|Major General George H. Thomas commanded Union forces during the Battle of Nashville.|
Tennessee Historical Society Picture Collection
Inside the city, Major General George H. Thomas enjoyed the advantage of strong fortifications and earthworks which had been built in anticipation of a potential Confederate attack. With concentrations of African American refugees in the city available for military labor, and as many as 18,000 civilians employed by the army, Nashville was one of the strongest fortified cities on the continent. Thomas’s army, with a three-to-one advantage in numbers over Hood’s army, was primed for a major victory.
|View of south Nashville from the campus of the University of Nashville. Fort Negley can be seen in the distance. Nashville had been occupied by the Union since 1862.|
TSLA Photograph Collection
President Lincoln and General Grant pushed the cautious Thomas to destroy Hood’s army as quickly as possible. Thomas, however, refused to move until everything was in order and delayed further when a major ice storm hit the area on December 12. While the Confederates sat in frozen trenches with little or no food, few overcoats, and suffering low morale after the fiasco at Franklin, Thomas’s men prepared for the attack.
Finally on December 15, the weather broke and the federal advance began. Thomas sent his cavalry out Charlotte Pike in an effort to envelop the Confederate left flank. On the Confederate right, federal infantry, including a brigade of United States Colored Troops seeing combat for the first time, advanced to hold the Confederates in place. By the evening of the 15th, the Confederates had been forced to give up their positions and had fallen back to a shorter defensive line from Peach Orchard Hill on the far right, to Shy’s Hill on the left. There they sat, awaiting the next day’s attack.
The federal plan of attack for December 16 was much the same as the day before—hold the Confederate right in place with a diversionary attack while also pressuring the center and flanking on the left, using cavalry. Confederates entrenched on Peach Orchard Hill inflicted heavy losses on the advancing United States Colored Troops, but the Confederates atop Shy’s Hill crumbled under the weight of attacks from three sides. The collapse of the Confederate left flank put the rest of Hood’s army in flight. It was only the brave rearguard actions by some Confederate units that prevented the complete destruction of the Army of Tennessee.
|Pre-Civil War cased tintype of Col. William Shy, 20th Tennessee Infantry, CSA. Shy was killed at the Battle of Nashville on December 16, 1864, defending a hilltop position that now bears his name.|
Looking Back: The Civil War in Tennessee
The Battle of Nashville was the most complete federal victory of the Civil War and ended any Confederate threat to the state. Amazingly, those Confederate soldiers who remained with the defeated Army of Tennessee would fight again before the war finally ended in May 1865.
TSLA’s current exhibit “1864: War Rages in Tennessee” features the Battle of Nashville and will be up in our Memorial Hall through the end of the year.
Many of the images come from Looking Back: The Civil War in Tennessee: http://www.tn.gov/tsla/cwtn/index.htm.
The Tennessee Virtual Archive (TeVA) has several other Civil War collections: http://teva.contentdm.oclc.org/.
Other Civil War Resources at TSLA: http://www.tn.gov/tsla/resources/index.htm#civilwar.
The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.