Baptists and the American Civil War: February 24, 1862

Nashville, Tennessee February 1862

Nashville, Tennessee February 1862

Nashville, Tennessee’s second largest city (behind Memphis) and militarily exposed in the wake of the United States’ capture of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, has been vacated of Confederate soldiers in anticipation of the arrival of Union forces. The retreating Confederates burned down the city’s bridges, and some residents joined in the evacuation. One of the exiles is James R. Graves (J. R. Graves), editor of the now-closed Tennessee Baptist, who later writes of his flight:

“My departure was hasty because I had been forewarned that my name had been marked for a Northern prison. As there was no passage allowed for citizens upon the cars I turned my course towards Huntsville in the face of a driving rain, over roads cut up by military wagons, and in places almost impassable—along and dreary journey; arriving there, I secured seats in the cars, and rested not until I found asylum for my homeless babes under the roof of my wife’s father, within one hundred miles of the Gulf of Mexico.”

With soldiers and some citizens now fleeing South, Nashville major Richard Cheatham meets today with Union General Don Carlos Buell on the north bank of the Cumberland River. Smoke lingers over the city, signaling the burning of foods and goods by Confederate troops prior to retreating.

From the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virgina, the imminent Union occupation of Nashville, while horrifying, is portrayed as a necessity in order for Confederate forces to regroup for later victories:

… we take it for granted that the evacuation of Nashville was occasioned by the want of such fortifications and forces as would be entirely reliable to resist an assault by the large Northern army, aided by the iron and gunboats, which, with the present high waters, could easily ascend the Cumberland to Nashville. There gunboats co-operating with the Federal land forces, give our enemy an immense advantage, and our General no doubt consider the present not the time to repeat disasters. The evacuation of Nashville under these circumstances has been regarded here for some days as an event consequent upon the full of Fort Donelson, which opened the Cumberland to the gunboats up to Nashville.

Motives of humanity had also, no doubt, their influence in inducing the abandonment of a city nearly as large as Richmond, filled with women and children, who would have been the principal sufferers by an assault upon the city which would most probably have laid to in ruins. Even if the enemy gave notice to women and children to leave the place, a large portion of those in a city like Nashville would be unable to do so. It was therefore a dictate of humanity, as well as prudence, to abandon a town under the circumstance, which our Generals had not the certain means to defend.

That the loss of Nashville is mortifying no one will deny, but its fate was inevitable after the fall of Fort Donelson. It had no fortifications of consequence — no means of checking the operations of the enemy’s gunboats — and resistance there would have been useless. The difficulties of the invasion will be multiplied as it proceeds, and there are yet glorious victories in store for us to teach the Northern invader of our soil that brave men fighting for their country’s independence will … maintain their honor and their liberty as long as there is away of hope left.

The surrender of Nashville, however, will have to wait until the morrow, as the destruction of bridges over the Cumberland River prevents further Union troop movements for the day. Thus, Buell camps for the night with his army on a bluff overlooking Nashville, while the remaining citizens of the city anxiously await their fortunes at the hands of the Union Army.

Sources: David E. Gregg, “Amnesty for J. R. Graves” (link); “Fall of Nashville, February, 1862” (link); “Evacuation of Nashville,” Richmond Daily Dispatch (link); illustration of Nashville, February, 1862, from Vanderbilt University (link)