Battle of Nashville; Sherman Captures Savannah; Federals Attack Fort Fisher: December 1864

Gen. George Thomas

Gen. George Thomas

150 Years Ago in the Civil War

While siege operations continued around Petersburg, Virginia, there was significant action elsewhere as 1864 came to an end.

In Tennessee, despite suffering 7000 casualties at the Battle of Franklin on November 30th, General John Bell Hood marched his battered army towards Nashville.  There, 55,000 Union troops under Major General George Thomas occupied defensive works around the southern side of Nashville, with both ends of the works anchored on the Cumberland River.  Hood’s troops began arriving on December 2nd, and they too began to set up a defensive line.

Thomas began making preparations to attack.  The general was known to be deliberate in his planning and movements, and this was no exception.  Thomas wanted to refit his cavalry, which was short on supplies and horses, before undertaking offensive operations.  A major winter storm with ice, snow, and subfreezing temperatures moved into the area on December 8th, and the soldiers on both sides had all they could do to keep from freezing, let alone attack the enemy.

To the administration in Washington, Thomas appeared to be another general who couldn’t make a move, despite an exemplary record in the war.  Telegrams were sent from the War Department and from Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant urging Thomas to attack.  At one point, Grant ordered Major General John Logan to proceed to Nashville and assume command if Thomas had not attacked by the time Logan arrived.  Grant left Virginia for Washington and was preparing to go to Nashville himself when Thomas finally attacked.

Battle of Nashville by Kurz and Allison

On the foggy morning of December 15th, the Federals moved out of their fortifications and attacked the Confederates. One Union division attacked the Confederate right flank, while two corps attacked the left.  The Rebel left buckled, and Hood was forced to pull his lines back and reform his defenses.  The next day, Thomas again attacked the right, and followed that with an assault on the left.  Dismounted Union cavalrymen worked their way around to the rear of the Confederate left, and the Rebels retreated from the field in disorder.  Hood ordered a withdrawal south.  Union cavalry under General James Wilson pursued the retreating Confederates, and clashed with the rear guard of General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry as Hood’s shattered army retreated  for the rest of the month, eventually arriving at Tupelo, Mississippi.  The Battle of Nashville was the last major fighting in the western theater of the war.

With half of his formerly 40,000 man army gone–captured, killed, or deserted–Hood resigned his command on January 13th, 1865.  Thomas received the formal Thanks of Congress, at that time a major honor as a total of only 30 army and navy officers received such thanks during the entire war.

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