The Battle of Nashville was a two-day battle in the Franklin-Nashville Campaign that represented the end of large-scale fighting in the Western Theater of the American Civil War. It was fought at Nashville, Tennessee, on December 15–16, 1864, between the Confederate Army of Tennessee under Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood and Federal forces under Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas. In one of the largest victories achieved by the Union Army during the war, Thomas attacked and routed Hood's army, largely destroying it as an effective fighting force.

Battle of Nashville Background

Hood followed up his defeat in the Atlanta Campaign by moving northwest to disrupt the supply lines of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman from Chattanooga, hoping to challenge Sherman into a battle that could be fought to Hood's advantage. After a brief period of pursuit, Sherman decided to disengage and to conduct instead his March to the Sea, leaving the matter of Hood's army and the defense of Tennessee to Thomas. Hood devised a plan to march into Tennessee and defeat Thomas's force while it was geographically divided. He pursued Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield's army to Columbia and then attempted to intercept and destroy it at Spring Hill. Because of a series of Confederate command miscommunications in the Battle of Spring Hill (November 29, 1864), Schofield was able to withdraw from Columbia and slip past Hood's army at Spring Hill relatively unscathed.

Furious at his failure at Spring Hill, Hood pursued Schofield to the north and encountered the Federals at Franklin behind strong fortifications. In the Battle of Franklin on November 30, Hood ordered almost 20,000 of his men to assault the Federal works before Schofield could withdraw across the Harpeth River and escape to Nashville. The Union soldiers repulsed multiple assaults and inflicted over 6,000 casualties on the Confederates, which included a large number of key Confederate generals, doing heavy damage to the leadership of the Army of Tennessee.

Opposing forces

Principal Union commanders
Principal Confederate commanders


Schofield withdrew from Franklin during the night and marched into the defensive works of Nashville on December 1, there coming under the command of Thomas, who now had a combined force of approximately 55,000 men. The 7-mile-long semicircular Union defensive line surrounded Nashville from the west to the east; the remainder of the circle, to the north, was the Cumberland River, patrolled by U.S. Navy gunboats. Clockwise around the line was the division of Maj. Gen. James B. Steedman on the Union left, Schofield's XXIII Corps, Brig. Gen. Thomas J. Wood's IV Corps, and Maj. Gen. Andrew J. Smith's "Detachment Army of the Tennessee" (Smith's XVI Corps was redesignated with this unusual name on December 6). Maj. Gen. James H. Wilson's Cavalry Corps was stationed just north of the river.


Hood's army arrived south of the city on December 2 and took up positions facing the Union forces within the city. Not nearly strong enough to assault the Federal fortifications, Hood opted for the defensive. Rather than repeating his fruitless frontal attack at Franklin, he entrenched and waited, hoping that Thomas would attack him. Then, after Thomas smashed his army against the Confederate entrenchments, Hood could counterattack and take Nashville.

The Confederate line of about 4 miles of fortifications strongly opposed the southeasterly facing portion of the Union line (the part occupied by Steedman and Schofield). From right to left were the corps of Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Cheatham, Lt. Gen. Stephen D. Lee, and Lt. Gen. Alexander P. Stewart. Cavalry commanded by Maj. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest was off to the southwest of the city.

Hood made a tactical error before the battle. On December 5, he detached a force commanded by Forrest—two brigades of infantry and two divisions of cavalry, nearly a quarter of its total army—to attack the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad and the Union garrison at Murfreesboro, a move that proved ineffective in achieving its immediate objective. But by doing so, he further diminished his already weaker force, and also deprived his army of its most mobile units.

Thomas prepares to attack

Although Thomas's forces were stronger, he could not ignore Hood's army. Despite the severe beating it had suffered at Franklin, the Army of Tennessee presented a threat by its mere presence and ability to maneuver. Thomas knew he had to attack, but he prepared cautiously. He was busy training his largely recruit army, particularly outfitting his new cavalry corps, commanded by the energetic young Maj. Gen. James H. Wilson.

It took the methodical Thomas over two weeks to move, while Washington fumed at the seeming procrastination. Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant believed that Hood was poised for an invasion of the North. Grant later said of the situation, "If I had been Hood, I would have gone to Louisville and on north until I came to Chicago." Lincoln had little patience for slow generals and remarked of the situation, "This seems like the McClellan and Rosecrans strategy of do nothing and let the rebels raid the country." Unbeknownst to Thomas his subordinate Schofield was feeding Grant a steady stream of negative reports. Schofield had once been a student at West Point under Thomas and had been expelled for disciplinary actions and had never forgiven Thomas. Grant pressured Thomas to move, despite a bitter ice storm that struck on December 8 and stopped much fortification on both sides. Grant was not aware of the weather conditions facing Thomas. A few days later, Grant sent an aide to relieve Thomas of command, believing that Hood would slip through his fingers. On December 13, Maj. Gen. John A. Logan was directed to proceed to Nashville and assume command if, upon his arrival, Thomas had not yet initiated operations. He made it as far as Louisville by December 15, but on that day the Battle of Nashville had finally begun.


December 15

Thomas finally came out of his fortifications on December 15 to start a two-phase attack on the Confederates. Although troop movements began as early as 4 a.m., heavy fog in the area delayed the first enemy contact until 8 a.m. The initial, but secondary, attack was by Steedman on the Confederate right flank. His division included two brigades of United States Colored Troops. Steedman's attack kept Cheatham on the Confederate right occupied for the rest of the day. The main attack was by Smith, Wood, and Brig. Gen. Edward Hatch (commanding a dismounted cavalry brigade) against the enemy's left flank, which was exposed because Hood had sent Forrest away raiding toward Murfreesboro. The main attack wheeled left to a line parallel to the Hillsboro Pike. By noon, the main advance had reached the pike, and Wood prepared to assault the Confederate outposts on Montgomery Hill, near the center of the line. Hood became concerned about the threat on his left flank and ordered Lee to send reinforcements to Stewart. Wood's corps took Montgomery Hill in a charge by Brig. Gen. Samuel Beatty's division.

At about 1 p.m., there was a salient in Hood's line at Stewart's front. Thomas ordered Wood to attack the salient, supported by Schofield and Wilson. By 1:30 p.m., Stewart's position along the pike became untenable; the attacking force was overwhelming. Stewart's corps broke and began to retreat toward the Granny White Turnpike. However, Hood was able to regroup his men toward nightfall in preparation for the battle the next day. The Union cavalry under Wilson had been unable to put enough force on the turnpike to hamper the Confederate movement, since many of its troopers were participating as dismounted infantry in the assault. The exhausted Confederates dug in all night, awaiting the arrival of the Federals. The new line was in the Brentwood Hills, extending from Shy's Hill to Overton Hill, covering his two main routes of retreat—the Granny White Pike and the Franklin Pike. Hood moved troops from Cheatham on the right flank to reinforce his left.

December 16

It took most of the morning on December 16 for the Federals to move into position against Hood's new line, which had been reduced to about 2 miles in length. Once again, Thomas planned a two-phase attack but concentrated on Hood's left. Schofield was to drive back Cheatham, and Wilson's cavalry was to swing to the rear to block the Franklin Pike, Hood's only remaining route of withdrawal. At noon, Wood and Steedman attacked Lee on Overton's Hill, but without success. On the left, Wilson's dismounted cavalry was exerting pressure on the line.

At 4 p.m., Cheatham, on Shy's Hill, was under assault from three sides, and his corps broke and fled to the rear. Wood took this opportunity to renew his attack on Lee on Overton's Hill, and this time the momentum was overwhelming. Darkness fell, and heavy rain began. Hood collected his forces and withdrew to the south toward Franklin.

Battle of Nashville Aftermath

Casualties from the two-day battle were 3,061 Union (387 killed, 2,558 wounded, and 112 missing or captured) and approximately 6,000 Confederate (1,500 killed or wounded, 4,500 missing or captured). The Battle of Nashville was one of the most stunning tactical victories achieved by either side in a major engagement in the war. The formidable Army of Tennessee, the second largest Confederate force, was effectively destroyed as a fighting force. Hood's army entered Tennessee with over 30,000 men but left with 15–20,000.

The Union army set off in pursuit of Hood. The rainy weather became an ally to the Confederates, delaying the Union cavalry pursuit, and Forrest was able to rejoin Hood on December 18, screening the retreating force. The pursuit continued until the beaten and battered Army of Tennessee recrossed the Tennessee River on December 25. On Christmas Eve, Forrest had turned back Wilson's pursuing cavalry at the Battle of Anthony's Hill.

The Battle of Nashville marked the effective end of the Army of Tennessee. Historian David Eicher remarked, "If Hood mortally wounded his army at Franklin, he would kill it two weeks later at Nashville." Although Hood blamed the entire debacle on his subordinates and the soldiers themselves, his career was over. He retreated with his army to Tupelo, Mississippi, resigned his command on January 13, 1865, and was not given another field command.


A Battle of Nashville monument was created in 1927 by Giuseppe Moretti, who was commissioned by the Ladies Battlefield Association. The monument honored both sides of conflict during the Civil War. In 1974, the obelisk and angel were destroyed by a tornado, and during the 1980s highway construction left the monument on a small plot of ground overlooking the massive highway interchange of I-65 and I-440. Pieces of the monument's angle, bronze horses, and youth figure were salvaged and are now incorporated into a new monument at the small Battle of Nashville Monument Park located west of the original location in a suburban neighborhood at the intersection of Granny White Pike and Battlefield Drive. The base of the original monument still remains at its initial location next to the interchange and essentially now serves to mark the location of Stephen D. Lee's battery during the battle. The new monument has been restored, with the bronze sculpture of the youth and horses refinished, and the marble base, obelisk, and angel reconstructed in granite, a more durable material than the original marble. The monument park contains additional signage interpreting the battle and has become the locus for periodic ceremonial observances of the conflict.

Beyond the modest Battle of Nashville Monument Park, the remainder of the battlefield of Nashville is not preserved. On-site interpretation of the battle is available through numerous roadside historical state markers. Unlike other major battlefields in Tennessee, such as Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Stones River, Chickamauga, and Chattanooga, now all part of the National Park Service system, the battle of Nashville has been obscured by time and modernity. Occurring late in the war, the Nashville battle was effectively overshadowed by General William Tecumseh Sherman's March to the Sea and his capture of Savannah, Georgia. Nashville suburban sprawl and the neighborhoods of Green Hills, Grassmere, and Brentwood occupy the battlefield area today. Additional interpretation of the battle can be found at Fort Negley, Travellers Rest Plantation, and the Tennessee State Museum.

Battle of Nashville
Part of the American Civil War
Date December 15–16, 1864
Location Davidson County, Tennessee
Result Union victory
United States (Union) Confederate States of America Confederate States (Confederacy)
Commanders and leaders
George H. Thomas John Bell Hood
55,000 30,000
Casualties and losses
(387 killed
2,558 wounded
112 missing/captured)
approx. 6,000
(1,500 killed/wounded
4,500 missing/captured)