The Battle of Nashville
Professor Ernest Butner (Irish)

        Before Sherman set out for Savannah, the commander of the Confederate army in Georgia, General John B. Hood, decided to invade Tennessee. Hood's purpose was to draw Sherman back after him and defeat the Federals in the mountains. Sherman, however, refused to be drawn; he trusted Thomas to deal with Hood. As Hood marched into Tennessee, Sherman marched across Georgia. Hood's one chance of victory was to get into Tennessee and smash the small army there before Thomas could concentrate enough men to hold the state. But instead of moving rapidly, Hood moved slowly, and on his way to Thomas' base at Nashville he suffered a bad defeat at Franklin. After Franklin, Hood had no chance to win, and he should have retired to Georgia. However, he chose to go on to Nashville. With his little army, he took position on the hills south of the city and waited--for what he could not have given a rational answer.
        In Nashville, Thomas was gathering an army that would eventually number almost 70,000. Thomas was a good general, a hard-hitting attacker, but he always took a long time to get ready to attack. He moved like a sledgehammer when he moved, but he never advanced until his army was prepared down to the last knapsack. All during December Thomas stayed in his works at Nashville. He was readying a paralyzing blow at Hood, but he did not fully inform the government what he was planning. To Lincoln it seemed that Thomas was avoiding battle with the Confederates. The President did not know that the battered Confederate army was incapable of offensive action; he feared that while Thomas dallied at Nashville Hood would strike for Kentucky. Finally, Lincoln directed Stanton to take up Thomas' inaction with Grant. the Secretary telegraphed Grant that Lincoln was worried by Thomas' disposition to lay in his fortifications indefinitely, which looked to the President like the old McClellan-Rosecrans strategy. Grant, who knew how slow Thomas was, immediately sent several sharp dispatches to Thomas urging him to attack at once. Thomas replied that he wanted to build up his cavalry before attacking and that he would launch an offensive as soon as possible. Not impressed with Thomas' pledge of early action and completely misjudging Thomas' generalship, Grant informed the government that Thomas was excellent on defense but did not know how to fight offensively and would probably never attack Hood. Grant advised that Thomas be relieved and the command of his army be given to John M. Schofield, one of his corps generals.
        Lincoln was astonished at Grant's recommendation to remove Thomas. When he had asked Grant to spur Thomas to action, he had never dreamed that the general in chief would go to the length of ousting Thomas from command. Although the President was disturbed by Thomas' slowness, he saw no reason to relieve him. He greatly admired Thomas and had ever since Chickamauga. Nevertheless, he did not want to oppose Grant on the issue of Thomas. The general in chief, Lincoln believed, ought to have the right to choose his field commanders. Halleck transmitted to Grant Lincoln's reactions to the proposed removal. If Grant wished Thomas relieved, he was to issue an order to that effect, and nobody in the government would oppose the order. But, added Halleck, the responsibility for relieving Thomas would have to be Grant's because nobody in the government wanted Thomas removed. Undeterred by Lincoln's obvious disapproval of what he was asking, Grant then prepared an order relieving Thomas and appointing Schofield to the command.
        Grant telegraphed the order to Halleck with the instructions to send it to Thomas. Before it went over the wires, two dispatched from Thomas arrived in Washington stating that as he was moving out to attack Hood a sleet storm had set in to halt all operations. Halleck, showing a good sense of responsibility, informed Grant of the import of Thomas' communications and asked Grant if he still wanted to transmit the removal order. Grant agreed to suspend the order until the weather cleared and Thomas had a chance to prove he meant to fight. Several days passed before Thomas could move, and Grant became impatient again. He started for Washington to see Lincoln. From the capital, he intended to go to Nashville and personally relieve Thomas. He reached Washington on December 15 and went into conference at the war Department with Lincoln, Stanton, and Halleck. The President tried to talk Grant out of removing Thomas and, voicing good army doctrine, said that Thomas on the ground was better able to judge his situation than was Grant five hundred miles away in Washington. But Grant, unreasonably angry at Thomas, insisted on relieving him. With great reluctance, Lincoln let Grant have his way. As the General in Chief was about to start, a telegram arrived at the War Department from a military telegraph official with Thomas' army announcing that on the fifteenth Thomas had attacked Hood, smashed the enemy line, and would complete his work the next day with a great victory. Grant called off his trip to Nashville and congratulated Thomas. The victory at Nashville was the only one in the war so complete that the defeated army practically lost its existence. Source: From the papers of the late Dr. Ernest Butner

This Page last updated 02/16/02

Want to know a little about the author? Just click.