Friday, November 15, 2013

The Battle Of Franklin - Into The Valley Of Death

  On the afternoon of November 30, 1864 twenty thousand men of the Army of Tennessee commanded by General John Bell Hood formed in line of battle along Winstead Hill which spanned an area between Carters Creek Pike on the left, Columbia Pike in the center and Lewisburg Pike on the right. There were 10,000 men along with the army's artillery that was still coming up from Spring Hill. Hood was furious because his Army of 30,000 men was in a position to trap Union General John Schofield's Army of 27,000 men on the road to Franklin. Through incompetence, which Hood has to ultimately take the blame for, he let the Union Army escape the trap and march unmolested to Franklin. Part of this incompetence could be blamed on a drug that was used for pain back then called laudanum. It was alleged that because of Hood's life threatening war injuries he was taking laudanum which had a opium and morphine base which clouded his military judgement. A judgement that even under perfect health was already flawed. Recently I read a very good article that there is a total lack of evidence that Hood was taking laudanum. 

  In my opinion Hood was the type of General that was a very brave, hard hitting, dependable officer that any high ranking officer like Robert E. Lee, who he had served under, would value. But he was not competent above command of a Division or Corps. Command of a Army was too much for him. His left arm had been nearly destroyed at Gettysburg on July 2, 1863 and it hung limp at his side, totally useless. Just two and a half months later at Chickamauga he had his right leg amputated at the hip. This was an operation that less than five percent of people wounded in that manner survived. This man was a tough cookie. He had to be strapped to his horse in order to remain in the saddle. Through rash frontal attacks he had nearly destroyed the Army of Tennessee during the summer of 1864 in a series of four battles around Atlanta fighting General Sherman. After the fall of Atlanta he formulated what came to be called his Tennessee campaign, where he planned to march up into Tennessee, capture Nashville and eventually march toward Cincinnati or march east and join up with Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. He thought he could draw Sherman out of the deep South. A more competent General may have met with better success but Hood was not the man for such an ambitious plan. 

  First, Sherman didn't take the bait and went on with his plans for the famous March to the Sea. Instead he sent, in my opinion, the best General the North had to organize a defense of Nashville, General George H. Thomas. When Hood reached Tennessee Thomas ordered General John Schofield with 27,000 men to try to slow Hood down until Thomas could hastily form an army at Nashville. Hood outflanked Schofield at Columbia and had his army between Schofield and Nashville at Spring Hill. Hood blew his chance to destroy him there and when he woke up on the morning of the 30th he was furious at everyone but himself for allowing Schofield to escape from his trap. When he arrived at his observation post on Winstead Hill in Franklin he was in a very bad mood.

  As John Bell Hood planned the attack on the entrenched Union Army General Nathan Bedford Forrest tried to get Hood to outflank Schofield rather than attack his works in a frontal attack. Hood would not listen to reason. As General Cleburne observed the Union lines just before the attack his aide Brigadier General Daniel Govan turned to him and said "Well General, there will not be many of us that get back to Arkansas". Cleburne replied "Well Govan, if we are to die, let us die like men". On January 2, 1864, Cleburne made his most controversial decision ever. He gathered the corps and division commanders in the Army of Tennessee to present his proposal. The Confederacy was unable to fill its ranks due to a lack of manpower. He stated that slavery was their “most vulnerable point, a continued embarrassment, and in some respects an insidious weakness.” Cleburne’s proposed solution was for the Confederacy to arm slaves to fight in the army. In time, these soldiers would receive their freedom. The proposal was not well received at all. In fact,Jefferson Davis directed that the proposal be suppressed. This is probably why Cleburne would end up dying in this battle because he was never promoted above Division command. He would lead from the front and be killed in the attack. He would pay with his life for proposing the arming of slaves. What Cleburne and Govan realized was that Hood was asking them to make a suicidal attack. They were facing 27,000 men behind breast works and entrenchments. At Gettysburg Picketts charge took place with 18,000 Confederates attacking the Union line over one mile of open ground. This was following the largest bombardment of the war. Lee pounded the Union lines with 150 cannon prior to the charge. At Franklin 20,000 Confederates attacked over two miles of open ground with virtually no artillery support.

General John Bell Hood's orders to Patrick Cleburne before the battle of Franklin. He would be killed fighting near the Carter Cotton Gin.

General, form your division to the right of the pike, letting your left overlap the same. General Brown will form on the left with his right overlapping your left. I wish you to move on the enemy. Give orders to your men not to fire a gun until you run the Yankee skirmish line from behind the first line of works in your front, 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.

Cleburne replied, “General, I will take the works or fall in the attempt.”

Before the fateful Battle of Franklin, General Cleburne held his last meeting with his brigade commanders on Breezy Hill. Brigadier General Daniel C. Govan felt that General Cleburne was “greatly depressed.” General Cleburne emphasized Hood’s orders that the Federal works must be carried by the point of the bayonet at all hazards. Govan saluted and said, “Well, General, few of us will ever return to Arkansas to tell the story of this battle.” Cleburne replied with a sentiment that was prevalent in most of the hearts of the men in the gallant Army of Tennessee: “Well, Govan, if we are to die, let us die like men.” This is a perfect example of why I still honor men like these.

John Bell Hood

Patrick Cleburne

  The Army of Tennessee launched their massive attack at 4:00 PM during the waning moments of daylight on November 30, 1864. With flags flying, bands playing and glistening bayonets, 20,000 men marched steadily toward the Union lines. The soldiers in blue were in awe of the spectacle before them. General Jacob Cox, who was the tactical commander on the field was headquartered at the Carter House and he was totally caught off guard because he felt that Hood would not attack this late in the day. As a result the Carter family was also caught off guard and had no time to evacuate. They would have to endure the coming five hour battle huddled fearfully in the basement of the Carter House. Cox had posted General George Wagner's Brigade one half mile in front of the Union lines on the Columbia Pike. Wagner's orders were not to stand and fight but to simply slow down the attack before retreating. Wagner had three Brigades that had been the rear guard of the army on the retreat from Spring Hill and he only had two of the three Brigades with him that made up his Division. It was believed that Wagner was drunk and General Emerson Opdyke disobeyed orders and took his Brigade 150 yards to the rear of the Carter house in order to feed and rest his men. In the end it would be Opdyke's insubordinate behavior that would ultimately save the Union Army at Franklin. Wagner's 3,000 men faced 20,000 Confederates. Wagner did not convey Cox's orders to his men and instead of retreating like they were supposed to they tried to stand and fight. They fired one volley and were quickly outflanked. In a panic they ran toward the Union lines with the Confederates hot on their hills. As a result Yankees were intermingled with rebels and the Union soldiers behind the main lines were afraid to fire at the rebels fearful of hitting their own men. Ironically this stroke of luck turned a Confederate attack that should have been suicidal into an attack that very nearly succeeded.

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