The Top 13 Controversies at Franklin: Part 14

by Brett Schulte on March 18, 2014 · 5 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.

Okay, so I lied about 13 items.  Sue me.  Here’s a bonus 14th controversy:

14. Patrick Dowling, inspector general of Moore’s Brigade, gathered together available units including the 101st Ohio to save the 111th Ohio’s left flank. How crucial was this move to the final outcome of the battle of Franklin?

At a crucial point in the battle, the Confederates had the chance to expand their lodgment in the Union lines. They had started to move around the 111th Ohio’s left flank, a regiment that was still holding its position on the main line. If the 111th’s left flank could be tied to the retrenched line to its rear, the Union line would again present a solid front to the enemy. Into this void stepped Patrick Dowling, inspector general of Moore’s Brigade, leading eight companies of the 101st Ohio. Taking these troops and others who were available, Dowling formed at a right angle to the 111th Ohio’s left flank, extending northward to tie in to the retrenched Union line.

Jacobson describes this incident on pages 370-371, calling Dowling’s performance “truly one of the defining moments at Franklin.”

Sword also discusses Dowling’s attempt to shore up this breach in the Union line (on pages 236 and 237). Sword, while he doesn’t come right out and say the same thing, obviously is thinking along the same lines as Jacobson. He calls the 111th Ohio’s position “critical” to the Union line, and says that Dowling reestablished an unbroken line at what had been its weakest point.

Clearly, then, Patrick Dowling was a key contributor to Union victory at Franklin. If the 111th Ohio had broken, it is unclear if the Union line could have held in that sector and to the west. I suspect, however, as in all civil War battles, that the Confederate attack would have eventually lost its momentum. Rarely were Civil War armies completely routed off the field of battle, and Opdycke’s Brigade along with Reilly’s reserves already had the situation in hand along the retrenched line and east of the Columbia Pike.

Conclusion

I am not saying that the items listed above represent every single controversy about the Battle of Franklin. Indeed, it seemed to be a battle absolutely rife with controversies, many of them involving Hood. However, I feel that the above exercise was a good way to show readers how the two authors differed in their opinions of this fight. I have found both throughout this set of extended blog entries and in the exercise above that Jacobson seems to be more careful when it comes to statements based on rumor rather than fact. Sword is unafraid to throw something out there with a qualifier (perhaps, may have been), and it reflects rather poorly on that author, in my humble opinion. In going through the points above, I found quite a few ideas for future blog entries jumping into my head. If time and inclination permit, I hope to expand on a few of these entries by looking at several other books covering the Battle of Franklin and seeing what they have to say. This exercise also may lead to future blog entries on controversies in other battles and campaigns, wherein I will look at the available (to me as time and money permit) sources and then discuss my own beliefs. I feel that these types of entries might lead to some interesting discussions either in my comments section or on some of the Civil War forums I frequent. If you feel strongly about any of the topics in this series and want to chime in, I encourage you to do so in my comments section of this blog entry.

13 Controversies at Franklin

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Gene Schmiel March 18, 2014 at 9:48 am

Brett,
Thanks for this series and your thoughts. You can expect that I will chime in again on future commentary, and I hope others do too. Perhaps after they’ve read my upcoming biography of Jacob Cox, that too can stir up a few more commentaries.

On the issue of the moment, the role of Captain Dowling, I would note that one of my theses in my book is that Cox the historian was not only fair and objective, but also a solid scholar and, of course, at the same time a primary source. He address the issue of Dowling’s actions on pages 119 and 131 of his “Battle of Franklin, a Monograph,” praising Dowling’s initiative in stemming the Confederate attack at a crucial point, just as Jacobsson and Sword do.

Since Cox was in command of Union forces on the line, he likely observed Dowling’s maneuver, even as he himself was riding back and forth, waving his sword, encouraging his men to stem the tide. However, it is doubtful that he had the time to observe Dowling’s action in minute given the chaotic maelstrom in which he, Dowling, Opdycke, and the others were operating. As I note, this was the only time in his entire military career that the stoic, reserved, calm Cox became an emotional warrior, shouting orders at his men at what he could see was a true “make or break” moment.

As noted, thanks again for the series, and I look forward to further commentaries.

Reply

Brett Schulte March 20, 2014 at 10:44 am

Gene,

Thanks for adding some additional notes which I hadn’t known to this series. It is greatly appreciated. I’m looking forward to your book.

Brett

Reply

Josh Liller March 19, 2014 at 8:19 pm

This was a good series and might be worth repeating for some other works. Daniels vs Cozzens on “Stones River” or the Big 3-4 on Shiloh (Cunningham, Sword, Daniels, and maybe McDonough) come to mind but the possibilities are numerous.

Reply

Brett Schulte March 20, 2014 at 10:43 am

Josh,

I completely agree with you. I’ve tried to do this several times to compare how authors viewed things, but I’ll be honest, it’s a massive amount of work. I’m pretty restricted with my time these days as my boys grow up, but once they no longer want anything to do with me, that’ll be one of the things I begin to try again. Comparing the modern Shiloh studies (Cunningham, Sword, and the other two) would be an extremely fun exercise, and Shiloh has an unlimited supply of controversies associated with it. If you or anyone else reading this wants to give it a try I’d be happy to serve as the publisher of one or many posts on the topic.

Brett

Reply

mitch werksman July 15, 2014 at 10:06 am

I enjoyed reading you 14 controversy of frankin and it really makes me wonder if there is a really large amount of truth to what Sam Hood wrote in his book about John Bell Hood.at first I mainly thought it was a witch hunt against Wiley and not researching prior works as the gospel truth.I spoke with Sam Hood aboutthis nd we both wondered why mr.Sword made any comment about the book except to wish him well.Your controversy Number 11 seems to substantiate his thoughts that mr.swords research leaves alot to bedesired.I am reading eric jacopson book now and intend to read mr. Swords.I have read mrswords book on Chattanooga and I think I will ceckout hisfootnotes abit more.

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