Battle of Brentwood (March 25, 1863)

The village of Brentwood, situated between Nashville and Franklin on the Nashville & Decatur (also called the Tennessee & Alabama) Railroad, was a strategic supply depot and source of food and livestock for the Union army during its operations in Middle Tennessee. This also made it a target for Confederate cavalry forces with the mission of disrupting communication and supply lines. In March of 1863, Confederate Brig. Gen. Nathan B. Forrest directed two brigades of cavalry toward the Union garrison at Brentwood. This was one of several Confederate cavalry attacks against Union bases in Middle Tennessee that spring, following a Confederate victory at Thompson’s Station and defeat at Vaught’s Hill that same month.

The Union forces, under the command of Lt. Col. Edward Bloodgood, were divided into two locations: about five hundred men were camped near the railroad depot in Brentwood and about two hundred at a fortified stockade south of town, guarding the bridge over the Little Harpeth River. On March 24, Brigadier General Forrest sent Col. James W. Starnes and the Second Brigade to ride ahead, disrupting communications by tearing up the railroad tracks and telegraph lines below town and cutting off any retreat. The rest of the troops, under Forrest and Brig. Gen. Frank Armstrong, crossed the river south of Brentwood on the morning of March 25. The river proved difficult to cross, delaying Forrest and preventing him from joining with Starnes in a coordinated attack. Therefore, Forrest attacked the Union garrison near the depot with only Armstrong’s brigade and a field artillery unit under Maj. E. J. Sanders. At first, Bloodgood refused Forrest’s offer of surrender, but after finding himself completely surrounded and shelled by artillery, he surrendered his troops in town, all within about half an hour of the initial Confederate attack.

Forrest then rode about two miles south of Brentwood to the Federal stockade, which was commanded by Captain Elisha Basset. Upon finding himself surrounded and shelled, Basset also surrendered, leaving the Confederates to burn the bridge over the Little Harpeth and to head westward with several captured supply wagons and as many as eight hundred Union prisoners.

A nearby Union cavalry unit under Brig. Gen. Green Clay Smith, however, pursued the Confederates and engaged them a few miles west of the stockade. Over an hour-long engagement, the Union troops managed to push back the Confederates and retake many of the captured stores and prisoners. Colonel Starnes and his brigade then appeared on the Union right, halting their advance, driving them back, and recapturing troops and supplies.

The Confederates escaped with three to fifty-nine casualties while the Federals suffered from five hundred to eight hundred losses. Union Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans was disgusted with the lack of fight on the part of the infantry, and Bloodgood was court-martialed for cowardice. Rosecrans was, nevertheless, pleased at the good stand made by the Union cavalry, which was improving in its ability to counter the operations of Confederate cavalry leaders in Middle Tennessee.

Suggested Reading

Joe Lassus, Brentwood, Tennessee: A Crossroads of the American Civil War (2003).

Published » December 30, 2009