Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Kurz and Allison's Battle of Nashville

If you are a Civil War enthusiast you have likely seen some images in the series that Kurz and Allison printed of the conflict's battles. In most of these scenes all of the soldiers are dressed in impeccable uniforms and trimmed with colors of the various branches of service (i.e. light blue for infantry, red for artillery, and yellow for cavalry). Often, too, the landscape shown in the print doesn't fit the terrain of the actual battle.

The one pictured above shows the battle of Nashville and was produced in 1891. It depicts the Union forces of Gen. George H. Thomas breaking the line of Gen. John Bell Hood's Confederates just south of Nashville on December 16, 1865. The image shows United States Colored Troops pouring up over a hill (possibly Overton's Hill) and capturing a Confederate battery. 

The day before, USCT soldiers had boldly assaulted the Confederate line. One Confederate later left an account of the engagement with the black troops. Arkansan Philip Stephenson wrote, "This was the first time that we of the Army of Tennessee had ever met our former slaves in battle. . . . It excited in our men the intensest indignation, but that indignation expressed itself in a way peculiarly ominous and yet quite natural for the 'masters.'"  Stephenson continued, "As soon as it was found out that the men advancing upon them were Negroes, a deliberate policy was adopted. It was to let them come almost to the works before a shot was to be fired, and then the whole line was to rise up and empty their guns into them. . . . On the darkies came slowly wavering enough for that silence was terribly significant. . . . On they came closer and closer, until, as our men said afterward, they could see the whites of their eyes. Then up rose the line of grey and crash went that deadly volley of lead full into the poor fellows' faces. The carnage was awful, it is doubtful if a single bullet missed."

On December 16, more USCT troops participated in the fight before finally breaking the Confederate line. In one regiment five black color bearers attempted to plant their flag on the rebel works. Confederate general James Holtzclaw noticed the valor of the black men and reported later, "They came only to die."

After the engagement one Union surgeon wrote back to his family "Don't tell me negroes won't fight! I know better!"  In the battle the 13th USCT suffered 220 casualties, which was about 40% of their regiment. Henry Stone, the commander of the 100th USCT, a Kentucky raised unit, spoke to the men after the battle. He declared: "For the first time in the memorable history of the Army of Cumberland . . . the blood of white and black men had flowed freely together for the great Cause which is to give freedom, unity, manhood and peace to all men, of whatever birth or complexion." Quite an observation for 1864.

Image courtesy of the Library of Congress


  1. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.

    1. I have Civil War and European print art in frames. Wondering if you would be interested in in buying them. I can send you pictures. Call me back at 214.281.0522 Rey