The Top 13 Controversies at Franklin: Part 13

by Brett Schulte on March 11, 2014 · 1 comment

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.

13. John Adams and his Confederate brigade were being slaughtered as they attempted to cross the Osage orange barrier at the Battle of Franklin. Adams suddenly spurred his horse to the left, finding an opening in the trees. As he galloped toward the Union line both he and his horse were shot. Where did Adams and his horse fall? Within or without the Union lines?

Camp Pope Publishing

Eric Jacobson looks over much conflicting evidence over pages 361-367 of his book. He concludes that Adams and his horse were shot outside of the Yankee breastworks, that Adams’ horse plunged forward and died on the earthworks, but that Adams himself lay where he fell, still outside the breastworks. Jacobson does not conclude how quickly Adams died (instantly or did he have time to speak?) due to conflicting reports. Finally, he does believe the Union soldiers of Casement’s Brigade carried Adams inside their earthworks for a time before returning his body to the Confederate lines.

Sword, on page 227 of The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah, disagrees with Jacobson. He says Adams “fell with a thud into the inner ditch [of the Union works] just east of the gin house, right at the feet of Jack Casement.” He also believes Adams was alive long enough to talk to Casement, take a drink of water, and exclaim, “it is the fate of a soldier to die for his country.” Casement himself, both immediately after the battle and later, stated that Adams had been found outside the Union lines and that he had been dead when found.

This particular incident is important not just to determine how close a man came to some earthworks. Jacobson writes that it represents the tendency of “Lost Cause” writers to romanticize Confederate efforts during the war. A John Adams who reaches the Confederate lines only to be shot dead is infinitely more useful to those writers than a man who fell short. Regardless, Adams showed incredible bravery when he charged the Union lines on horseback and virtually alone.

13 Controversies at Franklin

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Gene Schmiel March 12, 2014 at 9:05 am

Here, as in so many other instances regarding this battle, Jacob Cox’s “The Battle of Franklin, a Monograph” is a key source. In a footnote on page 128 he writes that in his report, relying on the information then available, he said that Adams had indeed “mounted the parapet in a charge, and fell there.” However, he adds, having sought information from others, including Casement, for the writing of the book, he learned that this was incorrect.
As a result, in his text on that page Cox writes that Adams was shot down some distance from the breastworks while trying to rally his men, and that his horse “dashed wildly forward, straight for the breastwork, leaped upon it, and fell dead astride of it.” He notes that Adams tried to crawl away and that Casement yelled to him to come into the Union lines for safety, but that he probably didn’t hear “the well meant advice in the horrid noise.” Later, when things had calmed a bit, Casement’s men brought Adams into the Union lines, still alive, and “immediate surgical care was given him; but his condition was past help, and he soon died.” Thus Cox writes that Adams only died after being brought to the Union lines. He makes no mention of a conversation between Adams and Casement.

The point about the “Lost Cause” is apt. While Cox made no comment about Adams’s death as part of the “Lost Cause” myth, in his books about the Atlanta Campaign and the Franklin-Nashville, Sherman’s March, North Carolina Campaigns, written in 1881-2, Cox did devote some attention to deflating other “Lost Cause” claims which were already then distorting the history of the war. In an appendix in the latter book entitled “Confederate Stragglers,” he quoted from several Southern newspapers during the war lamenting contemporaneous depredations committed by Confederate forces that matched those by Sherman’s men on the March to the Sea.

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