Southern Historical Society Papers/Volume 03/April/Report of Major-General Carter L. Stevenson of the Tennessee Campaign
SOUTHERN HISTORICAL SOCIETY PAPERS.
Report of Major-General Carter L. Stevenson of the Tennessee Campaign.
[We print the following report from General Stevenson's own MS. Its value is increased by the fact that this account of the operations of the division of this accomplished soldier on that memorable campaign has never before been published in any form, so far as we know.]
Headquarters Stevenson's Division,
"In the field," January 20th, 1865.
Major—I have the honor to submit the following report of the operations of my division during the recent campaign in Tennessee:
The march from Palmetto to the front of Columbia was without incident worthy of mention, except, perhaps, the demonstration upon Resaca, Georgia, in which my command acted with spirit in the skirmishing which resulted in driving the enemy within their works. My loss was numerically insignificant at this point, but amongst the killed was numbered the gallant soldier and genial gentleman, Colonel F. K. Beck, Twenty-third Alabama regiment. By his fall my division lost a chivalrous soldier and his native State one of her worthiest sons.
Upon our arrival in front of Columbia, my position in line was assigned from the right of the Mount Pleasant pike, the front of the division in line of battle. The investment was characterized by nothing of interest, as far as my division was concerned. A desultory skirmish fire was kept up most of the time. My losses here were few.
On the night of the 27th November, my scouts reported that there were indications that the enemy were evacuating Columbia. I immediately increased the number of scouts, and about an hour before day sent forward the Eighteenth and Third Tennessee regiments (consolidated), under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel W. R. Butler. He found the reports of the scouts to be correct, and occupied the town without opposition. I then moved forward my division, except Cumming's brigade (commanded on the campaign by Colonel E. P. Watkins, Fifty-sixth Georgia), which, by General Lee's order, was sent down the river to press those of the enemy who had taken that route, and endeavor to save the railroad bridge, which, however, had been fired before their arrival. In the fort at Columbia we secured a large amount of howitzer and small arm ammunition and two siege howitzers. Colonel Butler had immediately upon gaining possession of the town sent a force to the ford of Duck river. The enemy's skirmishers were found to be in large force on the opposite bank and the enemy in position behind works about three-quarters of a mile from the river. He immediately moved down his command, and skirmished with them briskly. The Sixtieth North Carolina, coming up soon after, was sent further up the bank of the river to a point from which they obtained a flanking fire upon the enemy. This drove them back from the immediate bank of the river. Orders were soon after received to discontinue the skirmishing. On the night of that day, General Hood, with Cheatham's and Steuart's corps and Johnson's division of Lee's corps, crossed Duck river some miles above Columbia, and pushed for the enemy's rear, leaving General Lee, with Clayton's and my division to occupy the enemy in front until he should have reached his position, then to force a crossing of the river and attack the enemy as he attempted to extricate himself. The greater part of the next day was spent in preparations for this movement. The bank of the river was quite steep on the side held by the enemy. A pontoon boat, in charge of Captain Ramsay, engineer, was taken down the river under a galling fire, launched, and could there, under the cover of our artillery and skirmish fire, be used without much exposure in ferrying our troops. This was done with all practicable rapidity, the troops as they crossed forming under the cover of the steep bank to which I have alluded. About an hour before sunset I had succeeded in crossing three (3) regiments of Pettus' brigade, Brigadier-General Pettus in command. The Twentieth Alabama regiment (Colonel I. M. Dedman) of his brigade had previously been sent up the bank of the river to obtain a flanking fire upon the enemy, and the Thirtieth Alabama (Lieutenant-Colonel J. K. Elliott) was retained on the Columbia side to cover the ford in case of any failure. Everything being made ready, I directed General Pettus to advance, and his command dashed forward at the word, driving the enemy before them by a charge which elicited the warmest admiration of all who witnessed it. Their loss was slight; that of the enemy so considerable that to explain the affair, the commander of the enemy saw fit to attribute to an entire division an attack made by three (3) of its regiments. Having driven the enemy within their main line, General Pettus halted, selected a position to prevent the enemy from interrupting the laying of the pontoons, and was subsequently reinforced by the rest of his brigade and by Holtzclaw's brigade of Clayton's division. The pontoon bridge was then laid with all practicable expedition. During the night General Pettus reported that the enemy was retiring, and he following with his skirmishers. This was as anticipated, and orders had already been given by General Lee to have everything in readiness to move, coupled with the statement that General Hood had advised him that he was between the enemy and Nashville, near Spring Hill. At daybreak I put my division in motion, in rear of Clayton's. Upon arriving at Spring Hill, we were informed that from some cause, which has not been explained, the enemy had been suffered to pass unattacked along the road commanded by the troops which the Commanding General took with him. We were then ordered to push on to Franklin. My division was halted about dusk in three miles of that place, and took no part in the battle. During the night the division was put in position, preparatory to an assault, which it was announced was to be made by the entire army at daybreak. The enemy, however, evacuated the town before the hour for the assault. We then advanced to within a few miles of Nashville, and threw up a line of works—my position being on the right and left of the Franklin pike. Several new lines were built, but my position with regard to the pike remained unchanged.
Until the opening of the battles around Nashville, nothing of interest transpired in my command, except the part taken by my skirmishers, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel J. B. Bibb, Twenty-third Alabama, in a demonstration made by Lee's corps. The enemy's skirmishers were driven by a greatly inferior force from all of their entrenched positions. My skirmishers were handsomely handled, and did their work with a dash and gallantry which deserve praise. Just before this demonstration, Palmer's brigade (consolidated from Brown's and Reynold's old brigades), was detached and ordered to report to Major-General N. B. Forrest in front of Murfreesboro'. It remained so detached from the division until it reached Bear creak, on this side of Barton's station.
On the 15th of December the battle in front of Nashville opened. Except some unimportant skirmishing, my division took no part in that day's fight; although its position was frequently shifted, and the line greatly attenuated, to fill vacancies in the works caused by the withdrawal of the troops. On the next day the enemy advanced early in heavy force in front of the new line, which we had constructed late the previous night, my division extending its entire length, part of it in two and part in one thin rank, from a short distance to the left of the Franklin pike. The skirmishers of the right of Lee's corps, Clayton's and mine maintained their positions so well, though in small force, that, in their subsequent accounts, the enemy have seen fit to magnify the affair with them into a desperate assault by two corps upon our first line, which was finally successful, but attended with heavy loss. Soon afterward their forces advanced to the assault, principally upon a part of General Clayton's line and upon Pettus' brigade of my division—exposing, in their assault upon Pettus, their flank to a fire from Cumming's brigade. Their success the previous day had emboldened them, and they rushed forward with great spirit, only to be driven back with dreadful slaughter. Finding at last that they could make no impression upon our lines, they relinquished their attempts, and contented themselves with keeping up an incessant fire of small arms at long range, and an artillery fire which I have never seen surpassed for heaviness, continuance and accuracy. This state of things continued until evening—doing, however, but little damage, my men keeping closely in the trenches, and perfectly cool and confident.
Towards evening General Lee sent me information "that things were going badly on the left," and that "it might be necessary to retire under cover of the approaching night." I at once hurried off orders for the artillery horses—which had been removed some distance to the rear to protect them from the fire of the enemy's artillery, under which they could not have lived half an hour—to be brought up. [It is proper to observe that about the middle of the day mist and rain arose, which entirely prevented my seeing anything that was going on beyond my own line.] The messengers had hardly gone for the horses before the break which, commencing some distance beyond the left of Lee's corps, extended to my line. Seeing it, the men on my left commenced leaving the works; but, at the call of their officers, returned at once, and held the line until the enemy were in fifty steps of them on their flank and pouring a fire into them from the flank and rear. When the true situation of affairs became apparent, and it was evident that the whole army, with the exception of my division and Clayton's, had been broken and scattered, the order for their withdrawal was given—an effort being made to deploy skirmishers from my left brigade, at right angles to the works, to cover in some measure the movement. Amidst the indescribable confusion of other troops, and with the enemy pouring in their fire upon their flank and from the front (having rushed towards the break and then forward, when they perceived that the troops on my left had broken), it was impossible to withdraw the command in order, and it became considerably broken and confused. Many of them were unable to get out of the trenches in time and were captured. All this happened in as short a time as it has taken to describe it. The artillery horses of Rowan's battery on the left of my line could not be brought up in time, and one of the guns of Cuput's battery was lost by being driven at full speed against a tree and the carriage broken. The different brigade and regimental commanders had sent off their horses, there being no protection for them near the breastworks, and being thus unable to move about more rapidly than the men, were prevented from reforming their commands as quickly as could have been desired and extricating them from the throng of panic-stricken stragglers from other commands who crowded the road. This was done at last, and the line of march taken up for Franklin. On the way I received orders from General Lee to leave Pettus' brigade at Hollow Tree Gap, to assist in bringing up the rear, and to proceed with Cumming's brigade and bivouac near the battle-field at Franklin, leaving guards upon the road to stop the stragglers of the army. The next morning, by General Lee's order, I returned with Cumming's brigade to Franklin, and was there joined by General Pettus with his brigade, which had that morning before reaching Franklin captured a stand of colors. Soon after crossing the Harpeth, Lieutenant-General Lee was wounded. When about three miles from Franklin, General Lee moved off with the rest of the corps, and directed me to take command of the cavalry, commanded by Brigadier-General Chalmers, which, with my division, was to constitute the rear-guard.
The enemy did not press us heavily until we arrived near Johnson's house, five or six miles north of Spring Hill. Here I formed my line, having about seven hundred (700) infantry, with the cavalry on my flanks. The enemy advanced rapidly upon me, attacking me in front. I found it impossible to control the cavalry, and, with the exception of a small force on the left, for a short time, to get them into action. I may as well state that at this point, as soon as the enemy engaged us heavily, the cavalry retired in disorder, leaving my small command to their fate. The enemy, perceiving the shortness of my line, at once threw a force around my left-flank, and opened fire upon it and its rear. This was a critical moment, and I felt great anxiety as to its effect upon my men, who, few in numbers, had just had the shameful example of the cavalry added to the terrible trial of the day before. I at once ordered Colonel Watkins to prepare to retire fighting by the flank, and General Pettus to move in line of battle to the rear, with a regiment thrown at right angles to his flank, thus forming three (3) sides of a square. Watkins drove the enemy in his front in confusion, moved at the order which was given on the instant of success by the flank, and charged those on his flank and drove them also.
I halted again in about half a mile, formed a line upon each side of the pike, Pettus on the right, Watkins on the left, each with a regiment formed on his flank perpendicularly to his line to the rear, and having made these dispositions moved again to the rear. The enemy soon enveloped us in front, flanks and rear, but my gallant men, under all their charges, never faltered, never suffered their formation to be broken for an instant, and thus we moved driving our way through them, fighting constantly until within a short distance of Spring Hill, where we found that Major-General Clayton, hearing of our situation, had turned and moved back to our assistance. Here I halted for a time, and Holtzclaw's brigade of Clayton's division was formed upon Watkins' left flank in the manner which I have described. While here the enemy made several attacks, and opened upon us with artillery, but were readily repulsed. This was some time after dark. We finally moved off, and after marching about a mile further, finding that the enemy had evidently become disheartened and abandoned his attacks, I placed the whole command again upon the pike and marched in the ordinary manner until I reached the bivouac of the remainder of the corps.
I desire here to record my acknowledgments to the officers and men of Holtzclaw's brigade, commanded on the occasion by Colonel Jones, for the timely aid which they so gallantly afforded. Lieutenant-General Lee was pleased to acknowledge, in grateful and complimentary terms, the services of my division upon this occasion, and I make no vain boast when I, too, thank them for their conduct, and declare that never did a command in so perilous a position extricate itself by the force of more admirable coolness, determination and unflinching gallantry.
On that night I was directed by Lieutenant-General Lee to assume command of his corps during his disability.
I am greatly indebted to my staff: Major John J. Reeve, Assistant Adjutant-General; Surgeon H. M. Crupton, Medical Director; Major J. E. McEleath, Assistant Quartermaster; Major J. H. F. Mayo, C.S.; Major H. M. Mathews, Ordnance Officer; Captain G. D. Wise, Assistant Inspector-General; Captain Charles Vidor, Assistant Quartermaster; Lieutenant H. T. Botts, Aid-de-Camp; Lieutenant G. A. Hayard, Aid-de-Camp; also Captain W. H. Sikes, Forty-fifth Tennessee regiment, and Lieutenant W. E. McElwee, Twenty-sixth Tennessee regiment, temporarily on duty at my headquarters, for their most efficient and valuable services, and for their untiring efforts to assist me during this arduous and trying campaign.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully,
Your obedient servant,
C. L. Stevenson,
Major J. W. Ratchford,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Lee's Corps.