The Battle of Franklin – John Bell Hood’s 1864 Franklin-Nashville Campaign

This is part two of a three part series on John Bell Hood’s Franklin-Nashville Campaign.  Part one can be accessed by clicking HERE.

Click HERE for animated maps of the Affair at Spring Hill and the Battle of Franklin – Courtesy of the Civil War Preservation Trust!

To see my photo essay, on the Battle of Franklin, click HERE.

The final charges of CSA Major General Frank Cheatham’s Corps were across a wide front, facing the Federal works, south of the home of Fountain Branch Carter.  Division commanders, major generals Patrick Cleburne and John C. Brown, were given the unenviable task of marching across nearly 1 1/2 miles of open ground, with little cover other than the occasional ground swale.  Hood’s order to Cleburne was quite clear:

Form your division to the right of the pike, letting your left overlap the same.  General Brown will form on your left with his right overlapping your left….Give orders to your men not to fire a gun until you run the Yankee skirmish line from behind the first line of works, then press them and shoot them in their backs as they run to their main line; then charge the enemy works.  Franklin is the key to Nashville, and Nashville is the key to independence. – CSA General John Bell Hood’s orders to Major General Patrick Cleburne(i)

Knowing the mission would be nearly suicidal, Cleburne was observed to say, “He would either take the enemy works, or fall in the attempt.”  Upon reaching his division, at Breezy Hill, one of his brigade commanders, CSA Brigadier General Daniel C. Govan, noted that Cleburne was “greatly depressed.”  Upon receiving Cleburne’s orders, to carry the Federal works, Govan saluted and then told Cleburne, “Well, general, there will not be many of us that will get back to Arkansas.”  Cleburne’s rueful response was short, “Well, Govan, if we are to die, let us die like men.”(ii)

The narrative of the Battle of Franklin is full of inspiring stories – and sad stories.  One in particular strikes my imagination.  Young Theodrick “Tod” Carter was the tenth child of twelve that was born to Fountain Branch Carter and Mary Armisted Atkinson.  Born March 24, 1840, in Franklin, he would enter the Confederate service as a private in Company H, 20th Tennessee Infantry, during the summer of 1861.  He was 21 years old.  He would see action at many large battles including Mill Springs, Shiloh, Stone’s River, Chickamauga and during the Atlanta Campaign.  During this time, he would be promoted to captain and would serve on CSA Brigadier General Thomas B. Smith’s staff, as an assistant quartermaster.  He had not been home in over three years.  He would be headed home, in mid November 1864, as John Bell Hood’s Army of Tennessee attempted to flank US Major General John M. Schofield’s army at Spring Hill.  Unfortunately, the Federals would escape with the Army of Tennessee rapidly pushing after them, towards Captain Carter’s home.  The Carter house would become the epicenter of the Battle of Franklin, with its family members, and the Lotz family, hiding in the house’s basement.  Although young Captain Carter’s role as a quartermaster would not place him in the front lines, Carter could not stay behind the lines – after all, he was going home.  He was said to have told a friend, “that no power on earth could keep him out of the battle.”  Mounting his large gray horse, Rosencrantz, Carter would draw his saber and push towards his house, with portions of the 20th Tennessee Infantry.  Pushing rapidly forward, with his sword leading the way, he went down with his horse.  Carter had received two wounds, one of them mortal, above his eye.  He would lay prone on the battlefield for hours, calling for help, with his house little more than 150 yards away.  After the battle, General Smith would ride to the Carter home, looking for Fountain.  Upon finding him, he advised Tod’s father that his son had been wounded and way lying nearby, on the battlefield.  Fountain Carter, and several of his daughters, were able to locate him and carry him on his final “journey home.”  Placing Captain Carter in the family’s parlor, the entire family would be with him when he died, several hours later.  One of his sisters was to have remarked, “Brother’s come home at last.”(iii)

The Battle of Franklin was one of the bloodiest battles fought by the Army of Tennessee.  In little more than four hours, John Bell Hood lost over 6,000 of his soldiers.  Most significant, was the loss of fourteen Confederate generals – six killed or mortally wounded, seven wounded and one captured.  Blood literally flowed along the Columbia-Franklin Turnpike, between the Lotz house and the Carter house.  Unfortunately, the Battle of Franklin is little known and very seldom remembered, even by avowed Civil War buffs.  Much is happening today to save portions of the Franklin Battlefield, and to raise awareness of this sanguinary battle.  Unfortunately, the majority of the ground Hood’s Army of Tennessee crossed, to reach the Federal lines, have been paved over and turned into retail establishments.  However, the memory of the battle will long remain with those who choose to study the battle, and its courageous combatants.

I have included the following battle summary, taken wholly from my other website, BattlefieldPortraits.com, for you to learn a little more about this monumental battle.  Hopefully, like myself, you will become as interested in this battle as I am.  In the next several days, I will provide my readers with a very special treat – an audio interview with the preeminent historian, on the Battle of Franklin, Thomas Y. Cartwright.  It was recorded in the office of the Lotz House, where Mr. Cartwright now leads battlefield tours from.  I’m sure you will enjoy the spirited talk with Thomas, as much as I did.

Battle of Franklin

Location: Franklin, Tennessee
Dates: November 30, 1864
Union Commander: John M. Schofield, Major General
Confederate Commander: John Bell Hood, General (temporary rank)

Battle Summary:

 

On July 22, 1864, US Major General William T. Sherman flanked CSA General John Bell Hood from the fortifications of Atlanta, Georgia.  Each commanding general devised different strategies at this point.  Sherman determined to take the war to the people of Georgia, with his March to the Sea.  Hood determined to take back Tennessee – specifically its enemy held capital – Nashville.  He felt that this move would bring Sherman’s army north and relieve the pressure in Georgia. 

Having his plan approved by Confederate President Jefferson Davis, John B. Hood set his Army of Tennessee, in motion.  First he would move west, to Florence, Alabama, to set up a new supply base.  From there he would cross the Tennessee River, invading Tennessee.  During this time period, Jefferson Davis was concerned with Hood’s grievous losses at Atlanta, and his lack of an overall operational plan.  In order to provide strategic assistance to his field commander, he placed CSA General P.G.T. Beauregard in charge of the entire theater of operations.  While Hood would still command the Army of Tennessee, his superior was now Beauregard.

Poor John Bell Hood.  Bad luck followed him.  Due to issues with the weather, the roads, CSA Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s missing cavalry, his health and his supplies it took him close to three weeks to get his army marching into Tennessee.  On the morning of November 21, Hood started north with his army over icy roads, with blowing snow and sleet hampering their movements.  His destination was Columbia, Tennessee, along the banks of the Duck River.  His soldiers’ morale was high, as they were finally on the move.  It was Hood’s plan that he would catch US Major General John M. Schofield’s Federal army off guard.  Schofield, through the use of his cavalry, commanded by US Major General James H. Wilson, knew that Hood’s Army of Tennessee was on the move.  Unfortunately, Wilson’s cavalry was unable to provide the detailed recognizance necessary to keep Schofield fully aware of the disposition of Hood’s army.  Additionally, as Hood’s cavalry, commanded by Bedford Forrest, was working around Schofield’s left flank, one of Wilson’s primary tasks was to delay, or prevent, Hood’s crossing of the Duck River, at fords east of Columbia.  This caused some fairly significant skirmishing at the Duck River fords, and near Rally Hill, between Wilson’s cavalry and Forrest’s horsemen.

Schofield was now certain that Hood was working around his left flank.  However, his strategy was weak in that he only planned to hold him up north of Columbia.  Meanwhile, Hood’s objective was to get around Schofield, reach Spring Hill, and block his route of retreat.  While tactically well planned, it would not be carried out well.  Confusion was rampant in the Confederate high command, and Hood, suffering from his injuries, was said to medicated with laudanum.  Several tactical miscues, and a lack of communication, would allow all of Schofield’s army to pass by the bivouacked Confederates, at Spring Hill, in the overnight hours of November 29.

Reaching Franklin at first light, John Schofield set to work emplacing his army.  US Brigadier General Jacob Cox’s XXIII Corps would represent Schofield’s left flank.  Cox’s left would be on the Harpeth River, and his right would be near the Franklin Columbia Turnpike.  US Major General David Stanley’s IV Corps would be the right flank Schofield’s entrenched army.  His left flank would connect with Cox’s right flank, and his right would be anchored on a bend of the Harpeth River.  This placement was very defensible and would be augmented by the large batteries at Fort Granger – north of the Harpeth River.  From their position high over the river, the big guns at Fort Granger would offer plenty of support for Schofield’s army.

At first light on November 30, John Bell Hood learned that Schofield had snuck by his position at Spring Hill.  Hood was furious, blaming everyone except himself.  He would quickly put his army in motion, wanting to keep Schofield’s army from reaching Nashville and joining with US Major General George H. Thomas’ Army of the Cumberland.  Reaching Franklin, in the afternoon, Hood found Schofield’s entrenched, and well placed army.  Moving quickly to the offensive, CSA Major General Frank Cheatham’s Corps would form his left wing, while CSA Lieutenant General Alexander P. Stewart’s Corps would represent his right wing.  Additionally, the right wing would be supported by Bedford Forrest’s Cavalry Corps.

US Brigadier General George Wagner’s division was the Federal army’s rear guard in its march to Franklin.  Wagner inconceivably detached two brigades, not as skirmishers, but to hold an advance line in between the two armies.  Commanding these two brigades were colonels John Lane and Joseph Conrad.  Wagner positioned Lane’s brigade on the south slopes of Privet Knob, while Conrad’s brigade was positioned further north, in a unprotected field.  At this point, riding back toward the Federal lines, south of Franklin, Wagner ordered Colonel Emerson Opdycke to extend Conrad’s line.  Having been in the rear guard of Schofield’s quickly moving army, the fiery Opdycke exchanged heated words with Wagner, claiming the ground was untenable and unprotected.  Opdycke kept riding, with his brigade, towards Franklin.  His actions, while insubordinate, would prove very fortuitous for the Federal army.  Wagner’s positioning of Lane and Conrad’s brigades would lengthen the list of Federal casualties at Franklin, and would prove to be of no strategic importance to the battle.  Their brigades, effectively sacrificed, would offer no serious resistance to Hood’s advancing army.  In a futile effort to avoid being flanked, Lane would pull his brigade back, from Privet Knob, to Conrad’s position.  There they set about building some small earthworks to protect them from the advancing Rebels.  They would not have to wait long as CSA Major General Patrick Cleburne’s division soon arrived, and fired from point blank range into Conrad’s brigade.  Lane, observing this, ordered his men into the fray, but their position would become untenable as they were quickly flanked, on the left, by CSA Lieutenant General A.P. Stewart’s entire corps.  It would quickly become a rout, with Lane and Conrad’s brigades rushing pellmell towards the main Union lines.  Unfortunately, Wagner’s advanced placement of these two brigades would prove problematic for the massed Union artillery.  Some artillery positions had to suppress their fire, waiting for the two lone Union brigades to pass from the field of fire, but there were still plenty of Union soldiers hit by the friendly fire.

On came Hood’s two army corps – Cheatham’s on the left, and A.P. Stewart’s on the right.  Cheatham’s Corps had three divisions, commanded by Cleburne, and major generals John Brown and William B. Bate.  Cleburne and Brown’s divisions would attack repeatedly near the Carter house, and cotton gin, while Bate on the far left, would attack the Union right flank, comprised of US Brigadier General Nathan Kimball’s division, of the IV Corps.  Cleburne and Brown’s divisions suffered the most, being opposed by US Brigadier General James Reilly’s division, of Jacob Cox’s XXIII Corps, and portions of Wagner’s Division.  After repeated assaults along their front, portions of Cleburne’s Division would break through the lines on the Columbia-Franklin Turnpike.  Rushing forward pellmell, the Rebels would run headlong into Opdyke’s lone brigade, which would struggle to push them back across the Federal works, and saving the Federal position.  The fighting would rage in this sector for several hours, well after darkness blanketed the battlefield.

On the Confederate right, A.P. Stewart’s corps would approach three well entrenched Union brigades anchored along the Harpeth River – James Reilly’s brigade at the cotton gin, Colonel John Casement’s brigade in the center and Colonel Israel Stiles brigade anchored on the Harpeth River.  Crossing John McGavock’s beautiful Carnton Plantation, they would come under heavy fire from Fort Granger.  A.P. Stewart’s leading divisions, commanded by major generals William “Old Blizzards” Loring, on the right, and Edward C. Walthall, on the left, charged the entrenched Federal brigades.  Stewart’s third division, commanded by Major General Samuel G. French, followed Walthall’s division.  Stewart’s corps quickly covered the 1,000 yards, and were within yards of the Union line, when they ran into a formidable osage orange hedge.  This hedge caused the Rebels much grief as they tried to assault Reilly’s Federal division.  After several attempts to take the U.S. Army position, A.P. Stewart’s attack disintegrated, in little more than an hour.  Sporadic firing, all along the line, would continue until well after dark.  The terrible battle of Franklin was over.

Campaign: Franklin-Nashville Campaign

Outcome: Union Victory

Troop Strengths
Union: 27,000
Confederate: 20,000

Casualties (estimated):
Union: 2,326 (killed, wounded or missing/captured)
Confederate: 6,261 (killed, wounded or missing/captured)

Battle Aftermath:

 

The battle of Franklin was one of the bloodiest battles fought in the Civil War.  With the Confederate casualty rate being over 30%, the battle of Franklin would severely weaken General John Bell Hood’s Army of Tennessee.  Fortunately, only one division of CSA Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee’s Corps would arrive in time to fight at Franklin.  Lee’s fresh troops would be essential at the upcoming battles around Nashville – allowing Hood to extricate himself from the vise George Thomas would squeeze him in.  The infantry casualties only tell part of the ill fated saga of John Bell Hood, at Franklin.  Often compared to CSA Major General George Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg, the attack at Franklin would cover significantly more open ground, with little artillery support, and instead of one charge, Hood would send his infantry into the Union lines five times.  The Confederate general officer ranks would be decimated at Franklin.  Brigadier generals John Adams, Hiram B. Granbury, States Rights Gist, John C. Carter and Otho F. Strahl would be killed.  However, the most grievous loss for the Confederate army was that of Major General Patrick Cleburne.  Cleburne would be killed while leading his men towards the Carter cotton gin.  Cleburne was undoubtedly one of the best division commanders in any Confederate army.  His death would severely weaken the Confederate armies, in the West, for the remainder of the war.

US Major General John Schofield would successfully unite his army with that of Major General George Thomas.  Thomas’s steady leadership and determined offensive would push John Bell Hood’s Army of Tennessee from its namesake state, for the remainder of the war.

(i) Sword, Wiley, The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah: Spring Hill, Franklin & Nashville, published by the University Press of Kansas in 1993, Pgs. 179–180.
(ii) Sword, Wiley, The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah: Spring Hill, Franklin & Nashville, published by the University Press of Kansas in 1993, Pgs. 180.
(iii) Sword, Wiley, The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah: Spring Hill, Franklin & Nashville, published by the University Press of Kansas in 1993, Pg. 261.

About Michael Noirot

I grew up in the Central Illinois farming community, of Dunlap. Growing up, I played sports, tinkered with cars and enjoyed photography. While I did well in school, I did not become passionate about history until my early 30's. I have built a large library, of books on early America, politics and the Civil War. I am an avid reader. Fortunately, I have had plenty of opportunities to travel, over the years, and have been to most of the Civil War battlefields. I work while I travel, so more often than not, I am up, in the middle of the night, to get sunrise pictures, or I will be out until well after dark, exploring Civil War battlefields. I have other hobbies, and passions, that I really enjoy. Number one on the list would be guitar. I play my guitars on a regular basis, and enjoy the Bluegrass, and Contemporary Christian (CCM) genres. I play a style of guitar, called FLATPICKING, where using a flat pick, you play lead solos, similar to the way a fiddle would have been played during the 19th and early 20th Centuries. Laura, my wife, and I also enjoy scuba diving, travel and spending time at our property, in the country. Lastly, we spend as much time with our families, as possible. Thanks for stopping by.
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7 Responses to The Battle of Franklin – John Bell Hood’s 1864 Franklin-Nashville Campaign

  1. Matt Snihur says:

    I live in the Eastern Northern WV in the small town of Charles Town, just minutes from Maryland and town of Sharpsburg outside of the Antietam Battlefield. Most everyone that has taken a history class in grade school has a general idea of what happened at that battle. However hardly anyone today knows what occurred at Franklin on the late November afternoon. It’s tragic and by my standards a disgrace that his Battle has been forgotten and vandalized by these businesses. I have always wanted to visit this horrible place but I feel seeing the destruction caused by these careless businesses would be far too depressing for my taste.

  2. Tom Schultz says:

    I live in southern PA. Growing up my first trip to a battlefield was Gettysburg. I was instantly fascinated. I wanted to know more. Then I got a book by Bruce Catton An illustrated History of the Civil War. It shows 15- 20 battles what feature individual soldiers in action and looks like a miniature layout on someones basement table. Franklin was one of these featured. I wanted to visit each one. Then you find out that not all battlefields look like Gettysburg which has an entire battlefield looking like it did during the battle. and is marked by hundreds of monuments. Franklin like Nashville has almost nothing. There is no battlefield! There are a few houses that were there during the battle. There is hope however. I am very encouraged to see that the battlefield at Franklin is being restored however by literary buying properties one by one, knocking down any buildings and restoring the landscape back into the beautiful greenery it once was. After being totally turned off by these places I would love to visit Franklin now. Keep up the good work.

  3. Grant H. Cole says:

    I became interested in the Battle of Franklin (II) several years ago due to my esteem and admiration of Maj. Gen. Patrick R. Cleburne. “Franklin’s Charge” the “Historic Preservation Trust” and other worthwhile organizations are doing their best to restore as much as possible. This is a tough job. Nearly a century of neglect and civic growth covered much of the field; but there is always hope ! The best we can do is to donate-even small amounts help-to their worthy efforts to restore as much as possible. I haven’t had a chance to visit Franklin, but I’m hoping to before I leave this life. Up to recent times it has been a tragedy within a tragedy, but, as I said, there is hope !!!

  4. Joe Szymaszek says:

    I was fortunate to live in Franklin for four years in my young life. I did not, however, come to fully appreciate what was told to me about the battle until after I left. Now I want to go back so bad to see these places again, and to see where my great great grandfather fought (private with the 25th AR, Reynolds’ brigade of Walthall’s division)

  5. Joe,
    Thank you for your comment. The Battle of Franklin is indeed a very captivating engagement. I appreciate you reading my blog.

  6. Tim Sheets says:

    I was raised in Monroe, Michigan. Home to General George Custer. My second great grandfather, Henry Lewis was the last soldier of the Civil War to ever receive the Medal of Honor. However, my mother was the daughter of a Tennessee coal miner. I have MANY ancestors who fought on the side of the South. So, I have roots on both sides of the civil war. In 1998, I moved to Tennessee. First in Columbia, and now for about 4 years in Spring Hill. I commute through Franklin every day and visit the city often. I must say that though much of this historic battlefield has been wrought with suburban sprawl and modern commercialism, there is still a great deal of history to be found here.

    Much of the massive battlefield is actually covered by post civil war residential homes, and some of it by commercial businesses. However, the Carter House, and about an acre or so (I’m estimating) of it’s land is readily accessible. You can walk the property for free, or get a tour, and visit the interior of the house for a small fee. Hundreds, if not thousands of bullet holes are still quite apparent in the buildings here. Winstead Hill, where Opdycke and Whitaker fought the great Bedford Forrest’s calvary, and likely where John Bell Hood first examined the Union lines at Franklin, is a preserved, historic location with beautifully preserved woods, a very nice walking trail, etc. And lastly, the McGavock home known as Carnton is not only still there, but has incredible tours, at very reasonable prices. The two acres donated by the McGavock’s to bury the confederate dead is something every civil war buff must see. Hundreds of confederate soldiers died here. Many more were treated. “Bucket Rings”, which are essentially the stains from the blood of these brave confederate soldiers having formed around the base of buckets in the makeshift operating rooms, are still readily visible. Also, MANY Generals died in this battle, and most, if not all, were brought to the porch of this stately manner. Come see it and you can rock in a rocking chair on this porch as you consider how hallowed that porch is.

    All this said, I don’t work for, nor have any financial interest in Spring Hill or Franklin. I live in Spring Hill and find it’s history fascinating. But, if you have the chance to visit the area, you really must do so if you are intrigued by the civil war. The battles of Columbia, Spring Hill, and lastly culminating in Franklin are not as famous (or infamous) as others. However, a little research will show you that this is one of the deadliest, costliest campaigns of the war.

    Civil war buffs, you gotta see this stuff.

  7. Tim,
    Thank you very much for the comments. Spring Hill and Franklin are two of my favorite Civil War sites in the country. Much has been done at both locations to preserve what’s left of the battlefields. I will be posting a photo essay of my visit to Franklin later this week.

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