On this day in 1864, the once powerful Confederate Army of Tennessee is nearly destroyed when a Union army commanded by General George Thomas swarms over the Rebel trenches around Nashville.
The Battle of Nashvillewas thefinale in a disastrous year for General John Bell Hood’s Confederates. The Rebels lost a long summer campaign for Atlanta in September 1864 when Hood abandoned the city to the army of William T. Sherman. Hood then took his diminished force north into Tennessee. He hoped to draw Sherman out of the Deep South, but Sherman had enough troops to split his force and send part of it to chase Hood into Tennessee. In November, Sherman took the remainder of his army on his march across Georgia. On November 30, Hood attacked the troops of General John Schofield at Franklin, Tennessee. The Confederates suffered heavy casualties and much of the army’s leadership structure was destroyed: Twelve generals were killed or wounded along with 60 regimental leaders. When Schofield moved north to Nashville to join Thomas, Hood followed him and dug his army in outside of Nashville’s formidable defenses.
Thomas saw his chance to deal a decisive blow to Hood. More than 50,000 Yankees faced a Rebel force that now totaled less than 20,000. Historians have long questioned why Hood even approached the strongly fortified city with the odds so stacked against him. Early in the morning of December 15, Thomas sent a force under General James Steedman against the Confederates’ right flank. The Union troops overran the Confederate trenches and drove the Rebels back more than a mile. The short December day halted the fighting, but Thomas struck again on December 16. This time, the entire Confederate line gave way and sent Hood’s men from the field in a total rout. Only General Stephen Lee’s valiant rear-guard action prevented complete destruction of the Confederate army.
More than 6,000 Rebels were killed or wounded and 3,000 Yankees lost their lives. Hood and his damaged army retreated to Mississippi, the Army of Tennessee no longer a viable offensive fighting force.