Letter of Thomas C. Gregg, Fifty-First Illinois Infantry
to Jacob Dolson Cox, Former Commander 23rd Army Corps, Army of the Ohio

[INTRODUCTORY NOTE: In 1882, Jacob D. Cox first published a narrative of the Battle of Franklin in The March to the Sea - Franklin and Nashville, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons). The Franklin portions of the work evoked fierce criticism as Cox painted himself as "commandant of the line"—and therefore in charge—but yet not responsible for the horrific blunder with which the battle opened. On this latter point, Cox cast all the blame—not part of the blame—on Brigadier General George D. Wagner, commander of the Second Division of the Fourth Army Corps, Wagner who disobeyed orders by not withdrawing the brigades of Lane and Conrad (of which the Fifty-First was a part) before they were struck by the advancing Confederate army. For the next fifteen years Cox gathered information regarding the battle from every possible corner with a view, as it turns out, to buttressing the same conclusions he reached in his 1882 account. Gregg's letter was a piece of the evidence that Cox marshalled against (now long-dead) Wagner and published in 1897 in The Battle of Franklin, Tennessee, November 30, 1864. A Monograph, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.]

Rockwell City, Iowa
Jan 23, 1895

Gen. Jacob D. Cox
Dear Sir and Comrade

Wm. N. Brown, a comrade and our county treasurer,1 showed me a letter that he had received from you in regard to an article published in the National Tribune.

I was a member of Co. H 51st Ills and was with that regiment through what duty we was called upon to do and we always thought we had our share — was in Gen. Sheridan's Division at Stone River, also at Chicamauga, where I received two wounds, one in the right ankle and the other in the right elbow, on Saturday afternoon the 19th of Sept 1863, and was left on the field that night and taken prisoner, was sent to Richmond and put in a hospital on Carey St until the following December when I was paroled and sent through to Annapolis, and from there to the hospital at Chicago where I was until the following June when I was exchanged when I went to my regiment which I found at the foot of Kenesaw Mountain — and the next morning I went with my regiment into that charge with Gen. Harker commanding the brigade, who was wounded that day. After the Atlanta Campaign, Col. Bradley, commanding the brigade, had me detailed as one of his orderlies, and Bradley was wounded at Spring Hill and I lost my horse there.

Col. Conrad took command of the brigade at Franklin. Our two brigades (Conrad's and Lane's) were put out in the front with the understanding that when the enemy appeared in heavy force in our front that we was to return inside of the main line. When the Confederate forces appeared in heavy force in our front, Col. Conrad called me up and ordered me to report to Gen. Wagner that the enemy were forming in heavy columns in his front, which I immediately [did]. I found Gen. Wagner sitting on a porch to the left of the road, a pike, as I went into Franklin.2 I found the General and reported to him that Col. Conrad requested me to report that the enemy was forming in heavy mass in his front. Gen. Wagner said tell Col. Conrad that the Second Division could whip all hell and for him to hold his position, which I reported to Col. Conrad, and the Col. said, all right, he would try. And the Confederates came on us with bayonets fixed at a right shoulder until nearly on our works when they came to a charge and drove us from our temporary position with the result we all know. After we were driven inside the works. I took my position at the cotton gin.3

General it has been a long time since that memorable fight at Franklin, but our acts and what part I took in that engagement is as fresh as any of the engagements, and, if my memory serves me right, I read some years ago in some work you had written in regard to the campaign from Nashville to Atlanta that you mentioned that Col. Conrad had sent an orderly into Gen. Wagner, and at that time I had said I was the man that carried those orders. To the best of my recollection, I have stated the matter just as it happened and [hope] this explanation will be of some interest to you. Hoping this may find you enjoying good health and that you may enjoy the same for years to come, for I have a great deal of respect for our Old Commander.4

I remain yours
T. C. Gregg

Jacob Dolson Cox Papers, Oberlin College Archives, Oberlin, Ohio.

1William N. Brown was a member of the Sixty-Fifth Illinois Infantry, a regiment of the Twenty-Third Corps, Army of the Ohio. Brown was treasurer of Calhoun County, Iowa. Gregg was mayor of Rockwell City, the county seat of Calhoun County.
2Gregg was speaking of the Columbia Pike which entered Franklin from the South. Wagner would therefore have been west of the pike. His two brigades straddled the pike 500 yards to the south, Lane west of the pike, Conrad east of the pike.
3When Cox's Franklin book was published in 1897, Cox gave considerable coverage to Gregg's account. He did not, however, mention Gregg's fighting at the cotton gin, where many men of the Fifty-First Illinois and Wagner's Division altogether rallied and struggled, for Cox—in the interest of giving as many laurels as possible to his Twenty-Third Corps—reiterated that the men of the Fourth Corps, Lane and Conrad's Brigades, raced from the forward line back to the main line and never stopped racing until they were through the town of Franklin and across the Harpeth River, leaving the Twenty-Third Corps and Opdycke's Brigade (of Wagner's Division) to withstand the Confederate attack. This is utter nonsense and Cox went to great lengths to assert it (with good success, for even now, Wikipedia avers that Cox is widely credited with saving the center at Franklin). Cox made his argument by ignoring information to the contrary, such information as Gregg's simple statement that he fought at the cotton gin, whereas Cox would have him at the rear drinking from the Harpeth River. And, this is a single and minor example; it would have been of interest to Lansdown, J. J. Johnson, Calvin Thomas, Iven Bailey, Charles Hills, and many other men of the Fifty-First who were killed or wounded at the main line near the cotton gin that they were actually safe and sound at the Harpeth River and need not fear the shadow of death that night. In most cases Cox relied on the men of the Twenty-Third Corps to tell him what the men of the Fourth Corps did. W. W. Gist of the Twenty-Sixth Ohio, Lane's Brigade, asked, "What right has Cox to ignore the official reports of the men who commanded these [Wagner's] brigades?" (Confederate Veteran 24, 1916, p. 15). Indeed.

Here is what Cox wrote, in his 1897 Franklin book, of Orderly Gregg's mission to Wagner [pp. 106-8]:

The statement of Captain Scofield in regard to the orders sent back by Wagner through the messengers that came from his brigades is so completely in accord with the official reports of Conrad and Lane that further corroboration is hardly necessary. One of these messages was delivered to Wagner in the presence of Captain Theodore Cox, my Adjutant General, and he, with Lieutenant IX C. Bradley, one of my aids, also remonstrated with Wagner for sending back orders to fight Hood's army advancing in force. Wagner's excited persistence in his order was his only reply. The messenger himself has written his account of what occurred. Conrad and his brigade had the "understanding that when the enemy appeared in heavy force they were to retire inside of the main line." When Hood's army advanced, Conrad sent him to report the fact. He found Wagner at the porch of the Carter house, and made his report. " General Wagner said, ' Tell Colonel Conrad that the second division can whip all Hell, and for him to hold his position'; which I reported to Colonel Conrad, and the Colonel said, 'All right, he would try.' It is only fair toward Wagner, however, to note that at the last moment he seems to have been recalled by the remonstrances of my staff officers to a consciousness that he was committing an error, and tried to modify his order. Conrad reports that, after all the imperative directions to hold his ground, "just as the enemy got within good musket range, a staff officer of the general commanding the division rode up and said that the general ordered that, if the enemy came on me too strong and in such force as to overpower me, I should retire my line to the rear of the main line of works; . . . but as the enemy was so close to me, and as one half of my men were recruits and drafted men, and knowing that if I then retired my lines my men would become very unsteady and confused, and perhaps panic-stricken, I concluded to fight on the line where I then was. So I ordered the men to commence firing."

[Cox's footnote to the text:] The messenger, Mr. T. C. Gregg, who was taken for a staff officer, was in fact the regnlar orderly at the brigade headquarters, who had served with General Bradley till he was wounded at Spring Hill, and then with Colonel Conrad. He had been with General Sheridan at Stone's River, was twice wounded at Chickamauga, and left on the field. Taken by the enemy, he was sent to Richmond, and after a time was exchanged, He returned to his regiment (51st Illinois) in time to take part in the assault on Kennesaw Mountain and in the rest of the Atlanta campaign. After the war he became a Justice of the Peace, Clerk of the District Court of Calhoun County, Iowa, and finally Mayor of Rockwell City, — a career that shows the good stuff there was in the ranks. Hearing of him accidentally, I asked Mr. Gregg for his knowledge of the facts, and he sent me his pithy statement in reply.

4Cox was never formally one of the "old commanders" of the Fifty-First Illinois, its brigade, or its division, but Cox was in some fashion in command of something at Franklin, having been delegated field command of the Twenty-Third Corps by Schofield, and that Corps held the main line of entrenchments.