Memories of Franklin
In his 1923 book "Memories of the War" Gen. Isaac R. Sherwood recalls the bloody Battle of Franklin.
|Brig. Gen. Isaac R. Sherwood|
I remember the scene just before the
battle; I see it now as I saw it then – a lovely valley basking in the mellow
glory of November sunshine. I see the little town of Franklin, quiet yet
restless, just inside the circle of the Federal lines. These lines extended from
river to river. A cannon on the ridge sounded the signal for the charge. With
bayonets fixed the heavy columns, all veterans, marched with a steady and even
tread down the slope. The fiercest battle of the centuries was on.
In 1874 a Southern soldier who was in
that battle line with General Cleburne, wrote a valuable article on this
marvelous charge in the Southern Magazine. I quote a paragraph: “The
hottest part of the line was a black locust thicket just at the right of the
This is correct; I was at that part of
the line. I have a distinct recollection of that locust thicket and I can see it
now, as I saw then, that waving line of shining bayonets as it rushed to the
works with that defiant rebel yell, and the mad, murderous conflict that
My horse “Firefly” was shot at the
first onset. On the immediate left of my regiment our line was broken and a
brigade was forced back in confusion. General Cox, in command of our army on the
battlefield, in his valuable history of Franklin says:
“When the front line gave way, Moore’s brigade was seriously involved. Colonel Sherwood, commanding the left regiment of the brigade, had his men fix bayonets and prepare for hand-to-hand fight on the parapet.”
General Cleburne, commander of a
division, was leading the charge of the gray army. His horse was fatally shot
within 50 yards of our front. Then he attempted to lead his division on foot,
but he fell fatally pierced by minnie balls. General Carter fell, mortally
wounded, before reaching our line. Brigadier General Strahl reached the ditch.
He stood on the bodies of the dead and gave commands, trying to rally his men.
He was shot dead. Just in front of my regiment, facing that famous locust
thicket, General Cockrell of Missouri was wounded (this officer recovered and
was later a United States Senator from Missouri). Two brigades to the left
General George W. Gordon of Tennessee was wounded and captured. Not a hundred
yards to the right lay General Granberry dead, close to the Federal line.
General Walthal, at the left of my command, had two horses shot under him and
General John Adams, who was leading his brigade, fell mortally wounded in front of the brigade of Colonel Jack Casement of Ohio. Deeply touched with his splendid courage Colonel Casement had cotton brought from the old cotton gin nearby and placed under the head of the dying soldier, saying as a last word: “You are too brave a man to die.” In the full fury of the contest, when a whole brigade front of our line of battle was held by a cordon of the gray army three lines deep, Colonel Emerson Updyke of Ohio, who was commanding a brigade in reserve, without waiting for orders, led a charge against the furious hosts of Hood and not only stunned them but partially restored our broken lines. The salvation of our army at Franklin is due to General Updyke’s quick and heroic action.
Thirteen Confederate generals were either
dead or wounded. Colonels were commanding divisions and captains were commanding
regiments. About 9 o’clock at night, when there was a lull in the musketry
firing, the wails of the wounded and the dying were heart-rending; but the smoke
had settled on the field in front so dense that vision was obscured 100 yards
away. I was then in command of the battle line of the brigade, as all officers
of the brigade of higher rank had been killed or wounded. I gave the order to
cease firing. Standing on our hastily constructed breastworks (about four feet
high), I saw a gray figure approaching on his hands and knees, moaning
piteously. I jumped over the earthworks and pulled him over to our side. He
lived only a few minutes. His last words, “We are all cut to pieces – Oh,
God, what will become of poor mother?” He was from Missouri, General
And what a night that was. After the
battle the dead lay around the breastworks from river to river. Outside the
breastworks in a wider line from river to river – lat the Confederate dead.
Amid the smoke and grime of battle and under the dun clouds of smoke almost
hiding the stars, the blue and the gray looked the same. I stood on the parapet
just before midnight and saw all that could be seen, I saw and heard all that my
eyes could see, or my rent soul contemplate in such an awful environment. It was
a spectacle to appall the stoutest heart.
The wounded, shivering in the chilled
November air; the heart-rending cries of the desperately wounded and prayers of
the dying filled me with an anguish that no language can describe. From that
hour to this I have hated war.
Colonel Lowry of the 107th
Illinois, just at the right of my regiment, was killed at the first onset. Three
minutes later Colonel Mervin Clark, commanding the 183rd Ohio was
killed. His regiment was on the immediate left of the 111th Ohio and
was forced back in the first onslaught. He was a brave soldier of many battles,
but his regiment was under fire for the first time. He refused to fall back and
stood waving his sword at the left of my regiment.
I rushed to his side and yelled in his
ear: “Go back and rally your regiment.” He was shot dead, falling against
me. A report was sent to the field hospital that I was killed. My faithful
orderly, Joe Gingery, who was assisting the operating surgeons, obtained a
stretcher and started for the front with the intention of taking my body back to
the field hospital. He was shot dead 20 yards from our line of battle. My
regiment lost more soldiers killed and wounded than any regiment of the Union
army. I make this statement after a careful investigation of the casualty list
of every Union regiment in the battle.
battle of Franklin broke the morale and aggressive spirit of General Hood’s
army. It made possible the decisive victory of General Thomas at Nashville.
Franklin dug the grave of the Confederacy and Nashville sounded the requiem.
When the true story of this war is written the valley of the Harpeth river and
the Brentwood hills, south of Nashville, will become the valor-crowned fields
where the destiny of the Southern Confederacy was settled.