Blue and Gray Trail
Civil War Encyclopedia
Civil War in Georgia
On the Blue and Gray Trail
Civil War by state
Today in the Civil War
This year in the Civil War
Fall of Nashville, February, 1862
Civil War Encyclopedia >> Cities - South
In February, 1862, Nashville was the second largest city in the state of Tennessee (only Memphis was bigger) and the eighth largest in the Confederacy. It was an industrial center and was home to the Nashville Armory, also known as the College Hill Arsenal. Although this was a private company, it did manufacture arms for the Confederate government and was one of the few facilities capable of casting artillery in the country. There were other casting facilities in the city as well.
Railroads played an important role in the development of the city, perhaps even more important than the rivers over the 10 years prior to 1862. Four lines, the Louisville and Nashville, the Tennessee and Alabama, the Nashville and Chattanooga, and Nashville and N. W. served the city, carrying raw materials in and manufactured goods out. In 1861 the city was heavily in favor of secession.
Albert Sidney Johnston decided to string his army across 300 miles of southern Kentucky, partly because he considered Nashville a easy target from the north. Although the Cumberland River did form a barrier, it would be easy to cross upstream or downstream and negate the defensive advantage. With the defeat of Felix Zollicoffer at Mill Springs, Nashville began to worry about the Union Army. George Thomas moved with alacrity towards the next object of Buell's Army of the Ohio, Bowling Green, Kentucky, and his old friend William Hardee, then in command of the Central Army of Kentucky.
News that Ulysses S. Grant took Fort Henry brought Nashville to a panic state. Then John Breckinridge withdrew the final brigade of the Central Army of Kentucky from Bowling Green on the night of February 13, 1862. Don Carlos Buell occupied Bowling Green on February 14, 1862 and Nashville hoped the Confederate Army at Fort Donelson would stem the Union tide. With the fall of Bowling Green, Buell ordered Thomas to move on Nashville.
Some of the few Confederates to escape the besieged Fort Donelson began straggling in with the news that the Confederates surrendered the fort. Isham Harris, governor of Tennessee at the time, took it upon himself to warn the citizens of Nashville by riding around the city on horseback and claiming that Union forces were less than an hour away. John Floyd arrived and assumed command allowing Sidney Johnston and William Hardee to establish headquarters in Murfreesboro, a few miles southeast. Even Nathan Bedford Forrest's arrival with a much larger force would be nowhere near the manpower needed to stop the marauding Union Army.
At Donelson, Grant had requested assistance from General Buell when the Confederates tried to break out on February 14. When William 'Bull' Nelson arrived at Donelson on February 23 in response, Grant had the situation in hand. The Union commander also knew Nashville was wide open with little in the way of defensive forces, but Henry Halleck had expressly forbade him from advancing to the city. Grant arrived at Nelson's boat as it was docking. He immediately ordered Nelson to continue on to Nashville with his division and take the city. Never one to back down from a fight, Nelson willingly advanced. General Buell was also moving towards the city, with a division of men under the command of Ormsby Mitchell.
On February 24, 1862, Don Carlos Buell arrived on the north bank of the Cumberland River from Nashville and met with Nashville Mayor Richard Cheatham, and other citizens who informed the general of the Confederate withdrawal. Entering the city would be difficult because the Rebels destroyed the bridges over the river before they left. Buell joined his men in their bivouac overlooking the city, intending to accept the surrender in Nashville the following morning. The plans, however, went slightly awry.
Led by the gunboat Conestoga, Bull Nelson moved steadily upriver from Fort Donelson and arrived at Nashville early on the morning of February 25. Unaware of the negotiations that had occurred the previous night, his men landed and started movements to seize the city. By the time he met the mayor, who explained the situation to him, he controlled the capital of Tennessee, the first state capital to fall into Union hands. Later in the day, Buell accepted the formal surrender of Nashville.
Over the next week, thousands of Union soldiers poured into the city, but most were assigned to defensive positions to the south. Work began on a massive fortification known as Fort Negley, for Brigadier General James Negley. General Grant took a boat upriver from Donelson to Nashville to meet with General Buell. His name ("Unconditional Surrender" Grant) and his fame preceded him and many of Buell's men struggled eagerly for a view of the most successful general in the Union Army. After meeting with General Buell, Grant called on Sarah Polk, wife of the late former President, James Polk.
The visit, however, caused a major problem for the Union's rising star. When Henry Halleck found out about Grant visiting Nashville, he relieved Grant of command of the Army of West Tennessee and put Charles F. Smith in command.
Links appearing on this page:
Albert Sidney Johnston
Fall of Nashville, February, 1862 was last changed on - January 6, 2008
Battles | Places | Events by year | Events by date | Feature Stories |
Bookstore | Links | Who We Are |