Charge of the Third Brigade, First Division, Sixteenth Corps, at the Battle of Nashville, Tennessee, December 15, 1864

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Charge of the Third Brigade, First Division, Sixteenth Corps, at the Battle of Nashville, Tennessee, December 15, 1864.
January 14, 1865
George H. Ellsbury
Page 25
Harper's Weekly: A Journal of Civilization
Folio A5 .392
Newberry Library

The artist, George Ellsbury, captured a dramatic charge of the Union army against Confederates at the Battle of Nashville. At a time in the war when Union forces under General William T. Sherman had made devastating inroads into Georgia, Confederate General John Bell Hood hatched a plan to dash up through Alabama and overtake Tennessee, an important region under the control of Union forces. From locations in Tennessee, the Confederate army could then enter Kentucky, Ohio, and other border states and, Hood thought, draw Sherman’s troops back north. The ploy did not work. Instead, Hood met Union troops under the command of General John Schofield at Franklin, Tennessee. Though Confederate General Hood technically “won” because Schofield retreated, he lost many men and supplies in a series of terrible frontal assaults which left his forces greatly weakened. The two sides met again in the city of Nashville, where General George H. Thomas, in charge of the state’s Union forces, concentrated his army. Hood decided to entrench his army outside of the city and force Thomas to make the first move. The Battle of Nashville was fought outside the city on December 15 and 16, 1863, resulting in a massive and decisive Union victory. Notably, the initial Union attack (not shown here) was led by two brigades of the 13th U.S. Colored Troops Infantry. The battle effectively destroyed the Confederate Army of the Tennessee, its second largest force, and left the South weakened and vulnerable.

1. Ellsbury would become known for his depictions of cities and landscapes in the post-war period. Can you see any of these skills in this illustration?

2. How does the artist convey a sense of the action of battle? What elements of the picture do you find most interesting or important?

Further Reading:
Horn, Stanley F. The Decisive Battle of Nashville. Richmond: William Byrd Press, 1956.

McPherson, James M. The Negro's Civil War: How American Negroes Felt and Acted During the War for the Union. New York: Pantheon Books, 1965.

Courtesy of the Newberry Library, Chicago