When President Davis replaced General Joe Johnston, commander of the AOT, with John Bell Hood, in July, 1864, it was initially an improvement to the Confederate army, as Hood was known to be a fighter and from July – September, 1864, General Hood stood up to Union commanders, including Sherman. But Hood lost thousands of men which he could ill afford, especially with the severe blow that was to come that fall in Franklin. For General Lee and the Confederate cause, Franklin was the last hurrah.
Patrick Cleburne was aware by late 1863 that the Confederacy was losing the war and despite his successes at Shiloh, Richmond, Perryville, Stones River, and Chickamauga, this courageous and outstanding general knew that the South could not continue to sustain manpower and resources. The re-election of Abraham Lincoln on November 8, 1864, did not bode well for the Confederate cause because now the North would continue to fight with better people and resources/material. All the North had to do was virtually out last the starving and depleted CSA, battle by battle. This was not the morale booster that the CSA needed by November, 1864, nor one that sat well with General Cleburne.
On the morning of November 30, 1864, Patrick Cleburne marched towards Franklin, Tennessee, angry that General John Hood was blaming him and others for the Confederate failure at Spring Hill, the day before. Later that afternoon, General Hood requested a conference with his commanders at the home of William Harrison, which stood approximately ½ mile south of Winstead Hill. General Hood asked for their opinions on a frontal attack against the Federal works and Major Generals Nathan B. Forrest, Benjamin F. Cheatham, and Patrick Cleburne all advised against an attack over open fields opposite Federal entrenchments and artillery. Regardless, Hood ordered the assault and his commanders knew full well that they were about to take part in a tragic bloodbath.
General Hood’s ultimate goal was to re-take Nashville, which had fallen to the Union in February, 1862. General Hood believed that this would revitalise the Confederate cause and bring in thousands of new Confederate soldiers throughout the South, especially Tennessee. Hood believed that General George Thomas only had about 11,000 troops, compared to his 23,000 troops. But on his way to Nashville, first was the catastrophe that took place at Spring Hill.
Hood’s forces were engaged at Spring Hill by U.S. General John Schofield and although neither side lost a lot of men, Schofield slipped away with his army before sunrise on November 30th, thus depriving Hood of an opportunity to deplete the Union army. By the time Hood learned that Schofield’s army had escaped, he pursued them to just outside of Franklin, but by 1:00 that afternoon, the Union army was firmly entrenched. Federal forces were anchored in a 2 mile arch around the horse shoe shape of the Harpeth River at Franklin, Tenn.
Hood gathered his trusted subordinate generals in the Harrison House behind Winstead Hill, and announced his intention of the Confederate army making the 2 mile open ground march through the Harpeth Valley as it headed north toward the Union line at Franklin. Hood was sure that his men would break through several points in the Union line and eventually drive Schofield’s army into the Harpeth. Though Hood’s definitive goal was Nashville, he believed that the opportunity to drive the Federals into the Harpeth would be victorious and make up for the Spring Hill disaster. Not a single general agreed with Hood’s assault. It was viewed as “unwise” at best, and suicidal at “worse.” Hood’s response was that "he would rather fight a Federal force that had only a few hours to build defenses," instead of Nashville where "they have been strengthening themselves for three years."
The charge would be made with no support from Confederate artillery, across nearly 2 miles of open ground, against a Union army of approximately 20,000 troops, securely protected by earthworks and artillery support provided by batteries across the river in Union Fort Granger, among other battery support. Pickett’s Charge comes to mind, without the benefit of artillery.
At 4:00 p.m. on November 30th, the entire Confederate army lined up east-west across the Harpeth Valley with Winstead and Breezy Hill , intersected by Columbia Pike, being the centre. Within 45 min, the Confederate assault was in full force. Initially the Confederates seemed to gain the upper hand as they overwhelmed Union brigades out in front, about a mile from the main Union line. The Union soldiers ran for their lives...the Confederates were ordered to shoot them in the back.
For the next few hours, from five until nine, approximately 40,000 Americans fought a horrific battle that has been considered the five bloodiest hours of the ACW. The Union army had the advantage of defensive earthworks and artillery support, thus the cards were stacked against the Confederates from the onset.
The Confederate army lost 6,500 of the 23,000 engaged –1,750 killed outright, the rest wounded, missing, or captured. The Union army had 2,500 casualties with less than 200 dead.
The loss of General Cleburne, along with fourteen other generals, was a plunder to the Confederate army and one that further crippled their cause.
I have always admired General Cleburne but in studying the Battle of Franklin it became clear just what a superior strategic and tactical commander he was. It’s no wonder that Patrick Cleburne earned the nickname of “Stonewall of the West” by President Davis, and that General Lee referred to this brilliant commander as “a meteor shining from a clouded sky.”
Patrick Cleburne died for his revered Confederate cause, loved by his men, and respected by all.
But looking in depth at just how disadvantaged the Confederates were at Franklin, along with the defensive breastworks set in place, Union weaponry caused absolute destruction, both long and short range. Three inch rifled guns, one of the first defenses encountered, were the artillery pieces located in Fort Granger. They were positioned within the earthen fort atop Figures Hill. Once Walthalls men emerged from the relative protection of the McGavock Woods, Union gunners unleashed a devastating fire upon the advancing Confederates.
Closer to the main line would be the powerful blasts of 12-pounder Napoleon smoothbore cannon situated in embrasures near the Cotton Gin and the Lewisburg Pike. And at under 400 yards, most of the Union guns switched over to deadly canister shells – short range killers. Some infantryman carried the 15 shot Henry repeating rifle – a trained rifleman could fire 28 rounds in a minute, rather than the standard Springfield or Enfield rifle of 2 – 3 rounds per minute.
Along the Union main line, Federal defenders had placed a thorn filled line of Osage orange abatis. These intertwined branches had been placed from their far left near the Harpeth River to within 300 ft. of the Cotton Gin, to slow the advance of the Confederate attackers. The abatis broke down unit cohesion since it was nearly impossible for large bodies of troops to pass through this obstacle together. Many men were left torn and mangled as they hung partially suspended in the thorny branches.
The great offensive determination of the Confederate army of the Tennessee met the grim realities of seasoned veteran defenders, fighting from behind well-built entrenchments, and deadly artillery. The Confederates didn’t stand a chance.
Two weeks after the defeat at Franklin, Hood’s AOT engaged George H. Thomas’s Union armies at Nashville on December 15 – 16. Hood was outnumbered 2 – 1 at Nashville and though his men fought valiantly, the outcome was no better than Franklin. Hood lost over 6,000 men at Nashville and the AOT was all but obliterated in just 2 weeks. Hood would retreat back into Alabama in late December and would give command of his men over to General Dick Taylor in mid January.
Hood’s objective to recapture Nashville was lost and his army was destroyed as an effective fighting force.
Thank you Andrew for offering the challenge of studying a battle in detail. I’ve enjoyed learning more about Franklin and why it was considered the ‘last hurrah’ for the Confederacy. To be sure, Hood’s recklessness cost him dearly, and he was out maneuvered by the defensive strategy of the Union army and their superior weaponry. They were well entrenched at Franklin and had every advantage. Sending his men across 2 miles of open terrain, especially with no artillery back-up, was sheer lunacy on the part of General Hood.
With the re-election of Abraham Lincoln just weeks before Franklin, and the defeat of the AOT at Franklin/Nashville, it was clear that the Confederate cause had run its course, at least in the western theatre, and Robert E. Lee would not be able to count on assistance or support from Confederate victories or armies west of Richmond, any longer. And a few short months later, it was finally over.
95% of your post is spot on but I'm gonna have to strongly disagree with your initial statement:
"When President Davis replaced General Joe Johnston, commander of the AOT, with John Bell Hood, in July, 1864, it was initially an improvement to the Confederate army"
I had never heard about the Mock Orange hedge at Franklin. Sam Watkins mentioned having to attack through one at Jonesboro, Georgia. He quipped that they suffered more causalities from the thorns than they did from yankee bullets.
It is interesting to note that Osage Orange (aka Mock orange and about a dozen other names including the French Bois d'arc, or "wood of the bow) is not native to Tennessee or to Georgia. It's native range is northern Texas, Western Arkansas and Southern Missouri and Oklahoma. It was widely planted in the South before the advent of barbed wire as a sort of "living fence"
As widespread as it had become by the WBTS there must have been a thriving trade in Osage Orange balls