Book Review: They Came Only to Die: The Battle of Nashville, December 15-16, 1864


by Sean Michael Chick

El Dorado Hills, Ca.: Savas Beatie, 2023. Pp. xxiv, 168. Illus., maps, appends., biblio., online notes. $16.95 paper. ISBN: 1611216370

Nashville: George Thomas's Masterpiece

George Thomas normally fails to come up in conversations about popular leaders of the Civil War. He remained loyal to the Union despite his heritage as a Virginian, wasn't one of Ulysses S. Grant’s favorite officers, had a quiet and non-political personality, and died early in 1870, not leaving any memoirs. He was, however, a successful commander who, unique among Civil War generals, never lost a battle, nicknamed "the Rock of Chickamauga" and "the Sledge of Nashville." To some scholars and buffs Thomas was one of the top three Union generals, after Grant and Sherman.

As a general, Nashville is Thomas's masterpiece, aided by John Bell Hood's colossal mistake following the battle of Franklin – despite the weakened and battered state of his Army of Tennessee – of trying to take on Thomas's Army of the Cumberland at Nashville.

Chick explains that that Hood was slow in arriving before Nashville, allowing Union forces under John Schofield to join those under George H. Thomas, among the best Union commanders – and the only Civil War general who never lost a battle – ensconced in entrenchments. Despite his inferior numbers and battered army, Hood attempted to lay siege to the city. Thomas would eventually launch a major assault on Hood, in the Battle of Nashville (Dec. 15-16, 1864), crippling Hood’s forces, inflicting over 6,000 casualties, virtually destroying his Army of Tennessee.

Chick sees Thomas’s victory at Nashville, together with Sherman’s March to the Sea and Grant’s victory at Appomattox, as the three final blows that brought the war to an end in April 1865.

Chick then goes on to note that while Thomas received many compliments for his victory, and was promoted, he ended up stripped of most of his troops by Grant, discussing at some length the general-in-chief's mistreatment of Thomas. To be sure, while Thomas was not fast enough for Grant in defeating Hood – witness numerous telegrams urging immediate action – he thoroughly crushed Hood, and afterwards engineered a wide ranging, effective pursuit of the remnants of the Army of Tennessee by his cavalry under James Wilson, which even managed to capture Jefferson Davis.

A well researched and informative read, Chick's study of the Nashville campaign is a must for anyone seeking to learn more about this often overlooked battle, as well as those interested in the war in the Western Theatre and generalship in the Civil War.

A volume in the Savas Beatie series "Emerging Civil War," They Came Only To Die fills an important void in the literature of the war in the West.


Our Reviewer: David Marshall has been a high school American history teacher in the Miami-Dade School district for more than three decades. A life-long Civil War enthusiast, David is president of the Miami Civil War Round Table Book Club. In addition to numerous reviews in Civil War News and other publications, he has given presentations to Civil War Round Tables on Joshua Chamberlain, Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln, the Battle of Gettysburg, and the common soldier. His most recent previous reviews here include When Hell Came To Sharpsburg, Lost Causes, Six Miles From Charleston, Five Minutes to Hell, "If We Are Striking for Pennsylvania", James Montgomery: Abolitionist Warrior, Cedar Mountain to Antietam, Lieutenant General James Longstreet, Count the Dead, All Roads Led To Gettysburg, Unhappy Catastrophes, The Heart of Hell, The Whartons' War, Gettysburg’s Southern Front , Civil War Monuments and Memorials, The Tale Untwisted, The Confederate Military Forces in the Trans-Mississippi West, The Civilian War, The Carnage was Fearful, The Civil Wars of Joseph E. Johnston, Confederate States Army, Vol. I, Navigating Liberty: Black Refugees and Antislavery Reformers in the Civil War South, Gettysburg In Color, Vol 1, "The Bullets Flew Like Hail", , John Brown's Raid, Searching For Irvin McDowell, and A House Built by Slaves.



Note: They Came Only to Die is also available in e-editions.


StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium

Reviewer: David Marshall   

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