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Posted February 17, 1997 by Steven L. Driskell.

7. Nashville Campaign by Captain Wilson P. Howell

The terrible Battle at Franklin and afterward his defeat at Nashville ~ His retreat back to Mississippi, thence to Georgia by rail by way of Mobile, Montgomery and Columbus, Milligeville and Augusta, Georgia ~ Thence in front of Sherman through South and North Carolina to the surrender at Greensboro on the 26th day of April 1865

At this critical period in the history of the Army of Tennessee, it was decided, I suppose by a council of war to take the back track.  So General Hood soon after the Jonesboro Battle (September 28th, 1864) ordered his army to take up the line of march back toward Tennessee with a view I suppose to cut off Sherman from his base of supplies and force him back out of Georgia.

Soon after the army was put in motion on the march, I was taken sick and after being carried for some distance in an ambulance, I was left at a country farmhouse in Fayette County, Georgia where I remained about a week.  I had no doctor to diagnose my cost, except myself.  And while I was not a professional M.D., I came to this conclusion: We had been all summer without vegetable diet and what was known in the army as Scurry.  That it had permeated my whole system, and while in this condition, I don't think I had one hours sleep in the 24.  I had heard all my life of the efficacy of cold water bathes (the spring was about one hundred yards from the house and I could walk about some).  So, in the absence of any other remedy, I decided to try what virtue there was in a cold bathe. So I got up one night about midnight and took some towels and went down to the spring (the weather was pleasant) and filled up a large tub with the spring water and stripped myself and took a good bath and dried off and returned to my room and to bed and had the best nap I had had for sometime.  I repeated the bath the next night and in a few days I was able to join my command which was near Palmetto Station on the Atlanta and West Point Railroad.

In a few days the army took up the line of march back toward Tennessee.  I remember we crossed Chattahochee River at a place called Pumpkin Town and soon after the crossing, our Brigade was marched out of the main road and went some distance through the woods and finally up a long bushy hollow and were ordered to stack arms and rest (I suppose General Hood was endeavoring to conceal from the enemy as far as possible the movements of his army).

I remember just as the men had been halted and stacked their guns and began to scatter about in the woods, our regiment was at the head of the column and the entire line.  I suppose the whole line was nearly half mile long.  Some of our regiment had strolled off in the woods a short distance above the head of the column and had aroused a wild deer from his slumber and he jumped up and in his confusion ran down the entire line of soldiers, knocking down several men as he went and finally made his escape.  And such a yell as went up from the men while the deer was running among them I had never heard during the war.

In a few days, the march was resumed and going by near Villa Ricca, Georgia, I having not fully recovered from my late illness, got permission to go by home about 40 miles west of Villa Ricca.  Which I did when I remained a few weeks and until I had recovered my health.

This campaign, in which the Battles of Franklin and Nashville were fought is the only campaign of the Army of Tennessee I missed from Shiloh in April 1862 to Bentonville in March 1865 . [1]

As soon as I had regained my health, I left home in November 1864 to rejoin my regiment which I suppose was somewhere in Tennessee.  The only route by rail was by way of Selma, Alabama and Meridian and Corinth, Mississippi.  My youngest brother (Milton) who was a member of my company had been at home on sick leave and he with some others, who had likewise been at home, returned with me.

On reaching Corinth, we received orders there for all soldiers returning to their command to be retained and organized for the purpose of guarding that place.  So I was put in command of a company of about one hundred men and no half dozen of them belonged to the same regiment.  Colonel Cole of Nashville, I believe was made commander of the post.

We remained here till after Christmas.  Just before Christmas I had a peculiar trial.  One evening, just about dark, there come an order for a certain number of men to go to the front instant. And it took 40 of my 100 men to make up the detail to go off that night.

The weather was cold and it was a tough job to leave camp and perhaps have to travel all night and I was very anxious to have me brother remain with me.  And I was at a loss to know what plan to adopt, so that each man would have a chance to stay in camp, but finally I decided on this plan.  I put one hundred tickets in a hat, having written the word Front on 40 of them and called the men out in line and explained to them the orders received.  That 40 men of the company had to go, and what I had done to give every man an equal chance.  And having stirred up the tickets well in the hat, I started down the line, the men taking from the hat a ticket each.  I had hoped when I got to my brother, he would draw a blank ticket.  But to my grief, he drew a Front ticket and went off that night with the squad of forty from the company.

A few days after Christmas, a raid of Yankee cavalry came out from Memphis and struck the Mobile and Ohio Railroad below Corinth.  And tore it up and burned the bridges and trussels for quite a distance.  What force was left at Corinth was sent in pursuit of them, but of course to no avail.  We marched down the railroad from Corinth to Okalona, Mississippi 40 or 50 miles.  The Yankee raid had gone, we knew not where.

My brother and his squad had crossed the Tennessee River and met the fragment of Hood's army that was left of the Battles of Franklin and Nashville coming back.  So they overtook us at Okalona, where we remained sometime.  The terrible campaign into Tennessee with the Franklin and Nashville battles together with the long and bloody Georgia Campaign had nearly decimated the army.  Our loss, both at Franklin and Nashville was unusually heavy especially the loss in captured at Nashville.

The only commissioned officer in Company I (Lt. Gipson) was captured there, as well as a number of the men.  When the regiment reached Okalona, I don't think the companies averaged more than 10 men each.  I don't think my company had that number.  Our Division Commander, General Pat Cleburne was killed at Franklin, Tennessee, an officer held in very high esteem by the entire army. [2]  The County of Cleburne, Alabama created just after the war was named for him.

In the mean time, General Sherman had marched his army through Georgia to the sea (Savannah).  In anticipation of his raid from that point back through South and North Carolina, General Hood, as soon as possible moved his army (the infantry) by rail to Augusta, Georgia by way of Mobile and Montgomery, Alabama and Columbus and Millegeville, Georgia to Augusta.  We crossed the Savanah River over into South Carolina and were soon in Sherman's front, but we were very little impediment to his onward march.

Up to about that time, the officers and privates were not expected or allowed to mess together, but now all red tape and army rules, so far as messing and sleeping together were ignored.  I was the only commissioned officer with the company and could not carry on my back, but two blankets and the men could carry one, each.  The weather was bad and we had to sleep on the ground at night.  I took two privates in my mess, Jim Hurstan and Jim Wilson of my company, both elegant men and soldiers.  Our blankets were not wide enough to cover three men well, and by mutual consent we took turns about sleeping in the middle.  So every third night one could get a good nights sleep.

I never could appreciate before the full meaning of Fire and Sword.  We could observe the approach of Sherman's Army by the smoke of burning houses and barns.  South Carolina was regarded by the Yankees as the Father of Secession and it is said that Sherman had declared that when he reached that State, he would Handle it without gloves, which he did.

Finally we reached Columbia, the capital of the state.  I remember distinctly the day we reached that city in February, 1865.  The city is located on the north side of the river (Congoree, I believe) and we approached it from the south. Some half or three quarter mile from the river bridge that led into the city, we crossed a big creek on a bridge and just in front of the river bridge, a line of earth works had been thrown up and the army on reaching the works, filed right and left and took position in the works.  No sooner had we taken position when we saw the enemy crossing the bridge of the creek, which we had just crossed (they were so close on our rear, that we did not have time to burn the bridge).  As they crossed the creek, they filed right and left and formed line of battle.  We were in plain view of each other through an old field and not a gun was being fired from either side.

Our regiment was posted in the trenches on the left of the road leading into the city and not far from the river bridge.  (While in this position, a mounted officer in Confederate uniform came riding along in front of our line, toward the road which led out toward the line of the enemy.  We supposed him to be one of our staff officers inspecting the line and seeing that the men were all in place.  Just as he reached the road, he rode leisurely out the road toward the enemy.  I remember having my eye on him, and when he had gone about one hundred yards, I saw him look back and then put spurs to his horse and rode at full speed into the Yankee line.  He was a daring yankee spy).

This Yankee spy had learned exactly our position and our forces.  This was just before night and soon after dark our army crossed over the river on the double bridge into the city and then burned the bridge.  Early next morning a Yankee battery was planted on an eminence across the river from the city and opened fire without a warning whatever.

It has been said that this done be order of General Sherman, but I think that is untrue.  Only a few shots were fired till the firing ceased.  My opinion was, and still is, that some smart alic in command of a battery, without orders, planted his guns there and fired on the city till he got orders to stop.  We had no guns in position to reply and Sherman could have planted his batteries and demolished the entire city.  During that day, our regiment was on picket duty below the bridge on the north side of the river.

It was learned about night that Sherman had moved a large force during the day up a few miles above the city and had already crossed a part of his forces over and about dark.  We were sent on a forced march up on our side of the river arriving opposite where it was said the enemy was crossing and went into camp for the night.  Everything was quiet, not a gun was heard to fire and we had a quiet nights sleep.

Next morning, just after daylight, a brisk picket firing began between us and the river.  And in a few moments, our pickets came running in and I felt like, for once we were gone up.  We were in camp and in an unorganized condition and I have always believed that if a regiment or two of cavalry had dashed in upon us in that condition, they could easily have made us all prisoners.  The firing was kept up down toward the river, although our pickets had come in.  We were ordered to form our companies and march to the rear and just as I had formed my company and was marching it out to join the regiment, I passed an orderly, holding a squad of saddled horses with some General Headquarter Flag.  I asked the man; Whose headquarter flag was that he had? His response was General Wheeler's, said I, Where is General Wheeler? The answer was, He is down holding them Yankees back till you all get away.

Fighting Joe Wheeler was down there, the Yanks would have to come over the dead body of him and his men to get to us.   And sure enough, he held them till we got away.  We marched back through the city and took the road toward Charlotte, North Carolina.  Sherman and his army came in that day and the town took fire and a large portion of that historic town went up in smoke and ashes.

I am sure that I am not disposed to apologize for any of General Sherman's wrong doing, but to be candid, I never thought that Columbia, South Carolina was burned at the instance and by order of him.  I remember it was the windiest day, I thought I ever saw.  While on the march, I had to hold my hat on my head with one hand nearly all day.  My honest opinion is that in the confusion incident on such an occasion, that fire broke out either by intent or accident of someone and that owing to the great confusion and the unusual high wind, the fire became uncontrollable and hence the result and beside General Sherman in his autobiography which I read a few years ago gives an account of the burning of Columbia.  He disdains having authorized or countenanced anything of that sort and says he personally put forth all the effort in his power to arrest the flames on that fatal day.

We continued our march on toward Charlotte without much disturbance from the enemy.  Before we reached that point, we had to cross a river and our pontoon train had not overtaken us.  So there was one place we could ford, known as Land's Ford. So we went somewhat out of our way to get across the river. Just before night, we came to the stream.  It was said to be three quarters of a mile wide there.  We marched across and was wet and cold when we reached the other side (this was February). Some places the water was up to the waist, at other places not so deep.

We finally reached Charlotte and from there by railroad train to Greensborough, Raleigh (the capital of the state) and on to a little place on the Neuse River called Kinston, where we encountered part of Sherman's Army and had a considerable skirmish fight in which I was slightly wounded and but for a heavy leather haversack strapped to my shoulder and hanging by my side.  I would have been, perhaps mortally wounded. That old war haversack is now hanging up in a back room of my house.

Another incident, I will relate, which occurred on this skirmish line.  Some time during the winter, two young men, who had been brought in as Yankee prisoners, and who expressed a willingness to take the oath and join our army, rather than remain prisoners of war.  So they took the oath and joined my company.  They gave their names as Allen and Jones and were from New York State.  Our picket line was in a swamp with thick undergrowth and while the Yankee picket line was not far away, we could not see whether it was a mere picket line or a line of battle.

Sometime during the day, an order came to me (I was in command of our picket line) to send a man up a tree to ascertain the strength of the enemy's line.  At first, I hesitated to obey that order, although it was from Brigade headquarters. Because I knew if the enemy should happen to spy a man in or up a tree, they would be sure to shoot him at once, and while I wanted neither to disobey orders, nor force a man to go up a tree, there and then without his consent.  I called the men up who were not on duty and informed them of the order, stating also that I did not desire to force any man to do so, without his consent, but made this proposition: that if any of them would volunteer to go up a tree A Yankee for to see, I would relieve him from further duty that day and he could go back to the regimental camp and rest.  And to my great surprise and somewhat to my gratification, one of my Yankee soldiers volunteered and went up the tree, but no new discovery was made and fortunately for him at least he was not fired on while up the tree.  Not very long after that, both the Yankees disappeared from whom we never heard till this day.

Soon after this, the army was transferred by rail back to Smithfield Station by way of Raliegh and then marched to near Bentonville where our last battle was fought on Sunday the 19th of March, 1865.

General Joseph E. Johnston had again been placed in command of the army.  Which event, the soldiers hailed with much enthusiasm.  And here we encountered a heavy force of the enemy.  We had barely gotten into line when the Yanks charged us, but we repulsed them and they fell back to their breastworks.  And it being our time to assault, at them we went with the Rebel Yell and when we had gotten within 50 yards of their works, they broke and we drove them some distance. Night soon came on and that engagement was the closing chapter of the long and bloody struggle, so far as fighting in the Army of Tennessee was concerned.

Colonel Harry T. Toulmin of the 22nd Alabama Regiment and now one of the District Federal Judges of Alabama, commanded the brigade that day.  Colonel George D. Johnston had been promoted to Brigadier General and the regiment was commanded the last few months of the war by Major N. B. Rouse (?).

This was the first pitched battle we had since the Nashville fight in December and the soldiers were so discouraged, it was with some difficulty that the men could be inspired to charge the Yankee breastworks.  But that day, as if in desperation, they made a most splendid charge and sent the enemy flying from the field.  General E. W. Petters (?), now of the U.S. Senate from Alabama, received a severe flesh wound in the leg leading his Brigade that day.

One of my mess mates, Private Jim Wilson of whom I have written in a previous chapter, was killed that evening by one among the last guns fired by the enemy.  In the charge that afternoon and just as the enemy were leaving their works, I was hit on the left leg by the fragment of an exploded bomb shell from the enemy's cannon, which broke my leg below the knee and came very near costing me my life and from which I have not recovered to this day, and it lacks one month of being 41 years ago.

I was sent to the hospital in a few days at Charlotte and was there when terms of peace were agreed upon between Generals Sherman and Johnston at Greensboro, North Carolina on the 26th day of April 1865. [3]

The above narrative history of the 25th Alabama Infantry has been given alone from my memory and while some things may not be absolutely correct, but I have written about the various incidents as I remember them.  With no intention whatever to indulge in any invidious distinctions as to any man or company of the regiment.

While much of this narrative applies mostly to my own company and myself, it is because I remember more distinctly those things which occurred under my immediate and personal observations.  And while I claim for myself and company, equal loyalty and patriotism and courage as other companies and individual members of the regiment.  I do not claim superiority over any of them.

My information was that during the interval from the Battle of Bentonville to the surrender at Greensboro, owing to the depleted ranks of the army, the companies and regiments were consolidated.  As to these details, I was not informed.  I will add a supplement to these narratives with short sketches of men and events which were not remembered while writing the above sketches.


Notes:

[1] There is no report in the Official Records from the regiment, brigade, or division, and the only official sources of information are what can be gleaned from the reports of General S. D. Lee of operations from November 2nd to December 17th, 1864 (Official Records, Serial 93, pages 686-690), General A. P. Stewart's report of operations from November 29th, 1863 to January 20th, 1865. A much more full statement can be had from the History of the 10th South Carolina Regiment, by Colonel C. Irvine Walker, for he was with Manigault's Brigade in Johnson's Division with Deas' Brigade, of which the 25th Alabama was a part.

From these sources, it is learned that on the 29th of September 1864, the command crossed the Chattahoochee River, went as far north in Georgia as Snake Creek Gap, there had a heavy skirmish with Sherman; then went to Gasden, Alabama, reaching there the 20th of October, remained there getting clothing, shoes, and other supplies; leaving there the 22nd, and arriving at Florence on the 1st of November, and drove the enemy out, inflicting a loss of about 40 on the enemy.  They remained at Florence until the 20th of November, when the regiment with the whole army set out for Nashville, coming in touch with the enemy at Columbia, Tennessee.  The enemy evacuated Columbia on the night of the 27th, and the 25th Alabama, as a part of Lee's Corps helped take possession on the 28th.  There was some skirmishing and cannonading with the enemy who had halted and fortified on the opposite side of Duck River.  The casualties were light.

On the 29th of November, the regiment with it's division (Johnson's) was detached from it's (Lee's) Corps, and with Stewart's and Cheatham's Corps crossed the Duck River some miles above Columbia, and reached Schofield's rear at Spring Hill that evening.  This gave Hood a fine opportunity to crush his foe as he had him surrounded.  But strange to say after the hard march and well planned and executed scheme, no advantage was taken of it, and the enemy permitted to pass out in sight and hearing of the Confederates bivouacked along the pike over which the enemy were passing.  No one would assume the blame.  Hood charged it upon Cheatham, but Cheatham denied.  Stewart's report shows that Hood's order to him was a strange one under existing conditions.  It has been said later, by some who claim to know, that drunkeness was the cause.  If so, what a fearful account must be rendered some day by those in high and responsible places allowing the gratification of vicious appetite, to blast the cause of a whole people; send to death thousands of brave men; rob an army of most of its able generals and create thousands of wives into widows and more thousands of children from parentage to orphanage.

The next day, Hood rushed his army on after the enemy; struck them in their strong fortifications at Franklin; hurled his army upon their ramparts, to gain the loss of 6 generals killed, 6 wounded, 1 captured; with nearly 2,000 brave men killed; and a total loss of about 7,000.  Major E. H. Armisted of the 22nd Alabama was wounded.

Johnson's division was in the battle, and lost 127 killed, 424 wounded, and 36 missing.  Of the Deas' Brigade, lost 13 killed, 101 wounded, and 5 missing (Official Records, Serial 93, page 691).

The enemy evacuated on the night of the battle, falling back to Nashville, followed by the Confederates on the evening of December 1st.  The enemy were partially besieged in Nashville from the 2nd to the 15th of December. General Thomas, commanding the Federal forces by the latter date had secured all the reinforcements of all kinds needed for an aggressive campaign.  He attached, without vigor the right wing, but hurled heavy forces on the left with great vigor and succeeded in turning the left.  The 25th, with its brigade, and finally with its division, had been detached, and sent from the centre to the left to the aid of Stewart, whose report does not reflect credit upon the part taken by Johnson's division.  But it is hard to believe that soldiers who had always been so true could have failed in this juncture, and there must have been causes unseen by Stewart.  Walker's History of the 10th South Carolina Regiment shows the command did as usual in the discharge of its soldierly duties.

The disaster of this day required a change of the entire line, and during the night the army moved about one mile to the rear establishing a new line, beginning at once to fortify.  The next morning a very vigorous assault was made which was successfully repulsed, and with great slaughter to the enemy on the right occupied by Lee's corps.  About the middle of the afternoon a break was made with apparently little resistance, somewhere toward the left of the center, and such was the formation of the lines that this gave the enemy easy access to the Franklin pike, the only line of retreat left to the Confederates.  Soon the lines from left to center were broken, and that part of the line fleeing in confusion.

General Edward Johnson was captured, as seen by a report of General A. J. Smith (Official Records, Serial 93, page 437), and other reports show that very many of the division was captured.  Walker's History of the 10th South Carolina Regiment, shows that the command was nearly surrounded before they knew anything had gone wrong.

The army continued its retreat, enduring severe weather with scant clothing, many barefoot, with a much larger number with shoes so worn as to be little protection to the feet, many without a blanket, leaving quite commonly bloody tracks, the blood cut by the frozen ground as the poor barefooted fellows trudged along in the way for safety.  The Tennessee River was reached, and Christmas Day, December 25th, 1864, was spent on the banks of the river awaiting the laying of the pontoon bridge.  The crossing took place the 26th and 27th of December, and the march for Misssissippi, where the thread of the story is resumed by the writer.

[2] Cleburne was not commander of the division, but General Ed. Johnson.

[3] On April 9th, 1865, by order of General Johnston, there was a reorganization of the army at Smithfield, North Carolina; and the 22nd, 25th, 39th, and 50th Alabama Regiments were consolidated as the 22nd Alabama, Colonel Harry T. Toulmin, and was placed in Brig. General William F. Brantly's Brigade, in Hill's division, of Lee's corps (Official Records, Serial 100, pages 773-774, Serial 98, page 1064).

Deas' Brigade lost in the battle at Kinston, North Carolina, 3 killed and 20 wounded (Official Records, Serial 98, page 1089); and in the Battle of Bentonville, 3 killed, 30 wounded, and 1 missing.

The effective strength of Hill's Division, of which the 25th Alabama was a part, on April 24th, 1865, two days before surrender of Johnston, was 2,442, and aggregate present 2,634 (Official Records, Serial 100, page 839).  The strength of the brigade at its last mention as such, was on April 3rd, 1865 (Official Records, Serial 100, page 748), when it had 464 for duty, and aggregate present 516.