During the evening of November 29th, 1864, Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood of the Army of Tennessee outflanked Maj. Gen. John Schofield of the Army of the Ohio, which separated Schofield’s command between his supplies and artillery, and put the Federal army in critical danger. Both armies marched all day to meet in a skirmish just an hour before nightfall. But the skirmish was a disaster due to broken and confused command on both sides.
Hood decided to postpone the battle of Spring Hill until dawn. He was confident that after some much needed rest and with the light of a new day, he would defeat Schofield.
The morning of November 30th had seen Hood in high spirits. Regardless of the botched skirmish the night before, his offensive trek north from Georgia was going according to plan: defeat Schofield, retake the manufacturing and supply center of Nashville for the Confederates, collect fresh recruits, and then join with Robert E. Lee in Virginia.
Now, it seemed the broken Union army was perfectly positioned for defeat. However, while he enjoyed breakfast two miles away from the frontlines, Hood was informed that the entire Federal army had escaped in the night. The Army of the Ohio snuck past the camped Tennessee Army, separated by only a few hundred paces. Hood was furious.
After they marched thirteen miles through the night, The Union army stopped at a random unfortunate family’s home at about 4am in Franklin, Tennessee. They took the living room over as their temporary headquarters and promptly fell asleep.
The two bridges over the Harpeth River that connected Franklin to Nashville had recently been flooded out, so the army had to wait for pontoon boats to float down and be lashed into place before they could continue. Meanwhile, the Union soldiers dug trenches and settled in to wait it out, confident that the Confederates were far behind and wouldn’t be able to catch up.
Carrie McGavock stood on her front porch that afternoon, enjoying the relatively warm day for November. The front yard was spacious and flat, stretching to an abundance of trees which held her full attention; out of that tree line, a wall of Confederate troops steadily emerged singing the Bonnie Blue Flag. They were exhausted and determined.
Hood refused to let his opportunity slip past, so they marched all day in a suicidal effort to overtake the Union once again. They finally caught up to them in Franklin, about 20 miles south of Nashville. This was their last chance to defeat Schofield before the Union could escape and regroup in Nashville but sunset was only a few hours away. The Eastern flank made their way up the McGavock’s front lawn and settled around the home.
The pontoon boats never showed up for the Union and when the Confederates caught up that afternoon, Hood ordered the frontal assault much to the dismay of his lieutenants. A half hour before sunset on November 30th, the Battle of Franklin started. Schofield’s only objective was to keep the Confederates back long enough for his engineers to finish building a bridge. The Union made a weak stand behind hastily-constructed field work.
Tired and inexperienced Union troops charged from the line, but when they saw the massive number of Confederates running full force at them, they turned and ran in retreat. The Confederates took advantage of the confusion and followed the retreating soldiers so closely that the Union held their fire so as not to shoot their own comrades. It was this collapse in the front line that allowed the Confederates to push 50 yards into the main line between the Carter House and the cotton gin. Then the Union soldiers in reserve under Opdycke initiated the counterattack. Men fought desperately in the waning light with bayonets, entrenching tools, and even rocks. The battle held around the Carter house.
Since the Union army had been so confident that a battle wasn’t going to happen, the 14 members of the extended Carter family, including several children, remained home and hiding in the basement during the battle. Soldiers were running through their house and firing from their windows. Horses and men alike were screaming and dying in the yard. Meanwhile, the Carnton Plantation became a Confederate field hospital. The house, outbuildings, and yard were packed with wounded soldiers.
The only people home to help were Carrie and John McGavock, their two young children, and the governess. But it was Carrie ripping up linens, cooking food, and praying with the men that the soldiers would remember from their time there. She moved with purpose in her blood soaked dress while the surgeons performed amputations all throughout the night.
At approximately 9 pm, the bridge across the Harpeth was completed and the Army of the Ohio made their escape to Nashville, clinching their hard fought victory. It was the bloodiest 5 hours of the entire Civil War. Bodies almost completely covered the Carter and Carnton properties. 200,000 Confederates advanced two miles against three tiers of defense.
There were approximately 6,000 Confederate casualties including six generals, the most Confederate generals to die in any battle of the entire war. Only five months later, the war was over. This battle in the last stretch of the war, comparable to Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, shocked and horrified everyone involved. Most soldiers refused to speak of what happened in any detail, but it was referred to as “the blackest page in the history of the war.”
To this day, you can still visit the Carnton Plantation and see the blood soaked floors or the Carter house and see the home and outbuildings still riddled with hundreds of bullet holes.
Rooster stars in the history/spooky/society and culture/current events/everything show, Phone It In. She also covers the broad, daunting topic of ‘general history’ on History Lesson. Follow her on Twitter @SoBroRooster