Tuesday, October 03, 2006
Union: Major General John Schofield, commanding a corps of the Army of the Cumberland
Confederate: General John Bell Hood, commanding the Army of Tennessee.
Prelude: On September 1, 1864, the city of Atlanta, GA was finally taken by Union forces under Major General William T. Sherman. Hood, having taken command of the Army of Tennessee just before the city’s fall, pulls back to Palmetto, southwest of Atlanta, to rest, refit, and plan what to do next. The question was, would it be possible to take Sherman on in another head-to-head battle? The state of Confederate forces in 1864 would seem to answer that as a flat no. Hood only had 35,000, while Sherman could field 100,000 easy. Hood decided that it was easier to try and make Sherman’s life a misery by attacking the supply line stretching from Atlanta to Chattanooga, TN. Also, by heading north, Sherman would have to give up his gains in order to chase him. If Hood can get further north, he could actually enter Kentucky, or even make the Ohio River. Or maybe he could destroy the Union forces in Tennessee, then swing east and join General Robert E. Lee and help break the Union lines at Petersburg, VA. And finally, if Sherman pulls fully out of Atlanta, so much the better.
September 29, 1864: Hood orders his army on the march. He begins crossing the Chattahoochee River southwest of Atlanta at Campbelltown.
October 2, 1864: Sherman had found out about what Hood is doing. He orders his army to pursue the Confederates, but leaves XX Corps in Atlanta. Sherman knows he does not need his entire army to defeat Hood.
October 3, 1864: Confederate forces reach Big Shanty (Kennesaw), northwest of Atlanta and proceed to destroy the rail line there.
October, 5 1864: An attempt to take the Federal supply center at Allatoona is repulsed with a loss of about 900.
Hood than decides to swing to the west, heading to Cave Spring to regroup. Then he resumes the march north.
October 13, 1864: Hood’s army reaches Dalton, GA where that forced the surrender of the Federal garrison.
Hood probably believes that it would be suicide to try to attack Chattanooga. He orders his army to march west, into Alabama. Sherman follows but breaks off the pursuit at Gaylesville, AL. He has other plans and they do not include Hood.
October 27, 1864: Hood reaches Decatur, AL on the Tennessee River and makes an attempt to cross it. Conditions prohibit a crossing at this point.
When Sherman returned to Atlanta, he orders the corps of Major Generals D. S. Stanley and John Schofield to head north and join Major General George Thomas’ troops presently in Tennessee.
November 2, 1862: Hood decides that the Tennessee could not be crossed at Decatur and heads west to find a better crossing. One of his corps, under Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee finds such a crossing at Tuscumbia and manages to secure that and the town of Florence across the river.
Within days, Hood was at the head of a Confederate army pushing into Tennessee. It must have been a sight, seeing Hood on a horse. He had one useless arm from wounds suffered at Gettysburg, and he had lost a leg at Chickamauga. Hood had to be tied to his horse in order to ride. He was also in such pain that he took regular doses of a painkiller called laudanum, a derivative of opium that was very addictive.
During this time, Hood was joined by cavalry under General Nathan Bedford Forrest. This addition swelled his army to about 50,000, making it a potent force indeed.
Hood’s axis of attack was now on the town of Columbia, TN. He must have known that Union reinforcements were on the way and that he would have wanted to stop the Federal troops short of Nashville.
November 29, 1864: Hood reaches the town of Spring Hill, northeast of Columbia, and finds Schofield waiting for him. Hood manages to outflank the Federals, but does not follow up with an all out strike. Most of the day is taken up with skirmishing. That night, Schofield pulls his troops out and march north to Franklin, where he makes a defensive line. It is one of the great surprises of the Civil War that an entire Federal corps could march within 150 yards of Confederate campfires and nothing was done. Some Confederate pickets reported movement, but nothing was done.
November 30, 1864: Dawn arrives to find the Federals in a strong defensive line south of Franklin. Hood realized he was given the slip and orders his army on the march. Before that, he hosts a breakfast with all of his commanders in which he blamed everyone but himself for letting Schofield get away. In a most memorable reaction, Forrest says,”General Hood, if you were a whole man, I’d whip you within an inch of your life!” In the afternoon the Army of Tennessee arrives at Franklin.
Hood places his two corps into line. On the left was the corps of Major General Benjamin Cheatham while the right was covered by the corps of Lieutenant General A. P. Stewart. They were supported by cavalry on the flanks and also by artillery. A flank attack could have cut off Schofield from Nashville. Instead, Hood plans a frontal assault. It seems he was still angry over Schofield getting away, or was it the laudanum that was clouding his judgment. At a council of war, there are objections to the planned assault, which would require the troops to march over two miles before getting into a position to hit the outer defensive line. Forrest suggested going around and blocking the Union line of retreat. Hood finally exclaims, “We will make the fight, and we will make it with honor. You will go in at right shoulder shift, bayonets fixed. You will not fire a shot until you overrun the advance line, then shoot and stab the enemy in the back and go into the woods with them and drive the enemy into the river at all hazards!”
The main reason for the resistance on the part of Hood’s commanders was that the attack force, less than 30,000 with little artillery support, will have to drive off Schofield’s 38,000 soldiers and 60 cannon.
4:00 p.m.: The Confederates began moving forward into the attack. To keep up morale, the regimental bands marched along, playing upbeat music. It must have been a sight to the Union defenders, they were probably aghast at the audacity of the Southerners in making a frontal attack.
The first charge went into a sheet of Union musket fire. As the armies clashed, the farm of Fountain Branch Carter became the center of action. Carter’s son, Theodrick, a Confederate Captain, yells to his troops, “This is my home, I can see my house yonder, and I’m going to be there shortly, and I want every man of my regiment to go with me. Follow me boys, I’m almost home!” Tem minutes later, Captain Carter was dead, having received nine wounds and falling within yards of his home. He had not been home since May, 1861.
There were a few breaks in the Federal line, but reinforcements kept the Confederates from exploiting the breach. The attacking and counterattacking was some of the fiercest in the Western Theatre of the war. During the five hours of fighting, nearly 7000 Confederates became casualties, men that Hood could not afford to lose. He also lost six generals:
Brigadier General States Rights Gist
Brigadier General John Adams
Brigadier General Otho French Shrahl
Brigadier General John C. Carter
Brigadier General Hiram Granbury
Major General Patrick Cleburne
Also lost were 54 regimental commanders. This was a loss of leadership and experience that Hood definitely could not afford to lose.
Schofield made a tactical decision and pulled back to Nashville. His losses were 2236 men. The difference was, the Union could have those ranks refilled within days. There were no replacements for the Confederates.
This battle basically destroyed the fighting spirit of the Army of Tennessee. Even though Hood would keep up the attack (he called Franklin a victory because he still held the field while Schofield left) and face the full power of Thomas’ army, now at Nashville.
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