November 30, 1864
The small town of Franklin, Tennessee had been a Federal (Union) military post since the fall of Nashville in early 1862. Late in the summer of 1864, Confederate President Jefferson Davis replaced commander Joseph E. Johnston with John Bell Hood. General Hood, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and known for his superb record with his “Texas Brigade,” suffered from a withered arm and amputated leg. A firm believer in frontal assaults, Hood began to formulate his “Tennessee Campaign of 1864”; his main objective being to drive Sherman away from Atlanta and Robert E. Lee’s forces.
Under Hood’s command, The Army of Tennessee moved up through Georgia, Alabama, crossed the Tennessee River, and then entered Tennessee. November 30, 1864 had been a beautiful Indian summer day. At dawn, the Confederate Army marched north from Spring Hill, Tennessee in pursuit of fleeing Federal forces. General Hood was determined to destroy the Union Army before it reached Nashville.
The Battle of Franklin has been called “the bloodiest hours of the American Civil War.”
Franklin: The Valley of Death
According to Sam Watkins, 1st Tennessee Infantry:
“(Franklin) 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.”
Called “The Gettysburg of the West,” Franklin saw one of the few night battles in the Civil War. It was also one of the smallest battlefields of the war (only 2 miles long and 1 1/2 miles wide). The main battle began around 4:00 pm and wound down around 9:00 pm (See Eric Jacobson’s account of the Battle Of Franklin – video). The Federal (Union) Army consisted of 22,000 infantry and 13,500 cavalry.
23rd Corps (Army of Ohio) commanded by Jacob Cox
4th Corps (Army of the Cumberland) commanded by David Stanley
The Federal Army had arrived in Franklin around 1:00 that morning. Major General John M. Schofield led the operation and woke up the Carter Family, commandeering their home as his headquarters. At that time, the Carter Farm consisted of 288 acres on the south edge of town bordering the Columbia Pike. Their cotton gin (pictured, left) was located 100 yards from the house where eventually the main line of Federal breastworks were constructed. The Federal line commander was Cox who supervised his army in a defensive position surrounding the southern edge of town. He used the existing breastworks built in 1863 and constructed others on the west side of Columbia Pike. About 60 feet from the Carter House, near their farm office and smokehouse, were the inner breastworks.
The Confederate Army of Tennessee consisted of 20,085 infantry and 5,000 cavalry.
There were three corps of infantry:
S.D. Lee’s Corps (9,700) – Clayton, Stevenson, Johnson’s Divisions
Frank Cheatham’s Corps (9,300) – Cleburne, Brown, Bate’s Divisions
A.P. Stewart’s Corps (8,000) – Loring, Walthall, French’s Divisions
S.D. Lee’s Corps arrived late with only 1 division participating in the battle.) By 2:00 pm John Bell Hood had made plans for a frontal assault. By 2:30 pm a conference was held at the Harrison House. Strong objections were voiced from Hood’s commanders. General Cheatham said, “I don’t like the looks of this fight, as the enemy has a good position and is well fortified.” Generals Cleburne (pictured, right) and Forrest (cavalry) knew they would be flirting with disaster. But Hood would not be dissuaded. As Cleburne mounted his horse to leave, Hood gave strict orders for the assault. Cleburne responded, “We will take the works or fall in the attempt.” The Army of Tennessee knew this assault on the town of Franklin would be suicidal. They bravely advanced toward the Carter House with their heads held high.
Brutal Fighting At The Carter House
The fighting soon became brutal and fiendishly savage, with men bayoneted and clubbed to death in the Carter yard. Former Director of the Carter house museum, Thomas Cartwright, gives a very graphic account of the savage fighting outside the Carter House. A Confederate soldier was bayoneted on the front steps of the Carter House. Men were clubbing, clawing, punching, stabbing and choking each other. The smoke from the canons and guns was so thick that you could not tell friend from foe.
During the five hours of fighting, the Carter Family took refuge in their basement. 23 men, women and children (many under the age of 12) were safely protected while the horrible cries of war rang out above them. The head of the family, Fountain Branch Carter, a 67-year old widower, had seen 3 of his sons fight for the Confederacy. One son, Theodrick (Tod), was serving as an aid for General T.B. Smith on the battlefield and saw his home for the first time in 3 years. Crying out, “Follow me boys, I’m almost home,” Captain Tod Carter was mortally wounded and died 2 days later at the Carter House.
After the battle, like so many homes in Franklin, the parlour of the Carter House was converted into a Confederate field hospital, along with the Lotz House and witnessed many surgeries and amputations.
Around midnight, the Federal Army retreated to Nashville to join the forces of General George Thomas.
For more information, visit http://www.carter-house.org/the-battle-of-franklin.