Memoir Chapter 24

MEMOIRS OF THE CIVIL WAR
W. L. TRUMAN

CHAPTER 24 – FRANKLIN

Nov. 21st. After the loss of much valuable time, we are on the move again, in the rain, snow and mud.

Nov. 23rd. Have arrived at Columbia. The enemy has evacuated the city, and crossed to the North of Duck river, and is in position to offer battle.

Nov. 25th. Considerable skirmishing and some artillery firing is going on. Maj. Storrs moved one section of our battery to the right of the city close to the river, and had us open fire on the enemy’s skirmish line, behind some works across the river. We soon had them on the run, and as one of our shells, bursted right in their midst, knocking down several, Maj. Storrs threw up his cap, jumped about three feet high and shouted for joy. It is not strange that a soldier should rejoice at the destruction of his fellow man, when a whole nation of men and women can rejoice and thank God for the same. We moved up the river and crossed on a pontoon bridge and toiled all day over a rough country road. Cannonading has been going on all day to our left and rear, which proves to us that we are trying to get to the reat of the enemy. Today about one o’clock as we were moving up a valley road, minie balls whized around us for some distance, from the thickly timbered hills to our left. Our skirmish line that were advancing on our left, in a parallel line with our guns, soon drove them away. We continued our march very slowly until four o’clock, when we made a stop close to Springhill, until dark, when we moved some two miles further on, passing behind our lines of battle and the long line of camp fires, then haulted for the night.

Nov 30th. Moved early and was soon on the Franklin pike, pressing toward that place. The enemy passed us last night, his rear guard barely getting out of our way, before we reached the pike this morning. Many wagons were cut to the ground, by cutting every spoke in the wheels and set on fire with their contents, by the enemy. The big fires felt good as we passed. Our division is in the advance and by twelve were in sight of Franklin. The line of battle was soon formed, with Stewarts Corps on the right, with Loring’s Division on the right of Stewarts Corps. Walthall’s in the center, and Gen French’s on the left. My battery (Guibore’s) was ordered to follow Loring’s division and we followed close behind Loring’s line of battle, on his extreme right, close to the Harpeth river, not more than thirty feet from the stream at times. The opposite was a dense forest all the way to the Franklin pike, and not a one of the enemy to be seen. It looked to me to be but an hours work to throw a bridge across that narrow stream and rush a few brigades through that timber to the pike in the rear of the enemy.

The ground over which Loring’s and Walthalls divisions advanced to the charge, was sparely timbered and well set in bluegrass, free of all undergrowth and I could see our line for at least a half mile as it advanced to a common center. It was an inspiring sight. The enemy’s artillery fire on our center and left was heavy, but on our right, at least in front of Gen. Loring’s division, had only one battery playing upon it, and that was on the enemy’s extreme left, near the river. It was well handled and did considerable execution, one shell bursted right in the midst of our line, as it moved forward in front of our battery, and perhaps as many as ten men fell in a heap, two of them raised themselves up on their hands and then fell back and all was still in death. The line on either side of the gap never quivered or lost step, nor turned their heads to look back, but pressed on as if nothing had happened, and the line was soon closed. We were within easy musket range of the battery, but were not allowed to fire a shot. We cannoneers inquired, and clamored for a chance to return the fire and protect our infantry, but our officers told us that Gen Hood had given orders that no artillery should be used as the women and children were all in the town. And as far up the line as I could see, there was not a shot fired, from any of our batteries, and yet we were kept under fire during the battle.

As our line of battle drew near the enemy’s works, I saw their picket line leave their hiding places and make a rush for their main works and when safely inside, a sheet of fire belched forth from the enemy’s breastworks as far around the semicircle as I could see, then our line went forward on a run in almost perfect order, for quite a distance without firing a gun. The sheet of fire like long flashes of lightning continued to play in the midst of the smoking volcano of death, in their front and the enemy’s battery upon their left redoubled its efforts of destruction.

Suddenly the Confederate line came to a halt, almost as it seemed to me at the edge of the blazing, smoking breastworks and fired a volley or two, and then the whole line wheeled and made a rush for the rear and as the hailstorm of lead and cannister followed them, “they ran because they could not fly.” When out of range of the volleys of musketry, every man halted of his own accord and our line of battle was soon in perfect order again. Our men were old soldiers, heroes of a hundred battles, well drilled and knew their duty and were never panic stricken, when ordered or forced to retire from the face of the enemy. It was so in this case, no effort was made to return to the assault on our right, so far as I could see, I knew there was a good cause for it. Something more than the presence of the enemy inside of their works, which was bad enough, but did not learn the real facts until I investigated myself early the next morning

The battle seemed to be general all around the town, the cannonading was incessant to our left and center, and the musketry fearful at times. I had heard nothing like it except at Corinth and Gen Bowen’s charge with his division at Baker’s Creek. Darkness was soon upon us yet the battle continued with great obstinacy at many points until late at night. My battery had haulted within range of the minie balls, while the line went forward in the charge and we never moved from that place during the night. Our horses were not unharnessed or fed. It was a real sad disappointment to the officers and men of our battery, to quietly look upon that Federal battery doing its deadly work in perfect safety. Our gunners were splendid markdmen as they had practised until they could place a shell in a few minutes just where they wanted it, and felt sure that if they could not silence that battery, they could so cripple it in a few minutes that it could not harm our men.

About daylight we received the news, that the enemy had left the town and were on their way to Nashville. I told Lt Murphy, that I was going forward to look over the battle field on our front, and he made no objection. I walked straight to the point where our line of battle made the hault, I wanted to settle the question in my mind, why they came back and never returned to the assault again. We battery boys who were looking on and saw the whole performance, had all concluded that there was something else besides the enemy’s bullets, that had turned them back, before they reached the breastworks of the enemy, and great was my surprise when I came to the place and found an obstruction, that no body of men, however brave and determined they might be, could pass, and for them to remain there in the face of a muderous fire, by a concealed foe, not more than twenty yards distant, would have been simply suicidal, so they acted wisely by firing a volley and then getting back as soon as possible. But it is reasonable for me to assume, knowing those men to be veterans and thoroughly desciplined, that they were ordered to return, just as soon as their officers saw the situation. Well, the impassable barrier was a brush fence made out of osage hedge, and every man knows that ever saw an osage hedge, that no sensible man would would dare take hold of the brush, with his bare hands as the sharp thorns are very poisenous. This thorny brush fence or abattis was well knit together, and I would call it impassable, and gave our officers and men credit for their wise course, in retreating as quickly as possible. What a pity so many brave men were sacrificed before this matter was discovered. It is a clear demonstration to every officer and private of a complete and inexcusable want of reconnoisance before the attack was ordered. I walked down the brush fence toward the river, hunting for an opening to get on the inside, at last I found one, wide enough for one man to go in and out, made for their pickets to go out and in. I entered and walked to the breastworks, got upon them and continued my walk toward the center of the battle field. The sun was just showing itself above the horizon, the night had been clear and cold and a heavy frost covered the ground. Looking to the right on the enemy’s side of the works, I found that I was almost in the rear of the Town, and not a human being could be seen, where thousands were a stir a few hundred yards distant.

I soon reached the end of the thorny brush fence which appeared to have covered the full length of Loring’s and Walthall’s divisions’ fronts and was an impenetrable barrier to their reaching the enemy’s breastworks, up to this point I had not seen a dead or wounded man. Our dead and wounded fell on the outside of the brush fence and were carried away during the night, the enemy did the same with the few they lost. When the farmer’s hedge fenceing, which they had destroyed and used for their protection gave out, Yankee ingenuity for self protection was not wanting, as they took the farmers’ rail fencing and made themselves a protection almost as formidable as the brush fence, except it was without thorns and the Confederate soldiers could lay violent hands upon it and pull it up instead of retreating, which would have been the wisest policy. The rails I would say had been cut in halves as the pieces were about five feet long, sharpened at one end and placed in the ground securely, with the upper end sharp, and leaning toward our advance at an angle of 45 degrees, and about three feet high. It extended from the brush fence to the Franklin Pike and a short distance beyond and when the rails gave out the Tangle foot, or abattis, commenced and extended beyond the locust grove as far as I went, and perhaps extended to the river.

I found that the real struggle for supremacy commenced at the beginning of the rail obstruction and continued to our left. At that point dead men lay in every direction on both sides of the breastworks. From the commencement of the rail obstruction to the Franklin pike, the Confederate dead outnumbered the Federals, I would say ten to one. This obstruction was like the brush, within twenty yards of the enemy works and when our charging line reached that point, they came to a halt as did the men at the brush fence, but unlike the latter, the rails or stakes could be pulled up which was done to a great extent, and the thinned and broken line continued its run for the enemy works. Some went over and were killed or captured on the inside, I saw several of our dead on the outside, the remainder that reached the works, stopped in a ditch on the outside of the enemy’s works and fought over the breastworks, and sold their lives as dear as possible, as it was almost certain death to attempt to go back and to remain they choose a desperate chance, which was proven by the heaps of dead found in the ditch.

Hundreds were killed while temporarily checked by the line of sharpened stakes or fence rails, and from there on to the enemy’s works the death rate was fearful.

Soon after leaving the brush fence, I found some of Gen Cockrell’s Missouri boys. The first one I recognized was lying on top of the breastworks, he had fallen forward on his face and was still grasping his gun, showing that he met instant death. Many balls had passed through him, doubtless from our own men, after he fell. I stepped over his body, resumed my walk on top of the enemy’s breastworks toward the gin house, on the Columbia and Franklin pike, viewing the field of death, shrouded in the pure white frost of Winter. The terrible unchristian scene cannot be described by a finite mind, so I will leave it to the imagination of the reader and hurry on. I soon came abreast of where two thirds of Cockrell’s brave old Missouri brigade, sacrificed themselves on the altar of “State Rights.” From there on to the gin house, the death rate was the greatest, on both sides, that I witnessed in my morning walk. From our extreme right, upon the Harpeth river to opposite the locust grove beyond the gin house on our center, one third or more of the line of stakes were pulled up, the balance were in position, showing that our line of battle had to double up and crowd through the openings under a deadly fire from breach loading, repeating rifles. Part of the Federal soldiers in this battle were armed with repeating rifles, a weapon that the Confederate soldier never was able to get hold of. Men of Cases Federal brigade who were in the breastworks near the gin house tell us that most of their Federal brigade were armed with repeating rifles. So our enemy in this fight had the advantage in number of men and better arms.

Gen. French says in his history of “Two Wars” page 294, “Schofields had at Franklin, by report in the War Records, 25,420 men exclusive of cavalry, and Hood had 21,874 men exclusive of part of Les corps the cavelry and Ector’s brigade detached.{“} They had the advantage in the weapons of war, hard to calculate, they had a wonderful advantage by being protected by strong breastworks, and obstructions in front of the breastworks which I have described and they ought to have won a great victory instead of a hotly and bloody contested draw battle. The Confederates holding the field, but getting decidedly the worst of the fight. I can very truly say, that Gen. Hoods army was whipped and cut to pieces. The moral of the army was destroyed, and they had no more confidence in Gen. Hood, and I heard many old soldiers say, that it was folly for Hood to go any further, that the proper thing to do, was to march his army South of the Tennessee river, for every private soldier that took part in that battle, as well as the officers could easily see that Gen. Hood by dashing his little army of brave tired men, against a superior number of veterans, in a death trap like Franklin, to have them destroyed, was the want of generalship.

Col. R.S. Bevier, a member of our Mo. Brig. says in his history of the 1st. and 2nd. Mo. Brigs. “when the army left Lauderdale Springs, Miss. to join Johnston’s army, it numbered 1,600 officers and soldiers, rank and file, distributed as follows, Gates Reg. 350, Riley’s Reg. 240, McCower’s Reg. 350, Flounoy’s Reg. 560, Guibore’s Battery 110, adding the staff, which was mustered seperately, about thirty made some 1630 strong.” Before the battle of Franklin the regiments were commanded as follows, “The 1st, & 3rd cavalry by Col. Gates, the 1st, and 4th, infantry by Col. Garland, the 2nd, and 6th infantry by Col. Flournoy, the 3rd, & 5th infantry, by Maj. Canniff. When the brigade formed line in front of Franklin, a field report showed present 687, after the charge, on duty 240, being a loss of nearly two thirds. The loss In officers was propotionally larger, being about 77%. The Confederate artillery was not used at all in this battle.”

A glimpse of the terrible scene is presented by Lieut. Warren, who was on the ground searching for his friends early next morning, Dec. 7th. “When daylight did come and the fog and smoke of battle lifted like a curtain, such a spectacle as this field of death presented to our eyes, I hope I may never witness again. Here indeed was a carnival of death. There must have been three thousand stiffened corpses lying in this little space, in full view; ther may have been many more I am sure there were none less. In many places they were in heaps, the ditch around the works in some places were filled with the dead. Numbers lay where they fell, on top and on the side of the embankment, and a few were found inside the works, shot and bayonetted. I found poor Canniff and Walter Marnell, the former lying close up to the breastworks, the dead body of his horse being near by. Marnell ahd fallen mid way between the line and must have been killed instantly for the flush of excitement was still on his face, and he looked as natural as he did in life. He had received many wounds, ther being eleven holes in his blanket, which I took off to put around his body. Capt. Caniff, was knocked from his horse by a shot in the right shoulder, and it must have been while lying on the ground that he was struck in the top of the head, the ball coming out under the chin. My heart bled when I first stood over the rigid form of Lieut. Crow, he was a kind, true friend and a perfect gentleman, as gentle and modest as a woman, and yet brave as the bravest.”

Gen. French’s division was composed of Cockrell’s, Sear’s and Ector’s brigades. The latter was detached for other duties and was not in the battle. Gen. French says of his division, “Soon my division came under the artillery fire of both the guns in front and those in position in the forts across the river, undaunted by the crash of shells all moved gallantly on and met the fire of the enemy in the outer line of defense. It was only the work of a few moments to crush the outer line, and when it broke and tried to gain the main works, they were so closely followed by our men, that friends and foe, persuer and persued, in one mass, rushed over the parapet into the town. During this time the fire from the enemy on this part of the line, ceased so as to admit their own troops, but the Confederates now inside were confronted with a reserve force and either killed or captured. As our division overlaped, immediatly another line made the assault, and again the smoke cloud of battle so obscured the plain that I could see only beneath the cloud an incessant sheet of flame rolling on the ground in which the combattans flitted like the pictures of demons in Tophet. The shock was too violent to last, its force was soon spent, the fire soon slackened and as the smoke was wafted away in broken clouds, the sight was appalling; what a gastly scene was in front of the gin house, the dead and wounded were visible for a moment, only to be enveloped in the cloud of beneath which the Angel of Death garnered his harvest. “On, on, forward, forward,” was the cry. It was death to stop and safety was in a measure found in the ditch beneath the fire from the parapet. Three thousand remained all night, others were repulsed and driven back. Gen. Sear’s men, those that were repulsed fell back with some order, but Cockrell’s Brig. had nearly all disappeared, now and then a few came out. Cockrell was wounded. Col. Gates came riding out with his bridle reins in his mouth, being wounded in both hands. Cckrell’s Brig, made the assault with 696 officers and men, and when it was over he had 277 men in his Brig. His loss was, killed 19 officers 79 men, wounded, 31 officers, 198 men, missing 13 officers, and 79 men. Total four [hundred] and nineteen men, which was over 60%. The missing were captured inside the works, as stated by some that escaped”.

Cockrell stormed the works to the right of the Gin house and the dead lay in great numbers especially on the outside of the works. The Missourians were gathered and buried on the spot, where most of them fell. Long trenches three feet deep and six feet wide, were dug and the brave boys wrapped in their blankets, were placed side by side in a soldiers grave, and the earth thrown upon them and a small board, the size of a shingle placed at each head. with their name, company, and regiment, and state, upon it.

The enemy had taken all of the heavy timbers out of the gin house and placed them upon the works for head logs, and those timbers extended several hundred feet, and no doubt saved many lives, as those timbers were shot into splinters by our men. In the old horsepower gins, the gearing beams the leavers, press timbers, and all of the joist timbers, were nearly always made of heavy hewn timber. All of these pieces were used for head logs, and served the purpose well. I noticed that most of the Northern dead were shot in the face, neck and head, as the head was the only part of their bodies exposed, and even but little of their heads, where they used head logs. So their loss cannot be compared to ours, as the Confederates had not so much as a bush to shield them on this part of the field. There was a locust grove further on towards our left, through which Gen. Pat Cayburn’s division had to pass, and through as abattis before they could reach the enemy’s works, and the brave Gerneral, the pride of the Weatern army, was killed, and his division cut to pieces before they reached the works. Every tree in the locust thicket was cut down, by that hailstorm of minie balls.

After walking a short distance beyond the locust grove, I came back to the gin house and sat down by a fire on the inside of the breastworks, and ate my piece of cold corn bread, my breakfast. As I slowly munched my corn dodge I looked at the many dead round about me, the awful sinful fruits of war, when carried to its bitter end. They were the enemy’s dead with but few exceptions, never-the-less, there will be vacant chairs at many a home, and they will be greatly missed. The sorrow caused by this battle cannot be measured. One strange circumstance, I noticed in the Northern dead around me, their flesh, face, neck and hands, all that is visible, are purple, like decomposition had set in, yet they have been dead but a few hours, and besides it is winter. The Confederates are pale, as dead people generaly are, this is an unaccountable thing to me, and why cannot the wise men explain it. I thought at first, it was caused by being shot through the head and neck, but I noticed dozens of our men, that were shot in like manner, and they were not purple in color. I looked into the faces of many Northern soldiers killed between the outer works and the main works, and they were without exception, dark or purple, this has always been a mistery to me.

While sitting by the fire musing upon this strange circumstance I have related, a middle age men and woman, and a young woman of about eighteen or twenty years, passed me without speaking and went to the outside of the breastworks among the hundreds of Confederate dead, and a few Northern dead. It was an awful sight for a woman to look upon, and I could but watch them. I quickly perceived that they were looking for some loved one among the Northern dead. They passed from one to the other, gazing into their faces, and weeping over each one for a minute only, they did not seem to find the one they were hunting. The Confederate dead that were lying in heaps around them were not given a passing notice, human beings are wonderfully constituted, and its makes a wonderful difference to them, “Whose ox is gored”.

Gen. Hood lost about one fourth of his army engaged at Franklin and half of his generals. He puts his loss at 4,500, but it will certainly go over 5,000, all brave and tried men and officers, that can never be replaced. What makes it so inexpressibly sad, we have gained nothing to compensate for the sacrifice of so much precious blood. Gen. J.D. Cox of the Union army, who commanded most of the troops at the battle of Franklin, in his volumn published describing this battle, says, “Out of the 21,800 Confederate soldiers engaged in this battle, more were killed in a few hours than Grant lost at Shiloh, McClellan in the seven days battle, Burnside at Fredricksburg, Rosecranz at Chickamauga, Hooker at Chancellorsville, and were almost as many as Grant’s at Cold Harbor, and nine less than the British lost at Waterloo, out of 43,000 men.” He put our dead at 1,750. French’s History of Two Wars.


Notes

  1. Page reference pending

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