Civil War Talks on the Life of Jacob Cox, the Battle of Antietam, the Battle of Franklin, and the War in West Virginia

Nov. 30, 1864: Franklin-Nashville Campaign: Battle of Franklin, Part 2: The Armies Prepare

At 1:00 that afternoon, as Confederate commander John Bell Hood on Winstead Hill looked through his spyglass at the Union line two miles away, he could see Union General Jacob Cox’s ongoing “creation” of a massive series of breastworks.  Taking advantage of leftover breastworks from an earlier battle and his experiences in the Atlanta campaign, Cox supervised his men’s creation of a horseshoe-shaped line. The men broke down nearby buildings, including a cotton gin, for wood.  They dug deep ditches in front of and behind the breastworks.  They cut down locust trees to form an abatis.  And on the left, commanding Colonel Jack Casement (the future builder of the Union Pacific Railroad) saw his men, mostly farmboys, gleefully cut down acres of Orange Osage bushes.  They had used these thorny, sticky branches as hedges for livestock, and now they piled up the cut branches in front of the line where they would prove surprisingly effective.

By mid-afternoon one of the Civil War’s strongest set of breastworks was in place — but it had a critical, inevitable problem.  Cox was required to leave an opening in the center of the line on the Columbia Pike to allow the army’s approximately 600 supply wagons to pass through on their way north.  Presciently, he created a second defensive line, complete with reserves and artillery, near to the Carter House. The wagons had all passed through the main line just after 3 PM, and commanding General John Schofield issued orders for the army to follow the wagons over the Harpeth at 6 PM .

But 3 PM also saw a crisis in the Union ranks.  Col. Emerson Opdycke had earlier refused an order from Gen. George Wagner to stay out in front of the main line, where his brigade was to be part of a trip-wire.  Opdycke led his brigade through the opening in the line, reported to Cox — who was a close friend from Ohio– and was told to go to the rear as a reserve.  Wagner reiterated his orders to the other brigades, even when, after 3 PM, they saw indications that Hood was going to send his entire army straight toward the Union line.  They were in an untenable position, but Wagner, foolishly, was adamant.

Meanwhile, Hood, despite the uniform opposition of his deputies, had decided on a frontal attack.  He did no reconnaissance; most of his artillery was still at Columbia; and he could see that the Union had created formidable breastworks.  But he likely reasoned that this would be his last chance to defeat Schofield before he withdraw into Nashville.  Hood did allow Forrest to make a cavalry attack to the east a little after 3, but gave him only a small infantry escort.  He was easily thwarted by the Union cavalry.

The stage was now set for the final large-scale frontal infantry attack of the Civil War.  At 4 PM, just 35 minutes before sunset, Hood gave the order to attack, and 20,000 men moved forward against some 13,000.

To be continued tomorrow.

Below are images of the battlefield just before the attack; Emerson Opdycke; an Orange Osage plant; and my book about the Battle of Franklin.

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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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Nov. 29, 1864: Franklin-Nashville Campaign: Failure at Spring Hill

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Having decided to lead personally the Chancellorsville-like attempt to get behind the Union army led by General John Schofield, Confederate commander John Bell Hood got off to a good start the morning of November 29.  Half his army, about 20,000 men, were moving north toward Spring Hill while Schofield was unsure of what Hood was doing.   Schofield decided to split his forces, most of which were in Columbia, TN, and send 4th corps commander David Stanley north along the Columbia Pike to fend off what Schofield feared was a major strike — which it was.

Fortunately for Schofield, Hood’s men got lost along the undemarcated rural lanes, and they did not arrive until after 3 PM.  This gave Stanley, with about 6000 men, time to get to Spring Hill and set up a defensive line, with considerable artillery.  The Confederate offensive got underway at about 4 PM on a day when the sun would set at about 4:35.  The rebel attacks were uncoordinated because of misunderstandings about orders, including a difficult-to-understand decision by Cavalry leader Forrest to halt when facing minimal opposition north of Spring Hill.

The fighting went on until about 6 PM, and Stanley was able to hold Spring Hill as darkness set in and halted the fighting.  Hood, unsure whether Schofield was sending reinforcements from Columbia, gave conflicting orders which led his commanders to be cautious about their attacks.  Hood did sent A.P. Stewart north to try to get behind the Union, but not surprisingly he got lost in the dark.  When he returned to Confederate headquarters, he found that Hood had ordered the men into bivouac and himself had gone to sleep at 8 PM.  He likely was confident that an early morning attack on the 30th against what he hoped was still a divided Union army would be successful.

Instead, once Schofield realized the danger he was in, he ordered all his forces north past Spring Hill toward Franklin, 12 miles to the north.  On one of the Civil War’s most mysterious days, the entire Union army of over 20,000 engaged in a forced, silent march within sight of the rebel campfires.  By midnight, they were on their way to Franklin, leaving the sleeping Confederates behind.  Jacob Cox’s 3rd division led the move north,  and George Wagner’s division would be designated as the rear guard.

See “Ohio Heroes of the Battle of Franklin” for this and upcoming blog posts, continuing Nov. 30.

Below are maps of the Battle of Spring Hill and an image of General Stanley

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Nov. 28, 1864: Franklin-Nashville Campaign: Flanking, Failures, and Fumbles

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With the Union army safely over the Duck River at Columbia, TN, Union Commander John Schofield was hopeful that he would soon hear from General George Thomas in Nashville that the 16th corps had arrived to assist him and that he should withdraw to Tennessee’s capital promptly.  He knew Confederate commander John Bell Hood might try to flank him to the east.  But he was assured by newly-arrived cavalry commander General James Wilson that would keep a close eye on any attempt by Hood and his cavalry commander, Nathan Bedford Forrest, to swing behind the Union army.   Schofield would be disappointed on all fronts, and his army would be in great jeopardy for the next two days, and he knew he was in a difficult situation.

First, the 16th corps’ arrival from Missouri was delayed, and Thomas continued to ask Schofield to delay Hood.  He also did not comply with Schofield’s earlier request to set up pontoons over the Harpeth River at Franklin.

Second, on November 27, Schofield’s civilian code clerk deserted.  (Note: this was one of Secretary of War Stanton’s most egregious mistakes.  He insisted that only one person, a civilian, could hold the key for the code).  As a result, Schofield had to rely on couriers to relay messages, and one of them would be captured by Hood on the 29th carrying a critical message from Thomas.

Third, the 26 year old Wilson made a critical mistake.  Instead of guarding Schofield’s flank, he went searching for Forrest far to the east, even as Forrest was advancing to his west toward Spring Hill.  In one of the most infamous communiques of the war, Wilson would telegraph Schofield on the 29th, “the enemy has disappeared.”

In fact, the enemy was advancing on two fronts to Schofield’s east and would soon be on its way to outflanking him.  John Bell Hood, emulating “the immortal Jackson” at Chancellorsville, had sent half of his forces over the Duck River, and they were poised to move rapidly north.  He left one corps under S.D. Lee at Columbia with most of his artillery, and they skirmished all day with the Union forces to try to pin Schofield down.  Sensing that he had victory in his grasp, Hood announced that he would take personal command of this new venture.  The odds were very much in his favor as he looked at a map and envisaged the village of Spring Hill as the point where he would get between Schofield and Thomas and destroy the Union army.

To be continued.

Below is a map of this part of the campaign, and pictures of Forrest and Thomas

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Nov. 27, 1864: Union Maneuvers over the Duck River; the Pontoon Problem

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Franklin-Nashville Campaign, continued.

After General Jacob Cox deflected Confederate General John Bell Hood’s flanking attack at Columbia on the 24th , Union commander John Schofield knew his outnumbered force needed to move north to avoid being overwhelmed.  However, he didn’t move rapidly toward Nashville, where overall commander George Thomas and his forces were based.  Schofield had been ordered to keep Hood occupied for as long as possible. at least until the Union forces, including the 16th corps coming from Missouri, were coalesced in the Tennessee capital; and that event seemed many days away.

As a result, Schofield ordered all  his forces over the Duck River north of Columbia in the hopes that that would delay Hood for at least a few more days.  Late on the 27th, he had set up a strong defensive position, including by burning the pontoon bridges his men had used to cross the river.  Looking ahead, he sent a message to Thomas asking for pontoon bridges to be prepared for a potential crossing of the Harpeth River north of Franklin.  He did not tell Thomas that he had destroyed his pontoons.  Also, that day reinforcements, including two regiments which would play a key role at the November 30 Battle of Franklin, the 44th Missouri and 183rd Ohio, arrived.  They were accompanied by 1000 cavalrymen led by the newly-minted overall commander of the Union cavalry, the 26 year old “boy wonder” General James Wilson.

John Bell Hood assessed the situation, and was probably pleased that Schofield was not withdrawing rapidly north.  He saw it would be foolhardy to try to cross the Duck River and attack the entrenched Union on the other side.  Intent on getting between Schofield and Nashville, for the second time on this campaign he began thinking about a flanking maneuver.  As he later recalled in his memoirs,  “the situation presented an occasion for one of those interesting and beautiful moves upon the chess-board of war” as  had been done by “the immortal Jackson” at Chancellorsville.

More on that emulation of Jackson tomorrow.  For now, images of Schofield, Hood, Wilson, Columbia, and a typical pontoon bridge.

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Franklin-Nashville Campaign Begins; Union Victory November 24, 1864, at Columbia, TN

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On November 24, 1864, the Union fended off John Bell Hood’s first attempt to flank their forces during the first battle of the Franklin-Nashville campaign at Columbia, TN.  The Union forces, the 4th and 23rd corps, commanded by John Schofield, had been stationed at Pulaski, TN to fend off Hood’s advance from Alabama.  Hood, with a well-established reputation for aggressiveness, instead tried to get around the Union forces, aiming at Columbia.  The rebel advance was led by none other than Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry, and only a sprinkling of Union troops were in the city as Forrest and Hood’s infantry advanced.

To meet the challenge, Schofield sent his trusted deputy General Jacob Cox along with elements of the two corps to fend off the rebel attack.  They arrived in a timely fashion, easily brushing away Forrest’s advance force and then defeating the rebel infantry who made it to the city that day.  Cox’s efforts were aided ably by 4th corps division commander General George Wagner.  This was the first time that these two men had fought alongside one another, and Cox gained a very positive impression of Wagner’s abilities.  That proved to be an important factor in the days to come of this campaign.

More tomorrow about the next battles in the campaign, but for now, images of Wagner, Cox, and the campaign.  Also of my book on the campaign, “Ohio Heroes of the Battle of Franklin.”

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MLK and the Civil War

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At the end of my latest speaking tour aboard the American Cruise Lines ship “America” on the Mississippi, I took the occasion to visit the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.  The building was erected to connect with the former Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King was tragically shot in April 1968.

The museum not only has an excellent collection of artifacts, but it also documents the African-American experience from its early days to today.  The tour of the displays ends outside the motel room which King was occupying when he was assassinated.

The museum also, via its displays and film, provides critical context for the causes and effects of the Civil War.     Highly recommended.

Below are photos of the museum/hotel and a close-up of the room where King was shot — the wreath indicates the exact location.

 

National Civil Rights Museum housed in the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.20191101_142714