OT: WASHINGTON TIMES :TENNESSEE LOCALS FIGHT NEW BATTLE OF SPRING HILL
TENNESSEE LOCALS FIGHT NEW BATTLE OF SPRING HILL
SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
By: Gerald A. Regan
SPRING HILL, Tenn. - Local Civil War history has proven to be slippery for
city officials in Spring Hill, Tenn., site of the last surviving
battlefield of the Confederacy's redoubtable Army of Tennessee.
Still, the city's mayor, Ray Williams, whose 211 battlefield acres once
hosted spirited skirmishing between Nathan Bedford Forrest's cavalrymen and
federal infantry, says that his sources are quite clear on what didn't
happen at Spring Hill on Nov. 29, 1864.
"We had a few people a few years ago come in here and try to say it was a
humongous battle, thousands died," said Mr. Williams in a recent interview,
when asked about historians' assertions that the fighting that day at
Spring Hill constituted a battle. "That's what I disagree with. . . . Sure,
there [was] some skirmishing here."
In fact, primary sources provide a picture of fighting that ebbed and
flared for nearly nine hours, with the fate of two opposing armies totaling
nearly 100,000 men arguably hinging on the outcome. As many as 900 soldiers
may have became casualties, in combat that ranged over more than 1,500
acres of this once-sleepy hamlet, divided between Maury and Williamson
counties, 30 miles south of Nashville.
One whom the mayor accuses of revisionism is military historian Dave
Stieghan, director of the city's Rippavilla Plantation historic site, a
former Army captain who came to Rippavilla after teaching history at a
several colleges in Tyler, Texas. Says Mr. Stieghan, citing the abundance
of Army reports, a state-funded archaeological study and a survivor's
letter: "The bottom line is there was a battle at Spring Hill. . . . If
[city officials] don't want to recognize it, no amount of primary resources
or tombstones will change their minds."
A parcel of land in Spring Hill that best underscores what happened at
Spring Hill in 1864 and what might happen in the years to come is a
240-acre tract owned by Brentwood, Tenn., developer Ira Adams and his four
sons - land where, says Mr. Stieghan, the heaviest fighting took place.
It was there about 4:30 p.m. that 1,800 federal soldiers led by Brig. Gen.
Luther Bradley were overrun by 5,600 Confederates, commanded by Gen.
Patrick R. Cleburne. If the Confederates could have cut the nearby
Franklin-Nashville Pike, Gen. John B. Hood, with 38,000 men massing at
Spring Hill, hoped to divide and destroy a 30,000-man federal army en route
to Nashville. Hood's desperate hope was then to capture the 30,000-man
garrison at Nashville and launch an offensive into Kentucky and Ohio.
Six days later, Bradley reported to his superiors: "I then reached Spring
Hill about 2 p.m. . . . We were soon furiously attacked in front and on the
right flank, a brigade of the enemy swinging completely around the right of
the Forty-second Illinois and the Sixty-fourth Ohio. We gave them a very
destructive fire and somewhat staggered them in front, and had we had some
support on the right, and the right flank not been turned, we could have
held our ground. After firing about 10 minutes, the right and center (of
the line) were compelled to give way." Capt. George A. Williams, an
adjutant in one of Cleburne's brigades, was there, and wrote two weeks
later to a fellow officer, noting that the Confederate brigade suffered 225
casualties in the assault. Bradley reported to his superiors that he lost
198 men, including 17 killed, 114 wounded (including himself), and 67 missing.
Capt. John K. Shellenberger, a company commander in the 64th Ohio Infantry
in Bradley's command, in 1907 privately published his account of Spring
Hill. He recalled the moment when the Union line collapsed: "The contact
was then so close that as the men in our right were running past the line
closing on them, they were called on with loud oaths, charging them with a
Yankee canine descent, to halt and surrender; and, not heeding the call,
some of them were shot down with the muzzles of the muskets almost touching
Perhaps more than 400 men were killed, wounded or taken prisoner in the
action on Mr. Adams' 240 acres, land now approved for an industrial park.
Although Hood and his commanders ultimately failed to close the trap,
writers and historians, including Pulitzer Prize winner James M. McPherson,
Shelby Foote and Wiley Sword, and numerous eyewitnesses all describe the
fighting at Spring Hill as a small but vital battle in the ultimate defeat
of the Confederacy. Capt. Shellenberger underscored its importance,
writing: "It may be fairly claimed that the success of General [William T.]
Sherman's famous march to the sea hung on the issue of a minor battle
fought at Spring Hill."
So why have Spring Hill residents accepted the Mayor Williams' denial of
Mr. Williams says that "frankly, the Civil War isn't much on residents'
minds." Asked whether the Southern army's failure at Spring Hill might fuel
local disinterest, he says: "I kind of doubt it. . . . We never had much of
the Civil War discussed here."
The city's selective historical recall is undoubtedly driven by the
one-time crossroad's breathtaking pace of development, a pace rapid enough
that a slate of four candidates, including two former mayors, is running
against incumbent Williams, accusing him, in the words of one candidate, of
ushering in "growth gone amok." Previous elections had trouble generating
even two candidates, says lifelong Spring Hill resident Effie Heiss,
publisher and editor of The Informer, a weekly covering the city.
In Spring Hill, since 1989 home to Saturn's first and largest auto factory,
growth is brisk, as it is throughout middle Tennessee, home to major
battlefields at Nashville and Franklin (both nearly entirely built over)
and Murfreesboro (Stones River), included in February on Civil War
Preservation Trust's listing of the 10 most endangered Civil War sites.
In the past decade, Spring Hill has seen its population grow six-fold, now
well over 9,000, from 1,400, while its area, through annexations, has more
than doubled. The city is adding close to 90 new residents a month, making
it one of the fastest growing cities in the state.
"We have commercial developments popping up all over the town," Mr.
Williams says. Mackie Automotive, a Canadian firm looking to move to Spring
Hill, in fact, reportedly considered several sites in or adjacent to the
core battlefield for its warehouse, on the land owned by Mayor Williams,
Mr. Adams and writer Peter Jenkins.
The properties of the mayor and Mr. Jenkins, who are both neighbors and
friends, were rezoned from agricultural to light industrial in 1997, when
Mr. Williams was chairman of the Spring Hill Regional Planning Committee.
According to Cindy Williams, the mayor's wife and a local appraiser, she
and the mayor were recently seeking more than $2 million for their property.
The mayor's dismissal of the historical record could benefit landowners
within the battlefield, including himself, and would likely lead to
development of the core battlefield. It now is largely pristine and
anchored by a 110-acre tract owned by a land trust established by Maury
Mr. Williams is forthright about his desire to sell his 211 acres in and
alongside the heart of what the Civil War Sites Advisory Committee
identifies as the core battlefield, as is Mr. Jenkins, owner of 150 acres
and author of the popular book "Walk Across America."
"I've had a for-sale sign on it since I bought it. Every piece of property
I have is for sale, but I'm in no big hurry to sell any of it," the mayor
"Ninety percent of the battlefields in Tennessee are in private ownership,
and they can do what they want with their lands," laments Stuart Moore, a
landscaper and chairman of the 75-member Tennessee Civil War Preservation
Association. "That's what we face in Tennessee." As well, middle
Tennessee's fast-growing population, led by greater Nashville's 17.5
percent increase from 1990 to 2000, has made millionaires out of many
farmers and pushed development to Spring Hill.
Mrs. Heiss, the 65-year-old editor of the town weekly, was once teased by
Mayor Williams, she says, as part of what he called the "blue-haired
brigade" that helped raise money to buy the 110 preserved acres. She notes
Spring Hill residents' wariness of battlefield supporters, which she has
seen grow in the past decade as more and more local farmers sold to land
"If they listen to us preservationists, then they won't be able to sell to
whatever industrial company comes in. I guess they're afraid we'll stand in
their way," she says.
"It's gotten so that if they find [even] one Minie ball, they're going to
Mayor Williams insists that he is not opposed to preservation. The city's
stance is: "We don't own it. If you want it preserved, buy and you can
preserve it. It's your right. Mr. Adams - he bought the land, he sweated
and paid for it. He paid taxes on it."
Presented with period accounts that describe the casualties and fury of
Spring Hill's fighting, Mayor Williams said, "I'm not trying to spit on the
grave sites of anyone who died in that war." He notes, too, that Mr. Adams'
land was rezoned from agricultural to industrial nearly 15 years ago and
asked why preservationists didn't act then.
The mayor contends that the historians have a hidden agenda - a desire to
push the city to zone for a battlefield, depriving landowners of the right
to develop their land. But no one, not even the Civil War Preservation
Trust, has called for that action, although, according to Steve Tocknell,
chairman of the Tennessee chapter of the Washington, D.C.-based American
Planning Association, the city could return any undeveloped land to its
original, agricultural zoning.
In fact, historian Stieghan agrees that Mr. Adams is perfectly within his
rights to develop the parcel as he sees fit but adds that it would be a
shame. He says battlefields are a boon to communities, generating tourists,
income for local businesses, green space, and jobs. "You don't have to
provide schools and sewer lines for tourists, but you sure can use their
money and take the taxes from it," he says.
Spring Hill is not alone in Tennessee in its casualness toward its Civil
War sites. The Civil War Sites Advisory Committee has identified 38
principal battlefield sites in Tennessee, second only to Virginia's 61. Of
those 38, 24 are endangered, according to the committee's 1993 report.
Spring Hill is among these.
Fred Prouty, military sites preservationist for the Tennessee Wars
Commission, heads an office of one with an annual budget of $125,000. While
an advocate for the battlefields, he understands what he faces, and offers
a longer view for the causes of Tennessee's lax stewardship of its Civil
"Virginia, and the sort of Lee-Grant historical way of looking at things,
has kept the focus on those Eastern battlefields," he says, from his office
in Nashville. "Now that has changed, but for many years when you mentioned
Civil War, people would only think of [Robert E.] Lee and [Ulysses S.] Grant."
In his research, Mr. Prouty found that veterans of the fighting in middle
Tennessee in fall 1864, from both armies, united in 1910 to lobby for
legislation to locate, map and mark the field of battle near Nashville on
Dec. 15-16, 1864. The measure was introduced into the U.S. House of
Representatives, but because the federal government had put so much money
into battlefields in the East, it was rejected.
"I think because they were denied, a lot of folks in this area became
disillusioned. I think if we had the historical backing of writers, [then]
maybe Tennessee would have been able to preserve more sites over the
years," Mr. Prouty says."
Meanwhile, the amount of green space in Spring Hill - Tennessee's last
surviving battlefield of Hood's star-crossed army - has dropped from as
much as 70 percent a decade ago to less than 50 percent today. That figure
may drop to 35 percent by 2010 because of anticipated commercial development.
After posing for a photograph in front of his Spring Hill Mini-Warehouse,
built atop a former football field, Mayor Williams points out that when he
built, "people were angry, saying the Spring Hill football team won the
state championship here, and some said, `This is sacred ground. Blood was
shed here.' "
Mr. Adams, 77, is also comfortable with his plans. The developer says the
soldiers who died here "would probably rise up and say, `We appreciate it,
but you should also use the land we have given - we have bequeathed - for
the common good.'"
Gerald A. Regan is a New York-based journalist. He can be contacted at
1864 CLASH LEAVES ENDURING STAIN ON HOOD
Saturday, March 31, 2001
Section: SATURDAY THE CIVIL WAR
Gerald A. Regan
SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
SPRING HILL, Tenn. - On the afternoon of Nov. 29, 1864, Confederate Maj.
Gen. John Bell Hood had a career-making victory awaiting him in Spring
Hill, one that could revive the teetering Confederacy's fortunes while
establishing him as one of the war's great commanders.
Instead, the inconclusive affair at Spring Hill left an enduring stain on
his reputation, launching what Dave Stieghan, director of Spring Hill's
Rippavilla Plantation historic site, calls the second battle of Spring
Hill, the fight by Hood's subordinates, particularly Maj. Gen. Benjamin
Frank Cheatham, to clear their reputations, impugned by Hood in his quest
for scapegoats for his failure.
Hood's aim was to interpose his 38,000-man force between the federal forces
of John Schofield, in Pulaski, Tenn., and George H. Thomas in Nashville.
That accomplished, he planned on destroying Schofield's 30,000-man army and
then turn on Thomas' force.
About 11:30 a.m., Confederate Maj. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest's cavalry
arrived at Spring Hill and collided with Schofield's skirmishers, part of a
division the federal commander had sent hustling northward, led by Maj.
Gen. David S. Stanley. Forrest, working from the vicinity of what is today
Spring Hill Mayor Ray Williams' property, hurled his men against the badly
outnumbered Yankee skirmishers, who fought back gamely.
Finally, Forrest dispatched Brig. Gen. James Chalmers to finish off the
federals, who by this time, unbeknownst to Forrest, were reinforced with
artillery and additional infantry. His charge bloodily repelled, Chalmers
faced Forrest, who quipped, "They was in there sure enough, wasn't they,
For most of the afternoon and evening, Hood's forces held numerical
superiority as both armies marched toward Spring Hill. But because of a
series of misunderstandings, Hood's commanders failed to close on the
outnumbered vanguard of Schofield's force, despite driving Bradley's
brigade from its key defensive position in late afternoon.
At Rippavilla the next morning, Hood, who had lost use of an arm and a leg
earlier in the war, fumed when he learned that the Yankees had marched past
his forces. Still seething, that afternoon he ordered a head-on assault
against Schofield's now-entrenched federals at Franklin, 10 miles to the
north. On Nov. 30, 1864, the attacks, protested by his corps commanders,
led to the loss of 6,200 Confederates, including the deaths of six
generals, and 2,326 federals.
The remnant of the Confederate Army of Tennessee then invested Nashville,
until Thomas, biding his time, finally attacked on Dec. 15. Thomas' army
wrecked Hood's survivors in daylong battle.
The fighting at Spring Hill would be dwarfed by the battles of Franklin and
Nashville, and the identities of many of the casualties at Spring Hill were
left unknown because of the decimation of both Confederate records and
officers in the days that ensued.
Gerald A. Regan
20-67 38th Street, #D3
Astoria NY 11105-1641