The Battle of (west) Nashville

150 Years after The Battle of Nashville

Kelley's Point PhotoMany historians don’t know, or don’t believe, that much happened here at Bell’s Bend in the Battle of Nashville. But the Official Record refers to it specifically.

Most locals, consider Bell’s Bend to be the land on the north side of the Cumberland river. But if you were a sailor, it really didn’t matter. It’s the river channel location. It also makes sense, that the Confederate force was on the south side of the river, for several reasons: they were already on that side of the river coming in from Franklin, the river was impossible to cross anywhere close, it was higher ground, and it offered a better angle to shoot from in the apex of the river bend.

What is clear in the United States Navy Official Record, is that there were seven gunboats fighting in several engagements with land forces in the area starting on December 2nd, 1864. It included one Monitor, one Iron Clad and four heavily armed Tinclads under the command of Lt. Cdr. Le Roy Fitch USN.

Less than 48 hours after the bloody Battle of Franklin, Colonel David Campbell Kelley rushed to this location 9 miles downstream of Nashville. Kelley was probably under the direction of Nathan Bedford Forrest. It appears that Forrest was probably operating under his own directive at this part of the war (if not most of it) due to a verbal confrontation with Major General John Bell Hood at The Rippavilla Plantation two days prior. Forrest stayed clear of the direct charge at the Battle of Franklin, and was 40 miles away in Murfreesbooro when the Battle of Nashville took place. He probably saw the suicide in both operations.

Forrest did have several cavalry regiments detached to the Confederate left flank from December 2 to the 15th. U.S. Navy and Army records both estimate the enemy cavalry force much larger than it really was. On December 4th, the Navy thought that they had over a dozen cannon, when they probably only had four or less. The 6th Union Cavalry division commander, was convinced he was up against Forrest’s entire division after their advance on the 15th near here.

On arrival at this position late in the night on the 2nd, Kelley’s horsemen captured two Navy transports and disabled a third with artillery fire from the river banks. The southern cavalry was able to partially unload supplies and prisoners from these boats, before the Navy gunboat flotilla showed up and recaptured them. They held this ground for the next two weeks of the Nashville occupation.

There is strong evidence that they also used a position close by to set up a deadly union ambush on the late afternoon of December 15th with the sun at their back. An entire division was sent reeling back according to U.S. Army records. What happened after that is where the mystery begins.

There are far too many MIA’s and “desertions” with the Union Cavalry 6th Division.

I think I have found out why.

3 thoughts on “The Battle of (west) Nashville

  1. this is a great site, thanks for putting all this info together. I am direct descendant of Rev. David Phillips (revolutionary war and Library PA), Shelah Waters (the first one), and John Wilson Phillips, USA Pennsylvania 18th Cavalry. He is the son of William Phillips and Nancy Waters Phillips, born 1837 in Watertown/Lebanon, and his brother is James Madison Phillips who fought for the CSA (another case of brother vs brother, somewhat common in TN) mostly with Nathan Bedford Forrest cavalry. John W. Phillips went to Allegheny College 1857-1860, then stayed there to study towards his law degree, and to marry a gal from nearby Andover Ohio, Hannorah Pickett. He and some college buddies started a volunteer cavalry unit in September 1862, assigned to Washington DC picket duty mostly, until June 1863, headed towards Gettysburg (all hands on deck to confront the formidable Lee army),.
    3rd day of battle, 18th cavalry part of the ill-fated Farnsworths Charge at the south end of the battlefield, Phillips is injured, but is soon up and a few days later has a large part in leading a charge at the battle at Hagerstown. Much of 1864 is involved in many battles, mostly with Sheridan in the Shenandoah valley. Then November 1864 he is captured and taken to Libby prison, where he nearly dies from starvation and exposure. Released early March 1865, he soon travels to Johnsons Island prison in the north, and mentions meeting a couple of his cousins there. I am pretty sure one of these is your Lt. David Phillips as your commentary places him there at that time – one of those “light bulb” moments where 2 different narratives/diaries come together, fascinating family history!
    take care, Keith Phillips Younglove

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    • Wow, thanks for the info Keith! I didn’t know about him. In Lt. David Philips diary he mentions corresponding with relatives in PA while in Lee’s army. I wonder which ones that might have been? He also battles PA units in vicious hand to hand combat at Fredericksburg. I’ll bet there were some cousins in there, as several Union Philips there, I have traced to the part of Pittsburg Rev. David Phillips resided.

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