American Civil War: Battle of Franklin

Battle of Franklin. Photograph Source: Pubilic Domain

Battle of Franklin - Conflict:

The Battle of Franklin was fought during the American Civil War.

Armies & Commanders at Franklin:



Battle of Franklin - Date:

Hood attacked the Army of the Ohio on November 30, 1864.

Battle of Franklin - Background:

In the wake of the Union capture of Atlanta in September 1864, Confederate General John Bell Hood regrouped the Army of Tennessee and launched a new campaign to break Union General William T. Sherman's supply lines north. Later that month, Sherman dispatched Major General George H. Thomas to Nashville to organize Union forces in the area. Outnumbered, Hood decided to move north to attack Thomas before the Union general could reunite with Sherman. Aware of Hood's movement north, Sherman sent Major General John Schofield to reinforce Thomas.

Moving with VI and XXIII Corps, Schofield quickly became Hood's new target. Seeking to prevent Schofield from joining with Thomas, Hood pursued the Union columns and the two forces squared off at Columbia, TN from November 24-29. Next racing to Spring Hill, Schofield's men beat off an uncoordinated Confederate attack before escaping in the night to Franklin. Arriving at Franklin at 6:00 AM on November 30, the lead Union troops began preparing a strong, arc-shaped defensive position to the south of the town. The Union rear was protected by the Harpeth River.

Battle of Franklin - Schofield Turns:

Entering the town, Schofield decided to make a stand as the bridges across the river were damaged and needed to be repaired before the bulk of his forces could cross. While repair work commenced, the Union supply train slowly began crossing the river using a nearby ford. By noon, the earthworks were complete and a secondary line established 40-65 yards behind the main line. Settling in to await Hood, Schofield decided that the position would be abandoned if the Confederates did not arrive before 6:00 PM. In close pursuit, Hood's columns reached Winstead Hill, two miles south of Franklin, around 1:00 PM.

Battle of Franklin - Hood Attacks:

Establishing his headquarters, Hood ordered his commanders to prepare for an assault on the Union lines. Knowing the dangers of frontally attacking a fortified position, many of Hood's subordinates attempted to talk him out of the assault, but he would not relent. Moving forward with Major General Benjamin Cheatham's corps on the left and Lieutenant General Alexander Stewart's on the right, the Confederate forces first encountered two brigades of Brigadier General George Wagner's division. Posted half a mile forward of the Union line, Wagner's men were supposed to fall back if pressed.

Disobeying orders, Wagner had his men stand firm in an attempt to turn back Hood's assault. Quickly overwhelmed, his two brigades fell back toward the Union line where their presence between the line and the Confederates prevented Union troops from opening fire. This failure to cleanly pass through the lines, coupled with a gap in the Union earthworks at the Columbia Pike, allowed three Confederate divisions to focus their attack on the weakest part of Schofield's line.

Battle of Franklin - Hood Wrecks His Army:

Breaking through, men from Major Generals Patrick Cleburne, John C. Brown, and Samuel G. French's divisions were met by a furious counterattack by Colonel Emerson Opdycke's brigade as well as other Union regiments. After brutal hand-to-hand fighting, they were able to close the breach and throw back the Confederates. To the west, Major General William B. Bate's division was repulsed with heavy casualties. A similar fate met much of Stewart's corps on the right wing. Despite the heavy casualties, Hood believed that the Union center had been badly damaged.

Unwilling to accept defeat, Hood continued to throw uncoordinated attack's against Schofield's works. Around 7:00 PM, with Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee's corps arriving on the field, Hood selected Major General Edward "Allegheny" Johnson's division to lead another assault. Storming forward, Johnson's men and other Confederate units failed to reach the Union line and became pinned down. For two hours an intense firefight ensued until Confederate troops were able to fall back in the darkness. To the east, Confederate cavalry under Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest attempted to turn Schofield's flank but were blocked by Major General James H. Wilson's Union horsemen. With the Confederate assault defeated, Schofield's men began crossing the Harpeth around 11:00 PM and reached the fortifications at Nashville the next day.

Battle of Franklin - Aftermath:

The Battle of Franklin cost Hood 1,750 killed and around 5,800 wounded. Among the Confederate deaths were six generals: Patrick Cleburne, John Adams, States Rights Gist, Otho Strahl, and Hiram Granbury. An additional eight were wounded or captured. Fighting behind earthworks, Union losses were a mere 189 killed, 1,033 wounded, 1,104 missing/captured. The majority of those Union troops that were captured were wounded and medical personnel who remained after Schofield departed Franklin. Many were liberated on December 18, when Union forces re-took Franklin after the Battle of Nashville. While Hood's men were dazed after their defeat at Franklin, they pressed on and clashed with Thomas and Schofield's forces at Nashville on December 15-16. Routed, Hood's army effectively ceased to exist after the battle.

The assault at Franklin is frequently known as the "Pickett's Charge of the West" in reference to the Confederate assault at Gettysburg. In reality, Hood's attack consisted of more men, 19,000 vs. 12,500, and advanced over a longer distance, 2 miles vs. .75 miles, than Lieutenant General James Longstreet's assault on July 3, 1863. Also, while Pickett's Charge lasted approximately 50 minutes, the assaults at Franklin were conducted over a span of five hours.

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Your Citation
Hickman, Kennedy. "American Civil War: Battle of Franklin." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Hickman, Kennedy. (2020, August 26). American Civil War: Battle of Franklin. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "American Civil War: Battle of Franklin." ThoughtCo. (accessed January 27, 2023).