The Battle of Spring Hill was a minor military engagement of major importance that took place in Maury County, Tennessee, on November 29, 1864. The battle was more important for what did not happen than what did.
In September 1863, Confederate General Braxton Bragg's Army of Tennessee was attempting to recapture Chattanooga, Tennessee from Federal forces by besieging the city. Union leaders responded by sending Major General Ulysses S. Grant and reinforcements to Chattanooga with orders to break the siege. After establishing a new supply line into the city, Grant ordered a breakout offensive in late November that successfully drove Bragg's army back into northern Georgia. With the "Gateway to the South" secured, Union forces were well situated to launch an offensive aimed at capturing Atlanta.
Following the breakout at Chattanooga, Grant was promoted to the special rank of Lieutenant General and placed in command of all Union armies. Grant moved his headquarters to Washington, DC, leaving his trusted subordinate, Major General William T. Sherman, in command of Federal operations in the Western Theater. Grant's primary military strategy was a coordinated effort to attack and defeat the two main Confederate armies in the field, Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia in the east, and Joseph E. Johnston's Army of Tennessee in the west. On May 5, 1864, Grant launched his Overland Campaign against Lee in Virginia. Two days later, Sherman launched his Atlanta Campaign in the West.
Employing a series of flanking maneuvers, Sherman persistently drove the Army of Tennessee south toward Atlanta. On July 17, 1863, Confederate President Jefferson Davis, relieved Johnston of his command and placed General John Bell Hood in charge of the Army of Tennessee. Hood proved more willing to fight than Johnston, but the results were the same. By July, Hood's army was bottled up in Atlanta. On July 20, Sherman ordered his artillery to begin bombarding Hood's lines, as well as the city, which still harbored about 3,000 civilians. The shelling lasted for five weeks, but Hood continued to hold on as long as he was receiving supplies. Toward the end of August, Sherman stopped the flow of supplies into Atlanta. With his main supply line severed, Hood evacuated Atlanta on the night of September 1, burning all military stores and installations. Sherman's forces occupied the city on September 2, ending the Atlanta Campaign.
After evacuating Atlanta, Hood reorganized his forces at Lovejoy's Station, south of Atlanta, and Sherman chose not to pursue. On September 21, Hood moved north to Palmetto, Georgia, where he met with Confederate President Davis on September 25. Davis and Hood devised a plan that would have Hood's 39,000 soldiers move north toward Chattanooga, destroying Sherman's supply lines back to Tennessee along the way. Sherman was alerted to Hood's intentions when Davis foolishly revealed the plan in a series of speeches on his way back to the Confederate capital at Richmond. Sherman responded by sending Major General George H. Thomas to Nashville on September 29, to organize all of the Union troops in Tennessee. He also sent troops to reinforce the garrison at Chattanooga.
During October, Hood's infantry and Major General Joseph Wheeler's cavalry conducted a series of raids along the Western & Atlantic Railroad, Sherman's main supply line from Chattanooga to Atlanta. Sherman's army quickly repaired the damage but was not able to keep pace with the faster moving Rebels.
By late October, Sherman convinced Grant that his time would be better spent making Georgia howl on his March to the Sea than by chasing Hood around the South. Consequently, Sherman turned the pursuit of Hood over to Thomas and about 60,000 soldiers, 30,000 of whom were in the Nashville area. The other 30,000, commanded by Major General John M. Schofield, were moving north to join Thomas. At the same time, Hood moved into northern Alabama and focused his attention on Tennessee, hoping to defeat Thomas before the two Northern armies could be united.
After waiting to join forces with Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest's cavalry, Hood left Alabama on November 21, 1864. His goal was Columbia, Tennessee, about midway between Thomas's army in Nashville and Schofield's army at Pulaski, about 75 miles south of Nashville. Anticipating Hood's intentions, Schofield raced to Columbia, arriving just hours ahead of the Confederates on November 24. Once there, Schofield's soldiers built two lines of earthworks south of the town and skirmished with Forrest's cavalry on November 24 and 25. On November 26, Hood advanced his infantry but did not attack. Instead, he demonstrated in front of the Union lines while the bulk of his army was crossing the Duck River east of Columbia on November 28.
In danger of being outflanked and having Hood's army cut off access to Nashville, Schofield began evacuating Columbia, sending one corps and a supply train twelve miles up the Columbia Turnpike to Spring Hill. Hood responded by sending Forrest's cavalry east and then north from Columbia to cut off the Union retreat by gaining control of the road north of Spring Hill. By November 29, Hood had two corps and one division across the Duck River east of Columbia and was poised to block the turnpike south of Spring Hill preventing the retreat of the remainder of Schofield's army.
On the morning of November 29, Forrest's cavalry, positioned east of Spring Hill, turned to the west and advanced on the Union soldiers defending Spring Hill. The defenders at Spring Hill checked the Rebel cavalry attack, and Hood ordered Forrest to hold his position until the advancing Confederate infantry arrived.
Meanwhile, Schofield began his wholesale evacuation of Columbia at around 3:00 p.m. The first Confederate infantrymen began approaching the Columbia Turnpike, south of Spring Hill, around 4:00 p.m. The Southern corps commander in charge, Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham, ordered two divisions, led by Major General Patrick Cleburne and Major General William Bate, to attack the Union defenders south of Spring Hill and capture the town. In the first of several Confederate command blunders, Hood directly ordered Bate to instead move west and secure the turnpike. Acting alone, Cleburne's division proceeded with the attack and succeeded in pushing the Union defenders back to the southern edge of town, where the Federals stiffened. Encountering unexpectedly heavy fire, the Rebel advance faltered, and Cleburne requested reinforcements. To the south, Bate's division reached the turnpike about 5:30 p.m., where they encountered the lead elements of Schofield's army retreating from Columbia. Before Bate could engage the retreating Federals or capture the turnpike, he received orders from Cheatham to withdraw and reinforce Cleburne. Cheatham's concerns about the security of his right flank caused further delays in the Confederate advance. By the time any sense of order was restored, darkness descended, and Cheatham postponed the final assault until the next day.
The Confederate soldiers were fatigued and hungry after a hard day of marching and fighting. When Cheatham postponed the attack, the Rebels gladly cooked supper and went to sleep, many of them adjacent to the Columbia Turnpike. Hood was angered that his orders to secure the turnpike had not been carried out, but he went to bed at about nine o'clock that night, confident that the deed could be accomplished the next morning.
While the Confederates slept, the Yankees were on the move. Throughout the night, Schofield silently moved his entire army and supply trains up the turnpike from Columbia, within sight of the campfires of the sleeping Rebels. During the move, a few Rebels reported signs of activity, but no one was concerned enough to investigate. Hood, himself, was awakened at about 2:00 a.m. by a soldier, who reported that he saw a Union column moving north along the turnpike, but Hood did nothing beyond sending a dispatch to Cheatham to fire on any traffic on the road. By 6:00 a.m. the next morning, Schofield's entire army was north of Spring Hill, and his advance units had already reached Franklin, about twenty miles south of Nashville. When Hood awoke on November 30, he was surprised and then enraged to learn that Schofield's army had escaped his grasp. After an angry meeting with his subordinate officers to distribute blame and reprimands, Hood ordered his army to resume its pursuit of Schofield's army, setting the stage for the Battle of Franklin.
Ohio units that participated in the Battle of Spring Hill included:
- 13th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 15th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 19th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 26th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 40th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 41st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 45th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 49th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 50th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 51st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 64th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 65th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 71st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 90th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 93rd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 97th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 100th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 101st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 103rd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 104th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 111th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 118th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 124th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 125th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 175th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- 183rd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
- Battery A, 1st Ohio Light Artillery Regiment
- Battery D, 1st Ohio Light Artillery Regiment
- Battery G, 1st Ohio Light Artillery Regiment
- 6th Ohio Artillery Regiment
- 20th Ohio Artillery Regiment
- 7th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry Regiment
Casualties at the Battle of Spring Hill were minor for both sides. The Confederates lost about 500 soldiers killed, missing, and captured. compared with about 350 casualties for the Federals. The battle was more important for what did not happen than what did. The National Park Service describes the Battle of Spring Hill as "one of the most controversial non-fighting events of the entire war." Due to poor leadership, miscommunication, and confusion in the Confederate ranks, Hood's opportunity to isolate and possibly defeat Schofield's army vanished. With it went Hood's dream of capturing Nashville and possibly bringing a negotiated settlement to the war by invading Kentucky and Ohio.
Cite this Entry
"Battle of Spring Hill," Ohio Civil War Central, 2020, Ohio Civil War Central. 23 Sep 2020 <http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=172>
"Battle of Spring Hill." (2020) In Ohio Civil War Central, Retrieved September 23, 2020, from Ohio Civil War Central: http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=172