November 5, 1864 (Saturday)
As Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry faded back from the now-smoldering Federal supply depot at Johnsonville, Tennessee, all was confusion and chaos. General George Thomas, commanding from Nashville, feared that the town and depot might still fall into Rebel hands. To prevent this, he ordered John Schofield’s Twenty-third Corps to move to Johnsonville post-haste.
Schofield reached Nashville on this date, receiving the news as he walked through Thomas’ door. With him, he had but two brigades. Most of the rest of his command was still in or around Dalton waiting for railroad cars to take them north. They had “been very seriously delayed the past three days by small runoffs, slippery tracks, bunching of the trains ten and twenty together, and telegraphic communication imperfect form the storm blocking road, so we could not get any trains around.”
Other regiments had made it all the way to Pulaski to block Hood’s army, but even those were recalled by Thomas, who desired that everything be sent to Johnsonville. And so, the two brigades now in Nashville, along with their corps commander, were started upon the rails immediately, and would arrive in Johnsonville before nightfall.
While Thomas was awaiting word of Schofield’s arrival at the supply depot, he wrote a preliminary report of the previous day’s affair, sending it to William Tecumseh Sherman as well as Chief of Staff Henry Halleck. The garrison’s commander, explained Thomas, “is hard at work, and says in a short time he will be able to make a successful fight against any attack the enemy may make on him.”
Though Forrest had lobbed a few shells in their direction before leaving, nobody was sure where the enemy had went or even if they had left at all. But, “with General Schofield and his command there, in addition to the force already in place, I have no fear of the enemy getting possession of the town.”
The dispatch sent to Sherman, written in cipher so as to not be read by the enemy, was unable to be translated, and it took the Federals at headquarters quite some time to figure it out. When it was finally read by Sherman, he replied to Thomas, wary of the idea that Hood would make a stab for Johnsonville.
“I would not advise you to send too large a force to Johnsonville,” replied Sherman, “as they cannot be anything but Forrest’s cavalry there. Send some heavier guns and some re-enforcements, but keep your main for in hand till Beauregard develops his plans.”
Sherman was under the impression that with P.G.T. Beauregard on the scene, command of the Confederate army would fall to him. Hood, however, was still in command in the field and acting almost independently of Beauregard.
Schofield arrived with his men in Johnsonville after dark, and in the words of General Jacob Cox, “he soon saw the real state of affairs, and advised Thomas that the two brigades were enough.”
There was a rumor that Forrest was about to this the railroad between Nashville and Johnsonville, which caused Schofield to keep his two brigades at Waverly to prevent the depot from being cut off. But really, the Rebels were en route to Corinth, Mississippi, and could hardly have made such an attack.
And so with nightfall, things seemed a bit more settled. By the next day, Thomas had relaxed some, writing to Schofield: “I would rather have you and the greater part of your force at Pulaski, as I want you to take personal charge the troops there, as my attention may be called frequently to other points.”
In reply, Schofield agreed, leaving the command of Johnsonville to Col. G.W. Gallup. “I think it well to detain all troops as Nashville, except those which belong to Colonel Gallup’s brigade.” It would take time and much patience to reassemble Schofield’s corps, but sooner or later, they would meet Hood’s Rebels.1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 39, Part 1, p590, 794; Part 3, p647, 648, 650, 655, 673; Military Reminiscences by Jacob Cox. [↩]