Confederate General Hood’s threat to invade Tennessee failed in its primary purpose of saving Georgia from Sherman’s untender mercies, yet his offensive could still turn a profit if it was made promptly. George H. Thomas needed time to pull together the scattered Federal forces in the area and to defend Nashville. In the end, however, Thomas got the time he needed; the Southern transportation system was so battered that Hood could not collect rations and ammunition and forage fast enough to launch a rapid strike. Only on November 21 did he begin to advance.
At the village of Spring Hill, Tennessee, Hood’s misfortunes continued. After neatly outflanking a Union blocking force commanded by John M. Schofield, he unaccountably let it slip past him and escape destruction. The next day, November 30, Hood took out his rising anger and frustration with a reckless frontal attack on Schofield’s new position at Franklin, 18 miles south of Nashville, only to be beaten back with severe losses. The Rebels, said a Federal officer, “threw themselves against the works, fighting with what seemed the very madness of despair.”
There was reason for these Confederates to feel despair. Hood’s situation was now desperate. After the battle at Franklin, Schofield slipped away to join Thomas in Nashville, giving the Yankees a solid two-to-one edge in manpower. “Rock of Chickamauga” Thomas calmly went about preparing for a showdown battle. Hood was too weak to sidestep the Union army in Nashville and continue his invasion, and too weak to assault the city’s formidable defenses. He could only wait and hope to repel Thomas’ inevitable attack. Against a general as capable as Thomas, however, that seemed at best a forlorn hope.
The attack came on December 15. It was expertly planned and commanded. The left flank of the Rebel line was overpowered, forcing Hood to fall back some two miles until darkness ended the day’s fighting. With stoic resignation, Hood ordered his men to dig in where they were; there would be no further retreat.
On the second day of the battle, Thomas mounted an attack of irresistible force. Once more, his target was the Rebel left flank. Federal cavalry harassed the rear of Hood’s army, and a powerful artillery barrage pounded the forward positions. Then, late in the afternoon, the main assault crashed through the Southern line, leaving it, as Thomas reported, “hopelessly broken.” Hood had begun the battle with less than 30,000 men, and 4,500 of them were taken prisoner, an exceedingly high proportion. The survivors fled southward in disorganization. All that prevented the rout from becoming complete annihilation was the skillful rear guard action commanded by Bedford Forrest.
The Battle of Nashville, one of the most decisive victories of the Civil War, wrecked the proud Confederate Army of Tennessee as an effective weapon. It was the final major action in the western theater.