Roper’s Knob played an important role in Civil War Franklin

The large hill immediately to the south, which rises more than 900 feet above sea level. played an important role in the Civil War. Used as a signal station by Union troops, Roper’s Knob was a key communications link between Nashville and points south and between Franklin and Murfreesboro. After Middle Tennessee was occupied by Federal troops in early 1862, the hill was crowned with entrenchments and an octagonal log blockhouse. A sophisticated pulley system helped lift artillery to the summit. The knob, along with nearby Fort Granger, helped guard the Tennessee & Alabama Railroad. Roper’s Knob was not occupied at the time of the Battle of Franklin.

Williamson County Historical Society

Roper’s Knob (right), looking north, viewed from the intersection of Liberty Pike and Mack Hatcher

Roper's Knob (right)

The 78th Illinois Infantry was used significantly in the spring of 1863 to construct fortifications on Roper’s Knob. Roper’s Knob and Winstead Hill were both used as observation posts by Union forces from 1863 til the end of the war.

Scot Butler, a 33rd Indiana soldier with the U.S. Signal Corps, writes about an observation post, probably either from Roper’s Knob or Winstead Hill.

By 1863 he was in the Signal Corps and stationed in Franklin, Tennessee. The following account is taken from “Affectionately Yours: The Civil War Home-Front Letters of the Ovid Butler Family.” Edited by Barbara Butler Davis. 2004.

“The Signal Corps holds communication from one wing to the other of Rosecran’s army. The station which I am on is situated on a hill near Franklin, several hundred feet above the surrounding country and its warlike occupants. From here we command one of the most beautiful landscape views I ever beheld. This is called the ‘Garden Spot’ of America. Away off to the north stretches a valley of unrivaled beauty. Alternate patches of meadow and woodland, its dashing streams, shining through the mist of morning like threads of silver, and the hills, ranged on each side, clothed with towering trees and stand like eternal sentinels over this scene of seeming quiet beauty and content. What a beautiful place was Franklin & its surroundings of elegant country mansions and extensive plantations before the hearts of the people were corrupted by political leaders, in their lust for power. Franklin is war worn. The shattered glass in her churches and school houses, her lonely streets and the closed shutters of her store houses, the battered doors and ruined machinery of her manufactories, and above all that deathlike, breathless silence, that absence of all sound, that can be felt no where but at the desolate hearthstone, here reigns supreme. Here and there a lounger attired in the butternut garb of chivalry, with hate gleaming in his eyes.” p: 27-28

Historian-author Thomas Flagel spoke (video) at the ceremony tonight

Historian and author Thomas Flagel spoke for several minutes tonight. He was his usual passionate-self as he talked about how Hood’s charge at Franklin is often compared to Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, but the Franklin-charge was bigger in many ways.


A photo gallery of the event is here.

Also check out my videos on my YouTube folder.

Sight of mass formations at Franklin must have been incredible

McGavock Cemetery has nearly 1,500 Confederate soldiers buried on the grounds in front of Carnton. There is no doubt that scores, if not hundreds of them, were casualties resulting from the mass formations and marching the Confederate Army of Tennessee made on open ground, for nearly two miles, as the Rebels came upon the defended Federal line entrenched near downtown Franklin as the battle opened up.

During the Civil War, mass formations, assaulting defended breastworks, often led to mass casualties for the assaulting army. Franklin was no different.

About 4pm on November 30, 1864, C.S.A. General John Bell Hood launched a frontal attack against the Federal troops of the 23rd and 4th Corps of General John M. Schofield. The Confederate Army of Tennessee marched in mass formation across open ground, mostly flat, for nearly two miles before clashing with the Federal line.

On a few battlefields, massed enemy formations could be seen at a considerable distance, at least before the firing began in earnest. Robert G. Carter of the 22nd Massachusetts wrote of the sight of oncoming Confederates on the second day of Gettysburg: “The indistinct form of masses of men, presenting the usual, dirty, greyish, irregular line, were dimly visible and moving up with defiant yells, while here and there the cross-barred Confederate battle flags were plainly to be seen.” Rebel lines also were fully visible at Antietam, Franklin, Bentonville, and a number of other engagements.
The Union Soldier in Battle: Enduring the Ordeal of Combat. Earl J. Hess, p. 12

View of terrain, looking south, Confederate Army of Tennessee marched across for over one mile at Battle of Franklin

Confederate General John Bell Hood had this basic view of the (then) open ground between Winstead Hill and the entrenched Federal line near Fountain Branch Carter’s property in November 1864. The entire Confederate Army of Tennessee (about 20,000) was positioned here, facing north as in the picture, before they started the quick-step march toward the Federal army (about 22,000).

Original view

Picture credit: Historical Markers of Williamson County, Rick Warwick, p. 174

Contemporary view

Picture credit: author of blog