The Battle of Franklin

John ArmstrongAmerica and Americanism, History, Personal, Race and Racism

I recently spent some time in the Nashville (TN) area. I was about 15 minutes from Franklin, Tennessee. I had an appointment with a good friend in Franklin so I did some reading about the Civil War significance of this town. I was astounded by what I learned. I decided, after my brief research, to spend several hours visiting the Civil War sites. (I have visited more than a few Civil War battlefields and sites since I was trained in American history and retain a great interest in the subject.)

Battle_of_Franklin_II_1864 On November 30, 1864, the bloodiest and fiercest five-hour battle in the Civil War was fought in this town, which had only 750 residents at the time. In terms of the number engaged it was clearly the most destructive in the entire war. And of the five hours of combat more than four hours was fought in the dark of night, something that almost never happened. General Isaac R. Sherwood (111th Ohio Infantry) later wrote, “At midnight on the battlefield of Franklin, the finger of destiny was lifted pointing the open road to Appomattox” (meaning the end of the way a few months later).

Without providing a detailed sketch of this battle, which you can get on your own by research if you’re interested, the Battle of Franklin should never have happened. The Confederates (Army of Tennessee) brought 33,000 soldiers to fight in Tennessee. They wanted to liberate Nashville in order to break the supply lines of the Union Army. 22,000 of these men engaged in the Battle of Franklin. The Federal Army, which had literally snuck past the Confederates the evening before, was headed to Nashville to defend their stronghold. They dug in at Franklin because a bridge ahead of them was out so needed to wait in order to repair it. They numbered 23,000.

Franklin Map Late in the day of November 30, which was a bright and warm day of around 60 degrees, General John Bell Hood, decided to attack the Union Center about a mile or less south of Franklin where the troops were dug in with fortifications. Hood’s charge to the center of the Union line was a lot like Pickett’s famous charge at Gettysburg except it result in using more troops and even greater casualties. It was a brutal assault with very little chance of success. By the end of the battle five generals were dead and eight more wounded. Another was wounded and captured. I stood on the porch of the plantation home (photo below) where these five generals were laid on the morning of December 1, 1864. I walked in the fields of battle. I visited the cemetery where over 1,400 (only a portion) of the Confederate dead were buried. It all seemed surreal in a real sense. I simply cannot fathom these events with any degree of imagination that can do justice to the accounts I heard and the land and places I saw.

Mansion In the museum shop I looked over books and my eyes landed on one that interested me. It was an account of nine Confederate soldiers who were devoted Christians. Each explained their feelings and response to fighting in this bloody, terrible and tragic war. What interested me was the question each had to answer regarding why they felt they should fight in this war as a Christian. All nine had the same response to this question. First, they fought because their home land had been invaded. They believed their own state (Alabama, Tennessee, etc.) was their true homeland, not the union of the several states that made up the United States of America. Second, they all believed the Bible sanctioned slavery and it was just and right to die defending it. Most of those who died never owned a slave! They were too poor to own slaves. But they had been taught from childhood that slavery was biblical and they died believing this to be true.

I wondered deeply, as I walked across fields and into several homes that remain from this battle, “What do Christians believe today that is so deeply ingrained in them that it could cause them to fight and die for a cause that is neither worthy of their death or of a great bloody war?” Please never believe that how the Bible is used or interpreted makes no real difference. It did in 1864 and it still does today. The names and issues have changed but the dangers remain. Invoking the Scriptures in order to defend a war is always questionable business regardless of what theory of armed combat you endorse as a Christian.

My sunny, beautiful day in Franklin moved me to the depths of my being. It brought home the reality of how sincerely wrong some earnest Christians can be and what the cost will be in some instances. It also reminded me of how truly silly the nonsense is that we hear almost daily about how divided our nation is in 2011. We know nothing of the great divide of 1861-65 when we speak about our present struggles.

Could we have another American Civil War? Of course we could. I pray it never happens and one reason I write about peaceful and reasonable solutions to problems is to dampen down the enthusiasts who speak in apocalyptic terms about our present social and religious problems. The last I read the words of our Lord he said, “Blessed are the peacemakers” not “Blessed are those who are angry and want to take back their country for God!”