The Top 13 Controversies at Franklin: Part 8

by Brett Schulte on February 4, 2014 · 0 comments

Editor’s Note: After I’d posted my recent comments on Lee’s possible endorsement of John Bell Hood for army command in 1864, I started going back over a lengthy nine or ten part series I did on Eric Jacobson’s book For Cause & for Country: A Study of the Affair at Spring Hill and the Battle of Franklin.  I had totally forgotten about one of the longest entries, part 8 of the series, in a portion of which I spent comparing/contrasting what Jacobson and Wiley Sword, author of The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah: Spring Hill, Franklin, and Nashville, had to say about some of the numerous controversies at Franklin.  I dusted off this old piece of writing because I thought it might be interesting to readers who have read or who plan to read Stephen M. Hood’s new book, John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General.

Without further ado, here is only a portion of Part 8 in the Jacobson series.  You’ll note that I had a lot of time on my hands in those days, when I was single, without children, and with a job I could leave on Friday and not think about again until Monday morning.  I’ll cover 13 controversies of Franklin in this new series, often in more detail than should probably fit into one blog post.  The entire series will appear at the bottom of this and ensuing posts over the coming weeks.

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Comparison and Contrast

As I mentioned at the end of my last blog entry, I wanted to take a look at some of the main vignettes the Battle of Franklin produced, comparing and contrasting the coverage Wiley Sword and Eric Jacobson give to these events. I have listed each “incident” in bold below and numbered them approximately in the order in which they occurred. After each topic title, I have attempted to discuss how each author views each situation. I am especially interested in hearing readers’ takes on these situations, as I think it might generate an interesting discussion on the Battle of Franklin. I hope to do this also after the next entry in this series, covering Bate’s actions on the left and the close of the battle.

8. Who attacked first in French’s Division at the Battle of Franklin: Cockrell’s Brigade or Sears’ Brigade: 

I know for a fact there is disagreement between the two authors on this question. Eric Jacobson himself says so in the text of for Cause and for Country. French’s division attacked on a one brigade front. That much is clear. What differs is the order in which these two brigades attacked.

Sears started first, but Jacobson is of the opinion that Sears encountered some of the fleeing soldiers of Wagner’s Union division, delaying Sears and causing Cockrell’s men to take the lead. Jacobson discusses this first in a teaser on page 288, and goes on in great detail why he believes Cockrell’s Missourians moved ahead on pages 302-304. The author gives as his reasons:

1. the fact that Sears’ men encountered Wagner’s troops and Cockrell’s Missourians didn’t
2. Cockrell’s men attacked the very apex of the Union line, thus encountering enemy fire before any other Confederate unit
3. the Missourians of Cockrell’s Brigade suffered the highest percentage of casualties (60%) of any Confederate Brigade on the field
4. some of Sears’ men were able to reform , while those of Cockrell were not

Sword, on the other hand, believes Sears started in front and remained that way. In a rather unclear account from pages 225-229, Sword discusses the roles of both Sears and Cockrell. In a map on page 215, it shows Cockrell’s Brigade behind Sears’ men.

I tend to agree with Jacobson’s assessment in this case. He at least gives some seemingly valid reasons for his take on the fight. This is another discrepancy where it would be interesting to hear the authors directly answer this question and defend their positions.

13 Controversies at Franklin

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