Professor-historian Steven E. Woodworth on Hood’s blunder-failure at Franklin?

Dr. Woodworth is Professor of History at T.C.U.

On a recent post — Hood’s blunder-failure at Franklin? — Professor Steven E. Woodworth left this comment on Hood’s failure at Franklin. I think it worthwhile to bring it to our attention as a separate post.

A case can be made in defense of Hood’s battle plans at Atlanta, though not his execution of those plans. Such is not the case at Franklin. It’s true that frontal attacks were sometimes necessary and sometimes successful. It’s also true that every truly great Civil War general launched one or two such attacks that he would no doubt have liked to have taken back afterward but that seemed reasonable when he launched them. Yet there simply can be no palliation or excuse for Hood’s Franklin assault. it did not seem at all reasonable when he launched it. By that point in the war, the simplest drummer boy could see that it could not succeed and would lead to the slaughter of the army. Bad as Hood’s situation was, wrecking his army could only make it worse. His only reasonable option was to maneuver in such a way as to maintain his army, since it was one of the Confederacy’s last assets.

Dr. Woodworth has authored many respectable and industry-leading books on the Civil War: see his list.

2 thoughts on “Professor-historian Steven E. Woodworth on Hood’s blunder-failure at Franklin?

  1. Many of the veterans themselves would disagree with Woodworth’s assertive conclusions about Hood’s attack at Franklin. Without the luxury of hindsight, Hood was attempting to destroy Schofield’s army at Franklin, and his decision to attack was made carefully. Schofield provided perhaps the most comprehensive description of Hood’s decision:

    “Hood’s assault at Franklin has been severely criticized. Even so able a general as J. E. Johnston has characterized it as “A useless butchery.” These criticisms are founded on a misapprehension of the facts, and are essentially erroneous. Hood must have been fully aware of our relative weakness of numbers at Franklin, and of the probable, if not certain, concentration of large reinforcements at Nashville. He could not hope to have at any future time anything like so great an advantage in that respect. The army at Franklin and the troops at Nashville were within one night’s march of each other; Hood must therefore attack on November 30 or lose the advantage of greatly superior numbers. It was impossible, after the pursuit from Spring Hill, in a short day to turn our position or make any other attack but a direct one in front. Besides our position with the river on our rear, gave him the chance of vastly greater results, if his assault were successful, than could be hoped for by any attack he could make after we had crossed the Harpeth. Still more, there was no unusual obstacle to a successful assault at Franklin. The defenses were of the slightest character, and it was not possible to make them formidable during the short time our troops were in position, after the previous exhausting operations of both day and night, which had rendered some rest on the 30th absolutely necessary.
    The Confederate cause had reached a condition closely verging on desperation, and Hood’s commander-in-chief had called upon him to undertake operations which he thought appropriate to such an emergency. Franklin was the last opportunity he could expect to have to reap the results hoped for in his aggressive movement. He must strike there, as best he could, or give up his cause as lost. I believe, therefore, that there can be no room for doubt that Hood’s assault was entirely justifiable.”

  2. I have often found criticism of Hood’s attack at Franklin devoid of any practicable alternatives. Then, go just one step further and one has to wonder what level of criticism he would have received by avoiding the fight. I suspect words to the effect of “lost his nerve”, “indecisive”, “lacking tactical initiative”, perhaps even cowardice would be mentioned. And most must agree that it was no time for timidity.

    It also seems that an enemy force of experience and courage had something to do with it. Schofield’s performance was less than sterling at Franklin, but a significant number of his subordinates performed admirably to “pick up the slack”. Hood’s didn’t at Spring Hill – the beginning of the end game for him at Franklin.

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