The Top 13 Controversies at Franklin: Part 2

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.

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 Hurrahthat 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.

13 Controversies at Franklin


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