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Battle of Nashville CWT 2006 Article

Battle of Nashville CWT 2006 Article

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Published by Kraig McNutt
2006 CWT article on the Battle of Nashville
2006 CWT article on the Battle of Nashville

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: Kraig McNutt on Jun 19, 2012
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06/19/2012

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Battle of Nashville: Enemies Front and Rear 
Originally published by
 America's Civil War 
magazine. Published Online: June 12, 2006
Major General George H. Thomas, 48-year-old commander of theDepartment of the Cumberland, and Brigadier General James H.Wilson, the 27-year-old chief of cavalry of the Military Division of theMississippi, sat huddled over supper at Nashville's St. Cloud Hotel onthe night of December 12, 1864. 'Wilson, the Washington authoritiestreat me as if I were a boy,' Thomas lamented. 'They seem to thinkme incapable
of fighting a battle.'That night, Thomas was a commander faced with too many enemies. A few miles south, Confederate General John Bell Hood's Army of Tennessee stood on the outskirts of Nashville, where a winter stormhad coated the hills with a paralyzing blanket of ice and snow.Thomas, meanwhile, was also besieged by demands fromWashington, and from Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's headquarters atCity Point, Va., to attack Hood or lose his command. 'If they just leaveme alone,' he told Wilson, 'I will show them what we can do.' Thomaswould be left alone just long enough to deliver on that promise,destroying Hood's Army of Tennessee in theBattle of NashvilleonDecember 15-16, 1864.Events foreshadowing the fight at the Tennessee state capital beganas Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman set out on his March to the Sea. Toprotect Tennessee from a thrust by Hood, Thomas was givencommand of a patchwork army of 29,000 men of the IV and XXIIIcorps under Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield, along with 6,500 cavalryled by Wilson. At Spring Hill on November 29, a Rebel trap nearly snapped shut onSchofield. But the next day at Franklin, 18 miles south of Nashville,Hood's 30,000-man army suffered 7,000 casualties in head-onassaults against Schofield's entrenched troops. Still, Hood continuedto advance his army toward the defenses of Nashville, where Thomaswas concentrating his forces. In addition to Schofield's and Wilson'smen, plus 4,000 capital garrison soldiers, Maj. Gen. James B.
 
Steedman's 5,200 troops were marching from Chattanooga and9,900 Army of the Tennessee veterans, led by Maj. Gen. Andrew J.Smith, were en route from Missouri.The feud between Thomas and his superiors had begun percolatingthe morning of the Franklin battle. From Nashville, Thomas wiredSchofield that Smith's full force had not yet arrived, asking, 'Do youthink you can hold Hood at Franklin for three days longer?' Schofieldresponded before the battle: 'I do not believe I can. I can doubtlesshold him one day, but will hazard something in doing that.' RegardingMaj. Gen. Nathan B. Forrest and his 8,000 troopers, Schofield added,'I have no doubt Forrest will be in my rear tomorrow
.' Thomasinstructed Schofield to be prepared to march to Nashville.On December 1, Thomas telegraphed Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck,chief of staff in Washington: 'I determined to retire to
Nashville
 .If Hood attacks me here, he will be more seriously damaged than hewas yesterday
.' The next morning, Secretary of War Edwin M.Stanton wired Grant, the Federal general-in-chief, in Virginia, 'ThePresident feels solicitous about the disposition of General Thomas tolay in fortifications for an indefinite period
the President wishes youto consider the matter.'The military styles of Grant and Thomas were simply at odds. It wasThomas' men who had smashed the Army of Tennessee atopChattanooga's Missionary Ridge, but Grant fumed at the general'scaution. Nor was Grant alone. At the war's beginning Shermanpredicted, '[Thomas] will do it well — he was never brilliant but alwayscool, reliable, and steady — maybe a little slow.' After Stanton penned his December 2 message, Grant proddedThomas, 'If Hood is permitted to remain quietly about Nashville, youwill lose all the [rail]road back to Chattanooga
.' Grant soon wiredThomas again and complained, 'After the repulse of Hood at Franklin
we should have taken the offensive against the enemy where hewas.' Thomas explained that Schofield had retreated before an attackorder could be delivered, and piqued Grant by explaining, 'It must beremembered that my command was made up of the two weakestcorps of General Sherman's army and [much] dismounted cavalry
 in a few more days I shall be able to give him a fight.'
 
By December 3 Thomas had positioned his infantry in entrenchmentsthat stretched across the south of Nashville and touched theCumberland River above and below the city. From right to left,Thomas' line was occupied by General Smith's troops; Maj. Gen.Thomas J. Wood's IV Corps; the XXIII Corps, led by Schofield; andSteedman's troops. Wilson's horsemen crossed north of theCumberland to refit.Hood, with three battered corps, could not begin to envelopeNashville, but built a line stretching from the Hillsboro Pike eastwardto near the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad and Murfreesboro Pike.Hood positioned the troops of Lt. Gen. Alexander P. Stewart on hisleft, Lt. Gen. Stephen D. Lee's corps in the center and the corps of Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Cheatham on his right.Despite his disadvantage, the only cavalry he kept with his force wasBrig. Gen. James R. Chalmer's division. Forrest's two other cavalrydivisions and some of Cheatham's infantry were sent to threaten theUnion garrison at Murfreesboro, commanded by Maj. Gen. Lovell H.Rousseau. Hood wanted to force Thomas to come to Rousseau's aidand fight in the open. But Rousseau held out, and Thomas did notbudge. The Union commander believed that Forrest commanded12,000 troopers, nearly double Forrest's actual numbers. Because of that, he continued to wait for Wilson to refit before moving on Hood.Grant's patience was worn out by December 6. He telegraphedThomas: 'Attack Hood at once, and wait no longer for a remount of your cavalry. There is great danger of delay resulting in a campaignback to the Ohio River.' Given Grant's direct order, Thomasresponded, 'I will make the necessary dispositions and attack Hood atonce
though I believe it will be hazardous with [Wilson's] smallforce of cavalry.'The next day Grant and Stanton exchanged gloves-off telegrams.Stanton: 'Thomas seems unwilling to attack because it is hazardous,as if all war was anything but hazardous. If he waits for Wilson to getready, Gabriel will be blowing his last horn.' Grant: 'You probably sawmy order to Thomas to attack. If he does not do it promptly, I wouldrecommend superseding him by Schofield
.' Thomas, meanwhile,prepared, but his definition of 'at once' was curious. Wood recorded

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