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Following the evacuation of Atlanta, Confederate General John Bell Hood formulated an elaborate plan to draw General William T. Sherman away from that city and place his own army in position to recapture Middle Tennessee. Hood planned to march his army north, capture the vital Union supply depot of Nashville, and take the war into Kentucky and Ohio.
Initially Hood’s plan worked. Sherman withdrew from Atlanta and followed the Army of Tennessee into North Georgia. There, Sherman realized the numerical superiority of his forces and detached a portion of his army to stay ahead of Hood’s advance north, while he returned with the main force to implement his March to the Sea. General John Schofield, Hood’s West Point classmate, was placed in command of the Fourth and Twenty-third Army Corps and given the task of slowing the Confederate advance to Nashville.
On the afternoon of November 29, 1864, the Army of Tennessee managed to get between Schofield’s command and the federal stronghold at Nashville at the town of Spring Hill. When the Confederate forces failed to cut the road north, the Union troops marched by their enemy in the middle of the night. By the next morning, they had entered Franklin and occupied a series of earthen fortifications on the southern edge of town. During the day, Union soldiers strengthened their already formidable position as Schofield made plans to evacuate Franklin and march to Nashville.
When Hood awoke on November 30 and found that the Union army had escaped, he blamed everyone but himself for the missed opportunity and immediately marched the Army of Tennessee to Franklin. Arriving at Winstead Hill (two miles south of Franklin), Hood determined to make a fight despite the warnings from Generals Nathan Bedford Forrest and Benjamin Cheatham to avoid a frontal assault. The Confederate commander accepted no counsel and ordered his subordinates to prepare for the assault.
Cannon sitting on present-day Winstead Hill, facing north toward downtown Franklin.
At 4:30 in the afternoon, as the sun began to set, the Army of Tennessee stepped off in a three-mile-long battle line to launch the last grand charge of the war in Tennessee. Marching forward in near-parade formation, the leading elements of the Confederate line overwhelmed the advanced Union position one-half mile in front of the main line. Chasing the fleeing Federals, the men of Generals Patrick Cleburne’s and John C. Brown’s divisions smashed into the Union earthworks along the Columbia Pike. Driving the Federals through the front and back yard of Fountain B. Carter’s house and into the front yard of Albert Lotz’s home, the advancing Confederates met a counter charge by Colonel Emerson Opdycke’s brigade. In fierce hand-to-hand fighting, the Federal soldiers forced the Confederates back to the outer ditch of the main earthworks.
Present-day view of Albert Lotz house, adjacent (east) of the farm belonging to F.B. Carter. The Lotz house sits right on the east side of Columbia Pike.
The Confederates made as many as eighteen separate charges but failed to make a significant breach in the Union defenses. Some Confederate attacks occurred so late at night that the soldiers used torches to guide their lines forward. The fight lasted until ten o’clock, leaving Union troops inside the works and Confederates in the outer ditches only a few feet apart. Many soldiers sat with their backs against the works and held their muskets over their heads to fire them into the opposing ranks.
After five hours of bloodletting, the small arms fire died away. Schofield wasted no time pulling his men out of their positions and marching them toward Nashville. That night, as the temperature dropped, the wounded Union and Confederate soldiers left on the field suffered terribly. The dead and dying lay in heaps sometimes five or six deep in the outer ditch. Field hospitals in the Carter and Lotz houses and the Carnton Mansion, treated the seemingly endless stream of wounded.
The battle exacted a disastrous toll on the Confederate forces. Hood sent approximately 23,000 soldiers against a fortified line protected by 15,000 Union soldiers and incurred 7,000 casualties, while the Federals lost approximately 2,500. Of the one hundred Confederate regimental commanders, sixty-three were killed or wounded. The casualty toll among Confederate generals was also high–six killed, five wounded, and one captured. As the Army of Tennessee moved north toward Nashville, a colonel commanded General John C. Brown’s division, and a captain led General Hiram Granbury’s brigade. At the battle of Nashville, two weeks later, the Army of Tennessee was not effective, having left a sizable number of hardened veterans and officers on the field of Franklin.
Source citation: The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture (online)
Major general in the Army of Tennessee, Patrick R. Cleburne was born on St. Patrick’s Day in County Cork, Ireland, and immigrated to the United States in 1849. Cleburne settled in Helena, Arkansas, where he rose in social position and community esteem through diligent work, uncompromising honesty, and loyalty to his friends.
In the spring of 1861 Cleburne cast his lot with the Confederacy, explaining to his brother that although he owned no slaves, he would fight with the friends who had always supported him. The citizens of Helena elected Cleburne captain of the local militia. Drawing upon his three years of experience in the British army, Cleburne quickly advanced to the rank of colonel in the Fifteenth Arkansas Infantry Regiment. Within a year, he was a brigadier general in command of a brigade of General William J. Hardee’s corps in General Albert S. Johnston’s Army of Mississippi.”
“The final chapter in the life of the Irish general was written at the battle of Franklin. As the Confederate army prepared for its assault on the Union earthworks at Franklin, one of Cleburne’s brigade commanders predicted that few of his soldiers would return to Arkansas. Cleburne reportedly replied, “[I]f we are to die, let us die like men.” (1)
As Cleburne’s troops made their assault up the Columbia Pike, the general had two horses shot from under him. Finally, as he advanced on foot to within fifty yards of the Union works, a single minie ball pierced his chest. Two days before the battle, as the army passed St. John’s Episcopal Church, near Columbia, Cleburne had commented that it would be worth dying to be buried in a place so beautiful. His body was laid to rest in the churchyard after the battle of Franklin. Later it was removed to his adopted home of Helena, Arkansas.”
Source citation: The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture (online)
*Killed at the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee; division composed of the brigades of Polk, Wood and Deshler, and the light batteries of Calvert, Semple and Douglass; division afterwards composed of the brigades of Polk, Lowry, Govan and Granberry, and again of the brigades of Wood, Johnson, Liddell and Polk; Army of Tennessee.
Source: Southern Historical Society Papers
The Position of the Opposing Armies.
NO FIGHTING SINCE WEDNESDAY
Hood Demonstrating Toward Murfreesboro
Further Details of the Battle of Franklin
THE REBEL GENERAL CLEBURNE KILLED
GEN. THOMAS MASTER OF THE SITUATION
Nashville, Friday, Dec. 2
I have received full accounts of the late battle at Franklin, and its antecedents, which was one of the the most brilliant in its general results of the war. For three days sharp skirmishing was kept up during the retirement of our army from Duck River to Franklin, during which time a multiplicity of exploits and successes resulted to the Federal arms.
Gen. Cox conducted the rear guard, and on the 29th ultimately achieved a splendid victory over the rebels at Spring Hill, while General Wilson’s cavalry gained a series of important successes over Forrest’s advance, under Roddy, on the pike between Turner’s and Spring Hill.
During the afternoon of the 30th ultimately the rebel army was sorely pressed under Hood, who had Cheatam’s and Stewart’s corps, and a portion of Dick Taylor’s command, numbering in all over 22,009 men. Owing to Cox’s gallant check at Spring Hill, and portion of the Fourth and Twenty-third Corps were enabled to gain Franklin early in the day, where they threw up a line of breastworks, extending from one end to the other of the curve in the river, behind which our entire infantry command took position.
At precisely four o’clock (afternoon) the entire rebel force made a charge, and succeeded in making a temporary break in our centre, commanded by Wagner. With characteristic impetuosity the soldiers composing Cheatham’s Corps dashed into the breastworks, and cooperating with the attacking party on their left, attempted to envelop and destroy our right. In the nick of time the troops of Wagner were rallied, and throwing their whole force on the rebel column, drove back the storming party in great disorder, capturing several hundred prisoner. Four hours after the rebels charged on these lines, but were repulsed as often with great slaughter.
The rebels numbered at least two to our one, as nearly half of the Fourth and Twenty-third Corps were in reserve. The rebels loss in killed is three times ours, while their wounded is at least six times as large as ours. The wounded of our men are mostly in the head, arms and body.
The artillery fire of the enemy was great precision, but their ammunition consisted chiefly of shot and shell, while for two hours immense quantities of more murderous missles were hurled with fearful fury into the rebel lines. All the attempt of the rebels to gain a permanent advantage were frustrated, and at dark the Federal position was uncharged, while the rebels retired, under cover of the woods, south of the Columbia pike.
An artillery duel was kept up till nearly midnight, when our troops commenced crossing Harpeth River, bringing all our trains and paraphernalia over in safety before daylight.
The army then retired to within four miles of this city, at which point our frontline confronts the enemy. The falling back of the army is in accordance with the programme, and the battle at Franklin, although of the most brilliant kind, was an impromptu affair, and brought about owing to the necessity of checking the rebel advance to secure a safe crossing of the river by our troops.
Nashville, Friday, Dec. 2
Additional reports received increase the magnitude of the late victory at Franklin. Thirty stands of colors were captured by our forces. The Forty-ninth Indiana captured five, the Eighty-eighth Illinois three, Reilly’s old brigade eight, and the Twenty-third Corps captured four.
Gen. Stanley, commanding the Fourth Corps, had a very narrow escape, having had a horse killed under him, and was shot in the right shoulder, the ball travelling the back and going out of the left shoulder. He is in the city, and though suffering considerably, is still attending to duty.
It is confirmed that Gen. Cleburne, of Tennessee, is killed.
Gen. Kimball, commanding the Second Division of General Stanley’s Corps, in the heat of the battle passed a rebel Major-General, who told him he was mortally wounded. His men succeeded in carrying off his body.
It is believed that Hood’s main army is threatening Murfreesboro. Forrest’s rebel cavalry is demonstrating on our front and right flank.
Commander Fitch is here with a fleet of boats and Iron-clads. Sufficient forces have arrived to insure not only the safety of Nashville, but another Union victory, is case of a battle, under any circumstances.
The military men all unite in the opinion that Gen. Stanley and Schofield conducted the retirement from Pulaski in the face of the enemy with admirable skill, and crowning all with a magnificent Union victory at Franklin.