Grant Urges Thomas to Attack; Forrest’s Little Sideshow

December 5, 1864 (Monday)

Federal outer line at Nashville.
Federal outer line at Nashville.

John Bell Hood’s Army of Tennessee, battered and bloodied as it was, arrived before Nashville on the 2nd. Once there, they began the task of digging in, roughly two miles from the Federal embattlements. S.D. Lee’s Corps, with three divisions, held the center of the line. On his left was Alexander Stewart, and to his right was Benjamin Cheatham. Upon either flank, he placed the cavalry, each extending as they could to the Cumberland River.

As soon as they arrived, Hood began fortifying – especially his flanks, so that any attempt to turn his position would be met with defeat for the attackers.

One of Hood’s other objectives was to open communication with Virginia and Georgia (presumably Petersburg and Savannah). To do this, he would have to clear a path through western Virginia and eastern Tennessee. This would be no simple task. However, he had the making of a plan.

He wished for John Breckinridge’s division, 3,000-strong, to be sent to him. They were at this point Wytheville, Virginia, 350 or so miles to the east. Hood sent word to Richmond that he wanted these men sent either into Kentucky or to his own army outside Nashville. Since Breckinridge did not fall under his actual command, this was little more than a spirited request.

Today's approximate map.
Today’s approximate map.

Over his communications with Georgia, he had slightly more control. The Federals retained outposts in Murfreesboro, Chattanooga and Knoxville. Breckinridge would take care of Knoxville, and in the immediate, Nathan Bedford Forrest would handle Murfreesboro, hopefully in as rough a way as possible.

Forrest’s Corps, which contained three small divisions, was thus divided, leaving that of James Chalmers behind with Hood. And with his other two under Abraham Buford and William Jackson, Forrest was ordered to play upon the railroad, telegraph and blockhouses along the railroad toward Murfreesboro.

Additionally, Hood detached William Bate’s Division from Cheatham’s Corps for such work. Unfortunately for Bate, his 1,600 men could do little against the reported 5,000 Yankees under Lovell Rousseau, still holding the town. In light of this, Forrest was ordered to send some cavalry his way and before too long, he got around to doing it.

Forrest played hell along the railroads, capturing stockades and block-houses and taking many prisoners. By the 4th, he had received Hood’s orders to move on Murfreesboro.

“On the morning of the 5th, I moved, as ordered, toward Murfreesborough. At La Vergne I formed a junction with Major-General Bate, who had been ordered to report to me with his division for the purpose of operating against Murfreesborough. I ordered Brigadier-General Jackson to send a brigade across to the Wilkinson pike, and moving on both pikes the enemy was driven into his works at Murfreesborough. After ordering General Buford to picket from the Nashville and Murfreesborough to the Lebanon pikes on the left, and Jackson to picket on the right to the Salem pike, I encamped for the night.”

While Forrest worked his way toward Murfreesboro, General Grant in Virginia was trying once again to get General George Thomas, commanding at Nashville, to act. “Is there not danger of Forrest moving down the Cumberland to where he can cross it?” Asked Grant. “It seems to me whilst you should be getting up your cavalry as rapidly as possible to look after Forrest, Hood should be attacked where he is. Time strengthens him, in all probability, as much as it does you.”

Grant wasn’t exactly correct in this assumption, though Hood, no doubt, wished it to be true. The Confederate commander did everything he could to pull troops towards his makeshift seige. “Send forward at once all men belonging to this army in proper detachments, with officers to preserve discipline and prevent straggling on the march,” he wrote to Corinth, Mississippi, though so few were left.

Hood also attempted to coax General Thomas into exchanging prisoners, man for man. Thomas, wasn’t about to do this. “I have to state that, although I have had quite a large number of prisoners from your army,” he wrote in reply, “they have all been sent North, and consequently are now beyond my control.”

Federal Defenses of Nashville.
Federal Defenses of Nashville.

Back in Nashville, Thomas more or less agreed with Grant’s assessment. Through the day, he had walked the entirety of his own defenses, noting that Hood hadn’t inched any closer to him. “If I can perfect my arrangements,” wrote Thomas vaguely, “I shall move against the advanced position of the enemy on the 7th instant.”

But even more than that, Thomas had another plan. “If an expedition could be started from Memphis against the Mobile and Ohio Railroad, and thus cut off Hood’s means of supply, he will run the risk of losing his whole army, if I am succssful in pushing him back.”

Upon reading this, the next day, Grant would reply: “Attack Hood at once, and wait no longer for a remount of your cavalry. There is great danger of delay resulting in a campaign back to the Ohio River.”

Thomas would reply: “I will make the necessary dispositions and attack Hood at once, agreeably to your order, though I believe it will be hazardous with the small force of cavalry now at my service.”

This response would not sit well with General Grant.1

  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 45, Part 1, p654, 744, 755; Part 2, p55, 70, 84, 653; Advance and Retreat by John Bell Hood; The Confederacy’s Greatest Cavalryman by Brian Steel Wills. []
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Grant Urges Thomas to Attack; Forrest’s Little Sideshow by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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