The final major battle in the West in the American Civil War, the two day battle of Nashville that commenced on December 15, 1864, was a decisive Union victory. Delayed by bad weather, Union general Thomas endured a steady stream of telegrams from Washington and Grant demanding that he attack. Thomas would not do so until he was ready. Grant, who had never had a good relationship with Thomas, decided to remove him, and only the knowledge that an attack was imminent stayed the decision:
I consequently urged Thomas in frequent dispatches sent from City Point to make the attack at once. The country was alarmed, the administration was alarmed, and I was alarmed lest the very thing would take place which I have just described that is, Hood would get north. It was all without avail further than to elicit dispatches from Thomas saying that he was getting ready to move as soon as he could, that he was making preparations, etc. At last I had to say to General Thomas that I should be obliged to remove him unless he acted promptly. He replied that he was very sorry, but he would move as soon as he could.
General Logan happening to visit City Point about that time, and knowing him as a prompt, gallant and efficient officer, I gave him an order to proceed to Nashville to relieve Thomas. I directed him, however, not to deliver the order or publish it until he reached there, and if Thomas had moved, then not to deliver it at all, but communicate with me by telegraph. After Logan started, in thinking over the situation, I became restless, and concluded to go myself. I went as far as Washington City, when a dispatch was received from General Thomas announcing his readiness at last to move, and designating the time of his movement. I concluded to wait until that time. He did move, and was successful from the start. This was on the 15th of December. General Logan was at Louisville at the time this movement was made, and telegraphed the fact to Washington, and proceeded no farther himself.
Heavily outnumbering the Confederates, Thomas planned to attack the exposed Confederate left while making feint attacks on the Confederate right. Hood was not fooled by the feint attacks and throughout the day sent reinforcements to the Confederate left. After hard fighting, Thomas took the five redoubts guarding the Confederate left.
The next day Thomas repeated his tactics, with attacks on the new Confederate left and feint attacks on the Confederate right. As the sun was going down, the Confederate left disintegrated and Thomas had won the battle. Thomas pursued Hood relentlessly until Hood crossed the Tennessee River on December 28. The Confederate Army of Tennessee was finished as an effective combat force. Confederate casualties were 6000 to 3000 Union.
Here is the report of Thomas on the battle:
Both armies were ice-bound for a week previous to the 14th of December, when the weather moderated. Being prepared to move, I called a meeting of the corps commanders on the afternoon of that day, and having discussed the plan of attack until thoroughly understood, the following Special Field Order, No. 342, was issued:
Paragraph IV. As soon as the state of the weather will admit of offensive operations the troops will move against the enemy’s position in the following order:
Maj. Gen. A. J. Smith, commanding Detachment of the Army of the Tennessee, after forming his troops on and near the Hardin pike, in front of his present position, will make a vigorous assault on the enemy’s left.
Major-General Wilson, commanding the Cavalry Corps, Military Division of the Mississippi, with three divisions, will move on and support General Smith’s right, assisting, as far as possible, in carrying the left of the enemy’s position, and be in readiness to throw his force upon the enemy the moment a favorable opportunity occurs. Major-General Wilson will also send one division on the Charlotte pike to clear that road of the enemy and observe in the direction of Bell’s Landing, to protect our right rear until the enemy’s position is fairly turned, when it will rejoin the main force.
Brig. Gen. T. J. Wood, commanding the Fourth Army Corps, after leaving a strong skirmish line in his works from Laurens’ Hill to his extreme right, will form the remainder of the Fourth Corps on the Hillsborough pike, to support General Smith’s left, and operate on the left and rear of the enemy’s advanced position on the Montgomery Hill.
Major-General Schofield, commanding Twenty-third Army Corps, will replace Brigadier-General Kimball’s division, of the Fourth Corps, with his troops, and occupy the trenches from Fort Negley to Laurens’ Hill with a strong skirmish line. He will move with(*) the remainder of his force in front of the works and co-operate with General Wood, protecting the latter’s left flank against an attack by the enemy.
Major-General Steedman, commanding District of the Etowah, will occupy the interior line in rear of his present position, stretching from the reservoir on the Cumberland River to Fort Negley, with a strong skirmish line, and mass the remainder of his force in its present position, to act according to the exigencies which may arise during these operations.
Brigadier-General Miller, with the troops forming the garrison of Nashville, will occupy the interior line from the battery on Hill 210 to the extreme right, including the inclosed work on the Hyde’s Ferry road.
The quartermaster’s troops, under command of Brigadier-General Donaldson, will, if necessary, be posted on the interior line from Fort Morton to the battery on Hill 210.
The troops occupying the interior line will be under the direction of Major-Gen-oral Steedman, who is charged with the immediate defense of Nashville during the operations around the city.
Should the weather permit the troops will be formed [in time] to commence operations at 6 a.m. on the 15th, or as soon thereafter as practicable.
On the morning of the 15th of December, the weather being favorable, the army was formed and ready at an early hour to carry out the plan of battle promulgated in the special field order of the 14th. The formation of the troops was partially concealed from the enemy by the broken nature of the ground, as also by a dense fog, which only lifted toward noon. The enemy was apparently totally unaware of any intention on our part to attack his position, and more especially did he seem not to expect any movement against his left flank. To divert his attention still further from our real intentions, Major-General Steedman had, on the evening of the 14th, received orders to make a heavy demonstration with his command against the enemy’s right, east of the Nolensville pike, which he accomplished with great success and some loss, succeeding, however, in attracting the enemy’s attention to that part of his lines, and inducing him to draw re-enforcements from toward his center and left. As soon as General Steedman had completed his movement, the commands of Generals Smith and Wilson moved out along the Hardin pike and commenced the grand movement of the day, by wheeling to the left and advancing against the enemy’s position across the Hardin and Hillsborough pikes. A division of cavalry (Johnson’s) was sent at the same time to look after a battery of the enemy’s on the Cumberland River at Bell’s Landing, eight miles below Nashville. General Johnson did not get into position until late in the afternoon, when, in conjunction with the gun-boats under Lieut. Commander Le Roy Fitch, the enemy’s battery was engaged until after nightfall, and the place was found evacuated on the morning of the 16th. The remainder of General Wilson’s command, Hatch’s division leading and Knipe in reserve, moving on the right of General A. J. Smith’s troops, first struck the enemy along Richland Creek, near Hardin’s house, and drove him back rapidly, capturing a number of prisoners, wagons, &c., and continuing to advance, whilst slightly swinging to the left, came upon a redoubt containing four guns, which was splendidly carried by assault, at 1 p.m., by a portion of Hatch’s division, dismounted, and the captured guns turned upon the enemy. A second redoubt, stronger than the first, was next assailed and carried by the same troops that captured the first position, taking 4 more guns and about 300 prisoners. The infantry, McArthur’s division, of General A. J. Smith’s command, on the left of the cavalry, participated in both of the assaults; and, indeed, the dismounted cavalry seemed to vie with the infantry who should first gain the works; as they reached the position nearly simultaneously, both lay claim to the artillery and prisoners captured.
Finding General Smith had not taken as much distance to the right as I expected he would have done, I directed General Schofield to move his command (the Twenty-third Corps) from the position in reserve to which it had been assigned over to the right of General Smith, enabling the cavalry thereby to operate more freely on the enemy’s rear. This was rapidly accomplished by General Schofield, and his troops participated in the closing operations of the day.
The Fourth Corps, Brig. Gen. T. J. Wood commanding, formed on the left of General A, J. Smith’s command, and as soon as the latter had struck the enemy’s flank, assaulted the Montgomery Hill, Hood’s most advanced position, at 1 p.m., which was most gallantly executed by the Third [Second] Brigade, Second [Third] Division, Col: P. Sidney Post, Fifty-ninth Illinois, commanding, capturing a considerable number of prisoners. Connecting with the left of Smith’s troops (Brigadier-General Garrard’s division), the Fourth Corps continued to advance, and carried by assault the enemy’s entire line in its front and captured several pieces of artillery, about 500 prisoners, some stands of colors, and other material. The enemy was driven out of his original line of works and forced back to a new position along the base of Harpeth Hills, still holding his line of retreat to Franklin–by the main pike, through Brentwood, and by the Granny White pike. Our line at night-fall was readjusted, running parallel to and east of the Hillsborough pike–Schofield’s command on the right, Smith’s in the center, and Wood’s on the left, with the cavalry on the right of Schofield; Steedman holding the position he had gained early in the morning.
The total result of the day’s operations was the capture of sixteen pieces of artillery and 1,200 prisoners, besides several hundred stand of small-arms and about forty wagons. The enemy had been forced back at all points, with heavy loss; our casualties were unusually light. The behavior of the troops was unsurpassed for steadiness and alacrity in every movement, and the original plan of battle, with but few alterations, strictly adhered to.
The whole command bivouacked in line of battle during the night on the ground occupied at dark, whilst preparations were made to renew the battle at an early hour on the morrow.
At 6 a.m. on the 16th Wood’s corps pressed back the enemy’s skirmishers across the Franklin pike to the eastward of it, and then swinging slightly to the right, advanced due south from Nashville, driving the enemy before him until he came upon his new main line of works, constructed during the night, on what is called Overton’s Hill, about five miles south of the city and east of the Franklin pike. General Steedman moved out from Nashville by the Nolensville pike, and formed his command on the left of General Wood, effectually securing the latter s left flank, and made preparations to co-operate in the operations of the day. General A. J. Smith s command moved on the right of the Fourth Corps (Wood’s), and establishing connection with General Wood’s right, completed the new line of battle. General Schofield’s troops remained in the position taken up by them at dark on the day previous, facing eastward and toward the enemy’s left flank, the line of the corps running perpendicular to General Smith’s troops. General Wilson’s cavalry, which had rested for the night at the six-mile post on the Hillsborough pike, was dismounted and formed on the right of Schofield’s command, and by noon of the 16th had succeeded in gaining the enemy’s rear, and stretched across the Granny White pike, one of his two outlets toward Franklin.
As soon as the above dispositions were completed, and having visited the different commands, I gave directions that the movement against the enemy’s left flank should be continued. Our entire line approached to within 600 yards of the enemy’s at all points. His center was weak, as compared with either his right, at Overton’s Hill, or his left, on the hills bordering the Granny White pike; still I had hopes of gaining his rear and cutting off his retreat from Franklin. About 3 p.m. Post’s brigade, of Wood’s corps, supported by Streight’s brigade, of the same command, was ordered by General Wood to assault Overton’s Hill. This intention was communicated to General Steedman, who ordered the brigade of colored troops commanded by Colonel Morgan, Fourteenth U.S. Colored Troops, to co-operate in the movement. The ground on which the two assaulting columns formed being open and exposed to the enemy’s view, he, readily perceiving our intention, drew re-enforcements from his left and center to the threatened point. This movement of troops on the part of the enemy was communicated along the line from left to right.
The assault was made, and received by the enemy with a tremendous fire of grape and canister and musketry; our men moved steadily onward up the hill until near the crest, when the reserve of the enemy rose and poured into the assaulting column a most destructive fire, causing the men first to waver and then to fall back, leaving their dead and wounded–black and white indiscriminately mingled–lying amid the abatis, the gallant Colonel Post among the wounded. General Wood readily reformed his command in the position it had previously occupied, preparatory to a renewal of the assault.
Immediately following the effort of the Fourth Corps, Generals Smith’s and Schofield’s commands moved against the enemy’s works in their respective fronts, carrying all before them, irreparably breaking his line in a dozen places, and capturing all his artillery and thousands of prisoners, among the latter four general officers. Our loss was remarkably small, scarcely mentionable. All of the enemy that did escape were pursued over the tops of Brentwood and Harpeth Hills.
General Wilson’s cavalry, dismounted, attacked the enemy simultaneously with Schofield and Smith, striking him in reverse, and gaining firm possession of the Granny White pike, cut off his retreat by that route.
Wood’s and Steedman’s troops, hearing the shouts of victory coming from the right, rushed impetuously forward, renewing the assault on Overton’s Hill, and although meeting a very heavy fire, the onset was irresistible, artillery and innumerable prisoners falling into our hands. The enemy, hopelessly broken, fled in confusion through the Brentwood Pass, the Fourth Corps in a close pursuit, which was continued for several miles, when darkness closed the scene and the troops rested from their labors.
As the Fourth Corps pursued the enemy on the Franklin pike, General Wilson hastily mounted Knipe’s and Hatch’s divisions of his command, and directed them to pursue along the Granny White pike and endeavor to reach Franklin in advance of the enemy. After proceeding about a mile they came upon the enemy’s cavalry, under Chalmers, posted across the road and behind barricades. The position was charged by the Twelfth Tennessee Cavalry, Colonel Spalding commanding, and the enemy’s lines broken, scattering him in all directions and capturing quite a number of prisoners, among them Brig. Gen. E. W. Rucker.
During the two days’ operations there were 4,462 prisoners captured, including 287 officers of all grades from that of major-general, 53 pieces of artillery, and thousands of small-arms. The enemy abandoned on the field all his dead and wounded.