Saturday, August 27, 2011

Excerpt from my upcoming book "Die Like Men": Shy's Hill action at Nashville

Me standing at the spot where the following occurred 

      Brigadier General Thomas Benton Smith was young, just twenty-six years old. He was a striking man, tall and attractive to the ladies. He thought about Tod Carter, his assistant quartermaster who’d been killed back at Franklin. Tod had always kidded him about sharing a few ladies with him.
          Like General Gordon, who’d been captured at Franklin, Smith had graduated from the Nashville Military Institute. He’d become a railroad conductor after graduation. People just didn’t seem to understand that he liked to ride trains.
          The rain was coming down in torrents now. Like his men, he was cold, tired, and hungry. They’d gotten little sleep last night. At the moment, Smith was frustrated over his position. They’d been placed here in the dark on the crest of this hill. Instead of being on the military crest, they were on the actual crest itself. What all this meant was, when the Federals advanced, they couldn’t fire on them until they came over the ledge just twenty yards in front of his position. This situation made his line extremely weak.

Brigadier General Thomas Benton Smith

       He had cannons, but they couldn’t depress their muzzles to fire on the advancing Yankees until they were on top of them. It wasn’t his fault either, but that wasn’t any consolation to him at the moment. Ector’s Texans had occupied the position in the dark last evening. They hadn’t even bothered to throw up breastworks or place abatis in front of the lines. His brigade had been brought up here later in the night, and they’d had to dig all night to be prepared. By the time it had gotten to be daylight, he realized the fragility of his situation, but by then it was too late. Bate had instructed him to throw up breastworks. He had told Smith that the entire position of the army may rest on his brigade on top of this hill.
          The ground had been frozen last night and made the digging difficult. To add to the problem, he had very few picks and shovels. Most of his men were forced to dig with their bayonets. Others would sneak out into the dark and gather branches and logs. They threw anything that would stop a bullet into their breastworks. Rocks were piled up and covered over with dirt. All night long he had listened to the enemy voices in the cool night air near the base of the hill. He could see their fires through the trees.
          His adjutant, Captain Jones, and James Cooper, one of his aides, walked up. Cooper said, “Sir, a six-foot man could get within twenty feet of our works, and we wouldn’t know it.”
          Captain Jones added, “This is the poorest position we’ve ever been placed in.”
          “I agree,” Smith replied, “but it’s too late to change our dispositions now, gentlemen.”
          “That’s not all the good news, sir,” Cooper jerked a thumb over his shoulder toward the rear. “Cheatham has ordered off Ector’s brigade. That’s the only reserves we have, and we keep stretching the line left. We ain’t much more than a skirmish line now.”
          Smith shook his head, making no reply.
          Cooper added. “I’m sure, when darkness gets here, we’ll be ordered to retreat. By the sound in our rear, we may already be surrounded.”

Major General William Brimage Bate

       He looked to his right and noticed how thin Finley’s Florida brigade had become. Ector’s Texas brigade had been pulled out of line about an hour ago to go face Wilson’s cavalry on some knoll in their rear. He and Strahl’s old brigade had been forced to extend their already thin lines to cover the gap Ector’s men left behind. He thought about poor old Otho Strahl. He was a good man. He’ll be severely missed. Strahl’s brigade and Smith’s were all Tennesseans fighting for their homes.
          By the sound of the firing behind him, he wondered if his brigade would see any fighting at all. It was becoming unnerving. The Federal cavalry was definitely getting in their rear, and he began to wonder if they wouldn’t be forced to surrender without a fight. The firing in rear of their position soon stopped. He wished he knew what was happening.
          Suddenly, Thomas Smith’s world erupted in flame and smoke. Federal batteries to the west and north of the hill all opened fire at once. It felt as though they were concentrating their fire on Smith’s one brigade. It probably felt that way to everyone on the hill. With that much artillery being poured on this hill, it could only mean one thing—an infantry assault was coming.

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