A Hike to Davis Ford, Where 22,000 Confederates Crossed the Duck River in 1864


Days earlier than my go to to Davis Ford, a distant Duck River location close to Columbia, Tenn., the place 22,000 Confederates crossed within the late fall of 1864, information Neal Pulley shoots me an eye-opening textual content: “Deliver some orange. Don’t need to get shot! 😊”

No fan of changing into an inadvertent goal of a deer hunter, I scour a big-box chain retailer for an orange vest. No luck in sporting items. However within the males’s clothes part, one other quarry is cornered: a gawd-awful, orange sweatshirt.

Poorer by $7.87, I toss my buy into my duct-taped automobile and virtually instantly endure from purchaser’s regret. In a plastic field within the trunk rests a fluorescent, yellow biking jacket—the right climbing apparel.

This journey feels jinxed earlier than it begins.

Nonetheless ornery, I drive the following morning to Columbia, Civil Warfare nation about 50 miles south of downtown Nashville, for a rendezvous with Pulley, an skilled on obscure Davis Ford and the Battle of Columbia. Fabulous tales linger within the lovely, rolling countryside a Accomplice soldier referred to as “God’s nation.”

A pair miles from the place Pulley and I meet south of city, Union officer-turned-Accomplice cavalry commander Frank Armstrong married President James Polk’s great-niece on April 27, 1863. Accomplice Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn, a infamous womanizer and married father of 5, attended the nuptials at Rally Hill, a circa-1830s mansion that also stands. So did Brig. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, the cavalry genius and notorious slave dealer. Roughly a Napoleon cannon shot away stands the Nationwide Accomplice Museum at Elm Springs, the place the stays of the previous Klansman have been just lately transferred from Memphis for reburial.

Months in the past on the museum, I examined the mattress Military of Tennessee commander John Bell Hood slept in whereas Union Maj. Gen. John Schofield’s Military of the Ohio marched previous his troopers at the hours of darkness in late November 1864—one of many struggle’s gutsiest strikes. I’m no skilled, however the one-legged, one-armed Hood in all probability didn’t curl up with the Accomplice battle flag bedspread on that heirloom.

Within the Nineteen Twenties and ’30s, struggle relics have been plentiful right here in Maury County, the place floor was trampled, camped on, and fought over by each armies. An acquaintance—a longtime relic hunter—enjoys telling tales of unearthing dozens of uncommon Whitworth bullets, Accomplice belt plates, and hundreds of different artifacts from space fields, woods, and development websites. Within the Thirties and ’40s, Pulley’s dad performed with Civil Warfare-era Enfield rifles in close by Giles County, the place he grew up. “They used to beat ’em on rocks,” Pulley says. Hunted squirrels with them, too.

When Common John B. Hood awoke from this mattress (displayed with a Accomplice quilt?) on November 30, 1864, he discovered to his dismay that Maj. Gen. John Schofield’s troops had marched by on the way in which to Franklin, Tenn. (Picture by John Banks)

Earlier than we depart for the ford, Pulley explains “The Burn Line,” properties torched by Yankees in 1864 to clear a area of fireside. Then we trip down the freeway in his pickup, flip off on a rutted route with bomb-like craters brought on by storm washout, and park close to an outdated highway.

Nervous and achy (curses to you, arthritis!), I placed on the fluorescent jacket whereas Pulley dons a vest of orange and yellow. Then he arms me a bottle of bug spray.

“What animals are out right here?” I ask.

“Effectively, skunks. Bobcats, too.”

Rattling, I hate cats.

And so we trudge up the highway, a couple of mile from our vacation spot.

A longtime pupil of the Civil Warfare, Pulley spends spare time researching the Battle of Columbia—a collection of skirmishes and sharp fights fought November 24-29, 1864—for a guide he plans to put in writing. The Columbia native has a number of connections to the struggle: One ancestor served below Hood within the 53rd Tennessee whereas one other rode with Forrest. One fought within the U.S. Military, too—“a purple leg, a traitor on my mom’s facet,” he says, half-kidding. In response to household lore, Pulley’s great-great-grandmother was inadvertently struck within the calf by a U.S. Military bullet whereas kneading dough in Giles County.

On farmland, in woodlots, and close to fords of the Duck River at Columbia, the armies fought in a prelude to the brutal Battle of Franklin on November 30. Casualties have been mild—about 10 for the U.S. Military, roughly 25 for the Confederates. However regardless of the dimensions of the battle, some member of the family or sweetheart someplace mourned once they obtained information of a liked one’s dying.

Eliza Donley, whose son James was a sixty fifth Illinois corporal, was certainly one of them.

At Columbia on November 26, 1864, Donley’s leg was shattered between the foot and knee by an artillery shell. “He bore it bravely like a superb soldier as he’s,” sixty fifth Illinois 1st Sgt. George Heywood wrote days later to Eliza. “We have been pushed from the sphere and out of 19 males within the firm 7 have been wounded & one killed. It left us so small that we couldn’t convey them off.”

Shortly after his wounding, James died, in all probability in enemy arms as Schofield troopers headed towards Nashville, their final vacation spot. “I requested them about your son & they instructed me that he was no extra,” wrote Heywood in one other letter to Eliza, practically a month after her son’s dying. “I used to be shocked and sorry to listen to it.” 

Pulley, left, factors out the remnants of the highway Hood’s males took to the Duck River in 1864, now hidden within the Tennessee woods. Pulley wore blaze orange and creator John Banks selected fluorescent yellow to (hopefully) alert hunters the 2 weren’t deer. Other than a number of distant pictures, all went nicely. Cloying briars, although, made their presence recognized through the trek. (Images by John Banks)

After Columbia, Hood aimed to flank Schofield’s military earlier than it made it to Spring Hill. With a superb probability to wreak havoc, he couldn’t dawdle. So, in late November 1864, he ordered a pontoon bridge constructed throughout the Duck River at Davis Ford.

To get to there, we navigate by way of a cornfield, deftly avoiding groundhog holes. “Cautious,” Pulley says, “you possibly can snap an ankle in these.” No worries. I’m skilled at groundhog gap avoidance, having traipsed quite a few occasions by way of David R. Miller’s Cornfield at Antietam.

We make our method to a rutted, army highway on a bluff alongside the Duck River. The distant sounds of a aircraft overhead and a hunter’s gunshot don’t damage the greatness of the expertise. Lengthy earlier than Hood’s troopers, the traditional transportation route was utilized by 18th- and Nineteenth-century pioneers in addition to Creek Indians.

Then we take a circuitous path to the ford, trudging by way of briars and bushes, over fallen limbs and poison oak, and thru muck and who-knows-what-else. “Any rattlesnakes right here?” I ask. “Could possibly be.” Pulley says. Carrying shorts and trainers, hardly the very best climbing apparel, I soldier on. “Stupidity,” it’s generally referred to as.

If it weren’t for the three-inch snail darter, an endangered, freshwater ray-finned fish, Davis Ford might not even exist. Within the early Nineteen Eighties, the feds stopped development of a $100 million, half-built dam in Tennessee when the endangered fish was found within the Duck River. “All this may have been underwater in any other case,” Pulley says after we lastly arrive on the ford.

A deep reduce on the south financial institution of the Duck River signifies the place most of Hood’s Military of Tennessee, about 22,000 sturdy, crossed the watercourse on a pontoon bridge. Greater than 6,000 of these males turned casualties on the Battle of Franklin. (Picture by John Banks)

Via a maze of bushes to our left, about 50 yards throughout the Duck River, rises the steep north financial institution. The water could also be three or 4 toes deep. To the suitable stand big mounds of deep-brown earth and stays of a reduce within the south financial institution made by Hood’s engineers—unsung heroes of the struggle. Not one other soul is in sight.

Think about this scene the evening of November 28, 1864, and the next morning:

100 sappers, miners, and diggers pitch in. Torches flicker as huge, wood beams are pounded into the gravelly riverbed. By 1 a.m., trusses arrive to put throughout the stringers—work that continues into the wee hours. Fifty troopers dig a reduce on the north financial institution, backbreaking labor executed “all evening with out flinching,” the lieutenant answerable for the operation later recollects.

Close to daybreak, the trudging of hundreds of toes rumble and rustle within the distance because the ragged, smelly Military of Tennessee marches on the slender army highway to the ford. Patrick Cleburne, Hood’s fiery, Irish-born division commander, chews out the officer answerable for the pontoon operation, peeved the south financial institution reduce is incomplete. “He…abused me shamefully, and threatened to have me arrested and court-martialed for my failure,” remembers the lieutenant, “however I used to be by no means arrested.”

I ponder in regards to the hundreds of Confederates who crossed right here shortly after daybreak that frigid day way back. Amongst them was Personal Sam Watkins, a Columbia native who was happy to be on dwelling turf. “We’ve got by no means forsaken our colours,” he wrote in his basic struggle memoir, Co. Aytch, about his return dwelling. “Are we worthy to be referred to as the sons of outdated Maury County?”

By dusk on November 30 in Franklin, 30 miles north, tons of of Watkins’ comrades who crossed Davis Ford could be lifeless. Mathew Andrew Dunn, a 30-year-old sergeant within the thirty third Mississippi, was certainly one of them.

4 months earlier than he was riddled with bullets at Franklin, Dunn ready his spouse, Virginia—he affectionately referred to as her “Stumpy”—for terrible potentialities. “Oh my love,” the daddy of two younger kids wrote, “if I may solely See you and our expensive little ones once more what a pleasure it could be. However God solely is aware of whether or not I’ll have that privilege or not. I need you to attempt to elevate them up proper. Practice them whereas they’re younger.”

“And if I’m not Spared to See you I hope we’ll meet in a happier world. . .
if I’m killed I hope that I’m ready to go.”

Months later, a condolence letter arrived for “Stumpy” in Liberty, Miss.—inhabitants a number of hundred.

“Expensive Pal, although I be part of you in shedding a tear of grief, allow us to not mourn as those that are with out hope,” wrote thirty third Mississippi Personal John Wilkinson, “for we really feel assured that our loss is his Everlasting achieve, that his freed spirit is now singing praises to our Blessed Savior within the Paradise above the place all is pleasure and peace.”

Dunn’s stays in all probability relaxation in McGavock Accomplice Cemetery in Franklin.

Maybe his spirit, although, nonetheless hovers someplace right here close to the banks of distant Davis Ford.

In 2015, John Banks waded the Potomac River from Maryland to West Virginia at Boteler’s Ford, an epic expertise. You’ll be able to examine it on his common Civil Warfare weblog (john-banks.blogspot.com).

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