MilitaryHistoryOnline.com Home   Genealogy   Forums   Search   Contact
Search
Amazon:
Keywords:
MHO Home
MHO Home
 Ancient
 Medieval
 17th Century
 18th Century
 19th Century
 American Civil War
 World War I
 World War II
 Korea
 Vietnam
 20th - 21st Century

 Write for MHO
 Search MHO
 Civil War Genealogy Database
 Privacy Policy
 MilitaryGaming.com

Civil War Articles
The Third Day at Gettysburg
Colonel Patrick O'Rorke
Stanley at Shiloh: A Improbable 'Indiana Jones'
Ringgold Cavalry in Alleghenies
Special Order 191: Ruse of War?
15th Illinois Infantry
8th New Hampshire Infantry
Confederate Railroad
Shenandoah Campaign
Fredericksburg Campaign
Commanders and Censors
Unconventional Warfare
Sun Tzu and Overland Campaign
ACW Military Theory
Bear Creek Massacre
Nutmeggers on Antietam Creek
Nathan Bedford Forrest
The City Point Explosion
Dalton to Atlanta-Sherman vs. Johnston
The Maple Leaf Adventure
The Battle of Pea Ridge
History of 138th PA
The Battle of Franklin
Want of Nail: Confederate Ironclads
Battle of Wilson's Creek
Life and Death of the 10th NJ Inf
The Death of General Zook
Barrancas: The First Shots
Custer and the Battle of Waynesboro
Skirmish in the East Woods
The Battle Rainbow
The Mistake of All Mistakes
Stony Hill Tour
6th WI at Gettysburg
Witmer Farm
Barlow's Knoll
Wheatfield at Gettysburg

Allen Parfitt Articles
Dalton to Atlanta-Sherman vs. Johnston
A Path Across the Rhine: Remagen
The Battle of Cowpens
Popski's Private Army
The Battle of Pea Ridge
Bicycle Blitzkrieg: Singapore
Battles of Sparta: Mantinea
Battle of Franklin

Ads by Google



The Battle of Franklin
The Battle of Franklin
by Allen Parfitt

In late 1864, with the war looking bleak for the Confederacy on all fronts, the Army of Tennessee under the leadership of General John Bell Hood marched north on the last great Confederate offensive of the war. This is a brief account of that offensive through the Battle of Franklin on November 30, 1864.

On November 21 the stepchild army of the Confederacy crossed over the Tennessee River Chaplain Charles Todd Quintard wrote in his diary, "The ground is frozen and a sharp wind is blowing, but as my face is toward Tennessee, I heed none of these things. God in mercy, grant us a successful campaign."

Following the fall of Atlanta on September 2nd, the Army of Tennessee had taken advantage of the only benefit to be gained from the loss of the second city of the Confederacy. No longer tied to the defense of Atlanta, it could move where it wished. "Unless the army could be heavily re-enforced, there was but only one plan to be adopted: by maneuvers to draw Sherman back into the mountains, and at least regain our lost territory" began Major General J.B. Hood many years later in his account of the ensuing campaign. "Sam" Hood had already had a very eventful war. He had established himself as one of the Confederacy's young lions by leading a desperate and successful assault on a strong Federal position in 1862 at the Battle of Gaines' Mill. He had fought well at Antietam, and commanded a division in Longstreet's corps at Gettysburg. Assigned the task of turning the Union right on the second day of the battle, his troops narrowly failed to storm the Little Round Top. Hood was wounded in the arm, and although the surgeons decided not to amputate, he never fully regained the proper use of his hand. After recovering he went west with Longstreet to join the army of Tennessee. At Chickamauga his men poured through the Union lines but Hood, leading from the front as usual, was seriously wounded again, this time in the leg, which was amputated.

While Hood was recovering in Richmond, he met Sally Buchanan Preston. Pretty, vivacious, flirty, she captivated Hood. He courted her vigorously. She was interested in the tall wounded hero, but not willing to commit herself. Although a man who had given so much for the cause might have been forgiven for asking for a job in the rear areas, Hood's ambition and devotion led him to accept another command. General J.E. Johnston, commanding the Army of the Tennessee after the debacle at Chattanooga was in need of a corps commander. At 32 years of age Hood was promoted to lieutenant general and given the job.

Having fought the war in the aggressive style of the Army of Northern Virginia, Hood was not happy with the cautious Johnston. As the Army of Tennessee retreated toward Atlanta under pressure from Sherman's greater numbers, Hood let it be known that he was in favor of a more aggressive style of defense. On July 17th he got his chance. Jefferson Davis was also fed up with Johnston's retreating. He named Hood to take his place.

Although Hood was unable to prevent Sherman from taking Atlanta, he fought back aggressively. Three times he attacked the Sherman's army and three times he was repulsed. But Davis was satisfied with his leadership, and his determination to bring an offensive spirit to his army, and retained him in command.

For two months Sherman protected the railroad from Chattanooga to Atlanta and defended the city itself. He hated it. He had no interest in going back north into the Georgia hills to try and chase down Hood. This in itself offers some justification for Hood's "go north" strategy. Instead Sherman was working on a scheme to march south and east across the heartland of the Confederacy, casting off his supply trains and bringing despair and devastation to the people of the deep South. When he finally received approval from Grant in November he took care of a few details and pushed off on November 12th, out of our story.

One of these details was Hood and his army. Sherman had to make some provision for preventing these annoying Confederates from marching clear to Cleveland. He detached General George Thomas to form an army to deal with Hood. He gave Thomas two corps from his army, and left orders for other troops north and west to join him. Thomas had two tasks: defeat Hood, and do it without giving up Nashville, the Union supply hub in Tennessee.

Thomas is one of the Northern heroes of the Civil War, not forgotten by historians and students of the war, but not as well known to the general public as Grant or Sherman. His finest hour had been at Chickamauga, where his stand on the Union left had kept a defeat from turning into a total disaster. He had also had an interesting experience at the Battle of Chattanooga. Grant had characteristically given Sherman the job of winning the battle with a strong flanking movement. But Sherman's attack bogged down on fierce Confederate resistance and some unexpected terrain features. Concerned that the Confederates were shifting troops from the center to meet the attack, Grant told Thomas to order his troops to make a "demonstration" by seizing rifle pits at the foot of towering Missionary Ridge. They did so, and finding themselves at the foot of the hill with people shooting down on them, they spontaneously went up. Grant was not too pleased at this seemingly doomed attack going forward without orders, but as he and Thomas watched, the blue-coated soldiers climbed the ridge and, aided by faulty Confederate positions, threw the enemy off and won the battle.

Thomas's reward was this big chance as a theatre commander, and he had a lot to do. He was very popular with the Army of the Cumberland, but most of those men were marching to the sea, and he had to weld a mixture of troops, some experienced, some not, into an army capable of beating Hood's veterans. Although he had potentially more men than Hood, they were scattered all over place. Logistic support also had to be created.

Thomas chose to stay in Nashville to take care of administration. He sent Major General John Scofield into southern Tennessee with an army somewhat smaller than Hood's to slow the Southerners down until he could get things organized. Scofield had been Hood's classmate at West Point. He was a short, stocky, intelligent man--before the war he had left the army to be a college professor. When the war started he had rejoined the army. In 1861 he had been sent to Missouri where he had served as General Lyons' adjutant general and had been at the battle of Wilson's Creek. For the next two years he had been employed in various posts in Missouri where he had accumulated quite a bit of rank and a lot of interesting political experience, but not much military action. In 1864 he was transferred to command of the Army of the Ohio at Knoxville, and commanded that Army, the smallest of the three "armies" in Sherman's command, during the campaign which culminated in the capture of Atlanta. In a sense he was learning his trade at a very high level. Scofield and Thomas were not close, and Thomas was clearly unsure about Scofield's abilities.

Scofield's job was to stay in front of Hood, retard his advance on Nashville, and avoid getting cut off and defeated in a major battle. The biggest problem for both Hood and Scofield was the existence of two major rivers, the Duck and the Harpeth, between the southern border of the state and Nashville. On one hand Scofield could contest the crossing of both rivers and force Hood to go up or downstream in search of a way to the other bank. On the other hand, if Scofield were caught in a bad position south of either river he could have trouble getting his army to safety.

Hood had some trouble in getting his offensive started. He had to find a suitable place to cross the Tennessee River, his logistics were insecure, and he was struggling with another of Jefferson Davis's goofy command schemes. Davis had appointed General P.T. Beauregard as "theatre commander" with some nebulous authority over all Confederate troops from Tennessee on west. Beauregard had been told not to assume command of Hood's troops, and neither man could quite figure out how they stood in relationship to each other. Beauregard was skeptical about the move north, but saw clearly that if it was going to be done, it needed to be done quickly. He tried to give Hood some logistical support and a kick in the pants. "Push on active offensive immediately", he wired on November 20. Hood was hoping that Beauregard might be able to find him some reinforcements from across the Mississippi. This dream of finding troops in Texas was also shared by Jefferson Davis. There were Confederate soldiers out there, nothing much was happening; maybe they could come east where troops were so badly needed. But the Texas troops that were willing to march had done so a long time ago, and the Federals controlled a lot of territory in between. Hood would have to make do with the soldiers he had.

But once Hood got moving he moved fast. Starting north on November 21st, by the 27th he was moving up to Columbia Tennessee, on the south bank of the Duck River, more than half of the way to Nashville. Scofield was retreating cautiously. He could not find a good place to contest Hood's advance near Columbia, and his cavalry, inferior in quality to the Confederates, did not hold the fords. At the same time he was getting telegrams from Thomas urging him to make sure that Hood did not advance too quickly. He planned to delay Hood and then retreat north toward Nashville.

General Stanley was not entirely happy with his situation. Stanley actually outranked Scofield, but in a piece of bureaucratic legerdemain, it had been ruled that Scofield was an army commander, and Stanley only a corps commander, so Scofield was in charge. The reason that Stanley was playing second fiddle in Scofield's army instead of marching through Georgia was that he had had a run-in with Sherman the previous summer. "He [Sherman] liked to lay his failures on other's shoulders, and when the scapegoat attempted to argue or explain he was never forgiven", Stanley recalled later. And he had drawn the least glamorous job in the army--covering the wagon trains and the Corps artillery in Spring Hill. He had a Wagner's division of the Fourth Corps, some cavalry, the Corps artillery, and a few miscellaneous units, maybe 4000 men in all, about a fifth of the army. In the late morning Stanley was a little surprised to find out that his troops were being harassed by cavalry from the east. Led by the infamous Nathan Bedford Forrest, these cavalrymen were probing the Union position. Dismounted Union cavalry held them off for a while, but Stanley eventually deployed infantry to the east to screen his position. Then as the afternoon wore on Stanley realized that Confederate infantry was threatening him from the south. In a clever move, Hood had crossed the Duck to the east of Columbia, left Lee's corps to engage Scofield, and was moving on Spring Hill with his other two corps. The Union army, strung out and outflanked, was in serious danger. And Scofield, expecting to Hood to move to the west, wasn't even quite aware of the danger.

When Scofield heard that Confederate infantry was moving up on his left, he decided it was time to leave. He started the first of his divisions up the road toward Spring Hill. He himself left about 3:30, and the last of his troops, after repulsing a tentative attack by Lee's Confederates, didn't get on the road until about ten.

Meanwhile the Confederates were pressing in on Stanley at Spring Hill. Hood arrived on the field around 3:00. He immediately began to organize an attack, using mainly troops from Cheatham's corps. At first he concentrated mainly on Stanley's outnumbered men, but then, realizing that he could move west and cut the road from Columbia to Spring Hill, he began deploying Cleburne's division with that in view. However, Hood failed to communicate his intentions to Cheatham, and when Hood went to the rear to direct the rest of the army as it came up,. Cheatham began to redeploy his troops with the single-minded intention of driving Stanley's troops out of town.

Stanley and his veteran division commander Wagner handled their troops well. When their first brigade, composed mostly of green troops, was driven back, Stanley had posted most of the Corps artillery in such a way as to cover their retreat. Then he deployed his other two brigades, and set about reorganizing the routed men.

As Cheatham prepared for the big push, the short winter day was coming to an end. Already shadows were falling over the battlefield. Looking out into the gloom the Confederate officers on the end of the line thought they perceived Union troops flanking the line of their attack. They stopped to consider and confer, the darkness deepened, and the attack was never made. Cheatham gave up, and gave orders for his men to bivouac and wait for morning. He did not extend his lines so as to cover the road.

So as Scofield's men came marching up toward Spring Hill, they found no one in their way. They could see the fires of the Confederate army east of the road, but they marched through unscathed. When he reached Spring Hill, Scofield was not finished. As he put it in his memoirs, "Since the Confederates were all asleep and the Union troops were all awake, there was no reason not to continue the march to Franklin." Somehow Stanley and Scofield got the entire army out of town. There was some talk about burning and abandoning the supply train, but the army needed those supplies, and they got them moving, too. By dawn the only Union soldiers left around was a tiny guard that Scofield had left on the first crossroads south of Spring Hill to secure a path to the north for his troops in case the main road was blocked.

A great deal of ink has been expended discussing the failure of the Confederates to take advantage of their position around Spring Hill on November 29th, 1864. Cheatham and Hood have both come in for bitter criticism. Certainly there was a lack of communication and coordination. But the biggest thing the Confederates lacked was daylight. If this battle had been fought on June 29th, there is little doubt that the Union would have suffered a serous defeat. But Civil War generals hated to fight after dark. Given the tactical systems in use at that time, it was hard enough to get the troops in the right place when they could see. Even when battles like Shiloh and Gettysburg stretched over several days, the shooting stopped when the sun went down.

It seems strange that Scofield and Stanley don't receive more credit for extricating themselves from the situation. It was obvious that Scofield needed to march north from Columbia. It was not so obvious that he needed to keep marching. That he and Stanley were able to get an army which had already fought and marched all day on the road in the middle of the night and keep it moving toward Franklin was quite a feat.

When Hood woke up the next morning and found that the Yankees were gone, he was not happy. One of his staff officers reported that he was "wrathy as a rattlesnake…, striking at everything." Mostly he blamed Cheatham.  "the best move in my career as a soldier I was thus destined to behold come to naught", he later said and claimed that Cheatham admitted responsibility for the debacle. But when Cheatham read the article, he wrote a thousand word rebuttal challenging Hood's "recollections" of the events, and there are no less than four footnotes to Hood's article in "Battles and Leaders" where Cheatham disagreed with Hood's version.

In any case, Hood soon had the army on the road toward Franklin, Stewart's corps in the lead, Cheatham's second, Lee's bringing up the rear. He was still hoping to force a decisive battle with Scofield's army before it joined with the troops Thomas had assembled in Nashville.

When Scofield got to Franklin, which sits on the south bank of the Harpeth River, he was annoyed to find that there was no pontoon bridge waiting for him. The wagon bridge was broken, and the railroad bridge was not suitable for wheeled traffic. All he found was a message from Thomas telling him to use the pontoons he had. With some justice he pointed out in his memoirs that he wouldn't have asked for pontoons if he hadn't needed them. He assigned to Wagner's division to establish a rear guard outside town, and the rest of the army entered Franklin to get some food and a little sleep while the engineers went to work to put some kind of temporary bridge over the Harpeth using the wreckage of the one that had been destroyed. The also began to plank over the railroad bridge. There was a usable ford near the town and after some work on the approaches, artillery and cavalry began splashing through. Scofield got a little sleep, then he and Stanley crossed over to the other side to oversee the placement of artillery on the north shore, leaving 23rd corps commander General Jacob Cox as the ranking officer on the south side. Soon the bridge was usable, and the endless train of wagons began crossing over. Meanwhile the infantry was throwing up fortifications around the bridgehead. At this stage of the war, experienced soldiers didn't need much encouragement to start building field fortifications. They had found that some rocks, a few rails, a fence, or even the bodies of their fallen comrades could be the different between life and death.

In the midst of all this activity General Wagner became convinced that his division had been directed to hold its position beyond the fortifications. One of his colonels, Emerson Opdyke, refused. His brigade had been standing rearguard ever since they had left Spring Hill. He was sick of it, knew his men were exhausted and hungry, and could see no point in hanging around in such an exposed position. In a short but violent exchange with Wagner he informed his commander that he would not obey Wagner's orders, marched his brigade to a position inside the lines that were forming around Franklin, and let them fall out to eat and rest. The other two brigades of Wagner's division obeyed orders and stayed out in front of the rest of the Union army. Some of them tried to improve their positions, but most of them just sat down to see what would happen. They didn't have long to wait.

Everyone liked General Patrick Cleburne. He was born in Ireland, and served a hitch as a private in the British army before coming to America and settling in Arkansas. When the war broke out he joined up and rose rapidly in the Confederate army. Considered the best fighting general in the west, he had seen plenty of action--it had been his division that had given Sherman such a hard time at Chattanooga. Many soldiers then and military historians since felt that he should have received the corps that went to Hood in March of 1864. When Hood took over the Army of Tennessee he was passed over again in favor of Cheatham. One reason that Jefferson Davis, who was making these decisions, would not promote Cleburne was that he had never graduated from West Point. Davis was a West Pointer himself, and had an almost mystical belief in the need for a proper military education for the Confederacy's top commanders. He preferred to appoint men he disliked and distrusted (such as Beauregard) to important commands rather than try a men who had not passed through those hallowed gates. Worse, early in 1864 Cleburne had made a shocking proposal. Looking at the Confederacy's declining fortunes, he perceived that the South was running out of soldiers. Generals everywhere were clamoring for reinforcements, but there were no reinforcements to be had. The South had only one untapped source of manpower: black slaves. Slaves were already making a big contribution to the war effort, growing food, building fortifications, working as cooks, teamsters, batmen. But Cleburne proposed to train slaves, arm them, and promise them freedom if they would fight for the South. The North had already shown the way, increasing its already crushing manpower advantage by recruiting black regiments. These black Yankee soldiers had to contend with plenty of prejudice, and were often relegated to support roles. But even doing this they freed up troops for the front lines, and when they did get into a fight, they did pretty well. Perhaps because Cleburne was not from the deep South he didn't realize how upsetting his proposal would be to men steeped in the belief that blacks were inferior and incapable by nature. Or maybe he did--he never lacked courage, physical or moral. In any case the proposal was considered so unacceptable that it couldn't even be discussed. It went into a drawer somewhere, and a black mark was entered beside Cleburne's name. So he was still commanding a division as he marched north toward Franklin.

Hood reached the a place where he could see the Union forces at Franklin at mid-afternoon. Apparently he decided almost immediately on a full scale assault, but he did meet with the officers from his two leading corps. They were unanimous in opposing the attack. Forrest suggested a flanking move to the east, and offered to lead it. Everyone thought that the Union position was too strong. But Hood was determined. He would send the 20,000 men of his two leading corps against the center and left of the Union position. And there was not a lot of time to waste. By the time the army was deployed, it would be getting late, and Hood did not want this attack to be called on account of darkness.

The Union position at Franklin was strong. Nestled in a bend of the Harpeth, the Union lines rested firmly on the river, and could not be turned tactically. The lines were short enough to be held by Scofield's small army, and although the fortifications had been hastily built, they were continuous, and had some depth. There were only two weaknesses. One was the poor placement of those two brigades of Wagner's division sitting out in front of everyone else. The other was that Scofield's army had its back to the river. If its position was broken, it had no place to retreat. The entire army could be lost.

Because the ground in front of the Union positions was quite open, the soldiers on both sides had a perfect view of the Confederates forming for the assault. Numerous eyewitness accounts speak of the impressive sight. "It was worth a year of one's lifetime to witness the marshalling and advance of the Rebel line. Nothing could be more suggestive of strength, discipline, and resistless power.", said one Federal soldier. General Cheatham thought it was the most magnificent sight he had ever seen..

But there were two groups of very different Union soldiers who were not so much impressed as frightened. One was the two ranking officers of the army. Generals Stanley and Scofield had assumed, like everyone else, that their lines were too strong to be attacked. They were both across the river supervising the placement of artillery. As it became obvious that an attack was imminent, all they could do was watch. The other was the two hapless brigades of Wagner's division, stranded out in front of the lines. Some soldiers begged their officers to lead them back where they belonged, but Wagner's orders had been peremptory, and the officers insisted that the soldiers stay put. But not for long. Outnumbered, outflanked, and intimidated, the Federal brigades managed to get off one good volley, then the Confederates were among them and around them, and they were racing desperately for the safety of the fortified lines. Some of them made it, some of them didn't.

As the confused mass of fleeing Federal soldiers approached the Union fortifications, Rebels close behind them, the defenders were in a quandary. They could not shoot at the approaching Confederates without hitting their own men. The Southerners saw the situation and took up the cry: "Into the works with them." They swept over the breastworks, and surged forward. Across the river, Scofield could only watch in dismay. "For a moment, my heart sank within me.", he recalled in his memoirs. It looked as if Hood's audacious gamble was on the brink of success.

Colonel Emerson Opdyke had allowed his brigade to fall out behind the lines and get some much needed rest. Their arms were stacked behind them. When the noise of battle grew in front of them, Opdyke called his men to arms, intending to form them up beside the road. But some of his officers actually perceived the peril before he did, and began urging the men "To the works!" Together with two regiments of Kentuckians that were also standing in reserve, the brigade charged into the mass of attacking Rebels. A desperate melee of hand-to-hand combat took place right in front of and around the F.B Carter house. Slowly the Confederates were driven back into the outer works. But as if they were aware of how close they had came to success, they did not retreat, and in the gathering darkness a desperate firefight raged across the Carter's garden.

On the Union left things did not go as well for the charging Confederates. The Union troops had cut down a thick hedge of tough osage orange trees around the Franklin cotton gin to about four feet. So when the Southerners struggled through heavy fire to the base of the hedge, they found that they could not get through. Here too a vicious and lengthy exchange of fire caused heavy casualties on both sides.

All along the line the Confederates were at a disadvantage. Their numbers had been thinned by the long advance, and they were exposed to flanking fire from both sides of the salient they clung to in the Union lines. Still they held on, firing until they ran out of ammunition, generals handing up muskets to sergeants, small groups of desperate men trying to climb into the Federal positions. But it was futile, and at last, well into the night, the few that were left made their way back to the rest of their army.

No sooner had the firing stopped than Scofield gave the order to retreat. He had already started the wagon trains toward Nashville, 15 miles away. The wounded were loaded up, the prisoners were herded down the road, and by 2 AM the Union army was gone. They arrived at Nashville the next morning, and probably fell down and slept. Some of them had fought a minor battle, a major battle, and conducted two night marches, all in the space of 48 hours. Scofield reported that he talked to Thomas, went to bed about noon, and slept until sunset the following day.

Hood was making plans to renew the battle the next morning. But all the Confederates had to do was take possession of the battlefield and bury their dead. There were a lot of them. An estimated 2500 dead soldiers littered the ground, 1800 of them Confederates. In all Hood's army had suffered an estimated 7000 casualties, killed, wounded, captured, about a quarter of his army. Among the dead were five Confederate generals, John Adams, States Rights Gist, Otto Strahl, Hiram Granbury, and Patrick Cleburne. General George Gordon had been captured. Hood's army would miss all these men, none more than Cleburne, and the terrible casualties crippled an army already too small for its mission.

Hood sent a surprisingly optimistic report to Richmond, overestimating the Federal casualties and emphasizing that he held the battlefield, often seen as a sign of victory. Then, twenty-four hours later, he marched for Nashville. It is not easy to see what he expected to accomplish there. Perhaps, having come this far, he was determined to continue to the end. In his memoirs he says he was hoping for those elusive reinforcements from Texas.

Historians have not treated John Bell Hood very kindly. Bevin Alexander mentions him in passing in his "How Wars Are Won": "Hood was a man of little intellect who never grasped the profound change in war brought on by the minie ball rifle, field fortifications, and cannister-filled cannons...." Wiley Sword says, "Hood, ultimately, was a tragic failure, a sad, pathetic soldier whose ambitions totally outstripped his abilities." Ouch!

It's easy to see why. Hood led the Army of Tennessee into major battles five times, three in defense of Atlanta, plus Franklin, and Nashville. He suffered five defeats. He also had the bad judgment to harp repeatedly in his post-war writings on how the Army of Tennessee had lost its ability to fight other than from behind field fortifications. This has led to the widespread opinion that Hood's motive in attacking at Franklin was to "discipline" the army for its lack of initiative at Spring Hill. It is strange and unfortunate that Hood should have been writing this way after the war. Although the Army of Tennessee did not accomplish its goal at Franklin, it proved beyond a doubt that it was still capable of delivering a ferocious assault in the best Rebel tradition.

However, it is possible that a closer look at Franklin might allow us to take a slightly more positive view of Hood's conduct as commander of the Army of Tennessee. We will start by quoting from his opponent, John Scofield

"Hood's assault at Franklin has been severely criticized. Even so able a general as J.E.Johnston has characterized it as ‘useless butchery'. These criticisms are based on a misapprehension of the facts, and are essentially erroneous. Hood must have been aware of our relative weakness of numbers at Franklin, and of the probable, if not certain, concentration of large reinforcements at Nashville. He could not hope to have at any future time anything like so great an advantage in that respect. The army at Franklin and the troops at Nashville were within one night's march of each other; Hood must therefore attack on November 30 or loose the advantage of greatly superior numbers. It was impossible, after the pursuit from Spring Hill, in a short day to turn our position or make any other attack but a direct one in front. Besides our position with the river on our rear, gave him the chance of vastly greater results, if his assault were successful, than could be hoped for by any attack he could make after we had crossed the Harpeth. Still more, there was no unusual obstacle to a successful assault at Franklin. The defenses were of the slightest character, and it was not possible to make them formidable during the short time our troops were in position, after the previous exhausting operations of both day and night, which had rendered some rest on the 30th absolutely necessary.

"The Confederate cause had reached a condition closely verging on desperation, and Hood's commander-in-chief had called upon him to undertake operations which he thought appropriate to such an emergency. Franklin was the last opportunity he could expect to have to reap the results hoped for in his aggressive movement. He must strike there, as best he could, or give up his cause as lost."

Like A.S. Johnston at Shiloh and Lee at Gettysburg, Hood saw that political necessity required a military success. Like them, he failed. Perhaps the reason he is judged more harshly is that even had he routed Scofield at Franklin, by late 1864 the Confederate cause was hopeless. And he almost did. The other justification for his attack is that it came so close to success. All accounts seem to agree that had Colonel Opdyke obeyed his orders and remained with the rest of his division, it is very possible, even likely, that the Union army would have been destroyed.

So, rather than seeing Hood as an idiot and a butcher, it is probably fairer to see him as a very aggressive general who pushed his army to the limit--and beyond--in search of an elusive victory.

* * *

Notes on Sources (in order of importance):

Sword, Wiley, "The Confederacy's Last Hurrah", University Press of Kansas, 1992 Well written, well researched, the main source for this account. The caveat: Sword has no use for Hood, and isn't shy about saying so.

"Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume 4" pp425-437. Hood's account, taken from his memoirs. Also Cheatham's reply pp438-439, and "Repelling Hood's Invasion of Tennessee" pp440-464 by one of Thomas's staff officers.

Scofield, John M. Forty-Six Years in the Army", University of Oklahoma Press 1998 edition, first published in 1897

JohnBellHood.org--a pro-Hood website, containing, not surprisingly, a very negative review of the Sword book.

Woodward, Steven E. "Jefferson Davis and his Generals", University of Kansas Press 1990 Well written study of the Confederate command problems in the west.

Other Sources (in alphabetical order)

Alexander, Bevin "How Wars Are Won" Crown Publishers 2002

Catton, Bruce "Bruce Catton's Civil War" Fairfax Press 1984

Davis, Jefferson "The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government" Collier Books, 1961 edition

Davis, Steven "Atlanta Will Fall" Scholarly Resources 2001

McPherson, James M. "Battle Cry of Freedom" Oxford University Press 1988

McWhiney, Grady and Jamieson, Perry D. "Attack and Die" University of Alabama Press 1982

* * *

Copyright © 2005 Allen Parfitt.

Written by Allen Parfitt. If you have questions or comments on this article, please contact Allen Parfitt at:
aparfitt@comcast.net.

About the author:
Allen Parfitt is a retired teacher.  He has had a life-long interest in military affairs.  He lives near Kalamazoo, Michigan with his wife and four cats.  He is continually adding to his library of books on military history.

Published online: 12/04/2005.
© 2014 MilitaryHistoryOnline.com, LLC Contact Brian Williams at: militaryhistoryonline@hotmail.com