‘Top Ten’ facts to know about the bridge situation at Franklin, the morning of November 30, 1864

Old HarpethRiver Bridge.jpgThere was just one main pedestrian downtown Franklin bridge crossing the Harpeth River in late 1864 [red square].  Rebels in Franklin destroyed and burned the bridge before November 30, 1864.  Thus, when the Federal Army, under Schofield, attempted to cross it early on the morning of Nov 30th, they were not able to. As a result, the entire Federal Army had to prepare entrenchments and protective breastworks in the event that the Confederate Army would attack once they caught up with the Federals in downtown Franklin.  As fate would have it, both armies would clash around downtown Franklin for five hours starting around 4 p.m. on November 30, 1864.  The Federals rebuilt the main Harpeth River bridge, constructed a pontoon bridge (blue square) and planked over the Nashville-Decatur railroad bridge in order to get their army across the river as fast as possible and make it to Nashville in the early hours of December 1st.  As the Federals fled the battlefield in the evening of the 30th – heading for Nashville – they burned the Harpeth River bridge, probably removed the pontoon bridge they had laid that same day, and pulled up the planks to the Nashville-Decatur bridge, leaving the railroad bridge itself undisturbed.

Cox_Boyd Maps.jpg

So what are the top ten things to know about the bridge situation in downtown Franklin on the morning of the 30th of November when the Federal Army arrived, heading for Nashville?

  1. There was one railroad bridge, the Nashville-Decatur, on the west side of Fort Granger.
  2. The railroad bridge was in working order for trains.
  3. The Federals, upon arriving in the early morning hours of the 30th, planked over the railroad bridge so as to move men and animals over it on foot.
  4. The main pedestrian bridge was on site of the Old Harpeth River bridge, a couple hundred feet west of the present Columbia Pike/Harpeth River bridge location.
  5. This main pedestrian bridge was burned by Confederates in 1862. This would result in temporarily halting and trapping the Federal Army on the south side of the Harpeth River, thus ensuring that a battle would take place if Hood were to force the issue at Franklin.
  6. The Federals did not know this pedestrian bridge was out when they arrived in Franklin the morning of the 30th.  They built a temporary bridge structure over the peer piles that day.
  7. Battlefield maps by Foster, Boyd and Cox show a pontoon bridge close by and west of the Nashville-Decatur railroad bridge.  These kind of bridges are built quickly in a specific spot to facilitate transportation and then de-constructed and placed back in the wagon train.
  8. This would have been a temporary bridge constructed on the 30th by the Federals using a few pontoon boats.
  9. When the Federals fled the battlefield late on the 30th, and early that morning, they set fire to the Harpeth River pedestrian bridge.
  10. The railroad bridge was not burned but the Federal army likely removed the planks.

What does Eric Jacobson write in For Cause & For Country about the bridges in Franklin at the time of the battle?

Marshall said several of the rifled guns were placed along the railroad near the present day Highway 96 bridge which spans the Harpeth River. At the time of the battle there was no bridge in that location.
Jacobson, Eric A. (2013-11-01). For Cause and Country: A Study of the Affair at Spring Hill & the Battle of Franklin (Kindle Locations 7331-7333). O’More Publishing. Kindle Edition.
The last Federal infantry to leave Franklin on the morning of December 1 were the men of Wood’s Division. At around 3 a.m. some of his troops set fire to the two bridges spanning the river and held their position long enough to ensure nothing could be done to stop the blaze. Within the hour one of the bridges was crumbling into the water, the other was fully engulfed, and the last of Wood’s troops were on their way.
Jacobson, Eric A. (2013-11-01). For Cause and Country: A Study of the Affair at Spring Hill & the Battle of Franklin (Kindle Locations 8371-8375). O’More Publishing. Kindle Edition.
Capt. Sam Foster wrote in his diary that it was about 1 a.m. when he heard the news. A short time later it was reported that a bridge over the Harpeth River was on fire. There was so much confusion and disorganization among the Southerners, no one seemed to know if all of the Federals were across the river or if some remained in Franklin. Orders were sent out to the artillery commanders instructing them to ready their guns. The flames were visible from the battlefield, and the artillerists used the conflagration as a general target. The problem was that the structure on fire was not the railroad bridge, but rather the footbridge closer to town.
Jacobson, Eric A. (2013-11-01). For Cause and Country: A Study of the Affair at Spring Hill & the Battle of Franklin (Kindle Locations 8413-8417). O’More Publishing. Kindle Edition.


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