Nashville Falls to the Union; Crossing the Potomac

February 25, 1862 (Tuesday)

Two different Federal forces were approaching Nashville, recently abandoned by the Rebels. Up the Cumberland River, General William “Bull” Nelson, with 7,000 men, was, by morning, five miles away from the city. General Don Carlos Buell, with a small portion of his Army of the Ohio (about 9,000, so far), had made it to the banks of the Cumberland River, opposite Nashville.

Buell had no intention of crossing into the city until he had most of his army with him. He was aware that the Confederates had fallen back from Nashville following the loss of Fort Donelson, but was playing it safe.

It was much to his surprise that he spied General Nelson’s men entering the city aboard transport ships.1 Nelson, after examining one of the abdicated Confederate river batteries, entered the city, taking possession of the public square. Realizing at some point that General Buell was across the river, Nelson, who was now under Halleck and Grant, took a boat to meet with his former commander.

This left Col. Jacob Ammen in charge. Around noon, Ammen met with Nashville’s mayor, who asked for a pass to see General Buell, so they could properly surrender the city. The rest of Ammen’s day was spent being called upon by the citizenry. Most claimed to be strident, dyed in the (blue) wool, Union men. Others, told him where to find secessionists and the supplies left behind by the Rebel army. Due to these Unionists, tons of provisions were discovered.2

While Ammen was hearing from the locals, Generals Buell and Nelson were deciding what to do next. Buell didn’t want to leave Nelson all alone in the city for fear of Rebel attack. He also didn’t want to abandon the newly-taken foothold. Though he thought it was too early to cross, he did so anyway, loading his men onto the transport ships and taking them across to Nashville. After they were on the shore, he sent the ships back to Grant at Clarksville, so they could bring back General C.F. Smith’s Brigade. One thing Buell did not want was to be attacked by the Rebels with his back to the bridgeless Cumberland River.3

As Buell entered the town, he saw no violent demonstrations, but saw little Union sentiment. “The mass of people appear to look upon us as invaders,” he reported the following day.4 Though most of the residents seemed resigned to their occupation, at least one was prepared to speak her mind.

As he rode along High Street, his troops following, a wealthy Southern woman came out of her house, and walked towards General Buell, shouting praise for Jeff Davis. Buell made sure that the large house was made into a hospital.5

__________________

Geary Tries Again

The storm that had swelled the rapids of the Potomac River near Harpers Ferry had passed. It had claimed the lives of six men of the 28th Pennsylvania as they attempted to cross it on a makeshift skiff. General George McClellan wanted to cross General Nathaniel Banks’ Division into Harpers Ferry and secure the B&O Railroad. Banks wanted to do all of that in addition to taking Stonewall Jackson’s base at Winchester.

For either plan to succeed, they needed a bridge. The railroad bridge had been destroyed and would take too long to repair, so McClellan wished to build a semi-permanent floating bridge made from canal boats (basically barges). Until that was ready, he would built a regular, temporary pontoon bridge.

By this date, the pontoons were coming by rail and were just about ready, while the canal boats, specifically selected for the job, were being shipped up the C&O Canal.6

Col. Geary, commander of the 28th Pennsylvania, was determined to cross the river and establish a beachhead at Harpers Ferry. He somehow managed to get eight companies and two pieces of artillery across using the rickety skiff and rope ferry system that proved deadly the previous day.

The weather on this date was calm and cool. The Potomac’s current, however, was still dangerously swift. The rope that was the guide for the ferry broke during a crossing and two companies had to be taken over in boats.

Once in Harpers Ferry, Geary threw five companies and the artillery over the Shenandoah River. They established garrisons, filling the three fortifications that had been built earlier.7

Meanwhile, the rest of Banks’ Division, 18,000-strong, as well as General Sedgwick’s Corp of Observation, 10,000-strong, continued or began their marches towards Harpers Ferry.8



  1. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p425. Buell’s Report. []
  2. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p659-660. Ammen’s Diary. []
  3. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p669. []
  4. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p425. []
  5. The Forty-First Ohio Volunteer Infantry by Robert L. Kimberly and Ephraim S. Holloway, W. R. Smellie, 1897. []
  6. Army of the Potomac; McClellan’s First Campaign by Russel H. Beatie. []
  7. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 5, p511-512. Geary’s Report. []
  8. Life and Letters of Wilder Dwight, February 25, 1862. As well as Army of the Potomac; McClellan’s First Campaign by Russel H. Beatie. []
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Nashville Falls to the Union; Crossing the Potomac by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International

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One thought on “Nashville Falls to the Union; Crossing the Potomac

  1. This is soo wonderful. 🙂

    As he rode along High Street, his troops following, a wealthy Southern woman came out of her house, and walked towards General Buell, shouting praise for Jeff Davis. Buell made sure that the large house was made into a hospital.5

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