Why Does Franklin Matter? | The Center for the Study of the American Civil War, Director, Kraig McNutt
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
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
at best and
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.”