Did Franklin/Nashville have a significant impact on the overall Civil War?

Notes from the Professor. We asked the Professor this question; “In your view, did Franklin/Nashville have a significant impact on the overall Civil War?”

Franklin and Nashville had a limited impact on the overall course of the war simply because they failed to change anything. The Union controlled Tennessee before the campaign and controlled it even more solidly afterward. Confederate chances for success in the campaign were, from the outset, rather desperate. The impact of the battles was 1) to increase the overall Confederate death toll of the war, and 2) to remove whatever latent threat to Union control of Tennessee might have been posed by Hood’s army lurking in north Alabama. For example, it seems unlikely that Schofield’s two corps would have been shifted to the east coast if Hood, with an as yet unbroken Army of Tennessee, were still lurking just outside the state, threatening to move north.

And yet, would that have changed the outcome of the war? No, Sherman could have accomplished his purpose without Schofield, and the overall outcome would have been the same. Perhaps the crowning irony of the battles of Franklin and Nashville is that they were fought at a time when the war was already decided. by late November 1864 it is difficult to imagine any train of events that could have led to Confederate victory.

Steven E. Woodworth is Professor of History at TCU in Texas.

Among his publications are Jefferson Davis and His Generals (University Press of Kansas, 1990), Davis and Lee at War (University Press of Kansas, 1995), Leadership and Command in the American Civil War (Savas Woodbury, 1996), The American Civil War: A Handbook of Literature and Research (Greenwood, 1996), A Deep Steady Thunder (McWhiney Foundation, 1996), Six Armies in Tennessee (1998), The Musick of the Mocking Birds, The Roar of the Cannon (University of Nebraska Press, 1998), The Art of Command in the Civil War (University of Nebraska Press, 1998), Civil War Generals in Defeat (University Press of Kansas, 1999), This Grand Spectacle (McWhiney Foundation, 1999), Chickamauga: A Battlefield Guide (University of Nebraska Press, 1999), No Band of Brothers (University of Missouri Press, 1999), The Human Tradition in the Civil War and Reconstruction (Scholarly Resources, 2000), Cultures in Conflict (Greenwood, 2000), Grant’s Lieutenants from Cairo to Vicksburg (University Press of Kansas, 2001), While God is Marching On: The Religious World of Civil War Soldiers (University Press of Kansas, 2001), Beneath a Northern Sky: A Short History of the Gettysburg Campaign (Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), The Oxford Atlas of the Civil War (Oxford University Press, 2004), Nothing but Victory: The Army of the Tennessee, 1861-1865 (Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), and Shiloh: A Battlefield Guide (University of Nebraska Press, 2006).

2 thoughts on “Did Franklin/Nashville have a significant impact on the overall Civil War?

  1. This question was discussed on the Battle of Franklin Facebook group (April 30, 2010). FranklinsMatters.com

    Here are some comments:

    David Richmond
    Because it was a loss, from the Confederate point of view I’d say it’s a 2 since it was so late in the war and didn’t accomplish anything but a huge loss of life.

    Evan Sing
    Sources have told me, a very credible one in fact, the Battle of Franklin meant nothing. It just happened to be in middle of Atlanta and Nashville

    Joey Bryan
    Franklin was significant in the fact that there was some many casualties prior to the Battle of Nashville. Had the Army of Tennessee not lost so many men the outcome could’ve been different. I give it a 6.

    Greg Ard
    i would say at least a 7, because had the attack at franklin been better planned a victory could have helped to slow sherman or maybe even be able to pull grant (only grant not any troops) the away from virgina to help oversee the west again. Giveing Lee a edge in virgina.

    Darrin Dickey
    4 – The Southern armies in the western theater had been ineffective at stemming the Union invasion and nearly ineffective at simply holding their home tertitory. The only reason I give it any weight at all is because it effectively finished off THE major Confederate army in the West, finishing off the western portion of the Confederacy, for all intents & purposes.

    Bill Dennison
    Franklin was a sad result of Hood’s doomed strategy to draw Sherman into a defense of Tennessee and Kentucky to alleviate the pressure on Georgia, South and North Carolina. Sherman never bought into it and if Hood hadn’t had Davis’ ear, neither would have the Confederate War Department. The west was lost by this time and Franklin was a needless sacrifice of life, Union and Confederate. Given that, while it was a horrific battle, only a 3 in significance.

    Gregory Mitchell
    I agree. The main action by now was in Virginia. Hoods strategy was a failure when Sherman turned around at Melville Post Office, GA/Gaylesville, AL and returned to Atlanta. When Sherman abandoned pursuit of the Confederates, Hood should have returned to Shermans rear and attacked to draw him back north of Atlanta. But then again, playing armchair quarterback is much easier than actually being in the field, too.

    K Scott Mullins
    An 8…not because it necessarily decided the war in a strategic way (it certainly hastened the end in the West)…but I give it an 8, because the sheer cost and horror of that battle deeply affected the survivors and I think finally broke men like Sam Watkins free from the idea that war of secession was a reasonable course of action.

    Of all the … See Morebattles fought by the Army of Tennessee, Franklin remains the one battle, that despite the overwhelming display of valor, finally proved to the valiant men of the Army of Tennessee…that they could not win…and it did so with overwhelming horror.

    Kenny Neff
    10, nothing happens without a reason. Just thinking about what all them boys on both sides did, I don’t think you discount ANY of it as having little impact.

    Kraig McNutt
    Great discussion on this topic.

    1. David Richmond – your point nailed it right off IMHO. Even a CSA victory would have possibly only delayed the war a month or two at best. Lincoln’s re-election settled the issue that the Union would fight for another four years which meant the CSA fighting days were numbered from Nov 64 onward.

    2. Evan – saying… See More the Battle of Franklin “meant nothing” is fairly accurate from a strategic point of view. Then again, so was Nashville. Those losses – and I’d even say even if they would have been CSA victories – did nothing to advance the strategic leverage the CSA war effort. But as an isolated battle, in and of itself, it meant a lot to the participants.

    3. Joey – your point is well-taken if the F-N campaign is not placed in the larger context of the late 64 war effort.

    4. Greg – not sure I concur a victory at Franklin or Nashville would have slowed Sherman. Sherman was bound for the sea period. Grant-Sherman saw seem to have viewed Hood’s activities in Mid-TN as irrelevant to the Union strategy. I also think that getting Grant to take the eye off the prize at Richmond during that siege was unlikely. Richmond was a prize much more valuable than Nashville.

    5. Darrin – spot on. The CSA lost Nashville in early ’62 without even firing a shot. With the loss at Shiloh in April 62 and the “draw” (at best) at Murfreesboro Jan ’63 – not to mention the loss of Forts Henry and Donelson in early 62 – the CSA had no real traction in West and Middle TN during the entire war.

    6. Bill Dennison – that may be the best summary interpretation possible. Could not be said better with such brevity.

    7. Greg – the retreat was brutal and hardly known outside of a few people.

    8. Gregory – you and Bill are a great one-two punch in your statements.

    9. K Scott – your argument is similar to Joey’s (3). The real issue here seems to be how irrelevant the AOT became by late 64; and how irrelevant TN even was by then (Darrin, 5).

    10. Kenny – just because a battle or action may have had little or minimal strategic impact does not ipso factor mean that that same battle was not important. Strategic impact vs importance and meaning are very different it seems to me.

  2. Pingback: How important was Hood’s Middle Tennessee Campaign (i.e., Franklin-Nashville) to the overall Confederate war strategy by late 1864? «

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