play such a decisive
part; third, that the chief use of horses, notwithstanding that they may
in exceptional cases add to the shock of the charge, is to transport
fighting men rapidly to the vital point of a battlefield, and especially
to the flank and rear of the enemy's position, or deeply into the interior
of the enemy's country against his lines of supply and communication, and
also his arsenals, armories, and factories; fourth, that the best infantry
armed with the best magazine carbines or rifles make the best mounted
troops, irrespective of whether they be called cavalry, dragoons, or
mounted infantry.

When the fact is recalled that the seven divisions of this corps at the
close of the war mustered about 35,000 men for duty with the colors, and
that had the war lasted sixty days longer they could, and probably would,
have been concentrated in Virginia, it will be seen to what a high degree
of perfection the organization had been brought, and that it fully
justified Sherman's declaration that it was by far the largest, most
efficient, and most powerful body of horse that had ever come under his
command. But when the captures of the strongly fortified towns of Selma,
West Point, and Columbus are considered, with all the romantic incidents
of night fighting, together with the surrender of the no less strongly
fortified cities and towns of Montgomery, Macon, and West Point, carrying
with them the destruction of the last and only remaining arsenals,
armories, factories, storehouses, and military munitions and supplies, and
also the destruction of the railways connecting those places with their
bridges and rolling stock, it will be seen that Johnston and his generals
had nothing else left them but to lay down their arms and surrender. It
was no longer possible for them to concentrate an army, or to supply it
with food, or to keep it armed and equipped. With those places and the
manufacturing plants which they contained still in their possession, and
with the railways connecting them still unbroken, they might have
collected together in the Carolinas a force amply able to cope with
Sherman, and possibly to overwhelm him before reinforcements could reach
him. That brilliant but erratic leader, with his splendid army, it will be
remembered, had avoided Macon on the one hand and Augusta on the other,
both the seats of important military industries, and by an eccentric and
unnecessary movement from his true line of operations, had gone to
Savannah, leaving the direct railroads and highways behind him open and
free for the use of the remnants of Hood's army and of the other scattered
detachments which were hastening to form a junction with Johnston, now
the sole hope of the Confederacy.

Had it not been for Wilson's wide swath of victory and destruction through
and not around the important cities in his way, during which he captured
8500 prisoners and 280 guns, and afterward paroled 59,000 rebel soldiers
belonging to the armies of Lee, Johnston, and Beauregard, it would have
been easy for Johnston and Beauregard, had they been so minded, to
continue the war indefinitely. As it was, to continue it was simply
impossible, and for this the country is indebted, first, to Wilson and his
gallant troopers, and second, to Thomas, who insisted that they should
have time to remount and prepare for the work before them. Neither the
army nor the country ever appreciated that invincible body of horsemen, or
their division, brigade, regimental, and company commanders, or the high
character of the enlisted men, or the performances of the whole at their
real worth. There were officers among them fit for any command that could
have been given them, and as a body they were as gallant and capable
soldiers as ever drew saber or wore uniform. Had the war lasted a few
months longer their fame would have been a household word. The leaders,
though young in years, were old in war. Wilson himself was at the close
not yet twenty-eight. Kilpatrick was about the same age. Upton was
several months younger. Winslow, Alexander, Croxton, La Grange, Watkins,
Atkins, Murray, Palmer, Noble, Kitchell, Benteen, Cooper, Young, Bacon,
and Weston were of the younger set, while McCook, Minty, Long, Hatch, R.
W. Johnson, Knipe, Kelly, Hammond, Coon, G. M. L. Johnson, Spalding,
Pritchard, Miller, Harrison, Biggs, Vail, Israel Garrard, McCormick,
Pierce, and Frank White were somewhat older, though none of them had
reached middle life. Harnden, as sturdy as Balfour of Burleigh, and
Eggleston, the type of those who rode with Cromwell at Marston Moor, were
graybeards, but were full of activity and courage. Ross Hill and Taylor,
although captains, were mere boys, but full of experienced valor.

The men in the ranks were mostly from the Western and Northwestern and
upper slave States, and of them it may be truthfully averred that their
superiors for endurance, self-reliance, and pluck could nowhere be found.
After they were massed at Nashville they believed themselves to be
invincible, and it was their boast that they had never come in sight of a
hostile gun or fortification that they did not capture. Armed with
Spencers, it was their conviction that elbow to elbow, dismounted, in
single line, nothing could withstand their charge. "Only cover our
flanks," said Miller to Wilson, as they were approaching Selma, "and
nothing can stop us!" In conclusion, it may be safely said that no man
ever saw one of them in the closing campaign of the war skulking before
battle or sneaking to the rear after the action began. They seemed to know
by instinct when and where the enemy might be encountered, and then the
only strife among them was to see who should be first in the onset. With a
corps of such men, properly mounted and armed, and with such organization
and discipline as prevailed among them during their last great campaign,
no hazard of war can be regarded as too great for them to undertake, and
nothing should be counted as impossible except defeat.

When the "records" are all published and the story properly written, it
will show that no corps in the army, whether cavalry or infantry, ever
inflicted greater injury upon the "Lost Cause," or did more useful service
toward the re-establishment of the Union under the Constitution and the
laws, than was done by the cavalry corps of the Military Division of the


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