The Slaughter Pen
After McCown’s dawn assault, Confederate units to the north began attacking the enemy in their front. These attacks were not meant to break through, but to hold Union units in place as the flanking attack swept up behind them.
General Philip Sheridan had his men rise early and form a line of battle. His men were able to repulse the first enemy attack, but the loss of the divisions to his right forced Sheridan’s commanders to reposition their lines to keep Cleburne’s Division from cutting off their escape route. Sheridan’s lines pivoted to the north, anchored by General James Negley’s Division in the trees and rocks along McFadden Lane.
Confederate brigades assaulted Sheridan’s and Negley’s Divisions without coordination. The terrain made communication and cooperation between units nearly impossible. For more than two hours, the Union forces fell back step by bloody step slowing the Confederate assault.
By noon, the Confederate Brigades of A.P. Stewart, J. Patton Anderson, George Maney, A.M. Manigault, and A.J. Vaughn assaulted the Union salient from three sides. With their ammunition nearly spent, Negley’s and Sheridan’s lines shattered and their men made their way north and west through the cedars towards the Nashville Pike.
The cost of this delaying action was enormous. Sam Watkins of the First Tennessee Infantry, CS was amazed at the bloodshed.
“I cannot remember now of ever seeing more dead men and horses and captured cannon all jumbled together, than that scene of blood and carnage … on the (Wilkinson) … Turnpike; the ground was literally covered with blue coats dead.”
All three of Sheridan’s brigade commanders were killed or mortally wounded and many Federal units lost more than one-third of their men. Many Confederate units fared little better. Union soldiers recalled the carnage as looking like the slaughter pens in the stockyards of Chicago. The name stuck.