Those who are familiar with this blog and my book on Kennesaw Mountain certainly know the name of Sam Watkins. In fact, many who have studied the war will easily recognize his name. Watkins was the author of one of the most widely read and influential memoirs of the American Civil War. His memoir chronicled years of marching, camping, and fighting with the Confederate Army of Tennessee in the war’s Western Theater. One of the most moving passages of that book refers to what happened 150 years ago today: the Battle of Franklin.
Franklin is a battle that lurks in the shadows of Civil War history. It does not enjoy the fame of Gettysburg, the notoriety of Antietam, nor even the attention of Shiloh. Franklin came during the final months of the war, and it featured generals such as John Bell Hood, Jacob Dolson Cox, John Schofield, and Patrick Cleburne. It was one of the final gasps of the Army of Tennessee, arguably the most overlooked army of the Civil War. The loss of precious battlefield lands to development at Franklin has surely hindered the popular understanding and memory of the battle, but recent efforts to reclaim those grounds will hopefully revive interest in this important battle.
There are numerous sites that can provide much more detailed histories of the battle than I have time for here today. Among them are Kraig McNutt’s blog, The Battle of Franklin, and the Civil War Trust page on Franklin, complete with articles, battle maps, and information on how you can help to save and take back the Franklin battlefield.
Suffice to say, there are many strong connections between the fighting at Kennesaw Mountain and the bloodshed at Franklin several months later. In just a few short hours, the Army of Tennessee lost over 6,000 in casualties. The number of losses for Confederates attacking at Franklin is comparable to Confederate losses during Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg the year before. Among those slain were six Confederate generals. Of them, four–Patrick Cleburne, Otho Strahl, John Carter, and Hiram Granbury–were in command of Confederates on Cheatham Hill at Kennesaw Mountain just a few months earlier. One of the numerous Confederate commanders who was wounded at Franklin was Francis Cockrell, who commanded Confederate troops defending Pigeon Hill on June 27, 1864. While the Confederates were successful at Kennesaw Mountain, they had great tragedies and tremendous suffering ahead. Much of that suffering occurred 150 years ago today at Franklin.
Of course, as has been noted, Sam Watkins was also at Franklin that day. Having experienced the Dead Angle at Kennesaw on June 27, 1864, and having written so graphically and emotionally about that action, Watkins’s description of the fight at Franklin is just as moving. Here are just a few lines from his discussion of what happened 150 years ago today. They highlight the difficulty many soldiers had in looking back on such difficult events from the war.
Kind reader, right here my pen, and courage, and ability fail me. I shrink from butchery. Would to God I could tear the page from these memoirs and from my own memory. It is the blackest page in the history of the war of the Lost Cause. It was the bloodiest battle of modern times in any way. It was the finishing stroke to the independence of the Southern Confederacy. I was there. I saw it. My flesh trembles, and creeps, and crawls when I think of it today. My heart almost ceases to beat at the horrid recollection. Would to God that I had never witnessed such a scene!
I cannot describe it. It beggars description. I will not attempt to describe it. I could not. The death-angel was there to gather its last harvest. It was the grand coronation of death. Would that I could turn the page. But I feel, though I did so, that page would still be there, teeming with its scenes of horror and blood. I can only tell of what I saw.