Battle of Franklin: The Carnage as Seen from the Center of the Conflict
(New page: ''By S. A. Cunningham, 1893'' The removal of Gen. Johnston, and the appointment of Hood to succeed him in command of the Army of Tennessee, was an astounding event. So devoted to Johnston...)
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By S. A. Cunningham, 1893
The removal of Gen. Johnston, and the appointment of Hood to succeed him in command of the Army of Tennessee, was an astounding event. So devoted to Johnston were his men that the presence and immediate command of Gen. Lee would not have been accepted without complaint. They were so satisfied that even in retreat they did not lose their faith in ultimate success. They were not reconciled to the change until the day before the battle of Franklin. The successful crossing of Duck River that morning at an early hour, and the march to Spring Hill, where the Federal retreat was so nearly cut off (a failure for which it was understood Gen. Hood was not to blame), created an enthusiasm for him equal to that entertained for Stonewall Jackson after his extraordinary achievements. That night the extensive valley east of Spring Hill was lighted up by our thousands of camp fires, in plain view of, and close proximity to, the retreating lines of the enemy. The next morning, as we marched in quick time toward Franklin, we were confirmed in our impressions of Federal alarm. I counted on the way thirty-four wagons that had been abandoned on the smooth turnpike. In some instances whole teams of mules had been killed to prevent their capture. A few miles south of Franklin the Federal lines of infantry were deployed, and our progress was checked; but we pressed them without delay until they retired behind the outer works about the town. Soon after they withdrew-from the range of hills south, overlooking the place, and we were advanced to its crest. I happened, though in the line of battle (as I was "right guide" to my regiment), to be close to where Gen. Hood halted his staff and rode along to the top of the hill, and with his field glasses surveyed the situation. It was an extraordinary moment. Those of us who were near could see, as private soldiers rarely did, the position of both armies. Although Franklin was some two miles in the distance, the plain presented a scene of great commotion. But I was absorbed in the one man whose mind was deciding the fate of thousands. With an arm and a leg in the grave, and with the consciousness that he had not until within a couple of days won the confidence which his army had in his predecessor, he had now a very trying ordeal to pass through. It was all-important to act, if at all, at once. He rode to Stephen D. Lee, the nearest of his subordinate generals, and, shaking hands with him cordially, announced his decision to make an immediate charge.
No event of the war, perhaps, showed a scene equal to this. The range of hills upon which he formed offered the best view of the battlefield, with but little exposure to danger, and there were hundreds collected there as spectators. Our ranks were being extended rapidly to the right and left. In Franklin there was the utmost confusion. The enemy were greatly excited. We could see them running to and fro. Wagon trains were being pressed across the Harpeth river, and on toward Nashville. Gen. Loring, of Cleburne's division, made a speech to his men. Our Brigadier General Strahl was quiet, and there was an expression of sadness on his face. The soldiers were full of ardor, and confident of success. They had unbounded faith in Gen. Hood, whom they believed would achieve a victory that would give us Nashville. Such was the spirit of the army as the signal was given which set it in motion. Our generals were ready, and some of them rode in front of our main line. With a quick step, we moved forward to the sound of stirring music. This is the only battle that I was in, and they were many, where bands of music were used. I was right guide to the Forty-first Tennessee, marching four paces to the front I had an opportunity of viewing my comrades, and I well remember the look of determination that was on every face. Our bold movement caused the enemy to give up, without much firing, its advance line. As they fell back at double-quick, our men rushed forward, even though they had to face the grim line of breastworks just at the edge of the town.
Before we were in proper distance for small arms the artillery opened on both sides. Our guns, firing over our heads from the hills in the rear, used ammunition without stint, while the enemy's batteries were at constant play upon our lines. When they withdrew to their main line of works it was as one even plain for a mile. About fifty yards in front of their breastworks we came in contact with formidable chevaux de frise , over or through which it was very difficult to pass. Why half of us were not killed yet remains a mystery, for after moving forward so great a distance, all the time under fire, the detention, immediately in their front, gave them a very great advantage. We arrived at the works and some of our men, after a club fight at the trenches, got over. The colors of my regiment were carried inside, and when the arm that held them was shot off they fell to the ground and remained until morning. Cleburne's men dashed at the works, but their gallant leader was shot dead, and they gave way, so that the enemy remained on our flank, and kept up a constant enfilading fire.
Our left also failed to hold the works, and for a short distance we remained and fought until the ditch was almost full of dead men. Night came on soon after the hard fighting began, and we fired at the flash of each other's guns. Holding the enemy's lines, as we continued to do on this part of them, we were terribly massacred by the enfilade firing. The works were so high that those who fired the guns were obliged to get a footing in the embankment, exposing themselves, in addition to their flank, to a fire by men in houses. One especially severe was that from Mr. Carter's, immediately in my front. I was near Gen. Strahl, who stood in the ditch and handed up guns to those posted to fire them. I had passed to him my short Enfield (noted in the regiment) about the sixth time. The man who kind been firing cocked it and was taking deliberate aim when he was shot and tumbled down dead into the ditch upon those killed before him. When the men so exposed were shot down their places were supplied by volunteers until these were exhausted, and it was necessary for Gen. Strahl to call upon others. He turned to me, and though I was several feet back from the ditch, I rose up immediately, and walking over to the wounded and dead, took position with one foot upon the pile of bodies of my dead fellows, and the other in the embankment, and fired guns which the General himelf handed up to me until he, too, was shot down. One other man had had position on my right, and assisted in the firing. The battle lasted until not an efficient man was left between us and the Columbia pike, about fifty yards to our right, and hardly enough behind us to hand up the guns. We could not hold out much longer, for indeed, but few of us were then left alive. It seemed as if we had no choice but to surrender or try to get away, and when I asked the General for counsel, he simply answered, " Keep firing." But just as the man to my right was shot, and fell against me with terrible groans, Gen. Strahl was shot. He threw up his hands, falling on his face, and I thought him dead, but in asking the dying man, who still lay against my shoulder as he sank forever, how he was wounded, the General, who had not been killed. Thinking my question was to him, raised up, saying that he was shot in the neck and called for Col. Stafford to turn over his command. He crawled over the dead, the ditch being three deep, about twenty feet to where Col. Stafford was. His staff officers started to carry him to the rear, but he received another shot, and directly the third, which killed him instantly Col. Stafford was dead in the pile as the morning light disclosed, with his feet wedged in at the bottom, with other dead across and under him after he fell, leaving his body half standing as if ready to give command to the dead!
By that time only a handful of us were left on that part of the line, and as I was sure that our condition was not known, I ran to the rear to report to Gen. John C. Brown, commanding the division. I met Maj. Hampton, of his staff, who told me that Gen. Brown was wounded and that Gen. Strahl was in command. This assured me that those in command did not know the real situation, so I went on the hunt for Gen. Cheatham. By and by relief was sent to the front. This done, nature gave way. My shoulder was black with bruises from firing, and it seemed that no moisture was left in my system. Utterly exhausted, I sank upon the ground and tried to sleep. The battle was over, and I could do no more; but animated still with concern for the fate of comrades, I returned to the awful spectacle in search of some who year after year had been at my side. Ah, the loyalty of faithful comrades in such a struggle!
These personal recollections are all that I can give, as the greater part of the battle was fought after nightfall, and once in the midst of it, with but the light of the flashing guns, I could see only what passed directly under my own eyes. True, the moon was shining, but the dense smoke and dust so filled the air as to weaken its benefits, like a heavy fog before the rising sun, only there was no promise of the fog disappearing. Our spirits were crushed. It was indeed the Valley of Death.
This article is from the Confederate Veteran, Vol. I, No. 9, Nashville, Tenn., April, 1893.