Cheatham became a farmer, but maintained a strong interest in military affairs. He had served as a captain in the lst Tennessee and as the Colonel of the 3rd Tennessee during the Mexican War. Active in the state militia during the interwar years, he was one of the state's senior officers during the period before it merged its forces into the Confederate army. He became well-known for his abilities as a commander, his boldness and his ferocity as a fighter. He went on to become a major general in the Tennessee State Militia, but left the state to take part as a goldminer in the 1849 California Gold Rush. He returned to Tennessee in 1853. Early in the war, Gov. Isham G. Harris, a close friend of Cheatham, commissioned Cheatham a Brigadier General, and later a major general, in the Provisional Army of Tennessee. Cheatham proved himself to be a highly capable commander at brigade through corps level.
Although he was a talented commander, his career was not without controversy. Cheatham was blamed by Hood for letting Union Major Gen. Schofield's army escape at the battle of Spring Hill. Cheatham took over Hardee's Corps for the invasion of middle Tennessee. Just before the battle at Franklin, the Confederates lost an opportunity to destroy a large portion of Schofield's forces. Instead of attacking, the Union army was allowed to slip by untouched. He was tried in a military court for culpable errors in the defeat at Spring Hill, but was cleared of all charges.
After the trial, he returned to duty in North Carolina. Cheatham then went on to the Carolinas, where in the April 9, 1865, reorganization and consolidation, he was reduced to command of a division. He commanded his forces until the surrender near Durham Station, North Carolina.
After the war, Cheatham went back to farming in Tennessee. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, who was a personal friend of Cheatham's, offered him an appointment in the civil service, but he declined. He ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the U.S. House of Representative in 1872. After writing an account of the Spring Hill incident, which was later published, he served 4 years as superintendent of the Tennessee State Prison.
In 1885 he became postmaster at Nashville, a position he retained until his death. The love and esteem in which he was held were evidenced by the vast attendance upon his funeral, which was declared at the time, to be the most imposing ever held in Nashville.
There was no name in the Army of Tennessee more familiar to the soldiers than that of Cheatham, and no officer of the Confederate army possessed to a higher degree than he the affectionate regard of his men.
Brigadier General - July 9, 1861
Major General - March 10, 1862
Brigadier General, Provisional Army of Tennessee (May 9, 1861)
lst Brigade, lst Geographical Division, Department #2 (September 7 - October 24, 1861)
2nd Division, lst Geographical Division, Department #2 (October 24, 1861 - March 9, 1862)
2nd Division, lst Corps, Army of the Mississippi (March 29 - July 2, 1862)
lst Division, Army of the Mississippi (July 2 - August 15, 1862)
Division, Right Wing, Army of the Mississippi (August 15 - November 20, 1862)
Division, Polk's-Hardee's Corps, Army of Tennessee (November 20, 1862-October 23, 1863, January - July, and September - October 1864)
Polk's-Hardee's Corps, Army of Tennessee (October 23 - November 1863 and October 1864-April 9, 1865)
Division, Hardee's (new) Corps, Army of Tennessee (April 9-26, 1865)