American Civil War: Battle of Nashville

George H. Thomas
Major General George H. Thomas. Photograph Courtesy of the National Archives & Records Administration

Battle of Nashville - Conflict & Dates:

The Battle of Nashville was fought December 15-16, 1864, during the American Civil War (1861-1865).

Armies & Commanders:



Battle of Nashville - Background:

Though badly defeated at the Battle of Franklin, Confederate General John Bell Hood continued pressing north through Tennessee in early December 1864 with the goal of attacking Nashville. Arriving outside the city on December 2 with his Army of Tennessee, Hood assumed a defensive position to the south as he lacked the manpower to assault Nashville directly. It was his hope that Major General George H. Thomas, commanding Union forces in the city, would attack him and be repulsed. In the wake of this fighting, Hood intended to launch a counterattack and take the city.

Within the fortifications of Nashville, Thomas possessed a large force which had been pulled from several different areas and had not fought together previously as an army. Among these were Major General John Schofield's men who had been dispatched to reinforce Thomas by Major General William T. Sherman and Major General A.J. Smith's XVI Corps which had been transferred from Missouri. Meticulously planning his attack on Hood, Thomas' plans were further delayed by severe winter weather which descended on Middle Tennessee.

Due to Thomas' cautious planning and the weather, it was two weeks before his offensive moved forward. During this time, he was constantly beset by messages from President Abraham Lincoln and Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant imploring him to take decisive action. Lincoln commented that he feared that Thomas had become a "do nothing" type along the lines of Major General George B. McClellan. Angered, Grant dispatched Major General John Logan on December 13 with orders to relieve Thomas if the attack had not commenced by the time he arrived in Nashville.

The Battle of Nashville - Crushing an Army:

While Thomas planned, Hood elected to dispatch Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest's cavalry to attack the Union garrison at Murfreesboro. Leaving on December 5, Forrest's departure further weakened Hood's smaller force and deprived him much of his scouting force. With the weather clearing on December 14, Thomas announced to his commanders that the offensive would commence the next day. His plan called for Major General James B. Steedman's division to attack the Confederate right. The goal of Steedman's advance was to pin Hood in place while the main assault came against the Confederate left.

Here Thomas had massed Smith's XVI Corps, Brigadier General Thomas Wood's IV Corps, and a dismounted cavalry brigade under Brigadier General Edward Hatch. Supported by Schofield's XXIII Corps and screened by Major General James H. Wilson's cavalry, this force was to envelop and crush Lieutenant General Alexander Stewart's corps on Hood's left. Advancing around 6:00 AM, Steedman's men succeeded in holding Major General Benjamin Cheatham's corps in place. While Steedman's attack was going forward, the main assault force advanced out of the city.

Around noon, Wood's men began striking the Confederate line along the Hillsboro Pike. Realizing that his left was under threat, Hood began shifting troops from Lieutenant General Stephen Lee's corps in this center to reinforce Stewart. Pushing forward, Wood's men captured Montgomery Hill and a salient emerged in Stewart's line. Observing this, Thomas ordered his men to assault the salient. Overwhelming the Confederate defenders around 1:30 PM, they shattered Stewart's line, forcing his men to start retreating back towards the Granny White Pike (Map).

His position collapsing, Hood had no choice but to withdraw along his entire front. Falling back his men established a new position further south anchored on Shy's and Overton's Hills and covering his lines of retreat. To reinforce his battered left, he shifted Cheatham's men to that area, and placed Lee on the right and Stewart in the center. Digging in through the night, the Confederates prepared for the coming Union attack. Moving methodically, Thomas took most of the morning of December 16 to form his men to assault Hood's new position.

Placing Wood and Steedman on the Union left, they were to attack Overton's Hill, while Schofield's men would assault Cheatham's forces on the right at Shy's Hill. Moving forward, Wood and Steedman's men were initially repulsed by heavy enemy fire. At the opposite end of the line, Union forces faired better as Schofield's men attacked and Wilson's cavalry worked around behind the Confederate defenses. Under attack from three sides, Cheatham's men began to break around 4:00 PM. As the Confederate left began fleeing the field, Wood resumed attacks on Overton's Hill and succeeded in taking the position.

Battle of Nashville - Aftermath:

His line crumbling, Hood ordered a general retreat south towards Franklin. Pursued by Wilson's cavalry, the Confederates re-crossed the Tennessee River on December 25 and continued south until reaching Tupelo, MS. Union losses in the fighting at Nashville numbered 387 killed, 2,558 wounded, and 112 captured/missing, while Hood lost around 1,500 killed and wounded as well as around 4,500 captured/missing. The defeat at Nashville effectively destroyed the Army of Tennessee as a fighting force and Hood resigned his command on January 13, 1865. The victory secured Tennessee for the Union and ended the threat to Sherman's rear as he advanced across Georgia.

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Your Citation
Hickman, Kennedy. "American Civil War: Battle of Nashville." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Hickman, Kennedy. (2020, August 26). American Civil War: Battle of Nashville. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "American Civil War: Battle of Nashville." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 29, 2023).