for Cause and for Country: A Study of the Affair at Spring Hill and the Battle of Franklin, Part 7

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

for Cause and for Country

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519 pages!

plus shipping
519 pages!

Last time (almost a month ago, time flies!) we were looking at the build-up to Franklin. In this lengthy two-part (Tuesday and Thursday) entry, we are going to discuss the Battle of Franklin itself, focusing specifically on how Eric Jacobson’s interpretation of the battle differs from that of Wiley Sword. The author’s chapter on the Battle of Franklin is over 100 pages long, so this blog entry is going to correspond to that length accordingly.

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 7: We Will Make the Fight

Hood reached Winstead Hill south of Franklin around 2 P.M. according to Jacobson. Others placed him there as early as 1, however. Forrest argued with Hood around this time about the possibility of a successful attack, urging Hood instead to allow Forrest to try to get around Schofield’s flanks. Sam Hood has already shown in several comments made in earlier parts of this extended look at Franklin that Forrest’s suggestion was not very practical. If Forrest had attempted to flank Schofield again, in all likelihood the Northern commander would have simply used Wilson’s Cavalry Corps to blunt the thrust while moving as quickly as possible in the direction of Nashville. Jacobson does not believe in the theory of Hood’s predilection for frontal assaults. Instead, he uses a passage from Hood’s memoirs to show that Hood felt this was simply his last chance to stop Schofield before he reached Nashville. In addition, the author disputes the notion that Hood ordered the attack to “punish” his men or generals, and states that he does not necessarily believe Hood was angry by this point in the day. Jacobson believes Hood chose to attack with a sober, clear mind, but he chastises the general all the more for making an obviously poor choice after he saw how strongly entrenched the Federals were. Cheatham and Cleburne both saw what was confronting the Army of Tennessee that day and neither felt particularly confident of success. Hood held a meeting at the Harrison House in the early afternoon, with at least Hood, Cheatham, Cleburne, and Forrest present; A.P. Stewart was not apparently there. Hood’s generals universally felt that they could not take Franklin, but Hood persisted in his conviction that this was the best available choice. The commanding general’s explanation was that the ground all around Franklin was flat, and any flanking attempt would simply lead to Schofield’s withdrawal from Franklin and march to Nashville, similar to what his descendant wrote above. In any case, the attack would proceed as planned. Stewart’s Corps formed the right of Hood’s line from the Harpeth River almost to the Columbia Pike, with Loring, Walthall, and French from right to left. Cheatham’s Corps formed the right, with Cleburne, Brown, and Bate from right to left. Forrest’s Cavalry formed on the flanks, but Lee’s Corps and the majority of the army’s artillery were still en route from Spring Hill. Jacobson criticizes Hood for his setup of Stewart’s Corps. As Stewart’s divisions approached the Federal works, the Columbia Pike and the Harpeth River would gradually act as a funnel and cause these units to get in each other’s way, a serious development in this age of linear warfare. The author believes this is something Hood could have easily avoided simply by consulting a map. Hood also faces criticism for failing to allow almost all of his artillery and fully one third of his infantry to reach the field of battle. Lastly, Bate’s Division took time to move past Winstead Hill on the far left, and the author believes that Bate would have been better used to support Brown either immediately behind him or en echelon. I agree with the first and third criticisms, but I can see good points on both sides as far as the availability of Lee’s Corps and the artillery goes. If Hood had allowed time for Lee and the artillery to come up, he would not have had time to make an attack that day, and Schofield would in all probability made good his escape. However, if you remember from earlier reading, Hood had allowed Lee time to rest at Spring Hill. If he had instead had his last infantry corps push on with the artillery, Lee might have been in a position to affect the final outcome. As the men in the ranks were forming, Patrick Cleburne rode forward to Privet Knob, and what he saw made him ride back to Hood for one more talk. Cleburne wished to form his men in column of brigades to be able to more quickly penetrate the Union defenses, a wish that Hood granted. Based on first hand eyewitness evidence, the author believes that Cleburne was extremely despondent, knowing what was coming. It took the Confederates about an hour to form up, and many were able to see the difficult fight they had coming. Meanwhile Schofield had moved into the Truett House north of the Harpeth River, and his second in command David Stanley joined him there. Jacob Cox, as stated elsewhere, would be in tactical charge of the Union line. Amazingly, Thomas had just that afternoon asked if Schofield could stop Hood for three more days! Schofield wired back the true situation to Thomas and also mentioned that there were reports of Confederate efforts to cross the Harpeth River on his left flank. Thomas finally consented to a withdrawal back to Brentwood, but by that point, Hood’s attack was set to begin. It was four o’clock in the afternoon on November 30, 1864. Many were about to die.

Jacobson, in what appears to be a concentrated effort throughout the book to do so, attempts to view Hood’s decisions as fairly as possible and without hindsight. I am finding that he is succeeding admirably at this task. The author’s criticisms of Hood’s decision to attack are free from hearsay and rumor. He looks over Hood’s choices, and although concluding that the general’s choice to assault frontally was poor, he at least gives some plausible reasons WHY Hood decided to do what he did. Attempts to “punish” Cheatham and Cleburne are left out as unfair criticisms and ones lacking in credibility. Likewise, Jacobson provides an interesting assessment of Hood’s tactical handling of Stewart’s Corps and Bate’s Division. Rather than allowing Stewart to be funneled into a tight space by the Harpeth River and the Columbia Pike, perhaps Stewart could have withheld one division and used it as a reinforcement for the others. I found it slightly odd that Jacobson did not mention this possibility in the text, especially considering that he suggests a similar supporting role for Bate’s Division within Cheatham’s Corps. The optimism or pessimism of the Confederate Army prior to the attack is a subject of much interest to me personally. In the aftermath of a failed fight, people can, will, and do feel depressed. What is more interesting are the views of the men asked to make a desperate attempt BEFORE that fight occurs. From the tone of Jacobson’s text, I get the sense that the men of the Army of Tennessee were for the most part troubled by what they saw in front of them. One last comparison that the author makes intrigued me as well. He goes back to Hood’s attack at Gaines’ Mill during the Seven Days in June 1862 as an example of a successful frontal assault launched late in the day. Perhaps, says the author, Hood was drawing on this successful attack as an example of success under these circumstances. It is an intriguing analogy, though the Confederates at Gaines’ Mill were backed by plenty of artillery and the defending Federals had already been softened up by plenty of earlier attacks. The next chapter deals with the Battle of Franklin proper, and it will be interesting to see how this book differs from Sword’s. I will try to pay careful attention to how the two authors’ views of the fight compare and contrast.

I plan to do another entry on Thursday or Friday morning covering the rest of this week’s content. Sorry for the delays, and thanks for reading.

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