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 those of you interested, after my usual summary I have listed quite a few points on the Battle of Franklin where I compare and contrast Eric Jacobson’s and Wiley Sword’s views. Scroll to the bottom of the blog entry to see this section.
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, especially considering that I will be doing a little comaprison and contrast piece at the end of this blog entry.
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 8: The Devil Had Full Possession of the Earth
Eighteen Confederate brigades, six divisions, almost 20,000 men stepped off at almost precisely 4 P.M., aimed at the imposing Federal breastworks. Interestingly, unit bands accompanied the troops to the front, an unusual occurrence this late in the war. A large number of men on both sides commented on the magnificent display of the entire Confederate Army marching in almost parade ground formation in plain sight for all to see. As this happened, it took ten or fifteen minutes for the Confederates to reach Privet Knob. What little artillery the Confederates had followed along behind, with the majority of the army’s batteries still on the road north with Lee from Spring Hill. The advanced Union brigades of Wagner’s Division under Conrad and Lane now prepared to face Cheatham’s entire corps. As the Confederates advanced, an artillery section with the brigades started to fire into their packed lines. Confederate sharpshooters stationed on Privet Knob harassed this Union artillery. As the Confederates neared, the Union artillery limbered up and pulled back to the main Union line. Not surprisingly, the men of Conrad’s and Lane’s brigades wanted to leave too. These veterans knew it was madness to stay in their exposed position. As Wagner’s men wondered why they were staying put, the 6,500 men of Cleburne’s and Brown’s Divisions approached the exposed Union position while Cheatham directed operations from Privet Knob. Hood, after ordering the attack and seeing it set in motion, watched the battle from the Neeley House. A. P. Stewart’s Corps ran into trouble over on the right, losing formation almost immediately due to rough terrain and obstacles.
As Stewart’s Corps advanced, the Federal rifled guns situated in Ft. Granger got the range and opened fire. Gaps began to appear as the entire Confederate line came into view of the Yankee lines. In those Federal lines, the sudden attack caused some panic but also activity. The Fountain Carter family had stayed in their home along the Federal earthworks, and the Confederate attack was so sudden that they did not have time to leave. Fountain Carter, his extended family, several slaves, and the family of neighbor Albert Lotz, around two dozen people, took shelter in the basement of the Carter House, right on the front line of the coming battle.
As the Confederates formed in front of Conrad and Lane, an aide galloped back to Gen. Wagner and asked that they be allowed to retreat. At the same time, Jacob Cox’s younger brother, one of his aides, approached from the rear. He too told Wagner that he should retreat. Jacob Cox had talked to Wagner only an hour earlier, and he had wanted Conrad and Lane pulled back if faced with any serious Confederate threat. Despite that threat’s arrival, Wagner stood firm and would not budge. Jacobson discusses the possible reasons for Wagner’s erratic behavior and uses a letter from David Stanley nearly twenty years later to postulate Wagner’s use of whiskey that day. He also mentions Wagner’s earlier fall from his horse and his argument with Opdycke as reasons for the odd refusal to retreat in the face of overwhelming odds. I found it a little strange that the author refuted Hood’s possible opium use due to lack of evidence, but brings up the possibility of Wagner being intoxicated based on a single letter, which he admits seems to be second hand in nature, without dismissing this possibility. In any case, Wagner’s refusal to retreat was one of the major controversies of the entire campaign and would figure heavily in the coming battle. Jacobson describes the situation along Conrad’s and Lane’s brigades as a “near mutiny”. Many of the veterans could see Stewart’s Corps to their left and Cheatham’s Corps overlapping their flanks, and they knew they could not hold. Some men tried to run away, others began digging, and all knew they were in for an impossible fight. At about this point, the Confederates halted and shifted into their attack formations. Granbury and Govan formed Cleburne’s front line, while Lowrey’s Brigade was in reserve. Brown placed Gordon and Gist in his front line, with Strahl and Carter in reserve. Bate, forming on the far left, had Jackson and Smith on the front line, with Bullock’s Floridians in reserve. In Stewart’s Corps, French had the far left, just to the right of Cleburne’s Division. Ector’s Brigade was gone guarding bridges, Sears’ Brigade was in front, and Cockrell’s famous Missouri Brigade was directly behind. Soon the Missourians took the lead, however, as will become clear. In Walthall’s Division, the next unit to the right, Quarles and Shelley were up front, with Reynolds in reserve. Loring’s Division over on the far right had Featherston and Scott in front, with Adams’ Brigade in reserve.
Cleburne’s men now charged the brigades of Conrad and Lane. Wagner at the very last moment finally saw the extreme danger his units were in. It is recorded that Wagner told Conrad to retreat if the pressure became too great, and Jacobson assumes that Lane received a similar order. However, by this time the Confederates were so close that Conrad decided to fire off at least a few volleys before retreating in an attempt to stem panic and a possible rout. The author relates that for many of the Federals, this was the defining moment of their lives. As Cleburne and Brown moved on Wagner’s line and other Rebel units started to trickle around Wagner’s flanks, the Federals managed to get off upwards of 8 rounds. However, as soon as Cleburne and Brown slammed into Conrad’s Federal line, the fight was over and a rout and all out flight back to the Union lines began. Lane’s men had seen Conrad’s line disintegrate, and Lane ordered his own brigade to retreat as quickly as possible. Staff officers rode back to Stanley and Schofield with the information that a battle was about to take place. Stanley rode to the front while Schofield moved over to Fort Granger for a better view. Jacob Cox, the line commander, was horrified by Wagner’s decision to stay put. He could see that the Union advanced line would be overrun and that Wagner’s men would shield the advancing Confederates from other Union fire. As a result, Cox alerted Opdycke and his brigade to be ready to move to seal any breach, and he immediately rode to the center of his lines, where he found complete confusion. Fort Granger was already firing on Stewart’s Corps with telling effect. The men of Reilly’s and Strickland’s Union brigades in the center of the line waited as Wagner’s men rushed towards them, their fire blocked by these refugees. If the Confederates got too close without receiving fire, their momentum might win them the battle. Many of Wagner’s men angled toward the opening in the breastworks through which ran the Columbia Pike.
Hood’s attack was pushing forward, but there were delays due to the confusion in the center. Stewart’s Corps had gotten ahead of Cheatham since they had no direct resistance similar to Wagner’s Division in Cheatham’s front. In addition, Bate’s Division on the far left was lagging behind Cleburne and Brown. Cleburne saw that only an immediate concentrated push to take advantage of the confusion caused by Wagner’s retreating men had any chance of breaking the Union line, and he pushed forward relentlessly. The brigades of Casement and Stiles held the far left of the Union line near the Harpeth River. They did not have to contend directly with Wagner’s retreating men and had the added protection of the Osage orange, a thick bush-like tree that formed an almost impenetrable barrier when found in abundance, as it was here in front of the Union line. Due to these reasons, the Federal left was able to inflict severe casualties on the men of Stewart’s Corps. Jacobson believes Cockrell’s Missouri Brigade of French’s Division was the first Confederate unit to reach the Federal lines on this front, outpacing the troops on its left and right, but also suffering horrendous casualties at the hands of Casement. Several of Casement’s regiments had 15 shot Henry repeaters, and combined with the large amount of artillery support, they laid down an incredible volume of fire in the area. Wiley Sword in his book (pg. 225) states that Cockrell’s Missourians were among the last units to attack in this sector, a description which Jacobson calls “erroneous”. Cockrell’s Missourians managed to plant several regimental flags on the Federal earthworks, but they got no further except as prisoners or by being killed moving into the Federal lines. Cockrell himself was wounded four times and had to move to the rear, after which Col. Elijah Gates assumed command. A short time later Gates suffered two broken arms and himself went rearward. The Missourians lost about 60% of the 700 men they took into the battle, the highest percentage loss of any Confederate brigade that terrible day. Walthall’s Division was the next Confederate division in line closer to the Harpeth, with Shelley on the left and Quarles on the right. These men had a two brigade front to work with, but they also had to deal with the natural barrier of the Osage Orange, especially on Quarles’ front. Quarles also had to deal with artillery firing into his right flank. As the Confederates struggled to break through the nearly impenetrable obstruction, the Federals decimated their ranks. Some small gaps were finally opened, but as groups of Walthall’s men ran to the ditch in front of the Northern works, they too were shot down. General Quarles was wounded in the upper left arm and chest, but was actually lucky considering his entire staff was killed. In the end, the men of Walthall’s Division were unable to make any headway and suffered terribly in the growing darkness.
William Loring’s Division was on the Confederate far right, advancing in concert with Walthall. His men faced the same Osage orange and fierce artillery fire as Walthall’s men did, but they also faced some difficult terrain with many elevation changes and a railroad cut of the Nashville & Decatur Railroad. In the front line, Featherston’s Brigade was on the left and Scott’s was on the right. There appears to have been some confusion over which brigade held the far right, but Jacobson weighs the sources and believes Scott’s Brigade held that position. Troops “sheltered” in the cut were fired on with great effect from Fort Granger. The gunners in the fort had an enfilading fire on the railroad cut from their position north of the Harpeth. As the men of Featherston’s and Scott’s brigades moved forward out of the cut, they encountered the Osage orange, but they also had difficulty maneuvering in the narrow space between the Harpeth and the railroad, forcing some men to move west to relieve the congestion. Gen. Scott suffered a concussion and a bruised spine and kidneys from an artillery shell that exploded nearby. Scott’s men pushed around the Yankee left into a railroad cut which the Federals had chosen not to hold. It was a poor decision on the Confederate’s part, as they were ultimately slaughtered by rifle and artillery fire. As Scott’s men streamed to the rear, Featherston’s men tried to push forward one last time to their left. Again some men reached the works, but no breakthrough came close to occurring.
While Stewart was attempting to break the Yankee left flank, Cleburne and Brown pushed forward toward the Union center just behind Wagner’s fleeing men. Most tried to enter the works at the Columbia Pike, but others took the shortest route possible. The Federals behind the breastworks waited as long as possible for Wagner’s men to clear the field of fire, but there were still some Yankee stragglers in their sights as the first volley was loosed. The Confederates had managed to approach to under 100 yards before the Federals could get a clear shot. Hiram Granbury died early in the fight, shot through the head and remaining in a grotesque kneeling position after death. Around this time, Patrick Cleburne also met his maker, shot through or very near the heart. Jacobson comments on Cleburne’s particular willingness to be in the front lines of this fight. He knew it was going to be an almost impossible task to break the Federal lines, and he wanted to go where his men had been ordered to go to share in their risks. Despite suffering extremely heavy casualties, four brigades of Cleburne’s and Brown’s Divisions managed to breach the Federal line in the vicinity of the Columbia Pike, precisely where Wagner’s men had shielded them the longest. The Federal line broke some time shortly after 4:30 according to the author. It was also growing dark around this time which only added to the confusion and chaos the men of both sides found themselves in. The 50th Ohio, stationed just west of the Columbia Pike, soon gave way to Gordon’s Brigade of Brown’s Division, facing the added danger of friendly artillery firing from their rear. George Wagner did his best to stem the rout that he had inadvertently created, urging the men of his division to halt and reform, but despite his best efforts Conrad and Lane were out of the fight. Gist’s Brigade, also of Brown’s Division, pushed into the Locust Grove a little to the west of the Columbia Pike. Gist had outflanked Lane’s Brigade on its right, and now pushed on to the main Federal line. After struggling through the Locust Grove and the abatis, Gist’s men slammed into the 72nd Illinois and 111th Ohio, even though Gist himself had been severely wounded in the chest. Many of the men in the Illinois regiment ran away, but the 111th Ohio held firm. Around this time, Brown ordered his reserve brigades under Strahl and Carter forward, but he was wounded in the leg shortly thereafter. Meanwhile, east of the Columbia Pike, two Ohio regiments had also given way. A large hole had been punched into the Federal line. Battery A, 1st Kentucky, just east of the aforementioned road, was overrun in the panic, but they took their friction primers with them, denying the Confederates the use of their cannon. The 50th Ohio had collapsed first, falling back to the retrenched line and allowing the Confederates to flank the 72nd Illinois to the west. Part of the Illinois regiment had fled, but over half stayed temporarily. This changed when the 44th Missouri, firing from a position in the retrenched line in the rear, started to hit the men of the 72nd in the back. This forced the remainder of the regiment to fall back to the 44th Missouri’s right. At this point the Confederates occupied around 200 yards of the Federal line. A crisis was at hand. Jacob Cox and David Stanley were now both in the middle of the Union line near Opdycke’s Brigade, and they watched as Opdycke’s men went forward to attempt to seal the breach. Fighting swirled around the Carter House, with much hand to hand fighting taking place. The four Napoleons of the 20th Ohio Lt. Artillery held a position along the retrenched line near the Carter Smokehouse, and Jacobson points to this battery’s ability to hold its position as one of the keys to the battle. Opdycke was in the thick of the fight as his men struggled to eject the Confederates from the Union lines, beating several of his own men on the head as they attempted to flee the concentrated carnage. The Southern advance had been blunted, and the Confederates pulled back to the south side of the Union retrenched works. They were now caught in an area where they would be killed whether they advanced or retreated.
As Opdycke’s men stopped the confederate push west of Columbia Pike, the 12th Kentucky, 16th Kentucky, 175th Ohio, and 8th Tennessee regiments of Reilly’s reserve tried to do the same to the east. After the 1st Kentucky Battery and the front line had been overrun, the men of these four regiments moved forward, the Kentuckians in the lead. Several of Opdycke’s Illinois regiments also helped Reilly’s reserves. Some of the Kentucky companies had Colt Revolving Rifles, and the Confederates were exhausted from their long sprint to the Federal lines. To make matters worse, the Confederates had become disorganized and could not present a coherent line to face this new threat. These reserves managed to drive the Confederates out of the Federal main works east of the Columbia Pike. The Confederate breakthrough was growing smaller.
At this point, only 15 minutes after the initial breakthrough and with Confederate momentum gone, the advantage shifted heavily to the Federals. The Confederates remained on the south side of the Federal trenches, trying not to get shot in the process. Around this time, David Stanley was wounded in the back of the neck. Jacobson briefly discusses a minor controversy about whether or not Stanley left the field at this point to have his wound taken care of (the author says he did). Confederates began to give up by the hundreds, but the fighting was not yet over. Lowrey’s reserve brigade of Cleburne’s Division now attacked the same area Govan and Granbury had been over earlier. Over to the east, Sears’ Brigade of French’s Division followed where Cockrell’s Missourians had earlier been decimated. Neither of these units made any headway before retiring. Sears’ men could see that they had no hope of success, a fact which served to demoralize them even more.
Still further east, Reynolds’ Brigade of Walthall’s Division made an unsupported attack, which of course was as unsuccessful as Walthall’s earlier main attempt. George Gordon, still in the ditch with his brigade in front of the Yankee works near the cotton gin, chose to surrender rather than attempt to wait until dark to retreat. Adams’ Brigade, the reserve of Loring’s Division on the far right, could see that Scott and Featherston had made no headway in their initial assault. The men of the brigade spontaneously charged ahead into the Osage orange, deciding to succeed or die trying. After seeing that his men were going to be stopped and mauled if they stayed in the thick obstruction, Adams led his men to an opening further west, galloping his horse toward the Union line. Adams rode directly at the Yankee works, and he and his horse died as a Federal volley slammed into them. Only a few of his men managed to follow him, and they too fell short. As Adams’ attack sputtered out, the fighting died down and Casement even sent out some skirmishers beyond his works. Another minor controversy concerned where Adams was when he fell. One account favored by Confederates had him reaching the Union breastworks, but Federal brigade commander Casement said shortly after the battle and later that Adams had been killed outside of the Federal line. Jacobson appears to favor Casement’s account.
To the west of the Columbia Pike, more fighting occurred. Carter’s Brigade attacked through the Locust Grove on a path similar to Gist’s Brigade before them. Carter, like Gist, took horrific casualties from both rifle and artillery fire. Gen. Carter himself suffered a terrible wound before his men even passed through the locust trees. Carter’s men and those of Gist’s Brigade put severe pressure on the 111th Ohio, almost causing it to break. However, the Ohioans managed to hold with the help of the 101st Ohio and Capt. Patrick Dowling, the inspector general of Moore’s Brigade. Dowling took the 101st and other troops and formed a line protecting the 111th Ohio’s left while at the same time connecting to the western edge of the retrenched line. The Union line had no gaps in this sector from that point forward. Jacobson singles out Dowling’s quick thinking and actions as having been a turning point in the battle. Otho Strahl’s Brigade advanced to Carter’s right, following in the footsteps of Gordon’s Brigade just west of the Columbia Pike. Jacobson calls this “the worst part of the battlefield”, pointing out that the Federal earthworks east of the road could and did enfilade Strahl’s line on its right flank. Strahl was wounded at the Federal main works and he was killed instantly when struck in the head as he was being moved to the rear. As the various Confederate attacks sputtered and died, only the Confederates of Brown’s and Cleburne’s initial assault still held a position inside the Federal main works, hunkered down on the south side of the retrenched Yankee line. Other parts of the Union line had been restored and a severe crossfire was laid down on the survivors. Friendly fire from Confederates hunkered down along the main Yankee line made matters even worse. Men who could no longer stand the terrible situation surrendered to Opdycke’s Brigade in their front. Only William Bate’s Division on the far Confederate left had yet to attack, and he was preparing his men to go in.
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.
1. Why didn’t Hood order up Lee’s Corps and the artillery sooner? Did Lee’s absence affect the eventual outcome?
Eric Jacobson doesn’t necessarily get into the “why” of Hood and his orders to allow this portion of the army to rest on the morning of November 30. However, on page 260 of for Cause and for Country he concludes that Hood would have needed Lee and the artillery “to effectively attempt an assault of this magnitude.” The author later (on page 406) discusses the effect part of Lee’s Corps (Johnson’s Division) did have on the battle. In the darkness, Johnson’s men were slaughtered with no further change in the status of the fight. Although Lee’s other divisions were available, Jacobson believes Hood finally halted the fight because even he realized further attacks were futile.
In The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah, author Wiley Sword also does not cover the “why” as much as what happened once Lee reached the battlefield. He does say (on page 245):
About 4:00 P.M., just as the attack of Cheatham’s and Stewart’s corps was beginning , Stephen D. Lee arrived with the vanguard of his corps from Spring Hill. Following Hood’s instructions of that morning [emphasis mine], Lee had marched his corps to Franklin at a “leisurely” pace. Lee was surprised to find a battle in progress, and later insisted that had he known what was intended, his entire corps could have been present from the beginning. Hood seemed largely unconcerned. He merely told Lee to move forward his leading division, Ed Johnson’s, and thereafter Clayton’s, and be ready to support Cheatham’s attack.
Sam Hood, descendant of the general, had this to say in a comment from the previous entry in this series:
I have nothing to add to your summary and commentary other than to perhaps join Gen. Hood’s critics on one point. Unless Eric has recently uncovered some historical evidence to the contrary, it is curious (and unfortunate for the Confederates) that at some point during the march from Spring Hill to Franklin on Nov. 30 Hood didn’t send word to SD Lee to hurry his infantry and artillery forward…not even at 1-2 PM when the Confederates arrived at Franklin and Hood began contemplating his next move. There is no record that Hood ever tried to get Lee’s Corps to Franklin quicker, so apparently he sent no message to Lee. Again, it is unbelievable (figuratively speaking) that neither did Hood send for Lee, nor apparently did any of Hood’s subordinates suggest it.
From the above sources, all much more knowledgeable than myself, it appears to me that no one really knows why Hood delayed Lee’s march. Possibly he had rested Lee due to his hard march of the night before, not knowing he would be fighting a decisive battle later in the day. By the time Hood got to Franklin and decided on a course of action, it was already too late to undo his earlier orders. As Sam states, though, it is extremely odd that Hood at that point did not order Lee’s men forward quickly after deciding to attack. As for Lee’s effectiveness in the eventual outcome of the battle, in the historical sense the attack of Johnson’s Division did nothing to alter a Confederate defeat. It only added to the casualty lists. The counterfactual situation of Lee and the artillery not stopping to rest, instead moving forward to be used in the 4 P.M. assault, is an interesting one. However, you have to remember that Stewart’s Corps already faced a squeezing effect as his men moved forward. There simply wasn’t any room on the Confederate right and center to add more troops. Lee (or one of the other two corps, with Lee taking their place) would have most likely been used over on the Confederate left, but that would have taken quite a bit of time for the corps to deploy. Time was also a factor in setting up an army wide artillery bombardment. Therefore, in my opinion, Hood simply didn’t have the time to work with on the afternoon of November 30 to deploy three full corps and set up his artillery before it became too dark to do much good. Night attacks in the Civil War were a dicey proposition to begin with, so there were no guarantees of success had Hood chosen this route.
2. Was a flanking move by Forrest (instead of a frontal attack) likely to succeed or even possible?
Eric Jacobson writes (on page 251):
Not one to mince words, Forrest said bluntly that the Yankee works looked impressive and attacking them would be costly. Hood replied, “I do not think the Federals will stand strong pressure from the front; the show of force they are making is a feint in order to hold me back from a more vigorous pursuit.” Forrest responded, “General Hood, if you will give me one strong division of infantry with my cavalry, I will agree to flank the Federals from their works within two hours’ time.”
In the preceding paragraph, Jacobson is just describing what was said between the two generals. Later (on page 253), he states what he believes to be Hood’s true line of thinking that day:
Yet the real reason [to attack frontally] is right there in black and white. It had nothing to do with Hood’s allegation that the men would not attack breastworks, which they had proven they would do. Instead, Hood saw his last true opportunity to stop Schofield slipping through his fingers. From Pulaski to Columbia to Spring Hill the Federals had eluded him. Here was the chance to finish the job.
Although the author does not directly answer this question, it seems clear that he believes an attempt at a flanking move by Forrest would have resulted in Schofield’s escape to Nashville.
Wiley Sword (on pages 178-179) makes the argument in The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah that a flanking attack by Forrest might have succeeded:
Hood announced his decision to make an immediate frontal attack with the extent of the army then present, and asked for comments. Forrest furiously objected, telling Hood that in his opinion the entrenchments could not be taken by direct assault without great and unnecessary loss of life. Hood replied that the Yankees seemed to be only feigning a stand–making a show of force while attempting to hold off a much-feared vigorous pursuit. Still Forrest persisted: “General Hood, if you will give me one strong division of infantry with my cavalry, I will agree to flank the Federals from their works within two hours’ time.”
Sam Hood picks up the slack in his rebuttal of Forrest’s possible use of a flanking march
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 looking over the evidence, I have to agree with Sam on this one. There is no way Forrest, burdened with an exhausted infantry division, could have ever beaten Schofield to Hollow Tree Gap. Wilson’s Cavalry would have sounded the alarm and Schofield, with a wire from Thomas allowing him specifically to do so, would have withdrawn from Franklin and escaped. The chances for trapping Schofield had ended at Spring Hill as far as I am concerned. With that said, it might have been better for the thousands of Confederate casualties if Hood had given Forrest the go-ahead. To be fair, Hood was between a rock and a hard place. To win the campaign, he needed to prevent Schofield from joining up with Thomas’ forces at Nashville, and the only way to do so by the afternoon of November 30 was to attack immediately and frontally. It did not matter that the chances of success were slim. That was not the point. In my opinion, a flanking move by Forrest had no chance to prevent Schofield from reaching Nashville, and hence no chance to win the campaign. Hood’s frontal assault, if successful against long odds, had a chance to force the surrender of a large portion of Schofield’s force, and who knows what might have happened had that occurred.
3. Did an angry John Bell Hood “punish” Cheatham, Cleburne, and their men for their supposed failings when attacking breastworks?
Eric Jacobson for one does not think so. In a rather lengthy paragraph (on page 252), he writes:
It has become commonly accepted that Hood ordered the attack at Franklin out of some fit of rage over what had happened at Spring Hill. There is no evidence that Hood was angry by the time he got to Franklin. Surely he had been upset earlier in the day, especially at the Rippavilla breakfast meeting. But the claims that Hood was still boiling by the time he viewed the Federal works from Winstead Hill obscures the probable reality. John Bell Hood was a fighting general plain and simple. Did he have to attack because of Spring Hill? No. Did he order the assault simply to punish his men? Unlikely. Hood was obviously trying to catch his old classmate Schofield before he could team up with Thomas.
I agree with Eric on almost every point with the exception of one. I think it is highly plausible that Hood was still angry on the afternoon of November 30 despite the lack of evidence. When Hood set out from Columbia on the night of November 28-29, he did so in the belief that he had an excellent chance of bagging Schofield’s force. The feelings Hood had on the morning of November 30 when he discovered that Schofield had slipped away can be imagined. I doubt that these feelings were gone by that afternoon. Personally, that sort of expectation coupled with great disappointment would weigh heavily on my mind. And I think it is further possible that these feelings affected the general’s judgment that day. In another portion of the book, Jacobson theorizes that George Wagner’s odd decision to leave Conrad’s and Lane’s brigades in an advanced, exposed position could have been due to his anger with the earlier verbal altercation with Emerson Opdycke. I see no reason why this situation is any different. Strong emotion affects judgment. Of that there can be no doubt. If Hood was still brooding (or angry or whatever emotion he was feeling), it is entirely possible that it caused him to do something he otherwise would not have done.
With this said, the charge that Hood chose to place Cheatham’s Corps (and hence Cleburne’s Division) in the center of the line as “a severe corrective lesson” seems to be a rather ridiculous one. Incredibly, Wiley Sword seems to make such a claim in The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah. On pages 179, Sword writes:
All arguments [against a frontal assault] were to no avail. Hood had made up his mind. The protestations of of Cheatham and Cleburne perhaps only accentuated their commander’s smoldering resentment over the Spring Hill affair. There is evidence Hood expressed his displeasure over yesterday’s fiasco and may have suggested to Cheatham and his officers that he was concerned about their willingness to manfully fight on an open battlefield. Amid all of the distortions, misrepresentations, and outright falsifications of Hood’s postwar memoir, Advance and Retreat, there was a candid admission of what dominated his reasoning at Franklin:
The discovery that the army, after a forward march of one hundred and eighty miles, was, still, seemingly unwilling to accept battle unless under the protection of breastworks, caused me to experience grave concern. In my inmost heart I questioned whether or not I would ever succeed in eradicating this evil. It seemed to me I had exhausted every means in the power of one man to remove this stumbling block to the Army of Tennessee.
Cheatham, Cleburne, and Brown, in particular, became the focus of Hood’s ire. If not outright punishment for their behavior on November 29th, the assault at Franklin would be a severe corrective lesson in what he would demand in aggressive behavior. It was no accident when he assigned Cheatham’s Corps to make the frontal assaults against the center of the enemy’s formidable fortifications. Brown and Cleburne were posted to the front rank and told to attack along the Columbia Pike, where the Federal lines were the strongest and the ground entirely open.
Alethea D. Sayers has this to say at the web site of Sam Hood, descendant of General Hood,(at http://www.johnbellhood.org/franklin.htm
Many authors and Historians speculate and even outright accuse Hood of the desire to punish his army for the events at Spring Hill. There are no first-hand accounts that indicate this was the case, rather the idea that Hood would wage a battle for this express purpose is absurd. Furthermore, Historians claim that it was no accident that Cheatham’s Corps, and Cleburne’s Division, was to attack in the center of the Union lines. However, they fail to make the point that Stewart’s Corps was in the lead during the pursuit, and it was only logical that it be the corps to form on the right flank of the Confederate line. Additionally, Cleburne’s Division was well known as one of the hardest fighting divisions of the army. It would only stand to reason that Hood might want one of his best divisions placed at what appeared to be the strongest portion of the Federal line.
Sword’s account makes no sense to me. First, I consider the ground Stewart had to cover even worse than that on Cheatham’s front. The railroad cut Featherston’s Brigade found itself crossing was an unseen death trap, as was the railroad cut between the left of the Federal line and the Harpeth River. In addition, Stewart’s men suffered severe enfilading fire from Fort Granger, located just north of the Harpeth River. One last thought immediately springs to mind as well: “Osage orange”. These bush-like, nearly impenetrable trees were located almost entirely on Stewart’s front. Stewart’s men were decimated while trying to hack their way through this obstacle. While it is true that Cleburne and Brown would have faced almost as impossible a task as Stewart did had Wagner not left Conrad and Lane in their exposed position, I contend that Stewart faced more obstacles than did Cheatham. Alethea Sayers’ account above provides one last, simple explanation for the alignment of Hood’s forces. Stewart’s Corps led the way to Franklin. As Ms. Sayers says, it would make sense to have him continue to march to the right and have following troops continue to fill in as they arrived. Otherwise the attack would have taken even longer to set up than it already had because Cheatham would have been forced to move off to the right, and time was not a luxury for Hood on the afternoon of November 30. There is no conspiracy here.
4. If he didn’t punish his men, why DID Hood attack?
Eric Jacobson essentially covers this in his answer to question #2 above:
Yet the real reason [to attack frontally] is right there in black and white. It had nothing to do with Hood’s allegation that the men would not attack breastworks, which they had proven they would do. Instead, Hood saw his last true opportunity to stop Schofield slipping through his fingers. From Pulaski to Columbia to Spring Hill the Federals had eluded him. Here was the chance to finish the job.
I tend to agree with this statement, as I also covered in question #2.
Wiley Sword offers some alternatives to the “punishment” perspective as well. He writes (on page 263):
Hood’s decision to attack at Franklin was essentially an emotional reflex, rooted in his obsession to “prevent the enemy from escaping.” Undoubtedly, he misperceived the nature of the Federal retreat, believing that a demoralized enemy was attempting only to get away without risking battle. Yet equally prominent were such factors as Hood’s physical disability and a draining exhaustion of his mind and spirit. Hood’s frustration following the Spring Hill fiasco caused Stephen D. Lee, the general who seemed closest to Hood, to write after the war, “Franklin was brought about by the great blunder at Spring Hill; there is where the trouble lay and no explanations can evade it.” Also, he blamed Hood’s physical disability, saying that it was doubtful that any soldier so maimed of body should have had such an important command. This want of “physical faculty,” said Lee, “certainly impaired his efficiency as a commander.”
Hood on November 30th was angry, overeager, frustrated, and not reasoning well. His resort to tactics of not firing a gun, but to use the bayonet, was a throwback to Gaines’ Mill. In Hood’s mind failings were often explained in simplistic terms–the want of physical and moral courage. Yet his own failings, and also a vindictive disposition, were masked by his penchant for blaming others.
Worse still, he lacked the competence and ability to learn from his mistakes. The tactical battlefield lessons of the past three years had eluded him. The rifle musket and defensive fortifications had so changed the nature of warfare that to resort to a frontal assault against any sizable number of entrenched enemy troops was little better than mass suicide.
Hood harbored visions of past glory. Disciplined valor had won the day then; a similar attack would ever provide the same result. It was the only way he knew or understood. John Bell Hood was a sad anachronism, a disabled personality prone to miscalculation and misperception. Unfortunately, he was also a fool with a license to kill his own men.
Lastly, Alethea D. Sayers chimes in (at http://www.johnbellhood.org/franklin.htm
Hood himself stated his reasons for risking a frontal assault, saying he would rather fight the Federals at Franklin, where they had only hours to fortify, than Nashville where they had been erecting defenses for three years.
If you can overlook the amateur psychological profile inserted into Sword’s account, there are some interesting things we can take from the above few paragraphs. He, like Jacobson (who perhaps used Sword as a source in this instance), makes the point that Hood may have thought back to the similar situation of Gaines’ Mill. I can see where Hood might have thought a similar result could be won at Franklin. As I discussed in question #3, I also think Hood was not fully over the disappointing result at Spring Hill, even if I don’t agree on the level of anger and frustration Sword says Hood felt. I honestly think his emotional state may have contributed to his poor decision making process on the afternoon of November 30. I also partially agree with paragraph three. The best generals the Civiil War produced were those who evolved as the lessons of previous defeats were learned. Hood had always been an aggressive general, one better suited perhaps to a division level command. I do not think the situation was as bad as Sword says it was, but it is an argument with some merit. The last paragraph of Sword’s above was simply uncalled for, especially the last sentence. Hood was trying to serve his country as well as he possibly could. I highly doubt he was trying to get his men killed wantonly. His situation at Franklin is to me similar to that of Burnside at Fredericksburg in December 1862. After a strategic movement failed to produce results, both generals resorted to a frontal attack, thinking they had no other option, and both attacks resulted in disaster. Of course the Confederates at that late day (and at any date really) could far less afford a disaster the magnitude of Franklin. In conclusion, it makes the most sense to say that Hood probably attacked frontally because he felt all of his other options were exhausted.
5. Why did Wagner decide to stay in an advanced position despite overwhelming odds?
This question is probably the most important one of the entire battle. When George Wagner decided to keep the brigades of Conrad and Lane in an advanced and exposed position far south of the main Federal works, he was doubly courting disaster. First, there was the great possibility that his men would be outflanked and his division decimated. Second, and even worse for the Union cause, Wagner’s fleeing troops would in all likelihood shield Cheatham’s advancing corps from the fire of the Federal forces stationed in the main line, thus allowing the Confederates to get extremely, uncomfortably close to the Union works. It is quite likely that no break of the Union line would have occurred had Wagner withdrawn to the main line when Cox had ordered him to (when the pressure became too great).
Eric Jacobson has several ideas on Wagner’s thoughts and reasoning that afternoon (page 283-284):
It remains unclear what caused George Wagner to behave so erratically at Franklin, but whiskey is believed by many to be the cause. Wagner was a dependable and brave soldier and had never before acted so strangely as he did during the afternoon hours at Franklin. Wagner was exhausted, hungry, and in pain from his fall. If Wagner got hold of a whiskey bottle following his altercation with Opdycke and subsequent conversation with Cox, who knows what effect alcohol may have had on him. The evidence for Wagner’s drinking or intoxication is limited primarily to a letter that David Stanley wrote in 1883 to Marshall Thatcher. In the letter, Stanley is obviously answering a question Thatcher had asked about Wagner drinking at Franklin. Stanley wrote that Wagner was “full of whiskey” and in “vainglorious condition…” It is interesting that Stanley admitted neither he nor Schofield knew anything about Wagner’s alleged intoxication. Whatever the reason for Wagner’s erratic behavior, the entire episode involving the non-withdrawal of his two brigades would be among the most hotly debated topics in the post-wars years.
Obviously Wagner had some things working against him that day. He had already been on high alert all night as the rear guard division for the entire army, and both he and his men (Opdycke’s at least) did not have a chance to eat that morning. The fall from his horse could not have helped the situation either. Like Hood, Wagner may have still been operating under the effects of strong emotion after his war of words with Emerson Opdycke. If the author refutes Hood’s use of opium based on no or flimsy evidence, I think the same should be done here for Wagner. One letter based on admittedly second-hand information should not constitute evidence that Wagner was under the influence of whiskey that afternoon. It is apparent that Jacobson does not believe the available evidence points to any obvious conclusion in the matter.
Wiley Sword has a rather succinct, and entirely plausible, explanation for why Wagner originally decided to hold (page 173):
As he retreated about 2:00 P.M., Wagner, evidently on the spur of the moment, determined to follow the spirit of Stanley’s orders to hold back Hood’s advance to the extent possible. Halfway back across the two-mile valley he ordered Lane’s brigade to halt and occupy the southern slope of a stone-strewn hill on the west side of the Columbia pike, known locally as Privet Knob.
Later, Sword continues (again on page 173):
Evidently, Wagner intended to utilize this line in the same manner that his rear guard had withdrawn: to retreat if pressed by alternately passing his brigades, one behind the other’s deployed front. Since it was not expected by Conrad that they would fight along this line [a little north of Privet Knob, closer to the main Union line], his men were allowed to rest without entrenching.
And finally (on page 175), Sword says:
Wagner , meanwhile, rode to the Carter house, where instead of an anticipated rest he was notified to report to and act under the orders of Jacob Cox of the Twenty-third Corps–the informal commander of the main defensive line.
Wagner wearily reported to Cox in person and explained his earlier orders from Stanley. Undoubtedly he mentioned the Confederate en masse advance and his difficulties with Opdycke. Cox thought for a minute. He had just received Schofield’s orders to withdraw all the troops across the river after nightfall. There seemed to be no reason to change Wagner’s instructions or compel Opdycke to march back and join Conrad’s line. Thus, Cox merely told the Fourth Corps division commander that he should act according to his earlier orders.
From the evidence, it appears that Cox told Wagner that the appearance of the Confederate infantry was in all probability a sham, a deception to convince the Union army they were about to attack, while actually preparing to bypass Franklin by another flanking march. Since little more than heavy skirmishing was anticipated, Cox only added that Wagner should slowly retire his two brigades within the main lines if compelled to do so. The tenor of Cox’s instructions was unmistakable: to hold off Hood so as to allow the Federal army to get away.
Alethea D. Sayers has a little to say on the matter as well (at http://www.johnbellhood.org/franklin.htm
Despite animated pleadings, General George D. Wagner became furious, ordering that the men of these two brigades should be held in their position by bayonet if necessary. Wagner would not have a repeat of Bradley’s rout at Spring Hill. Additionally, it was reported that the Union general had been nipping at the flask through out the afternoon.
As with Eric Jacobson above, I found it interesting that Sayers mentions the possibility that Wagner had been drinking. As I mentioned above in my comments on Eric Jacobson’s views, it seems to me that if you are going to mention Wagner’s drinking based on one credible second-hand source, it is only fair to mention the possibility of Hood’s laudanum use based on similar flimsy evidence. With that said, Ms. Sayers brings up a point that I don’t believe the authors covered. Wagner was probably embarrassed by Bradley’s failure at Spring Hill, and it is possible he wanted to make sure it did not happen again. By the time he realized the Rebels really were going to attack, it was too late to do anything else.
To me all of these various opinions are very interesting. Jacobson and Sayers seem to blame Wagner for the confusion, while Sword places the blame on Cox. In for Cause and for Country, Jacobson discusses testimony from various aides that seems to refute what Sword is saying above. This is one instance where I do not have a strong inclination to agree with one or the other point of view. It seems to me that post-war discussion by participants would be meant to paint themselves and their friends in the best light possible. Cox’s aide also happened to be his brother. Is it possible he altered the facts to paint his brother Jacob Cox in a better light? I would be interested in hearing Eric Jacobson’s take on this situation, as I might be way off base. Perhaps Eric found other sources that all tended to back Cox.
6. Why did the Carter family remain in their house on the front lines?
The simple answer to this question is quite simply, they were told by General Cox to stay put for two reasons. First, he did not believe that Hood would be likely to attack his strongly fortified line. Second, if Carter and his family left and Cox’s headquarters were moved from the house, Cox could not guarantee the security of the house and its possessions. I essentially paraphrased Eric Jacobson’s thoughts on the matter above. Oddly, at least from my examination of Sword’s book using the index, the plight of the Carter family isn’t really discussed. Perhaps this is less of a “main point” than I initially considered.
7. Who broke first, Conrad or Lane?
Eric Jacobson firmly believes it was the former whose brigade broke first. On pages 294-296 of his book, the author reasons that Conrad broke first because his men were positioned slightly ahead of Lane’s brigade. The author examined the ground in question and found that the slope on which Lane was positioned was slightly north of the one Conrad occupied. In addition, the author finds no evidence Cleburne’s Division (facing Conrad) attacked before Brown’s Division (facing Lane).
On page 190-191 of The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah, Sword says precisely the same thing.
As in the case of the Carter House, this turned into a non-issue, at least between these two authors.
8. Cockrell’s Brigade or Sears’: Who attacked first in French’s Division?
I know for a fact there is disagreement between the two authors on this question. Eric Jacobson himself says so in the text of for Cause and for Country. French’s division attacked on a one brigade front. That much is clear. What differs is the order in which these two brigades attacked.
Sears started first, but Jacobson is of the opinion that Sears encountered some of the fleeing soldiers of Wagner’s Union division, delaying Sears and causing Cockrell’s men to take the lead. Jacobson discusses this first in a teaser on page 288, and goes on in great detail why he believes Cockrell’s Missourians moved ahead on pages 302-304. The author gives as his reasons:
1. the fact that Sears’ men encountered Wagner’s troops and Cockrell’s Missourians didn’t
2. Cockrell’s men attacked the very apex of the Union line, thus encountering enemy fire before any other Confederate unit
3. the Missourians of Cockrell’s Brigade suffered the highest percentage of casualties (60%) of any Confederate Brigade on the field
4. some of Sears’ men were able to reform , while those of Cockrell were not
Sword, on the other hand, believes Sears started in front and remained that way. In a rather unclear account from pages 225-229, Sword discusses the roles of both Sears and Cockrell. In a map on page 215, it shows Cockrell’s Brigade behind Sears’ men.
I tend to agree with Jacobson’s assessment in this case. He at least gives some seemingly valid reasons for his take on the fight. This is another discrepancy where it would be interesting to hear the authors directly answer this question and defend their positions.
9. Featherston’s Brigade took massive casualties in a railroad cut from enfilading artillery fire. Was there any way to avoid this?
I thought I’d take a shot at answering my own question before rereading the pertinent passages from The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah and for Cause and For Country. Stewart’s Corps (of which Featherston’s Brigade was a part) already faced a shrinking mass of land over which to attack. In essence, Stewart was moving into the smaller end of a funnel, and it caused his men some serious alignment issues as they advanced. It makes sense, then, to believe that there was no way to avoid the deadly railroad cut without exposing the men to an even longer period of fire before reaching the Federal lines. It was a no win situation in either case in hindsight.
After perusing both books, this is also apparently a non-issue, or at least it was not discussed by the authors. Wiley Sword does not even mention this railroad cut, only discussing the one between the left flank of the Union line and the Harpeth River. Number 9 is not apparently a controversy, similar to 6 and 7.
10. How do both authors describe the death of Cleburne?
Although both authors were obviously not on the field of battle on November 30, 1864, and thus were not eyewitnesses, both have obviously had to rely on the accounts of those who were there. This isn’t a controversy so much as just a simple comparison of the two descriptions. I thought it would be fun to see how two different historians used the same sources to come up with descriptions of this poignant moment in time. In the process, I saw yet another attempt by Sword to get some shots in at Hood.
First, Eric Jacobson (from page 326):
Probably within minutes of Granbury’s horrifying death the Army of Tennessee, and indeed the entire Confederacy, suffered an irreplaceable loss. East of the turnpike, perhaps forty yards from the smoldering Union works, Patrick Cleburne was advancing with his men. Bodies covered the field and acrid smoke hung low in the air, almost hugging the ground. There was utter confusion in almost every direction. Cleburne, with his sword in one hand and his kepi in the other, yelled for his men to keep moving. Suddenly the end came, like a flash through the haze. A single minie ball ripped into Cleburne’s chest and he staggered into the ground. Blood flowed down his chest and he toppled to the ground, sword still in hand. Struck near the heart, Cleburne probably died almost instantly. He had fulfilled his promise to John Bell Hood. The enemy works would be taken or he would fall trying to accomplish the task.
Next, Wiley Sword (from pages 223-224):
About forty yards from Reilly’s works, and nearly in front of the salient at the cotton gin, an ounce of lead, little more than a half inch in diameter and traveling about 1,000 feet per second, found its mark. It was the work of but an instant; a great chasm in Southern history frozen in microseconds. In one shocking moment Pat Cleburne collapsed to the ground, carrying with him perhaps the best hopes of a dying Confederacy’s western army. A lone minie ball had struck just below and to the left of his heart, shredding veins and arteries like tissue paper as it ripped through his body. In a few moments he breathed his last. Pat Cleburne lay dead, his battle saber still grasped firmly in his hand, and his lifeblood soaking the white linen shirt and gray uniform vest with a slowly expanding blotch of crimson. After all the glory and the anguish, it had come to this. 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?
Did you notice how the paragraph slowly changes from a description of Cleburne’s death to a thinly veiled attack on Hood. I sure did, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one. In an earlier section, I presented both authors’ views and described why I thought is was ridiculous to assert Hood “punished” his own men. Interestingly, Jacobson also seems to touch upon Sword’s comment about Cleburne “lead[ing] a suicidal frontal attack like some captain of infantry.” In the very next paragraph immediately after his description of Cleburne’s death, perhaps even as a response to Sword’s quote above, Jacobson says:
As a division commander Patrick Cleburne did not need to be on the front line at Franklin. He seemed to approach the battle with some “wild abandon.” Even Frank Cheatham said years after the battle that Cleburne “was a little more daring than usual…” As an enduring testament of his devotion to the men he commanded, Cleburne refused to have them assault the Federal works alone. At Franklin they would not go to a place he was unwilling to go.
In any case, Cleburne’s death was a blow to the Confederacy, both in the immediate tactical circumstances and in the months to come. One could argue, however, that the outcome of the war was already decided by late November 1864, especially given the results of the recent presidential election.
11. Opdycke suggested after the war that he beat CONFEDERATE soldiers over the head with a pistol, rather than just his own Union stragglers. Was he telling the truth?
I decided to include this point after reading one of Eric Jacobson’s footnotes on page 343 of for Cause and for Country. In the footnote, Jacobson concludes:
Much has been said about Opdycke breaking his pistol over the heads of Rebel troops. This story was concocted by Opdycke after the battle when he was seeking promotion. In a letter written soon after the battle, Opdycke said he broke it over the heads of Federal soldiers. This version is corroborated by Scofield in The Retreat From Pulaski, see p. 38. Read footnote No. 10 on page 252 of the Longacre and Haas book to see how Opdycke’s story evolved.
That seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it?
Sword, of course writing a decade earlier, doesn’t seem to have known about Opdycke’s forged claim (from page 203):
Opdycke, now dismounted, was in the midst of of the fighting, firing his revolver until the barrel was empty. Quickly reversing his pistol, he grabbed it by the barrel and violently swung with the butt at the heads of the enemy. When the cylinder wedge came out and the barrel fell off, Opdycke grasped an abandoned rifle musket and began bludgeoning the enemy with it.
Sword quotes as his source A History of the Seventy-Third Regiment of Illinois Infantry Volunteers (Springfield, IL, 1890), pages 444 and 463, and also quotes Opdycke’s September 1866 letter held at the United States Army Military History Institute. If anyone has copies of these sources or knows if the 73rd Illinois’ regimental history is online somewhere, I’d love to hear from you.
It seems that Jacobson has reliable evidence that Opdycke fabricated the tale. I do not currently have access to any of the sources described above, so I’m going to have to provisionally go with Jacobson on this one until someone comes up with a good reason for me to do otherwise.
12. David Stanley received a painful wound across the back of his neck during the fight. First, did Jacob Cox suggest that Stanley leave the field to get his wound dressed? Second, did Stanley really leave the field? Third, did Stanley deserve a Medal of Honor for his role in the Battle of Franklin?
Jacobson covers all of this in an extended discussion on pages 352-353 of for Cause and for Country. Stanley’s horse was killed during the fighting, and as he stood up he was hit across the back of the neck, leaving an extremely painful wound. Apparently at this point Jacob cox suggested he seek medical attention and gave him a horse to do so. At that point, says the author, Stanley rode to the rear. The issue arises due to the lack of this information in Stanley’s memoirs. He insists there that he remained on the field throughout the fight. Jacobson hypothesizes that Stanley may have regretted his decision to leave the field after suffering what was admittedly in hindsight a non life threatening wound and then attempted to cover up his behavior. In Stanley’s defense, he had no way of knowing the wound was not dangerous, and Jacobson specifically points out that even Cox advised Stanley to leave the field and have his wound looked after.
On page 206, Wiley Sword’s account agrees almost verbatim with that of Eric Jacobson. He does not even mention the controversy of Stanley leaving the battlefield, but he also concludes that Stanley left the battlefield to have his wound dressed.
We can conclude then, that Jacob Cox did indeed suggest to Stanley that he retire to a safe place to have his wound dressed, that Stanley agreed to this request, and that the general beyond a shadow of a doubt left the battlefield.
We can infer from the the comments of the authors above (and in other sections of the book) that Stanley really did not have much of a role in the battle. I take from this, then, that Stanley in all likelihood did not deserve the Medal of Honor he was awarded in the 1880’s. I would love to hear the comments of others who are more knowledgeable than myself concerning this subject.
13. John Adams and his brigade were being slaughtered as they attempted to cross the Osage orange barrier. 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?
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.
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?
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.
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 above and want to chime in, I encourage you to do so in my comments section of this blog entry.
In next week’s (hopefully) second to last entry on for Cause and for Country, I will be looking at the attacks of Bate’s Division and also those of Johnson’s Division, which had been the first of the forces from Lee’s Corps to arrive. In the last entry several weeks from now, I’ll finish up the book and give my concluding thoughts.
Part 1 – Part 2 – Part 3 – Part 4 – Part 5 – Part 6 – Part 7 – Part 8 – Part 9 – Part 10
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