Brigadier General Nathan Kimball’s and Colonel Thomas E. Rose’s Reports on the Union Right at the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee
In November 1864, as Union forces under Major General William T. Sherman set out from Atlanta on their March to the Sea, the Confederate Army of Tennessee under the command of General John Bell Hood headed in a different direction. Hood’s army had been driven out of Atlanta in early September, and since then, had been unsuccessful in trying to draw the Federals out of the city with attacks on Union supply lines. Instead of chasing after Sherman, Hood decided to strike northward into Tennessee.
Hood’s plan was to invade Tennessee and destroy the Union forces in the state before they could concentrate at Nashville. The Confederates would also capture Nashville, and it’s union supply bases. Hood wrote that he would “then move into Kentucky, and take position with our left at or near Richmond, and our right extending toward Hazel Green…In this position I could threaten Cincinnati, and recruit the army from Kentucky and Tennessee”. Hood also believed he could march east and assist Robert E. Lee in Virginia if circumstances warranted.
Hood put his ambitious plan into motion on November 21st, marching north from Florence, Alabama. Major General John M. Schofield’s 23rd Corps,
along with a division of the 4th Corps, were at Pulaski, Tennessee. Hood attempted to get between Schofield’s army and Nashville, where the other large Union force in the state, under Major General George Thomas, was located. But Schofield was able to out maneuver Hood in action at Columbia and Spring Hill, and the retreating Federals arrived at Franklin early on November 30th.
The two bridges over the Harpeth River had to be repaired before the Union troops could cross over and resume the retreat to Nashville. The Federals set up a strong semi circular
defensive perimeter on the south end of Franklin, with each end anchored on the river and open ground in front of the Union lines.
The Confederates arrived early in the afternoon. Believing this was his best opportunity to destroy Schofield’s army, Hood ordered a frontal assault on the Union position. At about 4:00 p.m., 20,000 Confederates marched forward. At first, the Rebel assault achieved an initial, though very costly, success in breaching the Federal center, but a counterattack by Colonel Emerson Opdycke’s brigade plugged that hole. Intense fighting continued in the center, with continued assaults by the Rebels and the Federals bending but not breaking while they inflicted huge numbers of casualties on the attackers. Confederate assaults on the flanks were also repulsed.
The Confederates finally broke off the attack around 9:00 p.m., though some sporadic shooting continued off and on after that. With the bridges over the Harpeth serviceable, Schofield began a withdrawal at 11:00 p.m., completing it by 2:00 a.m. on December 1st.
Casualties figures were enormous for the Confederates, with an estimated 1750 killed, 3800 wounded, and 702 captured for a total of 6252. The dead included six generals. Schofield reported Union losses as 189 killed, 1033 wounded, and 1104 missing. Despite the heavy losses, Hood pressed on with what was left of his army to Nashville, where he was defeated by Thomas in the December 14th-15th Battle of Nashville.
Brigadier General Nathan Kimball’s 1st Division of the 4th Corps defended the Union right flank at Franklin. This division consisted of three brigades; the 1st Brigade was under the command of Colonel Isaac Kirby, the 2nd was commanded by Brigadier General Walter C. Whitaker, and the 3rd was commanded by Brigadier General William Grose. The division included infantry regiments from Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania. Kimball’s division was supported by Battery B, Pennsylvania Light Artillery under the command of Captain Jacob Ziegler. Kimball repulsed attacks by Colonel Robert Bullock’s brigade of Florida troops, part of Major General William B. Bate’s Division of Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham’s Corps, and by Brigadier General James R. Chalmers’ Cavalry Division, fighting dismounted. Kimball filed this after action report on his defense of the Union right flank. Although Kimball states that his division fought Major General William Loring’s Division, Loring was on the opposite flank.
HEADQUARTERS FIRST DIVISION, FOURTH ARMY CORPS,
Near Nashville, Tenn., December 5, 1864.
COLONEL: I have the honor to submit the following report of the part taken by my division in the battle at Franklin, Tenn., on the 30th ultimo:
On the evening of the 29th orders were received to withdraw from our position on the north side of Duck River, opposite Columbia, my division to cover the retreat of the entire army. After the Twenty-third Corps and the Third Division of the Fourth Corps had withdrawn and passed Rutherford’s Creek I withdrew my division, and at 12 midnight crossed Rutherford’s Creek and moved on rapidly to Spring Hill, passing within 300 yards of the rebel lines. Here I joined the Second and Third Divisions of this corps. Receiving orders from Major-General Stanley, I at once took position on the left of the road, covering the artillery and trains of the Fourth Corps, and moved forward toward Franklin. We had proceeded about three miles, when word was sent me that the enemy had attacked and were burning the train of the Twenty-third Corps, which was in our front and without guard. I at once sent Col. I. M. Kirby, commanding my First Brigade, forward to save the train if possible. Colonel Kirby was prompt in his movements and reached the point in time, driving the rebels off and saving all but ten wagons, which the rebels had burned before he came up. From this point we moved on to Franklin, at which point we arrived at 12 m. of the 30th. Receiving orders, I went into position, on the right of the Twenty-third Army Corps, in the following order: My right, composed of the Second Brigade, Brig. Gen. W. C. Whitaker commanding, resting on the Harpeth River; my left, the Third Brigade, Brigadier-General Grose commanding, resting on the Centerville pike, and connecting with the Second Division of the Twenty-third Corps; my First Brigade, Col. I. M. Kirby commanding, in the center. Captain Ziegler’s battery, (B) Pennsylvania Artillery, having reported to me, was placed in position by General Grose on the left of the division, near the Centerville pike. General Cox, commanding Twenty-third Corps, calling upon me for a regiment to re-enforce the Second Division of that corps, I detached the One hundred and first Ohio, Lieutenant-Colonel McDanald commanding, from my First Brigade, and ordered it to report to General Ruger. I have no report from it, but am informed by the officer in command of that line that it behaved splendidly, holding a position from which two regiments had been compelled to retire until the end of the battle.
Having established my line I gave direction that barricades should be made, and by 4 p.m. my men had thrown up excellent barricades the entire length of our line. Thus having completed our works, with skirmishers thrown forward, we awaited the approach of the enemy. At near 5 o’clock he made his appearance in my front in heavy force, moving in line of battle, advancing upon us, my skirmishers retiring gradually before them to my main line. The enemy advanced to within 250 yards of my main line, when my men opened upon them with such precision that the rebel line was literally mown down. The destruction of the enemy was terrible indeed, yet they pressed forward with still another line, seemingly determined to carry our position. Reaching within a few yards of our line, my men gave them such deadly volleys that their lines mostly fell killed or wounded; the survivors broke and fell back in great confusion. In about half an hour after this first repulse the enemy again made his appearance, more to my center and right, and again was he driven back in confusion, and with terrible slaughter. Still not satisfied, and waiting until it was dark, the enemy again advanced and attempted to carry our position, but was again repulsed; after this last repulse of the enemy my skirmishers were again thrown forward from the main line some 300 yards, and remained in their position until the army was withdrawn to the north side of the Harpeth River. It was Loring’s division, of Stewart’s corps, and a part of Lee’s corps, of the rebel army, that engaged my division, as we ascertained from prisoners captured. Captain Ziegler’s battery on this, as on former occasions, did splendidly, inflicting severe punishment upon the enemy, and, in fact, at one time prevented the enemy penetrating our line near the right of Second Division, Twenty-third Corps. Too much praise cannot be awarded this battery.
At midnight, in obedience to orders, I withdrew my division from its position, leaving my skirmishers on duty in front of the line, and moved to the bridge to effect a
crossing, as I had been directed to move at once upon Brentwood to take up position until the army should arrive; but to my surprise I found the way blocked up by other troops who had left their position in advance of the time, and hence was unable to cross in advance, but was compelled to wait and take the position which others should have taken. General Grose’s brigade (the Third), of my division, was the last of the army to withdraw from the line in front of Franklin. My skirmishers stood alone in front of the enemy until the army had crossed Harpeth River, and I am proud to say that every man of my division was in his place and all came off in good order. My dead were buried and all my wounded brought away. My loss is 60 in killed, wounded, and missing, as will be seen by the inclosed report.
Every officer and man of this division behaved nobly and is entitled to the highest praise. Brigadier-Generals Grose and Whitaker and Col. I. M. Kirby, my brigade commanders, are officers worthy to command such noble men as those composing their brigades. They all deserve well of their country, and I again recommend Col. I. M. Kirby, of the One hundred and first Ohio, for promotion. I am greatly indebted to every member of my staff for valuable services rendered during the engagement. One of my aides, Lieut. Joseph O. Waters, was severely wounded in the right arm while conveying orders. Every officer and man of the division and of my staff has my thanks and commendations for his services and noble bearing.
For further details you are referred to the inclosed reports of brigade and regimental commanders.
I am, colonel, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Lieut. Col. J. S. FULLERTON,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Fourth Army Corps.
Kimball listed his total casualties as 5 Killed, 37 wounded, and 18 missing.
The 77th Pennsylvania Infantry, the only Pennsylvania regiment in Kimball’s division and a part of Grose’s 3rd Brigade, was deployed in front of the main defensive line as skirmishers. Colonel Thomas E. Rose filed this report on the 77th’s action:
HDQRS. SEVENTY-SEVENTH REGT. PENNSYLVANIA INFTY.,
Camp Near Fort Andy Johnson, Tenn., December 4, 1864.
LIEUTENANT: In compliance with orders from the general commanding Third Brigade, First Division, Fourth Army Corps, I submit the following report of the part this regiment took in the battle of Franklin on the 30th of November, 1864:
On the morning of the 30th ultimo, at 11 a.m., I received orders from Brig. Gen. Grose to report forthwith with this regiment for picket duty. We had marched all night the night before, had a very slight skirmish with some rebel cavalry early in the morning, and had just arrived in Franklin. We had stacked arms and made some arrangements for a temporary camp; the men were very tired, and it was perhaps half an hour before I was able to comply with the order. We were posted and instructed by General Grose himself about a mile from Franklin, to the right of the turnpike leading from Franklin to Centerville, in the following order: One company was posted about 60 yards from the turnpike; another company was posted 200 yards to the right of this on a line running at an angle of twenty degrees with the turnpike, and to the right of this company on a line running nearly perpendicular to the turnpike were posted two other companies, 100 yards apart; the other four companies were posted in reserve at about 200 yards from each extremity of the line, and about the same distance from the center of the line. On the left of my line were the pickets of General Ruger’s command, and on my right were the pickets of the Second Brigade of this division. I had scarcely finished giving instructions to my men when the enemy appeared in my front on the right of the turnpike, and the pickets commenced firing. In a few minutes the enemy was seen extending his lines to our left in great force, at the same time rapidly encircling our right, and the pickets became hotly engaged with their skirmishers. The enemy kept constantly re-enforcing his line of skirmishers, but we easily kept them at bay until the pickets on our left, being fiercely assaulted, suddenly gave way. The left of my line of pickets then gradually begun to fall back. The company on the extreme left had received instructions from General Grose, through me, to fall back to the main line in town, if they found they could not hold their position, but they were so completely turned that they were compelled to fall [back] to the four companies held in reserve, which they did in good order, fighting gallantly. They were commanded by Lieut. Ed. Morgan, who deserves compliment.
One by one the outpost companies from left to right now fell back to the reserve post and took their places in the regimental line. As soon as the outposts had joined the reserve post I perceived the enemy close upon us, advancing in line of battle, when I commenced firing by battalion and soon cleared my front of the enemy; but soon received a heavy fire directly upon my right flank, killing two of my men and wounding several others. The enemy had already passed my left and I fell back about the distance of my regimental front, faced about, delivered a volley, and quickly changed front forward to receive the line of the enemy that was coming down upon my right flank. I stopped the enemy in this direction instantly, but soon found the enemy coming up yelling and firing upon my left flank, my original front. I then fell back almost to the ravine and changed front so as to receive the rebels in this direction, and delivered a volley upon them, which, as they were on higher ground than we were, and within fifty paces of us, produced most fearful carnage. They went back pell-mell. I now thought I could hold them and ordered my men to take shelter behind the fence, which was very high and strong. Mounted on horseback myself, and on the side of the fence next to the rebels, I rode down to the fence corner, thinking to find a place to get through. I here found the enemy coming down the ravine in great force directly upon the right flank of my regiment, and myself completely hemmed in. I ordered two of my men to knock down the fence to let me through to my regiment, but the fire was so hot and the rebels so close that my line gave way, and I was obliged to dismount and knock down the fence myself. As the rebels were close upon me yelling to me to surrender, my men thought I was gone up, and began to retreat rapidly. I soon extricated myself, however, mounted my mare, overtook my regiment, restored order, and formed line. Our fire was now weak compared with that of the enemy. My officers and men had been complaining for some time for want of ammunition; at last declared that they were entirely out. I then ordered them to fall back to the breast-works and replenish their ammunition. As soon as this was done I started forward again, but was ordered back in reserve by General Grose, and my regiment took no further part in the action.
On the whole my regiment fought with great gallantry, and I am under many obligations, first, to General Grose for the skillful manner in which he posted my pickets, and to my officers for their valuable assistance.
I would respectfully call to your notice Capt. J. J. Lawson, my second in command; Captain Stark, who commanded the third outpost from the left; Lieut. James W. Johnston, who commanded the second outpost; Lieutenant Vera, who commanded the fourth outpost; Lieut. James A. Haus and Sergeants Gillmen, Murphy, and Martin, who commanded their companies at the reserve post, and last, though not the least, Adjt. C. Snively. All seemed to vie with each other in exhibiting coolness and precision in the performance of their duties in this most trying position that perhaps the regiment was ever placed. I herewith append a list of the casualties.
Submitting the foregoing, I am, sir, respectfully, your obedient servant,
THOMAS E. ROSE,
Colonel, Commanding Regiment.
Lieut. F. BINGHAM,
Acting Assistant Adjutant-General.
Rose had been captured at the Battle of Chickamauga in September 1863, and imprisoned as a POW at Libby Prison in Richmond. He tunneled out and escaped with 108 others in February of 1864, and despite freezing temperatures and a broken foot, had managed to elude Confederate picket lines as he made his way towards Williamsburg, then under Union control. He was within sight of the Union line when he was recaptured by the Confederates and returned to Libby. Rose was exchanged on July 6th, 1864, returned to his regiment, and served until the end of the war.
Colonel Rose’s Tunnel at Libby Prison by Frank E. Moran. In Famous Adventures and Prison Escapes of the Civil War , published by the Century Company of New York.
The Invasion of Tennessee by John Bell Hood. In Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume IV, edited by Robert U. Johnson and Clarence C. Buel.
Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Volume XLVI, Part 1.
Repelling Hood’s Invasion of Tennessee by Henry Stone. In Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume IV, edited by Robert U. Johnson and Clarence C. Buel.