The Top 13 Controversies at Franklin: Part 3

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.

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

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.

13 Controversies at Franklin


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