A unique city with a unique story to tell.
In 1862, the United States government began allowing African-Americans to volunteer for all black regiments (United States Colored Troops or USCT). No less than eight USCT regiments were raised in and around Nashville. When fighting descended upon the city on December 15-16, 1864, more African-Americans fought at Nashville than in any other Civil War battle, adding another layer of significance to Nashville’s Civil War story. Approximately 12,000 USCT were heavily engaged on the east end of the battlefield on both days of fighting, and they suffered heavy casualties in the process. The result of the battle was succinctly described by historian Russell Weigley: “Nashville ranks as probably the most complete battlefield victory of the war.”
The Battle of Nashville is also unique because it was the last major battle in the Western Theater of the Civil War. After its virtual destruction, first at Franklin (November 30) then at Nashville, the shattered Confederate Army of Tennessee left the state to the victorious Federal Army, and made its way to North Carolina where it surrendered four months later. In his classic study of The Army of Tennessee, historian Stanley Horn called the fighting in Middle Tennessee in late 1864 “the beginning of the end.”
Nashville is an important part of our country’s Civil War history. As the first capital of a Confederate state to be captured, it was an occupied city for virtually the entire war. Nashville already had a vibrant free black population, but as a Union occupied city, it became a destination for runaway slaves who sought to enact their own emancipation. Ultimately, 180,000 African Americans fought in the Union Army. And with many of the white males away fighting in the Southern army, women became the heads of households as they adapted to life and hardships behind enemy lines.
The 1989 movie “Glory” admirably portrayed what is arguably the most famous USCT regiment of the war, the 54th Massachusetts. The battle that occurred in our city late in the war was certainly “Nashville’s Glory” moment.