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No. 41.

Report of Lieut. Col. John Russell, Forty-fourth Illinois Infantry, of operations November 30, 1864.

HDQRS. FORTY-FOURTH ILLINOIS VETERAN INFANTRY,

Nashville, Tenn., December 6, 1864.

COL.: I have the honor to make the following report of the apart taken by this regiment in the battle of Franklin, November 30, 1864:

When we were ordered forward the enemy had driven our forces in on the center and had planted their colors on our works. We charged forward, drove the enemy back, and replanted our colors on the works. As we did so a good many fugitives that had been driven back were rallied and went forward with us. The enemy had captured all that was left of our battery, and as we rushed forward they forced a part of the men belonging to the battery over the works with them. After being driven back the enemy occupied the outer portion of our works for over two hours, when they surrendered. Our colors suffered very much from the terrible fire of the enemy, the flagstaffs were partially cut away in several places, and the flags badly cut and torn. The prisoners captured numbered 83, who reported that they were all that was left of the three regiments they belonged to. Among them were the colonel and a captain of the Eighth Mississippi and Capt. G. W. Covell, Company E, Third Missouri. The two former surrendered to me, and I received their swords, and Capt. Covell surrendered to Sergt. Israel P. Covey, of Company B. They were sent to the rear in charge of Lieut. Lewis C. Mills, of Company C, who delivered them over to the colonel of an Ohio regiment in the Twenty-third Corps.

I am, colonel, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

JOHN RUSSELL,

Lieut. Col. Forty-fourth Illinois Infantry, Cmdg. Regt.

Col. E. OPDYCKE, Cmdg. Brigade.

The 24th South Carolina served with Gist’s Brigade, Brown’s Division at Franklin. 1st Lt. James A Tillman served as an officer for the 24th South Carolina.

The 24th also fought at Franklin with the 46th and 65th Georgia; the 2nd Georgia Sharpshooters Battalion, and the 16th South Carolina.

The 24th was part of the regiments who clashed with the Union Brigades of Opdycke and Strickland near the Carter House, on the west side of the Columbia Pike.

Fifteen of Tillman’s comrades are known to be buried at McGavock Cemetery.

Picture credit: The Arms and Equipment of the Confederacy (p. 169)

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)

Description of the Battle (Wikipedia, 12/3/06)

Hood’s attack initially enveloped Wagner’s forward brigades, which fled back to the main breastworks. Blue and Gray troops were intermingled, which made the Union soldiers defending the line reluctant to fire on the approaching masses. This caused a weak spot in the Union line at the Carter House as an inexperienced regiment, just arrived from Nashville, broke and fled with Wagner’s troops. The Confederate divisions of Maj. Gens. Patrick Cleburne, John C. Brown, and Samuel G. French converged on this spot. An heroic counterattack by the brigade of Emerson Opdycke and two of Cox’s regiments sealed the gap after thirty minutes of fierce hand-to-hand combat.

Over and over the Confederates smashed headlong and futilely into the Union line. Just before dark, the division of Maj. Gen. Edward “Allegheny” Johnson arrived and it had no more luck than its predecessors. By 9:00 p.m. the fighting subsided. The overall attack had been awesome, described by some as a tidal wave, and known as the “Pickett’s Charge of the West.” But it was actually much larger than the famous charge at Gettysburg. In the East, 12,500 Confederates crossed a mile of open ground in a single assault that lasted about 50 minutes. In Franklin, some 20,000 marched into the guns across two miles and conducted seventeen distinct assaults lasting over five hours.

Across the river to the east, Confederate cavalry commander Nathan Bedford Forrest attempted to turn the Union left flank, but the Union cavalry under Maj. Gen. James H. Wilson repulsed his advance.

Schofield
, who spent the battle in Fort Granger (just across the Harpeth River, northeast of Franklin), ordered an overnight withdrawal to Nashville, starting at 11:00 p.m. Although there was a period in which the Union army was vulnerable, straddling the river, Hood was too stunned to take advantage of it. The Union army reached the breastworks at Nashville on December 1.

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Kraig McNutt is the author and publisher of this blog. He has been blogging on Franklin for over five years and on the Civil War in general since 1995. Email him.

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Summary of the Battle of Franklin

The Battle of Franklin was fought on November 30, 1864 in Franklin, Tennessee; in Williamson County. John Bell Hood's Army of Tennessee (around 33,000 men) faced off with John M. Schofield's Army of the Ohio and the Cumberland (around 30,000 men). Often cited as "the bloodiest five hours" during the American Civil War, the Confederates lost between 6,500 - 7,500 men, with 1,750 dead. The Federals lost around 2,000 - 2,500 men, with just 250 or less killed. Hood lost 30,000 men in just six months (from July 1864 until December 15). The Battle of Franklin was fought mostly at night. Several Confederate Generals were killed, including Patrick Cleburne, and the Rebels also lost 50% of their field commanders. Hood would limp into Nashville two weeks later before suffering his final defeat before retreating to Pulaski in mid December. Hundreds of wounded Confederate soldiers were taken to the John and Carrie McGavock home - Carnton - after the battle. She became known as the Widow of the South. The McGavock's eventually donated two acres to inter the Confederate dead. Almost 1,500 Rebel soldiers are buried in McGavock Confederate Cemetery, just in view of the Carnton house.

Make sure to check-out the Google Map of the Franklin Civil War Guide.
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