This week begins the 150th anniversary of Middle Tennessee becoming one of the Civil War’s most decisive battlegrounds. It started with a race to Nashville, as both Confederate and Union officers hoped to trip up their enemies.
By November 1864, Atlanta had fallen, Sherman was marching a path of destruction to the sea and Robert E. Lee was trapped in months-long siege that would last until nearly the end of the war. But Confederate General John Hood thought he saw one last chance to turn things around for the South: the key was recapturing Nashville, which had become one of the Union’s biggest supply centers.
As Hood set out from Northern Alabama, Union General John Schofield left Pulaski with orders to slow Hood down. The Yankees got to Columbia first, but the Confederates bypassed the town, leapfrogging into the lead. So, Schofield rushed some of his men to Spring Hill, and just managed to hold off the Southerners until nightfall.
Hood knew there were still more Union men on the way. He wanted to trap them. But that would mean fighting in the dark.
His Officers Balked
In a letter home, signal officer Charles Eastman called that night a moment of cowardice:
“Hood’s order to attack and draw the enemy from the main Nashville pike were not obeyed and they escaped to Franklin. This was the best chance I have ever seen of ruining the Yankee Army and if taken advantage of would have prevented the battle of Franklin.”
Instead, the Union soldiers quietly marched right by the Confederate camp.
With their enemies asleep for the night, the Federals resumed the race and got out ahead again. The next stop was Franklin, where they set up for what would become one of the war’s bloodiest fights—and one that would largely be fought after sundown.