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Franklin


Southern Story

Franklin

By J. D. Cummins

We marched from Spring Hill toward Franklin, Tennessee, double time all the way. I saw General Hood ride by, his face red and contorted with anger. He swore at the men he encountered, and he sure was going to punish us for letting Schofield's army escape the trap. We approached Franklin and stopped to form in ranks for the attack while still two miles from the Union lines. The Yankees had built breastworks to block our advance on the city. Their long range cannons started firing on us.

We were barely in line when we heard the order to charge. Tired or not, we had to run those two miles over open ground. We ran as fast as we could, to escape the shelling from their cannons. Men fell around me as wheat before the scythe. I couldn't stop without being run over by the men behind me. Everyone wanted to get to those guns and silence them. There was no turning back. The fire behind would have been as deadly as the fire ahead, given the fear of the men we faced. I raised my musket and fired at a face in their line, knowing that their ranks were so thick that my bullet must hit someone, and might slow their reloading.

We leaped into their deep trench and crashed into the wall that protected them. It was so high we had to use our momentum to almost walk up the wall to get a bayonet into the faces that leaned over the top to fire down on us. Bayonet clashed against bayonet, and the fire from rifles and cannon made a continuous roar. At least we were now protected against the shotgun-like blasts from their cannon firing grape from behind that parapet.

I lost my balance and fell back into the trench, where the men behind me stepped on me as they charged the wall. Men fell around me and on top of me. I struggled to breath, against the weight of the fallen or standing men above me. I feared I would be crushed to death, and struggled to get up. I managed to get my head and chest free, but my legs were trapped by the increasing weight of fallen comrades.

Our charge carried the top of the embankment, so the fire into the trench stopped for a few moments. I struggled free, and attempted to retrieve a rifle. Many weapons lay scattered among the killed and wounded in that trench, now so filled with bodies that some of the dead stood in place, supported by the stacked bodies of the fallen.

I picked up a loaded rifle and rose up to fire into the massed Yankees facing me. They had retreated only a few feet, out of bayonet range, but still stood in solid ranks facing our charge. Some of my comrades were over the wall, but were falling like tenpins. I knew we could not continue the advance, but to retreat would only place us at the mercy of grape shot from their massed cannon. Some survivors on top of the wall dived back into the trench. There they resumed fire, often grabbing loaded rifles from among the fallen, to save the time required to reload their own piece.

Night fell, and reinforcements came to support our effort to hold the rampart. We still could not get over the wall. Every man who tried was shot down. We used their own wall for protection, as we continued to pour a lethal hail of lead into their ranks. Now they were protected by a second trench and wall a few feet behind the first. After dark the fighting continued by the light of many rifles and cannon. Soon the smoke became so thick we could see nothing, and the firing died down.

I fell asleep in the trench from exhaustion, lying on the bodies of those permanently asleep. At daylight a sergeant woke me and said I should go back to the field hospital and get something to eat before I started work in the surgery tent. I was again detailed to the hospital as an acting assistant surgeon. The sergeant said the firing had ceased during the night, and the enemy had left, burning the bridge behind them. Forrest's cavalry had tried to cut off their escape, but the enemy cavalry had been too strong. Schofield's Corps had escaped again, and now marched on the road to Nashville, where they would join up with Thomas' army already there, to outnumber our decimated troops. They would be protected by fortifications better than those we failed to take at Franklin, but the sergeant said nobody doubted that Hood would punish us again for letting Schofield escape.

At the field hospital I relished the little piece of bacon and a handful of parched corn, with the usual coffee substitute of unknown origin. I found the tables in surgery already covered in blood, and many waited their turn to have wounds sutured, while others lay on the floor waiting to have limbs removed. At least we still had some ether to put them to sleep. We all dreaded the day when ether and chloroform would run out. There were enough surgeons to service the available tables, so I was sent to the recovery area, where men lay on the ground in rows.

Here I found General Manigault, who had suffered a severe head wound. His adjutant came, and ordered him moved to a house nearby. He asked me to go with him, to care for the general and other officers there. On entering the house, we passed through the parlor where the bodies of five generals lay on a long table, laid out for embalming. I was sad to see General Cleburne, hero of so many battles, and others I had known. Why should they and so many fine soldiers have been sacrificed in this senseless attack?

The survivors would now cross the river and take the road to Nashville. No one doubted that there The Army of Tennessee would be destroyed. Hadn't General Hood impaled the army on the sword of Franklin's defenses?