Today in History

Today in History: December 16

The Battle of Nashville

View of Nashville, Tennessee
Nashville, Tennessee, from Fort Negley Looking Northeast,
March 1864.
Taking the Long View: Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991

On the afternoon of December 16, 1864, Union troops led by General George H. Thomas devastated Confederate forces at Nashville, Tennessee. The battle had begun the day before when Thomas initiated an attack after waiting some two weeks for troop reinforcements and favorable weather.

In November, in an effort to cut off General William T. Sherman's supply line, Confederate General John B. Hood, led the Army of Tennessee out of Alabama and toward Nashville. One of Hood's men remembered the grueling march from Atlanta to Nashville. "After the fall of Atlanta," Confederate veteran Milton Cox told his son John:

we marched northward into Tennessee over frozen ground and how cold it was! Our shoes were worn out and our feet were torn and bleeding…the snow was on the ground and there was no food. Our rations were a few grains of parched corn. When we reached the vicinity of Nashville we were very hungry and we began to search for food. Over in a valley stood a tree which seemed to be loaded with fruit. It was a frost bitten persimmon tree, but as I look back over my whole life, never have I tasted any food which would compare with these persimmons.

Memories of Milton B. Cox told by his son John T. Cox,
Effie Cowan, interviewer, Groesbeck, Texas, circa 1936-40.
American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940

Union General George H. Thomas reached the outskirts of Nashville mere days before Hood and began building fortifications, amassing troops, and planning Hood's demise. For almost two weeks both sides maintained their positions as they prepared for battle. Ice from freezing rain delayed the inevitable clash for several days.

After the weather had cleared, fighting began before daybreak on December 15. Within less than forty-eight hours, Hood's troops were in retreat. Union forces tailed Hood for almost ten days. By the time that they recrossed the Tennessee River, the Army of Tennessee had disintegrated and the threat of a Confederate invasion of the North was practically nonexistent. A few weeks later, Hood resigned his command.

Long view of soldiers camping in a field
Federal Outer Line, Nashville, Tennessee,
George N. Barnard, photographer,
December 16, 1864.
Selected Civil War Photographs

Nashville, Tenn., Steps of the Capitol with covered guns
Steps of the Capitol with Covered Guns; Vista of the City Beyond, Nashville, Tennessee
George N. Barnard, photographer,
Selected Civil War Photographs

Far from their homes, Minnesotans fighting under General Thomas remembered the pursuit of Hood's army as almost worse than the battle:

The weather was cold and wet, raining and snowing by turns; the roads were embargoed with mud, almost unfathomable at times, and again frozen into rocky ruts that even the animals refused to tackle in their efforts to drag along the artillery and trains. The troops were without camp equipage of any sort, and but scantily supplied with rations. Many who survived the battle succumbed to the rigors of the campaign that followed it.

Minnesota In the Battles of Nashville, December 15 and 16, 1864.
Collections of the Minnesota Historical Society. Volume 12, 612.
Pioneering the Upper Midwest: Books from Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, ca. 1820-1910

Read more of this account of the Battle of Nashville by General L. F. Hubbard before the Minnesota Commandery of the Loyal Legion, March 14, 1905, that includes a series of field telegrams exchanged between Union Major General George Thomas, Lieutenant General U.S. Grant, and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton.