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
NOTE: Now that we are getting into the Franklin portion of the book, it would benefit new readers to read my blog entry covering Wiley Sword’s views on the battle, located here: For Cause and For Country, Part 2
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
Chapter 6: The Gathering Storm
Franklin had been mostly spared from any serious fighting in the vicinity, but all of that was about to change. Company D, 1st Tennessee Infantry had been raised there, and many Franklin citizens were fighting or had fought for the Confederacy.
Schofield arrived in Franklin around 4 or 5 A.M. He met with Jacob Cox and told him to place his division to cover the Columbia Pike, leaving the road open for the wagon train. Cox, who was to become the tactical commander of the entire Federal line on November 30, placed his troops east of the Columbia Pike. Capt. Twining, the aide who had ridden to Franklin to telegraph Thomas about the Spring Hill situation the night before, gave Schofield Thomas’ reply. Thomas had said that A.J. Smith’s XVI Corps was still on boats in Nashville, and that they couldn’t possibly reach Franklin that day. He also told Schofield to hold Franklin and save his wagons. Schofield replied to send Smith up as quickly as possible, and followed up by mentioning he wanted to move north of the Harpeth River (which is located just north of Franklin) that morning, evacuating the town. Schofield also talked to James Wilson that morning. His cavalry was several miles east of Franklin at Triune. Schofield wanted Wilson to cover his flank and rear at all costs this time. The Federal commander was also waiting for pontoon boats to be sent from Nashville. In the interim, he improvised by rebuilding a burned out wagon bridge and laid planks over the railroad bridge. Lastly, Schofield ordered his men to strengthen existing earthworks south of Franklin. He believed he might need to present a bold front to give his wagons time to escape.
The Confederate army found on the morning of November 30 that the Yankees had escaped, and the rank and file were furious that their leaders had allowed the Federals to get away. Hood himself felt the same way, calling for many of his generals to attend a breakfast at Rippavilla, the home of Nathaniel Cheairs. Forrest, for his part, got a very early start and had his cavalry on the road north trying to catch the retreating Federals. The Confederate Cavalry skirmished with the Union rear guard of Emerson Opdycke’s Brigade and also struck briefly farther north along the column. The meeting at Rippavilla is not well-documented, but Jacobson emphasizes that Hood was extremely angry, using foul language, seeking to lay the blame on someone, and mainly finding fault with Cheatham. The author mentions also that Cleburne’s name somehow came up while blame was being assigned. Lee was not at the meeting, his Corps still being on the march from Columbia. Stewart and Cleburne were also not present for some reason. Lee’s leading elements reached Spring Hill by 9 A.M., and Hood gave Lee back Johnson’s Division, telling him to rest for awhile before following the rest of the army to Franklin. Brown relates that Hood strongly reprimanded him and told him to attack if he found the retreating enemy. Cleburne met up with Brown around this time. It seems he had learned that Hood somehow blamed him as well for Spring Hill. Cleburne determined to ask for a court of inquiry after the campaign was over.
The Federal troops of the XXIII Corps filing into the lines south of Franklin tried to get as much sleep as possible on the morning of November 30. Jacob Cox, commander of one XXIII Corps division, procured the Fountain Carter house as his headquarters. He too was trying to get some sleep when Schofield came to him “manifestly disturbed”. Schofield told Cox to take command of the XXIII Corps, send his artillery over the Harpeth, and attempt to hold Hood off until the wagons could escape. Schofield would give Cox batteries of the IV Corps as they passed his line, and Thomas Wood’s Division was to be allowed to pass north of the Harpeth. Cox was given field command while Schofield tended to the retreat. Jacobson says Franklin would be Cox’s finest day in an already solid career. James Reilly took over Cox’s Division, and these men were posted from the Harpeth River on the far left to the Columbia Pike on the right. They strengthened the weak earthworks that already existed on this line.
The Carter Cotton Gin stood along the Union line east of the Columbia Pike, creating a bit of a salient, and the soldiers of Cox’s Division put its lumber to good use in strengthening their line in that area. Jacobson says the works in this area “began to take on an impressive, almost foreboding appearance”. Stiles’ Brigade to the east had a grove of Osage Orange (or bois d’arc) growing in their front. Osage Orange is a bush-like tree with sharp thorns that works perfectly as abatis, and the men of Stiles’ Brigade chopped down part of the grove and placed the trees in front of their works. Casement’s Brigade, covering the far left of the Federal line, also took advantage of left over Osage Orange to create a less effective obstruction in their front. The two brigades of Ruger’s Division began arriving around 6:30 A.M. Strickland’s almost entirely new brigade filed in just to the west of the Columbia Pike, while Moore’s Brigade tried to cover the entire front from the Carter’s Creek Turnpike southwest of Franklin to Strickland’s Brigade. This portion of the line was not very strongly held initially, but reinforcements later arrived. Jacobson has come to the conclusion that previous portrayals of the regimental order from left to right in Moore’s Brigade have been incorrect to date and he sets out to correct this in an interesting little discussion.
Moore’s Brigade could not fill its entire assigned area, so Moore asked for reinforcements. As noted previously, Jacobson discusses his new interpretation of the troop alignment in this area, especially with regard to the 183rd Ohio and 107th Illinois. The Federal line was very strong on the west side of the Columbia Pike as well, gradually weakening to the west as less materials were available. The buildings near the Carter House had their wood torn from the frames and the lumber was used in the fortifications. Some Federals used young Locust trees in the breastworks and as abatis to the west of the Carter House as well. Due to the opening in the entrenchments to allow wagons and artillery through, a retrenched line was constructed about 200 feet to the rear of the main line. Interestingly, the entrenched line was more of an obstacle than Cox intended it to be He initially wanted troops to be able to move quickly over it, but the men of the 44th Missouri decided to strengthen the line without orders. Cox, taking note, allowed them to do this. Capt. Lyman Bridges, the IV Corps artillery chief, worked with Cox to place his guns where they would do the most damage, some in the front lines, and others in positions from which they would be able to fire over the heads of their infantry. The guns of the XXIII Corps, which had moved through earlier in the day, were positioned north of the Harpeth River, some of them in Fort Granger. Most of the work on this formidable line was done by noon, says Jacobson, and the troops finally began to relax a bit. The 12th and 16th Kentucky, the two rear guard regiments of the day before, finally reached Franklin at this time as well. They took up reserve positions in the entrenchments.
Nathan Kimball’s Division of the IV Corps next arrived in Franklin; Cox ordered him to the right rear of Ruger’s Division, and he extended the Federal line north from the Carter’s Creek Turnpike. Thomas Wood’s Division, in accordance with Schofield’s wishes, arrived next and marched north across the Harpeth. They would be used as the rear guard in the march to Nashville.
Emerson Opdycke’s Brigade of Wagner’s Division was the rear guard this day. In addition, they were in charge of of collecting the army’s stragglers. Naturally, this did not sit well with Opdycke. Wagner’s Division reached Winstead Hill, two miles or so south of Franklin, around 11 A.M. Here they were allowed to halt to get some breakfast. This did not apply to Opdycke’s men in the rear guard, however. Whitaker’s Brigade of Kimball’s Division, still on Winstead Hill, formed on Opdycke’s right, but withdrew after about an hour of skirmishing with Forrest to rejoin its division in Franklin. Just after noon, Wagner followed, assuming he was supposed to follow Whitaker. As he soon found out, he was wrong. Lane’s Brigade led, followed by Conrad, with Opdycke still in the rear and very unhappy about it. Jacobson believes Wagner “never should have left the heights to begin with”. I disagree. The Federal earthworks were essentially done by this point, the stragglers were in, and Wagner’s staying there was courting disaster. At that point, there was no reason not to withdraw completely into the entrenchments. Wagner received an 11:30 order from Stanley telling him to defend Winstead Hill for the rest of the day or until he was pressed too heavily, and he also ordered Wagner to relieve Opdycke from rear guard duty. As soon as Opdycke returned to Winstead Hill he saw the better part of two Rebel Corps, Stewart’s and Cheatham’s coming up the road. As this happened, Kimball finished forming on the right of Ruger and carried the Federal line all the way to the Harpeth River. Both flanks of the Union line were now secure.
Stewart’s Corps filed off to the right and the Lewisburg Pike, while Cheatham marched straight up the Columbia Pike. No mention is made of Sword’s explanation that this was meant to “punish” Cheatham and his men, though that might come later in the text. On the march, the Confederates noted large numbers of discarded equipment and burned wagons. The Confederates reached the area south of Winstead Hill around 1 P.M.
As the Confederates moved into position, Opdycke could see they were going to move around his left flank, so he bluffed with his small artillery compliment and sent word to Wagner what was happening. As a result, Wagner ordered his Division off the heights around 1:30. Schofield received orders from Thomas to hold Hood back as long as possible without risking too much, but Schofield pointed out he felt he had already risked nearly too much on more than one occasion. Still, he told Thomas he would do his best. Jacobson characterizes George Wagner as a solid and veteran commander, but he says on November 30 “everything came crashing down”, costing the lives of many soldiers. Wagner, acting on his own according to Jacobson, decided to halt and make a stand at Privet Knob, half way between Franklin and Winstead Hill. He stationed the brigades of Conrad and Lane in this area, just behind the Federal skirmish line.
Emerson Opdycke was a good soldier, but one with a temper, says Jacobson. When Wagner ordered Opdycke to stop and extend Conrad’s line to the west, Opdycke kept his brigade moving and refused to obey orders. Opdycke and Wagner then kept yelling at each other all the way into the entrenchments, where Wagner finally gave up. Opdycke ended up positioning his brigade to the rear of the Federal center, and he would play a big role in the fight to come. Incredibly, says Jacobson, Wagner stuck to his guns and continued to defend this outer perimeter. The division commander also stopped to talk to Jacob Cox, and here Jacobson says Wagner received direct orders that implied he was not to engage the enemy outside of the main Federal earthworks. As Wagner reached the line formed by Conrad and Lane around 3 P.M., Conrad asked if he was to hold this position in case of attack. Wagner said yes and repeated the order to Lane as well, telling his subordinates to hold as long as possible. The unfortunate Wagner left to go to the main line around 3:30, and the men of his division tried to create as much protection as possible by throwing up low earthworks. In addition to the wedge shaped position of Conrad and Lane, Federal skirmishers were thrown out in front of the main line, as previously noted. Jacobson calls the position of this skirmish line “unique” and points out that it has been mostly overlooked by other authors. Apparently Conrad and Lane formed just inside this previously established picket line and sent their own skirmishers to join it. At this point, writes the author, the Federal main and advance lines were set for the impending Confederate assault.
There isn’t too much controversy involved in the march from Spring Hill to Franklin with the exceptions of Hood’s assignment of blame at Spring Hill and of Wagner’s actions on November 30. Hood, it will be recalled, mainly blamed Cheatham for the failed opportunity. I agree with the author that many men shared some blame for Spring Hill, but that Hood as army commander is the man ultimately responsible. As is demonstrated above, Jacobson believes Wagner was acting on his own when he stopped at Privet Knob. This alignment would end up causing potentially disastrous results. I disagree with the author about exactly WHEN Wagner should have withdrawn for good. I believe he made a solid choice to abandon the Winstead Hill line after Whitaker moved off to rejoin Kimball, and to me Stanley made a mistake in ordering Wagner back to the heights. What perplexes me is the decision by Wagner to halt at Privet Knob. I need to look at some of the primary sources and see what the main participants said. If Eric is reading this, he might be able to fill in some of the gaps there with much more authority than me.
Join me next week as I take a look at the actual Battle of Franklin itself. The Confederates who had participated in the charge liked to compare this charge to that of Pickett’s at Gettysburg, and the numbers in terms of the assaulting column and overall casualties do compare favorably. November 30, 1864, was a terrible day in the history of the Army of Tennessee, and it will be interesting to see Eric Jacobson’s coverage of the battle proper. Lastly (and I’ve said this before), anyone interested in detailed tactical studies, in the Army of Tennessee, or in the western theater of the Civil War will want to own this book. You can purchase a copy from the publisher’s web site by clicking on the image of the book at the top of this page.