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. Continue Reading
One of the oddest episodes in the history of the Civil War begins. His army badly mangled at the battle of Franklin, Hood entrenches his army before the Union lines at Nashville.
Hood explained his rationale for doing so in his official report of the campaign which he submitted on February 15, 1865:
On the 2d of December the army took position in front of Nashville, about two miles from the city. Lieutenant-General Lee’s corps constituted our center, resting upon the Franklin pike, with Cheatham’s corps upon the right and Stewart’s on the left, and the cavalry on either flank, extending to the river. I was causing strong detached works to be built to cover our flanks, intending to make them inclosed works, so as to defeat any attempt of the enemy should he undertake offensive movements against our flank and rear. The enemy still held Murfrees-borough with about 6,000 men, strongly fortified; he also held small forces at Chattanooga and Knoxville. It was apparent that he would soon have to take the offensive to relieve his garrisons at those points or cause them to be evacuated, in which case I hoped to capture the forces at Murfreesborough, and should then be able to open communication with Georgia and Virginia. Should he attack me in position I felt that I could defeat him, and thus gain possession of Nashville with abundant supplies for the army. This would give me possession of Tennessee. Necessary steps were taken to furnish the army with supplies, which the people were ready and willing to furnish. Shoe-shops were in operation in each brigade. We had captured sufficient railroad stock to use the road to Pulaski, and it was already in successful operation. Having possession of the State, we should have gained largely in recruits, and could at an early day have moved forward to the Ohio, which would have frustrated the plans of the enemy, as developed in his campaign toward the Atlantic coast. Continue Reading
Sherman was closing in on Atlanta. General Joseph Johnston had delayed the advance of Sherman but he had not been able to stop him. On July 8 Sherman crossed the Chattahoochie River, the last major physical obstacle between him and Atlanta. Johnston withdrew across Peachtree Creek north of Atlanta, planning to attack Sherman’s army as it crossed the creek. As he made his preparations, Johnston was suddenly removed from his command by Davis. Davis and Johnston were old enemies, but Davis removing Johnston was more an act of desperation than anything else. If Atlanta fell, the Confederate heartland was open for an invasion by Sherman, and Johnston’s strategy of maneuver and retreat convinced Davis that Johnston would not fight for Atlanta. Rolling the dice, Davis promoted one of Johnston’s corps commanders to the temporary rank of full general and John Bell Hood found himself in command of the Army of Tennessee.
Thirty-three years old and a West Point graduate, Hood had earned a reputation as an aggressive and successful division commander in the Army of Northern Virginia. At Gettysburg he was severely wounded and lost the use of his left arm. At Chickamauga he led the assault that cracked the Union army, and was again wounded losing his right leg. Equipped now with a wooden leg, Hood had lost none of his aggression and self-confidence. Under him retreat was to be a thing of the past, as he swiftly readied his army to take aggressive action to save Atlanta.
On July 19, Hood learned that Sherman was dividing his army, following his usual course of having the Army of the Cumberland under Thomas cross Peachtree Creek for a direct advance on Atlanta, while the Army of the Tennessee under McPherson and the Army of the Ohio under Schofield maneuvered to the East, to outflank the Confederates and to cut rail lines and the Confederate supply lines. For a commander as fond of attack as Hood this was a golden opportunity to launch an assault on Thomas. Continue Reading
The culmination of the Chattanooga campaign, the battle began in the morning on November 25 with Sherman attempting to take Tunnel Hill. His attacks met with no success in the face of fierce Confederate resistance.
Grant ordered the Army of the Cumberland to advance against Missionary Ridge, and the attack began at 3:30 PM. Grant, doubting that the heavily fortified Missionary Ridge could be taken by a frontal assault, ordered that only the rifle pits at the base of the ridge be taken, with the troops to await further orders. Thomas launched a four division attack, about 23,000 men. The rifle pits were taken, and the Union troops began to come under heavy fire from Confederate positions on Missionary Ridge. They immediately began a charge up the ridge to the astonishment of Grant:
Our men drove the troops in front of the lower line of rifle-pits so rapidly, and followed them so closely, that rebel and Union troops went over the first line of works almost at the same time. Many rebels were captured and sent to the rear under the fire of their own friends higher up the hill. Those that were not captured retreated, and were pursued. The retreating hordes being between friends and pursuers caused the enemy to fire high to avoid killing their own men. In fact, on that occasion the Union soldier nearest the enemy was in the safest position. Without awaiting further orders or stopping to reform, on our troops went to the second line of works; over that and on for the crest—thus effectually carrying out my orders of the 18th for the battle and of the 24th for this charge.
I watched their progress with intense interest. The fire along the rebel line was terrific. Cannon and musket balls filled the air: but the damage done was in small proportion to the ammunition expended. The pursuit continued until the crest was reached, and soon our men were seen climbing over the Confederate barriers at different points in front of both Sheridan’s and Wood’s divisions. The retreat of the enemy along most of his line was precipitate and the panic so great that Bragg and his officers lost all control over their men. Many were captured, and thousands threw away their arms in their flight.
The battle of Missionary Ridge was the most stunning example in the War of a frontal attack against a fortified position succeeding. Bragg’s center was broken and his army routed, with headlong retreat being the only course of action open to him. Confederate and Union casualties were each about 10,000 with another 4000 Confederates taken prisoner. Many of the Army of the Cumberland Union troops went into battle yelling “Chickamauga! Chickamauga!” That defeat was now well avenged, and the Chattanooga Campaign was at an end. Here is the report of Major General George Thomas, commander of the Army of the Cumberland: Continue Reading