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Why Does Franklin Matter?

Why Does Franklin Matter?

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Published by Kraig McNutt
An essay that looks at the modern question of "Why does Franklin matter?" referring to the 1864 Battle of Franklin event.
An essay that looks at the modern question of "Why does Franklin matter?" referring to the 1864 Battle of Franklin event.

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Published by: Kraig McNutt on Jun 20, 2011
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Why Does Franklin Matter? | The Center for the Study of the American Civil War, Director, Kraig McNutt
1
Why does Franklin Matter?
 
By Kraig W. McNutt
 
A couple years ago I was engaged in a conversation with
Widow of the South
author and long timeFranklin resident
Robert Hicks
. At one point Robert posed this challenge to me. He said something
like, “
The question we must be able to answer today . . . is why does Franklin matter? 
” That questionhas been racking my brain ever since. It’s what fuels me blogging on Franklin and leading the
Facebook Group.146 years ago today
November 30th
the second battle of Franklin was fought in WilliamsonCounty, in the little town of Franklin, Tennessee. In a day and time when Civil War history is hardlyeven mentioned in school classrooms and textbooks
even in the very states that were impacted themost by the war
I find it almost incredible that one need even ask this question today,
why does thebattle of Franklin (30 November 1864) matter? 
What are the chief lessons we can still learn from thisbattle that might even benefit us today?
Confederate reenactors fire against Federal troops in the Carter Garden (April 2010).
In order to answer this basic question, it is necessary to succinctly summarize this major Civil Warbattle.The Civil War
or as some would say . . . the War Between the States, started in April 1861. TheUnited States Army at the outbreak of the war had a standing Army of about 10,000 soldiers. Thatwas it. When the first shot was fired over Charleston Harbor on April 12, 1861, and effectively startedthe Civil War, most people, from pundits to politicians, thought that if there was going to be any war itmight last for 90 days. Maybe.Over 3 1/2 years and hundreds of thousands killed Americans later, everyone was wondering whenthis tragic cloud was ever going to pass. As the 1864 election loomed on the horizon in the fall of 1864most northerners also thought that the Commander in Chief 
Abraham Lincoln
 
didn’t have a chance
of being re-elected as President.The only realistic chance the Confederate States of America had in winning this long-protracted war inlate 1864 was to see Lincoln defeated, and then maybe popular opinion and support in the northwould erode enough for the next U.S. president to call an end to the military action and seek a truce
 
Why Does Franklin Matter? | The Center for the Study of the American Civil War, Director, Kraig McNutt
2
with the CSA, thereby officially recognizing the Confederate States of America as a legitimate politicalentity, instead of being viewed legally by the United States as states that were involved ininsurrection.The worst news possible for the CSA came on November 8, 1864. Lincoln had won re-election. Thismore than anything
at the time
assured that the cherished Confederate cause would inevitably be
lost. Why? Because with Lincoln’s re
-election it all-but insured that the North would continue to fight awar against the CSA with now (late 1864) considerably better resources in people and material. With
Lincoln’s re
-election, all the North had to do was to virtually outlast the CSA, battle by battle.Thus, with that background, we come to late 1864 in middle Tennessee in order to set the stage tounderstand the
November 30, 1864 battle of Franklin.
 
John Bell Hood
In July 1864 CSA President Jefferson Davis replaced General Johnston as the Commanding General of the Army of Tennessee. Johnston was not making the progress Davis desired in Georgia/Atlanta and
 
Why Does Franklin Matter? | The Center for the Study of the American Civil War, Director, Kraig McNutt
3
Davis knew he had a fighter in Kentuckian
John Bell Hood.
From late July through September Hoodwould stand up to the Union commanders, including Sherman, but even his tactical victories did notcome at a reasonable cost. Hood would lose thousands of men in his first 90 days of command, menhe could ill-afford to lose for what would come in the fall.As General Sherman made the decision to march toward the sea (Nov 15th), and
make Georgia howl 
,Hood decided to head toward middle Tennessee with the hopes of recapturing Nashville, which hadfallen in February 1862 to the Union without a shot even being fired. Hood believed that hisConfederate Army of Tennessee (of roughly 23,000 troops in November 1864), which had thousandsof native Tennesseans in the ranks and several in leadership, would fight with such heart and vigorthat it would nearly be like one Rebel killing five Yankees. Hood believed that a Confederate victory atNashville would result in a re-invigoration of the Confederate cause, bringing in tens of thousands of new Confederate soldiers all throughout the South, especially Tennessee.
So, Hood’s ultimate goal and prize was Nashville, after all General George H. Thomas only had about
11,000 soldiers defending Nashville. But a funny-thing happened on the way to Nashville forHood. The first was the Spring Hill debacle.On his way to Nashville
in late November 1864
 
Hood’s forces would be engaged by U.S. GeneralJohn M. Schofield’s forces on November 29th.
Though neither side would lose a lot of men, Hood did
lose a real opportunity for a knockout punch of Schofield’s troops at Spring Hill. To make matters
worse, the entire US army would awaken before sunrise on the morning of the 30th and make theirway toward Nashville. Schofield knew he had to get his men to Nashville first so he could join up with
Thomas and prepare for the inevitable battle at Nashville in December. With most of Hood’s
Confederate army still sleeping, the Union army slipped through cracks along the Columbia Pike. Thebird had flown the coup!
By the time Hood learned of the Union army’s escape from Spring Hill, it seemed the Rebel
commander was more focused on assigning blame to his subordinates than focusing on chasing afterthe Union army. Seething, sore and perhaps sulking, Hood and his army arrived about 2 1/2 milesoutside of downtown Franklin about 1pm on the 30th. His horse carried his disabled body
lackingone leg
up Winstead Hill so Hood could survey the Harpeth Valley and the position of the Unionarmy. What he found was not good.The entire Union army
around 20,000 strong
was also securely entrenched in a roughly two milearc around the horseshoe shape of the Harpeth River at Franklin. When Schofield got into Franklin inthe early morning hours of the 30th he found the two main bridges had been destroyed by Franklinresidents, who had figured on the Union army coming from the north not the south. Not having timeto get his entire army and miles of supply wagons across the raging Harpeth in time, Schofield had nooption but to entrench; and entrench they did.The Union troops had worked feverishly for several hours the morning of the 30th placingbreastworks, digging trenches and placing osage orange abatis in front of their lines. Even as late as2pm many in the Union army did not think Hood would be so foolish as to assault the defended Unionlines.With just a few more hours of daylight left now, Hood gathered his trusted subordinate Generals in theparlor of Harrison House, about 300 yards behind Winstead Hill, and announced his intention; hisConfederate Army would make the nearly two mile open ground march through the Harpeth Valley asit headed north toward the Union line at Franklin. Hood was sure that his men would break throughsev
eral points in the Union line and eventually drive Schofield’s army into the Harpeth. Though his
ultimate goal was Nashville, he believed that the opportunity to drive the Federals into the Harpethwould be victorious and thus render the Spring Hill debacle as irrelevant.
To a man, not a single General under Hood’s command agreed with the assault.
It was viewedas
unwise
at best and
suicidal 
at worse. But the CSA Generals manned-up and did their duty withcourage and seasoned humility. General Cleburne to
ld a colleague that if “we are to die today, let usdie like men.” 
 

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