Franklin: The Valley of Death
“(Franklin) is the blackest page in the history of the War of the Lost Cause. It was the bloodiest battle of modern times in any war. It was the finishing stroke to the Independence of the Southern Confederacy. I was there. I saw it.”
–Sam Watkins, 1st Tennessee Infantry
Called “The Gettysburg of the West,” Franklin was one of the few night battles in the Civil War. It was also one of the smallest battlefields of the war (only 2 miles long and 1 1/2 miles wide). The main battle began around 4:00 pm and wound down around 9:00 pm.
The Federal (Union) Army consisted of 22,000 infantry / approximately 5,000 cavalry
The Federal Army had arrived in Franklin around 1:00 that morning. Brigadier General Jacob Dolson Cox led the operation and woke up the Carter family, commandeering their home as his headquarters. At that time, the Carter Farm consisted of 288 acres on the south edge of town bordering the Columbia Pike. Their cotton gin (pictured, left) was located 100 yards from the house where eventually the main line of Federal breastworks were constructed. The Federal line commander was Cox who supervised his army in a defensive position surrounding the southern edge of town. He used the existing breastworks built in 1863 and constructed others on the west side of Columbia Pike. About 60 feet from the Carter House, near their farm office and smokehouse, were the inner breastworks.
The Confederate Army of Tennessee consisted of 20,085 infantry / 5,000 cavalry
S.D. Lee’s Corps arrived late with only 1 division participating in the battle.) By 2:00 pm Hood had made plans for a frontal assault. By 2:30 pm a conference was held at the Harrison House. Strong objections were voiced from Hood’s commanders. General Cheatham said, “I don’t like the looks of this fight, as the enemy has a good position and is well fortified.” Generals Cleburne (pictured, right) and Forrest (cavalry) knew they would be flirting with disaster. But Hood would not be dissuaded. As Cleburne mounted his horse to leave, Hood gave strict orders for the assault. Cleburne responded, “We will take the works or fall in the attempt.” The Army of Tennessee knew this assault on the town of Franklin would be suicidal. They bravely advanced toward the Carter House with their heads held high.
The fighting soon became brutal and fiendishly savage, with men bayoneted and clubbed to death in the Carter yard. A Confederate soldier was bayoneted on the front steps of the Carter House. Men were clubbing, clawing, punching, stabbing and choking each other. The smoke from the canons and guns was so thick that you could not tell friend from foe.
During the five hours of fighting, the Carter Family took refuge in their basement. 23 men, women and children (many under the age of 12) were safely protected while the horrible cries of war rang out above them. The head of the family, Fountain Branch Carter, a 67-year old widower, had seen 3 of his sons fight for the Confederacy. One son, Theodrick (Tod), was serving as an aid for General T.B. Smith on the battlefield and saw his home for the first time in 3 years. Crying out, “Follow me boys, I’m almost home,” Captain Tod Carter was mortally wounded and died 2 days later at the Carter House.
After the battle, like so many homes in Franklin, the parlor of the Carter House was converted into a Confederate field hospital and witnessed many surgeries and amputations.
Federal Casualties – 2,500 men
The 23rd Corps lost 958, and the 4th Corps lost 1,368. 189 men were killed, 1,033 were wounded, 1,104 captured and 287 cavalry casualties. Only 1 Federal General was wounded (Major General David Stanley, Corps Commander).
Confederate Casualties – 7,000 men
More than 1,750 men were killed outright or died of mortal wounds, 3,800 seriously wounded and 702 captured (not including cavalry casualties). 15 out of 28 Confederate Generals were casualties. 65 field grade officers were lost. Some infantry regiments lost 64 % of their strength at Franklin. There were more men killed in the Confederate Army of Tennessee in the 5- hour battle than in the 2-day Battle of Shiloh and the 3-day Battle of Stones River.
Content source: The Carter House Museum
In the spring of 1866, the McGavock Family of Franklin donated 2 acres near their home, Carnton, to establish a Confederate Cemetery where 1,481 soldiers are laid to rest.
Around midnight, the Federal Army retreated to Nashville to join the forces of General George Thomas.