U.S. Navy Gunships and Rebel Cavalry
This story of the Battle of (west) Nashville has never been fully documented. This account details the Confederate Cavalry and U.S. Naval engagements that occurred between December 2nd and the 15th of 1864. It even included the participation of an elderly Nashville legacy: Mark Robertson Cockrill, the land owner of the real estate it was fought on.
The Battle of Nashville was the last major offensive action of the Confederate States of America. It all started here at Kelley’s Point. The tactics used in this military operation are very similar to the strategy used in Operation Desert Storm, where horse-power was replaced by air-power.
Was this a rare fight of the “brown-water” navy iron and tin-clad gunships fighting cavalry of the Confederate forces? Not really. Col. David Campbell Kelley had made a specialty of it, when he wasn’t acting as Nathan Bedford Forrest’s regimental Chaplin, and trusted aid. Only a few weeks before, they had captured a Union Navy Squadron in New Johnsonville on the Tennessee River.
Here is some of the evidence to support a previously unpublished account of a cavalry engagement that is not included in most versions of the operations on December 15th, 1864 in West Nashville. I welcome any comments on the theory of what happened here.
Map by Google Earth
Further evidence from the Official Records. Note:
“Once Johnson reassembled his brigades, his 6th Division set off west along the Charlotte Pike after Chalmers. The pursuit went about four miles before the Federal cavalrymen once more ran into Rucker’s brigade, posted in a strong position of long and rail barricades located along a ridge beyond a small creek near Davidson’s house overlooking Bell’s Landing. This was, in fact, the true location of Kelley’s artillery, which could now sweep the pike and the creek bridge. An energetic attack on the Confederate rear “directly into his works” by COL Garrard’s unsupported 7th Ohio made about 3 p.m. was soon thereafter repulsed with heavy losses. “The rebs have chosen a good position,” he messaged MG Wilson shortly after 2 p.m. Thinking himself close enough to the Cumberland for the gunboats to make a difference, Johnson ordered his own advance stopped and sent a messenger to find Fitch and obtain his help”.OR, 1,45, 1, 599-600, 606, 765; OR, 1,45,2: 205-206; ORN, I, 26: 651; Logbook of the U.S.S. Carondolet, December 15,1864; Sword, op cit., pp. 326-328; Horn, The Decisive Battle of Nashville, op cit., p. 39; McDonough, op cit., p.157. Johnson’s capture by Morgan near Gallatin on August 21, 1862 is told on pp. 116-117 of James A. Ramage, Rebel Raider: The Life of General John Hunt Morgan (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1986).
There has been skepticism by some historians that Kelley’s Point Greenway Park is where the Confederate Cavalry battled the U.S. Navy. The event itself is not in dispute, but the actual location. There are numerous references to this action. It’s plausible, the story has been clouded by a few very significant transcription errors in the reports and memoirs of The Battle of Nashville. Reading the multitude of references, not to mention the physical evidence that I have documented (relics, stone works, earth works, and distance from reference points) it is clear to me that the ground behind the Lowes on Charlotte Pike as well as the hillside behind the Cracker Barrel Store are the correct locations of this obscured military action in December of 1864.
By the time the U.S. 6th Cavalry Division fought its way to this position the sun was setting directly in front of them. This blinding sunset would have further obscured the Confederate position and made for an ideal one-way visual cover. Bottle-necking the opposing forces between two narrow bridges a short distance apart would have given a smaller force a great advantage over an adversary over ten times their size.
Official Record of the Armies and Navies: OR_P.138-153
The following PDF is a description of the Naval action on The Cumberland River, said to be 4 miles from Nashville. This is clearly an error. Bell’s Mill is 17 miles by water (the Navy would be sure of this fact), but is about 7 miles by land from Nashville (on Charlotte Pike). I believe that whom ever transcribed the hand-written text from the original US Navy report, mistook a 4 for the number 6 or 7. This could have been reenforced by the fact that the first bend in the river is about 4 miles from the city.
Official Record of the Armies and Navies: OR_Page_641
The Confederate view of the actions has much more detail than the U.S. Army report, most likely, do to the fact that the 6th U.S. Cavalry division was forced back at this position on the far edge of the battlefield (where critical cavalry turning maneuvers usually take place). If they had managed to clear this position, the entire Army of Tennessee could have been encircled by the following morning.
In the following PDF, Colonel Kelley corrects the location of the fighting that day in West Nashville, from a previous account by one of his Privates: John Johnston.
Confederate Veteran Magazine: ConfederateVeteranMag
Google Earth Technology Simulates Sunset on December 15th
6845 Old Charlotte Pike – Nashville, TN 37209
Cavalry & Naval Units on the Union Right Flank (Charlotte Pike)
U.S. Army of the Cumberland Sixth Calvary Division
Brig. General R.W. Johnson
4th United States, Company I
U.S. Navy Tenth District
LCDR Le Roy Fitch Commanding Officer
The U.S.S. Carondelet – Acting Master Charles W. Miller
The U.S.S. Neosho – Lieutenant Samuel Howard
The U.S.S. Fairplay – Acting Master George J. Groves
The U.S.S. Silverlake – Acting Master Joseph C. Coyle
The U.S.S. Reindeer – Lieutenant Henry A. Glassford
The U.S.S. Moose – Lieutenant Commander LeRoy Fitch
The U.S.S. Brilliant – Lieutenant Charles Perking, Acting Master John H. Rice
The U.S.S. Springfield – Acting Master Edmond Morgan
C.S.A. Army of Tennessee Cavalry
Brig. Gen. James R. Chalmers Escort Company
*moved to Murfressboro Dec 13, 1864
Pettus Flying Artillery
Guns include at least four artillery piecess, including two 10-pdr. rifled Parrotts.
The 8th Michigan Cavalry was one of seven cavalry regiments of the 6th U.S. Cavalry Division. They fought the Confederates on Charlotte Pike 1/2 mile east of here the afternoon of December 15, 1864.