Monday, October 23, 2006

Nashville, TN

Dates: December 15-16, 1864


Union: Major General George Thomas commanding Union forces at Nashville.

Confederate: General John Hood commanding the Army of Tennessee.

Prelude: Even though his army was savaged at the Battle of Franklin (November 30,1864), Hood still felt that he could continue the offensive. Embolden by the addition of cavalry under Lieutenant General Nathan Forrest as well as another force under Lieutenant General Stephen Lee, Hood figured that he can force the Federals to abandon Nashville and even try to get to the Ohio River. The only thing that was not going Hood’s way was that he did not force Union forces under Major General William Sherman to abandon Atlanta, GA in order to pursue him. Still, Hood believed he could cause a panic in the North. On December 2, his forces would be approaching Nashville.

Thomas had been ordered to assemble a force that would either attack Hood, defend Tennessee, or launch an offensive into Alabama. Knowing that Hood was coming, Thomas decided to see what Hood would do.

December 2, 1864: Hood’s troops begin entrenching south of Nashville. Noticing that the Federals were already entrenched, Hood planned to force a Union attack, repulse that attack, and then follow the retreating Northerners into Nashville.

Thomas was intending to do just that, but he was solving the problems associated with integrating about 12,000 cavalry into his command. Until all of his forces were ready, he was not going to launch a premature attack. This action was taken despite receiving several messages ordering him to take the offensive. Some of these messages were coming from the Commander of Union forces, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant. Grant was actually considering relieving Thomas if he did not attack. Thomas calmly informed Grant that his forces were ready (they were on December 9) but weather conditions were not satisfactory due to freezing rain. Grant, even though he did not like Thomas, decided to wait.

December 15, 1864: At about 10:00 a.m., with the ground thawed, Thomas chose to strike. He sends Brigadier General James Wilson’s cavalry, supported by infantry under Major General Andrew Jackson Smith, began advancing towards the Confederate left, held by a corps under Major General Benjamin Franklin Cheatham.

11:00 a.m.: a Union Provisional Detachment under Major General James Steedman launches an assault on the Confederate right, but is repulsed. This does distract Hood from the main thrust, which is about to hit his left.

1:00 p.m.: Generals Wilson’s and Smith’s forces are supported by a corps under Major General John Schofield as they approach the Confederate entrenchments. Hood sees this and orders a division to relocate to the left in support of his line.

2:00 p.m.: Another Federal assault, this time in the form of two divisions of Major General Thomas Wood’s IV Corps manages to hit the confederate center.

That assault, combined with massive thrust by Wilson, Smith, and Schofield, succeeds in peeling back the Confederate lines. Hood has no choice but to pull back to a new line, anchored by the Granny White Pike on the west and the Franklin Pike on the east. Hood orders his troops to dig in and to wait for the next morning.

December 16, 1864: 10:00 a.m.: Thomas sees his chance to destroy Hood and decides to take advantage of it. Steedman’s Detachment hits the Confederate right, held by the corps of Major General Stephen D. Lee. The Federals are repulsed at Overton Hill.

12:00 noon: Wilson’s cavalry makes a move that will take them into the Confederate rear. He decides to form a line south of Cheatham’s position.

3:30 p.m.: Another attack by Steedman is repulsed.

4:00 p.m.: Smith’s corps launches an attack on the Confederate line at Shy’s Hill, on the extreme left, and breaks the defensive line.

4:30 p.m.: The Union forces launch a massive attack on the Confederate left. Wilson strikes from the south, Schofield from the west, and Smith from the north. Cheatham’s troops put up a hard defense, but in the end, the entire Confederate left broke apart. Troops began running to the rear. This was soon followed by the center and the right as a fear of getting captured swept the Army of Tennessee. Hood had no choice but to pull out of the area and retreat back to the Tennessee River.

Thomas ordered a pursuit to the fleeing Confederates. This was hampered by Forrest’s cavalry putting up a rearguard defense. Hood manages to get across the Tennessee River, but the force is only a shadow of its former self. The Army of Tennessee is no longer a fighting force in the Confederate Army. Its remnants would be folded into General Joe Johnston’s army that will face Sherman in the spring. Hood would resign his command.

As 1864 was coming to an end, the only major Confederate Army that could stave off the inevitable was General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, and it was under siege at Petersburg, VA.

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