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Battle of Franklin

November 30, 1864

The Battle of Franklin was a military engagement that took place in Williamson County, Tennessee, in and near the town of Franklin, on November 30, 1864, during the Franklin-Nashville Campaign. The battle pitted the Confederate Army of Tennessee, commanded by Lieutenant General John Bell Hood, against a Union army commanded by Major General John Schofield.

In September 1863, Confederate General Braxton Bragg's Army of Tennessee was attempting to recapture Chattanooga, Tennessee from Federal forces by besieging the city. Union leaders responded by sending Major General Ulysses S. Grant and reinforcements to Chattanooga with orders to break the siege. After establishing a new supply line into the city, Grant ordered a breakout offensive in late November that successfully drove Bragg's army back into northern Georgia. With the "Gateway to the South" secured, Union forces were well situated to launch an offensive aimed at capturing Atlanta.

Following the breakout at Chattanooga, Grant was promoted to the special rank of Lieutenant General and placed in command of all Union armies. Grant moved his headquarters to Washington, DC, leaving his trusted subordinate, Major General William T. Sherman, in command of Federal operations in the Western Theater. Grant's primary military strategy was a coordinated effort to attack and defeat the two main Confederate armies in the field, Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia in the east, and Joseph E. Johnston's Army of Tennessee in the west. On May 5, 1864, Grant launched his Overland Campaign against Lee in Virginia. Two days later, Sherman launched his Atlanta Campaign in the West.

Employing a series of flanking maneuvers, Sherman persistently drove the Army of Tennessee south toward Atlanta. On July 17, 1863, Confederate President Jefferson Davis, relieved Johnston of his command and placed General John Bell Hood in charge of the Army of Tennessee. Hood proved more willing to fight than Johnston, but the results were the same. By July, Hood's army was bottled up in Atlanta. On July 20, Sherman ordered his artillery to begin bombarding Hood's lines, as well as the city, which still harbored about 3,000 civilians. The shelling lasted for five weeks, but Hood continued to hold on as long as he was receiving supplies. Toward the end of August, Sherman stopped the flow of supplies into Atlanta. With his main supply line severed, Hood evacuated Atlanta on the night of September 1, burning all military stores and installations. Sherman's forces occupied the city on September 2, ending the Atlanta Campaign.

After evacuating Atlanta, Hood reorganized his forces at Lovejoy's Station, south of Atlanta, and Sherman chose not to pursue. On September 21, Hood moved north to Palmetto, Georgia, where he met with Confederate President Davis on September 25. Davis and Hood devised a plan that would have Hood's 39,000 soldiers move north toward Chattanooga, destroying Sherman's supply lines back to Tennessee along the way. Sherman was alerted to Hood's intentions when Davis foolishly revealed the plan in a series of speeches on his way back to the Confederate capital at Richmond. Sherman responded by sending Major General George H. Thomas to Nashville on September 29, to organize all of the Union troops in Tennessee. He also sent troops to reinforce the garrison at Chattanooga.

During October, Hood's infantry and Major General Joseph Wheeler's cavalry conducted a series of raids along the Western & Atlantic Railroad, Sherman's main supply line from Chattanooga to Atlanta. Sherman's army quickly repaired the damage but was not able to keep pace with the faster moving Rebels.

By late October, Sherman convinced Grant that his time would be better spent making Georgia howl on his March to the Sea than by chasing Hood around the South. Consequently, Sherman turned the pursuit of Hood over to Thomas and about 60,000 soldiers, 30,000 of whom were in the Nashville area. The other 30,000, commanded by Major General John M. Schofield, were moving north to join Thomas. At the same time, Hood moved into northern Alabama and focused his attention on Tennessee, hoping to defeat Thomas before the two Northern armies could be united.

After waiting to join forces with Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest's cavalry, Hood left Alabama on November 21, 1864. His goal was Columbia, Tennessee, about midway between Thomas's army in Nashville and Schofield's army at Pulaski, about 75 miles south of Nashville. Anticipating Hood's intentions, Schofield raced to Columbia, arriving just hours ahead of the Confederates on November 24. There, the Federals blocked Hood's advance for five days by controlling an important bridge over the Duck River.

On November 28, Hood found a way across the Duck River east of Columbia. In danger of being outflanked, Schofield began to fall back toward Franklin. Hood's army attacked Schofield's forces at Spring Hill, ten miles north of Columbia as the Northerners withdrew. After a series of command blunders, Hood ended the attack after dark. During the night, Schofield safely moved his entire army and supply train along the main turnpike past the sleeping Rebels. The movement did not go entirely undetected, but inexplicably, neither Hood nor any subordinate officers took any action to stop the Federal evacuation. By the morning of November 30, Schofield had escaped Hood's grasp.

Marching up the Columbia Turnpike, Schofield's army began arriving at Franklin before dawn on the morning of November 30. Although Schofield was once again between Hood and Nashville, his army was still vulnerable to attack before uniting with Thomas. Both bridges across the Harpeth River at Franklin were damaged, and Schofield had abandoned his pontoon bridges when he evacuated Columbia. Having no immediate means for crossing the Harpeth, Schofield was forced to brace for another attack from Hood with the river to his back. As his engineers worked to repair the bridges, Schofield set his men to constructing breastworks in a semi-circle in front of the town. Although otherwise formidable, the works were weakened by an intentional gap in the middle, through which the turnpike passed, to allow for Union traffic still coming into Franklin. The gap was defended by artillery and by a retrenchment barrier about 200 yards inside of the main works.

Brigadier General George Wagner's division was the last of Schofield's army to reach Franklin. As they approached the main Union defenses, Wagner detached three brigades to form an advance line between the two armies. One of the brigade commanders, Colonel Emerson Opdycke, refused the detachment order, claiming that the flat ground he was ordered to defend was untenable. Instead, Opdycke marched his brigade through the Union line to a reserve position behind the gap in the semi-circle. Opdycke's insubordination would prove to be fortuitous for the Union army.

By noon, Schofield's soldiers were prepared for Hood's next move. They did not have to wait long. Enraged that the Federals had slipped past him at Spring Hill, Hood berated his subordinate officers and then ordered his army to resume its pursuit. Hood's army began to arrive outside of Franklin at about 1:00 p.m. on November 30, 1864. Once in position, Hood ordered an all-out attack that began about at 4:00 p.m. When the assault began, the Confederates easily overran the two divisions Wagner deployed in front of the main Union defenses, capturing nearly 700 Federals as they fled up the turnpike toward Franklin. The Rebels continued in hot pursuit. By the time Wagner's men reached the gap in the Union works, the soldiers of both armies were so intermingled that some of the defenders were unable to fire for fear of shooting their comrades. At that point, the center of the Union line was in danger of collapsing. As Confederate soldiers began pouring through the breach in the Union line, Emerson Opdycke ordered his brigade forward and plugged the gap. Emboldened by the success of the counterattack, other reserves and retreating Federals joined Opdycke's soldiers and drove the Rebels back to the original Union line. Hand-to-hand combat in this sector continued for several hours until well after sunset.

As the fighting raged at the center, the Federals repulsed two Rebel assaults on their left, inflicting heavy casualties on the Rebels. The Confederates had no more success attacking the Union right later in the evening near dark. Stalemated on all fronts, Hood called off the assault after dark with plans to resume in the morning. The successful Union defense bought enough time for Schofield's engineers to repair the bridges over the Harpeth River. Under orders from General Thomas in Nashville, Schofield's army began evacuating Franklin at 11:00 p.m. One of Schofield's subordinate officers, Brigadier General Jacob D. Cox, argued against the evacuation, feeling that the Federals could finish off Hood's army the next day. Despite Cox's objections, Schofield chose to follow Thomas's orders. By noon on December 1, 1864, Schofield's army began arriving at Nashville.

Ohio units that participated in the Battle of Franklin included:

Infantry units:

  • 13th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 15th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 19th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 26th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 40th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 41st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 45th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 49th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 50th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 51st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 64th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 65th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 71st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 90th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 93rd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 97th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 100th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 101st Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 103rd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 104th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 111th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 118th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 124th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 125th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 175th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry
  • 183rd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

Artillery units:

  • Battery A, 1st Ohio Light Artillery Regiment
  • Battery D, 1st Ohio Light Artillery Regiment
  • Battery G, 1st Ohio Light Artillery Regiment
  • 6th Ohio Artillery Regiment
  • 20th Ohio Artillery Regiment

Cavalry Units:

  • 7th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry Regiment

The Battle of Franklin was a devastating loss for the Confederacy. The Rebels suffered over 6,200 casualties, including 1,750 killed, compared to fewer than 2,500 Union casualties, including 189 killed. In addition, Hood lost fourteen generals (six killed, seven wounded, and one captured), plus 55 regimental commanders. Most importantly, Schofield once more escaped Hood's grasp and united his army with Thomas's army in Nashville. At Columbia, Spring Hill and Franklin, the Confederate army faced an opponent of about equal strength. Throughout the remainder of Hood's Franklin-Nashville Campaign, the Rebels would face an army nearly twice their size.

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