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Report of Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas, U.S. Army – Battle of Franklin

Report of Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas, U.S. Army, Commanding Department of the Cumberland, Battle of [Franklin]

Eastport, Miss., January 20, 1865.

Lieut. Col. R. M. SAWYER,
Asst. Adjt. Gen.,
Military Division of the Mississippi.


On the 12th of November communication with General Sherman was severed, the last dispatch from him leaving Cartersville, Ga., at 2.25 p.m. on that date. He had started on his great expedition from Atlanta to the seaboard, leaving me to guard Tennessee or to pursue the enemy if he followed the commanding general’s column. It was therefore with considerable anxiety that we watched the forces at Florence, to discover what course they would pursue with regard to General Sherman’s movements, determining thereby whether the troops under my command, numbering less than half those under Hood, were to act on the defensive in Tennessee, or take the offensive in Alabama.

The enemy’s position at Florence remained unchanged up to the 17th of November, when he moved Cheatham’s corps to the north side of the river, with Stewart’s corps preparing to follow. The same day part of the enemy’s infantry, said to be Lee’s corps, moved up the Lawrenceburg road to Bough’s Mill, on Shoal Creek, skirmishing at that point with Hatch’s cavalry, and then fell back a short distance to some bluffs, where it went into camp.

The possibility of Hood’s forces following General Sherman was now at an end, and I quietly took measures to act on the defensive. Two divisions of infantry, under Maj. Gen. A. J. Smith, were reported on their way to join me, from Missouri, which, with several one-year regiments then arriving in the department, and detachments collected from points of minor importance, would swell my command, when concentrated, to an army nearly as large as that of the enemy. Had the enemy delayed his advance a week or ten days longer, I would have been ready to meet him at some point south of Duck River, but Hood commenced his advance on the 19th, moving on parallel roads from Florence toward Waynesborough, and shelled Hatch’s cavalry out of Lawrenceburg on the 22d. My only resource then was to retire slowly toward my re-enforcements, delaying the enemy’s progress as much as possible, to gain time for re-enforcements to arrive and concentrate.

General Schofield commenced removing the public property from Pulaski preparatory to falling back toward Columbia. Two divisions of Stanley’s corps had already reached Lynnville, a point fifteen miles north of Pulaski, to cover the passage of the wagons and protect the railroad. Capron’s brigade of cavalry was at Mount Pleasant, covering the approach to Columbia from that direction; and, in addition to the regular garrison, there was at Columbia a brigade of Ruger’s division, Twenty-third Army Corps. I directed the two remaining brigades of Ruger’s division, then at Johnsonville, to move—one by railroad around through Nashville to Columbia, the other by road via Waverly to Centerville—and occupy the crossings of Duck River near Columbia, Williamsport, Gordon’s Ferry, and Centerville.

Since the departure of General Sherman about 7,000 men belonging to his column had collected at Chattanooga, comprising convalescents returning to their commands and men returning from furlough. These men had been organized into brigades, to be made available at such points as they might be needed. My command had also been re-enforced by twenty new one-year regiments, most of which, however, were absorbed in replacing old regiments whose terms of service had expired.

On the 23d, in accordance with directions previously given him, General Granger commenced withdrawing the garrisons from Athens, Decatur, and Huntsville, Ala., and moved off toward Stevenson, sending five new regiments of that force to Murfreesborough, and retaining at Stevenson the original troops of his command. This movement was rapidly made by railroad, without opposition on the part of the enemy. That same night General Schofield evacuated Pulaski and moved toward Columbia, reporting himself in position at that place on the 24th. The commanding officer at Johnsonville was directed to evacuate that post, after removing all public property, and retire to Fort Donelson, on the Cumberland, and thence to Clarksville. During the 24th and 25th the enemy skirmished with General Schofield’s troops at Columbia, but showed nothing but dismounted cavalry until the morning of the 26th, when his infantry came up and pressed our line strongly during that day and the 27th, but without assaulting. As the enemy’s movements showed an undoubted intention to cross above or below the town, General Schofield withdrew to the north bank of Duck River during the night of the 27th and took up a new position, where the command remained during the 28th, undisturbed. Two divisions of the Twenty-third Corps were placed in line in front of the town, holding all the crossings in its vicinity, while Stanley’s corps, posted in reserve on the Franklin pike, was held in readiness to repel any vigorous attempt the enemy should make to force a crossing; the cavalry, under command of Brevet Major-General Wilson, held the crossings above those guarded by the infantry. About 2 a.m. on the 29th the enemy succeeded in pressing back General Wilson’s cavalry, and effected a crossing on the Lewisburg pike; at a later hour part of his infantry crossed at Huey’s Mills, six miles above Columbia. Communication with the cavalry having been interrupted and the line of retreat toward Franklin being threatened, General Schofield made preparations to withdraw to Franklin. General Stanley, with one division of infantry, was sent to Spring Hill, about fifteen miles north of Columbia, to cover the trains and hold the road open for the passage of the main force, and dispositions were made preparatory to a withdrawal and to meet any attack coming from the direction of Huey’s Mills. General Stanley reached Spring Hill just in time to drive off the enemy’s cavalry and save the trains; but later he was attacked by the enemy’s infantry and cavalry combined, who engaged him heavily and nearly succeeded in dislodging him from the position, the engagement lasting until dark. Although not attacked from the direction of Huey’s Mills, General Schofield was busily occupied all day at Columbia resisting the enemy’s attempts to cross Duck River, which he successfully accomplished, repulsing the enemy many times, with heavy loss. Giving directions for the withdrawal of the troops as soon as covered by the darkness, at a late hour in the afternoon General Schofield, with Ruger’s division, started to the relief of General Stanley, at Spring Hill, and when near that place he came upon the enemy’s cavalry, but they were easily driven off. At Spring Hill the enemy was found bivouacking within 800 yards of the road. Posting a brigade to hold the pike at this point, General Schofield with Ruger’s division, pushed on to Thompson’s Station, three mile’s beyond, where he found the enemy’s campfires still burning, a cavalry force having occupied the place at dark, but had disappeared on the arrival of our troops. General Ruger then quietly took possession of the cross-roads.

The withdrawal of the main force from in front of Columbia was safely effected after dark on the 29th; Spring Hill was passed without molestation about midnight, and making a night march of twenty-five miles, the whole command got into position at Franklin at an early hour on the morning of the 30th; the cavalry moved on the Lewisburg pike, on the right or east of the infantry.

At Franklin General Schofield formed line of battle on the southern edge of the town to await the coming of the enemy, and in the meanwhile hastened the crossing of the trains to the north side of Harpeth River.

On the evacuation of Columbia orders were sent to Major-General Milroy, at Tullahoma, to abandon that post and retire to Murfrees-borough, joining forces with General Rousseau at the latter place. General Milroy was instructed, however, to maintain the garrison in the block-house at Elk River bridge. Nashville was placed in a state of defense and the fortifications manned by the garrison, re-enforced by a volunteer force, which had been previously organized into a division, under Bvt. Brig. Gen. J. L. Donaldson, from the employés of the quartermaster’s and commissary departments. This latter force, aided by railroad employés, the whole under the direction of Brigadier-General Tower, worked assiduously to construct additional defenses. Major-General Steedman, with a command numbering 5,000, composed of detachments belonging to General Sherman’s column, left behind at Chattanooga (of which mention has heretofore been made), and also a brigade of colored troops, started from Chattanooga by rail on the 29th of November, and reached Cowan on the morning of the 30th, where orders were sent him to proceed direct to Nashville. At an early hour on the morning of the 30th the advance of Maj. Gen. A. J. Smith’s command reached Nashville by transports from Saint Louis. My infantry force was now nearly equal to that of the enemy, although he still outnumbered me very greatly in effective cavalry; but as soon as a few thousand of the latter arm could be mounted I should be in a condition to take the field offensively and dispute the possession of Tennessee with Hood’s army.

The enemy followed closely after General Schofield’s rear guard in the retreat to Franklin, and upon coming up with the main force, formed rapidly and advanced to assault our works, repeating attack after attack during the entire afternoon, and as late as 10 p.m. his efforts to break our line were continued. General Schofield’s position was excellently chosen, with both flanks resting upon the river, and the men firmly held their ground against an overwhelming enemy, who was repulsed in every assault along the whole line. Our loss, as given by General Schofield in his report transmitted herewith (and to which I respectfully refer), is, 189 killed, 1,033 wounded, and 1,104 missing, making an aggregate of 2,326. We captured and sent to Nashville 702 prisoners, including I general officer, and 33 stand of colors. Maj. Gen. D. S. Stanley, commanding Fourth Corps, was severely wounded at Franklin whilst engaged in rallying a portion of his command which had been temporarily overpowered by an overwhelming attack of the enemy. At the time of the battle the enemy’s loss was known to be severe, and was estimated at 5,000. The exact figures were only obtained, however, on the reoccupation of Franklin by our forces, after the battles of December 15 and 16, at Brentwood Hills, near Nashville, and are given as follows: Buried upon the field, 1,750; disabled and placed in hospital at Franklin, 3,800, which, with the 702 prisoners already reported, makes an aggregate loss to Hood’s army of 6,252, among whom were 6 general officers killed, 6 wounded, and I captured. The important results of the signal victory cannot be too highly appreciated, for it not only seriously checked the enemy’s advance, and gave General Schofield time to remove his troops and all his property to Nashville, but it also caused deep depression among the men of Hood’s army, making them doubly cautious in their subsequent movements.

Not willing to risk a renewal of the battle on the morrow, and having accomplished the object of the day’s operations, viz, to cover the withdrawal of his trains, General Schofield, by my advice and direction, fell back during the night to Nashville, in front of which city line of battle was formed by noon of the 1st of December, on the heights immediately surrounding Nashville, with Maj. Gen. A. J. Smith’s command occupying the right, his right resting on the Cumberland River, below the city; the Fourth Corps (Brig. Gen. T. J. Wood temporarily in command) in the center; and General Schofield’s troops (Twenty-third Army Corps) on the left, extending to Nolensville pike. The cavalry, under General Wilson, was directed to take post on the left of General Schofield, which would make secure the interval between his left and the river above the city.

Gen. Hood’s Official Report of the Battle of Franklin

Report of General John B. Hood, C. S. Army, Commanding Army of Tennessee

Battle of Nashville [Franklin]

February 15, 1865.

General S. COOPER,
Adjutant and Inspector General, Richmond, Va.


Forrest’s cavalry joined me on the 21st of November and the movement began, Major-General Cheatham’s corps taking the road toward Waynesborough, and the other two corps moving on roads somewhat parallel with this, but more to the eastward, with the cavalry under General Forrest in the advance and upon their right flank. The enemy’s forces at this time were concentrated at Pulaski, with some force also at Lawrenceburg. I hoped to be able to place the army between these forces of the enemy and Nashville; but he evacuated Pulaski upon the 23rd, hearing of our advance (our cavalry having furiously driven off their forces at Lawrenceburg), and moved rapidly by the turnpike and railroad to Columbia.

The want of a good map of the country, and the deep mud through which the army marched, prevented our overtaking the enemy before he reached Columbia, but on the evening of the 27th of November our army was placed in position in front of his works at that place. During the night, however, he evacuated the town, taking position on the opposite side of the river about a mile and a half from the town, which was considered quite strong in front.

Late in the evening of the 28th of November General Forrest, with most of his command, crossed Duck River a few miles above Columbia, and I followed early in the morning of the 29th with Stewart’s and Cheatham’s corps, and Johnson’s division, of Lee’s corps, leaving the other divisions of Lee’s corps in the enemy’s front at Columbia. The troops moved in light marching order, with only a battery to the corps, my object being to turn the enemy’s flank, by marching rapidly on roads parallel to the Columbia and Franklin pike, at or near Spring Hill, and to cut off that portion of the enemy at or near Columbia. When I had gotten well on his flank the enemy discovered my intention and began to retreat on the pike toward Spring Hill. The cavalry became engaged near that place about midday, but his trains were so strongly guarded that they were unable to break through them. About 4 p.m. our infantry forces, Major-General Cheatham in the advance, commenced to come in contact with the enemy about two miles from Spring Hill, through which place the Columbia and Franklin pike runs. The enemy was at this time moving rapidly along the pike, with some of his troops formed on the flank of his column to protect it. Major-General Cheatham was ordered to attack the enemy at once vigorously and get possession of this pike, and, although these orders were frequently and earnestly repeated, he made but a feeble and partial attack, failing to reach the point indicated. Had my instructions been carried out there is no doubt that we should have possessed ourselves of this road. Stewart’s corps and Johnson’s division were arriving upon the field to support the attack. Though the golden opportunity had passed with daylight, I did not at dark abandon the hope of dealing the enemy a heavy blow. Accordingly, Lieutenant-General Stewart was furnished a guide and ordered to move his corps beyond Cheatham’s and place it across the road beyond Spring Hill. Shortly after this General Cheatham came to my headquarters, and when I informed him of Stewart’s movement, he said that Stewart ought to form on his right. I asked if that would throw Stewart across the pike. He replied that it would, and a mile beyond. Accordingly, one of Cheatham’s staff officers was sent to show Stewart where his (Cheatham’s)right rested. In the dark and confusion he did not succeed in getting the position desired, but about 11 p.m. went into bivouac. About 12 p.m., ascertaining that the enemy was moving in great confusion, artillery, wagons, and troops intermixed, I sent instructions to General Cheatham to advance a heavy line of skirmishers against him and still further impede and confuse his march. This was not accomplished. The enemy continued to move along the road in hurry and confusion, within hearing nearly all the night. Thus was lost a great opportunity of striking the enemy for which we had labored so long–the greatest this campaign had offered, and one of the greatest during the war.

Lieutenant-General Lee, left in front of the enemy at Columbia, was instructed to press the enemy the moment he abandoned his position at that point. The enemy did not abandon his works at that place till dark, showing that his trains obstructed the road for fifteen miles during the day and a great part of the night.

At daylight we followed as fast as possible toward Franklin, Lieuten-ant-General Stewart in the advance, Major-General Cheatham following, and General Lee, with the trains, moving from Columbia on the same road. We pursued the enemy rapidly and compelled him to burn a number of his wagons. He made a feint as if to give battle on the hills about four miles south of Franklin, but as soon as our forces began to deploy for the attack and to flank him on his left he retired slowly to Franklin.

I learned from dispatches captured at Spring Hill, from Thomas to Schofield, that the latter was instructed to hold that place till the position at Franklin could be made secure, indicating the intention of Thomas to hold Franklin and his strong works at Murfreesborough. Thus I knew that it was all important to attack Schofield before he could make himself strong, and if he should escape at Franklin he would gain his works about Nashville. The nature of the position was such as to render it inexpedient to attempt any further flank movement, and I therefore determined to attack him in front, and without delay.

On the 30th of November Stewart’s corps was placed in position on the right, Cheatham’s on the left, and the cavalry on either flank, the main body of the cavalry on the right, under Forrest. Johnson’s division, of Lee’s corps, also became engaged on the left during the engagement. The line advanced at 4 p.m., with orders to drive the enemy into or across the Big Harpeth River, while General Forrest, if successful, was to cross the river and attack and destroy his trains and broken columns. The troops moved forward most gallantly to the attack. We carried the enemy’s first line of hastily constructed works handsomely. We then advanced against his interior line, and succeeded in carrying it also in some places. Here the engagement was of the fiercest possible character. Our men possessed themselves of the exterior of the works, while the enemy held the interior. Many of our men were killed entirely inside the works. The brave men captured were taken inside his works in the edge of the town. The struggle lasted till near midnight, when the enemy abandoned his works and crossed the river, leaving his dead and wounded in our possession. Never did troops fight more gallantly. The works of the enemy were so hastily constructed that while he had a slight abatis in front of a part of his line there was none on his extreme right. During the day I was restrained from using my artillery on account of the women and children remaining in the town. At night it was massed ready to continue the action in the morning, but the enemy retired.

We captured about 1,000 prisoners and several stand of colors. Our loss in killed, wounded, and prisoners was 4,500. Among the killed was Maj. Gen. P. R. Cleburne, Brigadier-Generals Gist, John Adams, Strahl, and Granbury. Major-General Brown, Brigadier-Generals Carter, Manigault, Quarles, Cockrell, and Scott were wounded, and Brigadier-General Gordon captured.

The number of dead left by the enemy on the field indicated that his loss was equal or near our own.

The next morning at daylight, the wounded being cared for and the dead buried, we moved forward toward Nashville, Forrest with his cavalry pursuing the enemy vigorously.

Respectfully, your obedient servant,

John and Carrie McGavock describe the scene at Carnton after the Battle of Franklin.

John and Carrie McGavock describe the scene at Carnton after the Battle of Franklin.

‘Every room was filled, every bed had two poor, bleeding fellows, every spare space, niche, and corner under the stairs, in the hall, everywhere. And when the noble old house could hold no more, the yard was appropriated until the wounded and dead filled that.’

‘Our doctors were deficient in bandages and [Carrie McGavock] began by giving her old linen, then her towels and napkins, then her sheets and tableclothes, then her husband’s shirts and her own undergarments. … Unaffrighted by the sight of blood, unawed by horrid wounds, unblanched by ghastly death, she walked from room to room, from man to man, her very skirts stained in blood.’

Carnton is open Monday-Saturday 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sunday 1-5 p.m.

Visit their web site for more info.

Gen. David S. Stanely – commanded at the Battle of Franklin – CDV

David Sloan Stanley was born on 1 June 1828 and entered service at Congress, Wayne County, Ohio. Commissioned in the 2nd Dragoons in 1852 as young officer Stanley spent considerable time in the west. The outbreak of the Civil War found Stanley in Missouri where in 1861 he participated in an early engagement at Wilson’s Creek near Independence, Mo. Appointed a Brigadier General of Volunteers he commanded a cavalry division in the Stone’s River Campaign and was brevetted for gallantry at the Battle of Murfreesboro. Stanley led a corps in the Chickamauga Campaign.The year 1864 found Brigadier General Stanley serving as the Chief of Cavalry for the Army of the Cumberland. On November 30, 1864 at the Battle of Franklin, at a critical moment rode to the front of one of his brigades, reestablished its lines, and gallantly led it in a successful assault. He would later be awarded the Medal of Honor for his gallantry in action. Wounded in this action, he was brevetted a total of four times during the war.

50th Ohio soldier writes, The worst men that God ever suffered to live are in my mind the Aristocrats of the south.

Columbia, Tenn.

Nov. 23rd 1864

Dear Sister,

Since I commenced the letter on the other page circumstances prevented my finishing it. We started immediately from Franklin & when we got here I was sent away & in the mean time the cars which had my things on were sent back before they were unloaded. A man was with the whole of the luggage & he just returned to us the other day. So I concluded to write on the same sheet nevertheless. Nearly all I care about writing at present is that I am perfectly well and doing well for a soldier. Cold weather has commenced. Day before yesterday we had a little spotting of snow just enough to be seen on the ground, when it cleared off the ground froze hard so that now we consider ourselves embarked in the winter campaign. Yet winters with the exception of a few days are not so very disagreeable and soon you know almost before we are aware of it spring will come & its heels another summer which will let us out of the service even if the war is not as I hope it will be ended. How I wish a few of the northern democrats or Copperheads for there is very little difference between them were in the place of some of these Rebs so that they could try the effect of our bullets. George writes that his house is burned down. He takes it hard! P Shah! I could whistle over such misfortunes as that. Haven’t I seen thousands of such buildings burned in the South. Black smoking ruins where the house once stood. Every fence burned down, every particle of corn potatoes etc. destroyed & every part of the farm rendered so barren that even a rat would not be secure from starvation. I like to see it done here for the South has sown the wind & they should reap the whirlwind. The worst men that God ever suffered to live are in my mind the Aristocrats of the south. And side by side with them are their sympathizers in the North. Have your heard from Thomas lately? According to my understanding his time will be out in ten or fifteen days. He enlisted on the first of December & I the following August. I have nine months & a few days yet. We have been notified several times since we have been here to look out for Hood & Forrest. They have not paid us a visit yet & I hope will not attempt to at present. We don’t care about fighting them but can & will if they come this way. Our regt. is in excellent condition though small & we hope may be able to go out without losing many more men. Excuse this letter which was hastily written & though in two parts, may perhaps be as good as any I could write were I to commence anew. Remember me to all the friends. Write the news as soon as possible.

Your Brother


(Asa M. Weston enlisted on 8/11/62 as Sergeant in Company K, 50th Ohio Infantry, 3/4/65 promoted to Sgt Major, 4/22/65 promoted to 2nd Lt, 6/26/65 mustered out at Salisbury, NC)