Civil War Battles
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The Battle of Nashville was a 2-day battle that represented the end of large-scale fighting in the Western Theater of the Civil War. Following the Battle of Franklin, the forces of Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield left Franklin, and concentrated within the defensive works of Nashville alongside the Army of the Cumberland, commanded by Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas. The Confederate force was commanded by Maj. Gen. John B. Hood, still battered from the previous battle.
In a last desperate attempt to force Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman's army out of Georgia, Hood led the Army of Tennessee north toward Nashville in November. Although he suffered terrible losses at the Battle of Franklin, he continued toward Nashville.
On December 1, the various elements of Thomas's army had reached Nashville. Hood reached the outskirts of Nashville on December 2, occupied positions on a line of hills parallel to those of the Union and began erecting fieldworks. Army Engineer, Brig. Gen. James St. Clair Morton, had overseen the construction of the Union's sophisticated fortifications at Nashville in 1862-63, strengthened by others, which would soon see use.
The Union defensive line was a semicircular line surrounding Nashville from the west to the east, dipping a mile to the south; the remainder of the circle, to the north, was the Cumberland River. 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 XVI Corps. Brig. Gen. James H. Wilson's Cavalry Corps was stationed just north of the River.
On December 2, the Army of Tennessee, under Lt. Gen. John B. Hood, arrived south of Nashville 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 suicidal 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 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, Maj. Gen. Stephen D. Lee, and Maj. Gen. Alexander P. Stewart. Cavalry commander Maj. Gen. Nathan B. Forrest was off to the southwest of the city.
Although Thomas's forces were stronger, he could not ignore Hood's army. Despite the severe beating it suffered at Franklin, by its mere presence and ability to maneuver, the Army of Tennessee presented a threat. He knew he had to attack, but prepared cautiously. In particular, he concentrated on outfitting his cavalry, commanded by the energetic young Brig. Gen. James H. Wilson.
It took Thomas over 2 weeks to move, causing great anxiety in President Abraham Lincoln and Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, who anticipated that Hood was poised for an invasion of the North. 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. For the first 2 weeks of December, Thomas made preparations at Nashville in which he intended to destroy finally Hood's army.
On December 14, Thomas informed Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck, acting as Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's chief of staff, that he would attack the next day. Thomas planned to strike both of Hood's flanks.
On December 13, Grant sent an aide to relieve Thomas of command, believing that Hood would slip through his fingers. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan was directed to proceed to Nashville and assume command if, upon his arrival, Thomas had not yet initiated operations.
On December 15, Logan made it as far as Louisville, but the Battle of Nashville had finally begun. Thomas finally came out of his fortifications to went into action.
Although battered and with a much smaller battle line, Hood was still confident. He did make a terrible mistake earlier, though. On December 5, he sent away most of his cavalry, commanded by Maj. Gen. Nathan B. Forrest, to attack the Union garrison at Murfreesboro. By doing so, Hood further weakened his already weaker force. This would come back to haunt him in the coming battle.
Hood established a main line of resistance along the base of a ridge about 2 miles south of the former location, throwing up new works and fortifying Shy Hill and Overton Hills on their flanks.
The IV Corps marched out to within 250 yards, in some places, of the Confederate's new line and began constructing fieldworks. During the rest of the morning, other Union troops moved out toward the new Confederate line and took up positions opposite it.
Thomas planned a 2-phase attack on the Confederates. The first, but secondary, attack was to be on the Confederate right flank, by Steedman. The main attack would be on the Confederate left, by Smith, Wood, and Brig. Gen. Edward Hatch.
At 6:00 A.M., Steedman attacked and kept Cheatham on the Confederate right occupied for the rest of the day. The main attack launched at dawn and 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 gallant charge by Brig. Gen. Samuel Beatty's division.
At 1:00 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., Stuart'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, due to many of its troopers 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.
The first day's fight had been a simple matter of the Union forces bringing overwhelming power and numbers to bear upon the Confederate forces.
On December 16, it took most of the morning for the Federals to move into position against Hood's new line. Once again, Thomas planned a 2-phase attack, but concentrating 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 12:00 P.M., the Union attack began against Hood's strong right flank on Overton's Hill. Wood and Steedman attacked Lee. This charge, although gallantly conducted, did not have any success. Maj. Gen. A.J. Smith's "Israelites" successfully assaulted Shy's Hill in their fronts. Seeing the success along the line, other Union troops charged up Overton's Hill and took it. Hood's army fled after this. On the left, Wilson's dismounted cavalry was exerting pressure on the line.
At 4:00 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.
Hood, although not greatly outnumbered, was out-generaled by Thomas, who was able to concentrate his forces at the right time for victory. The Union army set off in pursuit of Hood's army. The rainy weather became an ally to the Confederates, delaying the Union cavalry pursuit.
On December 18, Forrest was able to rejoin Hood, screening the retreating force. The pursuit continued until the beaten and battered Army of Tennessee recrossed the Tennessee River on December 25. Thomas had left one escape route open but the Union army set off in pursuit. For 10 days, the pursuit continued until the beaten and battered Army of Tennessee recrossed the Tennessee River.
The Battle of Nashville marked the effective end of the Confederate Army of Tennessee. It had been mortally wounded at Franklin, killed at Nashville. On January 13, 1865, Hood retreated to Tupelo, Mississippi, and resigned his command.