The Battle of Franklin
Kentuckian John Bell Hood was the youngest of the full Confederate Generals. When promoted to Commander of the Army of the Tennessee on July 17, 1864, he was very likely addicted to painkillers such as opium, paregoric, laudanum, and morphine sulfate. All this heavy dope was widely available to officers during the Civil War. He was in constant pain; his arm had been severely wounded at Gettysburg, and he subsequently lost a leg at Chickamauga, so that he had to be strapped into the saddle. While Sherman burned his way to the sea unopposed, General Hood gathered 40,000 troops in Florence Alabama with a desperate plan. He would march his soldiers through middle Tennessee, hopefully picking up more recruits along the way. First, he would smash Schofield's army of 30,000 which was marching north from Pulaski, and then move on to Nashville to take on General Thomas. The idea was absurd but these were desperate times. Nashville had been captured almost three years previous. The city served as the supply depot for the ongoing Union thrust into the Confederate heartland and was extremely well fortified. If Schofield's army could make it to Nashville, they would have a combined force of over 60,000 men. So if this plan was going to work, Hood could not let that happen. One quarter of his soldiers were virtually barefoot, but if he could fight the two armies separately and whip them before they joined, he could march unchallenged to the Ohio and then turn east to join Lee in the defense of Richmond. Of course, from there they could march on Washington! He was thinking big.
On the way north through middle Tennessee during this campaign, Irish General Patrick Cleburne stopped at a church in Maury County, and was heard to make an odd comment at the cemetery of Saint John's Church to the effect that, "it is almost worth dying for to be buried in such a beautiful place." This was over three years into it and the war was getting old. Even the vets, maybe expecially the vets, were getting exhausted. Cleburne had recently proposed drafting black slaves into the Confederate Army in return for their emancipation, a move he felt would simultaneously increase the size of the army and silence abolitionist support for the Federal war effort. The proposal caused quite a backlash in the south and influenced President Jefferson Davis to select J.B. Hood over Cleburne to lead the Army of Tennessee. It had already been said of Hood that he had the heart of a lion and a head of wood. At Franklin he would have his chance to prove the latter.
Forrest's men reached a road junction of the Columbia Pike minutes before Schofield's advance units at Spring Hill, and skirmished with Wilson's Federal cavalry. Being low on ammunition, he pulled back. Other units had contact with the Federals as well, and Hood's army had arrived in time to cut off the Federal retreat, but because of some mix up in orders, the Rebels failed to establish their lines across the Pike; they simply posted pickets and called it a night. It had been a very long day. General Hood had even fallen off his horse. The Federals could not believe their luck as they tip-toed on past the Rebel camps. toward Franklin.
Hood apparently thought the gap was closed for the night and that the Glorious Battle of Spring Hill would be fought in the morning. Although he never really took responsibility for it, in neglecting to obtain a clear understanding of what was actually happening before retiring, General Hood allowed Schofield's entire army, a seven mile long affair, to pass toward Franklin unmolested. Confederate campfires were so close to the road that some Federal soldiers wandered over to them to light their pipes and were captured. Others were simply turned back toward their friends. At breakfast the next morning, after realizing that the Union army had passed by his men during the night, Hood was absolutely pissed and blaming everyone. As one Texas lieutenant remarked, "The most charitable explanation is that the gods of war injected confusion into the heads of our leaders." The ailing General hustled everyone off to Franklin where his old roomate Schofield was already well entrenched on the high ground south of the Harpeth River. Captain Schofield would eventually rise to commander in chief of the US army, (1888-1895) but his ambitions were more immediate. On this bright November morning, all his attention was directed to the task of protecting his position until he could safely get his army north of the Harpeth and join with General Thomas at Nashville. His men had been at work since dawn extending and enlarging the earthworks which had been prepared in previous years and they were in an excellent defensive position befor noon. Schofield was being cautious now because he could not believe his luck at having slipped by the enemy in the dark with a seven mile parade of men, mules and squeaky wagons.
Arriving at Winstead Hill to the south of town, the Confederate troops saw the Harpeth Valley spread before them. Two miles of flat field, cleared of obstructions, lay between them and the Yanks who were more than ready behind breastworks on the high ground south of the River. Over sixty pieces of artillery were dug in and pointing south. Hood was determined to prevent the two Federal armies from joining, but unfortunately, he was too late. This combined with his stubborness would prove to be catastrophic. He lowered his field glasses and said, "We will make the fight." His officers could not believe it. General Cheatham, rarely sober, was the first one to speak up and say, "I do not like the looks of this fight. The enemy has an excellent position and is well fortified." Nathan Bedford Forrest expressed that the plan was futile and offered to flank the Federal left. As if to say, "No, that is what they expectus to do," Hood insisted on a frontal assault against the Federal breastworks and was in no mood to hear anything else. Cleburne and various other generals expressed that this would lead to a needless loss of life. Hood insisted that the men were in need of discipline, that they had been spoiled by previous commanders and should not be intimidated by the Federal trenches and massed artillery. His final orders were, "Drive the enemy from his position into the river at all hazards." Frontal attacks of well defended positions on high ground had resulted in disaster again and again during the Civil War. The new weaponry was much more accurate and deadly at a distance and made a terrible mess of men employing tactics which were designed for the days of muskets and flintlocks. Hood had already seen this repeatedly, but his mind was conditioned by his own luck at beating the odds in Virginia and the honor that was accorded him for these exploits. He had also been there for the debacle of Pickett's charge. The young macho General on too much heavy dope would have been better served to flank the entrenchments. Forrest suggested it and Schofield expected it because it was really the only move that might have effectively given them a chance for victory. In the end, the Army of Tennessee was practically destroyed. 6,252 Confederate casualties to the Union's 2,326. In four hours Hood had lost more men than had died on both sides at Shiloh, more than Burnside had lost at Fredericksburg. Half of Hood's regimental commanders, fifty-four, were killed, and thirteen generals. The slain lay seven deep in places near the breastworks. General Patrick Cleburne had been shot through the heart, and was temporarily interred in the cemetery of St. Johns which he had so admired just a few days earlier. The holocaust at Franklin essentially ended the war in the western theater. As Private Sam Watkins from Columbia Tennessee wrote, "The death-angel was there to gather its last harvest. It was the grand coronation of death."