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What must have it been like to have been able to sit down with a first-hand participant of the Battle of Franklin, within minutes after the battle, and to get his observations? Fortunately, we don’t have to imagine. All we need to do is to read the authentic accounts from those who lived through it themselves to know. One such lucky soldier was Lee Ewing from the 63rd Indiana Infantry.
It is these kind of first-hand accounts that far surpass accounts recorded in official reports, newspapers, and post-war recollections (some decades later).
Captain Addison Lee Ewing (Co I, 63rd Indiana) was on the far left Union flank at Franklin, serving in Stiles’ Brigade. I have blogged on Ewing many times in the past. Ewing was from Haubstadt, Indiana – near Evansville – and served throughout the entire war. He kept a personal diary faithfully, recording his observations and reflections every day. He also wrote home a lot.
Several years ago I was very fortunate to acquire a large collection of personal letters and documents that belonged to Ewing. I say fortunate, because there were many times when his personal papers and correspondence, that he kept with him while in the field, was nearly lost or destroyed. I have three dozen or so letters by him and numerous documents like muster in/out rolls.
I also have a copy of his entire war time diary. His current living descendants have been most gracious and magnanimous in providing me access and info on their ancestor.
I have examined and studied Ewing’s diary entries and letter content in which he specifically commented or described what took place at Franklin (30 Nov 1864) from his perspective. For our purposes here I have distilled my comments by using a simple web tool called TagCloud to determine what words (or word clusters) were most prominent in Ewing’s diary and letters as he was commenting on his experience at Franklin. One of the key values of this type of analysis is that it is fresh, unfiltered and as authentic as it gets. Ewing recorded nearly 1,000 words related to his account and observations of the Battle of Franklin.
The main word cluster or semantic domain for Ewing was line or works. This makes perfect sense. The 63rd Indiana was on the far left Union flank, as one can see on the map. They were sandwiched between the 128th and 120th Indiana Infantries, respectively. All part of Stiles’ Brigade, these Hoosier boys protected the far left Union flank, buttressed up against the railroad track and the Harpeth River. Stiles’ men would be assaulted by Loring’s Division, hundreds of Confederates from Scott’s and Featherston’s Brigades.
When Ewing and his men first arrived in Franklin in the early morning hours of the 30th he says that, “We drew rations and made coffee and was lined up in position where we proceeded to throw up temporary works as we often had done.” Part of that temporary works, besides typical head logs, was the resourceful use of osage orange branches along this line. Osage orange branches are very hard and prickly. They were often used as natural “barbed wire” for fencing and containing cattle at the time. Ewing continues, “Our lines was extended from the Harpeth River above town to the river just below, and of a horse-shoe shape.”
Several hours before the battle started (about 4pm on the 30th), Ewing and several of his men were placed several hundred yards in front of the main federal line on picket duty. Ewing wrote in his diary on the 30th, “Myself and company however were placed out on picket and had dug some rifle pits to spend the night.” However, the skirmishers of the 63rd Indiana did not have the opportunity to engage in typical pre-battle skirmishing action, as Ewing recounts, “There was no skirmishing by us, for the Rebs formed two lines of battle and came dashing out of the woods in fine style, a skirmish line in front and one in the rear. I yelled to my skirmish line to fall back to the works and started myself.”
It probably took between 15-20 minutes for Loring’s men to reach the Federal position where Stiles’ men were. Four Federal infantry units under Israel Stiles awaited the advance from Scott’s and Featherston’s units. Ewing and his men made it back behind their works before the first Confederate charge from Scott-Featherston took place. Ewing describes the exact moment when that clash between the two armies took place, “When the advancing line came up within range the infantry behind the works, a sheet of flame leaped forth with death and wounds in it for hundreds of the brave men fighting for an ignoble cause.”
What took place for the next 3-4 hours in this area of the field can hardly be described as anything short of hellish. But let Ewing’s words serve as an authentic account of what took place, “The whole scene of action was soon covered with smoke that but little could be seen in detail. For about a dozen times the Rebs was led to charge, only to be repulsed with great slaughter. Many of their banners were planted upon our works with the most heroic determination but was met with as determined resistance.”
James Tolerton was from Columbia City when he enlisted in 1863 as Assistant Surgeon with the 129th Indiana Infantry. The 129th participated in Hood’s Middle Tennessee campaigns in Columbia, Franklin and Nashville. The 129th was in Moore’s Brigade, Ruger’s Division.
Image source: Indiana in the Civil War, Arcadia Publishing
Flavius Josephus VanVorhis was born in Marion County, Indiana in 1841. He survived the war and lived until 1913. Using his war-time experience, in which he served as an assistant surgeon, he took a very active role in health legislation in Indiana after the war. He was a member of the 86th Indiana Infantry which was in Wood’s Division.
Image source: Ruth Lilly Medical Library
We started in good time over frozen ground and ice though the pike was tolerable good only in spots. All day we have passed the wrecks of Hood’s fleeing army, signs of hot pursuit. We reached Spring Hill at 4 p.m. and go in camp just before it commences to rain again. The little village is very much dilapidated to what it was when we first saw it. It was near that the Rebs came near cutting off our retreat up to Franklin. Made a search to find commissary wagons but fail and have to crumb it scantily at that. Rain increases and our bed is wet as has been for sometime.
A.L. Ewing (63rd Indiana Infantry) diary for Dec 20th, 1864
Source: The Eli Lilly Library, Indiana University
Oh what a night for any but veterans. The weather drizzled til about 3 p.m. when it set in to rain in earnest and continued to pour down till late this afternoon. The first thing I saw on waking up was a sea of mud and water all around me, and when I got up water soon ran into the depression where I had slept. As soon as the men began moving around, the soft earth became a perfect lob, which we had to cook, eat and stand around near 4 p.m. when we moved over to Franklin and camp on the old battleground which is dotted with many graves of the slain of 18 days ago. I went up to see the old works where we lay during the fight. We are camped on solid grassy ground. The night is cool and I think freezing but we are made comfortable by our camp stove which my boy carries and we have a plank to sleep on. Crossing the bridge a man fell off but was near enough to shore to scramble out safe but was bad scared.
A,L. Ewing diary entry for Dec 19, 1864
Source: The Eli Lilly Library, Indiana University