Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010
and the home of Major Nathaniel Cheairs
In the early daylight hours, after breakfasting at the Nathaniel Cheairs home and quarreling with his commanders, Hood put his army in motion toward Franklin, marching rapidly in order to overtake the enemy before it crossed the Big Harpeth River, 18 miles north of the Confederates at Spring Hill. Hood, still unjustifiably angry,1 and even years later he still blamed the loss on his men:
A sudden change in sentiment here took place among officers and men: the Army became metamorphosed, as it were, in one night. A general feeling of mortification and disappointment pervaded its ranks. The troops appeared to recognize that a rare opportunity had been totally disregarded, and manifested, seemingly, a determination to retrieve, if possible, the fearful blunder of the previous afternoon and night. The feeling existed which sometimes induces men who have long been wedded to but one policy to look beyond the sphere of their own convictions, and, at least, be willing to make trial of another course of action.
Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010
strategy that sent more than 1,700 men to their deaths at Franklin
Still stinging from his lost opportunity the night before, Hood was emphatic with his orders this afternoon: The attacking Confederate force was to “go over the main works at all hazards.” Obediently, Cleburne’s last words to Hood were, “I will take the enemy’s works or fall in the attempt.” Tragically, Cleburne will be true to his word.
|Source: Civil War Maps by Hal Jesperson|
View an exceptional animated map available at the
Civil War Trust website
Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010The Fountain Branch Carter House: Gen. Jacob Cox's headquarters
and center of the Confederate attack. The Carter family and neigh-
bors huddled together in the basement during the battle.
Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010Confederate view today from Winstead Hill of the Columbia Pike, which leads
north to Franklin. Cleburne's Division attacked the center of the Federal fortifi-
cations to the right of this road.
After receiving his orders, Cleburne rode from Winstead Hill to Breezy Hill to meet with his brigade commanders. He then rode forward to Merrill Hill where he could observe the imposing enemy lines. The Federals obviously were attempting to cross the river over the narrow bridges. However, their infantry was well entrenched and posted about 300 yards in front of the main line. Beyond at Fort Granger, an earthen fortification northwest of the Harpeth River, there were long-range Federal artillery, which could reach the advancing lines of Confederates. Before Cleburne's Division could assault the first Federal line, his men would have to cross more than a mile of open ground, all the while exposed to direct rifle and artillery fire. It would be a desperate and costly attack.
It was going to end up a hand-to-hand fight, so Cleburne directed his men to load their rifles, but save their ammunition in preference to bayonets.
|"Cleburne" by David Wright|
Partick Cleburne viewing his
troop before the attack
|Source: Civil War Maps by Hal Jesperson|
Cleburne rode with his advancing line of 3 brigades. He guided his division toward the first Federal defenses, manned by Gen. George D. Wagner's division, using the Columbia turnpike on the left as a guide, and the Carter house as his target. Almost as soon as Cleburne's men came into the open, Federal batteries opened fire, tearing holes in his advancing line. His officers ordered the men to close up and fill the gaps as the advance continued. A few Confederate guns were able to fire above the men and into the enemy soldiers, now only 400 yards away from the advance. It took almost 15 minutes for Cleburne’s leading division to advance the first mile, adjacent to Privet Knob.
Cleburne and his troops closely pursued Wagner's broken division, intending to smash them into the main Union works in the rear. But the throng of running soldiers soon became intermingled. Federals behind the main defensive lines were forced to withhold their fire for fear of hitting their own returning troops. Cleburne's men now were aiming for Carter's cotton gin directly ahead on the right (east) side of the road. Cleburne spurred ahead into the mass of men, and was charging diagonally across the front of his own brigades toward the center of the line when his horse was killed. Picking himself up, he was given another. He had only started to mount when this horse also was also shot. He decided to draw his sword instead and lead the charge on foot.
Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010
View across Cleburne Park to the area of the Cotton Gin (about where the blue
The Federal riflemen and those manning the cannon, had an open field of fire, and by now, the they could hold their fire no longer. Men of both armies were cut down. A wave of Confederates pressed to the enemy's line and halted in the ditch below the earthworks. Undaunted, Cleburne’s Division pursued the fleeing defenders. The unstoppable men seized the 4 guns at the pike about 110 yards from the main line, and gained the outside of the main works east of the cotton gin, killing, wounding, and capturing 250 enemy. In the midst of the melee, Gen. Granbury was struck dead with a bullet to his head.
|Cannon shell pyramid near where Cleburne fell|
The clash was uncommon even in a war that had dragged for nearly four years. At Franklin it was if all sense of morality vanished entirely. A war that had started with pomp and grandeur had spiraled into a bloody and gut-wrenching struggle, where victory could only be achieved by an absolute extermination of one side or the other.
By this time, Federal Gen. Emerson Opdycke, who understood his army's peril, led his brigade in a disorganized counterattack toward the gap in the east side of the pike. Men from Cleburne's and Brown's Divisions slammed into them, resulting in a brutal hand-to-hand fight, a maelstrom that few of the hardened soldiers had ever witnessed. Scattered troops from both sides fired from all directions. Men fought each other to death with anything at hand. “The collision of the 2 mobs amid the Carter house and the outbuildings became a lifelong memory,” wrote historian Wiley Sword. "It was a hand-to-hand combat that witnesses could never describe accurately or portray fully."3
|The Carter office building and smokehouse beyond|
Photos by Mark Dolan, June 2010Bullet holes are still visible in many of the Carter buildings.
Gen. Lowrey's men did everything that was humanly possible to succeed. The enemy which had been driven from the first line was now ensconced behind a second defensive line and held the Confederates in check. "I threw my brigade into the outside ditch of his massive works," wrote Lowrey, "and my men fought the enemy across the parapet." To this point, half of his men were already dead or wounded, "and the balance could not scale the works. It would have been certain death or capture to every one of them." Leading his men on horseback, Lowrey made it to within 30 feet of the works when his horse was wounded.
Although the men fought bravely, nevertheless their assault was doomed. Ultimately, many more men were killed or captured by the time all hope of success had failed them. Lowrey's Brigade, which had suffered the most casualties at Spring Hill the day before, now experienced further decimation. Finally, Lowrey wrote, "When I saw nothing else could be done, I went to the rear, and began the work of gathering up the fragments of our division.”
The Confederates fought well into the night. About 7:00 PM, Hood finally ordered forward one more division, Maj. Gen. Edward Johnson’s of Lee's Corps, to help the center. However, his division also was decimated in a courageous attack. Brigade commander, Arthur M. Manigault, was severely wounded.
Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010The McGavock Confederate Cemetery
Fourteen men from Great Grandfather Oakes's 32nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment were buried at McGavock Confederate Cemetery on the Carnton Plantation in Franklin. As many as 5 of these were from his company, Co. D. For Great Grandfather Oakes, like thousands of others, the loss hit on a personal level with the death of a close friend. Thirty-five years later, he wrote a short letter to the editor of the Confederate Veteran to commemorate him:
The Confederacy lost one of her bravest when Comrade [Miley] Steele fell dead at Franklin on top of the breastworks to the left of the pike 5 leading from Columbia into the town. He was never heard to murmur or to disobey, and professed great faith in the cause of the South and in the ability of our leaders. Above all, he was a true Christian, having joined the church at Dalton, Ga., a fact which his relatives never knew.
Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010The Mississippi Section of the McGavock Confederate Cemetery where
424 of Great Grandfather Nathan Oakes's comrades were laid to rest
According to the historians Purdue, the death of Maj. Gen. Patrick R. Cleburne had a swift effect on the army and soon the Confederate people. Troops could hardly believe that such a calamity had befallen the army. Some of his men visited the Carnton House on the morning of Dec. 1, for a last look at their general. Gen. William Hardee later commented, “The death of Cleburne cast a deep gloom over he army and the country. Eight millions of people, whose hearts had learned to thrill at his name, now mourned his loss, and felt there was none to take his place.”
Photo by Mark Dolan, June 2010The Carnton Plantation House
After the Battle of Franklin, the bodies of 4 of the 6 slain
Confederate generals were laid for viewing on the lower porch.
'Pickett's charge at Gettysburg' has come to be a synonym for unflinching courage in the raw.
The slaughter-pen at Franklin even more deserves the gory honor.
Stanley F. Horn
Kind reader, right here my pen, and courage, and ability fail me. I shrink from butchery. Would to God I could tear the page from these memoirs and from my own memory. It is the blackest page in the history of the war of the Lost Cause. It was the bloodiest battle of modern times in any war. It was the finishing stroke to the independence of the Southern Confederacy. I was there. I saw it. My flesh trembles, and creeps, and crawls when I think of it today. My heart almost ceases to beat at the horrid recollection. Would to God that I had never witnessed such a scene!