DE ARAGON, The Chronicle of a Confederate Surgeon – Part 13

by Robert M. Webb on July 7, 2012 · 0 comments

Author’s note: De Aragon’s division rejoin’s Hoods army which moves north toward Dalton, Ga and then into Alabama before moving into Tennessee and fighting the enemy at Franklin.

The Battle of Franklin

 

In the dark of night, French’s Division marched twelve miles through rain and mud to reach New Hope Church at dawn on October 6. The wounded they were able to bring out in the ambulances went to a temporary hospital at Cedartown, Georgia some fifty miles west of Allatoona, arriving there on October 9. Unfortunately, Colonel Young was captured on his way to Cedartown, and ended up in a Yankee prisoner of war camp. Command of Ector’s Brigade passed to Colonel David Coleman of the 39th North Carolina Infantry. On joining the rest of Stewart’s Corps at New Hope Church, the division bivouacked on Pumkinvine Creek for three hours before the entire army plunged into the Georgia wilderness. They passed through Van Wert, Cedartown, and Cave Springs and on October 10, the division crossed the Coosa River at the ferry and marched three miles to Robinson’s on the Texas Valley Road. The following day they crossed into Texas Valley and camped at Amuch Post Office. They found that in a ten to twelve mile radius of Rome, Georgia the citizens had been robbed of everything since Yankee troops had occupied the area.

With Hood and his army in the no man’s land west of the railroad, Sherman was unable to guess his intentions. He again broached the subject with Grant of making a march through Georgia to the east coast:

 

“Hdqrs. Military Division of the Mississippi,

In the field, Allatoona, Ga., October 9,1864-7:30 p. m.

Lieutenant-General GRANT,

City Point, Va.:

“It will be a physical impossibility to protect the roads, now that Hood, Forrest, Wheeler and the whole batch of devils, are turned loose without home or habitation… I propose we break up the railroad from Chattanooga, and strike out with wagons for Milledgeville, Millen, and Savannah. Until we can repopulate Georgia, it is useless to occupy it, but the utter destruction of its roads, houses, and people will cripple their military resources By attempting to hold the roads, we will lose 1000 men monthly, and will gain no result. I can make the march, and make Georgia howl…”

Camp Pope Publishing

W. T. SHERMAN,                 

Major-General, Commanding.”

 

Hood’s plan was to draw the Federal army into Alabama and force a battle at a favorable place, but he changed his mind and with Sherman on his heels took his army north to strike the railroad at Resaca. At 4:00 a. m. on October 12 the army began a march that brought them at the end of the day to the railroad one mile north of Resaca. From there Stewart’s Corps traveled north up the railroad about three and one-half miles and captured a blockhouse and a construction camp. They continued on to Tilton where they captured a garrison of three hundred fifty Federal troops. Cheatham’s Corps in the meantime captured Dalton.

With the railroad between Resaca and Tunnel Hill destroyed, Hood turned his army west through the mountain passes, blocking them with debris as they passed through. On October 14, French’s Division formed the rear guard of Stewart’s Corps as they crossed at Dug Gap. They camped for the night at an orchard near Villanow, Georgia. The morning of October 16 they left by Treadway’s Gap and moved through Summerville, Georgia before camping at Rhinehart’s. The following day they started for LaFayette but on orders returned to the junction of the LaFayette and Alpine Roads and camped at the Mosteller house.

On October 18 the Army of Tennessee marched into Alabama and camped four miles past the town of Gaylesville. They continued on to Gadsden the next day and on October 20 the division camped at a Mrs. Sampson’s house. General Beauregard met Hood at Gadsden and they spent the next two days going over a new plan that Hood had developed. He had polled his officers and though the moral of the army had improved, it was generally agreed that they were not yet sufficiently recovered for battle. Hood decided to leave Georgia to the Yankees and cross the Tennessee River at Guntersville, Alabama and go after the Union army of Major General John Schofield before it could reach Nashville.

The army left Gadsden for Guntersville on October 22. French’s Division marched nineteen miles that day crossing the Black Warrior River and Sand Mountain. Hood changed his mind as to where they should cross the river and diverted the army toward Decatur, Alabama which lay some seventy-five miles to the West. They reached Decatur in the rain on the afternoon of October 26. At sundown, French detailed Ector’s Brigade to guard the Danville Road till Cheatham’s Corps arrived. That night there was some skirmishing with the enemy. The next day the division deployed west of the Danville Road near Garth’s house where Beauregard had his headquarters.

Decatur was too heavily guarded by the enemy so Hood elected to move on to Tuscumbia, Alabama and cross the river there. French’s Division moved down the railroad toward Courtland, Alabama on October 29 and arrived at Tuscumbia on October 31, where they bivouacked on a creek.

Camp Pope Publishing

Sherman followed with his army, arriving at Gaylesville on October 21. On November 2, Ulysses S. Grant finally gave him permission to go ahead with his plan to move east, so Sherman gave up his pursuit of Hood’s army and returned to Atlanta. After giving orders to burn the city, Sherman left his supply line on November 15 and began his infamous march to the sea burning and looting as he went.

The Army of Tennessee stayed at Tuscumbia three weeks waiting for supplies that were supposed to have been there prior to their arrival. French’s Division, which now numbered three thousand and ninety, crossed the Tennessee River on November 20 after a period of heavy rains and camped at a place four miles north of Florence and ten miles south of the Tennessee border. Major De Aragon’s brigade was assigned the job of guarding the pontoon train, thus they brought up the rear as the army crossed the river.

Hood’s chances of success in Tennessee were questionable as he was vastly outnumbered. Union Major General George Thomas, who was by that date already headquartered in Nashville, had somewhere in the neighborhood of 82,000 troops at his disposal, although they were scattered throughout Tennessee and Alabama. Hood had a force of only forty-eight thousand even with the arrival on November 14 of Nathan Bedford Forrest and his cavalry, and he also lacked the necessary transportation and supplies to mount an effective campaign. His troops had no winter clothing, most being literally dressed in rags.

Nevertheless, in bitter cold Hood and his very stalwart men moved into Tennessee on November 20, Cheatham’s Corps by a roundabout route through Waynesboro, Tennessee. A. P. Stewart, being on the right, moved through Lawrenceburg, Tennessee and S. D. Lee went straight north. Major De Aragon’s brigade remained in the rear of the army to guard the pontoon train. As they moved north the ever present rain turned to snow and the road turned into a frozen soup.

Their destination was the town of Columbia, Tennessee. The Federals had a force of only twenty-eight thousand under the command of Schofield at Pulaski, Tennessee and they were the only ones that were near enough to contest the Confederates’ advance. Hood hoped to reach the Duck River at Columbia ahead of Schofield and cut him off . George Thomas recognized the threat and ordered Schofield to leave Pulaski and join him in Nashville.

Schofield’s advance units beat Forrest’s cavalry to Columbia by a hair on November 24, and it was another three days before Hood was able to bring up all his army at which time French’s Division arrived. Rather than attack Schofield, who by then was entrenched on the north side of the river, Hood elected to cross the Duck River upstream (east) of Columbia and place the army in Schofield’s rear at the town of Spring Hill, Tennessee twelve miles to the north. A turnpike ran from Columbia north through Spring Hill and Franklin to Nashville. Hood intended to block that road and prevent Schofield from escaping to Nashville.

On October 28 Forrest crossed the Duck River and began harassing the Federal cavalry. The next day before dawn Hood took his army toward Davis Ford five miles east of Columbia and had the pontoon bridge constructed across the river there. Cheatham’s Corps crossed first followed by Stewart’s. Lee’s Corps and the army’s artillery remained on the south side to demonstrate in the enemy’s front. Hood stopped Stewart’s Corps on the Murfreesborough Road to prevent the Yankees from escaping by that route. Hood was on the road to Spring Hill by 7:30 a. m. Forrest arrived at the town by noon.

Schofield detected the Confederate move behind him and sent George D. Wagner’s Division north and Wagner was two miles south of Spring Hill by 11:30 a. m.. Emerson Opdyke’s Brigade entered town and deployed as the rest of the division came in. Schofield sent two Corps toward town and then ordered a general withdrawal of all troops remaining at Columbia.

Hood arrived two miles south of town at 3:00 p. m. and ordered Cheatham to attack with his corps. At 4:00 p. m. Cleburne’s Division attacked from Rally Hill and drove the Yankee troops toward the turnpike. He was ordered to stop and hold his position. Bate advanced his division but was also instructed to halt. Brown did not move his division forward. Stewart’s Corps halted on Rally Hill Road.  The entire Confederate Army was encamped by 11:00 p. m. but for reasons not quite clear, they failed to block the turnpike. Under the cover of night, Schofield’s entire force stole past and made their escape toward the town of Franklin.

The next morning, Hood’s high ranking generals joined him for breakfast. Hood himself was enraged that Schofield had given him the slip, and he laid the blame on Generals Cheatham and Cleburne. He gave orders that the army immediately give chase, and in an incredibly short time Stewart’s Corps, with French’s Division in the lead, tore down the road in pursuit, with Cheatham’s Corps right behind. Ector’s Brigade remained at the Duck River guarding the pontoon bridge as Lee’s Corps crossed to follow the main body of the army.

French’s other brigades, those of Cockrell and Sears, were only an hour or two behind the Schofield’s trailing units and finally overtook them formed in line of battle on a string of hills about two miles south of Franklin. When French deployed his troops for a fight, the enemy retired behind previously constructed fortifications within the town.

French later wrote of his thoughts while evaluating the situation:

 

“I rode with some members of my staff to the top of a high wooded hill, from which I could look down on the surrounding country. Before me were the town, the green plains around it; the line of defensive works, the forts and parks of artillery on the heights across the river, long lines of blue-clad infantry strengthening their lines, and trains moving over the river. While I sat at the root of a giant tree a long time surveying the scene before me, I called to mind that never yet had any one seen the Confederates assigned to me driven from any position, much less from defensive works, by assault, and I inferred that it would require a great sacrifice of life to drive the veteran Federals from their lines, and thought if Hood could only ride up here and look calmly down on the battle array before him he would not try to take the town by assault.”

 

A formula that was widely accepted by military strategists of the time was that a force behind fortifications was equal to five times their number attacking them. Not counting his cavalry Schofield had over twenty-five thousand men behind entrenchments on the south side of Franklin with an ample quantity of well placed artillery along the line and on the bluffs across the Harpeth River to the North. Hood on the other hand had only twenty-one thousand eight hundred seventy-four troops of Cheatham’s and Stewart’s Corps, with only a small portion of Lee’s at Franklin. The bulk of Lee’s Corps and nearly all the army’s artillery was still in route from Spring Hill having been delayed the time it took to cross the Duck River, and Ector’s Brigade was still with the pontoon train. Hood set up his headquarters one and one-half miles south of the enemy line on a hill just to the left of the Columbia Pike, known as Winstead Hill, where he surveyed the town and the fields which lay in his front. His top ranking generals all advised against an assault. But with his judgment undoubtedly clouded by the Laudanum he took for his wounds, and the anger and humiliation caused by the enemy’s escape at Spring Hill, Hood gave the order to attack.

As French’s Division was the advance component of the army it turned east off the pike and the rest of Stewart’s Corps followed. Stewart aligned his troops in order of battle with French on the left,  his flank resting on the Columbia Pike, Walthall in the center, and Loring on the right near the Harpeth River where it turned south. Cheatham’s Corps extended west from the pike, with Cleburne’s right approximately one-half mile from French’s left. Brown’s Division was in Cheatham’s center and Bate was on the far left. The line formed a great arch, from which each division would be converging on a common center, thus overlapping before reaching the enemy line.

Only two batteries of Confederate artillery were in place before the order came to advance, and they fired for a brief period. Then, as the sun began its descent in the west, Hood’s 20,000 hardened veterans in gray and butternut stepped off to the attack with battle flags waving. In one of the rare occasions during the war, the regimental bands marched forward with the troops, and the uplifting airs of “Dixie” and “The Bonnie Blue Flag” accompanied the men as they came under artillery fire from the enemy.

The main Federal line was twenty-six hundred yards long, beginning at the Nashville & Decatur Railroad on the left and curving back along the contour of the town to the place where the river bordered Franklin on the West. Earthworks had been in place since the Yankee’s occupation of the area two years earlier and on their arrival Schofield’s troops had felled trees to provide abatis and had driven sharpened stakes in the ground facing their attackers. Schofield’s force consisted of five divisions. Major General Jacob D. Cox’s Division was on the left with his right terminating at the Columbia Pike. Brigadier General Thomas H. Ruger’s Division was in the center and Brigadier General Nathan Kimball’s Division on the left. Brigadier General Thomas J. Wood’s Division was placed on the north bank of the river and Brigadier General George D. Wagner’s Division occupied an advanced line of works which lay about halfway between Schofield’s main line and Winstead Hill. Schofield set up his headquarters in an earthen fort called Fort Granger on the north side of the river.

It took but a short time for the Cleburne’s men to brush aside Wagner’s line in its forward position but this delay caused Cleburne to lag behind Stewart. As they marched on after the fleeing bluecoats, they came under the dreaded artillery fire of grape and canister which mowed down men like wheat before the scythe. On they went, moving quickly to the charge as they came into range of the combined blast of the thousands of muskets in the main Yankee line. The two brigades of French’s Division hit the Federal line in front of a cotton gin just east of the Columbia Pike. Sears’ Brigade was driven back and retired in some order, but Cockrell’s Brigade simply melted away under devastating gunfire. Cockrell himself went down wounded and Elijah Gates, injured in both arms, came riding out of the smoke with his reins between his teeth.

French pulled his division back about dark, but the battle continued on into the night as Hood ordered charge after charge, particularly on the west side of the Columbia Pike where Cleburne’s Division tore into the enemy through the grounds of a house owned by one F. B. Carter. The Confederates broke through the Federal line on both sides of the pike, but were thrown back by enemy reserves.

Many were pinned down, unable to make it over the works or retreat under the blaze of the muskets, and took refuge at the base of the Federal earthworks. The firing finally wound down around 11:00 p. m. When the sun arose on the following day, the northern troops were nowhere to be found, having slipped away during the night across the Harpeth River to Nashville. Hood rode across a field carpeted with the bodies of his gallant soldiers. In five hours of fighting, the Army of Tennessee had taken over seven thousand casualties, or one-third of the number engaged. Sixty-five officers were either killed, wounded or captured, including twelve Confederate Generals. Dead on the field were Major General Patrick Cleburne, and Brigadier Generals John Adams, Otho F. Strahl, Hiram M. Granbury and States Rights Gist. Brigadier General John C. Carter died later of wounds suffered during the battle and Brigadier General George W. Gordon was captured in the fighting at the Carter house. The Federal commander reported casualties of something less than three thousand.

 


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