Bled From the Top: Confederate Officer Corps in the 1864 Tennessee Campaign

When the Army of Tennessee returned to its namesake Confederate state in November 1864, the chance to provide a glimmer of hope for the South in the West marched with it.

By early December, that same force was decimated, after the combined battles of Franklin and Nashville. Not only did Lieutenant General John Bell Hood lose close to 20,000 soldiers killed, wounded, captured, or missing in less than a month, he left in field hospitals and in the Volunteer State soil, the cream of his officer corps. Continue reading

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Pap Thomas to the Sledge of Nashville

The Battle of Nashville had ended in a great victory for George Thomas. Congratulations

Major General George Thomas

Major General George Thomas

flowed in, but Thomas did not rest on his laurels. Pressing ahead through bitter weather, Thomas drove his infantry and cavalry against Hood’s defeated forces, in a running battle that lasted until Florence, Alabama – about 60 miles over 16 days.  This action ground down Hood’s army, leaving it with barely 15,000 effectives against 38,000 in mid-November, and effectively knocking it out of the war.

The victory at Nashville also earned Thomas a nickname, now largely forgotten: “The Sledge of Nashville,” also rendered “The Hammer of Nashville.” This comes from his hard-hitting attacks and mass tactics that hammered and broke the Confederate positions, followed by a relentless pounding of the Confederate rear guard, physically driving the Confederate army out of its namesake state forever.

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“Telling History” vs “Making Art”: Richard Ewell on July 1

gettysburg_xlgMy favorite scene in the movie Gettysburg comes when a fiery Isaac Trimble, taught as an over-coiled spring, appears before Robert E. Lee to recount the events of July 1. Frustrated by Richard Ewell’s inaction in front of Cemetery Hill late in the day, Trimble pleads for another assignment rather than be forced to continue to serve under Ewell.

It is a short but masterful performance by William Morgan Sheppard, who mixes fury, frustration, and a jigger full of heartbreak into a mix. It’s easy to drink Trimble’s Kool-Aid when it’s served up that well. I love the scene so much that it’s hard for me to be frustrated by it—yet frustrated I am. Continue reading

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James Wilson and the Battle of Nashville, Part II

Major General George Thomas

Major General George Thomas

As Wilson rested and refitted his troopers during the opening days of December, 1864, Maj. Gen. George Thomas was engaged in another battle. This one was not with John Bell Hood, but with his superiors. Throughout the first two weeks of the month, Thomas corresponded with Chief of Staff  Maj. Gen. Henry Halleck in Washington and General in Chief, Lieut. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at City Point, Virginia. The always aggressive Grant had been urging Thomas to attack Hood. Thomas had been keeping Halleck and Grant at bay. He was not going to commit his men to battle until he was ready and could use his cavalry to his fullest advantage. Wilson’s efforts were coming to fruition, but just as he was getting his troopers back into fighting trim, a force struck that Thomas had not anticipated: Mother Nature.

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Nashville: The Second Day

Despite the results of the 15th, Hood determined to fight. That night he pulled his army cw52back two miles to a more compact line, anchored on both flanks by hills along the Franklin Pike (US 31 today) and Granny White Pike. He also reorganized, placing A.P. Stewart’s battered corps in the center and moving B.F. Cheatham’s corps from right to left. S.D. Lee’s corps took over the right flank. His men spent the night maneuvering and entrenching, and were tired at daybreak.

Thomas had rested his army in place over the night, and awaited Hood’s next move. Finding the Confederates had retreated, Thomas probed forward and spent the morning of December 16 reconnoitering the Confederate positions and deploying for an attack. He determined to follow the same plan from the previous day: feint against the Confederate right, while crushing Hood’s left.

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James Wilson and the Battle of Nashville, Part I

James Wilson, seated in the center facing the viewer's right, with his staff at City Point Virginia in 1864.  Courtesy of the Library of Congress

James Wilson, seated in the center facing the viewer’s right, with his staff at City Point Virginia in 1864. Courtesy of the Library of Congress

The weather was gradually changing, perhaps for the better. For several days, the Union troopers had been pelted with snow and sleet. It had been so harsh that only the woodcutters had been out in the precipitation. With a thaw setting in, the time came to finally move. On December 15, 1864, those troopers who had endured the foul weather would take part in a massive assault on the Confederate lines southeast of the city of Nashville. For Brig. Gen. James Harrison Wilson, his cavalrymen would be shouldering a heavy load in the attack. The next few days would help determine if Wilson was up to the challenge.

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Nashville: The First Day

The Death Ride of the Army of Tennessee climaxed 150 years ago today and tomorrow, ascw52 the Union and Confederacy fought one more large-scale battle between the Appalachians and the Mississippi: the Battle of Nashville.

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The Heights Beyond Fredericksburg

MaryesHeights121414Marye’s Heights in Fredericksburg must have looked a lot like this on December 13, 1862 (except that it was swarming with Confederates). Continue reading

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The Letters of William Child—December 14, 1864

Today, we are pleased to welcome back guest author, Dan Welch.

William Child, surgeon of the 5th New Hampshire Veteran Volunteer Infantry, had decreased his writing of letters during the twilight of 1864. Few letters passed between William and his wife, Carrie, from late November and December. Despite William’s own admittance of a lack of “work” in the field hospitals and aid stations that dotted the front near Petersburg, not only had the number of letters decreased to Carrie, but also their usual length. One interesting theme, however, is William’s continued talk of leaving the army.

On November 26, 1864, the surgeon wrote, “If I should be able to get out of the service this winter….” This is a striking notion considering he had just received his commission from assistant surgeon to surgeon, and had reenlisted for three additional years not a month prior.

In addition to his sentiments of longing for his family and home, William relayed a conversation about “ladies” by “men of the moustache and brass button order.” One can only imagine the true words from that overheard dialogue. It was nearly three weeks later that William composed his next letter to Carrie. We continue William’s story with that letter 150 years ago today.

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On the First Day of Christmas . . . The Gift of War Part III

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

Nothing says Holiday Cheer like an indoor fir tree filled with armaments of war. Or commanded by war leaders. Or bedecked in battle flags. Nothing, I tell you. And it can all be yours with some carefree shopping on your part, or the part of a loved one, from amazon.co,. etsy, or your favorite local historic site.

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