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Lipscomb marks 150th anniversary of Battle of Nashville with events

Kim Chaudoin | 615.966.6494  | 

Battle of Nashville_big

This fall marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Nashville, a significant Civil War battle that took place Dec. 15-16. Much of the Lipscomb University campus today is located within the borders of this 150-year-old battlefield.

Tim Johnson, professor of history at Lipscomb and a nationally recognized expert in the Civil and Mexican Wars, is helping Nashville mark the anniversary by coordinating a series of events that took a unique look at the role African Americans played in the battle.

Through a partnership with Historic Travellers Rest and Fisk University in Nashville, Lipscomb is hosting these commemorative events and activities this fall. Each event will have a special focus on the role of African Americans in the Civil War and the Battle of Nashville. All events are free and open to the public. They include:

Battle of Nashville monumentSept. 18 • Battle of Nashville Symposium at Historic Travellers Rest
7-9 p.m. at Travellers Rest, 636 Farrell Pkwy., Nashville

Speakers include:

  • “The United States Colored Troops at the Battle of Nashville,” James Lee McDonough, retired, Auburn University
  • “Changed Forever: The Nashville Homefront During the Civil War,” Carole Bucy, Volunteer State Community College
  • “On the Homefront at Historic Travellers Rest,” Tonya Staggs, Travellers Rest

Light hors d’oeuvres will be served. Afterward, guests are welcome to tour the Civil War exhibit.

The Civil War on the Silver Screen
A screening of films about the Civil War with discussions following. Each screening begins at 7 p.m. in Ward Hall on the campus

Sept. 30 – “Glory”
Oct. 14 – “Lincoln”
Oct. 28 – “Copperhead”

Battle of Nashville special tours
On each Saturday during October, guests are invited to a tour of sites associated with the Battle of Nashville including the Peach Orchard Hill, Granbury’s Lunette, Fort Negley and Historic Travellers Rest. Historian David Currey will host each tour. Tours run Oct. 4, 11, 18 and 25 from 9 a.m.-noon and leave from the Avalon House, located on campus near Lipscomb Academy. Each Saturday features the same tour. Reservations are required and space is limited. Tours are paid for, in part, by a grant from Humanities Tennessee.

Nov. 15 • The African-American Experience in the Civil War Era
9:30-11:30 a.m. in Shamblin Theatre, located in Lipscomb University’s Bennett Campus Center
Speakers include:

  • “Blueprint from Freedom: Black Men in Blue,” James McPherson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and retired Princeton professor
  • “Forged in Battle: The Relationship Between White Officers and Black Soldiers,” Joseph Glatthaar, Stephenson Distinguished Professor of History, University of North Carolina
  • “The Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation: Stories of My Family’s Journey to Freedom,” John Baker, author and genealogy expert

After the morning session, each presenter will be available to sign copies of their books, which will be available for sale.

Nov. 15 • A History of Fisk University in the Civil War and Reconstruction Era
2 p.m.-4 p.m. at Fisk University

For more information or to register for the special tours, visit

One of the most divisive and darkest periods in the history of the United States is considered by many historians to have been the Civil War, which from 1861-1865 resulted in the death of more than 620,000 with millions more injured, divided many families and left many communities in ruin.

Lipscomb’s hometown of Nashville played an important role in Civil War history, as the first Confederate capital to be captured and to remain so for most of the war. It was also the site of the last major battle in the western theater of the Civil War. For the past four years communities across the country have marked the 150th anniversary of the war with various events, ceremonies and other commemorations. Dec. 15-16 marks the sesquicentennial of the Battle of Nashville, much of which took place near the current location of Lipscomb University.

 “At the time of the Battle of Nashville, the city 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,” said Johnson, a native of Chattanooga, another focal point of significant Civil War battles. “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. Nashville’s Civil War experience provides an ideal backdrop for the study of the African-Americans’ journey from slavery to freedom as well as the role of civilians in an occupied city.”

Battle of Nashville signAfrican-American soldiers played a significant role in the Battle of Nashville, Johnson said. They were called United States Colored Troops. The most famous USCT regiment, the 54th Massachusetts, was immortalized by the movie “Glory” 25 years ago, but nowhere did the USCT fight in as large a number as in the Battle of Nashville. On both days, African-American regiments bore the brunt of the fighting on the east end of the battlefield. On Dec. 16, 1864, USCT regiments sustained heavy casualties while assaulting Peach Orchard Hill.

Johnson said it is important to continue to study the Civil War along with other periods of unrest throughout history.

“We have to know where we’ve been to know where we are going,” he said. “Historians universally agree that the Civil War was the most divisive time in our country’s history. The Civil War left a long shadow—one that we are still in. Even 150 years later, we haven’t completely resolved all of the issues that were a part of that war. There are a lot of lessons to be learned from this experience.”

The Lipscomb campus sits on the western end of the Battle of Nashville battlefield. Much of the action in this two-day battle happened in and around the campus. Below, Johnson recounts the events leading up to the battle and areas involved in the skirmishes that are familiar to most Lipscomb alumni, students, faculty, staff and friends.

Nearly 20 years after the Civil War, in 1884, David and Margaret Lipscomb purchased a farm south of Nashville. In 1903 the Nashville Bible School (now Lipscomb University) relocated to the Lipscomb farm and later changed its name to honor its benefactor.

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The Battle of Nashville in the Lipscomb area
By Dr. Tim Johnson

Much of the Lipscomb University campus today is located within the borders of a 150-year-old battlefield, and the not-so-subtle signs are sprinkled throughout the community. General Bate Drive, General Lowrey Drive, Redoubt No. 1, the Peace Monument – all are indications that something significant happened here.

In the autumn of 1864 Nashville had been a Union occupied city for two-and-a-half years. Fort Negley, the largest inland stone fortification on the continent, was built in 1862 and served as the anchor of a series of Union defensive positions to guard against an attempt by Confederate forces to retake the city. Late 1864 was also the autumn of the Confederacy. With William T. Sherman capturing Atlanta and launching his “March to the Sea,” Ulysses S. Grant tightening his grip on Robert E. Lee’s army in Virginia and the reelection of Abraham Lincoln secured, it appeared that a Northern victory was at hand.

It was in this atmosphere that Confederate Gen. John Bell Hood broke away from Sherman’s army in Georgia and returned to Middle Tennessee in a desperate effort to reverse the course of the war. After a bloody battle in Franklin on Nov. 30, 1864, Hood’s Confederate army pressed on to Nashville and dug in two miles south of the city. The southern line stretched roughly along what is now the I-440 corridor, turning south along Hillsboro Pike and extending in the other direction beyond Nolensville Road. For two weeks the opposing forces watched and waited for the weather to clear. When it did on Dec. 15, 1864, Union Gen. George Thomas launched a massive attack on both ends of the Confederate line.

In the afternoon, that line broke along Hillsboro Pike, and Southern troops retreated along Granny White Pike and Franklin Road to establish another line along present-day Battery Lane. This new line was anchored on the western end at what is now known as Shy’s Hill and on the eastern end by Peach Orchard Hill, which is the hill on which the Franklin Road Academy football field sits overlooking I-65. The next day, the Union Army pounded both ends of the Confederate troops with overwhelming numbers until it broke in the afternoon. Thus ended the last major battle in the western theater of the Civil War and so, too, ended the Confederate goal of reclaiming the city of Nashville.

But the legacy of that battle lives on today in reminders throughout the area. General Bate Drive was named for Confederate Gen. William Bate who commanded a division in the battle. Bate was born in Sumner County, volunteered in the Mexican War, graduated from Cumberland Law School and in 1882 was elected the 23rd governor of Tennessee. General Lowrey Drive got its name from Gen. Mark P. Lowrey, a Baptist preacher whose nickname was the “Preacher General.” The remains of the earthworks of Redoubt No. 1 sit atop a hill on Benham Avenue. It was one of five Confederate gun emplacements that ran parallel to Hillsboro Pike. The remains of Redoubt No. 2, on the corner of Woodmont Boulevard and Hillsboro Pike, was destroyed by development in the early 1990s.

Drive north along Granny White Pike and one will find Sevier Park where the Sunnyside Mansion sits. Built by Mary Childress Benton in 1852, the house, which survived as the battle swirled around it, became a hospital where wounded soldiers were treated. Nearby stands the Battle of Nashville Peace Monument that was originally erected in 1927 and moved to its current location in 1999.

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Civil War sesquicentennial events will continue through 2015 at locations throughout the nation.