Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Battle Of Nashville - The Big Freeze

Ice Storm / Nashville Tennessee / 1951

  As I write this on December 5, 2013 meteorologists are predicting a possible ice storm for tomorrow December 6, in Middle Tennessee. This situation is similar to what the Union Army under General George H. Thomas and the Confederate Army of Tennessee faced. Yesterday the temperature was spring-like and in the high 70's. All day today it has been raining and the temperature has been dropping and a possible ice storm is expected. A massive ice storm hit Middle Tennessee on December 8, 1864. Thomas was under tremendous pressure from his superior General Ulysses S. Grant at Army Headquarters in City Point Virginia to attack Hood. Thomas's plan was to attack with his right spearheaded by a massive cavalry attack led by General James H. Wilson, armed with the latest repeating rifles. Thomas intended to roll up the Confederate left hopefully cutting off Hood's route of escape. He had a good plan but he was unable to implement it because of the ice storm. Military movements were impossible because of the thick ice that covered everything.

  In my opinion Thomas was the North's greatest General but Grant was biased against him He unfairly believed that Thomas was too slow and cautious. Thomas was simply very thorough in his battle preparations and when he attacked he was like a sledgehammer. He had never lost a battle that he had planned. Grant unfairly badgered Thomas beginning on December 2, without let-up, eventually threatening to relieve him if he didn't attack. Thomas was not finished with his preparation when the ice storm hit on December 8. The following are military dispatches between Thomas and Grant after the storm hit. . . . I had nearly completed my preparations to attack the enemy tomorrow morning, but a terrible storm of freezing rain has come on today, which will make it impossible for our men to fight to any advantage. I am, therefore, compelled to wait for the storm to break and make the attack immediately after. Admiral Lee is patrolling the river above and below the city, and I believe will be able to prevent the enemy from crossing . . . Halleck informs me that you are very much dissatisfied with my delay in attacking. I can only say I have done all in my power to prepare, and if you should deem it necessary to relieve me I shall submit without a murmur."

  Upon receiving this telegram, Grant sent two wires; the first, a sanctimonious and obviously self-serving message to Halleck: "Thomas has been urged in every way possible to attack the enemy, even to the giving the positive order. He did say he thought he would be able to attack on the 7th, but didn't do so, nor has he given a reason for not doing it. I am very unwilling to do injustice to an officer who has done as much good service as General Thomas has, however, and will, therefore, suspend the order relieving him until it is seen whether he will do anything." The second went directly to Thomas and gave the first indication Thomas had of Grant's intention to relieve him: ". . . I have as much confidence in your conducting a battle rightly as I have in any other officer; but it has seemed to me that you have been slow, and I have had no explanation of affairs to convince me otherwise. Receiving your dispatch . . . I telegraphed to suspend the order relieving you . . . I hope most sincerely that there will be no necessity of repeating the orders, and that the facts will show that you have been right all the time."

  You will have noticed the reference in Thomas' last wire to the ". . . terrible storm of freezing rain . . ." that began on December 9. As this storm was to enforce a halt on all activity at Nashville until the morning of the 15th, it will be well to describe its effect in the words of General J.D. Cox, one of the men who experienced it: . . . the slopes in front of the lines were a continuous glare of ice, so that movement away from the roads and broken paths could be made only with the greatest difficulty and at a snail's pace. Men and horses were seen falling whenever they attempted to move across country. A Man slipping on the hillside had no choice but to sit down and slide to the bottom, and groups of men in the forts and lines found constant entertainment in watching these mishaps . . . on the hills and rolling country about Nashville, manoeuvres were out of the question for nearly a week. The ice storm ended with a thaw on December 12 and Thomas had still not been able to attack on the 13th. Grant became so nervous that he sent General John A. "Black Jack" Logan to Nashville with orders to relieve Thomas. Grant left the lines at Petersburg on December 14, to personally go to Nashville and assume command. He was about to board a train in Washington on the 15th when he received the news that Thomas had begun his attack and Grant cancelled his trip.
General John A. Logan

General Ulysses S. Grant

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