Nov. 30, 1864: Franklin-Nashville Campaign: Battle of Franklin, Part 1

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The early morning hours of November 30, 1864 saw the entire Union army “engaged in forced, silent marches from Spring Hill to Franklin, careful not to attract the attention of the Confederates just hundreds of meters away, most of them asleep.”  Most of the exhausted men arrived in Franklin by noon, with General George Wagner’s division assigned rear guard duty in front of the city.

Union commander John Schofield’s first stop in Franklin was to check that the pontoons he had requested from General Thomas were in place over the Harpeth River for the continued withdrawal to Nashville.  If they had been, there would not have been a Battle of Franklin.  But through a monumental misunderstanding, the pontoons would not arrive until last afternoon.   So Schofield told his key deputy, General Jacob Cox, that he would supervise construction of an alternative passage over the river.  He gave Cox temporary command of the 23rd corps and elements of the 4th corps and told him to set up a defensive line to thwart a potential frontal attack from Hood.

The Confederate commander awoke that morning to learn that he had allowed the entire Union army pass by him.  Although he had announced he would be personally in charge of this phase of the campaign, an angered Hood blamed everyone but himself for this situation.  He immediately ordered the troops to began an advance north, and he rode ahead to assess the situation for himself.  On the way he saw Union knapsacks, canteens, and other detritus scattered along the road, and this helped convince him that the Union retreat had been frenzied and that they would be unprepared for a new attack.   As he reached Winstead Hill and observed the Union line, he began to consider his tactics for the upcoming battle.

Cox spent the late morning and early afternoon supervising the creation of one of the strongest barriers of the Civil War.  Although he and Schofield presumed Hood would once again try to flank the Union forces, he knew, from observing Hood during the Atlanta campaign, that he was an aggressive combatant, so he was ready for a frontal attack.  Soon after taking command in July, Hood had sent a message to his soldiers, stating in part, “Soldiers, experience has proved to you that safety in time of battle consists in getting into close quarters with your enemy.”  At Franklin he would test that thesis, much to his men’s detriment.

To be continued tomorrow.

Below are images of the Carter House (Cox’s headquarters), Cox.  and the positions of the two armies as the fighting was to begin.

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general coxbattle-of-franklin

Author: geneofva

Author of "Citizen-General: Jacob Dolson Cox and the Civil War Era," and of the upcoming "Lincoln, Antietam, and a Northern Lost Cause."

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