Forrest's cavalry and the few remaining units of the Army of Tennessee in condition to offer resistance protected lines of soldiers and wagons moving south. Federal gunboats approached the point selected for crossing the Tennessee River, threatening to isolate Confederates on the north bank. However, Confederate rifled artillery kept the enemy at bay as weary men struggled to reach safety south of the river. The rear guard made it over the Tennessee the day after Christmas.
Final scenes of this dismal chapter took place in early January of 1865. Those remaining with the army continued south to winter camps near Tupelo MS, but not before a Federal cavalry raid found Hood's wagon train. Several miles of wagons and mule teams were destroyed west of Russellville AL. On the opposite side of the state, Lyon's Kentucky cavalry managed to evade pursuit and cross the Tennessee, but Federals caught and dispersed survivors near Red Hill in Marshall County.
Confederates in large numbers left the army to go home or desert during the retreat. Deserters who came into Federal lines individually or in small groups received passage to Chattanooga, Nashville or Louisville KY to take the oath of allegiance. These were released to remain north of the Ohio River, as mentioned earlier.
My question had to do with MRB's whereabouts from the date of desertion, which he gave as December 10th, and the date he actually took the oath of allegiance, January 21st. Except to say that he was "captured" and wasn't with the army at the time, there isn't much to go on from his pension application.
As a general rule, historical research values first-hand information above other sources. A pension application and other statements made by a veteran are valuable because he's a first-hand participant in the events described. However, he's writing many years after events, and his claims should be evaluated against wartime records.
A wartime record is almost always more useful than a postwar document because it was created as events were happening. For instance, at a high school reunion I might claim to have been a football star, but team rosters from school years might say otherwise. My claim to have been on the honor roll might be mitigated by a check of high school grades. Student records made while I attended school are better sources than my memory of dates and accomplishments.
To illustrate MRB's case, let's try this. I claim to have transferred from school 'A' to school 'B' as a sophomore, but school 'B' has no record I ever attended. School 'B' records are in great shape, and you want to believe me, so it's a mystery. School 'A' records are spotty, but show "Alan J. Pettus" being suspended during my senior year. Sure looks like me! Even though I have witnesses for my years at school 'B', there should be legitimate questions about my educational record.