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Battle of Columbia

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Other Names: None
Location: Maury County
Campaign: Franklin-Nashville Campaign (1864)
Date(s): November 24 [24-29], 1864
Principal Commanders: Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield [US]; Gen. John Bell Hood [CS]
Forces Engaged: XXIII Army Corps and elements of IV Army Corps [US]; Army of Tennessee [CS]
Estimated Casualties: Unknown
Description:Conflict near Columbia, during Hood’s 1864 Tennessee invasion, constituted a Confederate diversion as part of a maneuver designed to cross the Duck River upstream and interdict the Union army’s line of communications with Nashville. As Gen. John Bell Hood’s army advanced northeastward from Florence, Alabama, Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield’s force quickly withdrew from Pulaski to Columbia, arriving on November 24, just ahead of Forrest’s Rebel cavalry. The Federals built two lines of earthworks south of the town while skirmishing with enemy cavalry on November 24 and 25. Hood advanced his infantry on the following day but did not assault. He made demonstrations along the front while marching two corps of his army to Davis Ford, some five miles eastward on the Duck River. Schofield correctly interpreted Hood’s moves, but foul weather prevented him from crossing to the north bank before November 28, leaving Columbia to the Confederates. The next day, both armies marched north for Spring Hill. Schofield had slowed Hood’s movement but had not stopped him.
Result(s): Confederate victory
CWSAC Reference #: TN034
Preservation Priority: IV.2 (Class C)


Tennessee Historical Commission marker 3D 19 near St. John's Episcopal Church and Leonidas Polk's former Ashwood Plantation, Mount Pleasant, Tennessee: 


November 24, 1864, Forrest's Cavalry, screening the advance of Stewart's Corps on Columbia met Capron's Cavalry Brigade in this locality and chased it back to Columbia...


5 miles towards 1-65 from Elm Springs

St. John's Episcopal Church / Mt. Pleasant

 “This is the most beautiful and peaceful spot I ever beheld . . . It is almost worth dying to be buried in such a beautiful spot,” General Patrick R. Cleburne as he passed St. John's Church in November of 1864. 



Confederate general saved Elm Springs


General Frank Armstrong’s brigade of Mississippi cavalry came pounding across the back fields and up to the rear of the house.  Ole Miss and Samson, two of the servants, were frantically waving to them and calling for help.  Several of the troopers quickly dismounted and ran into the house, while the rest swept around both sides of the house and headed north.

Smoke was curling from a closet under the big staircase as shots rang out from the front yard.  Samson and the troopers grabbed buckets of water from the cistern just outside the back door and quickly doused the flames. One of the troopers pulled a charred broom handle from the closet and showed it to his mates. 

Union soldiers, under orders to burn every building on the south side of Columbia, had set the broom alight and thrust it under the stairs.  One of these men now lay dead in the front yard.  As the troopers stepped out the front door to see the commotion they witnessed, another Union soldier shot down across the road.  This one was headed toward the house on the opposite hill and as he fell a burning torch and a bundle of kindling scattered on the roadside about him.

It was November of 1864, and Armstrong’s cavalry was in the vanguard of John Bell Hood’s Army of Tennessee as it moved north trying to intercept the Union Army of John M. Schofield. Schofield’s army was deployed along the row of hills that formed the south edge of town.  Everything south of that line of hills was slated to be burned to deprive the Confederates from any cover if they were to attack.

            We have come to call this the “burn line,” and it followed today’s South Campbell Boulevard.  The Union Army burned not only houses but also felled all the large trees and burned them as well.  These Union troops were in the middle of trying to torch the home of Colonel Abe Looney that we know as “Elm Springs” when Armstrong’s cavalry interrupted their activities.

            This was not General Frank Armstrong’s first visit to Columbia.  It was only the year before that the tall, blond and handsome soldier had married one of Columbia’s belles- the grand daughter of James and Mariah Walker and the grand niece of President Polk.  They were married amidst great pomp and circumstance at the Walker’s home, Rally Hill, on West Eight Street.  The reception that followed was hosted at Dr. William Polk’s home, Buena Vista, on the present day CA campus.

            Elm Springs, the scene of this drama, had been built nearly 30 years before, in 1837, by Nathan Vaught for Sarah Dick Todd and her husband, Christopher.  Sarah’s brothers had made it big in the shipping business down in New Orleans.  It was their money that built Elm Springs for their sister.  Their daughter, Susan, married Colonel Abram M. Looney, and they occupied the home up and until the early 1900s.

An interesting “find” now on display within the house is a stack of custom made curved bricks that were used to build the columns on the front porch.

During repairs to one of the chimneys, these were found behind the firebox and used as a filler.  They pulled them out. And they are on display in the gift shop.

They have a giant ginger bread house that matches Elm Springs and you can bet the place crawls at times with re-enactors, but any soldiers among them will be in much better spirits that those who passed that way during Christmas of 1864.  Whatever you do, do not take a burning broom near any of the closets.


Written by Bob Duncan, Maury Co. Archives.



November 20, 1864

"Hoods column was at Lawrenceburg, some 16 miles due west of Pulaski, his goal to interpose his force between Schofield and Nashville....and where there were less than 800 men to guard the bridges. The situation at Pulaski, with an enemy nearly three times its size fairly on its flank ...was not cheering. Warned by the reports of Hatch and Croxton (Thomas ordered Schofield to fall back on Columbia)....and Cox’ and Wagner’s divisions were ordered to march to Lynnville--about half-way to Columbia - on the 22d. On the 23rd the other two divisions, under General Stanley, were to follow with the wagon trains. It was not a moment too soon. On the morning of the 24th General Cox, who had pushed on to within nine miles of Columbia, was roused by sounds of a conflict away to the west. Taking a cross-road, leading south of Columbia, he reached the Mount Pleasant pike just in time to interpose his infantry between Forrest's cavalry and a hapless brigade, under command of Colonel Capron, which was being handled most unceremoniously. In another hour Forrest would have been in possession of the crossings of Duck River, and the only line of communication with Nashville would have been in the hands of the enemy. General Stanley, who had left Pulaski on the afternoon of the 23d, reached Lynnville after dark. Rousing his command at 1 o'clock in the morning, by 9 o'clock the head of his column connected with Cox in front of Columbia having moved thirty miles since 2 o'clock of the preceding afternoon. These timely movements saved the little army from utter destruction.

November 23, 1864

On the 23d, in accordance with directions previously given him, General Granger commenced withdrawing the garrisons from Athens, Decatur, and Huntsville, Ala., and moved off toward Stevenson, sending five new regiments of that force to Murfreesborough, and retaining at Stevenson the original troops of his command. This movement was rapidly made by railroad, without opposition on the part of the enemy. That same night General Schofield evacuated Pulaski and moved toward Columbia.

November 24, 1864

Schofield in position at Columbia on the 24th.

November 27, 1864

Schofield moves his command to north bank of Duck river to prevent Hood from cutting him off.

November 29, 1864

About 2 a.m. on the 29th the enemy succeeded in pressing back General Wilson's cavalry, and effected a crossing on the Lewisburg pike; at a later hour part of his infantry crossed at Huey's Mills, six miles above Columbia. Communication with the cavalry having been interrupted and the line of retreat toward Franklin being threatened, General Schofield made preparations to withdraw to Franklin. General Stanley, with one division of infantry, was sent to Spring Hill, about fifteen miles north of Columbia.

Hood’s mismanagement of his troops at Spring Hill allows Schofield to escape to Franklin, Tennessee by a forced night march past Cheatham’s encamped Corps.

November 23, 1864-10 p.m.
Major-General THOMAS:
We have had a good deal of sharp skirmishing to-day; this evening, before dark, quite spirited. General Croxton's brigade had the rear on the road from Lawrenceburg. On leaving the camp, three miles from Lawrenceburg, this morning, the skirmishing began. General Croxton reports force attacking his was infantry, and thinks it is the enemy's advance. We captured two prisoners (infantry) from Stevenson's division. I look for enemy's cavalry to-morrow at Campbellsville.
November 27, 1864-4.20 p.m.
Respectfully forwarded to Captain Andrews, acting assistant adjutant-general, Cavalry Corps.
The force at Huey's Mill is ordered to be increased to a battalion. The ford at the Lewisburg pike is understood, from the report of citizens, not to be passable at this stage of water. I have ordered Huey's Mill burnt.
Brigadier-General of Volunteers.
Near Hardison's Mill, Tenn., November 28, 1864 - 11.20 a. m.
Captain E. T. WELLS,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Sixth Division, Cavalry Corps:
CAPTAIN: My force sent across the Duck River has been driven back to this side by a heavy force, and I am now engaging him across the river.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Colonel, Commanding Brigade.

Hardison's Mill, Tenn., November 28, 1864 - 2.40 p.m.
Captain E. T. WELLS,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Headquarters Sixth Division:
CAPTAIN: I have the honor to report that the enemy are now engaging me from across the river at Hardison's Mill Ford and Morris' Ford (half a mile below Hardison's), with at least a brigade. He also shows a column moving up the river to my left. The officer guarding the fords near your front has sent for re-enforcements, as he is not able to guard some new fords with his present numbers. He is ten miles from here, over a very rough and intricate road, and I do not feel able to send him more men. He has not been attacked except by a few scouts.
I am, captain, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Colonel, Commanding Brigade.
November 28, 1864 - 2.10 p. m.
MAJOR: Colonel Capton reports, 11.20 a. m., his force driven back from south side of Duck River by heavy force of the enemy; he is now fighting them across river. I move everything in that direction. Order Stewart's brigade, sent below the town, to join me by the road toward Rally Hill; he will, however, have to keep well to the north, as the force crossing above Huey's also seems heavy, from all I can learn. Maybe Stewart had better go pretty well up to Spring Hill before striking across.
Brevet Major-General.
Hurt's Cross-Roads, November 29, 1864 - 1 a. m.
Major-General SCHOFIELD,
Near Columbia:
I have a prisoner who came with General Forrest to day from Columbia. The rebel cavalry - Buford's, Chalmers', Jackson's divisions, a part Roddey's division, and Biffle's regiment (Forrest's escort) - crossed, by swimming, above Huey's Mill. forrest himself left Columbia at 4.30 p. m. The rebel infantry were then expecting every minute to march. They were building three pontoon bridges just above Huey's when my prisoner crossed - expected to be ready by 11 to-night (of the 28th). The whole rebel force, except Buford's division, are encamped near Widown Shannon's to-night, on the Columbia and Shelbyville road. Buford is in my front, about Rally Hill. I think it very clear that they are aiming for Franklin, and that you ought to get to Spring Hill by 10 a. m. I'll keep on this road and hold the enemy all I can. If I had Hammond and Stewart here, I think they could not make anything until their infantry caught up. Communicate with me by Thompson's Station or Spring Hill, and thence eastward. I'll try to get no farther back to-morrow than the Ridge Meeting-House, due east from Thompson's, on this road. I shall probably leave this pike there and move toward Nolensville. Another prisoner confirms the above. Jackson's division is also at or near Rally Hill. There may be no strong advance of the enemy's cavalry till the infantry have crossed, which will be between new and daylight. Get back to Franklin without delay, leaving a small force to detain the enemy. The rebel s will move by this road toward that point.
Very respectfully,
Brevet Major-General, Commanding.
This is started at 3 a. m.
J. H. W.
[Addressed on outside - Major-General Schofield by courier from Spring Hill. Important, Trot!!]
Hurt's Cross-Roads, on Franklin and Lewisburg Pike,
November 29,1 864 - 3 a. m. (Via Franklin 9.30 a. m.)
Major General G. H. THOMAS,
Commanding Department of the Cumberland:
GENERAL: Forrest's cavalry - Bufford's, Chalmers', and Jackson's divisions, a part of Roddey's, and Biffle's regiment - crossed Duck River on this road and at several fords between it and Huey's Mill, seven miles above Columbia, yesterday. A pontoon train sufficient for three bridges had arrived at Huey's just before dark; the bridges were expected to be ready by 11 o'clock last night and their infantry across by daylight this morning. The cavalry began crossing about noon at Davis' Rord, near Huey's, but could not get across at Harrison's, on this pike, till Capron's and Garrard's brigades were struck in flank and rear by the rebels at Rally Hill. I have kept General Schofield fully informed, and at 1 a.m. sent him the information above, advising him to get back to Franklin at once. I have all of my command, except Hammond and Hatch's First Brigade, here. I don't know where the former is; the latter had been watching the river at Knob Grass Creek, and was ordered at sunset last night to join me by Spring Hill. I shall delay the enemy all in my power, if he presses me, and follow him wherever he goes. I have information from Chapel Hill to-day. The Sixth Illinois is probably near that place to-night, having gone to Shelbyville on a scout. I am sure, from what prisoners tell me, that the enemy is aiming for Nashville, via Franklin; his present direction, the location of his bridges, and the circumstances point clearly to that conclusion. This being true, I shall probably cross the Harpeth midway between Triune and Franklin and aim for Nolensville. Everything should be got off the Chattanooga road to-day. Hurry forward all the cavalry via Nolensville. I think everything should be concentrated at Nashville.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Brevet Major-General.

Conditions in Maury County resulting from the march of Hood's army

The Southern Army has done me great damage the five days they were here. They have taken 140 acres of corn, burned 30,000 rails, mostly cedar, cut and destroyed over 25,000 trees that will average over 2 feet across the stump, took 30 fattening hogs that would average 250 pounds each, took two horses and the Otey [a neighbor] filly worth $1,000.00 in gold, took off 5 or 6 head of cattle, the English beeves among the best.  We are trying to get in enough wood to keep warm. The snow is three inches deep frozen into a sheet of ice.  This may well be called the cold Sunday. My son Thomas stayed all night with me. It was a sad time, with him rejoining the [Confederate] army today The parting hear [sic] heart rending. I am not able to describe it, it speaks for itself in silence.

Diary of Nimrod Porter, December 11, 1864.

Lt. Andrew Willis Gould:
Lt. Gould was stabbed to death June 26, 1863 in Columbia, Tenn. by his commanding officer, Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, during an altercation. Forrest was shot and wounded.
Rattle and Snap: Rattle and Snap was the home of one of the Confederacy's well known generals for a short time, General Leonidas Polk, also known as "The Fighting Bishop." During Hood's Tennessee Campaign, many soldiers noted the grandness of this home -- one of Cleburne's men commenting, "the prettiest place I have ever seen in my life."
St. John's Episcopal Church: this is the church that General Cleburne, on his way past it in 1864, commented to his officer, "It is almost worth dying to be buried in such a beautiful spot." Less than a week later his remains should be interred here following the Battle of Franklin. Generals Granbury and Strahl, along with Colonel Beckham (S.D.Lee's Chief of artillery) were buried here as well. Granbury, Strahl and Cleburne were removed in later years.
Zion Presbyterian Cemetery: This is the Cemetery that Sam Watkins is buried in.
Hamilton Place:This was the home of General Lucius J. Polk, brother of the recently deceased Leonidas Polk. It was here, on November 26th and 27th, that the local citizens entertained officers of the Confederate Army, including Hood, Cheatham, Bate, Brown and Walthall. After the Battle of Frankln Gen Manigault (Manigault's Brigade) wounded in the head and Major Thomas C. Prince Jr. of the 22nd Alabama (Deas Brigade) wounded in the foot where here when it was used as a hospital.
The Athenaeum: It was used throughout the Civil War by Union officers who occupied Columbia, as well as serving as General Schofield's HQ in November of 1864.
Off of the town square in Columbia, there stands an old bank building on the corner of Hwy 31 and Columbia Pike. General Earl Van Dorn's body was placed in the vault of this bank building overnight, awaiting funeral services. On the opposite corner, which a flower shop now occupies, is the building in which General Forrest was stabbed by one of his own men.

Greenwood Cemetery: If you'll wander among the headstones, you'll see the damage caused to them by Cox's men, who from across the river, fired upon Stephenson's sharpshooters in an attempt to stop S.D. Lee's men from crossing the river. Looking down the steep embankment to the river, behind the cemetery, you'll wonder how Lee managed to get his pontoons into the water to cross the Duck here.
Spring Hill Battlefield:A 110-acre battlefield site, where General Cleburne commanded the last battle he was to survive. It was here that Union General Luther P. Bradley's Brigade was routed and suffered 350 casualties in their attempt to keep Hood's army from capturing the town and the Union's 800 wagons.
Rippavilla Mansion: A restored mansion, formerly the home of Confederate Major Nathaniel Cheairs, which now houses the "Armies of Tennessee Museum." Major Cheairs was taken prisoner during the capture of Fort Donelson, where he personally was ordered to hand the surrender flag to General Grant. Upon his release, Nathaniel Cheairs returned to his plantation in Spring Hill to find General Forrest and his men camped in his fields in 1863.
Martin Cheairs Home: is where Confederate General Earl Van Dorn was murdered by a jealous husband, Dr. George Peters, while he was headquartered there in the spring of 1863.
Oaklawn Mansion: Used as General Hood's headquarters Nov. 29th 1864, and the boyhood home of his Colonel Thompson (Chief Surgeon for The Army of Tennessee
The Ewell Farm: home of General Richard S. Ewell and his wife from 1865 until the general's death.
Known as "Old Baldy," Ewell commanded Confederate troops in the Eastern Theater, including the Battle of Gettysburg. During the war, he married Lizinka Campbell Brown of Nashville, and after the war they retired to Spring Hill, Tenn. They both died in January 1872 and are buried together at City Cemetery on the lot of her parents, George Washington and Harriet Stoddart Campbell.
Spring Hill Cemetery:There is a stone erected here by the local UDC chapter, which is dedicated to ten unknown soldiers of the Battle of Franklin. Recent research indicates that it could also contain some of the unknown casualties of the Battle of Spring Hill.
Homestead Manor: n March 5 1863 during the battle of Thompsons Station young Alice Thompson was watching the Battle from the basement of "Homestead Manor" and saw the the color bearer of the 3rd Arkansas Infantry fall to the ground. Alice sprang from the cellar, caught up the flag and waved it over her head. Colonel Samual G. Earle, of the Third Arkansas Regiment, saw her and shouted, "Boys a woman has your flag". Upon seeing this heroic action from one of their women, the Rebels raised a great battle cry and drove the Yankees back. While Alice held the flag, a bombshell fell within a few feet, throwing dirt all over her. Fortunately, the shell did not explode. One of the soldiers pushed her back into the cellar. The house also served as a hospital during the battle.


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