Rear Guard Action at the West Harpeth River
December 17, 1864
Updated: 8 JUN 2017
John B. Hood’s 100 mile running rear guard, led for the most part by Lt. General Bedford Forrest*, is one of the most amazing feats of the war. Although it is some of the most daring fighting of the Army of Tennessee, it may never be fully appreciated as real estate worthy of preservation. It is that fear, that led me into Virtual Reality photography for battlefield preservation.
Given the fact that the actions at the West Harpeth River are so close to the relatively new I-840 corridor, this land will more than likely be lost in the next decade. As of June, 2017 core battlefield property is for sale.
To categorize these heroic clashes as delaying actions, is a disservice to the men that fought on both sides.
From ‘In the Lions Mouth’:
“In the gathering darkness, the Confederates at first were unsure if the approaching horsemen were friend or foe since so many Southern cavalrymen, like the rest of Hood’s army, wore captured Union clothing. ‘This was a critical moment, and I felt great anxiety as to its effect upon the men, who, fewer in numbers, had just had the shameful example of the cavalry added to the terrible trial of the day before, Stevenson [Major General Carter Stevenson] noted.”
“… the gray cavalry was immersed in some of the toughest combat in this phase of the retreat, with their generals just as – or more – involved in actual fighting than their infantry counterparts. Abraham Buford was assailed by a Union trooper, who twice slashed at him over the shoulder with a saber. General Chalmers quickly came to Buford’s aid, killing the Federal with two revolver shots. Chalmers also captured another Union soldier amid the engagement. Apparently in the same encounter, another bluecoat swung his saber at Buford, but the blade was diverted by a Confederate trooper using the barrel of his empty carbine. Buford, a big man, weighing about 300 pounds, then grabbed his assailant and yanked him from his horse. Squeezing him so tightly that the Federal later said it, was like being ‘hugged by a bear,’ Buford spurred to safety, with his prisoner.”
From the Official Record:
“HDQRS. CAVALRY CORPS, MIL. DIV. OF THE MISSISSIPPI, Three Miles North of Thompson’s Station, on West Harpeth, December 17, 1864-6 p. m.
Brigadier General W. D. WHIPPLE,
Chief of Staff:
GENERAL: We have “bust up” Stevenson’s division of infantry, a brigade of cavalry, and taken three guns. The Fourth Cavalry and Hatch’s division, supported by Knipe, made several beautiful charges, breaking the rebel infantry in all directions. There has been a great deal of night firing, volleys and cannonading from our guns – the rebels have none. It is very dark, and our men are considerably scattered, but I’ll collect them on this bank of the stream – West Harpeth. Hatch is a brick!
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. H. WILSON,
Brevet Major-General, Commanding.”
Tennessee 3D 17 – Hood’s Retreat – December 17, 1864
“Moving rapidly south through Franklin, Stephen D. Lee’s Corps with Chalmers’ Cavalry Division attached, took up a delaying position in this area about 1:00 PM They beat off attacks by Wood’s IV Corps & Wilson’s Cavalry. Here, Gen. Lee was wounded; command passed to Maj. Gen. Carter L. Stevenson. The Army of Tennessee bivouacked that night around Spring Hill.”
Location: North Side of the West Harpeth River: