for Cause & for Country: A Study of the Affair at Spring Hill and the Battle of Franklin
by Eric A. Jacobson and Richard A. Rupp
I first heard about this promising new book at the Dispatch Depot Civil War Message Board in the book reviews area. As an added bonus, author Eric Jacobson joined in the discussion. He promises some different conclusions from the commonly held views on the battle, including the controversial topic of Hood’s alleged use of laudanum. Further, the author has made some changes to the commonly accepted Order of Battle for the 1864 Tennessee Campaign, adding units never before listed and discussing the role of some brigades at Franklin in greater detail than previous works on the topic. In order to understand Jacobson’s revisions, one needs to understand some of the previous views on the topic. One good place to go for one of these views is Wiley Sword’s book The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah: Spring Hill, Franklin, and Nashville, originally published as Embrace An Angry Wind. With that in mind, this second part of a multi-part series will cover Sword’s views, noting especially his discussions of various leaders including of course John Bell Hood. Future entries will take a look at Jacobson’s book in detail and discuss the differences and improvements Jacobson and Rupp have added to the subject.
Here’s a description of the book from the Publisher:
The battles at Spring Hill and Franklin, Tennessee were watershed moments in American Civil War history. Thousands of veterans and recruits, as well as former West Point classmates, found themselves moving through Middle Tennessee in the last great campaign of a long and bitter war. Replete with bloodshed and controversy, the battles led directly to the conclusion of action in the Western Theater. Long ignored and seldom understood, Spring Hill and Franklin stand as one of the most compelling episodes of the Civil War. Through exhaustive research and the use of sources never before published, the story of both battles comes vividly to life in this remarkable book. The lost opportunity at Spring Hill is evaluated in detail and the truth of what happened there may at last be discovered. The horrific battle at Franklin is told like never before. From what motivated John Bell Hood to make the attack, to the vital role of Union regiments either forgotten or ignored, the reader will see the confrontation in an entirely new light. Events such as the assault on the Union left flank, the attack made by the Confederate Missouri Brigade, General John Adams’ death, and General William Bate’s assault are given the thorough examination they have so long been denied. The book numbers 519 pages, contains over 325 material sources, and is illustrated with black and white, as well as color, photographs. Released by O’More Publishing the book could well become the definitive work on the subject. For Cause and For Country offers a balanced and richly detailed study of these crucial battles. Students of Spring Hill and Franklin will appreciate the dearth of new information and may conclude that these battles had a greater scope than even they realized. Those not familiar with the story will find themselves drawn to the amazing events of late 1864, when Middle Tennessee stood center stage as the country defined itself through blood and fire.
The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah: Spring Hill, Franklin, and Nashville, Part 2
Since it has been quite some time since I last read Sword’s book, I decided to refresh my memory by reading chapters 12-23 of The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah. These chapters cover the campaign from the standoff at Columbia through Spring Hill and on to Franklin from November 24-December 1, 1864. What follows is a not-so-brief discussion covering the campaign from Spring Hill to Franklin and Sword’s thoughts concerning them. I’ll start reading Eric Jacobson’s book next week. By far the most controversial topic concerns the leadership of General John Bell Hood. Sword pulls no punches, stating in no uncertain terms that he believes Hood was promoted beyond his capabilities. He also blames Confederate President Jefferson Davis and General Braxton Bragg for promoting Hood over more deserving men, especially Patrick Cleburne. Sword’s treatment of Hood is especially galling to “Lost Cause” types judging from the reviews of the book one finds online. Jacobson has hinted on more than one occasion that he holds a better view of Hood than Sword does and has found no evidence of Hood’s alleged drug use during the campaign, so it will be interesting to see how that plays out in for Cause and for Country. I’ll cover other, lesser issues on a chapter by chapter basis below.
Chapter 16: Do You Think the Lord Will Be with Us Today?
Hood was extremely angry at daybreak on November 30. He could not believe that the entire Federal Army had moved past his force. Hood called a meeting at the Nathaniel Cheairs house, but no direct record exists of the proceedings. Sword uses the recollections of S. D. Lee to piece together the basics. Apparently Hood blamed Cheatham for the failure to attack, while that General attempted to place the blame on division commanders Brown and Cleburne. The deflection of blame to Cleburne seems especially unfair to me, though from Sword’s description of events Brown played a large role in the failure to get across the Franklin Pike. Hood even confronted Brown later that morning on the march to Franklin and told him to attack the enemy while on a pursuit. Cleburne got wind of Hood’s displeasure of Cleburne’s role in the Spring Hill affair, ironically from Cheatham apparently, the same man who had blamed Cleburne and Brown in the first place. Sword relates that Cleburne apparently felt a gross injustice had been done, and he hoped to call for a court of inquiry after the campaign was over. Hood sent Forrest forward early that morning, and the Corps of Cheatham and Stewart followed soon thereafter. Interestingly, Hood gave Edward Johnson’s Division back to S. D. Lee, who was ordered to rest the two divisions that had just marched north from Columbia, and catch up to the rest of the army later that day. Johnson’s Division may have proved useful in the sort of pursuit Hood had in mind. About half way to Franklin (6 miles) Forrest’s cavalrymen started skirmishing with Emerson Opdycke’s Union Brigade, and Opdycke kept up a leapfrogging rear guard action to within two miles of Franklin. At around 11 A.M., with Forrest’s Cavalry nipping at his heels, the rear guard brigade was ordered to stand their ground.
The Federals spent the morning of November 30 marching north to Franklin. The bridges across the Harpeth River at this point had earlier been destroyed, so Schofield and his army were forced to wait until both the road bridge and the railroad bridge were planked using lumber from buildings near the site. As it stood, the Union wagon train would not be able to fully cross the river until evening, so Schofield had his troops dig in by expanding an old set of earthworks south of the town. The main line southeast and south of town was formidable, consisting of earthworks 4 to 5 feet high containing headlogs, and 2 to 3 foot deep ditches on either side. In addition, the Yankees utilized a grove of Osage Orange, chopping the thick, thorny bush-like trees down to create almost impenetrable abatis in addition to the already formidable line. The line was extended from the Harpeth River on the east to the Carter’s Creek Pike to the west, at which point lesser works extended north almost to the Harpeth River on the other side of town. Schofield’s wagon train and Thomas’ orders to hold Hood awhile longer made a decision to stay in Franklin at least until nightfall really the only choice the commanding general had. The Fountain B. Carter house stood on a hill at the center of the line, and Jacob Cox, the highest ranking officer along the defense line, recognized it as the key to the whole position. If these works weren’t already strong enough, Fort Granger stood to the northeast, able to command the southeastern approaches to Cox’s line. James wilson’s cavalry had retreated east of Franklin, and they eventually moved north of the Harpeth under fire from possible Confederate infantry. Schofield seems not to have worried about a possible frontal assault, instead believing that Hood was seeking to repeat his flanking performance from Columbia to Spring Hill by crossing the Harpeth several miles to the east or west of Franklin. The Federals clearly felt safe behind their new earthworks, writes Sword, and they surely did not expect what was to come.
Chapter 17: One Whose Temper Is Less Fortunately Governed
George D. Wagner’s Division had done the bulk of the fighting at Spring Hill on the Union side, so the commander was greatly upset when he was forced to act as rear guard for the army on the retreat to Franklin. Likewise, Emerson Opdycke was upset with Wagner for keeping his brigade at the tail of the column in line while the other two brigades of the division marched ahead in column. By the time Wagner’s men reached Winstead Hill two miles south of Franklin, they were worn out, especially Opdycke’s boys. Incredibly, Wagner kept Opdycke in line and allowed the other brigades to stack arms and cook their breakfast. Opdycke sent a messenger directly to IV Corps commander David Stanley complaining of this treatment. Since all of the other divisions had reached the Franklin earthworks, Wagner started to move that way as well. However, Schofield and Stanley wanted to at least attempt to follow Thomas’ orders to hold Hood back as long as possible. For this reason, Stanley ordered Wagner back out in front to Winstead Hill. Wagner obeyed orders and moved back to his position, but what he saw there gave him pause. Confederate infantry was advancing on the Columbia Pike and stretched as far as the eye could see. Wagner pulled back to Privet Knob, about a mile north of Winstead Hill and a mile south of the main Federal earthworks. At this point, Emerson Opdycke had had enough. The headstrong brigade commander kept right on marching for the Franklin breastworks, ignoring the commands of Wagner to stay at Privet Knob. After 15 minutes or so of arguing, Wagner gave up and told Opdycke to find a place in reserve. Opdycke (fortuitously for the Union, as it later turned out) found the front line too crowded and formed his brigade about 200 yards north of the Carter farmhouse along the Columbia Pike. Meanwhile, Wagner’s remaining troops dug in just north of Privet Knob in a cotton field, knowing full well they could not stop a Confederate attack.
Stewart’s Corps led the Confederate march to Franklin, but instead of deploying these men in the center, Hood sent them off to the right in plain view of the enemy. This is significant, says Sword, because he believes Hood wanted to “punish” Cheatham, Cleburne, and Brown by forcing them to fight in the toughest spot on the field. He would show them what he expected when he ordered an attack, says the author, “purg[ing] their ranks of their apparent reluctance to fight except when behind breastworks.” In this section of the narrative, Sword also relates that Forrest objected to a frontal assault and proposed an alternative flanking movement. Sam Hood, a descendant of the general, refutes this plan had any merit, saying:
On page 179, Sword makes the case that Hood should have allowed Confederate cavalry commander General Nathan Bedford Forrest to attempt a flanking movement around Franklin. Sword writes, “Of specific use to Forrest was Hollow Tree Gap, a defile in the range of hills through which the Nashville Pike passed, only about four and a half miles distant from Hood’s present position. Here the Yankees might be cut off from Nashville, urged Forrest, since Hood’s army was as close to this gap as was Schofield’s at Franklin.”
Hollow Tree Gap (“Holly Tree Gap” on modern maps) was indeed 4.5 miles from the Federal lines at the Carter House, but was approximately 7 miles from Hood’s pre-battle position near the Harrison House on the Columbia Pike south of Franklin. Additionally, Forrest and his requested division of infantry would have had to travel approximately 12-15 miles by circuitous march east and north to Hollow Tree Gap. With only 3 hours of daylight, a successful flanking movement by Forrest would have been impossible.
Hollow Tree Gap was at least double, and more probably triple the distance for the Confederates as it was for Schofield. For Sword to clearly and unequivocally write that the Confederates and the Federals were equidistant from Hollow Tree Gap- the point where the Union retreat could be blocked- is incorrect, and very misleading. The misinformation makes Hood look ignorant, incompetent, or worse, by making Forrest’s impossible proposal appear practicable.
In addition, over a page is wasted in implying that Hood was out to teach the generals of Cheatham’s Corps a lesson that day, calling Hood’s troop alignment “if not outright punishment…a severe corrective lesson” for these men. He calls it “no accident” that Cheatham (specifically Brown and Cleburne) was to assault the center. In any event, the columns all moved forward around 2:45 P.M. on December 30 to get into position. Just over 20,000 Confederate infantrymen formed on the plain, and many were amazed. They were used to fighting in heavily wooded terrain, and many had never seen an entire field of battle as they could on this day. Brown and Cleburne were to the left and right, respectively, of the Columbia Pike. Bate was off to their left, under orders to try to attack the weaker western side of the breastworks. Stewart’s Corps would attack on the far right, coming in near where the Central Alabama Railroad crossed the Federal trench lines. Forrest’s Cavalry covered both flanks. Sword goes on to cover Cleburne’s actions just before the attack began. At 4:00 P.M., all 20,000 Confederates stepped off to the attack.
I am beginning to see why a lot of Hood supporters do not like Wiley Sword’s treatment of the campaign. He does seem to unduly attack Hood on certain minor issues, and there seem to be a lot of personal attacks against Hood, many of which seem to be unsubstantiated. I enjoyed Sword’s book the first time I read it. Being from southern Illinois, I don’t necessarily have any kind of personal attachment to John Bell Hood, so I tended to ignore Sword’s comments. Reading with a more informed, more critical eye, however, I find myself agreeing with Sword’s detractors to quite a large extent. It will be very interesting to finish the rest of Sword’s account of Franklin and move onto Jacobson’s book for a different perspective.
Chapter 18: Tell Them To Fight–Fight Like Hell!
The Federals in the main Union line had no idea of the avalanche that was waiting south of Privet Hill. Once the entrenchments were dug, most settled down either to eat, sleep, or visit friends in nearby regiments. The enlistments of some regiments had expired, and they were waiting only to get to Nashville to be mustered out. Some of these men were in the advanced line of Wagner’s Division. When one of these men, a sergeant, tried to leave, the shouts of a higher ranking officer made him reluctantly stop and move back into the line. The Confederate lines soon appeared, and Sword writes that many of these men thought this moment to be the most impressive spectacle they had ever seen. The artillery section with Wagner’s men started to fire at the Confederate host, and one of the two Confederate batteries (the others were in the rear with Lee’s Corps) opened on the main Union line. Meanwhile, the Confederates were flanking Wagner on the eastern side of Conrad’s Brigade, beyond his left flank. The divisions of Cleburne and Brown were foremost on the minds of Wagner’s men, however, as they moved forward to attack the Union advanced line frontally.
George Wagner was in the rear of his position, standing near the main Federal line when the attack started. Colonel Conrad, whose brigade was one of the two holding the advanced line, sent a courier back to plead with Wagner to let the men retreat. Wagner, perhaps drunk according to Sword, would have none of it, telling the courier to tell Conrad to “fight like hell!” Jacob Cox’s staff officers, several of which were nearby, reminded Wagner that he was only to delay Hod, not fight his entire army. However, by this time it was too late.
Stewart’s Corps had outflanked Conrad, but Cleburne’s and Brown’s Divisions caused the advanced Federal line to run precipitously for the rear. These men were literally running for their lives, and Sword says it was every man for himself. Exhausted men were gobbled up by the Confederates in their advance, and many of the Federals surged toward the opening in the main Federal earthworks along the Columbia Pike. This allowed many of the Confederates to get right up to the breastworks without the Federals in the main line being able to fire. Some believed the foolhardy decisions of Wagner had almost cost the Union the battle, and from this reader’s perspective, they were right. Unable to wait any longer, the Federals let loose with musketry and cannon fire, but the Confederates were able to breach the Union earthworks at the Columbia Pike, even swinging around the two guns that had earlier retreated from Wagner’s advanced line.
The men of Reilly’s and Strickland’s Brigades held the area just east and west of the Columbia Pike, a 200 yard expanse where Wagner’s men had tried to retreat into the Union lines. This entire section was captured by the Confederates, who despite their success had still taken heavy casualties. The decisive moment of the battle was at hand as Union troops streamed northward into Franklin. Could anyone stop the seemingly irresistible Confederate assault?
Chapter 19: The Pandemonium of Hell Turned Loose
Sword paints a picture of a complacent John Schofield and David Stanley on the afternoon of November 30, 1864. Both men prepared Wood’s Division on the north bank of the Harpeth River. It was to cover the retreat of the army that evening, which was in the freshly dug breastworks south of Franklin. Schofield was so sure that Hood would try to flank him several miles either upstream or downstream from his position, writes Sword, that he didn’t even bother to inspect the fortifications! He believed that any move around his right or left would be held in check by Wilson’s Cavalry for the remaining few hours of daylight to give his column an unbeatable head start back to Nashville that night. Shortly after 4 P.M., Schofield realized his error when Hood’s men pushed their attack. The Federal commander had thought it was simply a demonstration to cover the expected flanking movement. Both Northern leaders soon realized that Hood was gambling (Sword’s word, here I think appropriate) on breaking through the Union lines and trapping the vast majority against the Harpeth River. The downside would be that assaulting the Union earthworks frontally might result in large casualties of his own. Stanley rode to the front and saw the Confederates breaking through. At this critical moment, Opdycke’s Brigade happened to be in the perfect position. Remember from a few chapters back that Opdycke had disobeyed General Wagner’s order to halt out in front of the main Union line. By sheer chance, Opdycke had parked his brigade in reserve at almost the exact spot they were needed, just west of the Columbia Pike and several hundred yards to the rear of the breakthrough. As Federal troops began to swarm away from the front lines, they started passing through Opdycke’s line. He wanted to shift some of his men to the east side of the road to move them out of the way, but when he started this movement, the 73rd Illinois interpreted this to be a charge. They moved forward, and the rest of the brigade followed, pushing for a reserve set of earthworks just to their front. Sword notes the irony in Opdycke’s men not following orders shortly after he had chosen to do the same with Wagner.
Opdycke’s men at first had almost as much trouble with retreating Federals as they did with the oncoming Confederates. But those retreating Yankees soon moved left and right to allow Opdycke’s men a clear field of fire. Strickland’s Brigade also resisted the Rebel advance a little west of Opdycke’s position, also along the reserve line of earthworks. Sword then describes the hurricane of fire that engulfed the Carter house, its outbuildings, and the surrounding area. Confederate brigades continued to move into this area because it was obvious that a breakthrough had been made. Numerous charges and counter charges took place over the next half hour, when the firing started to finally slacken. Union firepower was beginning to have an effect, and many of the men who had been routed earlier were returning to Opdycke’s and Strickland’s lines. In addition, the Confederates were now facing flanking fire from the east, though they still held 200 yards of the main Union line along the pike. Sword describes the actions of Jacob Cox, the de facto commander of the Yankee battle line, as he tried to create an unbroken line that could drive the Confederates away.
Cox was worried that Strickland’s front could not hold, and as darkness approached, he ordered the 112th Illinois (situated on the far left) to move quickly and restore the main Federal line. As the 112th approached, a hodgepodge force of two thousand Yankees attempted to do just that, but they received murderous fire from other Union regiments in the low visibility, and they fell back to the entrenched line. When the 112th Illinois reached the line, this attempt was repeated, with the same disastrous results, despite the pleas of Captain James A. Sexton, who had led the earlier force forward. As darkness fell, Sword says “stalemate had been reached at the crucial Carter House Hill.
Chapter 20 – Glorified Suicide at the Cotton Gin
Sword next details the assault on Reilly’s Division covering the Union left flank from the Central Alabama Railroad to the Columbia Pike. Loring’s Division was on the far right of the Confederate line, with its flank being supported by Buford’s Cavalry. The brigades of Scott and Featherston were butchered over the course of an hour. They had to contend with Yankee artillery fire from the front and also from Fort Granger to their right over the Harpeth River. But the biggest obstacle was the Osage Orange the Yankees had chopped down in front of their earthworks nearly along the entire length of Reilly’s position. The thick shrub-like trees were almost impossible to move through, and as Loring’s men attempted this difficult task, they were slaughtered by the Yankee infantry just yards away. Loring had faced mainly Stiles’ Union Brigade on the far left of the Yankee line.
Edward Walthall’s Division was the next Confederate Division in line. The brigade of William A. Quarles soon ran into the same hedge of Osage Orange that had plagued Loring’s men, and they were mowed down in heaps as they tried unsuccessfully to clear the thorny shrubbery away. Quarles soon had his men moving left (west) in support of Shelley’s Brigade, which was just then attempting to drive in the men of Reilly’s Brigade near the strong Union salient guarding the cotton gin. The 104th Ohio of Reilly’s Brigade was posted just to the right of the cotton gin, and their right flank companies could not fire at the Confederates because the men of Wagner’s advanced position were coming in just ahead of the Rebels. Reilly’s Brigade was thus mostly driven back except for the left flank companies of the 104th Ohio, and this gave the Confederates a bit of an opportunity.
Into the breach stepped Pat Cleburne’s Division, Govan’s and Granbury’s brigades leading the way. On the Union side, several reserve regiments were pushed forward to beat back this thrust. Sword calls this collision “the focal point of the crisis, a crucial point where momentum tottered precariously and the battle might be won or lost.” A large melee then sprang out for a period of about five minutes, says Sword. The Union troops drove Cleburne’s men back, Reilly’s reserves joined by the leftmost portions of Opdycke’s Brigade (discussed in the previous chapter).
At this point Sword vividly describes Patrick Cleburne’s death. The general had been trying to get Lowery’s Brigade to come up out of reserve and plunge into the fighting to restore his line. Sword’s goes on to say “perhaps the South’s most brilliant major general, the ‘Stonewall Jackson of the West,’ his ideas scorned by his president and his competence punished by his commanding general, had been required to lead a suicidal frontal attack like some captain of infantry. Was it God’s decreed fate, or simply man’s stupidity?” This is extremely unfair to Hood, in my opinion. Cleburne was a soldier’s soldier, a man who led by example. When his men were on the attack, he was going to be in the thick of the fighting. Men such as Cleburne, like Phil Kearny and Isaac Stevens at Chantilly or Stonewall Jackson at Chancellorsville for instance, are sometimes going to die in battle. It is the price these men sometimes pay for their ultra aggressive demeanor. Pat Cleburne, no matter the situation during an attack, was going to be in danger of being shot, regardless of how he felt about his commanding officer’s orders to attack. I believe Patrick Cleburne to have been the best Confederate commander in the entire Western Theater, and that he also should have been a Corps commander long before the likes of Benjamin Cheatham However, his death was no more Hood’s fault than Jackson’s death was Lee’s.
Lowery’s Brigade merely caused a violent stalemate as men on either side of the earthworks loaded and simply raised their rifles up to fire them off into the faces of the enemy. The Federals were getting the better of this contest as the last four brigades of A.P. Stewart’s Corps came up from reserve. Cockrell’s Missouri Brigade moved forward, but they too were stopped by the ever-present Osage Orange and the severe Federal fire. The brigade lost 240 of 687 men, says Sword. John Adams’ Brigade of Loring’s Division had managed to move farther west to support this section of the Confederate attack. They were the next to charge after Cockrell’s Missourians. Adams’ men managed to pry a small opening into the Osage, and Adams himself was riddled with bullets as he attempted to leap his horse over the Federal works. However, the result was the same and the general’s brigade had not been able to make any impression on the still holding Yankee line.
The last two Confederate brigades to assault the Federal left were Reynolds’ Brigade of Walthall’s Division and Sears’ Brigade of French’s Division. These men joined the remnants of the many other Confederate units that had assaulted the area already. Meanwhile, many of Reilly’s men who had earlier routed were now beginning to return to the front. Sword avers that Sears’ Brigade made one of the “valiant” efforts of the day, but this too proved futile. All that remained was for the Confederates to somehow extricate themselves from the situation with as few casualties as possible, or in the case of many, to simply surrender to avoid being killed. The scene of carnage in this area of the battlefield amazed and sickened many. General George W. Gordon was “psychologically devastated by the fierce enfilade fire.” Bodies lay thick on this portion of the field, and Cheatham believed that if not for the mistake of leaving Wagner’s men out front, the slaughter would have been even greater. The fighting was over on this end of the line. The only hope the Confederates had was a successful conclusion over on the Yankee right flank.
Chapter 21 – Where is the Glory?
The civilians of Franklin mostly his in cellars during the battle, attempting as best they could to save themselves from stray bullets and shells. The civilians in the worst danger were the members of Fountain Carter’s family, hiding in the Carter house cellar near the Federal earthworks. As the Carters huddled in the cellar trying to stay safe from harm, one of the Carter sons, Theodrick “Tod” Carter was leading a charge only yards from his family home. Tod went down in a heap after being hit in two places, lying only 525 yards or so away from his birthplace.
The Locust Grove on the right, much like the Osage Orange on the left, formed an excellent line of makeshift abatis after the Federal soldiers chopped down some of the branches and in other cases some of the trees. Ruger’s Division was in charge of this portion of the Federal line. During the initial Confederate assault, Strickland’s Brigade had been driven back near the Columbia Pike. Moore’s Brigade was next in line to the right, and the 111th Ohio held the left flank of the brigade. Soon the Confederates were spilling through the gap near the Carter House, but the 111th managed to hold until Union reinforcements began streaming to the front. Gist’s and Carter’s Confederate brigades of John C. Brown’s Division had been attacking along Moore’s front, and as the Union reinforcements arrived, Gist was holding his own, but he could not push further forward. Carter’s Brigade came up in support of Gist, but they were shattered by Federal fire and the survivors could only take shelter with Gist’s men along the Union breastworks. Brown, the division commander, had been told that Bate’s Division would support his left, but they were nowhere to be seen. Brown soon went down with a wound, and the attack in this sector was finished as well. Bate had been delayed, but his division now moved forward to the left of Brown near the Carter Creek Pike, clear of the Locust Grove and the obstruction it formed. Bate, however, unsure whether to follow his orders or to drift to the northeast in support of Brown, attempted to do both with his under strength unit. The men were exposed to flanking fire from their left as they drifted to the northeast. Despite managing to force a regiment of raw recruits to break, Bate’s men were driven off with heavy casualties. The Confederate cavalrymen of Chalmers’ Division simply skirmished at long distance on the far left of the entire Confederate battle line. By the time it was dark, Hood’s attack had failed everywhere. Forrest was left with only William H. Jackson’s Division to try to flank the Yankee lines by heading north of the Harpeth. In this he failed, and the Confederate attack sputtered out except for brief flashes in the darkness. However, Hood was not yet ready to admit defeat. He had one fresh division left to hurl at the Yankee lines.
Chapter 22 – There is No Hell Left in Them–Don’t You Hear Them Praying?
Stephen D. Lee’s Corps began arriving near Hood’s headquarters just as the battle was beginning around 4 P.M. According to Sword, Lee had been instructed to move at a “leisurely” pace to the battlefield to give his men some rest from their hard march the night before. Lee apparently insisted that he would have marched at breakneck speed had he known a battle would be fought. Hood instructed Lee to send Ed Johnson’s Division in to help the Confederate attack around 9 P.M., well after darkness had fallen. Johnson did no better than the divisions before him, losing almost 600 casualties in several minutes. Here Sword only describes the attack of Sharp’s Mississippi Brigade, omitting the trials of the other three for one reason or another. Only by 10:30 P.M. did the firing finally die down. A Federal in the vicinity of Strickland’s Brigade started singing The Battle Cry of Freedom, and other Yankee troops took up the tune.
This is one of those instances where Hood can be at least partly justifiably criticized. Although he had no idea what awaited him at Franklin when the army set out that morning, the only way to catch and cut off a fleeing enemy is to push on after them with as much force as you can bring to bear. When it became apparent that most of Lee’s men would not make it to the battlefield before darkness fell, perhaps it would have been better for Hood to call off the attack. Of course hindsight always makes these decisions seem easy. Looking at the battlefield around 3 P.M. through Hood’s eyes, you might see an enemy with his back to a river, who if beaten would be forced to surrender en masse. Hood made a calculated gamble and lost.
Jacob Cox, the Federal commander in charge of the firing line, was certain his men could complete the destruction of Hood’s army the next day, and he sent his brother (one of his aides) to communicate this to General Schofield in person. Many others in the Federal ranks who had seen the destruction wrought on the Rebel ranks agreed. However, Sword writes, Schofield had much earlier made up his mind to retreat. He simply wanted to keep his army intact and reach A. J. Smith’s men of the Army of the Tennessee, then moving up as reinforcements near Nashville. Schofield apparently considered the mauling of Hood’s army a bonus. The Federal commander did the safe thing in this situation, and he can hardly be chided for that after a series of narrow escapes. Schofield ordered the retreat to begin before midnight, with his left wing taking the repaired railroad bridge over the Harpeth, and the right wing moving over the repaired foot bridge, with the center covering the retreat. Sword closes this section by mentioning the ordeal of Colonel Virgil S. Murphey of the 17th Alabama. He had been captured and taken to Schofield’s headquarters. There he engaged in a bit of sparring with an “elderly Federal officer” over the fitness of General Hood for command. The Union officer thought Hood to be a butcher, while Colonel Murphey believed him to be a gallant man and a good leader for the Army of Tennessee. Only later did Murphey learn he had been talking to Schofield himself.
Schofield began the withdrawal around 11:00 P.M., but their were delays associated with the pullback. Many of the more badly wounded men had to be left behind in the care of a few surgeons, but others had their wounds dressed and were placed in the ambulances for what could only have been an agonizing ride back to Nashville. The Union artillery was pulled back first, but the 20th Ohio Battery had been mauled, and some members of Opdycke’s Brigade helped to remove the artillery pieces from the earthworks and over the river. After this , the men of the left and right wings were to withdraw en echelon, each man leaving after the man to his immediate right. First, a fire broke out in a stable, illuminating the area and causing Schofield to temporarily halt the withdrawal. Once this fire had been put out, the retreat continued. However, in the darkness, three divisions had been assigned to use the foot bridge and only one to use the railroad bridge. Despite all of the delays, Schofield was able to withdraw his army and fire the bridges behind him by 2:00 A.M. on December 1. Wood’s Division had been assigned as the rear guard, and his last troops were on their way to Nashville by 4 A.M.
Hood and his corps commanders held a council of war around midnight to determine their next course of action. Sword paints an unflattering picture of Hood, intimating that he was a crazed man bent on attacking beyond all reason. Hood ordered a general bombardment of the enemy lines for 7 A.M. the next morning, followed by an infantry assault all along the lines at 9 A.M. The artillery rolled into position, but the Confederates could see fires from the bridges and could only conclude that the Yankees had either retreated or taken up a new line north of the Harpeth. In case the latter were true, artillery fire was directed 200 yards to the east of the burning bridge in the distance, thought to be the railroad bridge. The idea was to put some rounds into Ft. Granger on the north bank. However, the railroad bridge had burned out, and the Rebels were really firing on the northeast edge of town, hitting many civilian buildings in the process. By 4:00 A.M., the Confederates had entered Franklin, 10-12 hours later than they had planned and with thousands of casualties. Fountain Carter was told that his son Tod had been severely wounded, so he took three of his daughters and one daughter-in-law to go search for their family member.
In this case, I have to agree with Sword. Hood would have been foolish to attack the Federals again at dawn, and in any case I’m not sure how forcefully the already scarred men of Cheatham’s and Stewart’s Corps would have pressed their attacks. Further fighting at Franklin would have been pure folly.
Chapter 23 – The Thunder Drum of War
Sword spends the first part of this chapter describing the scenes of death and destruction the citizens of Franklin awoke to on December 1, 1864. Hospitals were set up and the dead were hastily buried. Sword next moves on to yet another condemnation of Hood. He belittles Hood’s victory speech, which admittedly does seem to be full of distortions. Here is the portion Sword chose to relate:
The commanding general congratulates the army upon the success achieved yesterday over our enemy by their heroic and determined courage. The enemy have been sent in disorder and confusion to Nashville, and while we lament the fall of many gallant officers and brave men, we have shown to our countrymen that we can carry any position occupied by our enemy.
Sword says that Hood’s reasons for making the attack at Franklin immediately became a subject of debate. Hood said before the battle that attempting to outflank the enemy in open country would not work, and that if he had a choice between fighting the Yankees at Franklin or Nashville, where even stronger earthworks had been under construction for three years, he would choose Franklin. Sword believes Hood “easily could have outflanked Schofield from Franklin by crossing the Harpeth River at Hughes’s Ford or various other sites. The ability of the Federal army to escape with its wagon train intact would have been seriously in doubt, just as Schofield had foreseen.” The possibility of this option has been brought into doubt by Sam Hood, descendant of the general, and not knowing the particulars well enough myself, I do not feel qualified enough to weigh in on this particular area. Perhaps some better educated readers might be able to give me some opinions on the feasibility of a flanking movement versus a frontal assault. Could Hood have captured some or all of Schofield’s wagons with a flank march, or did he simply have too many miles to cover?
The next part of the chapter is an utter condemnation of Hood’s generalship. Among other things, Sword accuses the man of reacting to “an emotional reflex, rooted in his obsession to ‘prevent the enemy from escaping.’” Sword goes on to blame “Hood’s physical disability and a draining exhaustion of his mind and spirit.” Sword mentions S.D. Lee’s belief that the battle of Franklin was brought about by the failure to bag Schofield’s army at Spring Hill. Lee believed also (at least he wrote after the war) that Hood’s physical disabilities made him unfit for command. The author says Hood was thinking in terms of Gaines’ Mill, where a bayonet charge by his Texas Brigade won the day, and says that Hood saw failings as a “want of physical and moral courage” and “he lacked the competence and ability to learn from his mistakes.” Lastly, and most damaging, Sword refers to Hood as “a fool with a license to kill his own men.” These are all serious charges, and seem to me to be more than a bit harsh. Hood to me was promoted above his level of competence, but this applies to many men on either side. Butler, Sigel, Pope, Burnside, Bragg, Henry Wise, and numerous other men fit this description. In addition, the charge at Franklin is by no means the only instance of a slaughter in front of breastworks. Battles such as Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, numerous battles around Petersburg, Kennesaw Mountain, Pickett’s Mill, and others all fit this description, with some of the best generals in the war (Grant, Lee, and Sherman) being responsible for some of them. Again, I believe that hindsight can make decisions seem awfully simple in retrospect when at the time the decision was made, circumstances were not nearly as clear. What if Hood had broken through at Franklin? Many of the Federals would have had no choice but to surrender or risk drowning in an icy swim across the Harpeth.
Sword describes the recovery of Cleburne’s body and his burial, along with several other men killed in the battle. Cleburne and the others were buried at St. John’s Chapel in Columbia, Tennessee, where only a week before Cleburne had remarked, “it would not be hard to die if one could be buried in such a beautiful site.” Much sooner than he or the others who heard him could have believed, the Irishman got his wish.
Hood’s pursuit of Schofield was a long time in developing. Forrest’s men went after the Yankee rear guard, but by the time they got to Brentwood Schofield was already safe at Nashville. Lee’s Corps was to lead the infantry pursuit, and he did not cross his men over the Harpeth until 1 P.M. on December 1. Stewart’s Corps followed later that afternoon, but Cheatham’s badly shot up men remained until December 2. Sword says the press picked up on the story almost immediately, but that the reports were highly inaccurate. He blames this shoddy coverage as one of the main reasons Franklin is not more well-known today. He stresses that many of the men who participated believed it to be the hardest fought battle they had ever been in, and many believed it would go down as the greatest story of the Civil War. However, many other events were happening at this time, among them Sherman’s March, the tightening of the noose around Petersburg, and then upcoming “siege” of Nashville. In addition, the Confederates held the field, so Northern reporters were left to their own devices as far as the procession of events goes. Franklin was destined to become an obscure event overshadowed by other things.
Sword next concentrates on a flood of negative testimony from the men in the ranks concerning the handling of the battle. I agree that to have seen the battlefield on the morning of December 1 would have demoralized these men greatly, but I suspect Sword may have been selective in his choice of reminiscences for the purpose of further discrediting Hood. This is just a suspicion based on what I know of others’ criticisms of Sword’s book. Hood’s Army had lost around 7,000 men out of a total infantry force of 23,000. Schofield, in comparison, lost around 1,400 men out of a total of 22,000 men engaged. Southern soldiers involved in the fighting liked to compare “Hood’s Assault” to “Pickett’s Charge” at Gettysburg. Roughly the same number of men charged, and about the same number had become casualties. Sword says that “statistics do not ell the whole story.” One side or the other would suffer disaster, says the author. Then he goes on to indirectly criticize Hood again, saying “the script somehow evolved into rampant madness”, calling the assault “an outrageous mistake.” The author concludes that the battle was a contradiction involving the glory and power of Confederate manhood and “the abject disparagement of intelligent reason.” Both sides seemed to take out of the fight the fact that they could find solace in “the indomitable will of mankind to demonstrate its mettle.”
When I first went to read over the reviews of Sword’s book at Amazon.com, I was rather skeptical of the claims that the author was too harsh on John Bell Hood. After all, the Battle of Franklin and the Tennessee Campaign as a whole went terribly wrong for the Confederacy. After re-reading the portion of Sword’s book covering the affair at Spring Hill and the Battle of Franklin, I’ve changed my opinion. Sword does indeed seem to go out of his way in criticizing Hood at every turn, implying that he used drugs that clouded his judgment and willingly sent his men to their deaths to “teach them a lesson.” While I agree with Sword on some points and believe that Hood was not a very good army commander, there is most definitely an agenda on the part of the author to pillory Hood every chance he gets. This is a shame too, because Sword in most other respects is an excellent writer. His accounts of the battle action are excellent in most cases, keeping the reader involved and making the story interesting, though making the human drama at Franklin seem unexciting would admittedly be a tall task. Eric Jacobson mentions that Sword fails to describe the experiences of some brigades in any detail, and I look forward to both his interpretations of the fights at Spring Hill and Franklin and his promise to cover the fighting in even greater detail. Look for my first blog entry covering Jacobson’s book next week Monday, and look for subsequent entries each Monday until I finish. With this section of my look at Spring Hill and Franklin finished, I definitely encourage readers to give their opinions on the topics and arguments raised above. I’d love to hear your opinions on Hood and on the situation that existed on the afternoon of November 30, 1864 at Franklin.
Part 1 – Part 2 – Part 3 – Part 4 – Part 5 – Part 6 – Part 7 – Part 8 – Part 9 – Part 10
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