The Battle of Nashville at Belmont Mansion
Gen. Thomas J. Wood, courtesy of Smithsonian National Museum of American History
The Battle of Nashville, which occurred on December 15 and 16, 1864, effectively ended the Civil War in the Western theater. Belmont Manson was the scene for many preparations for this battle.
The Battle of Franklin was fought on the last day of November 1864 some 15 miles away from Belmont. Both Federal and Confederate armies suffered great losses. The Federal Army left the field of battle and retreated to the heavily fortified city of Nashville. By daybreak on Dec. 1, Hillsboro and Granny White Pikes, along with Franklin Road, were clogged with the retreating Union Army. By mid-morning, Belmont was surrounded by a sea of blue uniforms. At 3 p.m. the wounded Gen. David Sloan Stanley was brought into the house along with his garrison staff. Stanley was wounded the day before in the Battle of Franklin. Belmont became the headquarters of the 4th Corps of the U.S. Army of the Cumberland. As the Federal Army began to dig in around the southern perimeter of Nashville, Adelicia and her children fled into town and, according to historical sources, stayed with Mrs. James K. Polk. As the widow of a President, Mrs. Polk was unmolested by both armies. Remaining at Belmont was Joseph Acklen’s niece Sally Acklen and the children’s tutor Eloise Cenas.
Adelicia and her family were powerless to stop the destruction of the buildings at Montvale, her garden farm that adjoined Belmont to the south. The Federal soldiers continued to fortify the city and form new battle lines. The new outer lines ran through the two-story, brick overseer’s house at Montvale. Also destroyed were four brick, two-room slave cabins and one frame slave cabin. There were a number of agricultural buildings located at Montvale that were torn down over the next week, such as the stable, corncrib, the smoke house, and the turkey and poultry houses. A barn measuring 24 feet by 48 feet with an attached shed that was 16 feet by 30 feet was also torn down. Over the next two weeks, the need for firewood became more acute and the 400 of plank fence were taken down along with 2000 yards of 5-foot-high picket fence that separated Adelicia’s sister’s property, Hillside, from Montvale. According to one solider, the 3500 yards of stone fence was used to quickly build chimneys for their tents.
As Dec. 1 progressed, it became obvious that Stanley could no longer command the 4th Corp. At 2 p.m. he turned command over to Gen. Thomas J. Wood, commander of the 1st Brigade of the 3rd Division of the 4th Corp. Wood, in turn, relinquished command of his 3rd Division over to Gen. Samuel Beatty who established his headquarters at Adelicia’s sister’s home of Hillside.
At 2:30 p.m., the Confederate Army was seen approaching within about a mile and a half of the line running south of the water tower. By nightfall on Dec. 2, the outer Federal lines were established. The line that was associated with Belmont ran across present-day Wedgwood and along the east side of Granny White Pike, past Belmont’s service entrance (present-day Acklen Avenue). The line then went up the hill through what is now the Hillside apartment complex and ran south to Compton Avenue. From Compton it ran south, crossing present-day Belmont Boulevard to Beechwood Avenue.
By the end of the day, the 4th Corp was positioned on and just south of the Acklen property with about 4000 men. In the mansion was Wood’s staff of about 20 men and 122 soldiers, attached to the headquarters, were in the house and the outbuildings. G. W. Lewis with the 124th Ohio Infantry wrote, “Never before was [an] army headquarters so ornamented with such paintings and marbles. We, on the outside, were equally well off, for the spacious grounds were surrounded by nicely built stonewalls that were worked into the chimneys…. The ornamental trees did not make first-rate firewood on account of being green, but we not time for them to dry.”
During the night, the Confederate Army moved up to about 600 yards from the Union lines. As the day dawned on Dec. 3, the Union cannons opened fire on the Confederate positions. The cannons fired all day. The Confederate cannons did not return the fire and, according to The New York Times, the sharpshooters on both sides were “keeping up fire near the widow Acklen’s” place.
Monday, Dec. 5, brought more cannon fire was used to clear the woods south of Belmont to remove the cover in preparation of the battle. Maj. Gen. Darius Couch reported to Belmont. Since he outranked Wood he could have assumed command. He refused to exercise his command. He spent two nights at Belmont.
During the night of December 8, the temperature plunged into the ‘teens. In the early morning, a freezing rain began to fall. By mid morning, the trees were covered with ice. By early afternoon, the horses were not even able to walk on the ice. At 2 p.m., a dispatch from Thomas reached Wood at Belmont. The planned attack tomorrow morning had been postponed until the weather conditions improved. The temperature continued to fall.
Snow and sleet was still on the ground when Saturday, Dec. 10 dawned and the day was bitter cold. At 2:50 p.m., Wood received a note from Thomas asking about[i] the condition of the ground between the enemy’s line and their own. At 3 p.m. Wood replied that the ground was covered with heavy sleet, and would make the handling of troops difficult.
Wood spent the better part of the afternoon of Dec. 11 examining the enemy lines. Wood felt that some of the plans for the battle might need some minor adjustments in view of what he found in the afternoon. He requested that Thomas meet him at Belmont the next day.
Around noon on Dec. 12, Thomas came to Belmont to meet with Wood to look at the Confederate lines and discuss the plan for the battle. Thomas returned to his headquarters to prepare for a 3 p.m. meeting with all of the commanders. Wood returned form the meeting downtown and summoned all of the 4th Corp Division commanders to Belmont to brief them on the battle plan and tell them to be ready for battle the next day.
Tuesday morning, Dec. 13, broke as cold as the preceding days. The temperature struggled to rise above freezing for the first time in four days. The wood had “given out” in the Union pickets rifle pits. The Confederates had also exhausted all wood supply. The soldiers on the front line called a truce and stop firing at each other. The Union pickets could not leave their post, so instead got out and walked around to stay warm and gather wood. Soldiers from both sides were in full view of each other but no shots were fired. Late in the afternoon, Wood received word of this unofficial truce and was most upset. He issued orders for it to stop and for the soldiers to return to their positions. About 5 p.m., a southeastern wind began to blow, bringing about some thawing.
Wednesday, Dec. 14 finally brought relief to all in the form of warmer weather. Adelicia and the children remained in town. Wood left for a 3 p.m. meeting of all of the corps commanders at the headquarters of Maj. Gen. George Thomas in downtown Nashville. After Wood returned to Belmont the written Special Field Order Number 342 arrived at 6 p.m. At 7 p.m., Wood assembled all of his division commanders, Brigadier-Generals Kimball, Elliott and Beatty, at Belmont to explain the intended movements for the next day’s battle. At this meeting he gave each one of them a copy of the orders for Dec. 15. Later in the evening Gen. John M. Schofield and possibility Maj. Gen. A. J. Smith visited Wood to discuss Thomas’s lack of action.
The end had come. On December 15, 1864, Wood had reveille sound at 4 a.m. and his men moved in a heavy fog at 6 a.m. to take up position for the battle. At noon, Wood ordered from Belmont his 13,000 men (13,526) into the battle. As soon as these men were in position, Gen. Charles Cruft’s provisional division moved up take their place near Belmont.