With Sherman embarking on his March to the Sea, John Bell Hood and his Army of Tennessee were left confronting the Union forces in Tennessee, some sixty thousand troops to the 39,000 under Hood. The odds were actually longer than that, as Union control of the railroads and rivers of Tennessee would allow rapid Union reinforcement in Tennessee if necessary. Hood decided that his only option for victory was to take Tennessee from the Union. This was the longest of long shots, but at this stage of the War no Confederate commander had strategic options that could be called anything other than bleak. Hood’s plan at least had his army taking the initiative, and he could hope for some massive Union blunders that might transform an impossible situation into one that gave him some hope of at least slowing what he no doubt perceived as an inevitable Union victory in the War.
Hood entered Tennessee on November 21, and his campaign began with some promise. The Union forces were divided by 75 miles with Thomas and the Army of the Cumberland in Nashville, and Schofield and his Army of the Ohio, some 27,000 men, at Pulaski, Tennessee.
Hood did his best to bring Schofield to battle before he could unite with Thomas and succeeded in doing so on November 30 at Franklin, Tennessee, some 21 miles south of Nashville, after the Army of Tennessee missed a golden opportunity to destroy a portion of Schofield’s retreating force at Spring Hill the day before.
Schofield had abandoned his pontoon bridge during the retreat and thus his army fought the Battle of Franklin with its back to the Harpeth River, and potential annihilation if the Confederates could dislodge his defense. Hood realized the opportunity that presented itself and ordered an all out assault that began at 4:00 PM.
Some of the most desperate fighting of the Civil War ensued. An initial Confederate breakthrough in the Union center was sealed after ferocious combat, much of it hand to hand. Confederate attacks continued until 10:00 PM. The unsuccessful attacks devastated the Army of the Tennessee. Union total casualties of approximately 2,200 included 189 killed. Confederate killed were ten times that number with total Confederate casualties of 6200. The tenor of the Confederate losses is illustrated by their generals who were casualties that day. Six Confederate generals died, including perhaps the best Confederate division commander, Major General Patrick Cleburne, seven Confederate generals were wounded and one was captured. Schofield withdrew across the river that night and march his army to Nashville. Hood followed with his army, now a pale reflection of the force that he led into battle the day before. November 30, 1864 was the black day of the Army of Tennessee.
Here is the report of General Thomas on the battle:
The enemy followed closely after General Schofield’s rear guard in the retreat to Franklin, and upon coming up with the main force, formed rapidly and advanced to assault our works, repeating attack after attack during the entire afternoon, and as late as 10 p.m. his efforts to break our line were continued. General Schofield’s position was excellently chosen, with both flanks resting upon the river, and the men firmly held their ground against an overwhelming enemy, who was repulsed in every assault along the whole line. Our loss, as given by General Schofield in his report transmitted herewith (and to which I respectfully refer), is, 189 killed, 1,033 wounded, and 1,104 missing, making an aggregate of 2,326. We captured and sent to Nashville 702 prisoners, including I general officer, and 33 stand of colors. Maj. Gen. D. S. Stanley, commanding Fourth Corps, was severely wounded at Franklin whilst engaged in rallying a portion of his command which had been temporarily overpowered by an overwhelming attack of the enemy. At the time of the battle the enemy’s loss was known to be severe, and was estimated at 5,000. The exact figures were only obtained, however, on the reoccupation of Franklin by our forces, after the battles of December 15 and 16, at Brentwood Hills, near Nashville, and are given as follows: Buried upon the field, 1,750; disabled and placed in hospital at Franklin, 3,800, which, with the 702 prisoners already reported, makes an aggregate loss to Hood’s army of 6,252, among whom were 6 general officers killed, 6 wounded, and I captured. The important results of the signal victory cannot be too highly appreciated, for it not only seriously checked the enemy’s advance, and gave General Schofield time to remove his troops and all his property to Nashville, but it also caused deep depression among the men of Hood’s army, making them doubly cautious in their subsequent movements.