Least understood aspects of the Battle of Franklin?

I recently asked my Battle of Franklin Facebook community (now over 1,850 fans strong) this question,

What part of the battle of Franklin do you think might be one of the least understood and why?

Fortunately, historian Eric Jacobson clarified and responded to the core mysteries below.

Historian-author Eric Jacobson

Here are some of the comments as they appeared in order of the posts:

Leon Guinn


The Battle of Franklin (me)
One of the most mystifying to me is, why didn’t Hood try to out flank the Union army on the right Union flank, by Carters Creek Pike, instead of the eastern Union flank? Seems that strategy would’ve been much easier because Walthall’s Division got obliterated on the eastern flank by Stiles’ Brigade.

John Saporito
I think the issue is beyond Hood’s stratagem. He was just another example of a commander promoted above his talents, which were substantial at the division, brigade levels, not Army Commander. In my opinion that is the essence of the mistake at Franklin.

Kenny Neff
yea, they coulda shoulda left Johnston in command. Good man, but that’s Southerners for ya; never let em’ lead your revolution. lol

Jon Harris
I’m following you Kraig.. also one of the most misunderstood thing sabout the battle (though less important) was the layout of the battlefield natural and manmade.. and darn it I’m going to get to the bottom of it all someday. I soo want to envision antebellum and war-time Franklin. But there are other battle misunderstandings as well.

Bryant Roberts
do y’all have any accounts from Bullocks (Finlay’s) brigade?

Dale Attaway
Why in heavens name Hood was allowed to send his Army to certain slaughter by Forrest and the other field commanders ?

Bill Love
Like others have said, it has to be the logic of an open field head-on attack into an entrenched union force. Pat Cleburn should have been in charge.

Tony Brymer
bell – & was insane

Diane Stephens White
Why did Davis put Hood in charge of the Army of Tennessee, unless he had plans to rid himself of Cleburne. There were rumors of this being the underlying motive behind his actions. Patrick Cleburne, was a brilliant officer serving with this army. He could have very well led this army himself, except for politics. His idea of putting blacks in the Confederate Army to fight and give them their freedom for it, was something that Davis didn’t like and made sure everyone knew it. Cleburne, knew Hood was mad after the Union army slipped by them during the night, prior to this engagement. He also knew that it was a battle they could never win charging across open plain into the entrenched union. Knowing this why didn’t he, along with his brigade commanders rebel against Hood. They knew before the battle that it wouldn’t work the odds were against them to start with. Such a loss of good men and Commanders, Over 2,000 possibly 2,500 men lost their lives that day in a matter of 5 hours, The bloodiest battle, in the shortest amount of time ,second only to Gettysburg of the entire war. Hood was at Gettysburg, he knew what happened trying to charge across an open field where the Union army was already dug in. God , only knows what his idea was on that fateful day at Franklin.

The Battle of Franklin (me)
Here’s another mystery to me. I talked with Thomas Cartwright recently about this… Hood had over 120 pieces of artillery at his disposal but engaged 1/4th of them. The Union only had about 37ish pieces in use that day. The Rebs had a significant advantage with arty but did not leverage it.

Brandon Lane
How the whole union army marched right pass the confederates as they were camped just off the road that night before, they went un noticed till it was to late?

Gregg Jennings
I’ve wondered if Hood was on drugs at the time.

The Battle of Franklin (me)
Here’s another mystery to me. Forrest was at the BoF but had little impact on that action. At least it seems to me. How does Forrest end up being a non-entity at Franklin?

Gregg Jennings
I guess another thing is how accurate is Wiley Sword’s interpretation of the battle and of Hood compared to others interpretations.

Tony Brymer

Hood was running (hope to lead him away – right…) from Sherman in hot-lanta & ran into a well rest and prepared yanks here in TN.

Hood was a fool — and Sherman offered him rations to ‘keep moving’ so he could burn the south to the ground & end the war…

Bill Nolan
One of the least understood parts of the BoF, to me at least, is why was Wagner’s Federal Division posted in front of the main Federal line, and why did no one pull them back before the Confederate attack.

David Foote
Franklin is the least and worse reported battle of the war and why most “serious” historians slough it off or not go into depth is a crime in itself.

Eric A Jacobson
Oh my gosh, where do I start with some of the responses in this thread. First, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but let’s start by dropping the whole “madman on dope” idea. Show me some contemporary evidence that Hood was either crazy or on drugs and I’ll listen. Otherwise, you have nothing serious to add to the discussion. I spent 10 years chasing that angle when I was writing my book For Cause & For Country and there is a NOT a shred of evidence to support it.
I have asked this again and again – why does no one accuse Lee of being insane or on drugs for ordering Pickett’s Charge? Also, what about Johnston attack at Bentonville, NC four months AFTER Franklin and suffering over 3,000 casualties? Was he nuts, too?

Flanking the Federal position cannot be discounted, but considering Hood had tried that three times in the prior week and had been unsuccessful (Pulaski, Columbia, and, of course, Spring Hill) options to stop Schofield before he escaped to Nashville were becoming limited. Plus, Hood did actually allow Forrest to move two of his divisions east of the Harpeth to work in concert with the infantry assault and a single Federal division, holding high ground and armed largely with Spencer rifles, thumped Forrest pretty well.

I’ll comment on artillery in closing. While Hood did have over 100 guns in the army (27 batteries altogether), the bulk of his artillery was not at Franklin when the attack began. That was still with Lee’s Corps, which was still moving up the road from Spring Hill at 4 p.m. Even with the limited artillery he did have present (which was used) it was of little consequence. Like at Gettysburg, firing accurately on a defensive line is not quite as easy as firing on advancing columns of infantry. All that said, if Hood waited for all the artillery to come up, or even half, its dark and Schofield is on his way to Nashville. Waiting for the artillery wasn’t going to gain Hood anything and using what he had would have had little or no effect.

Sorry, I meant to address the Cleburne situation as well. Let’s look at facts. Cleburne was a division commander, he had never been a corps commander. There is no way he was going to be elevated from division to army command. He also had other things working against him beyond his proposal to arm slaves. He was a foreigner and had not gone to West Point. Sorry to say this, but these were strikes against him in the mind of Jefferson Davis. Also, when a corps command slot came open in mid-1864, William Hardee (Cleburne’s good friend) didn’t suggest Cleburne for the slot, but instead suggested Frank Cheatham. Why? We may never known, but we do know he didn’t advocate Cleburne.

Also, remember that when Hood took command in mid-1864 he a geuine Confederate hero with a track record that was the envy of many. His legacy, however, is tainted by what happened in Middle Tennessee. Cleburne died at Franklin. As excellent as Cleburne was, death certainly further elevated his status to that of near mythology.

3 thoughts on “Least understood aspects of the Battle of Franklin?

  1. At first I did not recognize this original posting as a teaching opportunity, but it sure was. Great job Eric and Kraig!!!!

    • Kraig & Eric, I am a retired History teacher with 35 years experience and I have to thank you and all I have met at the Carter house. I have learned more “meat” about the Civil War than I have in all my former studies. Thank you and Franklin’s Charge. keep up the great work.

  2. “Also, when a corps command slot came open in mid-1864, William Hardee (Cleburne’s good friend) didn’t suggest Cleburne for the slot, but instead suggested Frank Cheatham. Why? We may never known, but we do know he didn’t advocate Cleburne.”

    This is pretty simple, Cheatham was senior to Cleburne and it would have been bad form for Hardee to suggest a junior subordinate over the senior Major General in the Army. Besides being a foreigner and a non-West Pointer, Cleburne was a relatively junior officer and would always be behind Cheatham in the Army’s pecking order.

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