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Nashville — the end in Tennessee

Guarding the Cumberland — where Thomas watched for Hood at the Nashville bridge


Defense of Nashville.

Perched on a hill overlooking Nashville stood Fort Negley--a large, complex citadel ready for action at any time. Though it was little called upon, its very aspect would have caused an enemy much reflection are deciding to attack. Within the work were two casemates (one of which is shown in the fine photograph above) covered with railroad iron and made bomb-proof with earth. Fort Negley was designed and built on the German polygonal system early in 1862 and was regarded as satisfying the most exacting of the Old World standards as an up-to-date fortification. By the middle of November, 1864, with Sherman well on his march to the sea, the struggle in middle Tennessee had reached a crisis. Hood had invaded the State and Thomas had confided to Schofield the task of checking the Southern army. Thomas himself sent out his couriers and drew in all the available Federal forces to Nashville. There he meant to give battle to Hood when the Confederate leader, racing Schofield, should reach the State capital. The dramatic running fight between Hood and Schofield from Columbia to Nashville is graphically described in the accompanying text.

Fort Negley, the imposing defense of Nashville

Fort Negley, the imposing defense of Nashville

[251] [252]
The Army of Tennessee under General Hood, pursuing its march northward late in November and early in December, came upon the Federal forces under General Schofield at Franklin, and General Thomas at Nashville, Tennessee, where desperate battles were fought, until Hood's army was reduced to skeleton commands and forced to retreat. --Lieutenant-General James Longstreet, C. S.A., in From Manassas to Appomattox.

While Hood was turning back from Atlanta in the great northward movement, which, in the hopes of the Confederacy, would bring the Army of Tennessee to the banks of the Ohio, there was gathering at and around Nashville a force to dispute the progress of Hood. General Thomas was sent by Sherman “to take care of Tennessee,” and he was preparing to weld many fragmentary bodies of troops into a fighting army.

After a month of bold maneuvering, the advance of Hood's army appeared, on the 26th of October, at Decatur, on the south side of the Tennessee. It had been a time of perplexity to the Federal authorities and of intense alarm throughout the North. Hood had twice thrown his army between Sherman and the latter's base; had captured four garrisons, and destroyed thirty miles of railroad. His movements had been bold and brilliantly executed.

At Decatur, Hood found himself too far east to join with Forrest, whose cooperation was absolutely necessary to him. So he moved westward to Florence where the first division of his army, with but little opposition from Croxton's cavalry, crossed the Tennessee on the 31st. Forrest had gone down the river to intercept the Federal line of supplies. At Johnsonville [253]


When Hood made his audacious movement upon Sherman's communications, by invading Tennessee--without however tempting the Northern commander from his grim course — Chattanooga was the only point in Thomas' Department, south of Nashville, which was heavily garrisoned. This town became the supply center for all the Federal posts maintained in eastern Tennessee. Therefore it had been well fortified, so strongly in fact that Thomas, who had just begun his great concentration movement, was able by December 1st to draw Steedman away to the Elk River and thence to Nashville. It was from a point on the hill a little to the right of the scene shown in the lower photograph on this page that the picture of Chattanooga fortified was taken.

Chattanooga fortified in 1864

Chattanooga and the military bridge

[254] he disabled the gunboats to such an extent that they were burned to prevent their falling into his hands. The fire spread to the Federal stores on the levee and $1,500,000 of Government property thereby was destroyed. The garrison held firm. Forrest withdrew his troops and crossed the river above the town. He had received orders to join Hood as quickly as possible and reached Florence on November 14th. General Hood was now free to invade Tennessee. Sherman had sent the Fourth Corps, under Stanley, and the Twenty-third, under Schofield, the latter in command of both, back to Thomas, and this force was now at Pulaski to oppose Hood.

On the morning of November 19th, the army of Hood was put in motion. The day was disagreeable. It snowed and rained, and there was sleet and ice for the men to face. Over the slippery roads the army trudged, led by the cavalry of the daring Forrest. The wary Hood did not choose to be “checked at Pulaski,” but passed adroitly by on the other side, urging his ranks forward toward Columbia on the Duck River.

At midnight of the 23d, General Schofield learned of the movements of Hood. He knew that if the latter reached Columbia he could easily capture the garrison at that place and then be free to cross the river and cut him off from Thomas. The sleeping troops were quickly aroused and in an hour were making their way through the night to Columbia, twenty-one miles distant. Another column, led by General Cox, starting somewhat later, was pushing rapidly over another road to the same point. It was a race between the armies of Hood and Schofield for the crossing at Columbia. The weary, footsore Federals barely won. Cox, by taking a cross-road, came to the rescue only a few miles south of Columbia, as Forrest was driving the Federal cavalry back, and the little army was saved.

The Union army entrenched itself for battle. Works were thrown up while the wagon trains were retreating beyond the river. But it was found impracticable to hold the position. All during the night of the 27th, there was a steady stream of [255]

The “business of war” at an Alabama railroad station — federals concentrating at Stevenson before the Nashville battle Early in the winter of 1864, this station in the little Alabama town fairly hummed with the movement of men and horses and supplies. Schofield's division of Thomas' army was being concentrated there for the campaign which culminated, in the middle of December, at the bloody battle of Nashville. A businesslike crowd is shown in this picture, of soldiers and citizens, with more than one commanding figure in the foreground. The railroad played a part most important and most vulnerable in the Western campaigns.

[256] men, wagons, and artillery, passing over to the north side of Duck River. Not until daylight did the rear guard burn the railroad bridge and scuttle the pontoon boats, behind them.

The 28th of November was a suspiciously quiet day in front of Columbia. Not so, along other parts of the river bank. About noon, at various points, squads of Confederate cavalry appeared, indicating their purpose to cross, which was finally accomplished.

At daybreak the next morning, with Hood himself in the lead, the Confederate army, headed by one of its most courageous divisions, was quickly marching again to intercept the retreat of Schofield. Spring Hill, fifteen miles north of Columbia, was the objective of Hood. This was a brilliant piece of strategy, and the Confederate general hurried his columns along that he might reach the point first. Succeeding in this he could easily turn the Union flank, and nothing could save that army. It all depended on who should win the race.

The Confederates marched lightly. It was a beautiful, crisp morning and the men were in high hopes. There was every prospect of their winning, since the Union army was heavy and it moved sluggishly. To save the Federal wagon train, and its contents of food, clothing, and ammunition, which was slowly moving along the roads to the north, with only the little force of warriors in blue interposing between them and the eager Confederate legions, General Stanley was ordered forward, to make a dash to the rescue. As he neared the town he saw on his right the Confederate columns abreast of him on a parallel road. A little further on, he was informed that Forrest's cavalry was approaching rapidly from the east.

No time was now to be lost. Although his men were weary from their hurried march, they were pushed forward at the double-quick into town. The opposing forces met on the edge of the village; a light skirmish followed, in which the Federals secured the main approaches to the town.

Schofield's army was in a splendid position to invite attack. [257]

Rushing a Federal battery out of Johnsonville When Thomas began to draw together his forces to meet Hood at Nashville, he ordered the garrison at Johnsonville, on the Tennessee, eighty miles due west of Nashville, to leave that place and hasten north. It was the garrison at this same Johnsonville that, a month earlier, had been frightened into panic and flight when the bold Confederate raider, Forrest, appeared on the west bank of the river and began a noisy cannonade. New troops had been sent to the post. They appear well coated and equipped. The day after the photograph was taken (November 23d) the encampment in the picture was broken.


The forces were widely scattered, and the situation was indeed critical. The afternoon of November 29th records a series of lost opportunities to the Confederates. From noon until seven o'clock in the evening the little force of Stanley was completely isolated from the main army. Hood had sufficient troops literally to crush him, to cut off the retreat of Schofield, and thereby to defeat that wing of the Federal army. During the afternoon and evening there were various attempts made on the Union lines, which were stoutly resisted. The vigor of the repulse, the lack of concentration in the attack and, perhaps, the coming of evening saved the day for the Federals.

The Confederates bivouacked for the night near the pike. Brightly their camp-fires gleamed, as the Federal wagon trains and the columns of Northern soldiers trudged along through a moonless night, within a few rods of the resting Confederates. The Southern troops were plainly visible to the Federals, as they were seen moving about the camp. There was constant apprehension lest the Southern army should fall upon the passing army, but the officer who was ordered to block the Federal march made but a feeble and partial attack. Hood realized that he had lost the best opportunity for crushing Schofield that the campaign had offered, and deplored the failure most bitterly.

Schofield reached Spring Hill about seven in the evening. At the same hour the last company of his troops was leaving Columbia, about eleven miles away. All through the night the procession continued. The intrepid Stanley stood guard at a narrow bridge, as the long train wended its way in the darkness over the hills in the direction of Nashville. At daybreak, as the rear wagons safely passed, and the skirmishers were called in, the advance columns, under Cox, were reaching the outskirts of Franklin.

This village, situated on a bend of the Harpeth River, was admirably located for a great battle. On the north and west, it was protected by the river. Beyond the stream, to the [259]

Battle of Nashville.

It was Hood's hope that, when he had advanced his line to the left of the position shown in this photograph, he might catch a weak spot in Thomas' forces. But Thomas had no weak spots. From the casemate, armored with railroad iron, shown here, the hills might be easily seen on which the Confederate center and left were posted at the opening of the great battle of Nashville.

Fort Negley, looking toward the Confederate center and left, as Hood's veterans threatened the city

The prize of the Nashville campaign — the state capitol

[260] north, were three prominent hills, giving excellent elevations for batteries, and commanding a broad plain that lay in front of the town. These were utilized by the Federals. To the south were low ridges on which an attacking party might entrench.

Schofield had not expected to give battle at Franklin. He was hurrying his men to reach the protecting entrenchments of Nashville. But he would not be taken unawares. Though his men had marched and fought by turns for a week, by day and night, until they were on the point of exhaustion, yet the tired and hungry troops, before they had prepared their morning meal, laid down the musket and took up the spade. Soon entrenchments stretched along on two sides of the town. Batteries of artillery were placed at the front and in the rear, guarding the lines of probable attack. To this protecting haven, the weary regiments, one by one, filed, until, by noon, the last one had safely found its way to the entrenched walls of Franklin. The wagon trains passed over the Harpeth and the troops would soon follow after. But this was not to be. Even then, the Confederate vanguard was close at hand.

It was a glorious Indian summer afternoon. For two hours the Federal troops had been looking through the hazy atmosphere to the eastward hills. The day was already beginning to wane, when from the wooded ridge there emerged the stately columns of the army of Hood. On a rise in front of the Union lines stood Wagner's two brigades, in uniforms of blue. They were stationed, unsupported, directly in front of the Confederate approach. It was evident that “some one had blundered.” But there they stood, waiting for the impact of the line in gray. A concentrated roar of musketry burst forth and they were engulfed in the on-sweeping torrent.

The Confederate ranks plunged on, carrying the helpless brigades along. With tremendous momentum they rushed toward the works. The guns along the Federal line were silent. They dare not fire on their own routed men. The weight of the oncoming mass of humanity broke through the first line of [261]


Shortly after the occupation of Nashville by the Union forces in February, 1862, General Morton, of the U. S. Corps of Engineers, began work on its fortifications. Around the capitol were built earth parapets and stockades, and enough room was provided to mount fifteen guns. The strong, massive structure, plentifully supplied with water, could easily accommodate a regiment of infantry — enough in such a citadel to hold an entire army at bay. This, however, was but a part of the entire line of defenses he planned. He was intending to fortify Morton and Houston Hills, and a third on which Fort Negley was actually constructed. The pictures show the city which the works were built to defend, but which Morton was prepared to leave to the enemy if forced to retreat within his lines.

A state house stockaded

The stockade and the parapet

The Nashville capitol fortified


Federal infantry. The center of the Union front had been pierced. Like a wedge the Southern troops thrust themselves through the opening. Two captured batteries began an enfilading fire upon the broken Union lines, and from the right and the left the pitiless fire poured upon their flanks. The shattered regiments were past re-forming for the emergency. The teams from the captured batteries galloped to the rear. The day was nearly lost to the Union army.

Colonel Opdycke of Wagner's division had brought his brigade within the lines and was ready for the emergency. Turning toward his men to give the order to charge, he found they had already fixed their bayonets for the desperate encounter. Behind these men stood the Twelfth and Sixteenth Kentucky regiments in the same attitude. “First Brigade, forward to the works,” came the ringing words of the colonel. His men scarcely needed the order. Following their gallant leader, they saw him ride forward, empty his revolver, then use it as a club in a hand-to-hand fight, and finally dismount and grasp a musket. The men fought like demons, in their desperate endeavor to stem the tide of gray.

Stanley, at his headquarters beyond the river, had seen the impending disaster to the troops. Galloping to the scene of battle, he was about to order Opdycke to the attack. He was too late to give the command but not too late to enter the conflict. Cheering his men, he rode into the death-dealing contest in which he was presently severely wounded. The bayonet and the clubbed musket were freely used. The breach was closed, and the day was all but won by the Federals.

The recaptured guns now poured their charges of death into the shattered ranks in gray. But the courageous Southerners were not to be thus outdone. The cloud of smoke had hardly cleared from the field when they again took up the gage of battle. In sheer desperation and with an appalling recklessness of life, they thrust themselves upon the Union lines again and again, only to recoil, battered and bleeding. [263]

Thomas — the “rock of Chickamauga” who became the “sledge of Nashville Major-General George Henry Thomas, Virginia-born soldier loyal to the Union; commended for gallantry in the Seminole War, and for service in Mexico; won the battle of Mill Spring, January 19, 1862; commanded the right wing of the Army of the Tennessee against Corinth and at Perryville, and the center at Stone's River. Only his stability averted overwhelming defeat for the Federals at Chickamauga. At Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge he was a host in himself. After Sherman had taken Atlanta he sent Thomas back to Tennessee to grapple with Hood. How he crushed Hood by his sledge-hammer blows is told in the accompanying text. Thomas, sitting down in Nashville, bearing the brunt of Grant's impatience, and ignoring completely the proddings from Washington to advance before he was ready, while he waited grimly for the psychological moment to strike the oncoming Confederate host under Hood, is one of the really big dramatic figures of the entire war. It has been well said of Thomas that every promotion he received was a reward of merit; and that during his long and varied career as a soldier no crisis ever arose too great for his ability.


Evening fell upon the battling hosts, and long into the night there was heard the sharp volleys of musketry. Thus closed one of the fiercest of the minor struggles of the Civil War. At midnight, Schofield withdrew from the trenches of Franklin and fell back to Thomas at Nashville.

Many gallant Southern leaders fell on the battlefield of Franklin, whose loss to the Confederacy was irreparable. Five generals and a long list of field-officers were among the killed. General Patrick Cleburne, a native of Ireland and a veteran of the British army, and General John Adams, both fell in the desperate charges at the breach in the Federal lines when Wagner's brigades were swept headlong from the front of the battle-line.

Hood appeared before the army of Thomas, on December 2d. Preparations at once began in both camps for the decisive contest. Hood was furnishing his army with supplies and with shoes, and throwing up entrenchments parallel to those of the Union army. Thomas was remounting his cavalry and increasing the strength of his works. The city was well fortified. On the surrounding hills the forts bristled with cannon. But the Federal commander was not ready for battle.

Thomas was not a born military strategist. But he was a remarkable tactician. No battle of the war was better planned and none was so nearly carried out to the letter of the plan as the battle of Nashville. It has been said that this plan of Thomas is the only one of the entire war that is now studied as a model in European military schools.

But Thomas was not acting quickly enough to satisfy Grant and the Washington authorities. Day after day, telegrams and messages poured in on him, giving advice and urging immediate action. Thomas stood firm. Finally an order for his removal was issued but never delivered. In a telegram to Halleck, Thomas stated that if it was desirable to relieve him of his command he would submit without a murmur.

Finally, preparations were completed. But, just then a [265]

Thirty-two Ohio regiments fought at Nashville

Ohio's part in 1861-65 was a large one, promptly and bravely played. Thirty-two regiments, besides cavalry companies and artillery batteries from that State, were in service in the operations around Nashville. Colonel Emerson Opdycke, afterwards brevetted major-general, commanded the One-Hundred-and-Twenty-fifth Ohio as part of the rear-guard at Spring Hill. Some of these troops are shown above The lads in the lower picture made up the band of the One-Hundred-and-Twenty-fifth.

A typical group of veterans, from the one-hundred-and-twenty-fifth Ohio--“Opdycke's tigers”

The “tiger band” of the one-hundred-and-twenty-fifth Ohio before Nashville

[266] severe storm of freezing rain poured down upon the waiting armies and held the country in its frigid grasp. The ground was covered with a glare of ice. Horses and men slid and sprawled on the slippery surface. It was impossible to move an army under such conditions. Still the bombardment of messages from the East continued.

On December 14th, the ice began to melt. That night Thomas called a council of his corps commanders and laid before them his well-matured plans for the morrow's battle. Then he telegraphed to Grant that the ice had melted and the attack would be made in the morning. Had the storm continued, the attack must have been postponed and Thomas probably would not have been the hero of Nashville. Even as it was, Logan was hurrying from the East toward that city to take command of the army. When he reached Louisville, in Kentucky, on the 17th, he heard that the battle was over and he came no farther.

At four on the morning of December 15th, reveille sounded through the Union Camp of fifty-five thousand soldiers. Two hours later, the men were standing in array of battle. The air was soft and even balmy. A heavy river-fog hung over the lowlands and across the city. In the dense pall, regiments of soldiers, like phantom warriors, moved across the country.

By nine o'clock the sun had pierced the mist and to the observers on the hilltops it was a brilliant spectacle. The battle-lines were rapidly forming. With the precision of a well-oiled machine, the battalions were moving to their places. Squadrons of cavalry were passing along the lowlands to take their position in the battle-line. Great guns glinted through embrasures ready to vomit forth their missiles of destruction.

The plan of the battle of Nashville as formed by Thomas was simple — a feint attack on the opposing army's right, the striking of a sudden and irresistible blow on his left, followed by successive attacks until the Southern army was battered into [267]

Thomas at Nashville.

Camp-fires were still smouldering along the side of the abatis where the lens caught the field of Nashville, while Thomas' concentric forward movement was in progress. Note the abatis to the right of the picture, the wagons moving and ready to move in the background, and the artillery on the left. White tents gleam from the distant hills. A few straggling soldiers remain. The Federals are closing with Hood's army a couple of miles to the right of the scene in the picture.

Thomas advancing his outer line at Nashville, December 16th

Guarding the line during the advance

[268] disorganization and routed. About forty-five thousand Federals were actually engaged at Nashville. Against them Hood mustered some thirty-eight thousand Confederates.

At eight o'clock, Steedman sent Colonels Morgan and Grosvenor to demonstrate on the Confederate right. This was gallantly done, in the face of a severe fire, and so closely did it resemble a genuine attack that Hood was completely deceived. At once, he drew troops from his center to strengthen the endangered flank. Then on the Union right, infantry and dismounted cavalry moved out against the weakened Confederate left.

The cooperation of these two arms of the service was almost perfect. Soon, the battle was raging along the entire front. The Federal forces were gradually converging. The Confederate lines were being crowded from their first position. Montgomery Hill, the salient point of the Confederate defense, was a strong position commanding a view of the surrounding country. It was here that one of the most daring assaults of the day was made. At one o'clock, Colonel Post's brigade dashed up the hill, direct at the works on the summit. The color-bearers forged rapidly ahead. At the top, without a moment's hesitation, the troops plunged across the works, capturing guns and men.

Still, the flail of war kept pounding at the Confederate center. Hour after hour, the Union lines, compact and unyielding, battered the ranks of the Southern troops. As the sun set on the evening of that day, the army of Hood found itself more than two miles from the place it occupied in the morning.

The new day found the Confederate general still undaunted. During the night he had formed a new line of battle. It was shorter, stronger, and more compact than that of the preceding day. Works had been thrown up in front, while behind rose a range of hills. These were strongly fortified. The second position was stronger than the first. [269]


When Hood attacked Nashville, early in December, 1834, the Union army, under Thomas, was entrenched in a semi-circle on the wooded hills about the city, both flanks resting on the Cumberland River. Hundreds of spectators watched the fighting from the other hills. The picture at the top of this page was taken on the heights to the east, on December 15th. The view at the bottom was looking northwest. The spectators caught by the alert photographer might not have realized the tremendous significance of the struggle going on before them, but they could all witness the mathematical precision of Thomas' tactics. The checking of Hood at Nashville made Sherman's position secure in the heart of the Confederacy.

Nashville watching the fight to a finish between Hood and Thomas

The battlefield from the military college


It was past noon before Thomas was ready to repeat the tactics of the preceding day. On the Confederate right was Overton's Hill, a strongly fortified position. Colonel Post was designated to lead the Federal attack. Supported by a brigade of negro troops, the assaulting columns moved up the steep ascent. With precision the lines marched toward the crest of the hill. All was well until the final dash was to be made, when a withering fire drove them back to the foot of the hill.

The extreme Confederate left also rested upon a hill. To Colonel McMillen was given the task of wresting it from the possession of the Southern troops. Forming his regiments,--the One hundred and fourteenth Illinois, the Ninety-third Indiana, the Tenth Minnesota, the Seventy-second Ohio and the Ninety-fifth Ohio--into two lines, he rapidly moved forward. The approaching lines of attack were received with a hail of musketry, and grape and canister from the Confederate artillery. But unwaveringly the cheering ranks carried the position.

The success of this charge on the right inspired the left, and again the attempt to carry Overton's Hill was made, this time successfully. These successes of the Union lines became contagious. A general forward movement was made along the entire front. It was irresistible. No troops could withstand such an impact. Hood's splendid and courageous army was routed. From thirty-eight thousand men who entered the fight it was reduced to a remnant. Flinging aside muskets and everything that would impede progress, the army that was to revivify the hopes of the failing Confederacy was fleeing in utter confusion along the Franklin pike through Brentwood Pass. This Confederate Army of Tennessee had had a glorious history. It had fought with honor from Donelson and Shiloh to Atlanta and Nashville. It had been at Murfreesboro, Chickamauga, Lookout Mountain, and Missionary Ridge. Now, shattered and demoralized, it was relentlessly pursued beyond the Tennessee River, never again to emerge as a fighting army in the Southwest.

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