Battle of Nashville

Template:Battlebox 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 1516, 1864.



Following the Battle of Franklin on November 30, the forces of Union Major General John M. Schofield left Franklin, Tennessee, and concentrated within the defensive works of Nashville alongside the Army of the Cumberland, commanded by Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas. Thomas, the Rock of Chickamauga, was in command of the overall force, numbering approximately 49,000 men.

The Union defensive line was quite similar to the one at Franklin. A semicircular line surrounded 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. Steadman 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.

The Confederate Army of Tennessee under Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood 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 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. (Assuming that worked, Hood's longer-term plan was to recruit additional soldiers in central Tennessee and Kentucky and then push through the Cumberland Gap to relieve Robert E. Lee in Petersburg.)

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 Bedford 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 two 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. 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 begun.


Thomas finally came out of his fortifications to attack on December 15. Before he did so, however, Hood made a terrible mistake. On December 5 he sent away most of his cavalry, commanded by the highly effective Nathan Bedford Forrest, to attack the Union garrison at Murfreesboro. By doing so, he further weakened his already weaker force. When the Union forces finally went into action on December 15, they had 49,000 men, compared to the Confederates' 31,000.

Thomas planned a two-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 enemy left, by Smith, Wood, and Brig. Gen. Edward Hatch (commanding a dismounted cavalry brigade). Steedman attacked at 6 a.m. 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 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., 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. For example, when one strategic Confederate outpost manned by 148 soldiers and 4 cannons resisted more than expected, the Union calmly regrouped and attacked the outpost with 28 cannons and 7,000 soldiers.

It took most of the morning on December 16 for the Federals to move into position against Hood's new line. Once again, Thomas planned a two-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 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.


Hood, although not greatly outnumbered, was out-generaled by Thomas, who was able to concentrate his forces at the right time for victory. For example, at the pivotal Shy's Hill, on the Confederate left, 40,000 Union soldiers attacked and routed 5,000 Confederates, one of the worst defeats of the war. 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.

The Battle of Nashville marked the effective end of the Confederate Army of Tennessee. It had been mortally wounded at Franklin, killed at Nashville. Hood retreated to Tupelo, Mississippi, and resigned his command on January 13, 1865.


  • 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: Red River to Appomattox, Random House, 1974, ISBN 0-394-74913-8.
  • McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States), Oxford University Press, 1988, ISBN 0-195-03863-0.

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