On February 25, 1862, Federal troops marched into Nashville, Tn. The city would see a later battle for possession in 1864, but at this early date, General Don Carlos Buell occupied the city, as the Federals sought to follow up on Grant’s successes at Donelson and Henry. The state’s Confederate government fled to Memphis and was captured four months later.
Buell was a man known for determination, grit, and a violent temper. He was brilliant in school, but graduated 32nd in a class of 52 at West Point, due to demerits and scraps. He was court-martialed, but not convicted, for beating another soldier over the head with the blunt end of his sword. He served both in the Seminole Wars and the War with Mexico.
Buell became friends with George McClellan (no accounting for the company he kept 😉 ), and after being stationed in remote California, Buell was recalled after the defeat at the first battle of Manassas. He was given command of the new Army of Ohio, where he successfully did little but drill men for a time. His failure to attack frustrated Lincoln and even his friend McClellan. Lincoln wanted him to attack and take eastern Tennessee. Finally, in frustration, a compromise plan had Buell’s command and Halleck’s cut off Nashville, and take it. It is doubtful Buell would have done even that much but for the pressure placed on him. Halleck became his superior, and Andrew Johnson assumed the military governorship of the region. Even with the occupation of so strategic a city, Buell did not cover himself in glory.
There was a bright side to the Nashville occupation. Though the Union army’s official policy was to avoid interfering with slavery, many slaves ran off to the army camps. As Federal policy turned emancipationist, the trickle of runaways became a flood. Many of those blacks who left their masters made their way to “contraband camps” established by the Union army. There they received food, clothing, shelter, medical care, schooling, and jobs; thousands of the younger black men enlisted in the Union army. Even those blacks who chose not to desert their owners declined in many instances to act any longer as slaves; they refused to obey orders and demanded wages for their labor.