The Top 13 Controversies at Franklin: Part 1

Editor’s Note: After I’d posted my recent comments on Lee’s possible endorsement of John Bell Hood for army command in 1864, I started going back over a lengthy nine or ten part series I did on Eric Jacobson’s book For Cause & for Country: A Study of the Affair at Spring Hill and the Battle of Franklin.  I had totally forgotten about one of the longest entries, part 8 of the series, in a portion of which I spent comparing/contrasting what Jacobson and Wiley Sword, author of The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah: Spring Hill, Franklin, and Nashville, had to say about some of the numerous controversies at Franklin.  I dusted off this old piece of writing because I thought it might be interesting to readers who have read or who plan to read Stephen M. Hood’s new book, John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General.

Without further ado, here is only a portion of Part 8 in the Jacobson series.  You’ll note that I had a lot of time on my hands in those days, when I was single, without children, and with a job I could leave on Friday and not think about again until Monday morning.  I’ll cover 13 controversies of Franklin in this new series, often in more detail than should probably fit into one blog post.  The entire series will appear at the bottom of this and ensuing posts over the coming weeks.


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.

13 Controversies at Franklin


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