Up in Smoke
Johnsonville was a major Federal supply depot on the Tennessee River at the western terminus of the Nashville and Northwestern Railroad, completed in May 1864. Col. Charles R. Thompson commanded the 2,000-man garrison here. The 12th, 13th, and 100th United States Colored Troops (USCT) regiments provided infantry support for the heavily fortified post.
Early in November 1864, part of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest's 3,500-man command occupied the west bank of the Tennessee River opposite Johnsonville. On November 4, after capturing two Federal vessels as a diversion, Confederate gunners opened fire on three Union gunboats, eleven transports, and eighteen barges. Assuming that Forrest intended to attack the depot, Thompson ordered the vessels burned to prevent their capture. The fire spread to the docks and warehouses, and the Federal batteries could not destroy Forrest's well-concealed gun emplacements.
Forrest moved his forces south during the night, as the blazing docks and warehouses illuminated the river. An artillery detachment left behind continued shelling Johnsonville the next morning. By the time Federal reinforcements arrived, the Confederates were gone. The Confederates reported only eleven casualties, the Federals eight.
Forrest estimated that the Confederates destroyed $6.7 million of war materiel, although Union estimates were much lower. The Johnsonville raid did not impede the flow of supplies for Federal operations, such as Union Gen. William T. Sherman's march to the sea or the victories over Confederate Gen. John Bell Hood's army at Franklin and Nashville a few weeks later.
Johnsonville State Historic Park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.
"Some of the Thirteenth U.S. Colored Infantry, who were at Johnsonville, were upon the riverbank as sharpshooters, and armed with the Enfield rifle, and did good execution. The affair was slight, but it has gained credit for the colored troop."
— Union Col. Reuben D. Mussey.
(lower left) Johnsonville, artillery park and USCTs - Courtesy Library of Congress
(upper center) Johnsonville, with rail line Courtesy Library of Congress
(lower right) Johnsonville and vicinity, Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies