Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Just Finished Reading

If one can have or should have a favorite Civil War battle to study, mine is the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee. I am not sure exactly what captivates me about this engagement.  I suppose it is partly the sheer bravery of the Confederates, charging in numbers much larger than Pickett's more famous attack at Gettysburg, and I guess it is partly the Union army's stealth to get by their foe at Spring Hill and then impede the Southerners in their drive toward their Nashville target.

Maybe it is also the tragedy of the battle and its tragic personalities; the one armed, one legged General John Bell Hood, Irish immigrant and officer extraordinaire Patrick R. Cleburne, Captain Tod Carter, who died yards from his home, the Carter House, which was caught in the eye of the storm on November 30, 1864. And then too there is the damage, much of it still visible on the grounds of the Carter House to this day.

After Atlanta fell to Sherman's forces, Confederate general John Bell Hood had to decide what to do next.  He finally decided that instead of trying to further block Sherman and the Union army wherever they were going to go, he would instead head north and try to reclaim Tennessee, and if all went according to plan there, well, why not go on up into the Bluegrass state too.  Years after the failed Tennessee campaign Hood explained his reasoning. "I was imbued with the belief that I could accomplish this feat [destroy Union army and capture Nashville], afterward march northeast, pass the Cumberland river at some crossing where the gunboats, if too formidable at other points, were unable to interfere; then move into Kentucky, and take position with our left at or near Richmond...In this position I could threaten Cincinnati, and recruit the Army from Kentucky and Tennessee; the former State was reported at this juncture, to be more aroused and embittered against the Federals than at any period of the war." Hood was correct, Kentucky was "aroused and embittered against the Federals," due largely to Lincoln's earlier Emancipation Proclamation, the Union army's enlisting of slaves and the hard-handed tactics used against those of suspect loyalty, but Kentuckians were not likely to join what seemed to be a doomed government, what with Atlanta captured and Lee backed up to Richmond and Petersburg.

The author, Eric Jacobson, gives the Spring Hill Affair about the best treatment I have read. Jacobson claims that there was plenty of blame to go around on the Confederate side for letting John Schofield's Union army slip by at Spring Hill, but that ultimately the blame rests with the army's commander, Hood.  I agree, however, it seems to me in certain situations, division and brigade commanders have to take initiative and show some common sense and tactical skill. I personally think Major General John Calvin Brown is probably as guilty as anyone. Whoever was at fault, the Confederate's missed a grand opportunity to destroy the Union army that virtually destroyed them the following day.

One thing I really liked about the book was Jacobson's use of mini-biographies when introducing the reader to the major players in these events. It really reminded me of Peter Cozzens' many works on the Western Theater. I think these little background looks helps the reader better understand the personality of the individual being examined.

There were few battles that were as brutal as Franklin. Although it did not have the highest casualty rate in the Civil War, for the short time the battle actually lasted, there was not one more fiercely contested. For whatever reason - possibly due to disgust at letting the enemy slip by the night before - Hood chose a direct frontal attack on the entrenched Union army at Franklin rather than attempt to flank them or go around them and find better ground for a fight. And on the gray lines came and down they went in rows. The slaughter was terrible. A conservative figure for Confederate casualties is given at 5,800.  The Union army, with the benefit of fortifications, lost 189 killed, 1033 wounded and 1,104 captured or missing.  The loss to the Confederate officer corps was astounding. Five Southern generals were killed outright: Patrick Cleburne, John Adams, States Rights Gist, Otho Stahl, and Hiram Granbury. General John C. Carter was mortally wounded in the battle and died a few days later. A total of 68 Confederate field officers were casualties!

Amazingly after the terrible destruction at Franklin, Hood followed the retreating Schofield on to Nashville and where he was attacked by George Thomas's strengthened federal army on December 15-16. Hood was again soundly defeated, retreated out of Tennessee and resigned his position.

I found For Cause and Country to be a good read. A number of typographical errors throughout the book, most dealing with tense or sentence agreement, detracted somewhat, but overall it was a solid piece of history.  On a scale of 1 to 5, I give it a 4.25.

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