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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.”
Early dawn found the head of our weary columns fleeing into Franklin. Just after we passed Spring Hill our wagon train was attacked by Rebel cavalry and several wagons burned. The headquarter guards with the train had quite a little battle before the cavalry was driven off. Cousin Shelley was Sergt-commanding. Among the burnt wagons was one containing my valise. Otherwise came through safely though it seems a special providence that our rear was not captured consisting of detached portions of troops and artillery and many wagons. It was a terrible march over a narrow road which was one solid mass of moving trains, artillery and infantry. I completely lost my company in the darkness and crowding. Just as we came in sight of Franklin, I dropped in a fence corner and not particularly caring what happened, I was so worn out. But after a short rest and hearing the firing of our rear guard which was approaching, I went and found a few of my company, and in a short time all of them turned up from various quarters. 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. Our lines was extended from the Harpeth River above town to the river just below, and of a horse-shoe shape. We rested easy until about 3 pm. Myself and company however were placed out on picket and had dug some rifle pits to spend the night and providing the Rebs would let us. Between 3 and 4 pm the Rebels began showing themselves and our cavalry falling back. 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. Finding I had to cross the range of one or other of two cannons that were planted at angles, I chose my chances to go between them. The cannoneers were excited and not time for one man to get out of the way. When such a good mark as those advancing columns, I gave a leap at the instant. The pieces were discharged and repaired to my company and loaded guns while the men fired. 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 . 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. The fight lasted for three hours and while it was going on a Reb and Union battery were having a duel overhead with their shells and shot which sometimes passed distressingly low over our heads. At eleven o’clock we were withdrawn and crossed the river on a pontoon and railroad bridge. The Enemy discovered our retreat and came crowding down the streets of the town. Our guns opened up on them and must have done them considerable damage. The bridges were burned by our forces and they started on their third night march towards Nashville, near which place cavalry firing again commenced . We arrived in range of its big guns and forts very very tired, though rejoicing in possession of 18 captured colors and near 3,000 prisoners.
Written by Addison Lee Ewing, Captain, Co F, 63rd Indiana Infantry
(Previous posts related to Ewing)
Source: Ewing Mss. Manuscripts department, The Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN.
Numbers 141. Reports of Colonel Israel N. Stiles, Sixty-third Indiana Infantry, commanding Third Brigade, of operations November 30 and December 15-16, 1864.
HEADQUARTERS SIXTY-THIRD INDIANA VOLUNTEERS,
Nashville, Tenn., December 5, 1864.
SIR: In compliance with instructions received from Brigadier-General Cox, I have the honor to submit herewith a report of the operations of the Third Brigade, Third Division, Twenty-third Army Corps, at Franklin, Tenn., on the 30th of November, the brigade being temporarily under my command on that day, owing to the illness of Colonel Thomas J. Henderson, the brigade commander.
By direction of General Cox I placed the command in position early on the morning of the 30th, on the left of the Second Brigade, and with the left resting on the river and in the following order: One hundred and twentieth Indiana Infantry, Sixty-third Indiana Infantry, One hundred and twenty-eighth Indiana Infantry, with the One hundred and twelfth Illinois Infantry a short distance to the rear in reserve. Substantial works were at once thrown up, and such portions of our front as were not already obstructed by a well-grown and almost impenetrable hedge were covered with a strong abatis made of the hedges which ran at right angles with the works. At about 4 p.m. the enemy commenced his advance on our front in three lines of battle, preceded by a strong line of skirmishers. When within shell range, Battery M, Fourth Regulars, stationed on the left and rear of the brigade, opened upon the advancing lines. The front line of the enemy soon came within range of our muskets and was repulsed. A portion of their second line succeeded in reaching that part of the works held by the One hundred and twenty-eighth Indiana, and planted their colors upon them. The color-bearer was killed, and the flag fell upon the outside. A number of the enemy succeeded in climbing over the works, and were taken prisoners. This charge of the enemy was soon repulsed, and he made no further serious efforts to drive us from our position. The battery I have already mentioned, together with a battery in the fort across the river, kept up a continuous firing upon our front till after dark, which, I have no doubt, did much to check any further attempt of the enemy to advance upon us. In the meantime the One hundred and twentieth Indiana on the left was subjected to a terrific enfilading fire, both from the enemy’s artillery and infantry. The regiment and its commander, Colonel Prather, in my opinion, deserve great praise for the heroic manner with which they held their position, the loss of which might have resulted in a defeat to our army. It is proper also that I should mention the stubborn and soldierly conduct of Lieutenant -Colonel Packard, One hundred and twenty-eighth Indiana, and his command, in resisting the enemy after he had reached their works. The One hundred and twelfth Illinois, Lieutenant-Colonel Bond commanding, though in reserve, was exposed to a considerable fire during the engagement, and near night-fall was ordered by General Cox to re-enforce some portion of the Second Division.
The conduct of Lieutenant-Colonel Morris, commanding Sixty-third Indiana Volunteers, as well as that of the officers generally, was praise-worthy, and that of the men was made more efficient by the aid and presence of Colonel Henderson, the brigade commander, who, though suffering from illness, could not withstand the desire to be present where his command was engaged, and who was along the lines during the engagement, and whose opportunities of witnessing their good conduct were equal to my own.
By direction of General Cox I withdrew the brigade, except the One hundred and twelfth Illinois, across the river at midnight.
I learn that a report of the casualties and the number of prisoners taken has already been forwarded to General Cox.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
I. N. STILES,
Colonel Sixty-third Indiana Volunteer Infantry.
Acting Assistant Adjutant-General.