Despite suffering over 6000 casualties at the Battle of Franklin on November 30th, 1864, Confederate General John Bell Hood kept his army on the march to Nashville. Confederate forces reached the southern outskirts of the city on December 2nd, and began taking up defensive positions in the hope that the Union forces defending Tennessee’s Capitol would attack.
These forces were under the command of Major General George Thomas. Despite heavy pressure from Washington and Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, Thomas held off on attacking until he could get his cavalry fully equipped with horses, and until the weather cleared. Sleet, cold temperatures, and icy conditions had made offensive operations difficult or nearly impossible to effectively execute, at least in Thomas’ opinion. Grant didn’t see it that way and was on his way from Virginia to relieve Thomas and assume command personally.
Then on December 14th, conditions improved and Thomas attacked on the morning of the 15th. The operation consisted of a diversionary attack on the Confederate right and a full scale attack on the Confederate left. The diversion did not draw any Rebel units away from the left, but the Union attack on that side resulted in the capture of several defensive positions. Hood withdrew and reformed a more compact defensive position about two miles south of his previous line.
On the 16th, Thomas again launched a diversionary action against the right of the new line, while attacking the left. The Rebel defenses on the left were anchored on a steep hill called Compton’s Hill (later renamed Shy’s Hill). Major General John M. Schofield’s 23rd Corps had been directed to attack the hill, but Schofield was reluctant and asked for reinforcements. Thomas sent a division from Major General A.J. Smith’s detachment of the Army of the Tennessee to Schofield.
But Schofield still hesitated to attack. Brigadier General John McArthur, commanding the three brigade division from Smith’s command, became impatient with the delays and decided to attack, acting on his own initiative. McArthur saw this as an opportunity to take the Confederate left and put the entire Rebel line in jeopardy.
McArthur ordered his 1st brigade to attack the highest ground of the hill, while his other two brigades attacked the lower ground. The assault was successful, and Hood ordered a retreat south to keep his entire army from being wiped out or captured. The Federal pursuit over the next few days drove what was left of Hood’s army out of Tennessee and into Alabama. The Battle of Nashville was a decisive Union victory, and the final large engagement in Tennessee in the Civil War. Hood’s invasion of Tennessee had ended in disaster for the Confederates, and in January of 1865, the general resigned.
McArthur’s successful attack came at the cost of 579 total casualties in his division, with the 2nd Brigade suffering 315. The 2nd Brigade consisted of the 5th and 9th Minnesota, 8th Wisconsin, 11th Missouri, and the 2nd Battery of Iowa Light Artillery. It was under the command of Colonel Lucius F. Hubbard a Minnesotan who had previously been in command of the 5th Minnesota Infantry. Hubbard filed this account of his brigade’s fighting in his after action report.
HEADQUARTERS SECOND BRIGADE, FIRST DIVISION,
DETACHMENT ARMY OF THE TENNESSEE,
Near Pulaski, Tenn., December 27, 1864.
CAPTAIN: I have the honor to submit for the information of the general commanding the following details of the operations of the Second Brigade, First Division, Detachment of the Army of the Tennessee, in the battle of the 15th and 16th instant, near Nashville, Tenn.:
On the evening of the 14th instant I was directed by the general commanding to hold my brigade in readiness to move promptly at 6 o’clock on the following morning. In compliance therewith I moved at the hour designated from the line of
works occupied by the brigade, and formed in column of regiments near and to the left of the Charlotte pike. At 8 a.m. I moved out on the pike in column, by the flank, and about a mile from the point of starting was directed by General McArthur to move to the left across the country to the vicinity of the Hardin pike, or until I should be able to connect with the line of the Third Brigade. In executing this movement I encountered a skirmish line of the enemy, which I was required to engage and push back. This, however, involved but little delay; the connection was readily formed and my line established upon the right of the Third Brigade. The regiments were formed in the following order from right to left, viz: Ninth Minnesota Infantry, Fifth Minnesota Infantry, Eleventh Missouri Infantry, and Eighth Wisconsin Infantry, with the Second Iowa Battery in reserve. I advanced in order of echelon by battalion, the formation being made on the left, and with a line of skirmishers, consisting of four companies, one from each regiment, deployed in my front. A steady advance was maintained until about the hour of 12 m., no force of the enemy being encountered that the skirmishers were not enabled to press back. The line swung gradually to the left as the advance progressed, crossing the Hardin pike at an angle and in a southerly direction. About a mile from the point where the line crossed the Hardin pike the enemy began to develop himself in considerable force and to dispute our advance more stubbornly. An intrenched battery of four guns, posted on a commanding eminence to the right of the Hillsborough pike, and a section in position on a hill some 400 yards to the rear, opened upon our advancing line, to which the Second Iowa Battery, in conjunction with the other artillery of the division, returned a spirited fire. A position for the artillery at close range was obtained, and some very effective practice upon the part of our batteries witnessed, which, in conjunction with the operations of the skirmishers, effectually silenced the enemy’s guns. Company E, Eleventh Missouri Infantry, Captain Notestine, engaged as skirmishers, advanced to within a dozen yards of the more advanced work of the enemy, from whence they drove the gunners from their pieces. By direction of the general commanding I gained a position as near the enemy’s battery as practicable, formed the brigade in two lines, the Fifth and Ninth Minnesota constituting the first and the Eleventh Missouri and Eighth Wisconsin the second line, and prepared to assault the work.
Simultaneously with the line upon my right I advanced at a double-quick, and crossing a deep ravine, moved in a manner to turn the right flank of the position. The enemy made but a feeble effort to check the assault; his infantry gave way in disorder, and his artillery fell into our possession. Captain Notestine’s skirmishers, of the Eleventh Missouri, were the first to enter the work, and assisted in turning the captured guns upon the retreating enemy. I pursued as far as the Hillsborough pike, steadily driving everything in my front, and capturing many prisoners, my skirmishers the while pressing up the hill to the rear of the captured position, and entering the work of the enemy simultaneously with the troops upon my right. The enemy now made a strong effort to rally, and showed himself in some force upon my left, which at this time was wholly unsupported. His line of battle was being formed, running across my left, toward the rear, and his skirmishers showed a bold front, and were advancing. I had already deployed a line of skirmishers covering my left flank, which I now re-enforced and ordered forward; at the same time changed front upon the center, right wing forward, thus facing southeasterly, and crossing the Hillsborough pike at nearly a right angle. The Second Iowa Battery in the meantime had taken position to my left and rear, and was throwing shell with marked effect at a body of the enemy maneuvering in my front. The fire of the artillery, and the rapid advance of my skirmishers, two companies of which—Company D, Eighth Wisconsin, Captain Williams, and Company D, Eleventh Missouri, Captain Erwin–charged along the Hillsborough pike at a run, had a very demoralizing effect upon the enemy, who surrendered in large numbers, or retreated in utter disorder. The two companies mentioned captured about 450 prisoners, among whom were several field officers. The prisoners were turned over to Lieutenant Kelly, of General Thomas’ staff. I was now directed by the general commanding to remain where I had established my line across the Hillsborough pike until support could be brought up for my left, unless an advance movement was made upon the right; in which case I should also move forward. At about 4 p.m. the troops of the Twenty-third Army Corps, that had formed line upon the right but somewhat to the rear of my position, commenced an advance, which I took up, and swinging to the right, moved across the pike and through the timber up the hill. I had advanced but about sixty rods, when I encountered the enemy in force. His line of battle was formed along the crest of the hill, in a position of some natural advantage, very favorable for defense, and from which I received, for a moment, a sharp and somewhat effective fire; but a very brief encounter with the veterans of the Second Brigade sufficed to break the enemy’s line, which recoiled under our withering fire and fell back in disorder before the steady advance I maintained. In the pursuit the retreat of the enemy was rendered a rout; the killed and wounded were strewn thickly along the field, and straggling detachments surrendered at almost every step. Upward of 400 prisoners were sent to the rear. Captain McGrew, of my staff, turned over to Lieutenant Kelly 218 in one body, and numerous squads of from 10 to 20 and upward were sent under guard to the general corral. The pursuit was continued to the Granny White pike, where two pieces of artillery were captured, the enemy being so hotly pressed that he abandoned them in the road.
Finding myself far in advance of the troops on my right, and being wholly without support upon the left, I deemed it prudent to order a halt, particularly as the enemy was moving up re-enforcements toward my left, and maneuvering as if to turn my flank. I retired my line a few yards, and formed along the crest of a ridge, at the same time ordered up the Second Iowa Battery, whose effective practice checked the movements of the re-enforcing column of the enemy and served to increase the confusion of the retreat. A brigade of the Twenty-third Corps soon formed upon the right in continuation of my line, and the Third Brigade of this division closed up upon my left. It had now become quite dark, and the general commanding directed that I maintain my present position for the night. The men were directed to lay on their arms, each regiment supplied with tools and instructed to intrench its front. I deem it necessary, to complete the record of the Second Brigade in this day’s work, to state that in breaking the enemy’s line in the final charge of the day, I completely turned the right flank of the position in front of the Twenty-third Corps, which undoubtedly contributed in some measure to the success of its capture and the repulse of its support. At about sunrise on the morning of the 16th instant the general commanding directed me to advance my brigade and feel for the enemy’s position. I moved out in line, maintaining the formation of the previous day, my left resting on the Granny White pike. An advance of perhaps a hundred rods developed the enemy’s position, and drew from his line a very galling fire. I found him posted behind a line of works running parallel to my front and crossing the Granny White pike at a right angle. I continued to advance under a severe fire until I had reached a point within 300 yards of the works, where the men could cover themselves in a measure, halted, formed the brigade in two lines as on the preceding day, preparatory to an assault, and reported progress to the general commanding, who instructed me to maintain my position until further dispositions could be made. The Second Iowa Battery, with other artillery of the command, was brought forward and placed in favorable positions for an effective fire against the enemy’s line. The Second Iowa occupied a point on elevated ground to the right and rear of the brigade, where it performed most efficient service for several hours during the day, effectually silencing one of the enemy’s batteries, exploding a limber, and damaging the defenses with the precision of its shots. Company H, Fifth Minnesota, Captain Morehouse, and Company F, Ninth Minnesota, Lieutenant McMillan, deployed as skirmishers, advanced to within 100 yards of the enemy’s works, and, though suffering severely, stubbornly maintained their position until the final assault. For the purpose of securing for my men a better cover from sharpshooters, who kept up an annoying fire, as well as to provide for possible contingencies, I directed my first line to intrench its front.
At about 4 p.m. I received the order to assault the works in my front. The order was no sooner communicated to the command than each regiment moved forward with a determination that bespoke success. Every officer and man was at once in his place, and fully comprehending the duty of the hour, resolved upon its fearless discharge. My line of advance lay across a corn-field, through every foot of which the men were exposed to a direct fire from the line of works in front and a cross-fire on either flank. My line was no sooner in motion than it was met by a most withering volley, and as the regiments struggled on through the muddy field, softened by the recent rain, their ranks were sadly decimated by the continuous fire they encountered. A battery on my left enfiladed my line, and with fearful accuracy poured its discharges of grape through the ranks. But seemingly unmindful of the storm of missiles they were breasting, the veterans of the Second Brigade did not falter, but, pressing steadily on, gained the works and carried them, in literal execution of the order they had received. Almost simultaneously the colors of the Fifth and Ninth Minnesota Infantry were pushed over the parapet, closely followed by the flags of the Eleventh Missouri and Eighth Wisconsin. Large bodies of the enemy surrendered in the works; some, however, attempted to escape by retreating to the hills in the rear. Directing the Ninth Minnesota and Eighth Wisconsin to pursue up the hills, I swung the Fifth Minnesota and Eleventh Missouri to the left, and sweeping along the flank of the enemy, inside the works, captured many prisoners, and driving the support that was attempting to rally in protection of the battery, from whose fire I had suffered so fearfully, captured it entire. Three pieces of artillery were also taken by the Eighth Wisconsin and Ninth Minnesota, which they compelled the enemy to abandon in his hasty flight. The enemy kept up a desultory fight as he retreated in straggling bodies up the hills, but the pursuit did not cease until the heights were gained and darkness had put a period to the operations of the day.
The material results of this day’s work were to be seen in the 1,200 prisoners sent to the rear–among whom was Brigadier-General Jackson, who surrendered to Lieut. J. F. Bishop, Fifth Minnesota Infantry–7 pieces of artillery, with caissons,
captured, and the colors of seven rebel regiments, in possession of the brigade, making an aggregate of captures made by the brigade in the two days’ operations of 1 brigadier-general, over 2,000 prisoners, 9 pieces of artillery, and 7 stand of colors. The brigade went into action with a total of 1,421 muskets, and expended 61,000 rounds of musket and 1,500 of artillery ammunition.
As the brigade acted for the greater part of the time during both days under the eye of the general commanding, it is unnecessary for me to speak particularly with reference to the conduct of the command during the trying ordeals of the 15th and 16th instant. I cannot, however, in justice to the gallant officers and men of the Second Brigade, conclude this report without recording my high appreciation of their conduct on every occasion during the two days’ fighting, and returning to every officer and soldier of the brigade my thanks for the heroism they displayed, and for the promptitude with which they responded to every order given them. To regimental and battery commanders I am much indebted for efficient co-operation, especially manifested in their successful execution of the various movements incident to the operations of the command. Col. J. F. Marsh, commanding Ninth Minnesota; Lieut. Col. William B. Gere, commanding Fifth Minnesota; Lieut. Col. William B. Britton, commanding Eighth Wisconsin, and Lieut. Col. Eli Bowyer, commanding Eleventh Missouri, each handled their regiments in an admirable manner, and by examples of personal gallantry encouraged their men to deeds of glorious daring. Lieut. Col. William Markham and Maj. H. B. Strait, Ninth Minnesota; Maj. J. C. Becht, Fifth Minnesota, and Major Green, Eleventh Missouri, were prompt and efficient in the discharge of their respective duties. Capt. J. R. Reed, commanding Second Iowa Battery, performed highly important service in both days’ operations.
I cannot cite in evidence of the character of the work the Second Brigade performed in the battle of Nashville anything more suggestive than the list of casualties it suffered. Three hundred and fifteen officers and men were killed and wounded in the two days’ fighting. Lieutenant-Colonel Bowyer, Eleventh Missouri, received a very severe wound in the arm, and with great reluctance was taken from the field. Major Green, while subsequently commanding the regiment, had his horse killed under him, and was himself painfully wounded. Lieutenant-Colonel Gere and Major Becht, Fifth Minnesota, had each a horse killed under them in the thickest of the fight. The colors of the Fifth Minnesota were four times shot down in the final assault, and the flag of the Eleventh Missouri fell the third time, but both were still borne onward.
To my staff the thanks of myself and the command are due for very valuable service in all the operations on the field. Lieut. William H. Sargent, Eighth Wisconsin Infantry, and acting assistant in-spector-general of the brigade, was killed in the last day’s fight. He had distinguished himself by great personal gallantry during the assault, and was urging forward in the pursuit, after the enemy’s works had been carried, when he fell. Endowed in an eminent degree with those qualities that endear man to his fellow, and a bright ornament to his profession, the fall of Lieutenant Sargent adds another to the list of her brave defenders, for whose memory the country will drop a tear when the records of this war are made up. Lieut. T. P. Gere, acting assistant adjutant-general, received a painful wound while in the very front of the line when the conflict was fiercest. Capts. J. G. McGrew and William W. Cleland, acting aides, each distinguished himself for efficiency, and were conspicuous for acts of personal daring. Lieut. J. P. Owens, acting assistant quartermaster, discharged all the duties pertaining to his department with promptness and ability.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
L. F. HUBBARD,
Colonel Fifth Minnesota Veteran Infantry, Comdg. Brigade.
Capt. W. H. F. RANDALL,
Assistant Adjutant-General, First Division.
After the war, Hubbard served as governor of Minnesota from 1882-87.
Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War of the Rebellion Series I, Volume XLV, Part 1.
Repelling Hood’s Invasion of Tennessee by Henry Stone. In Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume 4 edited by Robert U. Johnson and Clarence C. Buel.