The Top 13 Controversies at Franklin: Part 10

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.

10. How do both authors describe the death of Confederate Division commander Patrick 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.

13 Controversies at Franklin


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