By Jeffrey S. Williams
Minnesota Civil War Commemoration Task Force
Members of the Battle of Nashville Preservation Society and the Minnesota Civil War Commemoration Task Force on Nov. 16 dedicated a new Civil War marker on Shy’s Hill in Nashville, Tenn., to recognize the contributions of four Minnesota regiments who charged the hill in the pivotal Battle of Nashville that took place 150 years ago.
Nearly 60 people attended the ceremony in a freezing rain that was similar to the conditions the troops who fought there had faced a century and a half earlier.
“We’re here this afternoon to memorialize the sacrifices of Minnesota troops who fought in the Battle of Nashville and to acknowledge, too, the sacrifices of their adversaries from the South,” said Ann Toplovich, executive director of the Tennessee Historical Society. “Let us remember the sacrifices of these men today.”
Minnesota Civil War Commemoration Task Force co-chairman, State Representative Dean Urdahl said, “I’m honored to be here in Nashville today to help dedicate the marker commemorating the exploits and courage of those four Minnesota regiments who battled here. We also remember today the Army of Tennessee for their valor.”
Urdahl recounted the story of Private James Dunn, 5th Minnesota Infantry Company B, who escaped the ambush at Redwood Ferry during the 1862 U.S.-Dakota War in Minnesota but was killed in action at Redoubt No. 4. He is buried at grave number F-3575 at the Nashville National Cemetery.
The Battle of Nashville Preservation Society owns a portion of Shy’s Hill, leases the summit from the Tennessee Historical Commission, and is protected by a conservation easement through the Land Trust for Tennessee. It was listed in the Civil War Trust’s History under Siege publication as one of America’s Top 10 endangered battlefields in 2003.
The Society also maintains the grounds and built a kiosk, trail and flag plaza at the summit. The plaza flies the Minnesota state flag year round, in addition to the United State and Tennessee standards, to recognize the pivotal roles those regiments played during both days of the Battle of Nashville.
The effort to place the marker was led by Ken Flies, chairman of the Minnesota Civil War Commemoration Task Force’s soldier recognition subcommittee, who approached Battle of Nashville Preservation Society with the idea. Flies also led the monument’s design effort and included a poem written by Private John Milton Benthall, 10th Minnesota Infantry Company C, who after the war, reflected on the memories of his comrades who fell in battle where the monument is located.
“This spot is sacred. We have worked so hard to save it. We have worked so hard to keep it clean and open to the public. Our fight never ends,” said James D. Kay Jr., representing the Battle of Nashville Preservation Society. “When we heard that Minnesota wanted to put a monument here, we said ‘yes’ to sanctify the importance of this site. The fact that this lot is worth $300,000 to $400,000 now, matters not. It’s protected for Americans forever.”
“We think there were 98 Minnesotans who died that day, almost one-third of all the Union soldiers killed on that day,” said Flies.
During the 45-minute ceremony, Minnesota Civil War Commemoration Task Force board members Darryl Sannes and Thomas Heffelfinger read the names of Minnesotans who died during the battle.
After breaking Federal Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s siege of Atlanta, Georgia that lasted through the summer of 1864, Confederate Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood led his Army of Tennessee through Northern Alabama in October and November in an attempt to capture Nashville, the state capital, an important Federal supply depot which was captured earlier in the war.
Though Hood was hoping that Sherman would follow, the Federal commander instructed Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas to take care of Hood’s army while Sherman launched his infamous “March to the Sea.” Hood fought Federal Maj. Gen. John Schofield’s troops at Spring Hill and Columbia, Tenn., before engaging in a costly battle at Franklin on Nov. 30, 1864, while Thomas fortified at Nashville.
When the 16th Army Corps was dissolved on Nov. 7, 1864, the 5th, 7th, 9th and 10th Minnesota infantry regiments departed St. Louis, Mo. on Nov. 24, and arrived in Nashville on Nov 30. They were assigned to the 1st Division (Detachment), Army of the Tennessee, commanded by Brig. Gen. John McArthur.
On the evening of their arrival, the Minnesota soldiers could see the wagon trains arrive from Franklin, the location of a major engagement 20 miles away.
The weather was cold and rainy with occasional snow and ice during the first two weeks in December as soldiers from both the Union and Confederate armies built their earthworks south of the city.
After two weeks delay for fortifying Nashville in the cold weather, much to the consternation of officials in Washington, Thomas launched his two-pronged attack against Hood’s forces on the foggy morning of Dec. 15. The Minnesotans hit the Confederates at Redoubt Nos. 3 and 4 and fought along Granny White Pike, before Hood reformed his now shortened lines on a ridge between Compton’s Hill and Overton’s Hill as nightfall approached.
The next morning, McArthur moved his division forward to within charging distance of the enemy on Compton’s Hill, where they constructed rifle pits for protection against the enemy’s fire from the hilltop.
Fearing that a day-long delay would allow for a Confederate attack down the hill, McArthur, acting on his own, ordered his division to charge Compton’s Hill. The first line of troops from the First Brigade comprised of the 114th Illinois, 93rd Indiana and 10th Minnesota regiments, followed by a second line made up of the 72nd and 95th Ohio regiments. The 10th Minnesota was on the left flank of the severe incline of the north slope of Compton’s Hill and received a penetrating flanking fire resulting in several casualties. When the First Brigade reached the summit, the 10th Minnesota breached Confederate Brig. Gen. Jesse J. Finley’s Florida brigade, which hastened the Confederate retreat.
As the brigade was halfway up the hill, McArthur sent in the Second Brigade, commanded by Col. Lucius F. Hubbard, with Hubbard’s 9th Minnesota regiment on the right and the 5th Minnesota on the left of the line. Hubbard had two horses shot out from under him in the attack and the 5th Minnesota lost four color bearers in the charge.
The Third Brigade was led by the 7th Minnesota’s commander, Col. William R. Marshall, and immediately faced a four-gun artillery barrage with infantry support, making their advance difficult.
Seeing the success along the line from Compton’s Hill, other Federal troops charged up Overton’s Hill and took it. The fall of the Confederate left flank at Shy’s Hill marked the end of the Battle of Nashville. The hill was later renamed “Shy’s Hill” in memory of 26-year-old Lt. Col. William L. Shy, 20th Tennessee Infantry commander, who grew up in Williamson County, Tenn. He was killed by a close range shot to his head sometime during the charge.
“Names of famous generals like George Thomas and John Bell Hood are forever linked with what happened here in December 1864. We know that the 10th, 9th, 5th and 7th Minnesota regiments made a dramatic charge up Shy’s Hill,” said Urdahl. “They are all gone, but they live on in the hearts and minds of those who remember. As long as we treasure courage, glory and selflessness, those who struggled here, Blue and Gray, will always be with us. Always.”
Kay summed up the ceremony by noting, “Fifty years from now, not one of us will be alive. There will be another group here hopefully, on this spot. This hill will be here and it will be protected. You can always come here every year on December 16th at sundown, get a tour and nothing has changed. It is quiet. It is peaceful. It is amazing.”
Photos by Jeffrey S. Williams/Minnesota Civil War Commemoration Task Force.
Members of the Minnesota Civil War Commemoration Task Force depart from the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul, MN on Nov. 13, 2014 en route for the Shy’s Hill Marker dedication in Nashville, TN.
Information courtesy of the Minnesota Civil War Commemoration Task Force
Major Highlights for the Week
Wednesday November 23, 1864
Federal Major General John Schofield’s force in Tennessee moved north from Pulaski towards Columbia. A few miles to the west, Confederate Lieutenant General John Bell Hood’s troops advanced toward the same place. It was now a race to who would get to Columbia first.
Skirmishing occurred at Henryville, Fouche Springs and Mount Pleasant, Tennessee, along with Morganza, Louisiana.
In Georgia, a majority of Federal Major General William T. Sherman’s army was grouped in and around Milledgeville, where there was yet another skirmish. Other skirmishes occurred at Ball’s Ferry and at the Georgia Central Railroad Bridge on the Oconee River. Lieutenant General William J. Hardee took command of the Confederate troops opposing Sherman, a very difficult assignment considering that he did not know Sherman’s intended route and had too few troops to stop him.
Thursday November 24, 1864
Moving before daylight, Major General John Schofield’s troops marched northward on the road from Pulaski towards Columbia. The 3rd Division of the 23rd Corps, under Federal Major General Jacob D. Cox arrived at Columbia first and drove Confederate Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry away. Schofield then brought the rest of his force up to Columbia beating Hood’s Army of Tennessee to the key river crossing on the main road to Nashville. The Federals took a strong position south of the Duck River.
Skirmishing took place at St. Charles, Arkansas and near Prince George Court House, Virginia.
In Washington, Attorney General Edward Bates resigned from President Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet.
Friday November 25, 1864
Confederate agents set fires in ten or more New York hotels and in Barnum’s Museum. None of the hotel fires was successful and the blaze at Barnum’s caused little more than excitement. Help from the Copperheads in New York was not forthcoming, and there were even rumors that the chemist who compounded the combustibles purposely made them defective. Southern agent R.C. Kennedy was later captured and hanged for setting the fire at Barnum’s.
Federal Major General William T. Sherman’s troops moved towards Sandersville, Georgia.
In Tennessee, Major General John Schofield’s troops were entrenching on both sides of the Duck River, while Confederate Lieutenant General John Bell Hood was delayed in getting his force to Columbia.
Fighting occurred against the Indians at Plum Creek Station, Nebraska Territory; and Adobe Fort on the Canadian River in New Mexico Territory.
Saturday November 26, 1864
Major units of Confederate Lieutenant General John Bell Hood’s Army of Tennessee arrived in front of Federal positions south of the Duck River at Columbia, Tennessee. Federal Major General William T. Sherman’s troops continued skirmishing with Confederate cavalry at Sandersville, Georgia.
In the West, action included skirmishing at Plum Creek Station and at Spring Creek, Nebraska Territory; a skirmish at Osage, Missouri. In the East, a skirmish occurred at Fairfax Station, Virginia.
President Abraham Lincoln offered the post of Attorney General to Joseph Holt, but he refused to accept it.
Sunday November 27, 1864
By evening, the Army of Tennessee ranged in front of Columbia, Tennessee, just south of the Duck River. Federal Major General John Schofield expected Confederate Lieutenant General John Bell Hood to attempt to turn his flank, so he moved his entire command north of the river to prepared positions, and partly destroyed the railroad and pontoon bridges. Schofield was receiving erroneous reports from his cavalry commander, Major General James H. Wilson, that Confederate Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry had crossed the Duck River to the east above Columbia.
Monday November 28, 1864
Confederate Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest crossed the Duck River above Columbia in the evening with most of the rest of Lieutenant General John Bell Hood’s Army of Tennessee ready to follow. Other troops of the Army of Tennessee occupied Columbia itself. Cavalry units of both armies skirmished at the crossings of the Duck River and at Shelbyville, Tennessee.
Fighting increased in Georgia with skirmishes at Buckhead Church and Reynolds Plantation. Cavalry fought again at Davisborough and Waynesborough.
Confederate Major General Thomas L. Rosser led his cavalry from the Shenandoah Valley to New Creek west of Cumberland, Maryland and the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, capturing prisoners and extensive supplies. After knocking out the railroad bridge they pulled out, but they showed that Confederate raiders were not finished in the East.
Tuesday November 29, 1864
BATTLE OF SPRING HILL, TENNESSEE; SAND CREEK MASSACRE
Early in the morning, two of the three corps of Lieutenant General John Bell Hood’s Army of Tennessee plus another division, crossed the Duck River above Columbia. They hoped to flank Federal Major General John Schofield’s army north of the Duck River and cut him off at Spring Hill from the route to Franklin and Nashville. Confederate Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry skirmished at Spring Hill about midday and in the afternoon Confederate infantry under Major General Patrick Cleburne arrived.
Firing along the Duck River occurred between the main body of Schofield’s Federals and Confederates under Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee. Confederates at Spring Hill were thwarted by darkness and a few defenders. The Federals under Major General David S. Stanley worked nobly to keep the turnpike to Franklin open, which allowed for Schofield to pull all of his troops away from the Duck River and pass his entire army northward up the pike under the nose of Hood’s army without suffering attack. The entire Federal force, wagon train and all, was able to escape to Franklin and take up a new position south of town.
In Colorado Territory, the citizens of the Denver area felt the need to put down the Indians who had been taking advantage of the lack of Federal troops and had committed numerous depredations. With approximately 900 volunteers, Colonel J.M. Chivington moved out to the Indian camp on Sand Creek, forty miles south of Fort Lyon, where there were over 500 Arapahoes and Cheyennes. The Indians insisted they were peaceful and contended that they had not taken part in recent raids. Chivington’s force attacked the village without warning and massacred warriors, women and children. Among the dead was Black Kettle, a major chief. Eventually the U.S. Government condemned the massacre and paid indemnity to the survivors.
Where Minnesota Regiments were the week of November 23-29, 1864
1st Battalion Minnesota Infantry – Participated in the Siege of Petersburg, Virginia until April 2, 1865.
2nd Minnesota Volunteer Infantry – Participated in Major General William T. Sherman’s “March to the Sea” until December 10, 1864.
3rd Minnesota Volunteer Infantry – On duty at Duvall’s Bluff, Arkansas until May 13, 1865.
4th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry – Participated in Major General William T. Sherman’s “March to the Sea” until December 10, 1864.
5th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry – On duty at Nashville, Tennessee until December 15, 1864.
6th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry – On provost duty at St. Louis, Missouri until January 29, 1865.
7th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry – On duty at Nashville, Tennessee until December 15, 1864.
8th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry – On duty at Murfreesboro, Tennessee until December 5, 1864.
9th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry – On duty at Nashville, Tennessee until December 15, 1864.
10th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry – On duty at Nashville, Tennessee until December 15, 1864.
11th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry – Assigned to duty guarding the line of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad from Nashville to the Kentucky line. Companies E, G, and I were at Gallatin, Tennessee. Company A was at Buck Lodge. Company B at Edgefield Junction. Company C at Richland. Company D at Sandersville. Company H was at Mitchellsville. The location of companies F and K are unknown at this time. The regiment remained on duty at these locations until June 25, 1865.
2nd Regiment Minnesota Cavalry – Engaged in frontier and patrol duty between Forts Wadsworth, Abercrombie, Ripley and Ridgely with headquarters at Fort Snelling, until November 17, 1865.
Brackett’s Battalion of Minnesota Cavalry – Engaged in frontier and patrol duty between Forts Wadsworth, Abercrombie, Ripley and Ridgely with headquarters at Fort Snelling until May 1866.
Hatch’s Independent Battalion of Cavalry – Companies A, B, C and D moved to Fort Abercrombie. Companies A and B assigned to garrison at Fort Abercrombie. Company C assigned to garrison at Alexandria and Pomme de Terre. Company D on patrol duty from Fort Abercrombie to Pembina. Companies E and F on frontier duty. The battalion would remain in these duty locations for the duration of the war – until April 26, 1866.
1st Minnesota Heavy Artillery Battery – Organized at St. Paul and Rochester until February 1865.
1st Minnesota Light Artillery Battery – Participated in Major General William T. Sherman’s “March to the Sea” until December 10, 1864.
2nd Independent Battery Minnesota Light Artillery – On duty as infantry at Fort Irwin, Defenses of Chattanooga until March 30, 1865.
3rd Independent Battery Minnesota Light Artillery – Various sections on duty at Fort Ridgely, Fort Ripley and Fort Sisseton until May 1865.
1st United States Sharpshooters Company I – Attached to the 1st Battalion, Minnesota Infantry at Petersburg, Virginia until Feb. 20, 1865.
2nd United States Sharpshooters, Company A – Participated in the Siege of Petersburg until Feb. 20, 1865.
1st Regiment Minnesota Cavalry “Mounted Rangers” – Formally mustered out of service on December 7, 1863. Inactive.
1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry – Mustered out of Federal service on April 29, 1864. Inactive.