With Sherman embarking on his March to the Sea, John Bell Hood and his Army of Tennessee were left confronting the Union forces in Tennessee, some sixty thousand troops to the 39,000 under Hood. The odds were actually longer than that, as Union control of the railroads and rivers of Tennessee would allow rapid Union reinforcement in Tennessee if necessary. Hood decided that his only option for victory was to take Tennessee from the Union. This was the longest of long shots, but at this stage of the War no Confederate commander had strategic options that could be called anything other than bleak. Hood’s plan at least had his army taking the initiative, and he could hope for some massive Union blunders that might transform an impossible situation into one that gave him some hope of at least slowing what he no doubt perceived as an inevitable Union victory in the War.
Hood entered Tennessee on November 21, and his campaign began with some promise. The Union forces were divided by 75 miles with Thomas and the Army of the Cumberland in Nashville, and Schofield and his Army of the Ohio, some 27,000 men, at Pulaski, Tennessee.
Hood did his best to bring Schofield to battle before he could unite with Thomas and succeeded in doing so on November 30 at Franklin, Tennessee, some 21 miles south of Nashville, after the Army of Tennessee missed a golden opportunity to destroy a portion of Schofield’s retreating force at Spring Hill the day before.
Schofield had abandoned his pontoon bridge during the retreat and thus his army fought the Battle of Franklin with its back to the Harpeth River, and potential annihilation if the Confederates could dislodge his defense. Hood realized the opportunity that presented itself and ordered an all out assault that began at 4:00 PM.
Some of the most desperate fighting of the Civil War ensued. An initial Confederate breakthrough in the Union center was sealed after ferocious combat, much of it hand to hand. Confederate attacks continued until 10:00 PM. The unsuccessful attacks devastated the Army of the Tennessee. Union total casualties of approximately 2,200 included 189 killed. Confederate killed were ten times that number with total Confederate casualties of 6200. The tenor of the Confederate losses is illustrated by their generals who were casualties that day. Six Confederate generals died, including perhaps the best Confederate division commander, Major General Patrick Cleburne, seven Confederate generals were wounded and one was captured. Schofield withdrew across the river that night and march his army to Nashville. Hood followed with his army, now a pale reflection of the force that he led into battle the day before. November 30, 1864 was the black day of the Army of Tennessee.
Here is the report of General Thomas on the battle: (more…)