The Federals placed Osage orange branches all along the main line, in front of the breastworks, for obstruction. This osage orange tree is just west of the Carnton home. It was a witness tree to the battle.
Eric Jacobson excerpt (For Cause & For Country)
Jacobson, Eric A.. For Cause and Country: A Study of the Affair at Spring Hill & the Battle of Franklin (Kindle Locations 4397-4404). O’More Publishing. Kindle Edition.
On November 30, 1864, under the command of General John Bell Hood, the Confederate Army of Tennessee attacked Union troops just south of the small town of Franklin, Tennessee. Union General John Schofield, having passed by the Confederate troops in the dark of night, was attempting to unite his forces with Union forces positioned in Nashville. The process of moving troops and supplies was slowed in Franklin due to the destruction of the county bridge over the Harpeth River. Recognizing this delay could give Confederate forces an opportunity to attack, Schofield directed his troops to dig earthworks and fortify a strong defensive position along a hill on the southern edge of Franklin. This hill was known as Carter Hill and at its apex was the Carter House.
Hood was disappointed that Union forces slipped away, but he recognized that the Union troops had no quick way to cross the Harpeth River. A full frontal assault was launched against the fortified Union position. The attack was sent forward despite Hood’s troops (including the bulk of his artillery) not fully arriving on the field. The rebels charged and suffered horrific losses. Despite significant casualties, portions of the Union earthworks were taken near the Carter House. Confederate troops outnumbered Union troops and this break in the Union Lines was a strategic advantage that could have changed the outcome of the battle except for a counterattack from General Emerson Opdycke that pushed the Confederates back once more and decided the day.
In only five hours, some 1,750 Confederate soldiers and another 200 Union soldiers were killed. There were a total of nearly 9,000 casualties including those killed, wounded or captured, which earned the Battle of Franklin the distinction of the bloodiest five hours of the Civil War. The costs for the Confederate Army were felt beyond just the loss of soldiers. Six confederate generals were killed, another five were wounded, and one was captured. This loss of leadership was pivotal in the sound defeat of the Confederate Army at the Battle of Nashville some two weeks later and effectively ended the western theater of the Civil War.
The story of the Battle of Franklin is both horrible and fascinating. But it has not been without significant preservation efforts that the Carter House and the Franklin Battlefield have been saved from the pressures of adjacent development. More recently, significant sites have even been purchased and structures have been removed to restore the battlefield. The charge of this master plan is to continue these efforts, to direct future reclamation of the Battlefield from development pressures, and to create a plan to tell the stories of the battle that occurred at Carter Hill and of the people that lived in the simple home that became a crucial Civil War battlefield.
Text credit: Carter House Master Plan (n.d.): p. 4
To the west of the Columbia Pike, Bates Division of Cheatham’s Corps attacked along a front between what is now Natchez Street and West Main Street (Carters Creek Pike). This terrain was characterized by open fields except for a dense grove of locust trees to the southwest of the Carter House. The locust grove was a dense thicket of vegetation and was a natural barrier to the attacking Confederate troops. Advancing after sunset, Bate’s three divisions temporarily broke the Union line but were driven back with heavy losses. Later that evening around 9:00 P.M., Edward Johnson’s Division of Lee’s Corps was ordered to attack and they hit the Union line between the locust grove and Natchez Street. This assault was also unsuccessful and cost Johnson’s Division over 500 casualties.
The landscape comprising the West Flank remained largely open farmland until the late 19th century. By the 1870s several brick and frame dwellings were constructed along Fair Street and West Main Street in the vicinity of the Union earthworks. These dwellings were built within the Hincheyville subdivision and are part of the Hincheyville Historic District.
During the first decade of the twentieth century, a number of new subdivisions were created in the West Flank area. The largest of these was between Columbia Pike and Carter’s Creek Pike. Appropriately named Battle Ground Park, this 1911 addition consisted of fifty-four lots along two blocks directly west of Columbia Pike. The land north of the subdivision was owned by Battle Ground Academy, which was established in 1889 as a boys school, and land to the south was devoted to the fair grounds. In 1909, the Lynnhurst subdivision consisting of eleven lots was established just west of Carter’s Creek Pike (now West Main Street) by the American Land Company. Just north of this, the thirty- six lot Thorner and Cannons Addition was created in 1911 between what is now West Main and Natchez Street. Here Bates’s Division of Cheatham’s Corps and Johnson’s Division attacked the Union front suffering hundreds of casualties.
Franklin Battlefield Preservation Plan (n.d.): p. 16
On the night of December 16th, the Confederate rear guard under Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee camped about seven miles north of Franklin. The soldiers were weary and poorly supplied as in their rush to retreat from Nashville, many had abandoned their equipment and muskets along the way. On the rainy morning of December 17th, the Confederates left around dawn. As they marched toward Franklin, Lee’s men had two encounters with Federal troops. The first took place around Hollow Tree Gap about five miles north of Franklin and consisted of a brief volley of fire at a portion of Union Major General James Wilson’s advanced cavalry. A more serious action occurred around 9:00 a.m. as two mounted Federal regiments attempted a frontal charge on the Confederate line. The Con- federate troops, however, were able to repulse the attack, which resulted in twenty-two Federal casualties and an additional sixty-three captured. As more Federal troops advanced, Lee’s rear guard withdrew around 10:00 a.m. to press on to the Harpeth River and into Franklin.
Two bridges spanned the Harpeth River offering quick passage into Franklin – a temporary pontoon bridge and a railroad trestle bridge near Fort Granger. By 10:30 a.m., the last of the Confederate wagons were crossing the bridges over the Harpeth River and troops had begun to disassemble the pontoon bridge when Wilson’s cavalry attacked. Brigadier General Randall Gibson’s Brigade of 500 Louisiana infantrymen was positioned near the river and the railroad overpass at Liberty Pike. Assisting Gibson was a portion of Brigadier General Abraham Buford’s cavalry and two field guns. The Confederate soldiers were no match, however, for the nearly 3,000 Federal cavalry. Buford’s cavalry was driven “in confusion into the river,” which was quickly rising due to the rainy weather. Surrounded, Gibson’s men fought back and sustained forty casualties before escaping. Panic and confusion reigned as men fled across the pontoon bridge.
A Confederate battery positioned along Front Street in Franklin began to fire upon Wilson’s cavalry causing them to temporarily draw back. Lee’s men rushed to destroy the pontoon and railroad bridges to prevent the Federal troops from crossing. Given this brief respite, Lee ordered the immediate evacuation of Franklin. No longer having the bridges available, Wilson’s men hastened to the nearest fords to beat the rising water. Meanwhile, additional Federal troops entered Franklin from the west. Around 1:00 p.m., the Confederate rear guard under the command of Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee began to withdraw toward Winstead Hill south of Franklin. As some of Wilson’s cavalrymen fired volleys towards them, a shell tore into Lee’s boot breaking several bones in his foot. Despite his injury, Lee remained in command as the Confederates withdrew south down Columbia Pike. Wilson regrouped his forces and sent troops down Carter’s Creek, Lewisburg and Columbia Pikes in pursuit of the Confederates. Federal troops traveling down Columbia Pike quickly gained on the Rebels who maintained a line of battle as they headed toward Spring Hill. Around 4:00 p.m. the Confederate rear guard formed a line about one mile north of the West Harpeth River.
Wilson ordered a frontal attack on the Confederate line and sent brigades to swing around the line’s flank. Around 200 cavalrymen swiftly advanced south down Columbia Pike toward the center of the Confederate line in a column of fours, sabers drawn. With the flanking brigades, the Federal line stretched nearly one and half miles long. Some 700 Confederate infantrymen were posted along the road under the command of Major General Carter L. Stevenson. As the Federals attacked the fighting was brief but fierce. “They swooped down on us with pistols, carbines, and sabers, hewing, whacking, and shooting,” one Confederate officer later recalled. Stevenson’s men repelled this charge and formed three ragged lines of a hollow square as they withdrew with their bayonets drawn.
The Federal cavalrymen continued to strike against Stevenson’s troops as they made their way across the West Harpeth River. As the Confederates stopped to reorganize, Wilson’s men struck again. By this time darkness had fallen and both sides were confused. The Federal cavalry were nearly on top of the Rebel infantry when the firing began. The ensuing melee was brutal as most took the form of hand-to-hand combat with clubbed muskets and side arms. The darkness and the fact that many Confederates wore captured Federal overcoats added to the confusion. When additional units joined the Federals the Confederates were forced to retreat down Columbia Pike and abandoned three 12-pounder guns along the way. They soon encountered Major General Henry Clayton’s Brigade, who, after hearing the gunfire, had formed a line to assist their fellow Confederates. As Stevenson’s men joined them, the Rebels were attacked from the west by additional Federal cavalrymen. A quick round of fire from Clayton’s men soon repulsed the Federals, and the Confederates continued to withdraw. Exhausted, the Confederates withdrew to Thompson’s Station where they camped with the remainder of Lee’s troops.
A series of skirmishes were fought from the West Harpeth River south to the Tennessee River, as Wilson’s cavalry and the remainder of Thomas’ army pursued Hood’s army. The retreat would finally end on January 1, 1865 when Hood’s army crossed the Tennessee River. What was left of the Army of Tennessee was eventually sent to the Carolinas to contest Sherman’s advance.
Text credit: Franklin Battlefield Preservation Plan (n.d.): pp. 9-10