Civil War Battles
State War Records
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The Second Battle of Franklin was more popularly known as The Battle of Franklin. It was one of the worst disasters of the war for the Confederate army. While the Union army left the field after the battle, the Confederate army paid a horrible price for it. This battle followed the Battle of Spring Hill of the previous day.
The Army of Tennessee, commanded by Maj. Gen. John B. Hood, had failed to destroy part of the Union force in Tennessee, allowing the Army of the Ohio, commanded by Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield, to escape. Hood had hoped to destroy Schofield before he could link up with the Army of the Cumberland, commanded by Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas, farther north in Nashville. That combined Union force would be over 60,000 men, almost twice as large as Hood's army. The two armies armies met at Franklin on November 30.
On November 30, at 6:00 A.M., Schofield's advanced guard of the IV and XXIII Corps arrived at Franklin after a forced march of 12 miles north from Spring Hill. Brig. Gen. Jacob Dolson Cox, a division commander temporarily commanding the XXIII Corps, immediately began preparing strong defensive positions around breastworks originally constructed for the First Battle of Franklin (First). The defensive line formed approximately a semicircle around the city, from northwest to southeast; the other half of the semicircle was the Harpeth River.
Schofield's decision to defend at Franklin with his back to a river seems odd. The reason was that he had insufficient pontoon bridges available to cross the river; the bridges had been left behind in his advance to Spring Hill due to lack of wagons to transport them. Of the 2 bridges, one was destroyed and the other was badly damaged Now he needed time to repair the permanent bridges spanning the river and calculated that the breastworks were well positioned and adequate to delay Hood's inevitable assault.
At 12:00 P.M., some restoration work on the damaged bridge allowed Federals to trickle across the Harpeth River, but Schofield's tired troops needed rest. Union cavalry Brig. Gen. James H. Wilson, across the Harpeth River, covered their left rear where Confederates might ford upstream and attempt rear and flank attacks. Of the nearly 28,000 Union troops in Schofield's command, about 20,000 manned earthworks dug that morning from their left on the Tennessee & Alabama Railroad, in a curve around the Carter cotton gin on the Columbia Pike in front of town, across the Carter's Creek Pike, and bending to their right rear on the Harpeth River. Schofield determined to halt his men a few hours in these positions, fighting Hood if necessary.
Hood's men appeared across the Union front a little after noon. Against the advice of cavalry Maj. Gen. Nathan B. Forrest and infantry column commander Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Cheatham, Hood deployed battle lines for a frontal assault on the entrenched Federals across nearly 2 miles of open ground. Two of his 3 columns, Lt. Gen. Alexander P. Stewart's and Cheatham's, had arrived from Spring Hill, giving the Confederates a slight numerical advantage, since those of Schofield's troops already across the river could not be brought to help in a sudden defense.
At 4:00 P.M., Hood's men went forward on a broad front. Two detached Union brigades under Brig. Gen. George D. Wagner sat astride the Columbia Pike about 1/2 mile in front of Franklin. Confused by an order to withdraw from a Confederate advance, they held fast until, overwhelmed, they charged into 5 Union brigades on the Franklin front, lending the Confederates and forcing comrades in the trenches to hold their fire. Artillery in front of the Carter cotton gin also held off.
Hood, from his left to his right, sent in Maj. Gens. Willaim B. Bate, John C. Brown, Patrick R. Cleburne, Samuel G. French, Edward C. Walthall, and William W. Loring.
Cleburne's and Brown's men, in the center, followed Wagner's troops hotly until the latter cleared their own defenses. The sudden Union fire let loose once the retreating troops passed, killed many Confederates and Cleburne. Momentum carried many over the works, driving the Federals from their cannon into the yard of the Carter House. Col. Emerson Opdycke's brigade rushed forward, driving Confederates to the entrenchments, pinning down the wounded Brown and a large part of his command. The railroad and rising ground hindered Confederates on the right. Crowded together, they were hit by point-blank artillery fire from a battery near the railroad. Bate's left wing troops hit uneven resistance, took some outer works, and held until dark. Forrest's cavalry forded the river, hit Wilson's cavalry and infantry supports, fought until ammunition ran out, and then retired. Brig. Gen. James R. Chalmers' cavalry, deployed on Forrest's left, fought sporadically.
By 9:00 P.M., the fighting had subsided. The overall attack had been awesome, described by some as a tidal wave, and known as the "Pickett's Charge of the West". Some 20,000 Confederates had marched into the Union guns across 2 miles and conducted 17 distinct assaults lasting over 5 hours.
At 11:00 P.M., the Confederates withdrew to bivouac for the night Schofield ordered a nighttime withdrawal to Nashville. Although straddling the river was a period in which the Union army was vulnerable, Hood was too stunned to take advantage of it.
On December 1, Hood opened fire on Franklin at daybreak, found it empty, and rushed on to invest Nashville, where the Union army had finally reached.
The Battle at Franklin was Hood's greatest disaster. The devastated Confederate force was left in control of Franklin, but Union army had escaped again. The Confederates military leadership in the West was decimated, including the loss of such skilled generals as Cleburne. Of the Confederate generals in the fight, 6 were killed and the rest were wounded and/or captured. Also, 65 field grade officers were lost.
The Army of Tennessee was all but destroyed at Franklin. Nevertheless, Hood immediately advanced against the entire Army of the Cumberland, firmly entrenched at Nashville with the Army of the Ohio, leading his battered forces to further, and final, disaster in the Battle of Nashville.