by Andy Mateja

The battle of Nashville, fought in mid-December 1864 was considered one of the most complete at decisive battles of the war. It was thoroughly planned by both sides and was fought as planned with no element of surprise.

Maj Gen Geo H Thomas explained his battle plans in detail to his Union commanders, intending to attack the enemy in fortifications. Gen John B Hood, the actual aggressor decided to await the Union attack and capture Nashville by counterattack.

Thomas ordered his attack for Dec 10th. However bad weather changed his plans and Thomas ordered the attack to be made when snowstorm ended. The weather improved on Dec 14th and attack was scheduled for next day. To avoid battlefield confusion, Thomas gave each of his corps commanders specific written instructions of their role in the upcoming battle.  As part of his plan, Thomas also had naval ships on the river watch for Confederates that might cross the river to bypass Nashville.

Hood already outnumbered, detached ¼ of his men including his cavalry to operate under Lt Gen Nathan Bedford Forrest to cut Union supply lines.  He also tried to reduce desertion before the battle by taking roll call morning and night. His army’s flanks were fortified and redoubts were built to await the Union attack.

Thomas attacked in the morning fog of Dec 15th while quartermasters and walking wounded ringed the city for defense. Sharpshooters led off the battle with a feint on left. His main attack was on the right consisting of 15,000 infantry and 12000 cavalry. Cavalry commander Maj Gen James Wilson showed also provided written instructions to his cavalry commanders as to where they were to attack. He also coordinated his cavalry movements in advance with infantry commander Maj Gen A.J. Smith.

Slight confusion did occur in the Union ranks, but only delayed the attack for a short time. The confederates, vastly outnumbered could only offer token resistance to the combined Union Infantry and Cavalry onslaught. The Confederate left was overwhelmed.

Maj Gen Thomas Wood commanding the Union center, also provided written instructions to his commanders including detailed movement instructions for each division. Fog delayed his advance until after 12:00PM.

There was a large civilian audience from Nashville that turned out to watch the battle. Most were Southern Sympathizers.  They were able to witness the Union center and right flank advance in unison. The Northern troops fought tenaciously until they captured all 5 redoubts of the Confederates and flanked them out of their defensive position. The strongest resistance the Southerners could offer was on Montgomery Hill where they were dug in. However they were ultimately overwhelmed as well as Hood did all he could but not gather enough men in support.

Thomas, at the end of the first days fighting, decided to attack the enemy if Hood was still present. When Lt Gen Ulysses Grant heard this, he canceled the remainder of his trip to Nashville, intending to relieve Thomas of command for slowness of his attack. Hood DID stand his ground and repaired his defensive line during the night the best he could.

When Thomas launched his attack the next day, heavy artillery fire led it off. The Union line actually overlapped the Confederate line on both flanks.   Hood’s Confederate line held on the right but collapsed on the left. Union Cavalry attacked the Confederate left from the rear while Union infantry attacked from the front and flank.  Hood’s line broke and fled on the left and center. His right flank slowly followed. The remnants of Confederate Cavalry came up behind the Union troopers and vainly attacked them to no avail.

The two-day battle ended with a huge Union Victory. The fighting continued every day thereafter as the Confederates retreated to the Tennessee River. The winter weather was brutal as well. Many in Hood’s army had no hats, overcoats or shoes to contend with the freezing weather.

Bedford Forrest’s cavalry kept up a strong rear guard delaying action while the remnants of Hood’s valiant army retreated to Tupelo Ms. Union pursuit finally ended on Dec 29th.

Casualties amounted to 3000 of the 45,000 engaged for the North and many thousands killed wounded and captured (estimated to be 9000) of the 15,000 engaged for the South

This ended Hood’s dream of capturing Nashville and invading Ohio. His army was so decimated during the battle that it never again posed a threat against the Union for the remainder of the war.