Category Archives: John M. Schofield

December 2, 1864 New York Times stories about Franklin

Hood’s Advance at Spring Hill, Tenn., Thirty-two Miles South of Nashville.

Franklin, the scene of the great victory over HOOD on Thursday, is the capital of Williamson County, Tenn., and is situated on the south bank of Big Harpeth River, about 18 miles from Nashville, on the line of the Nashville and Decatur Railroad. Before the war it was a beautiful village, with a population of about 2,000 people. Franklin has changed hands several times during the war. After VAN DORN’s success in capturing a Union brigade at Spring Hill, near Franklin, in March, 1863, that rebel Commander moved upon the latter place, which he attacked on the 10th of April. Major-Gen. GORDON GRANGER was in command of the village. His forces comprised two infantry divisions of 1,600 men, 2,000 cavalry under SMITH and STANLEY, and eighteen guns. The only artificial defence was an uncompleted fort, which mounted two siege guns and two three-inch rifled guns. VAN DORN’s force was estimated at nine thousand infantry and two regiments of cavalry. The rebels were handsomely repulsed, losing three hundred, while GRANGER’s total loss was only thirty-seven. The town proper is built upon an open, level spot; but circling round to the west and south of it are the Harpeth Hills. Big Harpeth River has its source in Bedford County, and flows northwest through Williamson, past the town of Franklin, enters Davidson County, and falls into the Cumberland River thirty-five miles below this city, after a general comparative course of sixty miles.

NASHVILLE, Wednesday, Nov. 30 — Midnight RECEIVED Dec. 1 — 9 A. M. Heavy skirmishing for the past few days, and still going on between our troops and FORREST. There was a sharp fight yesterday at Spring Hill, twelve miles south of Franklin. Our cavalry was driven back on our infantry lines which checked the enemy. A squad of rebel prisoners were in charge of these troops, when the rebel cavalry made a dash on them, releasing their men and capturing ours. A train was attacked near Harpeth River. The engineer detached the locomotive, and both are supposed to be captured. The rest of the train was saved. A squad of rebel cavalry dashed across the Chattanooga line yesterday, near Cheshire, tearing up the track. The train was detained all night, but came in next morning. Our troops have fallen back around Franklin. The main part of HOOD’s army is across Duck River. Every indication of a heavy battle in a few days, but we are confident of the result.

Most Desperate Attack

NASHVILLE, Thursday, Dec. 1. Parties who have arrived from the front, and who witnessed the battle of yesterday, describe the attack of the rebel forces as desperate. Four charges were made upon the Federal masked batteries in columns four lines deep. Each time the rebels were repulsed with fearful loss. The fort is on the north bank of the river, opposite the town, extending up the river, and encircling the town was the line of masked batteries. Eye-witnesses say that this engagement, in desperation and furious fighting, was hardly equaled by the battle of Stone River. FORREST in person was on the field rallying his men. A rumor is in circulation that he was killed, but it lacks confirmation. About 7 o’clock last night heavy reinforcements reached SCHOFIELD, which caused a complete rout of the rebel forces. The city to-day is full of fleeing residents of Williamson and other counties south. They state HOOD it gathering up all the horses, hogs and mules that he can find, and sending them south. There is great panic among the negroes in the counties south of Nashville. Numbers are fleeing to the city for protection.

Tennessee — A Severe Battle

WASHINGTON, Thursday, Dec. 1. The following official dispatch concerning the report of the victory in Tennessee, has been received at headquarters: FRANKLIN, Tenn., Wednesday, Nov. 30. FRANKLIN, Tenn., Wednesday, Nov. 30. Major-Gen. Thomas: The enemy made a heavy and persistent attack with two corps, commencing at 4 P.M., and lasting till after dark. He was repulsed at all points, with heavy loss — probably of five or six thousand men. Our loss is probably not more than one-fourth of that number. We have captured about one thousand prisoners, including one Brigadier-General. (Signed,) JOHN SCHOFIELD, Major-General.

The Fierce Battle in Tennessee

The one-legged rebel HOOD has again put in practice the system of quick, furious, persistent and desperate assault by which he and Stonewall JACKSON have been distinguished on the rebel side; and he has met with the same bloody luck which befell him when he tried the same thing at Atlanta. The battle between HOOD and THOMAS, on Wednesday afternoon, at Franklin, Tenn., eighteen miles south of Nashville, regarding which we have both official and unofficial dispatches, was indecisive. Only two of the four corps of the enemy are reported as being engaged, and so far as their repulse is concerned, it is eminently satisfactory. There is no difficulty, after reading the vivid dispatches of our special correspondent, in crediting the statements as to the enormous and disproportionate losses of the rebels in this battle. The gallant and conservative SCHOFIELD, who commanded on the occasion, states the rebel loss at five or six thousand, and our correspondent puts it at a still higher figure, while our own casualties were under a thousand. This disparity is accounted for by the circumstance that our men fought behind breastworks established in an open field, and by our wholesale use of grape and canister upon the enemy. It is reported that the rebels made four successive charges in columns four lines deep; but their furious assaults resulted in failure to carry the position. They were permitted to dash themselves against our works, and HOOD threw them forward with a recklessness of life equal to anything he has ever displayed during the four months he has had command of the rebel army in the Southwest. In the course of the evening after the battle, Gen. THOMAS retired his army to the vicinity of Nashville. This we judge to be a strategic movement, very like what might have been expected from the imperturbable and far-seeing Gen. THOMAS, who looks to the final result and general summing up of a campaign more than to partial and brilliant victories. He knows HOOD of old, and understands his style thoroughly. He will effect two, and perhaps, three or four objects by planting himself behind the works of Nashville. He will combine his forces in a compact body, with the corps of Gen. A.J. SMITH, which has just arrived at Nashville. He will get into a position of far greater natural and artificial strength than Franklin — Nashville being one of the most elaborately fortified cities on the continent; and he may be able to draw HOOD up there and induce him to dash his army to pieces against our works. Thus we view the situation in Tennessee, after reviewing carefully all the facts that have thus far come to hand.

Rare Battle of Franklin map sold at auction

I recently found this excellent map of the Battle of Franklin. It was auctioned off by Case Antiques in 2012.  It is identified as: titled “The Battlefield in front of Franklin Tennessee, where the U.S. forces consisting of the 4th and 23d corps and the Cav. corps uner the command of MAJOR GENERAL J.M. SCHOFIELD severely repulsed the Rebel Army commanded by LT. GEN. HOOD November 30, 1864, compiled under the direction of Col. W.E. Merrill, Chief Engineer, from surveys made by Major James R. Willett.” – See more at:

It went for $1,856.00

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New York Times Headlines, December 24, 1864

GEN. THOMAS’ ARMY.; Particulars of Hood’s Defeat and Flight. Eighteen General Officers and Seventeen Thousand Men Disabled. FIFTY-ONE CANNON CAPTURED. Hood’s Pontoons on the Tennesse Out of Reach of Our Gunboats. OUR ARMY STILL PURSUING. The Advance Across Duck River. HOOD’s ADVANCE AT PULASKI. THE VERY LATEST. THE BATTLE OF NASHVILLE. THURSDAY’S FIGHT. FRIDAY’S FIGHT.

Special Dispatch to the New-York Times. FRANKLIN, TENN., Thursday, Dec, 22. The rebel retreat from Franklin to Duck River beggars all description. HOOD told his Corps Commanders to get off the best way they could with their commands. FRANK CHEATHAM told his aunt, Miss PAGE, that HOOD was ordered to Nashville against his own wishes, but he blames HOOD for not attacking SCHOFIELD at Spring Hill. HOOD ordered BATE to attack at Spring Hill, and he didn’t do it. The rebel army is now beyond Columbia. During the rebel tarry in front of Nashville they captured but two locomotives and ten cars. The railroad is but little injured, and trains are running up to Spring Hill, but two small bridges destroyed. Trains were run to Murfreesboro’ on Sunday. Telegraphic communication is all right with all points. But two small trestles are destroyed on the Johnsonville road. Johnsonville itself was not destroyed. The rebel lose, during the campaign, was 17,000 men, fifty-one cannon captured and eighteen general officers. The killed, at Franklin, numbered 1,400 the wounded 3,800 and 1,000 prisoners were taken. In the battles before Nashville and retreat to Columbia there were 3,000 killed [and wounded and 8,000 prisoners. The Federal loss in the battle at Franklin was 2,000, before Nashville not 4,000. The total Federal loss will not reach 7,000, with two generals slightly wounded. HOOD has a pontoon bridge above the shoals on the Tennessee River, where our gunboats can’t reach it. HOOD marched on Franklin with 40,000 men, including cavalry, and 65 pieces of artillery. He lost just half his general officers, and counting in deserters which are coining in and stragglers which are being captured, he will lose nearly half his men. The rout is complete, although his army is not quite annihilated. B.C. TRUMAN.

NASHVILLE. Friday, Dec. 23. The latest accounts from the front locate Gen. THOMAS headquarters at Rutherford Hill, yesterday morning, eight miles this side of Columbia. Since that time our forces have crossed Duck River, and have moved to a point south of Columbia. Our cavalry forces crossed at Hunter’s Ford, below Columbia, and dashed into the town, the enemy meanwhile retreating without firing a shot. We captured about fifty stragglers. The rebel force was, at last accounts, at Pulaski, yesterday morning. They are probably some distance south of that place to-day. They are closely followed by our cavalry. No particular damage was done to the town of Columbia by the passage through it of the two armies. At least one-third of HOOD’s armies are without arms and equipments, everything which impedes their flight having been thrown away. Rebel deserters and prisoners report the only effective corps of HOOD’s army to be S.D. LEE’S. FORREST effected a junction with HOOD at Columbia on Tuesday evening. The water on the Shoals is fifteen feet deep, and at a stand-still.

NASHVILLE, Friday, Dec, 16 — Midnight. The readers of newspapers do not know what correspondents suffer sometimes in mind. For Instance, imagine a poor fellow taking the chances of a battle all day, then riding several miles in the dark, with mud up to his horse’s belly, to find “the wires down east of Louisville,” This has been the case with the subscriber, and others, for the past two days. The fighting yesterday and to-day, as I have stated in a telegram which, may be, you have never received, has been grander and more magnificent in detail than anything I have ever witnessed upon a field of battle. Early in the morning the enemy’s line of battle was within musket shot of Nashville, with both flanks resting upon the river, with Gen. FRANK CHEATHAM’S corps on the rebel right, crossing the Lebanon, Murfreesboro and Nolensville Pikes; STEPHEN D. LEE’S corps in the centre, crossing the Franklin, Granny White and Hillsboro Pikes, and STEWART on their felt, crossing the Harding and Charlotte Pikes, and resting on the river a few miles south of the city, and commanded by HOOD in person. Our forces were commanded by Gen. THOMAS, and moved upon the enemy in the following order: A.J. Smith upon the right, STEEDMAN on the left, and WOOD in the centre, with SCHOFIELD in reserve, and most of our cavalry, under Gens. JOHNSON, HATOR and WILSON, on the right. Beside, we had gunboats assisting in the protection of our ranks, which rested on the river. A.J. Smith moved out the Sixteenth Corps about 8 o’clock, and skirmished with the enemy until a little before 1 o’clock, with little or no loss to either side, making about a mile in that time. WOOD moved out the celebrated Fourth Corps about the same time, and charged two lines of works and captured them before he took his dinner. Gens. BEATY’S and ??? divisions ??? with great ??? and enthusiasm, and were received in gallant manner by the rebels, who fought with their accustomed desperation. But two rebel batteries were brought to bear upon the two divisions, while six batteries of field artillery, and all the big guns on Fort Negley, and guns upon Casino and Confiscation, for more than an hour, were employed in hurling destruction into the rebel ranks. Immediately in front of Mrs. ACKLIN’s house the charge was made with unbounded spirit. POST’S brigade and a battery of artillery piled into the lines head over heels, and captured one hundred men and a section of artillery. Gen. STEEDMAN moved out his men, composed of a portion of his own division, detachments of troops belonging to the different corps with SHERMAN, and two brigades of colored troops, respectively commanded by Cols. THOMPSON and MORGAN. Gen. STEEDMAN’S orders were to make a vigorous attack, for two reasons: Gen. THOMAS desired to get possession of a nasty fort upon our extreme left, which commanded our line for two miles to the right, and further, to deceive HOOD, as SMITH and SCHOFIELD were to turn the enemy’s left, had any attempt to crush STEEDMAN taken place. But the rebels did not await the second charge of the two colored brigades, which went right up to the summit of the hill without much wavering, driving the enemy a Quarter of a mile, and capturing nearly a hundred prisoners. Up to noon STEEDMAN’S troops were pretty actively engaged, the white and the black men, shoulder to shoulder, pitching in like fury, regardless of all considerations of color. At noon STEEDMAN had moved nearly a mile and a half, and had commenced to swing his extreme left in a little from the river. On our extreme right, our cavalry had about all they could conveniently attend to during the forenoon, experiencing slight repulses, owing to the fine positions of the enemy. Our infantry and cavalry got some very rough handling just about this time, but were helped out of their dilemma by the gunboats, which came along in the nick of time. The Carondelet threw about fifty 64-pound shells into the rebel left, driving the troops resting on the river in great confusion, and silencing a battery of artillery. In the afternoon STEEDMAN was not so busily engaged as he had been during the early part of the day. His troops, however, were under fire all the while, and behaved with great gallantry. During all these charges, the colored troops hardly gave way. They were admirably handled by Cols. THOMPSON and MORGAN, both brave young men, and as they tugged up the hill the white soldiers upon either side rent the air with vociferations. The negroes, too, as they dashed inside of the works, shouted, screamed, yelled and threw up their hats, notwithstanding they had left nearly two hundred of their comrades behind, the bleeding victims of rebel shot and shell. As I said above, of the grand charge which I have described, STEEDMAN moved with little opposition, as the rebels, in contracting their lines, necessarily abandoned some strong positions in his front. WOOD’S corps stood the brunt of the fight in the afternoon, and added new laurels to its well-known and well-earned fame. A little before 3 o’clock, the Second and Third Divisions made two glorious charges upon a long line of rude rifle-pits. An entire battery of brass guns were captured, but most of the troops ran away, and but few prisoners were captured. Before dark another line of works were taken, WOOD’S corps sustaining a loss of over one hundred men killed and wounded during the charge. He was above an hour from the commencement to the conclusion of this charge, during which time the enemy made very little use of his artillery. At dark the Fourth Corps was four miles from Nashville, having taken half a dozen lines of works, several cannon, and toward four hundred prisoners. Although WOOD’S corps did the hardest fighting in the afternoon, A.J. SMITH, in conjunction with the cavalry and a portion of SCHOFIELD’s corps, made a multiplicity of brilliant movements, resulting in the capture of two batteries of artillery, nearly a thousand prisoners, a wagon train, and Gens. LER’s and CHALMER’s headquarters’ trains. This was in a great measure owing to the sagacity and skill of Gen. A.J. SMITH, who seems as much at home upon a field of action as one might well imagine. Portions of SCHOFIELD’s corps were also eminently interested in the saking of the batteries, as were also HATCH’s and JOHNSON’s divisions of cavalry. The gunboats kept up their thundering all the latter part of the afternoon, and did considerable execution upon the enemy’s left. At dark firing ceased, with the exception that our artillerists threw an occasional shell into the rebel lines. The enemy had been pushed over three miles all round since daylight, although at times the fighting was of the most stubborn character. The victory was one of the superbest of the war. Our troops drove the enemy at all points, extending our territory three miles south of our position in the morning. Some five distinct lines of rebel works were taken on the left and centre, and the rebel left broken. We captured eighteen guns, with caissons, &c., all in complete order. We also captured 1,600 prisoners, a large amount of small arms, and a number of wagons. It is believed that our own and the enemy’s loss in killed and wounded, is about the same, each side losing between 1,200 and 1,500. The rebels used very little artillery, but used what they did to a purpose. The captured guns were all smooth bores but four, and of excellent workmanship. On account of the rolling condition of the country and the thinness of the forests, the movements of the troops upon both sides were witnessed to much advantage. At one time the entire front of STEEDMAN’s and WOOD’s troops and two corps of the enemy, could be seen distinctly from a safe position. Gens. Thomas, Smith, Schofield, Wood, Steedman, Wilson and other general officers, were upon the field all day. No general officer was injured, although WOOD like to have lost his head by a cannon ball twice. In point of splendor and magnincent results, today’s affair was even more glorious than yesterday’s. During the night, Gen. HOOD contracted his lines in a remarkable degree, resting his right a short distance east of the Franklin pike, and his left on the Harding pike, making his line of battle less than four miles from flank to flank, although it was double that number of miles in extreme length, owing to its zig-zag order upon and near the Franklin pike. He also retired his army from a naturally weak position and disposed his forces at the base of a range of detached spurs of the Cumberland. It was evident that he intended to make another stand, and it was also evident that the preservation of his rear and his line of retreat upon the Franklin pike, were objects of his particular attention. Gen. THOMAS evidently knew what HOOD’s programme was as well as HOOD himself, and at daylight moved STEEDMAN out rapidly upon the left, with orders to swing in and cross the Murfreesboro’ and Nolensville pikes. This was done with rapidity, but no captures were made owing to the rebel evacuation of their works on our left during the night. WOOD and A.J. SMITH moved up to within musket shot of the rebel lines, while SCHOFIELD was held partly in reserve on the right and partly in a position to make a rapid dash in conjunction with our cavalry, upon the enemy’s left, should the situation suggest such a demonstration. All this transpired before 9 A.M. I went out upon the Granny White pike, a little before night, and watched the movements of our right and the enemy’s left until noon. The enemy had a very fine position at the base of a range of hills, extending from the Granny White to to the Harding pike. He was protected by a line of works which had been hastily constructed near the edge of the woods. GARRARD’s and MCARTHUR’s divisions had to advance through an open field over a mile in length. After getting within four hundred yards of the rebels our column went down upon their bellies, and crawled up some fifty or sixty yards closer. Three batteries followed up these two divisions, and when they halted commenced shelling the woods back of the rebel line and some houses on the pike, from behind which about fifty sharpshooters were banging away. Up to near 11 o’clock this was the order of things in front of SMITH. About that time the rebels snowed their heads in great numbers above the works, and acted as though they intended to charge the three batteries. They came out of their works shortly after, and our batteries were retired temporarily to a safer position. Just before 12 SMITH’s whole corps from right to left made a desperate charge, but could not carry the works. About half past 12 the attempt was again made, and a portion of the works were carried. MCARTHUR ordered up two six-gun batteries upon his left, and one battery upon the right of his division, his own and GARRARD’s men made a charge, the three batteries being advanced so that an enfillading fire could be got in. The whole manoeuvre was grand in projection and execution. The artillery did frightful work along the rebel line, our infantry carrying the works during a temporary panic, which was caused by the vigorous hurling of grape and canister into the rebel ranks. In this charge over two hundred of the enemy were captured. SMITH’s whole line then advanced, his right swinging around a little from off the Hardin pike and a portion of the Twenty-third corps falling and making up the gap between the Sixteenth and HATCH’s division of cavalry. It was now quite 1 o’clock, and a most terrible cannonading had opened all along our left and centre. Knowing that WOOD and STEEDMAN had a certain amount of work to perform to bring up with SMITH. I went over upon the left and centre, where I spent the afternoon until dark, and witnessed, in an unsafe position, more thrilling sights than I have ever seen before. The rebel bullets were whizzing quite uncomfortably, but their artillery, which is the thing that generally produces the demoralization, remained comparatively quiet, and I, in company with two other correspondents, took the chances of the former. The Sixth Ohio, and a battery of the Fourth Regular Artillery, took a position upon an open field, about fifty feet in the rear of our infantry; to the right of BEATTY’s division a Michigan battery and two Ohio batteries, took up a position in an open field, near and upon WOOD’s extreme right, while two batteries got in on the left. From 1 till 2 o’clock these thirty-six guns shelled the rebel position, which was very strong in WOOD’s front, and particularly strong in front of STEEDMAN. At precisely 2 o’clock it commenced to rain, and rained hard during the balance of the day. A little after 2 the Third and First Divisions of WOOD’s corps made a desperate charge upon the rebel line which was located upon a slight elevation. The firing lasted fully twenty minutes, when the rebels retired in considerable disorder, leaving their dead and wounded and forty odd prisoners in our hands. The rebels had parallel works on this hill, and the two divisions, without orders, with the wildest enthusiasm, charged the other line of works in the face of a deadly volley of musketry and a shower of grape from four Napoleon guns. Really, I discovered no signs of wavering, and the whole drama was in full show. In ten minutes after they rushed into the works, captured three hundred men and the battery, which was ??? splendid one of four guns. Every member of the battery — the Second Louisiana — was either killed, wounded or captured. SMITH and WOOD were now on an even line, and a frowning-looking eminence, topped with strong works, three regiments of Tennessee infantry and STAMFORD’s Mississippi battery ??? before STEEDMAN, who, at this juncture, was in conversation with Wood. Capt. TRACY informed me that the two colored brigades would be ordered to storm the hill. I crossed the Franklin pike to see Col. THOMPSON, commanding one of the colored brigades, who is a particular friend of mine, when I heard the orders given for the assault. Immediately the two brigades of colored men started up the hill. I crossed back to the right of the Franklin pike, where I could see the whole movement, without placing myself in too great danger. When within about a hundred yards of the crest of the hill the lour guns and the infantry poured a broadside into the negroes, when a frightful panic took place upon STEEDMAN’s right, resting on the pike. The movement ceased for a few moments, when a couple of our batteries commenced an enfilading fire, and the assaulting party, with an additional brigade of white troops, again attempted the ascent. The rebel infantry blazed away at a fearful rate, and the artillery discharged sixteen shots of cannister, which made the assaulting column reel, waver and almost fall back. This was the most exciting picture I had ever seen so close, as I stood, in company with Capt. BOYD, of Gen. MILLER’s Staff, about two hundred feet to the right of the assaulting party. After a manly struggle, with the loss of over two hundred men killed and wounded in the colored brigades, including eight officers; the party reached the top, and with a yell, went over the works, captured the entire battery and nearly three hundred prisoners. The guns were of the James pattern, were manufactured at Columbus, Ga., and were quite warm when I arrived. Every caisson had been smashed by our artillery, and most of the horses killed, although the guns were in good order. The men composing this battery stood like men to their post — 32 out of 70 being killed and wounded. Every officer was killed. As soon as the hill was taken, the colored troops pitched after the retreating rebels, chasing them through a valley nearly a mile. Firing wholly ceased upon the left, which had swung around nearly a mile and a half in two hours. WOOD’s corps carried another line of works, without much opposition, however, although POST’s and STRAIGHT’s brigades pitched in like good fellows. This was a little before 4 o’clock, and, when all was quiet upon the left and centre, a tremendous crash took place upon the right. It only lasted about ten minuses, but the firing was awful during that time. I started to go over to the right, but when half way over, met Capt. BURROUGHS, of Gen. THOMAS’ staff, who told me that SMITH had made a glorious charge, and with the assistance of SCHOFIELD, had taken twelve guns, two general officers, and fifteen hundred prisoners. As I told you in the start, SCHOFIELD had a certain plan to carry out if the opportunity presented itself. It did, While SMITH was making a charge, SCHOFIELD threw his whole corps away round to the right, and shut up toward A.J. SMITH’s corps in front, the two corps grabbing the number of guns and prisoners stated above in the operation. Darkness came abruptly on, and hostilities ceased. As near as I can judge our loss is about two thousand in Killed and wounded. The enemy’s loss in killed and wounded is smaller. We captured about four thousand prisoners and two general officers. Gens. SMITH and SCHOFIELD captured 12 guns, and I saw WOOD’s and STEEDMAN’s corps capture a like number, while HATCH captured a section of artillery on our extreme right. I started for the city a little before 7 o’clock, at which time all was quiet at the front, and all of our dead, and our own and the rebel wounded had been cared for. Our front occupied a position between eight and nine miles from the city. Rebel prisoners admit their defeat, and deplore their great loss in artillery and prisoners. Orders were issued last night for 5,000 rations for prisoners. Gen. JACKSON, captured by SMITH, is a Major-General, and is an old man. SMITH is a middle-aged man, and pays a high compliment to our troops, who, he says, are brave in a fight and magnanimous after victory. LOSSES. The following summing up of the relative losses of both armies during the two days’ fight may be considered quite accurate: Rebel killed and wounded, Thursday…. 1,500 Rebel killed and wounded, Friday……. 2,000 — 3,500 Rebel loss in prisoners, Thursday…… 1,600 Rebel loss in prisoners, Friday……….. 4,000 — 5,600 and two general officers. Rebel loss of cannon, Thursday…………… 18 Rebel loss of cannon, Friday……………… 26 — 44 The Federal loss in killed and wounded in the two days’ fight, I think, will exceed the enemy’s by a thousand. No prisoners are reported taken by the rebels. Total rebel loss………………………….. 8,100 Total Federal loss……………………….. 4,500 Allowing our loss in killed and wounded to be one thousand more than the enemy’s even, gives us the advantage of 3,600 men, 2 general officers, 44 cannon, 5,000 small arms, &c., &c. BENJAMIN C. TRUMAN.

Why Franklin matters, 146 years later?

A couple years ago I was engaged in a conversation with Widow of the South author and long time Franklin resident Robert Hicks.  At one point Robert posed this challenge to me.  He said something like, “The question we must be able to answer today . . . is why does Franklin matter?” That question has been racking my brain ever since. It’s what fuels me blogging on Franklin and leading the Facebook Group.

146 years ago today – November 30th – the second battle of Franklin was fought in Williamson County, in the little town of Franklin, Tennessee.  In a day and time when Civil War history is hardly even mentioned in school classrooms and textbooks – even in the very states that were impacted the most by the war – I find it almost incredible that one need even ask this question today, why does the battle of Franklin (30 November 1864) matter? What are the chief lessons we can still learn from this battle that might even benefit us today?

In order to answer this basic question, it is necessary to succinctly summarize this major Civil War battle.

The Civil War – or as some would say . . . the War Between the States, started in April 1861.  The United States Army at the outbreak of the war had a standing Army of about 10,000 soldiers.  That was it. When the first shot was fired over Charleston Harbor on April 12, 1861, and effectively started the Civil War, most people, from pundits to politicians, thought that if there was going to be any war it might last for 90 days. Maybe.

Over 3 1/2 years and hundreds of thousands killed Americans later, everyone was wondering when this tragic cloud was ever going to pass. As the 1864 election loomed on the horizon in the fall of 1864 most northerners also thought that the Commander in Chief – Abraham Lincoln – didn’t have a chance of being re-elected as President.

The only realistic chance the Confederate States of America had in winning this long-protracted war in late 1864 was to see Lincoln defeated, and then maybe popular opinion and support in the north would erode enough for the next U.S. president to call an end to the military action and seek a truce with the CSA, thereby officially recognizing the Confederate States of America as a legitimate political entity, instead of being viewed legally by the United States as states that were involved in insurrection.

The worst news possible for the CSA came on November 8, 1864. Lincoln had won re-election. This more than anything – at the time – assured that the cherished Confederate cause would inevitably be lost. Why? Because with Lincoln’s re-election it all-but insured that the North would continue to fight a war against the CSA with now (late 1864) considerably better resources in people and material.  With Lincoln’s re-election, all the North had to do was to virtually outlast the CSA, battle by battle.

Thus, with that background, we come to late 1864 in middle Tennessee in order to set the stage to understand the Nov 30, 1864 battle of Franklin.

In July 1864 CSA President Jefferson Davis replaced General Johnston as the Commanding General of the Army of Tennessee. Johnston was not making the progress Davis desired in Georgia/Atlanta and Davis knew he had a fighter in Kentuckian John Bell Hood. From late July through September Hood would stand up to the Union commanders, including Sherman, but even his tactical victories did not come at a reasonable cost. Hood would lose thousands of men in his first 90 days of command, men he could ill-afford to lose for what would come in the fall.

As General Sherman made the decision to march toward the sea (Nov 15th), and make Georgia howl, Hood decided to head toward middle Tennessee with the hopes of recapturing Nashville, which had fallen in February 1862 to the Union without a shot even being fired.  Hood believed that his Confederate Army of Tennessee (of roughly 23,000 troops in November 1864), which had thousands of native Tennesseans in the ranks and several in leadership, would fight with such heart and vigor that it would nearly be like one Rebel killing five Yankees. Hood believed that a Confederate victory at Nashville would result in a re-invigoration of the Confederate cause, bringing in tens of thousands of new Confederate soldiers all throughout the South, especially Tennessee.

So, Hood’s ultimate goal and prize was Nashville, after all General George H. Thomas only had about 11,000 soldiers defending Nashville.  But a funny-thing happened on the way to Nashville for Hood.  The first was the Spring Hill debacle.

On his way to Nashville – in late November 1864 – Hood’s forces would be engaged by U.S. General John M. Schofield’s forces on November 29th.  Though neither side would lose a lot of men, Hood did lose a real opportunity for a knockout punch of Schofield’s troops at Spring Hill. To make matters worse, the entire US army would awaken before sunrise on the morning of the 30th and make their way toward Nashville.  Schofield knew he had to get his men to Nashville first so he could join up with Thomas and prepare for the inevitable battle at Nashville in December. With most of Hood’s Confederate army still sleeping, the Union army slipped through cracks along the Columbia Pike. The bird had flown the coup!

By the time Hood learned of the Union army’s escape from Spring Hill, it seemed the Rebel commander was more focused on assigning blame to his subordinates than focusing on chasing after the Union army. Seething, sore and perhaps sulking, Hood and his army arrived about 2 1/2 miles outside of downtown Franklin about 1pm on the 30th.  His horse carried his disabled body – lacking one leg – up Winstead Hill so Hood could survey the Harpeth Valley and the position of the Union army.  What he found was not good.

The entire Union army – around 20,000 strong – was also securely entrenched in a roughly two mile arc around the horseshoe shape of the Harpeth River at Franklin.  When Schofield got into Franklin in the early morning hours of the 30th he found the two main bridges had been destroyed by Franklin residents, who had figured on the Union army coming from the north not the south.  Not having time to get his entire army and miles of supply wagons across the raging Harpeth in time, Schofield had no option but to entrench; and entrench they did.

The Union troops had worked feverishly for several hours the morning of the 30th placing breastworks, digging trenches and placing osage orange abatis in front of their lines.  Even as late as 2pm many in the Union army did not think Hood would be so foolish as to assault the defended Union lines.

With just a few more hours of daylight left now, Hood gathered his trusted subordinate Generals in the parlor of Harrison House, about 300 yards behind Winstead Hill, and announced his intention; his Confederate Army would make the nearly two mile open ground march through the Harpeth Valley as it headed north toward the Union line at Franklin. Hood was sure that his men would break through several points in the Union line and eventually drive Schofield’s army into the Harpeth. Though his ultimate goal was Nashville, he believed that the opportunity to drive the Federals into the Harpeth would be victorious and thus render the Spring Hill debacle as irrelevant.

To a man, not a single General under Hood’s command agreed with the assault.  It was viewed as unwise at best and suicidal at worse.  But the CSA Generals manned-up and did their duty with courage and seasoned humility. General Cleburne told a colleague that if “we are to die today, let us die like men.”

The charge would be made with virtually no support from Confederate artillery, across nearly two miles of open ground, against a Union army of 20,000+ securely protected by earthworks and artillery support provided by batteries across the river in Union Fort Granger, among other battery support.

The entire Confederate army lined up east-west across the Harpeth Valley with Winstead and Breezy Hill, intersected by Columbia Pike, being the center. It was now 4 o’clock.  The signal was given, the Confederate bands began playing, and Hood’s brave men started their march toward Franklin.  Within 45 minutes the Confederate assault was in full force.  Initially the Rebels seemed to gain the upper hand as they overwhelmed a couple of Union brigades out in front, about a mile from the main Union line. The Union soldiers, half-stunned and thoroughly scared, fired 6-8 rounds and then ran for their very lives back to the Union main line.  The Rebels were given orders to shoot them in the back.

As the lead Federal troops hastily skeedaddled back to the line, their entrenched comrades could not shoot at their Confederate attackers for fear of friendly fire casualties. By the time many of these men got back to their main line thousands of Rebel troops were so hot on their heels that hand-to-hand fighting broke out within minutes in the hop spots around the Carter House and the Carter Cotton Gin, both very close to the Columbia Pike.

For the next few hours – from five until nine – over 40,000 Americans would fight a horrific battle centered around Fountain Branch Carter’s 280+ acre farm near downtown Franklin. The action was horrific and almost beyond imagination in its atrocities.  At some parts of the Union line, twelve to fifteen separate Rebel charges would be counted. They just kept coming and coming. It was a terrible slaughter for the Confederates. The Federals captured at least 18 Rebel colors or flags during the action.

The fighting around the Carter House and Cotton Gin was most intense.  Hand-to-hand fighting took place here as men from both sides fired their rifles point-blank, then turned their empty rifles around and smashed the butt of their guns into the head of their enemy.  Bayonets were employed. They used axe heads and picks, anything to try and kill their fellow man.  Hand-to-hand fighting, especially in the dark, was very rare in the Civil War. About 85-90% of the primary action at Franklin was fought in the dark.

The Rebel army nearly broke successfully through the Union lines in at least two places but was eventually repulsed by troops of the likes of Opdycke’s Tigers.

By 9’oclock in the evening, the worst fighting was over. Several Confederate Generals lay dead or mortally wounded just outside of the main Union line. The Rebels lost – killed, wounded, missing or captured -around 6,500 of their 23,000 engaged. A staggering number, including some 1,750 killed outright.  The Union numbers were much smaller. They had roughly 2,500 casualties, with less than 200 dead.

Compared to other major battles Franklin was a bloodbath.  The casualty rate at Franklin was four to five times worse than almost every other major action in the long Civil War (1861-1865).  Indeed, some historians say that Franklin was the bloodiest five hours during the Civil War. One can count on one hand the number of other Civil War battles that can begin to compare to the atrocity at Franklin.

Unbelievably, and some might say incredulously, Hood would pick up the remains of his defeated Army of Tennessee in the early days of December and limp into Nashville, once again on the heels of the retreating Union Army under Schofield.  But by mid December the Union Army had a strong numerical advantage over Hood’s CSA men as Schofield’s troops combined strength with Thomas’s men already at Nashville.

Barely two weeks after suffering the horrendous defeat at Franklin, Hood’s Army of Tennessee engaged George H. Thomas’s Union armies at Nashville on December 15-16. Hood would be outnumbered nearly two to one at Nashville and though his men fought valiantly and courageously, the outcome would be no better than Franklin.  Hood lost over 6,000 men at Nashville. The Army of Tennessee was all but obliterated in just two weeks. Hood would retreat back into Alabama in late December and would give command of his men over to General Dick Taylor in mid January.

So, why does the Battle of Franklin matter?

To be fair, we should combine the action at Spring Hill and Nashville into the equation and re-state the question; why does the middle Tennessee campaign (including Franklin) matter?

It meant a lot to the Confederate cause for what it did NOT accomplish.  The middle Tennessee campaign – Spring Hill / Franklin / Nashville – did nothing to bring about Confederate control or capture of Nashville, Hood’s stated objective. Instead, what happened on the rolling fields of the Harpeth Valley and around the hills of Nashville in late 1864 simply brought about the effectual destruction of a once-proud Confederate army and forever rendered the chances of a Confederate re-capture of Nashville null.

As historian Wiley Sword has described the campaign, it was the Confederacy’s “last hurrah”. With the recent re-election of Abraham Lincoln just weeks before Franklin, the defeat of the Army of Tennessee at Franklin-Nashville was an omen that the Confederate cause had run its course – at least in the western theater – and Robert E. Lee would not be able to count on any assistance or support from any Confederate victories or armies west of Richmond any longer.

Within four months after the respective battles of Franklin-Nashville, Lee would surrender to Grant at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia.

But why does the Battle of Franklin matter today? 146 years later?

I think Franklin matters today for several reasons.

First, some of the other major battles were fortunate to get their own national military parks, some with thousands of preserved battlefield acres, to commemorate, memorialize and honor their brave dead. Places like Chickamauga, Shiloh, Gettysburg and Stones River. Franklin missed that opportunity over a hundred years ago and therefore this little community has always struggled to tell its story on a national level and thus have the ability to tap into the power of the American psyche.

You won’t find names and places like Little Round Top or Devil’s Den at Franklin.  We don’t have a bloody Wheatfield nor a Sunken Road.  You won’t find Lee or Jackson named at Franklin.  You won’t find Grant or Sherman at Franklin.

Instead, Franklin tells its story through the likes of names like Schofield, Strickland and Stiles for the Blue, and the likes of Hood, Cleburne and Forrest for the Rebs.  Our battlefield is hallowed by the likes of Winstead Hill, the Carter farm, the Carter cotton gin, Carnton plantation, the Harpeth River, and McNutt hill.

If Gettysburg got front page attention in the New York Times, the Battle of Franklin has been given sparce mention in the “other news” section on page twenty.  Our story is also not very well known because the cameras of Brady and Gardner never made it to the Cumberland River. The picture media mainly stayed out east in Virginia and Pennsylvania.

The Franklin story of 1864 is special and perhaps matters more for the headlines it is making today.

No other community in America has been more successful in recovering more Civil War battlefield land – assumed forever lost to commercial development – than Franklin has in the past ten years.  No, we don’t have 2,000 acres of pristine battlefield land laden with scores of markers.  Instead, one has to get in one’s vehicle and drive to several points of interest around Franklin to get a sense for the action that took place in our story; stops like Winstead Hill, Cleburne’s Park, the Cotton Gin site, the Carter House, the Lotz House, Fort Granger, Carnton Plantation, and of course McGavock Confederate Cemetery.

The story of Franklin, nearly 150 years later, is being told on the backs of $25 private donations to organizations like Franklin’s Charge and Save the Franklin Battlefield. Its being led by the likes of the Franklin Battlefield Trust and the myriad of Union and Confederate descendant organizations that struggle to raise funds to install another marker at Winstead Hill, to restore a tattered 140 year old Confederate flag, to properly commemorate a marker dedicated to an unknown soldier.

The Franklin story in 1864 was told by the likes of the names of Hood,  Carter, Lotz, Cleburne, Schofield, Stiles, Cox, Courtney and Forrest, among others.

The Franklin story of 2010 is carried on the backs of people named Hicks, Jacobson, Cartwright, Thompson, Warwick, Flagel, Prouty, and Gant, to mention but a few.

The modern story of Franklin is one worthy of all the honor, dignity, and courage of the men who faced one another in the Harpeth Valley in late 1864.

The men who fought on the fields of Franklin in 1864 sacrificed to live the story; nearly 150 years later our generation is called upon to sacrifice to share the story. We will continue to sacrifice our time, talent and treasure to support our community treasures like Carnton, the Carter House, the Lotz House, the Cotton Gin, and the new marker dedicated to the Unknown soldier at Resthaven.

Our story is embodied in the spirit of the two true living sons who came to Franklin in October 2009 to help our community honor and rebury an unknown soldier whose remains were unearthed while a backhoe was laying the foundation for a Chick-fil-A on Columbia Pike. Union son Harold Becker – whose father fought at Franklin – and Confederate son James Brown, Jr., – whose father fought at Gettysburg – brought a spirit of humility, comraderie and dignity to our community last year.

I will never forget the evening they first met in my living room. They embraced one another and then both immediately broke into a sorta mea culpa as they essentially shared the same basic thought and belief they no doubt got from their father; “my father never said a bad word about the Rebels/Yankees. He had nothing but utmost respect for them.

That’s the Franklin legacy. People today from very different backgrounds and communities, united on telling a story that divided us 146 years ago, but brings us together to fight for a cause greater than anyone of us individually can accomplish on our own today.

That’s why Franklin matters . . . .

(Visit to participate in the Battle of Franklin Facebook Group, some 2,600 strong as of Nov 30th, 2011)