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  • lilsteve68@aol.com
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 3, 2001

      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
      their bodies."

      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
      documented history?

      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
      hide it."

      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
      War battlefields.

      "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


      Saturday, March 31, 2001
      Gerald A. Regan

      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
      Voice/Fax: 718.545.1216
      e-mail: ger@...

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