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Battle of Columbia

November 24–29, 1864

The Battle of Columbia was a series of military skirmishes that took place from November 24 to 29, 1864, near the town of Columbia, Tennessee. It was the initial engagement between the Confederate forces of Lieutenant General John Bell Hood and the Union forces of Major General John Schofield in Hood's Franklin-Nashville Campaign.

In late November 1863, Union forces commanded by Major General Ulysses S. Grant successfully lifted Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston's siege of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Union victories at Lookout Mountain (November 24) and Missionary Ridge (November 25) forced Johnston to withdraw thirty miles south to near Dalton, Georgia.

After the Federal breakout from Chattanooga, Grant was promoted to the special rank of Lieutenant General and placed in command of all Union armies. Grant moved his headquarters to Washington, DC, leaving his trusted subordinate, Major General William T. Sherman, in command of Federal operations in the Western Theater. Grant's primary military strategy was a coordinated effort to attack and defeat the two main Confederate armies in the field, Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia in the east, and Joseph E. Johnston's Army of Tennessee in the west. On May 5, 1864, Grant launched his Overland Campaign against Lee in Virginia. Two days later, Sherman led three armies, the Army of the Tennessee, commanded by Major General James B. McPherson; the Army of the Ohio, commanded by Major General John M. Schofield; and the Army of the Cumberland, commanded by Major General George H. Thomas, out of Tennessee in pursuit of Johnston's army in northern Georgia.

Throughout the summer of 1864, the Confederate and Union armies engaged in a series of battles between Dalton and Atlanta in northern Georgia. Most of the fighting occurred at places on or near the Western and Atlantic Railroad, which connected Chattanooga and Atlanta. Both sides depended on the railway for supplies throughout the campaign. In a pattern that was often repeated, Sherman employed flanking movements that threatened the railway to Johnston's rear, forcing the Confederate commander to retreat south in order to protect his supply lines.

On July 17, 1863, Confederate President Jefferson Davis, relieved Johnston of his command and placed General John Bell Hood in charge of the Army of Tennessee. Hood proved more willing to fight than Johnston, but the results were the same. By July, Hood's army was bottled up in Atlanta. On July 20, Sherman ordered his artillery to begin bombarding Hood's lines, as well as the city, which still harbored about 3,000 civilians. The shelling lasted for five weeks, but Hood continued to hold on as long as he was receiving supplies. Toward the end of August, Sherman stopped the flow of supplies into Atlanta. With his main supply line severed, Hood evacuated Atlanta on the night of September 1, burning all military stores and installations. Sherman's forces occupied the city on September 2, ending the Atlanta Campaign.

After evacuating Atlanta, Hood reorganized his forces at Lovejoy's Station, south of Atlanta, and Sherman chose not to pursue. On September 21, Hood moved north to Palmetto, Georgia, where he met with Confederate President Davis on September 25. Davis and Hood devised a plan that would have Hood's 39,000 soldiers move north toward Chattanooga, destroying Sherman's supply lines back to Tennessee along the way. Sherman was alerted to Hood's intentions when Davis foolishly revealed the plan in a series of speeches on his way back to the Confederate capital at Richmond. Sherman responded by sending Major General George H. Thomas to Nashville on September 29, to organize all of the Union troops in Tennessee.

During October, Hood's infantry and Major General Joseph Wheeler's cavalry conducted a series of raids along the Western & Atlantic Railroad, Sherman's main supply line from Chattanooga to Atlanta. Sherman's army quickly repaired the damage but was not able to keep pace with the faster moving Rebels.

By late October, Sherman convinced Grant that his time would be better spent making Georgia howl on his March to the Sea than by chasing Hood around the South. Consequently, Sherman turned the pursuit of Hood over to Thomas and about 60,000 soldiers, 30,000 of whom were in the Nashville area. The other 30,000, commanded by Major General John M. Schofield, were moving north to join Thomas. At the same time, Hood moved into northern Alabama and focused his attention on Tennessee, hoping to defeat Thomas before his two armies could be united.

After waiting to join forces with Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest's cavalry, Hood left Alabama on November 21, 1864. His goal was Columbia, Tennessee, about midway between Thomas's army in Nashville and Schofield's army at Pulaski, about 75 miles south of Nashville. Anticipating Hood's intentions, Schofield raced to Columbia, arriving just hours ahead of the Confederates on November 24. Once there, Schofield's soldiers built two lines of earthworks south of the town and skirmished with Forrest's cavalry on November 24 and 25. On November 26, Hood advanced his infantry but did not attack. Instead, he demonstrated in front of the Union lines, while the bulk of his army was crossing the Duck River east of Columbia on November 28. In danger of being outflanked and having Hood's army cut off access to Nashville, Schofield began to fall back toward Franklin, setting the stage for the next confrontation at Spring Hill on November 29.

Ohio units that participated in the Battle of Columbia included:

Infantry units:

  • 13th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 15th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 19th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 26th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 40th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 41st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 45th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 49th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 50th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 51st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 64th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 65th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 71st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 90th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 93rd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 97th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 100th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 101st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 103rd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 104th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 111th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 118th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 124th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 125th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 175th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 183rd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

Artillery units:

  • Battery A, 1st Ohio Light Artillery Regiment
  • Battery D, 1st Ohio Light Artillery Regiment
  • Battery G, 1st Ohio Light Artillery Regiment
  • 6th Ohio Artillery Regiment
  • 20th Ohio Artillery Regiment

Cavalry Units:

  • 7th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry Regiment

Casualties at the Battle of Columbia are unknown, because little actual fighting took place. Although Schofield stalled Hood's advance into Tennessee for five days, the battle is considered a Confederate victory because Hood eventually forced Schofield to retreat.

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