The Battle of Nashville: A History

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Nashville is rich in history. Its location has always made it a popular destination for trade due to its proximity next to the river and near the railroad. During the Civil War, the city and surrounding areas were the sites for some of the bloodiest battles. If you’ve ever wondered a little more about the history of Nashville and its role in the Civil War, we’ve got you covered.

Nashville’s Early Days

Native Americans first inhabited Nashville from about 1000 to 1400 A.D. They used the land to grow crops like corn, made beautiful pottery, constructed mounds then vanished. No one is one hundred percent sure why, but we do know that later other Native American tribes like the Cherokee, Chickasaw, and Shawnee came to the area to use as hunting grounds.

French fur traders came to Tennessee around 1717 and are the first white men on record to visit the area regularly. It’s more than likely they used Nashville as a central point to increase trade. As often as they were here, the settlement by the French didn’t appear until 1779. It’s formation was on the Cumberland River near what is now Downtown Nashville. A group of settlers worked to clear the land and make an enclosure. They named it Fort Nashborough. The name “Nash” was inspired by General Francis Nash who served in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. He had a profound impact on the political climate in North Carolina and was a well-respected member of the community.

Nashborough was changed to Nashville by the late 1700s. In 1796, Tennessee became the 16th state, but it took almost fifty years before Nashville was recognized as the capital. Not long after becoming the capital, the city experienced turmoil. Due to its prestigious location on the Cumberland River and near the railroad, Nashville was occupied by the Federal troops in the Civil War. Much of the city and surrounding neighborhoods were the sites for some of the bloodiest battles.

Nashville During the Civil War

The town was vital during the Civil War. At the time it was one of the most populated cities. Tennessee was a Confederate state and was successful in keeping Nashville under their occupation until February of 1862 when Fort Donelson fell to Union troops, Nashville was surrendered to Union forces. The Union was happy with its acquisition, and not a shot was fired to make the transfer. Confederates gave it up peacefully. The position on the river was ideal for shipping and made it easier for them to transport goods to keep their soldiers healthy. It took two years under Union occupation before Nashville became the site for a bloody battle.

The Battle of Franklin

In the summer of 1864, General John Bell Hood and his rebel Confederates lost Atlanta, Georgia and quickly abandoned the city when William T. Sherman and his troops moved in. Bell decided to take his men back to Tennessee in hopes of drawing Sherman out of Atlanta. The only problem was Sherman had enough soldiers to split keeping some in Georgia and using the others to chase Hood in Tennessee.

On their way up, Hood decided to attack some of the Union army led by General Schofield in Franklin, Tennessee a small city just outside Nashville. This plan didn’t work well, and much of the Confederacy suffered casualties that would play out later in the Battle of Nashville.

The Battle of Nashville

After the battle fought in Franklin, Schofield decided to make his way to Nashville to meet with Union General George Thomas. Hood followed. Undeterred, Thomas thought of this as an opportunity to give Hood one more blow.

The battle was stacked against Hood. The Union troops were twice his size. Historians to this day can understand why Hood made the decision to attack knowing the odds weren’t in his favor. Nevertheless, he persisted. On December 15th in the early morning, the Battle of Nashville broke out. It ended quickly due to the short hours but resumed the following day on December 16th. Despite a valiant effort from the rear-guard General Stephen Lee for the Confederates, they lost, and Hood took what was left of his men to Mississippi. One month later, Hood resigned from his position of command.

Battle of Nashville Historic Sites

Tennessee State Museum and State Capitol

If you want more information about the history of Nashville and its status during the Civil War, the State Capital’s museum as a collection of information worth visiting.

Travellers Rest Plantation

One of the oldest museums in Nashville, the plantation was once occupied by the Union army and served as the headquarters for Hood before the Battle of Nashville.

Stones River National Battlefield

Here you can get first-person accounts of life during the battle. There are seven miles of trails, and you can walk the grounds where 3,000 men died, and 16,000 were wounded.

Carnton Plantation

The Carnton Plantation was a private home affected by the Battle of Franklin. It served as a hospital during the fight. Visitors can tour the inside of the house and see areas where bullets penetrated the home’s structure.

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