Vanderbilt scientists, students use technology to unearth Battle of Nashville

Posted at 11:27 AM, Jul 26, 2021

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Vanderbilt spatial scientists and their students worked with the Battle of Nashville Trust to unearth clues about the Battle of Nashville on Shy's Hill Thursday using technology that allowed them to look more than six feet under ground.

"We are blessed to be able to have newer technologies that weren't available to previous generations of historians and scientists, and we're using those out here today, to study this site to gain even further insights than we already have," stated Vanderbilt University Associate Professor of Military Science & Arts and Sciences Brandon Hulette.


Shy's Hill is about 20 minutes south of downtown Nashville and gained its name after the Battle of Nashville on December 15-16, 1864. The property, which touts a hiking trail, is owned by the Battle of Nashville Trust. The Trust partnered with Vanderbilt in an effort to discover more about a battle that is said to have been a turning point at the end of the Civil War.

"Shy’s Hill is oftentimes referred to as the decisive location of the decisive battle of the Civil War," explained Hulette. "So we're really trying to explore this site using modern technology to find out as much as we can about what happened here, about the people that fought and died here, what they would have seen, where they were on the site physically, because it's important to know how things played out and how this shaped the history of our city, our state and indeed our nation."


Hullette was joined by Vanderbilt University Librarian for Geospatial Data and Systems Stacy Curry-Johnson, Phd. and Vanderbilt University Research Analyst for Spatial Analysis Research Lab (SARL) Natalie Robbins, PSM as well as two undergraduate students.


The team described the lawn-mower type machine as a "ground penetrating radar." Hullette said the radar, "can find things that may have been down there since the day of the battle."

He explained there was a significant number of soldiers on the hill and is "where the line the Confederate line collapsed so people began to falter here and run back and any time you get a large group of people that have a lot of equipment running, they're going to drop some things, they're going to be on, so some of those things are probably still below and allows us to find them without tearing up the site."

Vanderbilt students have used the same technology to further explain the Fortress Nashville, naval actions taken during the Battle of Nashville, as well as hospitals and their nurses during the Civil War.

The story map showing the findings from Shy's Hill on Thursday is expected to be available to the public in time for the battle's anniversary in December.

Hullette said each of the story maps is meant to connect the community with the past.

"It's important to be connected to our history as a community, as a people, as a country," said Hullette. "We need to know why things are the way we are. How did we get here as a people, right? We've gone through ups and downs throughout history, just like we will go through ups and downs in the future, but how we can address the challenges of today, the challenges of tomorrow can be helped can be informed by the challenges that people faced years and years ago so understanding that really helps us deal with today and tomorrow."