The Battle of Nashville was a two-day battle in the Franklin-Nashville Campaign that represented the end of large-scale fighting in the Western Theater of the American Civil War. It was fought at Nashville, Tennessee, on December 15–16, 1864, between the Confederate Army of Tennessee under Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood and Federal forces under Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas. In one of the largest victories achieved by the Union Army during the war, Thomas attacked and routed Hood's army, largely destroying it as an effective fighting force.
Hood followed up his defeat in the Atlanta Campaign by moving northwest to disrupt the supply lines of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman from Chattanooga, hoping to challenge Sherman into a battle that could be fought to Hood's advantage. After a brief period of pursuit, Sherman decided to disengage and to conduct instead his March to the Sea, leaving the matter of Hood's army and the defense of Tennessee to Thomas. Hood devised a plan to march into Tennessee and defeat Thomas's force while it was geographically divided. He pursued Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield's army to Columbia and then attempted to intercept and destroy it at Spring Hill. Because of a series of Confederate command miscommunications in the Battle of Spring Hill (November 29, 1864), Schofield was able to withdraw from Columbia and slip past Hood's army at Spring Hill relatively unscathed.
Furious at his failure at Spring Hill, Hood pursued Schofield to the north and encountered the Federals at Franklin behind strong fortifications. In the Battle of Franklin on November 30, Hood ordered almost 20,000 of his men to assault the Federal works before Schofield could withdraw across the Harpeth River and escape to Nashville. The Union soldiers repulsed multiple assaults and inflicted over 6,000 casualties on the Confederates, which included a large number of key Confederate generals, doing heavy damage to the leadership of the Army of Tennessee.
|Principal Union commanders|
|Principal Confederate commanders|
Schofield withdrew from Franklin during the night and marched into the defensive works of Nashville on December 1, there coming under the command of Thomas, who now had a combined force of approximately 55,000 men. The 7-mile-long semicircular Union defensive line surrounded Nashville from the west to the east; the remainder of the circle, to the north, was the Cumberland River, patrolled by U.S. Navy gunboats. Clockwise around the line was the division of Maj. Gen. James B. Steedman on the Union left, Schofield's XXIII Corps, Brig. Gen. Thomas J. Wood's IV Corps, and Maj. Gen. Andrew J. Smith's "Detachment Army of the Tennessee" (Smith's XVI Corps was redesignated with this unusual name on December 6). Maj. Gen. James H. Wilson's Cavalry Corps was stationed just north of the river.
Hood's army arrived south of the city on December 2 and took up positions facing the Union forces within the city. Not nearly strong enough to assault the Federal fortifications, Hood opted for the defensive. Rather than repeating his fruitless frontal attack at Franklin, he entrenched and waited, hoping that Thomas would attack him. Then, after Thomas smashed his army against the Confederate entrenchments, Hood could counterattack and take Nashville.
The Confederate line of about 4 miles of fortifications strongly opposed the southeasterly facing portion of the Union line (the part occupied by Steedman and Schofield). From right to left were the corps of Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Cheatham, Lt. Gen. Stephen D. Lee, and Lt. Gen. Alexander P. Stewart. Cavalry commanded by Maj. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest was off to the southwest of the city.
Hood made a tactical error before the battle. On December 5, he detached a force commanded by Forrest—two brigades of infantry and two divisions of cavalry, nearly a quarter of its total army—to attack the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad and the Union garrison at Murfreesboro, a move that proved ineffective in achieving its immediate objective. But by doing so, he further diminished his already weaker force, and also deprived his army of its most mobile units.
Thomas prepares to attack
Although Thomas's forces were stronger, he could not ignore Hood's army. Despite the severe beating it had suffered at Franklin, the Army of Tennessee presented a threat by its mere presence and ability to maneuver, . Thomas knew he had to attack, but he prepared cautiously. He was busy training his largely recruit army, particularly outfitting his new cavalry corps, commanded by the energetic young Maj. Gen. James H. Wilson.
It took the methodical Thomas over two weeks to move, while Washington fumed at the seeming procrastination. Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant believed that Hood was poised for an invasion of the North. Grant later said of the situation, "If I had been Hood, I would have gone to Louisville and on north until I came to Chicago." Lincoln had little patience for slow generals and remarked of the situation, "This seems like the McClellan and Rosecrans strategy of do nothing and let the rebels raid the country." Grant pressured Thomas to move, despite a bitter ice storm that struck on December 8 and stopped much fortification on both sides. A few days later, Grant sent an aide to relieve Thomas of command, believing that Hood would slip through his fingers. On December 13, Maj. Gen. John A. Logan was directed to proceed to Nashville and assume command if, upon his arrival, Thomas had not yet initiated operations. He made it as far as Louisville by December 15, but on that day the Battle of Nashville had finally begun.
Thomas finally came out of his fortifications on December 15 to start a two-phase attack on the Confederates. Although troop movements began as early as 4 a.m., heavy fog in the area delayed the first enemy contact until 8 a.m. The initial, but secondary, attack was by Steedman on the Confederate right flank. His division included two brigades of United States Colored Troops. Steedman's attack kept Cheatham on the Confederate right occupied for the rest of the day. The main attack was by Smith, Wood, and Brig. Gen. Edward Hatch (commanding a dismounted cavalry brigade) against the enemy's left flank, which was exposed because Hood had sent Forrest away raiding toward Murfreesboro. The main attack wheeled left to a line parallel to the Hillsboro Pike. By noon, the main advance had reached the pike, and Wood prepared to assault the Confederate outposts on Montgomery Hill, near the center of the line. Hood became concerned about the threat on his left flank and ordered Lee to send reinforcements to Stewart. Wood's corps took Montgomery Hill in a charge by Brig. Gen. Samuel Beatty's division.
At about 1 p.m., there was a salient in Hood's line at Stewart's front. Thomas ordered Wood to attack the salient, supported by Schofield and Wilson. By 1:30 p.m., Stewart's position along the pike became untenable; the attacking force was overwhelming. Stewart's corps broke and began to retreat toward the Granny White Turnpike. However, Hood was able to regroup his men toward nightfall in preparation for the battle the next day. The Union cavalry under Wilson had been unable to put enough force on the turnpike to hamper the Confederate movement, since many of its troopers were participating as dismounted infantry in the assault. The exhausted Confederates dug in all night, awaiting the arrival of the Federals. The new line was in the Brentwood Hills, extending from Shy's Hill to Overton Hill, covering his two main routes of retreat—the Granny White Pike and the Franklin Pike. Hood moved troops from Cheatham on the right flank to reinforce his left.
It took most of the morning on December 16 for the Federals to move into position against Hood's new line, which had been reduced to about 2 miles in length. Once again, Thomas planned a two-phase attack but concentrated on Hood's left. Schofield was to drive back Cheatham, and Wilson's cavalry was to swing to the rear to block the Franklin Pike, Hood's only remaining route of withdrawal. At noon, Wood and Steedman attacked Lee on Overton's Hill, but without success. On the left, Wilson's dismounted cavalry was exerting pressure on the line.
At 4 p.m., Cheatham, on Shy's Hill, was under assault from three sides, and his corps broke and fled to the rear. Wood took this opportunity to renew his attack on Lee on Overton's Hill, and this time the momentum was overwhelming. Darkness fell, and heavy rain began. Hood collected his forces and withdrew to the south toward Franklin.
Casualties from the two-day battle were 3,061 Union (387 killed, 2,558 wounded, and 112 missing or captured) and approximately 6,000 Confederate (1,500 killed or wounded, 4,500 missing or captured). The Battle of Nashville was one of the most stunning tactical victories achieved by either side in a major engagement in the war. The formidable Army of Tennessee, the second largest Confederate force, was effectively destroyed as a fighting force. Hood's army entered Tennessee with over 30,000 men but left with 15–20,000.
The Union army set off in pursuit of Hood. The rainy weather became an ally to the Confederates, delaying the Union cavalry pursuit, and Forrest was able to rejoin Hood on December 18, screening the retreating force. The pursuit continued until the beaten and battered Army of Tennessee recrossed the Tennessee River on December 25. On Christmas Eve, Forrest had turned back Wilson's pursuing cavalry at the Battle of Anthony's Hill.
The Battle of Nashville marked the effective end of the Army of Tennessee. Historian David Eicher remarked, "If Hood mortally wounded his army at Franklin, he would kill it two weeks later at Nashville." Although Hood blamed the entire debacle on his subordinates and the soldiers themselves, his career was over. He retreated with his army to Tupelo, Mississippi, resigned his command on January 13, 1865, and was not given another field command.
The battlefield at Nashville is not preserved. No national, state, or municipal park or museum there attempts to interpret the events of 1864. Nashville suburban sprawl and the neighborhoods of Green Hills, Grassmere, and Brentwood occupy the battlefield area. Fort Negley, Traveler's Rest Plantation, the Tennessee State Museum, and numerous roadside historical state markers are the only evidence of the battle.
The Battle of Nashville monument was originally created in 1927 by Giuseppe Moretti, who was commissioned by the Ladies Battlefield Association. In 1974, the obelisk and angel were destroyed by a tornado, and during the 1980s, construction of a large interstate highway interchange obstructed the monument from public view. The new monument has been restored, with the bronze sculpture of the youth and horses refinished, and the marble base, obelisk, and angel reconstructed in granite, which is more durable than the original marble. It was dedicated on June 26, 1999, in a different location, not far from the 1927 site.
- Eicher, p. 780.
- Kennedy, pp. 389-95.
- Kennedy, pp. 395-96; Esposito, text to map 152.
- Welcher, p. 600; Sword, p. 449; Eicher, pp. 775-76. Although Thomas and Schofield were the commanders of the Army of the Cumberland and the Army of the Ohio, respectively, through 1865, historians of the campaign do not always use these designations for the combination of corps assembled against Hood, referring in some cases only to the "Federal Army." See, for example, Welcher, pp. 611; Sword, p. 448; Jacobson, p. 452.
- McPherson, p. 194.
- Welcher, p. 601; Eicher, p. 776; Niven, p. 121; McPherson, p. 195.
- Sword, pp. 293-95; McPherson, p. 195; Niven, pp. 125-26; Kennedy, p. 396.
- McPherson, p. 195; Sword, p. 289; Niven, p. 123; Eicher, p. 776.
- Sword, p. 278.
- Kennedy, p. 397; Sword, p. 312; Welcher, p. 602; Eicher, p. 776; Esposito, map 153.
- Niven, p. 126; McPherson, pp. 196-97; Welcher, pp. 602-05; Sword, pp. 321-29; Eicher, pp. 776-77;
- McPherson, pp. 197-203; Welcher, pp. 605-08; Sword, pp. 331-44; Niven, pp. 130-33; Esposito, map 153; Eicher, p. 777; Kennedy, p. 397.
- Sword, pp. 348-65; McPherson, pp. 203-05; Welcher, pp. 608-09; Esposito, map 154; Eicher, p. 779; Niven, pp. 134-37.
- McPherson, pp. 205-07; Niven, pp. 137-44; Sword, pp. 369-80; Welcher, pp. 609-10; Eicher, p. 779; Kennedy, p. 397.
- Jacobson, p. 428: the field returns for Hood's army on January 20, 1865, listed 20,700 effectives. Jacobson surmises that missing men from Franklin and Nashville gradually rejoined the army during and after its retreat.
- Welcher, p. 610; McPherson, pp. 207-08.
- Eicher, p. 775.
- Esposito, map 153; Niven, p. 144; Kennedy, p. 397.
- Battle of Nashville Preservation Society
- Battle of Nashville Monument history
- Eicher, David J., The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War, Simon & Schuster, 2001, ISBN 0-684-84944-5.
- Esposito, Vincent J., West Point Atlas of American Wars, Frederick A. Praeger, 1959.
- Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Vol. III Red River to Appomattox, Random House, 1974, ISBN 0-394-74913-8.
- Jacobson, Eric A., and Richard A. Rupp, For Cause, for Country: A Study of the Affair at Spring Hill and the Battle of Franklin, O'More Publishing, 2007, ISBN 0-9717444-4-0.
- Kennedy, Frances H., ed., The Civil War Battlefield Guide, 2nd ed., Houghton Mifflin Co., 1998, ISBN 0-395-74012-6.
- McPherson, James M., ed., Battle Chronicles of the Civil War: 1864, Grey Castle Press, 1989, ISBN 1-55905-024-1.
- Nevin, David, and the Editors of Time-Life Books, Sherman's March: Atlanta to the Sea, Time-Life Books, 1986, ISBN 0-8094-4812-2.
- Sword, Wiley, The Confederacy's Last Hurrah: Spring Hill, Franklin, and Nashville, William Morrow & Co., 1974, ISBN 0-688-00271-4.
- Welcher, Frank J., The Union Army, 1861–1865 Organization and Operations, Volume II: The Western Theater, Indiana University Press, 1993, ISBN 0-253-36454-X.
- National Park Service battle description
- McDonough, James Lee, Nashville: The Western Confederacy's Final Gamble, University of Tennessee Press, 1984, ISBN 1-57233-322-7.
- Battle of Nashville Preservation Society
- The Battle of Nashville Monument
- Animated History of the Franklin-Nashville Campaign
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