Start: 1864-12-05 End: 1864-12-07
The Third Battle of Murfreesboro, also known as Wilkinson Pike or the Cedars, was fought December 5–7, 1864, in Rutherford County, Tennessee, as part of the Franklin-Nashville Campaign of the American Civil War.
In a last, desperate attempt to force Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman’s Union army out of Georgia, Gen. John Bell Hood led the Army of Tennessee north toward Nashville in November 1864. After suffering terrible losses at Franklin, he continued toward Nashville. Hood recognized that Federal forces at Murfreesboro posed a significant threat to his right flank, his supply line and his possible retreat route. On December 4, 1864 he sent Maj. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest with two cavalry divisions and Maj. Gen. William B. Bate’s infantry division to Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
On December 2, Hood had ordered Bate to destroy the railroad and blockhouses between Murfreesboro and Nashville and join Forrest for further operations. On December 4, Bate’s division attacked Blockhouse No. 7 protecting the railroad crossing at Overall’s Creek, but Union forces fought it off. On the morning of December 5, Forrest marched toward Murfreesboro in two columns, one to attack the fort on the hill and the other to take Blockhouse No. 4, both at La Vergne. Forrest demanded the garrisons at both locations surrender, which they did. Outside La Vergne, Forrest joined Bate’s division and the command advanced on to Murfreesboro along two roads, driving the Union forces into their Fortress Rosecrans fortifications, then encamped in the city outskirts for the night. The next morning, on December 6, fighting flared for a couple of hours, but the Union troops ceased firing and both sides glared at each other for the rest of the day. Brig. Gen. Claudius W. Sears’ and Brig. Gen. Joseph B. Palmer’s infantry brigades joined Forrest’s command in the evening, further increasing his numbers.
On the morning of December 7, Maj. Gen. Lovell Rousseau, commanding all of the forces at Murfreesboro, sent two brigades out under Brig. Gen. Robert H. Milroy on the Salem Pike to feel out the enemy. These brigades were led by Col. Minor T. Thomas, a veteran of the Dakota War, and Col. Edward Anderson. With Thomas’ brigade forming the first line of battle and Anderson forming the second, Milroy engaged the Confederates and fighting continued. At one point some of Bate’s troops broke and ran. Forrest
“seized the colors of the retreating troops and endeavored to rally them”.
Bate was equally unsuccessful. The rest of Forrest’s command conducted an orderly retreat from the field and encamped for the night outside Murfreesboro. Forrest had destroyed railroad track, blockhouses, and some homes and generally disrupted Union operations in the area. More importantly, he succeeded in keeping Rousseau confined to Murfreesboro and kept the important supply line and retreat route open.