by Andy Mateja

After the fall of Atlanta, Confederate commander Gen John B Hood tried to divert Gen William T Sherman’s attention away from his planned march to the sea. It was a bold move and one of desperation.
Sherman with Gen Ulysses S. Grant’s blessing, decided to pursue his strategy of marching to the sea and leaving the security of central Tennessee to Gen Georg H Thomas –the “Rock of Chickamauga”. Thomas was opposed to Sherman’s planned march to the sea while Hood’s Army of Tennessee was still active in the region Thomas was ordered to consolidate the remaining Union forces in the area and concentrate them at Nashville. If successful, he would amass about 70,000 men to oppose Hood’s forces if Hood should decide to drive North instead of pursuing Sherman
Hood however did decide to move North and Thomas ordered a portion of his command under Gen John A Schofield to delay Hood’s advance on Nashville until all the Union forces were fully concentrated. Schofield had about 25,000 troops to confront Hood’s 40,000 men. However, Schofield would benefit from the distinct advantage of having his force grow larger the closer he moved back toward Nashville while the Confederate forces shrank in size, mostly through desertions.
Schofield’s position was precarious inasmuch as Hood could actually bypass him and move on Nashville without having to fight Schofield. The Union commander wisely decided to move his forces to Columbia Tenn. to remain in front of Hood. Despite bad weather, Hood’s army continued to move rapidly northward, spearheaded by Gen Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry. Schofield became alarmed as he now believed that Hood’s forces were now actually closer to Columbia than he was and quickly put his Union troops in motion. Troops under Gen Jacob Cox were successful in interposing themselves in front of Forrest’s cavalry and slowing down their rapid advancement… Schofield then had his troops dig in and create defensive earthworks. He left a portion of his forces to man the defenses and started moving the rest toward Nashville.
In the meantime Hood was planning to outflank Schofield and move his troops to Spring Hill -12 miles north of Columbia. Hood may have believed most of the Union troops were with Schofield and that Nashville was lightly defended. Hood desperately wanted to achieve a smashing victory to offset his crushing loss at Atlanta.
Schofield’s forces barely arrived at Spring Hill before Forest’s cavalry Hood ordered Gen Patrick Cleburne’s division forward to assist Forrest in taking the town. However by the time Cleburne’s troops were in position, the sun had almost set and little daylight remained for the main attack. Confusion set in with Hood’s commanders, as they were unsure if the objective was to capture Spring Hill or seize the pike to Nashville. Conflicting orders squandered away the remaining daylight and a chance to get between Schofield’s forces and Nashville. Hood was also unfamiliar as to exactly where individual elements of his command were located and issued orders based on his “assumptions”.
When Hood learned that the pike to Nashville was not under Confederate control, he did not seem to be overly concerned and ordered Forrest to block the pike with a brigade to prevent Schofield from retreating to Nashville. Hood naively believed that everything was “under control”.
To Hood’s chagrin, Schofield’s forces DID use the pike to escape all the way to Franklin. At times during the night, Union troops marching northward were within 50 yards of sleeping Confederates. Hood angrily blamed his subordinate commanders – not himself.
Hood, now allowing his anger to cloud his judgment, decided to launch a frontal assault against Schofield’s solidly entrenched troops at Franklin. Forrest strongly advised against the frontal assault and instead recommended a flanking movement to the East .Hood refused Forrest recommendation and the objections of his other commanders. Instead he decided to immediately attack with the troops on hand and WITHOUT the bulk of his artillery which was still miles away. Schofield had the perfect defensive position –breastworks, railroad forts and river bends on his flanks. There were however also weaknesses in Schofield’s line, especially on the right, which the Confederates failed to exploit.
Hood launched his frontal assault at 4:00 PM on November 30th 1864 with a force larger than Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. Schofield did not really want to fight at Franklin and was concerned about Hood crossing the river and flanking him from the left. He just needed time to repair the river crossings to get his army to the other side and moving toward Nashville. Eighteen Confederate brigades marched across an open field on that cold November afternoon with little chance of success. At first the Hood’s forces were winning the battle, overwhelming two Union brigades that blundered forward. The Confederates also initially broke through the Union center, only to be pushed back after 40 minutes of fierce bayonet and hand-to-hand fighting. Hood did not fare well on other parts of his attacks, due to uncoordinated attacks which resulted in confusion and heavy losses. General officers in the Confederate ranks were being killed and wounded by the score. In all, SIX Confederate generals would be killed during this battle.
Some of the fiercest fighting occurred along the front of Gen Patrick Cleburne. A severe artillery barrage along with deadly crossfire decimated his division and took the life of Cleburne himself. It was complete slaughter of some of the finest in the ranks of the Confederate Army of Tennessee.
Most of Hood’s commanders felt the attack was doomed from the start. Hood however was obsessed with smashing Schofield’s center and defeating him outright. Nothing was going to deter him from his plan. Emotions now outweighed military logic.
The result was over 7000 unnecessary casualties and the permanent loss of dozens of regimental, brigade and division commanders, killed and wounded and not available for the main event coming at Nashville a few weeks later …… where the second shoe was about to drop on Hood……….