Battle of Franklin
(November 30, 1864)


This battle of Franklin is considered by many to have been the greatest mistake of a useless campaign--the blunder of a great blunder. It followed upon the very stubborn, though brief, contest at Spring Hill the day before, and resulted in a loss so dreadful as to amount to a massacre. Over six thousand Confederate soldiers were killed, wounded, or missing; and the number of general officers killed was greater than at any battle of the war on either side, including Pat. Cleburne, Major-general Patrick Ronayne Cleburne, one of the bravest soldiers the war produced on either side, was also one of the most dashing and yet most prudent officers in the Confederate army

A Major-general commanding a division, at the head of which he fell at Franklin on that memorably bloody day--November 30, 1864--when so many of Tennessee's sons gave up their lives for her freedom. He was one of thirteen general officers killed or wounded at that battle; and Lieutenant-general Hardee, the commander of his corps, declared that "his fall was a greater loss to the cause than that of any other Confederate leader after Stonewall Jackson. .

The Federals fought behind three lines of breastworks, and with the spirit of desperation. The chagrin and mortification of the Confederate corps and division commanders at the escape of the Federals under Stanton at Spring Hill, and the fact that Schofield stole past the wearied and worn troops and got into Franklin in time to unite with that officer and make disposition for the coming contest, inspired them and their troops with something of the same spirit, and the result was a fight--a hand-to-hand fight--unparalleled by any thing in the war annals of America. General John C. Brown's division captured and held part of the intrenchments on the right of the Federals, but the attempt by the other divisions to follow his example resulted in the slaughter of the brave men who pressed to the attack with a dauntless courage that must have challenged the admiration of their opponents.

When they first entered the fight in the afternoon of the 30th of November, 1864, it was with all the seeming of the pomp and parade of a gala day. They were formed on the plane at the foot of Winston's Hill, and took up their positions with the deliberation of a well-ordered parade, and when they were ready moved with the steadiness of veterans, the alignment being such as to excite old martinets to something like enthusiasm. Their march has been well described as a pageant, such were their precision and steadiness, on one of the most beautiful and exhilarating days of the year. The air was thin and the atmosphere unusually clear, so that every regiment and battery was easily distinguished.

Not a shot was fired until the troops were upon the enemy, who, quickly recovering from a panic precipitated by the well-directed attack of the Confederates and from the well-timed effort of General G. W. Gordon to take advantage of a break in their lines on the pike, held their positions in spite of the repeated and desperate efforts to dislodge and capture them. The bloody contest--waged for hours--was prolonged far into the night, and firing only ceased toward midnight, when the survivors, utterly worn out, threw themselves upon the ground, and slept in the positions in which the battle left them.

The Federals, taking advantage of the cover of night, "silently stole away." They crossed the Harpeth, and moved rapidly into Nashville. The Confederates held the field. They had achieved a victory at an awful sacrifice of life; and thus ended the most dreadful of the bloody battles fought during the civil war--the dearest purchased in point of numbers lost that there is any record of.

General "Joe" Johnston, defending the Army of Tennessee from the aspersions of General Hood, "who ascribed his invariable defeats to their demoralization," says: "Their courage and discipline were unsubdued by the slaughter to which they were recklessly offered in the four attacks on the Federal army near Atlanta, as they proved in the useless butchery at Franklin."

General Beauregard says of the battle of Franklin that "it was a bard-fought battle, but withal a barren Confederate victory."

General "Dick" Taylor says of Franklin: "This mistake may be ascribed to Hood's want of physical activity, occasioned by severe wounds and amputations, which might have been considered before he was assigned to command. . . . It is painful to criticise Hood's conduct of this campaign. Like Ney--'the bravest of the brave'--he was a splendid leader in battle, and a brigade or division commander unsurpassed."

In the "Campaigns of General Forrest" it is said that "General Hood was of the belief that the main Federal force was already in rapid retreat, and that the apparent defensive preparations were merely counterfeit, with the view of gaining time to secure their retreat. This conviction he expressed to General Forrest when that officer reported the formidable military resources with which the position bristled. His determination, therefore, was to defeat it by immediately storming the place rather than to turn it. . . . At this day it is scarcely necessary to point out how General Hood could have manifestly gained his purpose better than by storming the position by a very short detour."

Mr. Jefferson Davis, in his "Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government,"says that "Hood reports that 'the nature of the position was such as to render it inexpedient to attempt any other flank movement, and I therefore determined to attack him in front and without delay."

Mr. Davis, commenting on this, says: "It is not quite easy to determine what my gallant friend Hood meant by the expression, 'The nature of the position.' . . . Franklin had to us, as a mere military question, no other value than that the road to Nashville led through it. . . If he [Hood] had, by an impetuous attack, crushed Schofield's army without too great a loss to his own, and Forrest could have executed his orders to capture the trains when Schofield's army was crushed, we should never have heard complaint because Hood attacked Franklin; and these were the hopes with which he made the assault."

The next morning, after burying the dead and providing for the wounded of both armies, Hood moved forward to Nashville, Forrest with his cavalry being in the advance and close upon the heels of the enemy. Hood took position about two miles from the city, and commenced the construction of defensive works to protect his flanks, the enemy being in possession of Murfreesboro, Chattanooga, and Knoxville.

General Hood, unmindful of the illimitable resources of the North, "supposed that General Thomas would soon have to take the offensive to relieve his garrisons at those points, or cause them to be evacuated, in which latter case he hoped to capture the forces at Murfreesboro, and thus open communication with Georgia and Virginia; and he thought if attacked in position that he could defeat Thomas, gain possession of Nashville with its abundant supplies, and thus get control of Tennessee."
Jefferson Davis's "Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government."

Acting on this view, he ordered General Forrest, with his cavalry and Bate's division of infantry, to move against Murfreesboro, and afterward reenforced them with Sear's and Palmer's brigades. This expedition resulted in the capture of a supplytrain with two hundred thousand rations and many prisoners; but Forrest was unable to dislodge the enemy, who, in turn, was unable to prevent him, with never more than three thousand five hundred men, from capturing and destroying sixteen blockhouses, twenty railroad bridges, thirty miles of railroad, four locomotives, one hundred cars, one hundred wagons, and capturing one hundred thousand rounds of ammunition, two hundred thousand rations, and nine pieces of artillery.

The battle of Nashville was the last great effort of men fighting for their homes, and it was an effort worthy of the name and fame they had made from the bleak, cold days of Forts Donelson and Henry, in 1862, when they first encountered the enemy upon their own soil, down to the dreadful slaughter at Franklin. Years of discipline, of trial, of hardship, of march and camp, of skirmish and battle, had made them veterans, and they went to the work of death under the shadow of the capital and within sight of its pleasant homes with all the dash and spirit of troops closing a successful campaign. Their ranks wasted, they did not hesitate to encounter an army of double their number, inspired by frequent and recurring successes, and fighting under cover of massive works. But they in vain threw themselves again and again upon the enemy, and with desperate valor encountered charges of soldiers commanded with consummate skill. Though led by some of the bravest and ablest officers in the Confederate armies, and fought in the most skillful dispositions it was possible to make, they were compelled to give way.

"The troops of the Tennessee army," said General Joseph E. Johnston in one of his dispatches to General Beauregard during the final campaign in North Carolina in March, 1865, "have fully disproved the slander that has been published against them." And to this Romain, in his "Military Operations of General Beauregard," says: "Such well-deserved testimony in their behalf must have been most gratifying to their old commander, who, having so often tested their mettle, knew that even at this dark hour of our struggle, and after they had been so hardly tried, there were no better troops in the Confederate service." They retreated precipitately across the State under the cover of the cavalry commanded by General Forrest, the greatest of Tennessee's soldiers, and harassed by the victorious Federals, they crossed the Tennessee River and dispersed. Weary and footsore, the most favored of them but scantily clad, they had left their bloody tracks in the muddy road, the Arctic-like winter increasing their sufferings at every step. Thus the soldiers of Tennessee closed on the banks of the Tennessee River a campaign of four years, as they began it on the Cumberland, amid rain and sleet and snow. But, though filled with gloom and depressed by defeat, they still nursed a spark of hope. Beaten, baffled of their purpose, routed and dispersed, they could not believe that all was lost. To the last they were full of the ardor, enterprise, push, and spirit that a hundred years before had signalized their forefathers under Braddock in the "country of the Illinois," at Heaton's Station and King's Mountain, at Nick-a-Jack, and later at Emuckfau, the Horse-shoe, at New Orleans, in the jungles of Florida, at the Alamo, and in Mexico. The heroism of the Volunteer State never shone more conspicuously than during that last effort of her soldiers to recapture the capital; and the superb endurance and moral courage that have signalized our race in all ages were never so sternly tested as on that bleak December day when the Army of Tennessee turned its back forever upon the soil it was mustered to defend. Nashville sits more proudly than ever upon her many hills. No frowning fortifications threaten nor soldiers menace her. The busy hum of industry attests the supremacy of order and of law. The happy husbandman proclaims the permanency of peace. Every-where right, not might, prevails. The Union is restored. But love lingers on the fields consecrated by the best blood of the State. A generation of men have come upon the stage of life since that fateful winter of 1864, and the labor of many hands, multiplied by the passing years, has wiped away every trace of the awful carnage, the bloody atonement of the people; but the story of the Army of Tennessee still lives--it has found an enduring lodgment in every home; and as the years recede it will pass from lip to lip a thrilling memory that cannot die. It will live forever, and inspire other generations to emulate the patriotism of the men who fought in the war between the States.


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