The Top 13 Controversies at Franklin: Part 12

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.

12. IV Corps commander David Stanley received a painful wound across the back of his neck during the fight. First, did Jacob Cox suggest that Stanley leave the field to get his wound dressed? Second, did Stanley really leave the field? Third, did Stanley deserve a Medal of Honor for his role in the Battle of Franklin?

Jacobson covers all of this in an extended discussion on pages 352-353 of for Cause and for Country. Stanley’s horse was killed during the fighting, and as he stood up he was hit across the back of the neck, leaving an extremely painful wound. Apparently at this point Jacob cox suggested he seek medical attention and gave him a horse to do so. At that point, says the author, Stanley rode to the rear. The issue arises due to the lack of this information in Stanley’s memoirs. He insists there that he remained on the field throughout the fight. Jacobson hypothesizes that Stanley may have regretted his decision to leave the field after suffering what was admittedly in hindsight a non life threatening wound and then attempted to cover up his behavior. In Stanley’s defense, he had no way of knowing the wound was not dangerous, and Jacobson specifically points out that even Cox advised Stanley to leave the field and have his wound looked after.

On page 206, Wiley Sword’s account agrees almost verbatim with that of Eric Jacobson. He does not even mention the controversy of Stanley leaving the battlefield, but he also concludes that Stanley left the battlefield to have his wound dressed.

We can conclude then, that Jacob Cox did indeed suggest to Stanley that he retire to a safe place to have his wound dressed, that Stanley agreed to this request, and that the general beyond a shadow of a doubt left the battlefield.

We can infer from the the comments of the authors above (and in other sections of the book) that Stanley really did not have much of a role in the battle. I take from this, then, that Stanley in all likelihood did not deserve the Medal of Honor he was awarded in the 1880′s. I would love to hear the comments of others who are more knowledgeable than myself concerning this subject.

13 Controversies at Franklin


One response to “The Top 13 Controversies at Franklin: Part 12”

  1. Gene Schmiel Avatar
    Gene Schmiel

    Brett, your conclusions are accurate: Stanley did little at Franklin, he did leave the field, and he certainly did not deserve the medal of honor (awarded in 1893 by the way).
    However, within a few days after the battle, to Opdycke’s consternation, Stanley began to claim considerable credit, including not only ordering Opdycke to charge, but also that he “rode at the head of the brigade” (Longacre and Haas, p. 254).
    Over time Stanley and Cox would have several wars of words over these issues – see Stone’s article in “Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, IV, p. 450n, which notes Stanley’s attempt to take undue credit – and the editors’ dismissing of his claims. Cox’s 1897 book on the Battle of Franklin set the record straight, and it seems clear that both Sword and Jacobsson recognize that Cox’s account is accurate. (I found no evidence that Cox was aware that Stanley had received the Medal of Honor).

    Stanley’s final shot in this battle of words was in his autobiography, which, as you note, inaccurately claims he remained on the field. It also contains a series of comments about his colleagues which might make one question his judgment: Of Opdycke he says, he “proved an ingrate and turned against me” and “was a very false man” who “wrote letters to Cox full of lies.” Of Schofield, he commented, that his “fear of politicians had made him play a very low, mean part in many things.” Cox was his favorite target, however. In 1888, after he was rebuffed by the editors of “Battles of Leaders,” Stanley wrote an article in the “New York Sun” which characterized Cox as “the notorious one-term man, a native Canadian, a military tramp, a miserable filcher of reputation.” In his memoirs, Stanley said of Cox, “I could not stand him,” and he wrote that he resigned from an Ohio veterans group after Cox was elected to be its commander.

    By the way, I see that a biography of Stanley is due to be published in July, and it will be interesting to see how that author deals with these and related matters.

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