On the morning of March 4, 1863
a Federal force marched out of Franklin with orders to reconnoiter south
on the Columbia Pike towards Spring Hill and beyond to determine the
location of the enemy. This force, commanded by Col. John Coburn,
consisted of his brigade of Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin troops and an
Ohio regiment, about 1,845 men; a cavalry force of 600 Pennsylvania,
Michigan, and Kentucky troopers; and a 6-gun Ohio artillery battery.
About 4 miles south of Franklin, Coburn collided with a strong Confederate
cavalry force, under the command of Brig. General William H. "Red"
Jackson, who had been ordered north along the same road and for the same
After a running battle covering more than 2 miles and several hours until
dusk, the Federal troops camped for the night on the field, while the
Confederate force encamped behind the hills south of Thompson's Station.
At 8:00 a.m. the next morning, March 5th, Coburn's Federals pressed on and
encountered a strong Confederate outpost on the hills one mile north of
Thompson' Station. This force was driven back and the Federals advanced
within sight of the town.
Here Coburn could see the Confederate forces in position on the hills to
the south of the Depot, and on both sides of the Columbia Pike. In
addition to General Jackson's Division of Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi,
and Alabama dismounted cavalry. Brig. General Nathan Bedford Forrest's
cavalry brigade had moved into line during the night.
Coburn positioned his force on the hills north of the Depot and on both
sides of the Columbia Pike, with two cannons just west of the pike and
three just to the east. Coburn's men west of the pike, all Indianans,
advanced across the field, pushing back the enemy skirmishers and advanced
under fire past the Depot and amongst the buildings of the town.
The Confederate cavalry, fighting dismounted then countercharged and drove
the Federals back to their starting position on the northern hills. Two
more charges and countercharges advanced across the field near the Depot,
with at least two charges made by Forrest's Tennessee cavalry east of the
After several hours of severe fighting, General Forrest rode a portion of
his command under cover of the hills east and north of the Federal
position, and appeared in their rear. After two desperate charges by
Forrest, Coburn realized that he was surrounded, that his escape to
Franklin was sealed off, and that further resistance was futile. He
surrendered his infantry, which consisted of about 1,150 men. The Federal
cavalry and artillery had withdrawn earlier from the field, running for
Franklin, and thus escaped capture.
Coburn and his men were taken through Tullahoma to Richmond, Virginia,
where they were confined in Libby Prison, until they were exchanged on May