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Civil War in Tennessee (Special Collections): Tennessee Battles

This research guide highlights primary sources and research materials in Special Collections regarding the Civil War in Tennessee.

Battle of Fort Donelson, 1862 February 11-16

H. L. Bedford Memoirs, circa 1882-1883 (MS.2176)
The bulk of this collection consists of a memoir describing the battle of Fort Donelson from the point of view of a Confederate soldier. Interestingly, this document contradicts reports by Union commanders published in the "Records of the Rebellion." It explains why Confederates chose Fort Donelson's location, and identifies the commanders, infantry regiments, and artillery batteries present during the battle. The memoir describes the placement of Confederate artillery, details how the upper and lower batteries effectively defended the fort, claims that Federals mistook the size of the Confederate force, and praises Confederate artillerists (especially the superior use of a crippled Columbiad). Bedford mentions the miscommunication and hesitancy among Confederate commanders who sought to restore General Albert Sydney Johnston's reputation.

Bedford's memoir also discusses the naval aspects of the Battle of Fort Donelson, describing the exploits of the ironclad Carondelet, the naval battle of February 14, and reporting on the Carondelet's damage. The document offers counterfactual outcomes of the battle.

Battle of Shiloh (Pittsburg Landing), 1862 April 6-7

William H. Blake Letter, 1862 (MS.2860)

full color illustration of the "battle of shiloh or pittsburg landing from April 6-7 1862" "musically photographed by charles Grobe"
"The Battle of Shiloh or Pittsburg Landing" from the Volunteer Voices Digital Collection.

This collection contains one letter, written in 1862 at Pittsburg Landing, Tenn., by William H. Blake to his brother. The letter discusses events leading to the Battle of Shiloh. Blake describes the large number of troops gathered and says that it is a "beautiful sight to see so many men all together." Blake also describes the "trees cut down by cannon balls" and the sight of a dead soldier.

T. J. Walker Reminiscences, (MS.0124)
T. J. Walker's handwritten, 98-page manuscript chronicles the time he spent with the 9th Tennessee Infantry between approximately 1861 and 1865. During his service, Walker was wounded five times and contracted dysentery and typhoid at Corinth, Mississippi. This manuscript documents Walker's entry into the Confederate Army, his experiences in battle (including the battles of Shiloh and Missionary Ridge), his thoughts about enemy soldiers, his encounters with various civilians, his unit's camps and movements, and finally his unit's surrender to Union forces in 1865.

Battle of Stones River, 1862 December 31 - 1863 January 2

John M. Hollis Papers, 1861 August 12-1863 April 27 (MS.3222)
The diary housed in this collection constitutes John M. Hollis's (Union soldier) personal account of the Civil War. Much of the diary is devoted to descriptions of his unit's surroundings and travels, but Hollis also provides a description of major fighting that began at Tennessee on December 31, 1862. Hollis depicts the beginning of the battle as being like a stampede. He mentions the strength of the Confederate line and notes that they did not gain much ground in their initial push. He is optimistic on January 1: "Still the fight continues though not so terable as the day before our men holds there position with great effort." The fighting died down by January 4th, but Hollis's unit remained in Murfreesboro for some time after.

Ezra T. Stinger Correspondence, 1863 (MS.2780)
This collection consists of two letters regarding activities of Stringer's regiment, the 15th Ohio Infantry. In the first letter, written to a friend named Ella, he discusses the Battle of Murfreesboro, the number of men lost on both sides, and the capture of General Willich. The second letter is addressed to the Regimental Quartermasters and includes instructions for a move to Nashville.

Battle of Chattanooga (Lookout Mountain), 1863 November 23-25

George Gates Lookout Mountain Letter, 1863 November 26 (MS.2874)
A letter by Union Corporal George Gates to his aunt in which he describes the Battle of Lookout Mountain on November 25, 1863. Gates wrote the letter when he returned to his camp outside of Chattanooga. He gives an account of the casualties on both sides. Gates speaks of a "flank movement" in which sixty to seventy cannons and nine thousand prisoners were taken by the Union Forces. He recounts his regiment's losses as "light" with five horses killed and one man wounded in the leg. He mentions his impending return to the front in regret for the letter being quite brief.

Battle of Missionary Ridge, 1863 November 25

Confederate Soldier's Letter about Missionary Ridge, 1863 December 3 (MS.2215)
Writing to his "Dear Sister Kate" on December 3, 1863, James, a Confederate soldier, describes how he lost the majority of his possessions in "the skedadle" at Missionary Ridge. James, who may have been an artilleryman, also states that "if the Infantry had stood like the artillerymen the Yanks would never have come up on Missionary Ridge." (see transcription)

T. J. Walker Reminiscences (MS.0124)
T. J. Walker's handwritten, 98-page manuscript chronicles the time he spent with the 9th Tennessee Infantry between approximately 1861 and 1865. During his service, Walker was wounded five times and contracted dysentery and typhoid at Corinth, Mississippi. This manuscript documents Walker's entry into the Confederate Army, his experiences in battle (including the battles of Shiloh and Missionary Ridge), his thoughts about enemy soldiers, his encounters with various civilians, his unit's camps and movements, and finally his unit's surrender to Union forces in 1865.

Battle of Fort Sanders, 1863 November 29

black and white photograph of earthworks (modified earth) remaining after the Battle of Fort sanders.
Earthworks at the Battle of Fort Sanders from Images of East Tennessee Digital Collection.

John Watkins in Knoxville to Sarah Probert, 1863 December 15 (MS.1161In this letter, dated December 15, 1863, from John Watkins (Union) in Knoxville, Tenn., to Sarah Probert in Pittsfield, Ohio, Watkins writes about general news from Knoxville and thanks Ms. Probert for her letters. He closes the letter with a description of the Battle of Fort Sanders, explaining that Burnside had named the fort after General Sanders, who had been killed in the fighting during the siege of Knoxville. (see digitized letter)

**This letter is one item from the larger John Watkins Papers collection.

Edward Lynn to his sister, 1863 December 25 (MS.2848)
This letter was written by Assistant Surgeon Edward Lynn of the 65th Illinois Volunteer Infantry to his sister. In the letter, Lynn relates the movements of his regiment during the Siege of Knoxville and the events of the Battle of Fort Sanders in late November and early December 1863. (see digitized letter)

Battle of Franklin, 1864 November 30

Battle of Franklin Pamphlet, 1902 (MS.2717)
This collection consists of a 29-page pamphlet by Captain John K. Shellenberger entitled "The Battle of Franklin." Its text constitutes a published version of a speech that Shellenberger gave before a meeting of the Minnesota Commandery of the Loyal Legion of the U. S. on December 9, 1902. In this work, Shellenberger describes tactical aspects of the Battle of Franklin, the condition of the Union soldiers before the battle, and the plight of the men wounded during the battle. He also expresses his opinions of and experiences with the opposing Confederate troops, and argues that General Schofield was responsible for the high Union casualties incurred because he allowed a small Union force to hamper the operation of the whole.

Battle of Nashville, 1864 December 15-16

William Velie Letter, 1864 (MS.3211)
This letter, which William Velie wrote in 1864 from Fort Rosencrance in Murfreesboro, notes the heavy combat in the area. He mentions the ability to hear the cannon shots from Franklin and recognizes the presence of General Hood and the Confederate Army. Velie notes that 12,000 Confederate troops stopped in Murfreesboro on their way to Nashville. These troops tore up the railroad and laid siege to a blockhouse that was 5 miles from the fort. The Union Commander, General Melroy, sent a force out to deal with the Confederate problem: "Our boys went out under command of General Melroy and made them skedaddle." This engagement proved to be a relatively light battle for the Union Army, but the letter mentions increased combat and fatalities. With the increase of Confederate troops, Melroy sent out a force of 5,000 men and succeeded in forcing a Confederate retreat and capturing 200 prisoners. Velie describes in detail the final moments of several members of his regiment following this skirmish and identifies them by name.

John Ibaugh Civil War Diary, 1864 December 3 - 1865 May 25 (MS.3219)
This diary constitutes Sergeant John Ibaugh's personal account of his service with the 29th Pennsylvania Infantry during the Civil War. Ibaugh describes the push on the Confederate Army during the Battle of Nashville in 1864 and small skirmishes with Confederate guerilla troops at Tunnel Hill. He also gives his personal thoughts surrounding the assassination of President Lincoln, saying that the rebels will rue the day they decided to kill Lincoln because of the aggressive policies of President Johnson. Later entries describe a trip on a steamer that started in Nashville and ended in Alexandria, Virginia where General William T. Sherman's troops were to be presented in Washington. The final entry is filled with relief at the end of the war and the completion of his duty as a soldier.

Nashville (Tenn.) Civil War Battlefield Stereoview, 1864 (MS.2260)
This stereoview photograph presents a scene of the outer lines of the Federal entrenchments on the battlefield at Nashville on December 16, 1864. Tents and some detail of camp life can be seen. The card is No. 2638 in the War Views series, published by E. & H. T. Anthony & Co. of New York.

William H. Green Letter, 1865 February 16 (MS.2897)
A short but interesting letter written by William H. Green, of the 45th New York Regiment, Company F, to his brother, from Nashville, Tenn. on February 16, 1865, during the Civil War. In the letter, Green writes of a large battle that took place between the Rebel General Hood and the Union General Thomas and that the city is under martial law. Green also mentions that most of the men in his regiment "are either killed or in prison."

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