Category Archives: Harpeth River

‘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.


The landscape shapes the battlefield

This map of the battlefield (on an interpretative marker on the Eastern Flank) is very helpful for one to orient oneself to the Battle of Franklin. There is so much to appreciate from studying this map. Here are a list of questions any good student of the Battle of Franklin would know, or at least want to know. The map below can answer each question.

  1. How far east-west was the Confederate Army spread out while positioned at Winstead Hill?
  2. Once the CSA Army got to the main Union earthworks, centered at the Cotton Gin, how far east-west was the army spread out then?  Why is this important?
  3. What are the three main arteries the CSA Army traversed to get to ground zero (i.e., the Carter grounds)?
  4. What were the primary obstacles (i.e., man-made and natural) that the Union Army used to defend itself?
  5. What were the ‘high spots’ (natural and man-made) that both sides attempted to leverage?
  6. How far was Fort Granger and her guns from the McGavock farm? From the CSA Army as it approached the Union defensive main line?
  7. How does the landscape and important items noted impact the chances of a successful cavalry flanking maneuver by Forrest?
  8. How and why was the Harpeth River an important advantage to the Union Army?

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Granger gun range.pngBoth images from interpretative markers on the Eastern Flank

Capt. William F. Kemble, Co. C, 104th Ohio Vol. Inf. artifacts, killed at Franklin

These items are listed for sale in the December 8th, 2012 Heritage Auction.  They belonged to Capt. William F. Kemble, Co. C, 104th Ohio Vol. Infantry.

The auction description says:

 “…breasting the storm of deadly musketry, bursting shell and flying shot…” With his dying breaths he instructed his comrades to be certain to send his sword home to his family. Here is Captain Kemble’s sword and belt, accompanied by a poignant letter from a fellow officer who was by Kemble’s side when he died. The sword is a fine imported non-regulation officer’s sword with rayskin grips and steel hilt bearing a spread-winged eagle over “U. S.” The blade is profusely etched with floral designs, trophies and a large “U.S.” and is in near perfect condition with much luster. The steel scabbard has a smooth, even patina. The sword belt features a heavy M. 1851 officer’s sword belt plate in high relief. The belt itself is sound but the suspensory straps have broken and are detached. Perhaps the most outstanding part of this grouping is the touching letter sent to Kemble’s wife by fellow officer Robert C. Taggart who witnessed Kemble’s mortal wounding and was with him at his death. The letter offers a description of how he was shot and, most importantly that as Taggart was “bending over my expiring friend…the only words he could utter were send my sword to my family and tell them my last thoughts were with them.” The four-page letter continues to mention sending the sword to Mrs. Kemble and inform her that her husband was buried with other members of his regiment “on the north bank of Big Harpeth Creek,” lauding him in the flowery language of Victorian America. One of the most touching groupings Heritage Auctions has ever offered and a sword with exquisite provenance.
Estimate: $8,000 – up.

Virtual tour of Fort Granger: the Middle bastion

Fort Granger has three bastions.  The map shows the location of each one.

By definition a bastion is:

a projecting work in a fortification designed to permit fire to the flanks along the face of the wall.

When entering the fort from the parking lot one walks right up to the middle bastion. You will be standing facing the MIddle bastion, looking south.

Armament (i.e., artillery) was placed in the cul de sac of each bastion. There were 30 pounders in Granger.

Each bastion sits roughly 15 feet from the ditch on the outside.

This Google map shows the relative position of Fort Granger in the larger scope of the battlefield (Franklin). Notice the Harpeth River running in front of the fort and the railroad to the west side (running north/south).

The Eastern flank portion of the Franklin battlefield was in the direct spray of artillery from Granger. Thus, Loring’s Division, and more specifically, Featherston’s Brigade, took the worst of the Federal onslaught of artillery from Granger.

Here is a video showing the middle bastion just as you enter the fort.

To order my book on Fort Granger, or to learn more click on http://www.FortGranger.US

Big Harpeth Bridge (Franklin, TN) burned by CS cavalry in October 1862

“In October, 1862, Perkins’s company, in connection with Capt. Hayes Blacburn, burned the bridge across Big Harpeth, below Franklin, Tenn., and on the same day attacked and defeated a large foraging party, guarded by about three hundred infantry, killing and wounding a number of the enemy and capturing one Major, two Captains, one Lieutenant, and fifteen men.”

‘Perkins’ is Thomas F. Perkins, Jr., member of Company I, 11th TN Cavalry. He was from Williamson County, TN.

Williamson County Historical Society Journal, #28 (1997)pp. 86. The text was written by J.B. Lindsey in Military Annals of Tennessee: Confederate.
[Company I, 11th TN Cavalry)

Below: Capt. Thomas F. Perkins, Jr., 11th TN Cavalry, Company I.  Photo taken of him while a prisoner of war, 1864.

Image credit: The Williamson County Historical Society.

Description of what the bridge looked like?

“The bridge of 1819 stood until burned in 1862. It was a large covered bridge with a strong middle pillar. It was covered and was double, having  a partition along its middle course, and was inclosed on its sides and had two open windows on each side.”
– Park Marshall (1928), Bridges of Franklin: p. 107. WCHS Journal, Vol. 28, 1997.