The holocaust that enveloped the men of the two armies that last day of November--Rebel and Yankee alike--has long been virtually unknown outside the ranks of dedicated scholars and enthusiasts of the four year fratricide. Yet to those who have sought it out, the battle of Franklin, Tennessee has been synonymous with the same type of compacted horror visited upon the Bloody Angle of Spotsylvania, the Cornfield at Sharpsburg and the Wheatfield at Gettysburg.
We are a band of brothers and native to the soil, fighting for our liberty with treasure, blood, and toil...
Major General Patrick R. Cleburne
Pat Cleburne has never achieved the fame of other Confederate generals such as Robert Lee or Stonewall Jackson. Yet he surely sits with them at the first table in Valhalla. Known to history as the "Stonewall Jackson of the West" some (well, okay, just me) incline to the belief that the redoubtable Stonewall should be known as the "Pat Cleburne of the East." Cleburne and his division--comprised for the most part of Arkansans, Texans, and Alabamians--were renowned in their time for their fierce, irresistible assaults and stout, unwavering defenses. Training his men so thoroughly and constantly in rifle drill that they could fire five rounds each a minute, as compared to the average of three for other soldiers, the sight of the division's flag--a full moon on a field of blue--was enough to quail for a moment even the stoutest Northern heart.
Cleburne was born in 1828, in County Cork, Ireland. He fled home in early manhood, believing he had shamed his family by his failure obtain a druggist's license and follow in his father's footsteps as an apothecary. He enlisted in the British Army's 41st Regiment of Foot, attaining the rank of corporal. After several years he bought his way out and emigrated to America, settling in Helena, Arkansas. He became part-owner of a drugstore and passed the bar. In this quiet state he passed the years until secession and war came. Casting his lot with the adoptive home he had come to love so much, he helped raise the "Yell Rifles"--Company F, 15th Arkansas and was elected captain. In quick succession, for anyone with any kind of military experience was in short supply and Cleburne was also a highly intelligent man, quick on the uptake, he was promoted to colonel and then brigadier general.
Cleburne and his men distinguished themselves in battle at Shiloh, Tennessee and Richmond and Perryville, Kentucky. Cleburne himself was wounded in the two latter battles. Promoted to divisional command, Cleburne began to achieve his true fame. His division smashed the Union right flank at the battle of Stones River, captured two cannon, three flags, 400 prisoners and a mile of ground at Chickamauga, stood off W.T. Sherman and the entire Union Army of the Tennessee at Chattanooga, performed a heroic rear guard action at Tunnel Hill and then sustained this reputation for savagery in the battles for Atlanta.
There seemed to be no limit to how far Cleburne would rise, particularly after the almost unbelievable exploits at Chattanooga and Tunnel Hill in November 1863. He seemed at the least assured of corps command the next time a vacancy opened. Yet in January 1864, the Irish Arkansan unwittingly put a pistol to his career's head and pulled trigger.
Noted historian Shelby Foote narrates what happened:
[Cleburne] prepared and read and to his fellow generals in the Army of Tennessee a paper in which he examined the sinking fortunes of the Confederacy and proposed to deal simultaneously with what he conceived to be the two main problems blocking the path to independence: the manpower shortage, which was growing worse with every victory or defeat, and slavery, which he saw as a millstone the nation could no longer afford to carry in its effort to stay afloat on the sea of war. In brief, Cleburne's proposal was that the South emancipate its Negroes--thus making a virtue of necessity, since in his opinion slavery was doomed anyhow--and enlist them in its armies. This would "change the race from a dreaded weakness to a [source] of strength," he declared, and added: "We can do this more effectually than the North can now do, for we can give the Negro not only his own freedom, but that of his wife and child, and can secure it to him in his old home." Moreover, he said, such an action "would remove forever all selfish taint from our cause and place independence above every question of property..."
Perhaps it is needless to say that Cleburne's proposal was met with venom and disgust by his fellow generals, as well as by Confederate politicians. From that day forward, Pat Cleburne never rose another inch on the military ladder of the South.
Cleburne may have been embittered by this; he may not have been. In any case, army and national politics seemed to matter little that November day as we rode northward alongside the road on which his men were tramping. They and the other soldiers in the Army of Tennessee, commanded by General John Bell Hood, were in hot pursuit of a Union force they hoped to overtake and crush before it could cross the Harpeth River at the town of Franklin.
Cleburne had grown more "thoughtful and pensive" as the year had worn on and doom had settled increasingly over the Confederacy. Adding to his gloom was the recent knowledge that his brother had been killed in action at the battle of Cloyd's Mountain, West Virginia.
When asked what he thought of the campaign that was now underway, he had replied, "We are going to carry the war into Africa, but I fear we will not be as successful as Scipio was." Still, there was at least one bright spot in the prevailing darkness. He hoped to soon secure a furlough to return to Arkansas and marry his fiancee', Susan Tarleton.
As the day wore on and the column passed through the town of Columbia, Cleburne drew rein at the local place of worship, St. John's Church, and admired its quiet, peaceful yard and cemetery.
"It is almost worth dying for to be buried in such a beautiful spot," he remarked reflectively to a friend before they pressed onward toward the collision they hoped was imminent.
Captain Theodrick Carter
Theodrick "Tod" Carter was as excited as he had ever been in the course of a war for which "exciting" was often all too mild a word. For once, though signs of a battle were mounting, his mind was not on any prospect of possible death or wounds at the hands of Union bullets and shells. Instead, it lay immovably fixed upon the family he had not seen in 30 months.
Tod Carter had been born in the family house, located on 288 acres of land just outside of Franklin along the Columbia Turnpike. He was the tenth of twelve children of Fountain and Mary Carter. (Eight would survive to adulthood.)
Carter's childhood was the typical upbringing of the upper-middle class Southern white at the time. His father sustained his family through farming, real estate, and the mercantile business. Besides being pleasant and full of mischief, Tod was also unusually intelligent. When the boy was 15, his father wrote to a kinsman:
Theodrick is nearly grown, perfectly steady, learns very fast, and understands what he reads better than any boy I ever saw.
Like so many of his generation, North and South, Tod was caught up in the swirling tides of emotion that carried the nation along after secession and Sumter. Tod enlisted in Company H of the 20th Tennessee on May 18, 1861. One of his older brothers served as the unit's first Lieutenant Colonel.
Soon the romanticism of war gave way to its drudgery. The 20th and other regiments spent a miserable winter in Kentucky. Writing to a friend in January 1862, Carter said of the living conditions:
We have had some bitter cold weather for the last two weeks, interlarded with rain, sleet, snow, and hail, and with freezing wind howling through the ragged cloths. You may imagine that we are at times not as comfortable as we would like to be. We are encamped in the bend of the Cumberland and the ground is a perfect marsh ... the muddiest hole I ever saw.
Just 10 days after writing this letter, Carter and the 20th Tennessee got their first taste of combat at Mill Springs, Kentucky, where his older brother was captured. Next came the massive bloodletting at Shiloh, where a younger brother was wounded. Tod Carter managed to survive both fights unscathed. On May 1st, he was promoted to Captain and made the unit's Quartermaster. He was with the 20th during its share of the battles of Perryville and Stones River. It was also around this time that Carter began writing letters to the newspaper Chattanooga Daily Rebel under the nom de plume "Mint Julep."
Some samples of Mint Julep's correspondence follow
February 2, 1863:
I had a stolen glimpse of several northern papers of a late date, last night, and I will give you such items as my memory may furnish from a hasty gleaning. They are all brimful of the dissatisfaction, discontent, and rioting over the north, all growing out of the gloveless abuses and usurpations of the bob-tail dictatorship at Washington, culminating a desire for an immediate peace. But these peace dreams are based upon the idea of a restoration of the Union as it was, and are consequently wild, unreal vagaries. Notwithstanding their clamors for peace, if their hearts have even entertained the proposition of our separation in recognition, their lips, paralyzed with apprehensions of a berth in the bastiles, refuse to give it utterance. Let us not be deluded by these dreams of peace, however sweet their whisperings. Peace will come, but our Taxation of efforts and preparations will only stay its coming.
Feb 11, 1863:
Does the strength of the South consist alone in home, flesh, sinews, and muscle? If so, our cause then is surely hopeless, for beyond question the North outmeasures us in point of weight and bulk. Our superiority consists in the morale, the animus. Is this not the creation of intelligence? The Northern people submit tamely to usurpation, but at its first noiseless, stealthy approach the Southern spirits starts like a panther. The difference in intelligence and training accounts for this. Why cripple then the medium of supply for this peculiar strength of the South? Could the redoubled warriors, breathing fire along the corridors of the capitol, see the throng of ragged soldiers pressing eagerly around the news office at this place daily, for a paper, perhaps a change would come over the spirit of their dreams. These poorly clad soldiers, "foot sore and weary," are perhaps as sincerely devoted to the cause as these sweet smelling "Conscript Fathers." Are the people to be blindfolded in the midst of a revolution when all is at stake? Baron Munchausen tells us of a blind sow he saw upon one occasion that grasped her pig's tale with her teeth and was in this manner led from place to place. Do our friends at Richmond require this of us?
February 25, 1863:
Our army is again in good fighting trim, and the ranks rapidly filling up by the influx of absentees. I suppose it is better clothed, equipped and fed than ever before. The country is bountifully supplied with game, but the boys are forbidden to shoot, for fear of hitting some General's aide. These sweet-smelling, kid-glovey band-boxy, tea cakey, attar-of-rose exquisites are as plentiful as gnats around a vinegar jug. But you must not construe my expression into any reflection upon the usefulness of this necessary appendage of our Gypsy-life. It is true they dangle a dress sword gracefully, run handsome horses in dashing style, and smile most daintily at the ladies, yet it is no less true, they can tell the ragged, weather-beaten fellow that foots it with his gun and heavy knapsack, exactly what he ought to be. You can thus very readily appreciate the field and scope of their usefulness, and the necessity of taking every precaution to protect them from the weather and disagreeable inconvenience of camp life, and to guard against the rudeness of bringing them in contact with unmannerly soldiers, and everything calculated to grate harshly upon their tender sensibilities.
I have conversed with several intelligent and creditable gentlemen from Williamson county in the last few days, and they bring melancholy tidings of the fate of her gallant people. The country is being desolated. The abolitionists are burning and destroying houses, razing fences, stealing horses, shooting cattle and hauling off all the provisions in the county, not even leaving many families meat or bread enough for a single meal. They have broken up the wagons, hoes, and plows, destroyed the harness, and every thing that can be employed in cultivating the earth. The officers boldly proclaimed that the people shall not raise another crop. Citizens are robbed of their money, and their houses pillaged of every article of wearing apparel, and bed clothing, and their furniture and table ware broken and ruined by the heartless scoundrels. I was informed of three instances of my acquaintance, fair, modest, virtuous young women being ruthlessly violated by the hellish ruffians. These are not pictures woven by fancy, nor the creation of vague rumors, but facts attested by authorities that cannot be questioned. If retributive justice is no myth of fancy, it surely is time now for an exhibition of its power. When the men of the country are torn from their homes to fight for the Government, that Government should take some retaliatory steps to protect their helpless families from the hands of the incendiary and the ravisher.
I draw your especial attention to the part about Carter's dim view of staff officers and aides, given what his future held in store for him.
In any case, Carter also managed to come through the brutal, hellish slugging match that was the Battle of Chickamauga without physical harm before his luck ran out. At Chattanooga in November 1863, he was captured along with thousands of his comrades. Sent first to Louisville then to the massive POW camp at Sandusky, Ohio, Carter spent a short, miserable time there. Then came an opportunity such as few of the men condemned to be prisoners of war ever have...escape. Carter was among a group ordered transferred to another prison camp in Baltimore. He and other captives were herded aboard a train.
From here, Carter's biographer (and great-grand niece) picks up the tale...
He feigned sleep, with his feet resting in the train window, and his head in his seat companion's lap. When the guard looked the other way, Tod's seat companion gave him a shove out the train window! The train was stopped and a searching party was sent back to look for him, but Tod had made his escape. A northern farm couple befriended him, and in disguise, he made his way back to Memphis, Tennessee, by way of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. From Memphis he made his way to Dalton, Georgia, where the Twentieth Tennessee Regiment was still encamped.
It was in the period between this and the fall of Atlanta--I was unable to determine the precise date--that Carter was made an aide to Brigadier General T.B. Smith, commanding the brigade to which the 20th Tennessee belonged. Presumably, Carter did not allow himself to become one of the "sweet-smelling, kid-glovey band-boxy, tea cakey, attar-of-rose exquisites" he had scorned or else he did not mind the metamorphosis. In any case, after the fall of Atlanta, Carter and his fellow Tennesseans had their heads turned homeward.
Headquarters Tyler's Brigade, In the field-near Columbia,Tennessee
The. Carter, Aide-de-Camp, has permission to go in advance of this command to Franklin
By order of T.B. Smith, Brig. Gen'l, commanding.
With that order, the cause of Captain Carter's excitement, he was at last headed to the dream of every soldier...home. Riding well in advance of the army as permitted, and taking a circuitous route around the intervening Federal host, Carter at last approached his dearly missed home on the morning of November 30. As he lifted the latch on the front gate, tears coursing down his cheeks from utter, unrestrained joy, he beheld from a front window a family member frantically gesturing for him to stop and go away. Staggered by this, Carter turned around and saw the worst sight imaginable. On top of Winstead Hill, two miles from the family home across a broad, open plain, blue uniformed infantry by the thousands were filing into view. If he did not leave immediately, Carter risked re-capture. Moreover, there was no certainty of his fate, given his status as an escapee. Jumping onto his horse, Carter sunk the spur deep and galloped by forest trails well known to him since boyhood to rejoin his comrades coming up close in the Union rear.
If Tod Carter wanted to see home, family, and friends again, he was literally going to have to fight for it.
...and when our rights were threatened, the cry rose near and far, "Hurrah for the Bonnie Blue Flag that bears a single star!"
In November, William T. Sherman began his famous "March to the Sea." Before he did so, he detached part of his army to be combined with troops already in and being forwarded to Nashville. There they were to deal with any attempt by the Confederate Army of Tennessee to plunge north while his back was turned. With that, he turned his back and headed on his famous march toward Savannah and immortality.
Hood, the aforementioned Confederate commander, intended to do precisely that. His plan of campaign was to move north into Tennessee, capture Nashville and the abundant military supplies kept there, then march for Kentucky and the Ohio River. He expected to gather 10,000 to 20,000 recruits to the Confederate banner, thus reducing the odds against him to something within reason.
It was a pipe dream.
Hood, described by one historian as a "knight-errant", was completely out of his depth commanding an army. For a year, he had been one of Robert E. Lee's ace division commanders. Upon his transfer to the Western theater, he had served competently as a corps commander. Yet the finer points of army command completely escaped him. His reckless, heads down fighting style had cost him something on the order of 25,000 men from his ranks between July 17 and September 1, 1864. On the latter date, Atlanta, the city in his charge, fell to Sherman's soldiers.
Hood's decision to move north was perhaps the only one left to him. He could not hope to stop Sherman's advance to the Atlantic. Yet his notion of picking up half as many men as he had in his army was wildly optimistic to the point of insanity. Almost all of those who intended to fight already were or had been in the ranks. (Indeed, records would show that but 164 recruits would join Hood during his Tennessee sojourn.) Hood's further notion that, upon reaching the banks of the Ohio, he would turn east and march to Robert E. Lee's assistance was even further beyond the bounds of reality.
And yet, perhaps, it is all fitting. Hood was a soldier whose notions of warfare were by now far better suited to a bygone age. Now here he was, embarking on a wild, absurd quest with one of the two principal armies of a wild, absurd nation founded on abhorrent ideals clothed in the romances and ideals of a bygone age. In any case, Hood and his army set out on the march that would take them to Nashville and destiny....by way of Franklin.
The Union army that interrupted Tod Carter's home leave and caused him to flee in haste back to his own army was running for its life. Just the day before, they had nearly been trapped and cut off near the hamlet of Spring Hill. Only a series of Confederate command blunders (Hood had never been able to keep a tight rein on his subordinates) had caused the Rebel trap to go unsprung and allow the bluecoats to make a getaway toward Franklin. If they could only put the Harpeth River between them and their adversaries, they could safely retire to the bristling, impregnable fortifications of Nashville.
The Federals reached Franklin just after dawn and got right to work. While the infantry began constructing stout log and earth breastworks to fight behind, the artillerymen began digging lunettes for their sixty-odd pieces. Meanwhile, the engineers got busy ripping down buildings to construct a bridge over the Harpeth, since the old one had recently been flooded out.
The line chosen for the Federals to defend was just outside the town, near the end of the two mile deep plain. Three blue divisions manned these fortifications. Brigadier General George Wagner's three-brigade division was posted out in front of the main line. Two of his brigades were posted just over half a mile in front of the main line, while the third was another mile or more ahead on Winstead Hill, posted as lookouts to give the alarm when the Confederates first appeared over the horizon.
The standing orders were for the brigade in observation on Winstead Hill, commanded by Colonel Emerson Opdycke--"Opdycke's Tigers" they were known as--were to fall back on the other two brigades of Wagner's division as soon as the Rebels came into view. From there, all three were to retire to a body back to the principal position and take their place in reserve. It was hoped that these orders would only be precautionary. If all went well, then the entire Union force would be over the river and safe on the way to Nashville before their adversaries could catch up to them.
Alas, all did not go well. Only the wagon train, one division of infantry and several batteries of artillery had crossed before Opdycke's men on Winstead Hill spotted the Confederate army moving up the roads toward them. It seemed the Northern men were going to have to fight for their lives.
Or perhaps not. As the Union soldiers peered over their breastworks, anxiously awaiting sight of the Rebels, they mused to each other that even such a known fighter as Hood could not be possibly insane enough to launch his army into a headlong assault here. In front of them was the bare plain, two miles in depth--twice the distance George Pickett and his men had had to cover in their famous Gettysburg assault. The Federal artillery covered every inch of it. No, the Johnnies might bristle and threaten and probe, but they would never make a full bore go at it.
When Opdycke first sighted his grayclad opponents he dutifully abandoned Winstead Hill and withdrew as ordered. But due to some mix-up, misunderstanding, or neglect (likely a combination of all three) he withdrew to his designated reserve position alone. The other two brigades of Wagner's division stayed out alone in front of the Union line...sitting ducks half a mile from any help.
Arrow straight, the Columbia Pike ran over Winstead Hill, across the plain and through the dead center of the main Union line of resistance. Just in rear of this eye, positioned for all the world like a bullseye, was the Carter House. It was in rear of the Carter House that Opdycke's men finally pulled up and dropped to the ground to rest, hoping they would not be called upon for any fighting this day.
Their hopes were about to be dashed in the most violent and bloody way imaginable. After Opdycke's men had abandoned Winstead Hill, most of the Confederate corps and division commanders had moved onto its crest to use as an observation post. One of these was Patrick Cleburne. He and his fellows were sobered by what they saw before them. The plain unrolled at their feet like a red carpet leading to the door of death. Famed gray cavalryman Nathan Bedford Forrest, familiar with the region since he had raided it many times, began to concoct a plan whereby he could take his cavalry and a division of infantry across the Harpeth at certain fords and get in the Yankees' rear, thus cutting them off or at the very least flanking them out of their works.
Forrest could have as well saved himself any trouble or mental taxation devising such a scheme may have caused him. Hood rode up, dismounted with difficulty because he lacked a leg and the use of one arm, and hobbled up to join the assembly on crutched handed him by an orderly. Leaning on the crutches, he spoke not a word as he slowly and carefully studied the Union position through his binoculars.
Finally he lowered them and spoke a single sentence that cut like an icy wind through the souls of his lieutenants.
"We will make the fight."
Forrest, Major General Benjamin Cheatham, Cleburne and others protested. One whole corps of infantry and all of the artillery were still far to the rear. Their protests were to no avail. Historian Thomas B. Buell picks up the story:
Hood would not yield. It had come to this: commanding an army had been too much. His attempts to delegate authority had failed, and he had been unable to coordinate flanking movements and other complex maneuvers. His logistics and staff work had been shameful. At Franklin he finally had a situation he could understand. He could revert to the maneuver he had used in the glory days under Lee: the straightforward head-on assault.
Hood's orders were explicit...No firing at long range. Close to the enemy line in a compact formation to point-black range, then fire and charge with the bayonet. The Federal line would break, because in hand-to-hand combat, the Confederate soldier was superior.
With that, Hood ordered his generals back to their commands to prepare. It was already three o'clock. Sunset was sometime around 5 p.m....time was of the essence.
As Cleburne prepared to ride off, Hood--perhaps aggrieved at having his best division commander protest his orders-- harshly repeated his instructions to the Irishman. Cleburne bristled and replied stiffly, "I will either take the enemy's works or fall in the attempt" and rode back to his command.
Cleburne passed the orders to his brigade commanders, who were equally amazed as they were. They protested, again much as he had done, only to be told that the orders were subject to no alteration. They must be obeyed without delay, as was the solemn duty of all good soldiers. One of his brigade commanders, Brigadier General Daniel C. Govan, a n Arkansan like Cleburne remarked, "Well, general, there will not be many of us that get back to Arkansas."
Cleburne replied stoutly, "Well Govan, if we are to die let us die like men."
The orders by this time had filtered down also to T.B. Smith who, with the urgent assistance of Captain Tod Carter, was busy herding their troops into line of battle. Carter was flushed with excitement, calling orders loudly and riding his horse about at top speed. The sooner they overran the Yankee breastworks and drove the Northerners into the river, the sooner he could feel once again the loving embrace of family and sit by the hearth that had warmed him as a youth.
At 3:45, the bands struck up "Dixie" and the bugles sounded the advance. Cleburne, Carter and dozens of other officers shouted "Forward! Charge!" and over 18,000 Confederate infantrymen began moving.
"Hurrah, hurrah, for Southern rights, hurrah! Hurrah for the Bonnie Blue Flag that bears a single star!"
One of the individuals moving forward in the Southern line of battle was Private Sam Watkins, 1st Tennessee. Some of you may know him as one of the focal points of Ken Burns' legendary "The Civil War" documentary. Long after the war ended, Watkins penned his memoirs "Company Aytch: A Side Show of the Big Show."
Though years had passed and some memories had dimmed...Watkins' mind, heart, and soul revolted when he was forced to recollect Franklin:
Kind reader, right here my pen, and courage, and ability fail me. I shrink from butchery. Would to God I could tear the page from these memoirs and from my own memory. It 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. My flesh trembles, and creeps, and crawls when I think of it today. My heart almost ceases to beat at the horrid recollection. Would to God that I had never witnessed such a scene! I cannot describe it. It beggars description. I will not attempt to describe it. I could not. The death-angel was there to gather its last harvest. It was the grand coronation of death. Would that I could turn the page. But I feel, though I did so, that page would still be there, teeming with its scenes of horror and blood.
Franklin was not "the bloodiest battle of modern times in any war." But Watkins can certainly be forgiven for thinking it was. To a participant, it must have seemed like Armageddon unleashed.
Probably none of the Union soldiers who first saw the Confederate battle line come into view in the fading light could believe their eyes at first glance. Their feelings were much the same as their adversaries across the way....fleeting thoughts of home, friends, family, God, mortality...a tightening of the gut...a sharp, involuntary drawing in and holding of breath....and underneath it all, gnawing at their spines like some virulent rat, fear.
Yet no soldiers on the field on either side experienced these emotions in such acute quantities as those unfortunates in Wagner's two orphaned brigades. Their heads swivelled in opposite directions, their eyes alternately torn between the advancing gray host in front and the gap between them and their comrades behind them, suddenly seeming to lengthen as if by magic.
Still, these men were hardened veterans who had taken the measure of the Rebels on many occasions. If running was soon to be their portion, they were going to attempt to exact at least a little blood for it. Rifles cocked. No other sound broke the stillness. The Rebel line advance closer, steadily, in good order.
When the range had closed to under a mile and a half, the Union artillery opened up, raining death and destruction on the human forms clad in butternut.
The gray lines picked up speed, but still held steady.
The range closed...500 yards...450...400...Wagner's men could be restrained no longer. A rifle volley crashed.
The Confederates began moving faster now, double quicking inexorably forward.
Another thunderous volley roared...the Rebels kept coming. Blue clad soldiers began to perceive the time had come to go. A human wave was about to engulf them. Some of the more stalwart among them stayed to get a third shot off.
It was a mistake.
As if by one sudden, common impulse the gray infantry came storming forward at a dead run, order and formation dissolving, shrieking the hellish "Rebel yell" for all they were worth. Over Wagner's flimsy breastworks they went, clubbing, shooting and stabbing. Through the dull haze of gunsmoke and the red haze of battle fury and bloodlust that was now upon them, they spotted Wagner's fugitives streaming rearward up the Columbia Turnpike, in a mad, fear-crazed dash for their lives.
"Let's go into the works with them!" someone shouted and the cry was soon taken up all and down the line as the Confederates began a half mile sprint toward the main Union position.
It's hard to imagine a worse or more terrifying position to be in than one of Wagner's men at this point. A screaming, shrieking, howling mob of what seemed like all the hordes of Hell was rapidly closing up on them from the rear. Up ahead, it seemed as if the distance between themselves and their own troops refused to lessen, no matter how hard or fast they ran.
Foote notes that,
"It seemed the bullets never before hissed with such diabolical venom," a Union captain was to say, recalling too that the cries of the wounded, left to the mercy of the screaming graybacks when they fell, "had a pathetic note of despair I had never heard before." More than 700 were captured, hurt or unhurt, and the main-line defenders, dead ahead, were kept from firing at the pursuers by fear of hitting their comrades in the lead.
Two among this host of "screaming graybacks" were Pat Cleburne and Tod Carter. Both had started the assault mounted, but Cleburne soon had two horses shot from under him. Undeterred, he picked himself up and continued to advance with his men on foot, waving his sword and bellowing encouragement for all he was worth. Carter was doing much the same thing, though he somehow managed to remain mounted during the headlong rush.
Wagner's men by now had accomplished their goal of getting back to their main line, though that achievement was of dubious worth to them, given the tidal wave of violence bearing down. In any case, there was at least some safety in numbers, since they were less likely to be singled out for harm in the now all-but-inevitable hand-to-hand conflict about to ensue.
Fueled by adrenaline, the Confederates had not perceptibly slowed during their half mile sprint, nor did they slow now as they came stampeding over the breastworks and into the breaking line of defenders. Here and there, knots of resistence dammed up the Rebel surge, resulting in clumps of men grappling hand to hand with each other. But large numbers of butternut infantrymen poured over the Yankee breastworks in hot pursuit of their foes.
Now the Carter House, in its bullseye position, was in the eye--or, more properly, eyewall--of the hurricane. Barely 200 yards away, Tod Carter could see it through rifts in the smoke of battle. Vaulting his horse over the works he waved his sword about and yelled to his comrades at the top of his voice, "Follow me boys, I'm almost home!" and led the way.
He never made it.
Five hundred feet from his front door, a bullet punched into Captain Tod Carter's skull, knocking him from his horse and leaving him sprawled on the ground. He would be brought to his family's home the next day. Amazingly, he was still alive. A surgeon, attended by two of Carter's sisters, attempted to probe for and extract the bullet in his brain, but with no success. He expired 2 days later in a room across the hall from the one he had been born in.
Those who knew him and saw him fall barely had time to comprehend what had just happened when an even worse sight greeted their eyes. Emerging from the swirls of smoke and haze was a Union line of battle coming full-bore at them, as inexorable in its advance as they had so recently been in their own.
It was Colonel Emerson Opdycke and his "Tigers." Ever since their withdrawl from Winstead Hill, they had been having a tense wait behind the Carter House. Suddenly, the uproar of battle exploded in their front. Opdycke called his men into line and then, as the line broke, led them forward on the double. Even as he moved on, he took time to lay about at the Union soldiers rushing past him, pistol whipping them until he struck one skulker such a severe blow that it shattered into several pieces.
As the two lines, one blue, one gray, gained sight of each other there was a brief, almost imperceptible moment of mutual surprise and recognition before they came roaring at each other and collided full tilt. They came crashing together like a scene out of some long ago battle, in a manner not unlike you may have seen in "Braveheart." Though the Confederates had the immediate numerical advantage, their frenzy had been spent. Slowly, relentlessly they were forced back to and then over the entrenchments they had so recently come pouring over. The breach was healed. For all intents and purposes, Hood's assault had failed.
Maybe, just maybe someone idolized by the Confederate troops could rally them and lead them in one more desperate effort to crack the Union shell open. What was needed was a beloved general the men were willing to follow all the way to the gates of Hell if he was willing to lead. Patrick Cleburne fit that description if anyone did. A soldier once said of him that "Men seemed to be afraid to be afraid where he was."
Pat Cleburne, however, was beyond all fear or inspiration or any other human emotion. He was dead.
There were those of his troops who had suspected this for a while, in fact. Some of Govan's Arkansans had piled up at the Yankee breastworks when they broke through, waiting eagerly for their beloved leader to personally give them the order to go over them in pursuit. But Cleburne never appeared. Said one of their number, "We waited and waited and waited. When [the command] didn't come, I knew Pat Cleburne was dead; for if he had been living, he would have given us that order."
His body would not be found until the just after first light next day. He lay some forty yards from the Union line, his face toward the foe, a single bullet having sufficed to still his heart. He was buried on the field next day, then removed to St. John's Churchyard--the resting place worth dying for--then at last on a little hill overlooking his adopted hometown of Helena, Arkansas.
When a brother officer learned of the fate of Cleburne and his division, he wrote the following:
Where this division defended, no odds broke its line; where it attacked, no numbers resisted its onslaught, save only once; and there is the grave of Cleburne.
However, most of his soldiers and others from different commands had little time to contemplate his fate or the fate of the 69 other generals and field officers who would be shot down before fighting at last slackened and sputtered out. For those who would be spared in this fight, their ordeal was not yet half over. It would be midnight before the fighting sputtered out.
Shelby Foote has aptly described Franklin as a battle that combined "the grisliest features of Pickett's Charge and Spotsylvania's Bloody Angle." For those who know anything at all about those two battles, that is a shudder inducing statement indeed. Scarcely more can be said to describe the battle's horror. Hand to hand fighting and point blank firing raged along the breastworks at intervals all night, broken only by when the Confederates would fall back under pressure. Soon enough, however, they would be back and be met by heavy volleys from Federal rifles and cannon and the grim cycle would start all over again. Some of those killed in the later stages of the action were found next morning to be stiffened in death in upright positions, having been killed among so many corpses that their own body could not fall over.
Hood fed a division of reinforcements into the fight, but it served only to increase the confusion and the carnage. Finally when the sounds of firing died away, replaced by the screams of helpless, agonized wounded, the Union forces withdrew across the Harpeth and destroyed the bridge in their wake.
"...but rather than submit to shame, to die we would prefer, so cheer, cheer for that Bonnie Blue Flag that bears a single star!
The morning brought a seen of horror such as few of the veterans who had survived another in a long, sad sequence of bloody battles had known. The dead lay in piles and heaps, in every conceivable position of agony and mutilation. The Union dead and wounded were still there too, but far fewer. In all, Federal infantry casualties totaled 189 KIA, 1033 WIA and 1103 captured or otherwise MIA.
On the gray side of the equation, the arithmetic was far grimmer. Foote sums up the battle from the Confederate perspective,
...6252 Confederate veterans were casualties, including [better than] 1750 killed in action--as many as had died on either side in the two days of Shiloh or under McClellan throughout the Seven Days: more than had died under Rosecrans at Stones River, under Burnside at Fredericksburg...almost as many, indeed, as Grant had had killed outright when he assaulted at Cold Harbor with three times as many men. Hood had wrecked his army, top to bottom, and the army knew it; or soon would
The next day, Hood issued a congratulatory order to his army (or what was left of it). The words sound almost like hollow mockery.
The commanding general congratulates the army upon the success achieved yesterday over our enemy by their heroic and determined courage....while we lament the fall of many gallant officers and brave men, we have shown to our countrymen that we can carry any position occupied by the enemy.