Hood Gathers His Army at Columbia

November 27, 1864 (Sunday)

Schofield
Schofield

Hood had finally arrived at Columbia, Tennessee on the Duck River. There, he found John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio guarding its crossing. As they were entrenched, he thought it best not to attack, but to wait until they slipped across the river. His army was not even fully with him, and wouldn’t be until dark. Attacking was out of the question.

If Hood actually predicted that Schofield would cross the river, moving north toward Nashville, he was not mistaken. The Federal commander had planned on crossing, and in fact had already done so with most of his forces.

For General Hood, this was the first time that his entire army had faced off against a foe in well over a month. As they came up, they arranged themselves with S.D. Lee’s Corps on the left, Benjamin Cheatham’s Corps on the right, and Alexander Stewart’s in the middle. Both his left and right were on the rivers as his army encircled the city of Columbia.

Contrary to his memoirs, Hood, at this juncture, Hood was undecided what to do next. Nashville was, of course, his ultimate objective. Speaking to his chaplain that evening, Hood envisioned an incredibly questionable plan “calling for volunteers to storm the Key of the works about the city.” It was understood that “700 men will fill the graves of 700 heroes and receive the laurel crown.”

Today's vague and approximate map
Today’s vague and approximate map

Why he might need such a suicidal mission he never divulged, but before he might take Nashville with but 700 men, he first had to cross the Duck. If he could somehow find a crossing that didn’t involve fighting his way through the streets of Columbia only to them fight their way across the river, he would certainly take it.

But of late, the weather had been a deluge and the river was near to overflowing. The fords, it went without saying, were blocked. He had hoped to cross via his right flank, circling around Schofield and slipping between the Federals and Nashville, but such a scheme seemed impossible now. He had a pontoon bridge, but it was lagging far behind. If speed was what was needed to cross, he simply did not have it.

Though Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry had been sent to the right for rest, Forrest himself was with Hood later this night, planning for the coming strike. Throwing away caution and high water, Hood determined to cross his army, by the use of three fords. Chalmer’s division, along with Forrest, on the left, would cross seven miles above the town, while the rest of the army would cross on the right. In this way, he hoped to slip around both of Schofield’s flanks.

nov27forrest

But it was not like Schofield had no idea that Hood might try such a thing. After dark, he crossed all but one small division to the northern bank. This greatly reinforced the works on that side, and allowed him to send troops to guard the fords both above and below the city, though he believed that Hood would force a crossing above, rather than below. Whether or not he had enough men for the task, or even whether he had covered all the fords, he could not be sure.

The least he could do was make it certain that the Rebels could not cross at Columbia. To that end, he ordered his pontoon bridge and the railroad bridge to be destroyed after all were across.

Schofield was also growing in strength. New recruits were ushered to him to the tune of 300 to 350 each day, and George Thomas, commanding in Nashville, would be filtering even more his way shortly. Presently, he command grew to 25,000.

As the darkness thickened and the temperatures dropped to near freezing, Hood readied his forces. Before dawn, they would march.1



  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 45, Part 1, p146, 340-341, 663, 670, 1087-1088; Military Remembrances by Jacob Cox; Advance and Retreat by John Bell Hood; The Confederacy’s Greatest Cavalryman by Brian Steel Wills; Autumn of Glory by Thomas Lawrence Connelly; The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah by Wiley Sword; Doctor Quintard, Chaplain C.S.A. by Charles Todd Quintard. []
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