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.
11. Union Brigade commander Emerson Opdycke suggested after the war that he beat CONFEDERATE soldiers over the head with a pistol at the Battle of Franklin, 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 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.13 Controversies at Franklin
- The Top 13 Controversies at Franklin: Part 1
- The Top 13 Controversies at Franklin: Part 2
- The Top 13 Controversies at Franklin: Part 3
- The Top 13 Controversies at Franklin: Part 4
- The Top 13 Controversies at Franklin: Part 5
- The Top 13 Controversies at Franklin: Part 6
- The Top 13 Controversies at Franklin: Part 7
- The Top 13 Controversies at Franklin: Part 8
- The Top 13 Controversies at Franklin: Part 9
- The Top 13 Controversies at Franklin: Part 10
- The Top 13 Controversies at Franklin: Part 11
- The Top 13 Controversies at Franklin: Part 12
- The Top 13 Controversies at Franklin: Part 13
- The Top 13 Controversies at Franklin: Part 14