The Death Ride of the Army of Tennessee climaxed 150 years ago today and tomorrow, as the Union and Confederacy fought one more large-scale battle between the Appalachians and the Mississippi: the Battle of Nashville.
After the Battle of Franklin, Federal forces sheltered and regrouped in the defenses of Nashville, Tennessee’s capital. John Bell Hood’s Army of Tennessee, 31,000 strong, took up positions south of the city. Although termed a besieging force, in reality it was anything but. Hood’s troops had barely enough strength to hold their 4-mile-long line from the N&C Railroad (along today’s US 41/I-24 corridor) to the Granny White Pike. Five detached redoubts and a cavalry division under Brigadier General James Chalmers covered the remaining distance to the Cumberland River. In places, Hood’s battle line stood one rank deep to cover the front.
Opposite Hood waited Major General George H. Thomas, commanding a combined force of elements of the Army of the Cumberland, Army of the Ohio, Army of the Tennessee, and the Post of Nashville, all in the defenses of the city. Held up by weather and the need to remount his cavalry, Thomas finally moved at dawn on December 15.
The Battle of Nashville opened with a Federal diversionary attack on the Confederate right, led by Major General James B. Steedman’s provisional division. Led by a brigade of U.S. Colored Troops, Steedman’s men battled for Lunette Granbury, overlooking the N&C railroad. Fighting lasted all day, but Hood was not fooled.
Meanwhile, Thomas’ main effort got under way. This involved a massive wheeling movement by over half of his army against Hood’s left and left rear. At the spearhead was Major General A. J. Smith’s XVI Corps (also known as “Detachment, Army of the Tennessee”), supported by Major General Thomas J. Wood’s IV Corps, the Cavalry Corps under Major General James H. Wilson, and Major General John M. Schofield’s XXIII Corps.
At 2:30 Wilson’s and Smith’s men assaulted the redoubts, steadily capturing them. Meanwhile Wood’s infantry attacked the Confederate line along and east of the Granny White Pike, with some success. Smith and Wilson’s forces swung in from the west, and as dusk fell routed the Confederate left under Lieutenant General A.P. Stewart. Reinforcements prevented complete collapse, but the Confederate army had been beaten.
What happened next would depend on the decision of Hood.