Battle of Nashville, 15-16 December 1864

Battle of Nashville, 15-16 December 1864

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Battle of Nashville, 15-16 December 1864

Two days of fighting that ended a Confederate invasion of Tennessee in 1864, and effectively destroyed the army that had launched that invasion (American Civil War). That invasion had been launched by General John Hood after the fall of Atlanta. He hoped that by moving north he would force the Union army under General Sherman to retreat from Georgia to deal with the threat to its supply lines. Instead, Sherman had already decided to abandon those supply lines, and take 62,000 of his men east to the Atlantic coast. The rest of the army was sent north under General Thomas, to oppose Hood.

Hood had crossed into Tennessee with 40,000 men. Thomas had 60,000 men, although 30,000 of them were rather scattered around the southern part of the state, protecting the long lines of communication across the mostly hostile state. However, Hood had missed two chances to trap most of those troops (under General Schofield). In frustration he had launched a frontal assault on Schofield at Franklin (30 November). There, he had suffered massive casualties, including five dead Generals, and at least 5,000 other losses (probably more, maybe as many as 7,000).

Despite these losses, Hood did not feel that he could risk a retreat. Many of his men were from Tennessee. Hood was concerned that many of them would desert rather than leave their home state for a second time. Accordingly he advanced towards Nashville, taking up a position four miles south of the town. His best hope now was that reinforcements would reach him, but none did. Despite that, he still had around 39,000 men at Nashville (30,000 infantry and 9,000 cavalry). When Thomas attacked, Hood would not be hopelessly outnumbered.

That attack was delayed. The early December weather was terrible, slowing Thomas’s preparations, which were not all that fast in the first place. The sight of a Confederate army threatening a position so far north so soon after Lincoln’s re-election was desperately embarrassing. Thomas was bombarded with messages from Grant, asking why he had not attacked yet, ordering him to attack, and even threatening to replace him.

Finally, on 14 December the weather improved enough for Thomas to announce that the attack would take place on the next day. His plan was fairly simple. He slightly outnumbered Hood on the day, with 43,000 effective soldiers in combat (out of a total force of 55,000 around Nashville, some of whom played a passive role in the battle by preventing some Confederate movements).

The first attack would be on the Confederate right. The aim of this attack was simply to pin those troops in place, preventing them from moving to the aid of the Confederate left, where the main Union effort was to be made. There an entire army corps, supported by the cavalry, was to attempt to work its way around the Confederate left. If the movement succeeded, the Confederate left would be attacked from front and rear, and would almost inevitably collapse.

This plan did not succeed on 15 December. Instead, the Confederate left was pushed back, creating an angle in their line which made it much harder to outflank. However, Hood was forced to pull back to a shorter line overnight. The following day saw renewed Union attacks, which eventually met with success in mid-afternoon. Union cavalry finally managed to get behind Hood’s left wing, and combined with another assault from the front routed the left wing. The rout quickly spread along the entire line. In Hood’s own works, ‘.. I beheld for the first and only time a Confederate Army abandon the field in confusion.’ (Hood had missed the similar disaster at Missionary Ridge).

This second disaster, coming so soon after the battle of Franklin, marked the end of the Confederate Army of Tennessee. Over the next two weeks the survivors of the battle struggled back south. Some order was soon restored, although even Hood was not deluded enough to attempt to turn and stand. Without Forrest’s cavalry, very few of the 40,000 men who had marched north would have returned to Alabama. Even with that cover, when the army finally reached relative safety at Tupelo, Mississippi, only 21,000 men remained. Hood had lost some 15,000 men in the fighting at Nashville and the retreat that followed. Union losses were only 3057 (387 dead, 2558 wounded and 112 missing or captured). On 13 January Hood resigned from his command. The great hopes that he had carried north only a few weeks earlier had now turned into the deepest pessimism across much of the south.

Battle Of Nashville

The Battle of Nashville, Tennessee, fought December 15&ndash16, 1864, shattered the Confederate Army of Tennessee and marked the end of major Confederate offensives in the Western theater during the Civil War. It has been called the only perfectly fought battle of the war because it unfolded in greater accordance with the victor’s battle plan than any other clash of that conflict. It is also notable for the large number of United States Colored Troops engaged in the fighting.

On February 25, 1862, following the Battle of Fort Henry and the Battle of Fort Donelson, Nashville became the first Confederate state capital captured by Northern forces. For the rest of the war it was a major Union supply depot.

A Union-loyal resident of Nashville, a former sea captain named William Driver, presented the conquerors with an American flag he called "Old Glory," thereby creating a nickname that would become famous.

In November 1864, Confederate general John Bell Hood, having failed to stop the massive armies led by Major General William Tecumseh Sherman from capturing Atlanta, devised a plan he hoped would force Sherman to pull back. Moving from Georgia into Alabama, he led the Army of Tennessee north into Tennessee to threaten Sherman’s supply line.

The hill only became known as Shy’s Hill after the battle. Confederate colonel William Shy, of Franklin, was among the defenders. His body was later found on the hill, bayoneted to a tree, a bullet hole in his forehead. Controversy still continues over whether Union or Confederate soldiers were responsible.

The Battle of Nashville

On the afternoon of December 16, 1864, Union troops led by General George H. Thomas devastated Confederate forces at Nashville, Tennessee. The battle had begun the day before when Thomas initiated an attack after waiting some two weeks for troop reinforcements and favorable weather.

Nashville, Tenn., from Fort Negley Looking Northeast. George N. Barnard, photographer March 1864. Panoramic Photographs. Prints & Photographs Division

In November, in an effort to cut off General William T. Sherman’s supply line, Confederate General John B. Hood, led the Army of Tennessee out of Alabama and toward Nashville. One of Hood’s men remembered the grueling march from Atlanta to Nashville. “After the fall of Atlanta,” Confederate veteran Milton Cox told his son John:

we marched northward into Tennessee over frozen ground and how cold it was! Our shoes were worn out and our feet were torn and bleeding…the snow was on the ground and there was no food. Our rations were a few grains of parched corn. When we reached the vicinity of Nashville we were very hungry and we began to search for food. Over in a valley stood a tree which seemed to be loaded with fruit. It was a frost bitten persimmon tree, but as I look back over my whole life, never have I tasted any food which would compare with these persimmons.

John T. Cox.[Memories of Milton B. Cox told by his son John]. Effie Cowan, interviewer Groesbeck, Texas, ca. 1936-40. American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940. Manuscript Division

Union General George H. Thomas reached the outskirts of Nashville mere days before Hood and began building fortifications, amassing troops, and planning Hood’s demise. For almost two weeks both sides maintained their positions as they prepared for battle. Ice from freezing rain delayed the inevitable clash for several days.

After the weather had cleared, fighting began before daybreak on December 15. Within less than forty-eight hours, Hood’s troops were in retreat. Union forces tailed Hood for almost ten days. By the time they recrossed the Tennessee River, the Army of Tennessee had disintegrated and the threat of a Confederate invasion of the North was practically nonexistent. A few weeks later, Hood resigned his command.

Nashville, Tenn. Federal Outer Line. Jacob F.Coonley, photographer December 16, 1864. Civil War Glass Negatives and Related Prints. Prints & Photographs Division Nashville, Tenn. Steps of the Capitol with Covered Guns Vista of the City Beyond. George N. Barnard, photographer, 1864. Civil War Glass Negatives and Related Prints. Prints & Photographs Division

Far from their homes, Minnesotans fighting under General Thomas remembered the pursuit of Hood’s army as almost worse than the battle:

The weather was cold and wet, raining and snowing by turns the roads were embargoed with mud, almost unfathomable at times, and again frozen into rocky ruts that even the animals refused to tackle in their efforts to drag along the artillery and trains. The troops were without camp equipage of any sort, and but scantily supplied with rations. Many who survived the battle succumbed to the rigors of the campaign that followed it.

Minnesota In the Battles of Nashville, December 15 and 16, 1864. In Civil War Papers, by Lucius F. Hubbard. St. Paul, Minn: published by the Society, 1908. [Collections of the Minnesota Historical Society. Volume 12, pp512-638]. Pioneering the Upper Midwest: Books from Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, ca. 1820 to 1910. General Collections

Read more of this account of the Battle of Nashville by General L. F. Hubbard presented to the Minnesota Commandery of the Loyal Legion, on March 14, 1905. Included are a series of field dispatches exchanged between Union Major General George Thomas, Lieutenant General U.S. Grant, and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton.

“Short Rations external .” (Dedicated to the Corn-Fed Army of Tennessee). Augusta, Georgia: Blackmar & Bro., 1864. Historic American Sheet Music external

Battle of Nashville

On December 15, 1864, Union forces launched the successful Battle of Nashville.

Confederate General John Bell Hood was defeated at Franklin, and his Army of Tennessee suffered great losses. In spite of being greatly outnumbered, he pressed on to the well-fortified stronghold of Nashville. On December 2, 1864, the Rebels approached the city from the south. Hood knew his forces were not strong enough to attack the Union, so the Southern army put up four miles of defenses and waited for the enemy to attack.

Major General John Schofield and his victorious Army of Ohio had arrived from Franklin the day before Hood’s men. They joined the Union forces that were already reinforcing the lines of defense around Nashville. The works stretched for seven miles in a semicircle, protecting the city on the south and west. The Cumberland River formed a natural defense around the rest. The troops inside numbered about 55,000 men. Major General George Thomas was in command.

Antigua #2538-39 honors several Civil War Battles, including Nashville, as well as generals and other notable people from the war.

Thomas began preparing for an assault on Hood. His cavalry needed fresh horses and better arms. The commander knew they would be facing Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest, one of the best cavalry leaders on either side of the war.

US #270 – Click this image to read about the 1895 Chicago Counterfeits that led to this stamp being watermarked.

Leaders in Washington were getting impatient with the delay. They were concerned Hood would move away from Nashville and invade Kentucky or Ohio. Commander Ulysses S. Grant ordered a replacement to go to Nashville if Thomas did not begin his attack by December 13. In fact, Grant was on his way to take over himself when he heard Thomas had finally made his move.

In the early hours of December 15, Thomas sent two brigades toward the right of the Confederate line in the hopes of drawing Southern troops away from the main attack. These men had the least experience of any of the Union soldiers in Nashville and included three regiments of US Colored Troops, who had previously guarded the railroads. After overtaking the skirmish line, they faced heavy fire and retreated. The brigades reformed and held the Confederates for the rest of the day. Though they were successful in engaging forces on the right, Hood did not send additional support as Thomas predicted.

US #941 – Completed in 1859, the Tennessee State Capitol was the first to fall to Union forces in February 1862.

While those brigades were in the midst of combat, a large movement was set in motion on the west side of the Rebel line. A corps of cavalry led the way and swept the opponents’ cavalry from the area. Two corps of infantry followed the Union horsemen, the second held in reserve. At about 2:30 pm, the North began attacking a series of five redoubts (temporary forts) that guarded the Confederate left. Redoubts number two through five fell in quick succession.

While that portion of the Union force was attacking to the west, another corps made a frontal assault. They had prepared to meet the enemy on Montgomery Hill, but the Confederates had retreated to a stronger position. The oncoming army met only a skirmish line on the hill and then advanced to the main army. Soldiers coming from both directions captured the last redoubt, and the Confederates retreated to a new line to the south. Fighting ended as both sides prepared for another conflict the following day.

US #941 – Classic First Day Cover.

The new Confederate line was shorter than the previous one and the flanks were protected by Peach Orchard Hill to the east and Compton’s Hill on the west. During the night and early morning, additional defense works were hastily built. Thomas would once again attack the Rebels from multiple directions, starting on the enemy’s right. Peach Orchard Hill became the focus of the first assault beginning at about 3:00 in the afternoon. This time, Southern artillery and musket fire stopped the advance. The 13th US Colored Troops, however, did not turn back. They captured the Confederate parapet at the cost of about 40 percent of their unit. Unlike the day before, Hood shifted his forces to reinforce his right flank. As a result, the line guarding Compton’s Hill was depleted.

US #694 – Future president Benjamin Harrison commanded an Indiana regiment at Nashville.

Meanwhile, the Union cavalry was making its way to the Confederate rear around the left flank. Southern forces were stretched even farther to protect the rear. Schofield had been instructed to lead the frontal attack, but he delayed. Division commander John McArthur sent word to Thomas he would begin an attack in five minutes unless he was directed otherwise. McArthur’s brigades charged forward over Compton’s Hill in three separate columns, overwhelming the Confederates. The Rebels retreated to the south towards Franklin, with the Union cavalry in pursuit.

Blood Proof: USCT and the Battle of Nashville

The United States Colored Troops of Major General William T. Sherman’s army wanted to fight during the 1864 Atlanta Campaign, but “Cump” had a dim view of black troops and did all he could to keep them in the rear. As Sherman began his March to the Sea on November 16, 1864, he made sure he left his USCT units behind. But he also left behind a problem: John B. Hood and the Rebel Army of Tennessee. To deal with Hood, Sherman assigned to Major General George H. Thomas a racially mixed force of about 55,000 men and ordered him to react in kind should the mercurial Confederate general move north and cross the Tennessee River. Like Sherman, Thomas did not think much of the fighting acumen of black troops. But on a dreary December day in Nashville, those troops would prove both men wrong.

Thomas, a Virginia-born Unionist whose rearguard defense of Snodgrass Hill at the Battle of Chickamauga earned him the sobriquet “Rock of Chickamauga,” had moved his headquarters to Nashville in late September and begun organizing his command. Some of his units were generously sized, such as the two army corps numbering perhaps 22,000 men. The others, however, consisted of African-American regiments that had been dispersed along the state’s strategic railroad lines. What this meant was that unlike Sherman’s all-white legions headed for Savannah, the force Thomas would command against Hood in defending Tennessee consisted of both white and black units.

Though not a racist, Thomas subscribed to the conventional wisdom of the day that black soldiers were incapable of combat. In fact, he told Colonel Thomas J. Morgan of the 14th USCT outright that he didn’t believe Morgan’s men would fight in the open field. Thomas also took a dim view of subordinates who agitated to halt the common practice of assigning black troops exclusively to fatigue and garrison duties. When Colonel Reuben D. Mussey, the U.S. commissioner appointed to organize the USCT units in Tennessee, complained that the belief “that the negro is to be made a man by first being made a soldier does not seem to be comprehended yet by the commanding generals,” Thomas’ chief of staff was quick to slap him down. Such statements, Mussey was informed, “are in violation of the spirit and letter of the regulation of the army.” The commissioner was in turn placed under arrest until he made a “proper retraction and apology.”

Colonel Morgan’s persistent requests for reassignment to combat duty also drew a biting rebuke from the Department of the Cumberland’s assistant adjutant general, Lt. Col. George E. Flynt: “The Major General commanding [Thomas] directs me to say that when you shall have learned cheerfully to perform your duty to the best of your abilities in such position as may be assigned you, then shall you have learned the first lessons of that discipline, which apparently, you are so anxious should be taught your regiment.”

On November 20, four days after Sherman left Atlanta heading for the Atlantic Coast, Hood responded by marching his 40,000-man army north from Tuscumbia, Ala. Once across the Tennessee River, he moved northeast, effectively flanking a 22,000-man Federal force under Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield posted to the east at Pulaski. Hood pushed his men hard, hoping to cut off Schofield’s command and destroy it, but the Yankee officer was equally anxious to stay one jump ahead of his numerically superior adversary. Hood—not fully recovered from losing his right leg and the use of his right arm the previous year—got in front of Schofield near Spring Hill, but allowed the Federals to escape. Enraged by what he felt was a lack of fighting spirit among his troops, Hood ordered a frontal assault the next day on a strong Union rear-guard position at Franklin. The resulting debacle cost him more than 6,000 men, including many of his best officers. Schofield withdrew to Nashville, followed by Hood.

On December 2, Hood worked to entrench his army along the hills south of Nashville. His effective strength was about 23,000 men (not counting units detached for subsidiary operations)—enough to pose a serious threat, but insufficient to assault the Federal earthworks. Hood’s strategy was to assume a strong defensive position, counting on pressure from Northern officials to force Thomas to attack him. Although many of Hood’s assumptions verged on pure fantasy, he hadn’t underestimated the panic caused by his presence in several nearby states. Hood wasn’t one to rush into a major offensive besides, the odds and ends left to oppose him by Sherman didn’t add up to an effective combat organization.

When Thomas reported that he intended to stand pat until his units (especially his cavalry) were properly equipped and organized, Lincoln’s military chief of staff complained to Grant—who immediately started badgering Thomas with telegrams offering gratuitous advice and telling him to attack. Thomas still moved methodically, further delayed by an ice storm. His plan called for the principal attack to be launched from the Union right flank. The mass of his mobile force, moving in a grand wheeling action, would fall on Hood’s left flank, which wasn’t anchored to any natural stronghold. Preceding this grand assault would be a diversionary attack against the Rebel right the black Union troops were assigned to this phase. The USCT units were grouped in something called the “Provisional Detachment (District of the Etowah),” under the overall command of Maj. Gen. James B. Steedman. In addition to three white brigades, Steedman’s detachment included two black ones the 1st under Colonel Morgan (consisting of the 14th, 16th, 17th, 18th and 44th USCT), and the 2nd led by Colonel Charles R. Thompson (holding the 12th, 13th and 100th USCT).

Steedman, a Pennsylvanian, had no previous experience with black troops. Soon after the Nashville fight he was heard to comment, “I wonder what my Democratic friends…would think of me if they knew I was fighting…with ‘nigger’ troops?”

True to form, Morgan rushed to Steedman’s headquarters to lobby for some frontline service. About 9 p.m. on December 14, he learned what his role would be. As Morgan recalled, Steedman “said he wished me to open the fight by making a vigorous assault on Hood’s right flank.” He explained this was to be a feint, intended to convince Hood that it was the real attack, and lead him to support his right by weakening his left, “where Thomas intended to assault him in very deed.” When Morgan asked for tactical advice, Steedman merely waved him away, saying, “Tomorrow, Colonel, just as soon as you can see how to put your troops in motion, I wish you to begin the fight.”

Leaving instructions for his men to “have an early breakfast and be ready for serious work at daybreak,” Morgan scouted the Rebel position. His appraisal was mostly limited to a long-distance scrutiny of the enemy’s campfires, leading him to believe the Confederates had constructed a spur to their main lines running northeast across the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad. This spur was covered by a ring of rifle pits, and Morgan concluded that “if the rifle-pits could be carried and a column pushed well to the rear [of the spur]…the ground east of the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad [would] be given up to us with little loss.” What he missed in the darkness was a small lunette the Rebels had built on the tip of the spur, where they had placed four cannons.

Recalled Captain Henry Romeyn of the 14th USCT: “Camp was astir at 4 a.m., and breakfast had been eaten long before daybreak. One hundred rounds of ammunition per man and two days’ rations were issued, and just as the first grey streaks of dawn appeared, the companies ‘fell in,’ leaving tents standing.” Even though Morgan’s men were ready to advance by 6:30 a.m., another 90 minutes would pass before Steedman released them, mostly because of a thick fog covering the area. While Morgan’s USCT regiments marched out the Murfreesboro Pike to get past the spur, one of the white brigades involved cut in behind Morgan to move more directly against the position the other black brigade would press it from the east.

At first everything went according to Morgan’s scenario. His three black regiments taking part in the operation (two other regiments were posted elsewhere) formed into three lines of battle. At the front was the 14th, with the 17th USCT under Colonel William R. Shafter next in line followed by Colonel Lewis Johnson’s 44th USCT. The black troops were supported on their right by a small white brigade under Lt. Col. Charles H. Grosvenor. A combat outfit in name only, Grosvenor’s command consisted of three regiments, one of which was detached as a flank guard, leaving him with the 18th Ohio and a unit culled from what the colonel later described as “new conscripts, convalescents, and bounty jumpers.”

When all was ready in Morgan’s front, Lt. Col. Corbin of the 14th gave the command “Forward!” waving his sword overhead. According to Romeyn, “Pushing on, the right of the skirmish-line passing through an orchard and cornfield and the left through a field lately cleared of timber and thickly strewn with stumps and piles of brush, over the crest of the slope it had ascended, it found itself on a sloping field…and face to face with heavy earthworks on its opposite side, from which, came at once a heavy and deadly fire of both artillery and infantry.” The right half of the skirmish line went to the ground, while the left trailed off to the south to engage what Romeyn called “a strong force of rebel skirmishers.”

When it was time for the 17th USCT to take up the momentum and sweep past the enemy’s exposed spur, Shafter’s men dutifully moved forward, passing abreast of the silent enemy lunette to their right. Once the black troops reached the railroad line, where they found their way blocked by a deep cut in the right of way, the Rebel cannoneers opened fire. Just then the Confederate infantry and artillery swung out from the entrenched line directly in front of Shafter’s men. The 17th USCT was caught in devastating fire from the front, right flank and rear. “It was an awful battle,” Shafter later wrote. “We had the negroes in our trap,” related a Georgia soldier on the hill, “and when we commenced firing on them, complete demoralization followed. Many jumped into the [railroad] cut and were either killed or captured.” In his after-action report, Shafter stated that the 17th USCT was “soon obliged to fall back, which was done in rather a disorderly manner.”

Even as Rebel fire was ripping into Shafter’s ranks, Morgan ordered Grosvenor’s brigade to launch a supporting attack. Although a portion of the 18th Ohio actually reached the enemy’s main line, the composite regiment— according to Shafter— “behaved in the most cowardly and disgraceful manner,” and this effort also failed. Farther to the west, Thompson’s black brigade did little more than engage the Rebel skirmishers.

The action planned and executed by Colonel Morgan accomplished none of its tactical objectives. All his units withdrew to the Murfreesboro Pike, though later in the afternoon some of his soldiers occupied the Rains house, where they knocked loopholes in the walls and sniped at the Rebel lines. Morgan later consoled himself that his efforts had achieved their strategic purpose—attracting Hood’s attention— thus making possible the grand Union success on the other flank. Sadly, he gave himself and his men too much credit. The fog and poor conditions that had held up his advance until 8 a.m. caused similar delays on the Union right. Not until 10 a.m. were things underway there by then Hood was not only apprised of the limited number of troops operating against his right, he also knew that Morgan’s effort had failed.

The heaviest casualties among the black troops occurred in Shafter’s regiment. The colonel of the 17th USCT later reported 17 of his men killed or mortally wounded and 67 wounded. In the 14th USCT there were 4 killed, 41 wounded and 20 missing, while the 44th suffered four wounded. “Colored soldiers had fought side by side with white troops,” Morgan enthused. “They had assisted each other from the field when wounded, and they lay side by side in death….The day that we had longed to see had come and gone, and the Sun went down upon a record of coolness, bravery, manliness, never to be unmade. A new chapter in the history of liberty had been written. It had been shown that marching under a flag of freedom, animated by a love of liberty, even a slave becomes a man and hero.”

News of the Union’s success at Nashville on the 15th reached Washington via telegraph late that evening. A copy of the message was brought to the Willard Hotel, where Grant was preparing to leave for Nashville and relieve Thomas for failing to act with enough celerity. But details of the day’s battle changed all that. “Push the enemy now,” Grant urged in his reply, “and give him no rest until he is entirely destroyed.” That is precisely what George Thomas intended to do.

On December 16, a cloudy and showery day, the Federals began feeling their way south from the line of Rebel works they had taken the previous day. Even though the Confederates had abandoned their earthworks during the night, it was not until 6 a.m.—and only after he had received orders from Thomas to do so—that Steedman moved to occupy the enemy trenches. It took him five hours to catch up with the rest of Thomas’ army, which was spreading out to confront the new defensive position occupied by Hood’s veterans.

Thomas’ basic plan for December 16 was a repeat of the first day: diversionary actions against the Confederate right, with the main blow to be delivered against the enemy’s left. But the Union IV Corps and its aggressive commander, Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Wood, moved into position opposite the Rebel right center. Having missed most of the fighting on the 15th, Wood was determined to grab a piece of the glory. He decided on his own to attack the Southern right with all his strength, hoping to cut off Hood’s retreat route.

It would not be easy. The Confederate flank was anchored on high ground known as Overton Hill in some accounts, or Peach Orchard Hill in others. As Wood prepared for the attack, his enthusiasm infected Steedman, who resolved not just to support the effort, but also to put some units into the attacking column.

Since Morgan’s brigade had taken the worst of it on December 15, Steedman decided that Thompson’s brigade would now get the call. Grosvenor’s brigade, which had performed so poorly the previous morning, would support Thompson. But this time Grosvenor had a small black regiment, the 18th USCT, added to his command. Union cannons were rolled forward to begin a heavy bombardment of the Confederate position. The artillery barrage lasted until about 2:45 p.m., when General Wood gave the order to attack.

When Captain Henry V. Freeman of the 12th USCT got a good look at the Rebel-held hill, he wasn’t happy with what he saw. “It was probably their strongest position,” he later declared. “The slope of the hill was obstructed by tree-tops. The approach was over a ploughed field, the heavy soil of which, clinging to the feet, greatly impeded progress.” Facing the 12th, Freeman noted, “was a thicket of trees and underbrush so dense as to be almost impenetrable, constituting a kind of wooded island, in the midst of the cornfield.”

Thompson’s attack was set up with the 100th and 12th USCT regiments in a first line of battle, supported by the 13th. Captain D.E. Straight of the 100th remembered that as his men watched the preparatory artillery bombardment, the rank and file understood that the cannonade was “only the prelude to an undertaking more fearful and terrible.” A few men came to their officers or sergeants with their money or valuables for safekeeping. “This and little talk among themselves showed a settled resolution, to unflinchingly face death in the cause of freedom and nationality,” Straight noted.

“One of the batteries gave the signal, and the troops moved to the assault,” Freeman later wrote. A Rebel gunner on Overton Hill observed: “On they came in splendid order, banners flying, mounted officers with drawn swords careering up and down in front of the lines. Then our artillery had its opportunity.” As Freeman recalled, “A shell took a file of men from one company, burying itself in the ground at the feet of the company following. Men were falling on all sides.” Captain Straight wrote that the “air seemed as full of the death-laden missiles as of hail in a driving hailstorm.”

One of the wounded troops in the 12th USCT seemed uncertain of how to react. “Captain, I am wounded,” he called out. “What shall I do?” That man—who would die of his wounds—was told to lie down as the battle lines moved on. Meanwhile Confederate fire continued to tear into the ranks of the 100th and 12th. A heavy thicket through which the 12th had to pass resulted in more fatalities. The officers opted to make the passage a company at a time, slowing down the 12th and separating it from the 100th, and also causing the men to bunch together as they hurried to catch up. “They were so compact that every shot from Rebel muskets and cannon was telling with fearful effect,” Freeman noted. Wrote New York Times correspondent Benjamin C. Truman, “The rebel infantry blazed away at a fearful rate, and the artillery discharged sixteen shots of canister, which made the assaulting column reel, waver, and almost fall back.”

As these two regiments stumbled to a halt, unable to advance any farther, the 13th USCT kept moving. It was the 13th’s first battle, and what the raw soldiers saw that day was demoralizing. Among the first to be hit was Private Alexander Helms. A friend caught him as he was spun around by the impact of the bullet, then gently lowered him to the ground. “Lord have mercy,” Helms groaned as his comrades moved past. Nearby, Private William Smith was struck in the breast by a Minié ball that tore through several layers of clothing before flattening itself, merely bruising the stunned soldier.

Also advancing in the 13th USCT was Private Newton Tucker, whose family lived in Nashville. During the regiment’s march to the front earlier that month, the men had passed through town, but there had been no time for a halt. Tucker’s wife Mary and their 2-year-old son had anxiously scanned the passing files until he passed. When he finally did see his family, Tucker had stopped just long enough to bow to them.

Helped by the attention focused on the other two USCT units, and by the efforts of Wood’s troops farther to the right, the 13th USCT got closer to the Rebel works than any other regiment in action on that flank that day. Perhaps the unluckiest surviving member of the unit was Private John Beach, a 200-pounder who had bragged that a “man could bust an inch plank over my head and not faze it….” Midway through the charge, Beach was knocked to the ground by a shell that tore off his knapsack and equipment. Although he injured his hip in the fall, Beach continued on. But nearing the enemy’s line, he was shot in his head and face. “This so jarred my hard skull & fractured it,” Beach later testified, “I fell senseless to the ground.” Roused to consciousness when the regiment began retreating, Beach lumbered after his comrades—only to be hit a third time, this time in the side. Amazingly, he lived to tell this story for many years after the war.

Rebel gunfire also decimated the 13th’s color guard, which had brought the standards to within 30 feet of the enemy line. “There were very few negroes who retreated in our front,” declared an Alabama soldier on Overton Hill, “and none were at their post when the firing ceased for we fired as long as there was anything to shoot at.” While the 13th’s shattered ranks tumbled back, the adjutant of the 18th Alabama Infantry stepped out from behind the breastworks to pick up the fallen flag. “The bearer was dead, as were nearly all of his comrades,” the Alabamian reported.

As Thompson’s troops retreated, they passed a section of the 14th USCT that had come forward to cover them. Captain Romeyn had no trouble tracing their path, as “the ground [was] strewn with dead and wounded as thickly as a farmer’s field with sheaves of a more peaceful reaper.” He remembered the “color corporal of the 12th, the only man of it left on his feet, standing beside his color, the staff of which he had driven into the soft ground, and loading and firing….Before many seconds had passed a glancing shot struck the side of his head, and pulling up his flag he drew from beneath the dead [color] sergeant the stars and stripes, and with both under one arm, and his musket in the other hand, the blood streaming down his face, he strode proudly back through the supporting line.”

Wood’s unscheduled attack achieved none of its objectives. On the extreme left of the Rebel position, long hours of stalemate were broken when Federal infantry captured a key hill, unleashing Thomas’ cavalry to sweep into the enemy’s rear, instigating a dramatic collapse of the entire Confederate line. A jubilant 100th USCT officer wrote in his diary that the “Rebs under Hood are the worst-whipped army that was ever in this part of the U.S.”

As the Confederate left flank dissolved into fleeing remnants, troops posted on Overton Hill began to pull back as well. Along Wood’s front, what one officer called a “wave of action” occurred as regiments, without orders, rushed into the emptying Rebel trenches. Steedman’s troops were also caught up in the moment reporter Truman watched as a group of USCT men “reached the top [of the hill], and with a yell, went over the works….As soon as the hill was taken, the colored troops pitched after the retreating rebels, chasing them through a valley nearly a mile.”

Behind them, scattered across Overton Hill, were the black men who had paid such a terrible price for Steed – man’s impulsive decision to join in Wood’s unplanned assault. The 100th lost 12 killed, 121 wounded the 12th had 10 killed, 104 wounded. But the 13th had suffered the worst: 55 dead and 166 wounded or missing. Among the dead in the 13th was Newton Tucker, who had bowed to his wife and child as his regiment hurried through town.

On December 17, General Thomas ordered his forces to pursue the remnants of Hood’s army. For the next 10 days, Billy Yanks and Johnny Rebs staggered through a nightmare of hard marches in abominable weather with few supplies. “Many of the officers and men were barefoot,” reported Colonel Hottenstein of the 13th USCT, “and never did men display more soldierly qualities than on this march without shoes and a great time without rations, they performed their duty cheerfully and without murmur.” On Christmas Day the first survivors of Hood’s beaten army reached the Tennessee River. A pontoon bridge was erected the following day, allowing the weary Rebels to cross over, ending the campaign.

Looking back, some of the white officers in the USCT units found inspiration in the record of the black troops who had fought at Nashville. “Who will say that men who fought and suffered as did these colored soldiers have not fairly earned for themselves and their race the freedom which the war gave them?” Captain Freeman asked in 1888. In concluding his 1885 account of the battle, Colonel Morgan declared, “I cannot close this paper without expressing the conviction that history has not yet done justice to the share borne by colored soldiers in the war for the Union.” Morgan also related that soon after the Federals had seized Overton Hill, Thomas and his staff had ridden over the bloody ground there. Gazing across a muddy field where black and white bodies lay in the ultimate equality, Thomas had turned to those accompanying him and announced, “The question is settled negro soldiers will fight.”

Sergeant Major Daniel W. Atwood of the 100th USCT believed that the courage and sacrifice shown by the black troops contributed to more than a battlefield victory:

It was the first time in the memorable history of the Army of the Cumberland that the blood of black and white men flowed freely together for one common cause for a country’s freedom and independence. Each was cheered on to victory by the cooperation of the other, and now, as the result, wherever the flag of our love goes, our hopes may advance, and we may, as a people, with propriety claim political equality with our white fellow-soldier and citizen and every man that makes his home in our country may, whatever be his complexion or progeny, with propriety, exclaim to the world, “I am an American citizen!” I ask, is there not something in this over which to rejoice and be proud?

Noah Andre Trudeau is the author of Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War 1862-1865. His most recent book is Robert E. Lee: Lessons in Leadership, and he’s currently working on a book about Abraham Lincoln’s visit to City Point, Va., in 1865.

Originally published in the February 2013 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.

Nashville, Tennessee December 15-16, 1864

U. S. Forces commanded by Gen. George H. Thomas. After the battle of Franklin on Nov.
30, Maj.-Gen. George H. Thomas, commanding at Nashville ordered
Gen. Schofield to fall back to that city, where Thomas had been
industriously engaged for some time in collecting an army of
sufficient strength to drive the Confederate forces under Gen.
Hood out of the State of Tennessee. Gen. A. J. Smith, with
three divisions of the Army of the Tennessee, had been expected
to arrive from Missouri in time to reinforce Schofield at
Franklin, but he did not reach Nashville until the Last Day of
November. At the time of the battle of Nashville Thomas’ Army
numbered altogether about 55,000 men, though less than 45,000
were actually engaged. The 4th corps, temporarily commanded by
Brig.-Gen. T. J. Wood, Gen. Stanley Having been wounded at
Franklin, was composed of three divisions commanded respec-
tively by Brig.-Gens. Nathan Kimball W. L. Elliott and Samuel
Beatty the 23rd Corps, Under Maj.-Gen. John M. Schofield, Con-
sisted of two divisions, the 2nd commanded by Maj.-Gen. D. N.
Couch and the 3rd by Brig.-Gen. J. D. Cox (the 1st division of
this corps was absent on detached duty) three divisions of the
Army of the Tennessee, (Maj.-Gen. A. J. Smith’s Command)the 1st
commanded by Brig.-Gen. John McArthur, the 2nd by Brig.-Gen.
Kenner Garrard, and the 3rd by Col. J. B. Moore, the provisional
detachment of Maj.-Gen. J. B. Steedman, consisting of one divi-
Sion Under the immediate command of Brig.Gen. Charles Cruft
the post of Nashville, troops of the 20th corps, under command
of Brig.-Gen. John F. Miller the quartermaster’s division,
commanded by Bvt. Brig.-Gen. J. L. Donaldson, the cavalry corps
under command of Bvt. Maj.-Gen. J. H. Wilson, consisting of
Croxton’s brigade of the 1st division, the 5th division com-
manded by Brig.-Gen. Edward Hatch, the 6th division Under Com-
Mand of Brig.-Gen. R. W. Johnson, and the 7th division under
Brig-Gen. J. F. Knipe. With this force of infantry and cavalry
were 40 batteries of light artillery. Hood’s army was organ-
ized as Follows: Lee’s Corps, Lieut.-Gen. S. D. Lee, was com-
posed of the divisions of Johnson, Stevenson and Clayton
Stewart’s Corps, Lieut.-Gen. A. P. Stewart, consisted of the
divisions of Loring, French and Walthall Cheatham’s Corps,
Lieut.-Gen. B. F. Cheatham, included the infantry divisions of
Cleburne and Bate, and the cavalry division of Gen. J. R Chalm-
Ers. Gen. Cleburne was killed at the battle of Franklin and
his division was commanded at Nashville by Brig.-Gen. J. A.
Smith. The strength of Hood’s army has been variously esti-
mated at from 30,000 to 39,000 men of all Arms. Col. Stone,
who went into the subject somewhat exhaustively, fixes it at

Nashville is situated on the south side of the Cumberland
River. In December, 1864, several turnpike roads radiated from
the city between the southeast and southwest, all running
through a country somewhat Broken. Six Miles Due South are the
Brentwood hills, along the east side of which ran the Franklin
Pike, While the Hillsboro pike ran along the western Base. Two
Creeks Rise in these hills, their sources being less than a
mile apart. Brown’s Creek flows northeast, emptying into the
Cumberland above the city, and Richland Creek flows northwest
into the river some distance below. Along the ridge between
the two streams ran the Granny White Pike. The Nolensville
pike entered the cite from the southeast, crossing Brown’s
Creek not far from the Chattanooga railroad, while north of the
railroad, and between it and the river, ran the Murfreesboro,
Chicken and Lebanon Pikes. Another range of hills near the
city had been fortified by order of Thomas. Hood followed
Schofield from Franklin and during the afternoon of Dec. 2, his
cavalry engaged the Union skirmishers in front of Nashville.
The next Day the whole Confederate force appeared, the Federal
skirmishers were crowded back, and Hood proceeded to form his
main line on the hills immediately south of the Union fortifi-
cations. The morning of the 4th found his salient on Montgom-
Ery Hill, within 600 yards of the Union works. Cheatham’s corps
on the right occupied a position behind Brown’s Creek, extend-
ing from the railroad to the Franklin Pike , Stewart’s Corps
formed the center and lay across the Granny White Pike, While
Smith’s Corps on the left extended the line to the Hillsboro
pike. From there to the river below, across the Hardin and
Charlotte Pikes, and from Cheatham’s right to the river above
the cavalry was posted. Having taken. this position Hood did
not attack the works in front of the city, but spent several
days in reducing some of the smaller outlying garrisons and
blockhouses along the railroad. This Gave Thomas time to com-
plete his preparations, to mount and equip his cavalry and
thoroughly organize his troops. Gen. Grant in Virginia and the
authorities at Washington Grew impatient at the delay, fearing
that Hood would eventually elude Thomas’ Pass Round Nashville,
and invade Kentucky as Bragg had done in the summer of 1862.
But Thomas was guarding the fords and bridges with his cavalry,
and the gunboats of Fitch’s squadron were patrolling the river
above and below the City. Gen. Lyon, with a detachment of Con-
federate cavalry, did succeed in crossing at Clarksville on the
9th with a view to destroying the Louisville & Nashville rail-
road, but Thomas despatched Gen. E. M. McCook, with two bri-
Gades of the 1st cavalry division, to Look After Lyon, so that
the latter’s expedition proved fruitless.

Grant, however, was of the opinion that Thomas should have
given battle before the enemy had time to recover from the blow
received at Franklin, and on Dec. 2, he telegraphed Thomas to
leave the defenses of Nashville to Donaldson’s division and at-
tack Hood at once. Although this telegram was not an official
order, its language was scarcely less imperative, but Thomas
was so anxious to increase his force of cavalry, and so certain
that he could do so within a few days, he decided to wait until
he could attack with every assurance of success. In reply to
Grant’s telegrams Thomas said: “I now have infantry enough to
assume the offensive, if I had more cavalry, and will take the
field anyhow as soon as the remainder of Gen. McCook’s division
of cavalry reaches here, which I hope will be in two or three
days. We can get neither reinforcements nor equipments at this
great distance from the North very easily, and it must be re-
membered that my command was made up of the two weakest corps
of Gen. Sherman’s army, and all the dismounted cavalry except
one brigade, and the task of reorganizing and equipping has met
with many delays, which have enabled Hood to take advantage of
my crippled condition. I earnestly hope, however, in a few
more days I shall be able to give him a fight.” This explana-
tion was evidently not satisfactory, either to Grant or to Sec.
of War Stanton, and Thomas was again urged to attack the enemy
in his front. It was a case of the man at the desk a thousand
Miles away trying to direct the operations of the man in the
field. The record of Thomas at Mill Springs and Chickamauga
ought to have been a sufficient guarantee of his ability to
command an army or to plan a campaign, yet that record availed
him nothing now, when the secretary of war and the lieutenant-
general of the Federal armies were “spoiling for a fight.” On
the 6th Grant Sent another telegram to Thomas, directing him to
attack at once, and to wait no longer to remount his cavalry.
To this Thomas replied that he would make the necessary dispo-
sition and attack, “agreeably to your orders, though I believe
it will be hazardous with the small force of cavalry now at my
command.” This elicited a sarcastic telegram from Stanton to
Grant, in which he said: “Thomas Seems unwilling to attack be-
cause it is hazardous, as if all war was any but hazardous. If
he waits for Wilson to Get Ready, Gabriel will be blowing his
last horn.”

To such sneers as this the hero of Chickamauga paid no at
tention but went quietly ahead completing his arrangements for
a battle that was to forever destroy the usefulness of Hood’s
army as a factor in the War of the Rebellion. By the 9th he
was ready to attack, but a severe storm came on, covering the
ground with a thick coating of sleet, over which it was impos-
Sible to move troops with that celerity so essential to success
in making an assault on an enemy. On the 9th Gen. Halleck
telegraphed him as Follows: “Lieut.-Gen. Grant expresses much
dissatisfaction at your delay in attacking the enemy.” To this
Thomas replied: “I feel conscious I have done everything in my
power, and that the troops could not have been gotten ready be-
fore this. If Gen. Grant should order me to be relieved, I
will submit without a murmur.” He seems to have had a premoni-
tion of what was about to occur, for on the Same Day Grant
asked the war department to Relieve Thomas and turn over the
command of the army at Nashville to Schofield. When notice of
this order was received at Nashville, Thomas called a council
of his corps commanders and asked their advice, informing them
that he was ordered to give battle immediately or surrender his
command. The council was unanimous in the opinion that it was
impracticable to make any attack until the ice should melt.
The order relieving Thomas was then suspended, but on the 13th
Grant Again became impatient and ordered Gen. Logan to proceed
at once to Nashville, and the next Day started for that Place
himself to assume command of the army in person.

By noon on the 14th the ice had melted sufficiently to
permit the movement of troops. At 3 P.M. Thomas called to-
Gether his corps commanders and laid before them his plan of
battle for the following Morning. Steedman was to make a feint
against the enemy’s Right, While Smith, with the three divi-
Sions of the Army of the Tennessee, was to form his troops on
the Hardin Pike and make a vigorous assault on Hood’s left. In
this movement Smith was to be supported by Wilson, with three
divisions of cavalry, and one division of cavalry was to be
sent out on the Charlotte Pike to clear that road of the enemy
and keep watch on Bell’s Landing. Wood was directed to leave a
strong skirmish line in his works from Lawrens’ Hill to his
right, form the remainder of the 4th corps on the Hillsboro
road to support Smith’s left, and at the same time move against
the left and rear of the salient on Montgomery Hilt Schofield,
After leaving a strong line of skirmishers in the trenches from
Lawrens’ Hill to Fort Negley, was to move with the rest of the
23rd corps and cooperate with Wood, protecting his left against
any attack by the enemy. The troops Under Donaldson, Miller
and Cruft were to occupy the inner line of works and guard the
approaches to the city. At 4 a.m. on the 15th everyone within
the Federal works was awake and at daylight the several com-
mands began to move to their assigned positions. A dense fog
hung over the field during the early morning hours, completely
concealing the movements of the Federal troops. Each officer
seemed to feel the injustice of the imputation cast on Thomas,
and all now moved as if determined to vindicate the valor of
the Army of the Cumberland and the honor and judgment of its
commander. At 6 o’clock Steedman moved out on the Murfreesboro
pike and 2 hours later began his demonstration against Cheat-
ham’s right. This demonstration was so vigorous that it was
virtually an assault. The roar of his artillery and the rapid
fire of his musketry soon drew Hood’s attention to that part of
his line. Reinforcements were hurried to Cheatham and Steedman
withdrew his men after they had carried part of the enemy’s en-
trenchments, as they were subjected to an enfilading fire and
the object of the feint had been gained, though Toward Noon
Col. Thompson, with three regiments of colored troops assaulted
and carried the left of the front line of Confederate works on
the Nolensville pike, holding his position there until the next
Morning. Smith had to move farther than anticipated, and the
movements of his men were retarded by the fog and mud, so that
it was 10 o’clock before he reached the first of the detached
redoubts which Hood had built between his left flank and the
river. This was between the Hardin and Hillsboro roads and was
manned by a detachment of Walthall’s infantry, with 4 pieces of
artillery. Hatch and McArthur opened fire on it with their bat-
teries, Coon’s Cavalry brigade dismounted and charged, carrying
the redoubt and capturing the guns. At the same time McArthur
charged from another direction and as the enemy was retiring
captured 15O prisoners. The captured redoubt was under the
fire of another and stronger one, and the two commands now
turned their attention to its reduction. Again Coon’s brigade,
armed with repeating rifles, advanced up the Hill, Firing as
they Went, While McArthur was in such close support that the
Confederates saw they were doomed to defeat and made the at-
tempt to abandon the redoubt. Just then McArthur ordered a
charge, which was successfully made, and 250 prisoners were
added to those already taken. In the meantime Hatch had en-
gaged a portion of French’s division Near Richland Creek and
driven it back beyond the Hardin House, where Col. Spaulding,
with the 12th Tenn. Cavalry made a brilliant charge, capturing
43 prisoners and the headquarters train of Chalmers’ division.

As soon as Wood Heard the sound of Smith’s guns, he moved
against Montgomery Hill, swinging to the left as he advanced in
an effort to uncover the enemy’s flank. At 1 p. m. Post’s bri-
Gade of Beatty’s division dashed up the Hill and over the en-
trenchments. He was promptly supported by the rest of the di-
vision, and the enemy’s salient was in possession of the Feder-
Als. Wood then threw his reserve brigade of each division to
his right and engaged the enemy with his entire corps. This
movement of the 4th corps to the right caused Thomas to Order
Schofield to the right of Smith. In executing this movement
Couch’s division pushed beyond the second captured redoubt and
carried the enemy’s line on a range of hills parallel to the
Granny White Pike. Cox’s division moved still farther to the
right, driving the Confederates from the Hills Along Richland
Creek. As Schofield was thus moving to the Right Smith Bore to
the left, assaulted Walthall’s division behind A Stone Wall
Near the Hillsboro road driving Reynolds’ brigade on the left
in confusion and finally routed the entire division. At sunset
the whole Confederate army had been driven from its original
line and forced back to the Brentwood hills. During the night
Hood formed A New Line with his right resting on Overton’s Hill
Near the Franklin Pike and extending from there along the base
of the Brentwood hills, his left being refused a little West of
the Granny White Pike. The Union forces bivouacked on the
field, and Thomas Gave Orders for each corps to move forward at
6 o’clock the next morning, not halting until the enemy should
be met. If Hood showed a disposition to accept battle A Gen-
Eral Attack was to be made, but if he should retreat the whole
army was to be pushed forward in pursuit.

The battle on the 16th was opened by the advance of the
4th corps on the Franklin Pike. The enemy’s skirmishers were
driven back and Wood pressed forward to the main line of works
on Overton’s Hill. Steedman came up on the Nolensville road
and formed on Wood’s Left, While Smith connected with Wood’s
Right, forming a continuous line of Battle. Schofield occupied
a position facing east, perpendicular to Smith’s line, and Wil-
Son, on the right of Schofield, was directed to gain the en-
emy’s rear with his cavalry. By Noon Wilson had reached the
rear and stretched his line across the Granny White Pike. Tho-
Mas then ordered an assault on Overton’s Hill, in the hope of
gaining the Franklin Road, thereby cutting off the last avenue
of retreat. Morgan’s brigade of Steedman’s command, with the
left brigades of the 4th corps, moved forward to the assault,
advancing in the face of a heavy fire of infantry and artillery
until near the crest, when a line of reserves arose and opened
such a destructive fire that the column was compelled to fall
back. The heaviest losses sustained by the Union army was in
this attack on Overton’s Hill. Immediately following Wood’s
repulse Here Smith and Schofield moved against the enemy’s
works in their front, carried everything before them broke the
line in a dozen places, captured all the artillery and several
thousand prisoners. At the same time Wilson attacked the enemy
in the rear, clinching his possession of the Granny White Pike
and completely shutting off retreat by that Road. Wood and
Steedman, Hearing the shouts of victory on their right, now
made another assault on Overton’s Hill, and although they were
met by the same heavy fire as before, the onset was irresisti-
Ble. As the Federal lines advanced the enemy broke in confu-
Sion, leaving all his artillery and many prisoners in the hands
of the victorious assailants. On through Brentwood pass the
Confederates fled, a disorganized mob, closely pursued by the
4th corps for Several Miles, or until darkness put an end to
the Chase for that Day. The pursuit was continued for ten
days, but owing to the delays encountered in crossing Ruther-
ford’s creek and Duck river, both swollen by recent rains and
the bridges destroyed, Hood got so far in advance that he
crossed the Tennessee River at Bainbridge on the 26th and the
Chase was abandoned.

The Union loss in the battle of Nashville was 387 killed,
2,562 wounded, and 112 missing. No detailed report of the Con-
federate losses was made Hood reached Tupelo, Miss., with about
21,OOO men. In his report of the campaign he says: “The offi-
cial records will show that my losses including prisoners, Dur-
Ing the entire campaign do not exceed 10,000 men.” On the Other
Hand Thomas officially reports the capture of 13,189 prisoners,
and it is known that the Confederate loss in killed and wounded
at the battle of Franklin Alone was about 5,000 to say nothing
of Nashville and the other engagements of the campaign. In ad-
dition to the prisoners reported by Thomas, the Union army cap-
tured 72 pieces of artillery, and A Large Number of battle-
flags. Notwithstanding Grant’s severe criticisms of Thomas’
Delay, he sent a telegram congratulating him on his victory,
and Sec. Stanton ordered a salute of 100 guns to be fired on
the 16th to celebrate the Event. Gen. Cullum, in speaking of
the battle of Nashville, says: “The best tactical battle of
the war, so decisive in results, was the last and crowning
glory of Thomas’ campaigns but it sufficed to stamp him as one
of the foremost soldiers of the great civil contest a general
who had never been defeated, and one whose victories had placed
him among the greatest heroes of the Republic.”

Nashville, Battle of

Nashville, Battle of (1864).After losing the Battle of Atlanta, John B. Hood in November 1864 took the Confederacy's chief western army into Tennessee in a quixotic campaign to reverse the situation. Opposing him was George H. Thomas, who would have a very substantial force once he gathered the various Union garrisons in Tennessee.

Hood started well, nearly catching a Federal delaying force under John M. Schofield at Spring Hill, Tennessee. When a Confederate army command error allowed Schofield to escape, Hood became enraged, and the next day recklessly sacrificed much of his army against Schofield's entrenchments at Franklin, Tennessee. After Schofield retired at his leisure to join Thomas at Nashville, Hood followed.

Though he was now outnumbered two to one, Hood took a position outside Nashville and waited for something to turn up. Both Abraham Lincoln, in Washington, and Ulysses S. Grant, near Petersburg, were very anxious for Thomas to get on with the business of smashing Hood but Thomas was not to be hurried. Sleet, snow, and ice made conditions difficult. On 15 December 1864, Thomas attacked, with 55,000 men to perhaps 28,000 for Hood. The Confederates were driven back to a line of hills about a mile to the rear, but still maintained their cohesion. The next day, Thomas renewed the assault, and that afternoon Hood's army collapsed. Federal cavalry pursued the remnants southward toward Alabama. Union army casualties were 3,061 Confederate were about 6,000, of whom three𠄏ourths were captured.

One of the most complete victories of the Civil War, the Battle of Nashville was also the last major battle west of the Appalachians.
[See also Civil War: Military and Diplomatic Course.]

Stanley Horn , The Decisive Battle of Nashville , 1956.
Wiley Sword , The Confederacy's Last Hurrah: Spring Hill, Franklin, and Nashville , 1993.

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We recently received the following e-mail from Colonel Joe Mazurek in Michigan describing some remarkable field work in finding the grave of Captain Job Aldrich, a company commander with the 17th U.S.C.T. who was killed at Granbury’s Lunette on December 15, 1864.

About a year ago we communicated a bit on a Civil War soldier named Job Aldrich. He was a captain in the 17th U.S.C.T. and was killed on the first day of the Battle of Nashville near Granbury’s Lunette. His regimental commander (and brother-in-law) was Colonel William Shafter. Colonel Shafter may be a more familiar name to you as he was a recipient of the Medal of Honor for his actions early in the Civil War and later as Commander of U.S forces in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. Both Aldrich and Shafter were from the small town of Galesburg, Michigan near where I live.

I learned that Aldrich’s remains were returned home for burial and he was laid to rest in the Shafter family cemetery. Captain Aldrich was married to Colonel Shafter’s only sister, Ann Eliza Shafter. This cemetery was abandoned about a hundred years ago, remains on private land, and took some doing to even locate as it is in the middle of a thick, overgrown forest. I teamed up with the local Galesburg historian, Mr. Keith Martin, and together we have done some clean up the site. Last year we discovered a few old headstones that had long ago fallen and were buried in the earth and righted them. All in all, we located 10 gravesites, including that of Captain Aldrich’s widow. Unfortunately, as of last fall we had not located the gravesite of Captain Aldrich.

Above: The primary section of the Shafter cemetery after some extensive brush removal. Photo taken October, 2011.

I think that’s the story up through the time we last communicated and as promised I thought I would update you on things as they developed. So here goes . . .

I spent last winter following up on the family of Captain Aldrich as well as the Shafter family. He was survived by his widow, Ann Eliza Shafter Aldrich, and three sons. Captain Aldrich was born in Morris, New York on April 4, 1828. He was listed as a teacher in New Lisbon, NY on the 1850 census. Sometime after that he came to Michigan, probably by way of the Erie Canal, as did many of the early settlers to West Michigan. He married Ann in November of 1856 in Galesburg. Together they had three sons (James born in Dec 1858, Hugh born in May of 1861 and Willard born in June of 1864).

Job apparently worked as a teacher (as did Colonel Shafter prior to the Civil War and may have been how they first became acquainted), as a Justice of the Peace, Postmaster and immediately prior to his civil war service, was in the Hardware business in Galesburg.

After Captain Aldrich was killed Ann later remarried and had three additional children. She passed away in 1889 at the age of 51 and was buried in the Shafter Cemetery. The two oldest sons both made their way to the San Francisco area. James first served as a captain in the Army during the Spanish War with the 9 th and 35 th Infantry with duty in the Philippines before settling in California. Hugh was a prominent attorney, no doubt assisted by two of his Shafter uncles (Oscar and James McMillian Shafter), both lawyers and one of whom was a Justice of the California Supreme Court. Of course, his other uncle, Major General William Shafter was the commander of the Department of California, which doubtless helped as well. The third son, Willard, was listed on the 1880 census as working on the family farm but I was not able to locate any information on him after that. More than likely after his mother passed away in 1889 he moved on to some other location outside of Michigan.

Unfortunately…as far as I’ve been able to track there do not appear to be any direct living descendants from the Aldrich family. I researched all the other known burials at the Shafter cemetery which provided a lot of interesting local history that I won’t bore you with. In the course of all this I did learn that Captain Aldrich was a Mason which turned out to be a critical clue. Also, I was able to locate a description of Captain Aldrich’s history with the 17th USCT in Wiley Swords book Courage Under Fire , pp 126-132. This includes the circumstances of his death as well as the text of the letter Colonel Shafter wrote to his sister after the battle. It’s well worth reading if you can locate a copy.

Job Aldrich was enrolled in the Army on October 4 th , 1864 as a 1 st Lieutenant and Adjutant to Colonel Shafter of the 17 th U.S. Colored Troops. No doubt he was strongly encouraged to come and assist his brother-in-law as obtaining qualified white officers to quickly join the newly formed colored regiments was difficult. Job was later promoted to Captain and Company Commander in the Regiment when a vacancy occurred. It was in this capacity that Job was serving at the time of his death as a member of the 17 th U.S.C.T within the 1 st Colored Brigade. He was killed early on the opening day of the Battle of Nashville near the railroad cut at Granbury’s Lunette.

I was able to travel down to Nashville in April, stopping along the way at the small battlefield of Tebb’s Bend Kentucky where the unit of my Great-Great Grandfather with the 25th Michigan Infantry fought a pitched battle with General Morgan’s cavalry in 1863. I was able to locate Granbury’s Lunette in Nashville. So that was certainly interesting and I’m glad that the portion of the Lunette still survives and is being preserved.

This spring, we were back at the Shafter cemetery and probed the ground as best we could, looking for some trace of Captain Aldrich’s grave. We were able to locate what we believe is the top portion of a broken headstone. The stone bears no text but does clearly have a Masonic symbol on it. After researching all the other burials I believe that Aldrich was the only Mason who was buried at the site. We also found a small gravestone foundation that fits the broken piece of headstone perfectly. Then, knowing that several of the graves also had footstones associated with them we carefully searched and found an uprooted footstone laying flat under the earth. In cleaning it off with water the initials J.H.A. appeared carved in the stone — Job H. Aldrich! So we feel very confident that we located the gravesite!

Above: View of the Shafter Cemetery looking east. We believe that the small stone towards the rear with the rounded top is the headstone of Captain Aldrich. The stone was found laying flat. We placed it upright on base of stone located in ground. The footstone (with the initials J. H. A.) is visible beyond the headstone. Photo taken May, 2012.

Above:Closer view of broken top of rounded headstone believed to be Captain Aldrich’s. Note the Masonic symbol on stone face. In the background is the footstone that had been toppled. We set it upright. Taken May, 2012.

Above:View of footstone to east of rounded headstone believed to be Captain Aldrich’s. Initial J.H.A. visible (Job H. Aldrich). Taken May, 2012.

Above:Photograph of Ann Eliza Shafter Aldrich’s grave marker, May, 2012.

So now I’m going to start trying to obtain a government headstone to mark the site. Given that there are no known living descendents I’m not sure on the success of that but if nothing else I will obtain a regular headstone. The objective will be to get it done by the summer of 2014, 150 years since Captain Aldrich was killed in battle. The local Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War will certainly assist in getting the stone placed and rendering appropriate honors. I also intend to write up what I learned about the Shafter and the Aldrich families for the Galesburg library and museum so that their stories will not be lost again.

I hope this was interesting to you and again thank you for your time in efforts in helping me learn more about the Battle of Nashville and the role of the 17th USCT. I’ll send few pictures of the Shafter Cemetery in a following message so you can get an idea of what it looks like.

Joe Mazurek
COL, USAR (Ret.)
Richland, Michigan

Aerial View: Original Battle Monument Before Its 1974 Destruction By Tornado

The photo above shows the original Battle of Nashville Monument, erected overlooking Franklin Road and facing East along Thompson Lane. This photo was made in 1965. A tornado destroyed all but the pedestal of the monument in 1974, and its view was further obliterated by construction of I-65 and the I-440 interchange in the early 1980s. The direction of Thompson Lane was also moved from this pathway and curved in order to connect with Woodmont Blvd. In 1999, the monument was relocated and rededicated to a location on land that was once the Noel farm and was on the front line of battle on December 15, 1864, near the intersection of what is now Granny White Pike and I-440. The photo is from the Metro Nashville Archives. For close-up views of the remains of the original monument, see below:

Nashville Union order of battle

The following Union Army units and commanders fought in the Battle of Nashville of the American Civil War. Order of battle compiled from the army organization [1] during the battle (December 15–16, 1864). [2] The Union force was a conglomerate of units from several different departments provisionally attached to George H. Thomas’ Department of the Cumberland. The IV Corps [3] and the District of Etowah were permanently attached to the Department of the Cumberland while the Cavalry Corps had been attached to the Army of the Cumberland until October 1864 when it was transferred to the Military Division of the Mississippi. [4] The XXIII Corps was detached from the Department of the Ohio [5] and Smith’s Corps (formerly known as the Right Wing-XVI Corps) [6] was detached from the Department of the Tennessee. [7] Other brigades and regiments from the Army of the Tennessee which were unable to rejoin their respective commands were organized into the Provisional Division and attached to the District of the Etowah.

Battle of Nashville

The battle of Nashville, fought December 15-16, 1864, continued the destruction of the Confederate Army of Tennessee that had begun with devastating casualties at Franklin. After that engagement, army commander John Bell Hood moved his troops north from Franklin in early December and established a five-mile defense line. Hood planned to bring his army to the city's outskirts and await an attack from the Federals, hoping to counterattack if the enemy left an opening. There were serious flaws in this position, since it did not come close to covering all major roads leading from the city. In spite of their efforts to entrench and strengthen their defenses, the Confederates were vulnerable on both flanks.

Hood's adversary, Gen. George Thomas, enjoyed several compelling advantages. His Federals occupied extraordinarily strong works, since Nashville was one of the most heavily fortified cities in America. Although it had taken time for Thomas to amass his force, by mid-December he had more than 54,000 men on hand at Nashville, well over twice Hood's numbers.

In his ill-conceived battle against Union forces in Nashville, Hood lost some 6,000 men, many of them captured when they failed to make their escape from the battlefield. Union casualties were just over 3,000. Yet Federal success at Nashville was aided tremendously by the earlier action at Franklin, which had demoralized many Southerners and decimated Hood's best combat units. Psychologically devastated by the losses at Franklin and unwilling to be sacrificed at Nashville, many of Hood's most courageous veterans broke and fled there.

The result of Hood's Tennessee campaign, which began with such heady optimism in the fall, was the near-total disintegration of his army. The remnants of the army finally halted at Tupelo, Mississippi, but large numbers of men deserted along the way and others did so shortly after reaching Mississippi. Hood asked to be relieved on January 13, and Richmond authorities accepted the request. Two fatal decisions by Hood, to launch a frontal assault at Franklin and to await Thomas at Nashville, doomed his army in the campaign.

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