The Confederate troops advanced at 4:00 pm on November 30, 1864 as the daylight faded. They were serenaded by military bands as they advanced toward Franklin, Tennessee. They crossed open fields spreading in an arc from the Harpeth River on their right flank to Carter’s Creek Pike on the left flank.
They had marched all the way from Atlanta, Georgia after evading the Union forces commanded by General William T. Sherman. Sherman’s troops laid a 50-mile wide swath of destruction through Georgia on the way to South Carolina, but managed to lose track of the opposing army. Confederate General John Bell Hood marched back to Tennessee hoping to either draw the Union forces after him or to reclaim Tennessee for the South. Tennessee had been under Union control since 1862.
At Franklin, the Confederates easily swung past the flanks of the first Union defensive position along either side of Columbia Pike. The Union troops watched the artillery batteries guarding their flanks abandon them, then broke and scampered back toward the Carter house. The Confederates advanced on the main defensive line.
The main defensive line of the Union spread on either side of Columbia Pike on the high ground. Even today, cars driving toward Franklin on Lewisburg Pike must go up a sharp grade about 10 – 12 feet to cross the railroad tracks and enter town. The Union troops reinforced their line with intertwined thorny branches of Osage-Orange, a/k/a Bois d’arc (pronounced Bo-Dark) wood so that the Confederates had to push through the thorns to advance.
The heart of the Union defenses was at the Carter house on Columbia Pike. Fountain Branch Carter (proof that it’s not just modern parents who saddle their kids with awkward names) had gathered members of his family in the basement. They were joined by the Albert Lotz family who lived across the street. Upstairs Union surgeons operated on casualties. In the yard outside the house, soldiers fought hand-to-hand in total darkness.
The battle swayed in favor of the Confederates, then the Union. Ultimately, the Union defenses held but their losses were so demoralizing, they retreated the following day. After a brief pause, the Confederates followed them up Franklin Road (state highway 31) to Nashville.
The Confederates won the Battle of Franklin, but it made no difference to the war. Two weeks later, they were shattered at the Battle of Nashville and five months later the war ended at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia.
The Battle of Franklin is notable today because so many key sites in the battle have been preserved. You can stand where General Hood stood watching his Confederate troops advance. You can see the bullet-riddled walls of Carter House. At Carnton Mansion you can see the blood stained floorboards where surgeons operated, the veranda where five Confederate officers were laid in death, and the Confederate cemetery, the only privately owned military cemetery in the country. This is a great time to visit while the weather is pleasant and the summer tourists haven’t arrived.
There are many resources available on this battle, including For Cause & For Country, by Eric A. Jacobson and Richard A. Rupp (2006). The book includes a detailed account of Hood’s Tennessee campaign and the battle along with short biographies of the military leaders of both armies.
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