The Fateful Nashville Campaign

Following his horrific defeat at Franklin, General John Bell Hood moved his Confederate Army of Tennessee forward in a desperate attempt to destroy the Federal army entrenched in Nashville. The Federals, led by Major General George H. Thomas, formed a defensive semicircle below town and made this one of the most heavily fortified cities in the Western Hemisphere.[1]

Major General George H. Thomas | Image Credit: Histmag.org

Major General George H. Thomas | Image Credit: Histmag.org

As Hood arranged his hungry, ragged forces on the hills south of town, Thomas received urgent orders from his superior, General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant in Virginia: “You should attack before he fortifies. You will now suffer incalculable injury upon your railroads if Hood is not speedily disposed of. Put forth, therefore, every possible exertion to attain this end. Should you get him to retreating, give him no peace.”[2]

Thomas indicated that he needed to refit his cavalry before launching an all-out assault. Grant, fearing the Confederates would skirt around Nashville and invade the North, responded: “Attack Hood at once and wait no longer for the remount of your cavalry. There is great danger of delay resulting in a campaign back to the Ohio River.”[3]

At Washington, the Lincoln administration grew increasingly impatient with Thomas’ perceived reluctance to attack. Thomas knew his superiors looked upon him with suspicion because he one of the few Virginians who had remained loyal to the U.S. after Virginia joined the Confederacy. Even so, he would not attack until all his resources were available and all details were in place. Thomas intended to not just attack, but to destroy Hood’s army once and for all.[4]

Unaware of Thomas’ master plan, Grant issued an order relieving him of duty but withheld it when Thomas informed him the Federals would attack on 10 December. However, the winter’s worst storm began that day, leaving central Tennessee frozen. Confederates exposed to the elements without proper clothing suffered the worst, with Captain Sam Foster writing, “We are suffering more for shoes than anything else, and there is no chance to get new ones…”[5]

Still convinced that Thomas was merely making excuses, Grant issued another order to replace him. Meanwhile, Thomas met with his officers in the St. Cloud Hotel and issued orders to attack on the morning of 15 December. Grant suspended his order upon learning that Thomas finally advanced to attack.[6]

At 4 a.m., the bugles sounded and the Federals advanced through heavy fog. Nashville residents came out to see the fight already knowing the outcome; Federal Colonel Isaac R. Sherwood recalled, “All the hills in our rear were black with human beings watching the battle, but silent. No army on the continent ever played on any field to so large and so sullen an audience.”[7]

Thomas’ left wing feinted an attack while the right assaulted Hood’s crippled left flank. The Confederates slowly fell back in the face of superior numbers, forming a new defensive line two miles back by nightfall. Hood’s army had been beaten, but it remained an effective fighting force with control of the escape route to Franklin.[8]

At 6 a.m. on 16 December, Thomas renewed his attack, with the main assault coming after a massive artillery bombardment. A strong Confederate stand at Overton Hill was ultimately overwhelmed, and Hood’s Army of Tennessee finally scattered. Thomas reported the enemy was “hopelessly broken.” Hood lamented, “I beheld for the first and only time a Confederate army abandon the field in confusion.”[9]

Federals lost 387 killed, 2,562 wounded, and 112 missing; Confederates lost 1,500 killed or wounded and up to 4,500 captured. The battle’s outcome was never in doubt, as Thomas’ plan to destroy Hood’s army came to fruition. Confederate remnants straggled back to Mississippi and regrouped, but the Army of Tennessee was never a serious threat to the Federals again.[10]

No longer would Thomas be looked upon with suspicion in Washington. And no longer would Confederates threaten Tennessee in the war. From this point forward, the main point of Confederate resistance besides Virginia would be along the Atlantic Coast, in Georgia and the Carolinas, ultimately ending with the Army of Tennessee’s surrender in North Carolina four months later.[11]

—–

  • [1] Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 604-605; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 20, 22
  • [2] Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 190-91; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 120-144
  • [3] Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 606-607
  • [4] Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 120-144
  • [5] Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 608; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 123
  • [6] Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 610; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 126
  • [7] Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 610-11; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 126, 128
  • [8] Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 610-11; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 126, 128; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 186
  • [9] Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 611-12; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 190-91; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 345
  • [10] Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 611-12; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 186
  • [11] Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 127-28
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4 thoughts on “The Fateful Nashville Campaign

  1. […] began approaching the Federal lines outside Nashville. Federal General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant wired George Thomas at […]

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  2. […] Battle of Nashville occurred, as Major General George H. Thomas’s Federal Army of the Cumberland attacked General John […]

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  3. […] Battle of Nashville occurred, as Major General George H. Thomas’s Federal Army of the Cumberland attacked General John Bell […]

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  4. […] South Carolina on New Year’s Eve to personally inspect Hood’s army after recent defeats at Nashville and Franklin. En route, President Davis instructed Beauregard to relieve Hood from command if […]

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