Version 0.1 — March 22 2009 — The Beginning Stub of An Account
We expect to complete this story in 2010.

They were routed,
they ran like sheep,
they fled;
Apologies to the
1st Kentucky Battery:

Outsiders accuse the 1st Kentucky Battery of fleeing with too great haste:
"...Schofield's little handful of less than seven thousand, who, with the exception of the Kentucky Battery, fought as though their lives depended upon it" (Pinney, 1886, pp. 63-4).

Cornelius Smith, No 1 of the first piece of the battery, responds, judiciously:
The former colonel of the 100th Ohio stated that when the Confederates broke through at the pike the gunners of the 1st Kentucky battery fled and left their guns to the enemy. Cornelius Smith, a man of that battery, took exception. He wrote: "But let us see how the boys of the 1st Ky. battery 'fled.' I was No. 1 of the first piece. I had become deaf from the jar of the gun, and all my attention was given to sending the load home. My first knowledge of our guns being captured was when I saw Corp'l Walter Tillett grab the lanyard from the hand of No. 4 and fire the piece. A rebel officer, who was standing within three feet of No. 4, with his left hand on the wheel of the piece, shot Corp'l Tillett dead with a pistol. I then looked behind and saw the rebels all among us. By this time I had partly regained my hearing. I heard a rebel officer say, 'Prepare for a charge.' I heard the yelling of men, and dropped flat on the ground. I saw the rebels start on the run and our men coming in at double-quick... 17 of the gunners had been captured with the guns and recaptured by the 100th Ohio. Some of the gunners who saw our support fall back, did likewise, in which I think they displayed good judgment as well as good sense" (National Tribune, August 25, 1887).

The Fifty-First Illinois on the Retreat from Pulaski to Nashville

PART I: From Pulaski to the Race for the Franklin Works

For the Fifty-First Illinois the 1864 Georgia campaign came to an end when the regiment, along with the rest of the Fourth Army Corps, was summoned away from their new camp and sent off to defend the rear against Confederate General John Bell Hood. First, there was lots of marching back and forth, and then and Hood's army came upon the Federal army at Pulaski, Tennesee on November 22—and then began the ten-day retreat to Nashville. The regiment's own Historical Memoranda tracked the back-and-forth beginnings of the campaign that brought the Fifty-First to Spring Hill, Franklin, and Nashville:

The Campaign having ended, the Regiment went into camp near Atlanta, and, believing their labor ended for some time, took much pains to make themselves comfortable by building good quarters. September 28th found the Regiment hastily breaking up camp and loading on the cars to move back to Chattanooga, Tenn. and Bridgeport, Ala. as Hood was getting in our rear. At this time Genl Newton was relieved and Brig Genl Wagner placed in command of the 2d Division, 4 AC [Army Corps]. —Reached Bridgeport Oct 1st and again built winter quarters to be abandoned on the 18th. Here the Regt received the first pay it had seen in eight months. On the 18th Sept on the cars for Chattanooga, remaining there long enough to receive one hundred and ninety-two (192) of (200) drafted men and substitutes assigned to the Regiment and draw their arms and equipment when the Regiment marched to Alpine, GA, a distance of forty (40) miles.... Here we remained one week, being joined by the other divisions of the corps. A march was immediately commenced for Chattanooga reaching there in two days. Took cars for Athens, Ala., there marched for Pulaski, Tenn, about 20 miles, wading Elk River, a very swift flowing stream and waist-deep, so cold that it almost froze the blood. At Pulaski the Regiment was engaged in throwing up works and doing picket duty. On the 22d of November left Pulaski, a very cold day, and marched to Lynnville where we remained two nights and one day. On the morning of the 24th made a forced march to Columbia. It having been determined that the army was too small to hold Columbia, on the morning of the 29th the command commenced retreating to Spring Hill some ten (10) miles. The 2nd Div arrived there at 2 P.M. They were hardly there when the enemy made his appearance in considerable force, having crossed the river above Columbia and intending to flank the small army commanded by Schofield, which they well nigh succeeded in doing.

The history of the Fifty-First Illinois on the retreat from Pulaski to Nashville is shared by its sister regiments in Luther Bradley's Brigade—the Fifteenth Missouri, the Seventy-Ninth Illinois, Forty-Second Illinois, and two Ohio regiments—the Sixty-Fourth and the Sixty-Fifth, with which the Fifty-First Illinois had traded help ever since Stones River. All these regiments were veterans of that place, Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, and the Rocky Faces, Peach Trees, New Hopes, and Kennesaws of the 1864 Georgia campaign. They were veteran regiments but not all fully themselves at Spring Hill and Franklin, for the Fifty-First and Forty-Second Illinois and the Sixty-Fourth and Sixty-Fifth Ohio had just been augmented, their numbers doubled, by the assignment of draftees and substitutes-for-draftees to their ranks. The Fifty-First Illinois gained 192 men. The four augmented regiments were the four the most populous regiments in Bradley's Brigade, though assuredly their fighting trim was, to some degree, compromised by the accession of new men, who did not yet fully know how to translate their Illinois bravery and commitment to cause into effective battlefield action. Some of these conscripts had joined the regiments just a few days before as the Fourth Corps passed northward through Columbia. Others had joined a month earlier, but the "new" men had training only in marching; they were, in terms of battlefield skills, barely embarked on their way to becoming soldiers. George Pratt of the Fifty-First Illinois wrote, "When we attempted to execute any movement, we had to push them into place." William Newlin of the Seventy-Third Illinois, Opdycke's Brigade recalled, "About September 26 to 28th, were ordered to Chattanooga, going by railway; and from thence marched down into Alpine valley again, about October 18th, returning the latter part of October, via Chickamauga battle-ground, to Chattanooga. On this return march from Alpine, quite a number of recruits of Fifty-first Illinois fell behind, 'straggled,' and no wonder, as most of them wore overcoats, and carried knapsacks packed full; one of them carried his bayonet fixed, instead of in scabbard, whereupon Corporal Lewis (who had just awakened from a short sleep at roadside, where company was resting) cried out, 'Halt, halt, you Fifty-firster; I want to know where you got your gun sharpened'" (Historical Memoranda: Company C, 73D Regiment Illinois Infantry Volunteers, p. 129). But, we will see that these new Fifty-Firsters bore their share of self-abnegation and sacrifice.

Spring Hill

Merritt Atwater of the Fifty-First Illinois Infantry compiled an an account of the regiment at Spring Hill and Franklin. His account gives a personal view of the northward march to Spring Hill and the events there on November 29, 1864. (For now, we have to leave Atwater alone to tell the story of the regiment coming up from the south at Pulaski to Spring Hill and then Franklin.)

Map of Mid-Distances of Federal Retreat from Pulaski to Franklin: Columbia to Spring Hill and Beyond
This is not the perfect map, but it shows many of the places that Atwater mentions. Columbia is clearly indicated, and Spring Hill to the north. The course of the Duck River is shown, as well as Rutherford Creek north of Columbia. Towards the top of the map one sees the two pikes heading toward Franklin. The map is from Jacob D. Cox, The March to the Sea Franklin and Nashville, Campaigns of the Civil War X, 1882.

From Spring Hill, the small army under John Schofield, comprised of the 4th and 23rd army corps, took up the march on up the road toward Nashville, to join forces with George Thomas. The road led to and through Franklin. Hood and his Confederate army pursued. Wagner's Division—comprised of the three brigades of John Q. Lane, Emerson Opdycke, and Joseph Conrad (after Luther Bradley was wounded at Spring Hill), formed the rearguard on the march to Franklin and never left Spring Hill until it was nearly morning on November 30; Merritt Atwater's report for the Fifty-First Illinois set the time at 5 a.m. (Official Records 45/1, p. 278). Opdycke's Brigade was at the very rear (skirmishing occasionally with Hood's advance and prodding Federal stragglers to keep up). Wagner's three brigades came up with the rest of the army at about noon. They halted, rested, and breakfasted on Winstead Hill, two miles south of Franklin, from where they could look down across a broad plain that climbed gradually to the higher ground to the north in front of Franklin. At Franklin Schofield's army, not confident of getting quickly across the Harpeth River, halted, constructed defensive works south of town, and turned to fight.


Before that day I had seen three years of service in the army. I had been at Shiloh, Stone River, Perryville, Rocky-face Ridge, Resaca, and all the set-to's that finally gave us the keys to Atlanta, but never had I witnessed such fighting. I had often seen pictures representing battles where well-dressed soldiers were grappling with one another in hand-to-hand encounters, where officers in parade dress, on slick and prancing chargers, were forcing the fight at the point of the sword; where artillerymen were defending their guns with pike and axe, and I had set them down as mere fancy sketches, evolved from the brain of some imaginative painter who sacrificed truth to artistic effect, but after that day I was willing to concede that my experience in battle had been that of a mere child and that the finest wrought pictures of battle were mere daubs" (The National Tribune, July 19, 1883).

Guarding the Rear. On November 30, 1864, the duties of Lane and Conrad's brigades as well Opdycke's brigade were not at an end when they came near Franklin. There they still performed the rearguard functions of forward observation and forcing the Confederate antagonist to deploy into line of battle. This would instruct Federal command regarding the strength of the Confederate force, and it would require at least two hours for Hood's force of 20,000-25,000 to deploy from column of march into line of battle. Wagner's three brigade commanders assumed that they were tasked with the classic rearguard maneuvering whereby one brigade fronted the enemy in line of battle while the others marched rearward behind the protective wall of the first brigade. Each in turn faced the front and took a defensive position; the forward brigade then moved further to the rear and repeated the action—a sort of reverse leap-frog until finally all units of the rearguard passed into the main lines of the army defense. Wagner's three brigades passed toward the Federal lines, alternatively deployed in line of battle or marching rearward, as their rearguard maneuvers and orders required. Jacob D. Cox wrote, "This arrangement in echelon was not a bad one if the brigades were not allowed to become involved in a serious fight with superior forces" (Battle of Franklin, p. 74).

The Fatal Order. The brigades were however destined for a serious fight with superior forces. Wagner, by his own clouded volition or under orders from beclouded commanders, ordered his brigades to deploy in line of battle, and stand and fight, daft and savage orders, whereever they originated. Then Wagner ordered his brigades to cease their retrograde movement and take up a position south of the works. Lieutenant Colonel Robert Brown, who commanded the Sixty-Fourth Ohio of Conrad's Brigade at Franklin, wrote that the order "seemed to all at the time a strange order" (p. 131). The order did not make sense even in terms of the sacrifice of a part of the army to secure the whole, a sacrifice that soldiers understood and a role that many of them had played before—and were willing to play again if insight and duty required it. But, in this case, the order promised to imperil the army—sacrifice the part and imperil the whole. Lieutenant Colonel Henry Leaming, who had command of the Fortieth Indiana (Lane's Brigade, Wagner's Division), wrote, "The only inference to be drawn by a soldier was that we were to be sacrificed in the hope of withdrawing the main body over the river—which, of course, was all right if necessary—while we held the enemy back as long as possible" (National Tribune, May 8, 1888). But, the main body of the army was not being withdrawn across the river, and every soldier could see that. Schofield wrote years later that the brigades were placed there for the purposes of observation and were supposed to be withdrawn before attaack threatened. The purposes of observation could be served without running the risk of events transpiring as they did. [FORCE CSA to show its hand] Wilbur Hinman, whose Sixty-Fifth Ohio was part of Conrad's Brigade along with the Fifty-First Illinois, wrote correctly. "A single regiment deployed as skirmishers would have been far better. It would have answered to every purpose of 'observation,' and there would have been no possibility of the well-nigh fatal mistake which marked the opening of the battle" (Hinman, 653). Twenty years later the soldiers of the forward line were still expressing their consternation: "Instead of sending those two brigades into the works or behind them in reserve ready to be utilized in strengthening any weak point that might develop, they were formed in brigade front... without a sign of protecting works and in the very line of what anybody might have known was to be the main line of attack" (Joel Finney, 57th Indiana, The National Tribune, July 19, 1883).

Position of the Brigade Line: One of Those Small Sugar Loaf Hills. The maps show the forward position of Lane and Conrad's brigades in their wedge-like formation, straddling the Columbia pike with the main Federal works behind them and the Confederate storm raining across the plain in front of them. (The map is not squarely north-south, east-west; the Columbia-to-Franklin pike ran into Franklin from almost due-south. The position of the Fifty-First Illinois is shown by the large "51".) This forward line was about 500 yards in front of, south of, the main line of entrenchments, and naturally the point of the wedge was further from the entrenchments than most distant left and right wings. Each wing of the wedge stretched a distance of approximately three-eighths of a mile, or about 700 yards. The Fifty-First Illinois was at the point of the wedge on the left (as one faced south toward the Confederate army) of the Columbia Pike. A section of artillery, two guns, was posted on the pike, in the roadway. At the point of the wedge on the west side of the pike was the Fifteenth Missouri, also of Conrad's Brigade. To the left of the Fifty-First was the Seventy-Ninth Illinois, then the Forty-Second Illinois, the Sixty-Fourth Ohio, and Sxity-Fifth Ohio. The Fifty-First Illinois took an "effective" force of 300 men on to the forward line at Franklin, half veterans and half new men. The Fifty-First Illinois was under command of Captain Albert M. Tilton of Company C. He was highly regarded by members of the regiment and had large experience in command of the Fifty-First, dating back to the near aftermath of Chickamauga, after which he intermittently was in charge of the regiment. Tilton had started the war as first lieutenant of Company C and was therefore about fifteenth in the line of succession for command of the regiment, but here he was—in command, and equal to the task.

Lane's Brigade formed the right wing of the wedge to the right of the Fifteenth Missouri, continuing the line west of the pike. The Fortieth Indiana held Lane's left and joined to the right of Conrad's Fifteenth Missouri. As the maps show, the approaching Confederate lines overlapped both the right and left wings of the Federal wedge. The position had no natural terrain features to shield it. "The ground from the first position to the main line [was] an incline plane sloping toward the river, destitute of tree stumps, stones, fences, hillocks, or anything behind which a person could take shelter" ("Historical Memoranda of the 51st Illinois"). The forward position promised disaster if not abandoned—with "the posting of the 2d and 3d Brigades of Wagner's division in an open field, some three or four hundred yards in front of the center of the main line of works, with both flanks exposed, and no possible chance of saving themselves when attacked with such fury as they were shortly to be" (History of the Seventy-Third Regiment of Illinois Volunteers, p. 460). The main line of works around the town of Franklin, which sat in a right angle bend of the Harpeth River, extended from the Harpeth River on the left to the Harpeth River on the right. In contradistinction to that, the flanks of the forward line were protected by thin air—altogether a formation, a malformation, that whetted the attacking appetite of the Confederate enemy. From the Confederate side, from two miles south on Winstead Hill Confederate corps commander Benjamin Cheatham "could see that the Federal line was short and curved and I knew that we could easily cover it by going forward in line of battle by brigades. So this [formation] was made before the time to charge came" (quoted in Thatcher, p. 395).

In advance of the line of the Fifty-First Illinois, to the fore of the point of the wedge, two friends from Port Byron, Illinois, members of Company H, bore the regimental colors: Louis Genung carried the national flag and Kiser Lansdown carried the regimental flag. To their right, athwart the pike, there was a knoll, a tiny "sugar loaf" mountain. John Johnson, the lieutenant in command of Company E wrote, "Co. E was placed to the left of the pike, its right resting thereon. In front of us was one of those small sugar loaf hills, rounding off in all directions" (Pratt Papers). Merritt Atwater, in command of Company G, recalled "In front of the position occupied by the 51st Illinois Infantry, at easy rifle range, was a knoll that prevented the sight of the advancing hosts of the enemy until they were close upon us." The sugar loaf provided a temporary protection but it also limited the view directly to the front of the right wing of the regiment. (Pictures of the sugar loaf terrain)

As the Confederate storm gathered on the plain south of Franklin, Wagner rode out from the main works to visit his three brigade commanders. Opdycke and his men were marching along the Columbia Pike toward the main entrenchments when Wagner joined Opdycke. They rode along horseback at the head of Opdycke's column. Wagner ordered Opdyke to join his brigade to the forward line of Lane and Conrad. Opdyke objected and refused. Wagner insisted. Wagner and Opdycke shouted at each other. Wagner gave up and Opdycke's regiments marched back into the works and took up a reserve position. The men of Wagner's other two brigades assumed they would soon follow.

John Q. Lane wrote, "I here received orders to give battle to the enemy, and, if able, drive him off; if overpowered, to check him as long as possible, and then retire to the main line of works" (OR 45/1, p. 256). When Wagner conferred with Conrad, Conrad remonstrated with him, and Wagner unbudgingly reiterated his orders to stay put and further ordered Conrad "to have the sergeants to fix their bayonets and to keep the men to their places" (OR 45/1, p. 270). Conrad passed the orders to his regimental commanders and they to the company commanders. Colonel Allen Buckner of the Seventy-Ninth Illinois, which was positioned immediately to the left of the Fifty-First, said the order he received from Conrad was to "fix bayonets and remain as long as possible" (National Tribune, February 1, 1883). In his official report of December 5, 1864, Buckner wrote, "Our orders were to have sergeants fix bayonets and hold the men to it; thus we staid" (OR, 45/1, p. 280). Israel Heaps, of the company-sized detachment of Twenty-Seventh Illinois veterans, said Buckner told him, as Buckner passed along his line, "Captain, my orders are to hold this position at all hazards. It is a mistake, and it means the wiping out of this command, but I have no discretion in the matter." And minutes later, as the Confederate lines drew closer, Heaps recalled, Wagner's division inspector George Miller "rushed up and said, 'You are to hold this line and never fall back!'" (The National Tribune, March 30, 1911). Major Frederick Atwater of the Forty-Second Illinois Infantry, two regiments to the left of the Fifty-First, reported that he had "imperative orders" to hold the "very poor line of works" that his men had thrown up (OR, 45/1, p. 276).

"If able, drive him off"—if your 3000, with their sixty-minute barricades, are able to drive off his 18,000, do so. It is hard to imagine that these orders could be based on serious consideration of the situation; perhaps they suffered in Lane's reporting paraphrase. Hinman wrote, "Instead of ordering Conrad and Lane to withdraw to the works, he [Wagner] again directed them to fight and hold their position... The rawest of recruits, not a month in service, would have known better" (p. 655). Writing years after the war, Jacob Cox accused Wagner of yielding to "an impulse to fight the whole army of Hood upon the line of mere outposts... He was thus led to issue the order which involved the two brigades in terrible consequences" (The Battle of Franklin, Tennessee, November 30, 1864: A Monograph, New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1897). This is an apt summary, fighting the whole army of Hood upon a line of mere outposts, but Cox was hardly unbiased in regard to the genesis of the order, and exactly on this point, the responsibility for the order, another battle for Franklin broke out in the 1880s (of which more below). "On the other hand General Wagner, to the day of his death, averred that his orders were for Lane and Conrad to make stout resistance and hold the advanced position as long as possible" (Hinman, 653).

"Wagner sat on his horse looking steadily to the front." Henry Leaming pointed out to Wagner how the enemy lines were being developed and asked what they were expected to do if attacked. Wagner said, "Oh! they won't attack." Leaming was not convinced and asked his question again. Wagner responded, "Well, then, fight them until hell freezes over" (National Tribune, May 8, 1888). Colonel Brown of the Sixty-Fourth Ohio recalled that "every officer and soldier in the brigades knew that a mistake was being made." But, he added, "No one dared disobey an order that had not only been given but repeated" (p. 132). And, so, "Gen. Wagner's fatal blunder in trying to whip Hood's army with a handful of men," with the negligent complicity of his battlefield superiors, moved toward its terrible consequences (National Tribune, August 11, 1887, W. P. Woolf, 175th Ohio).

Conrad came riding down the line once more and passed on Wagner's order to have officers dismount and send their horses to the rear (Brown, p. 132); Conrad sent his own. He ordered the men to build entrenchments, but they were already hacking at the earth and scavenging for tools and rails and posts and wagon parts— and watching Confederate units deploy a mile and a half to the south.

The Confederate deployment unfolded before the eyes of Federal spectators. The men of Lane and Conrad's brigades had the closer view, but the men of the Twenty-Third Corps still at work on the main Franklin entrenchments could plainly see the Confederates forming. Cox was at the left of the Federal line, behind Stiles Brigade, which touched the Harpeth River with its left. Wagner was somewhere at the center of the line, at the pike, at least part of the time watching events to the south. Schofield and Stanley were in the town itself. Captain Joel Finney of the Fifty-Seventh Indiana (Lane's Brigade, Wagner's Division), in command of a Company D, was on the forward line, watching Hood's right march "in column of fours, right in front; his left the same, with left in front of his center; halted at the place assigned them, came to a front and was ready to forward immediately." The distance and the threat made the Confederate formation picture-perfect in Finney's eyes. "No counter-marching, no shifting of pieces, but the formation was made with precision and dispatch" (National Tribune, April 15, 1886). Ready immediately—the Confederates began their approach. It was 3:15. Along the parapets of the main works, the men watched the two Federal brigades out front, wishing them in, willing them in. John Walker of the Fiftieth Ohio, the regiment just to the west of the pike on the main line, remembered, "The section of artillery that was out with them came in on time, and you could hear the question asked all around;: 'Why don't they come in?'" National Tribune, October 11, 1883).

[The second map gives a more narrowly focused view of the same piece of land as shown in the map above. Note the Confederate formation. It is weighted with successive lines in the center. Both flanks are angled forward, as is shown for the right flank on this map snippet.]

Interestingly (but not surprisingly), soldiers hung out there on the outer line, and those too behind the main works, were still unaware years later—unless they made special efforts to educate themselves—as to who was responsible for the blunder that stranded Lane and Conrad there. The accounts that treated the matter, and sometimes falsely, started to appear only in the 1880s. Alfred Faes of the Fifteenth Missouri, which was the other "point regiment" along with the Fifty-First Illinois, positioned just across the pike, wrote to The National Tribune in 1887 to express his conviction that "the leaving of these brigades in this position was a great mistake" (March 10), clearly of the mind that the world still needed tutoring on this point. A soldier of the Thirty-Sixth Illinois, Opdycke's Brigade, recalled "the rebels host coming rapidly down the hillside and sweeping across the field. Onward they came, brushing away the brigades of Lane and Conrad, which for some unknown reason were stationed in advance" (The National Tribune, May 12, 1887).

Entrenching: We Kept the Spades Flying. Out on the heath, the tactical barrens of the forward line, regimental commanders in Lane and Conrad's line sent forward skirmishers; their skirmishers joined those of the Twenty-Third Corps which had been thrown out in advance of the main line of works when the regiments of the corps came into Franklin on the morning of the 30th. Buckner of the Seventy-Ninth Illinois had inherited a company of men from the Twenty-Seventh Illinois who were armed with Henry rifles. They drew the skirmish assignment for the Seventy-Ninth. (The Twenty-Seventh had not "veteranized" at the end of their three years, and those that reenlisted were consolidated into a company and assigned to the Seventy-Ninth Illinois.) The men of the two brigades who were not on the skirmish line scavenged for entrenching tools. A few found spades in a burned-out Federal wagon that had been abandoned in the retreat near the pike. S. A. Cunningham of the 41st Tennessee said he counted over 30 wagons abandoned by the hurrying Federal enroute from Spring Hill to Franklin (p. 18). Buckner said his men "had literally loaded themselves with shovels." The Sixty-Fourth Ohio was not so abundantly equipped but had two picks and two shovels per company, "and they were worked by willing men for all that was in them. Every man tried to get a root, chunk, log, rail, or anything he could to help strengthen" the line (Keesy, p. 106). Shellenberger, at the far left of Conrad's line, said, "We kept the spades flying." William Gist, at the far right of Lane's line, said that the Twenty-Sixth Ohio had no spades but barricaded themselves with a "trifling shelter... We did gather some rails and loose logs that we could pick up, but we had no entrenching tools" (p. 223). They built a zig-zag worm rail fence and piled dirt against it. The men of the Fifty-First Illinois were also without tools; their entrenching tools were with the regimental wagons that been sent along ahead of the rearguard (Atwater). The men dug at the ground with bayonets and knives and moved the earth with coffee cups and hands. A glance to the south where a Confederate army approached warned them to keep at it. They hacked furiously. They collected fence rails and wagon parts and tied them together with willow withes. The men near the pike found some wood for their building—from the fence built along the pike and from wagons abandoned near the pike, but at the farther left and farther right, there was nothing but dirt. Robert Brown of the Sixty-Fourth Ohio reported that his men "threw up a bank, which, in consequence of no timber, was very low" (OR, 45/1, p. 284). Leaming's men of the Fortieth Ohio, Lane's Brigade, engineered their "mere mole-hill, scarcely marking the line of battle" with their bayonets and their tin cups.

They cursed their commanding officers. They took offense at the orders to sergeants to bayonet men who left the line. They made plans—how long to stay, when to run—and no sergeant formed a serious intention to hold his men at bayonet point. They still thought they would yet be called back to the main works.

A Blunder Unfolds: "Under What Circumstances Men Do Not Wish to Be Shot." In "One Kind of Officer," Ambrose Bierce discoursed on the circumstances under which men do not wish to be shot, when the army, the body of men, had a "dumb consciousness" that all was not well, "that a day's maneuvering had resulted in a faulty disposition of its parts, a blind diffusion of its strength," when men were insecure and ill-at-ease, when they talked among themselves about tactical errors. And, so it was with the men on the forward line in front of Franklin as they watched Hood gather his strength. Shellenberger of the Sixty-Fourth Ohio wrote, "We could see all their movements so plainly while they were adjusting their lines that there was not a particle of doubt in the mind of any man in my vicinity as to what was coming, and the opinion was just as universal that a big blunder was being committed in compelling us to fight with our flank fully exposed in the midst of a wide field, while in plain sight in our rear was a good line of breastworks with its flank protected by the river. The indignation of the men grew almost into a mutiny." These were not circumstances under which the soldiers of the forward line wanted to be shot. Their confidence in their commanders was gone. The brigade commanders had argued orders against the division commander. Their sergeants, lieutenants, and captains did not think it was a good fight. The officers were hoping they would all yet be withdrawn, and they were thinking of how to get away and how to get their men away. Commands were impeccably given, but their heart was not in them, only their duty. It was one thing to risk limb and family and life against long odds; it was another to be doomed stupidly, to be assigned a role in a great tactical error.

Samuel Libey, a sergeant of Company H of the Sixty-Fourth Ohio, jumped up declaring not to throw his life away under such idiotic circumstances. Libey's captain, duty-bound, ordered him back into position and Libey, duty-bound, aquiesced. William Gist of the Twenty-Sixth Ohio, Lane's Brigade, across the pike, wrote, "The suspense and nervous strain became greater and greater as time passed and the lines of grey came nearer and nearer. We stood up part of the time and a part of the time we sat down with our guns resting on the rails or logs in front" (1920, p. 227). Joel Finney of the Fifty-Seventh Indiana, Lane's Brigade, recalled the view from west of the pike: Hood "turned the heads of his columns right and left... massed a strong assaulting column on the Spring Hill road, and with hardly a moment's delay put all his forces in motion in the direction of the town. All this could be seen with the naked eye by every soldier in our army, and it seemed to me that the officer, high or low, who was responsible for the order that placed the two brigades in that position and left them to their fate, ought to have been shot under orders of a drumhead court martial" (The National Tribune, July 19, 1885). Gist wrote, "Our hearts beat rapidly. We wondered why we were not moved back to the works. It was plain that someone had blundered" (1916, p. 14). John McGuire of the Fifty-First Illinois wrote, "How well I remember the terrible suspense... Waiting and watching out in front of the main line, with the whole rebel army coming on us, hoping for an order that would take us back to the works" (National Tribune, August 9, 1883).

Fighting: The Brigade Was Blazing Away. Confederate soldiers, except for those on the skirmish line, had orders to hold their fire until they reached the forward line of entrenchments. The Confederate line closed on Lane and Conrad whose men left off their shoveling, their infuriated chatter, and their gallows humor. Finally, after all the waiting, watching, digging, after the disappearing distance, the shocked ringing of pre-battle atmospherics in the ears, the Confederate line was barely shooting distance off the Federal one. The last moments when reprieve might have come passed for the men of the forward line. "'Steady, reserve your fire!' came in slightly tremulous tones, from men who knew we must be swept away like chaff" (Kerwood, 57th Indiana, p. 296).

The enemy skirmish lines exchanged fire. The Federal skirmishers fell back to their brigade lines. The Confederate skirmish line came on, nearer. They halted, fell prone to the ground, and fired on the Federal barricades. Their bullets began to strike the Federal barricades and kicked dirt up, into the faces of the Federal soldiers. The advance of the main Confederate line overtook and absorbed their own skirmishers. Copley of the Forty-Ninth Tennessee, Quarles' Brigade, Walthall's Division, Stewart's Corps, wrote, "We were now ordered to fix bayonets, fire, and charge the first line of works" (p. 49). When the Confederate line came within 150 to 200 yards, the command came, "Fire at will," and, then—the Federal forward line was "ablaze" (Hinman, p. 655). At the far right of Lane's line, where the Twenty-Sixth Ohio stood guard, Philip James of Company I wrote that as the Confederate juggernaut drew nigh they yelled to Colonel Lane asking what they should do. Lane cried, "Fight 'em! Fight 'em!" (National Tribune, February 28, 1907).

Even with life itself for the stake, I could go no farther.
By John K. Shellenberger, Captain, Company B, Sixty-Fourth Ohio Infantry
A large part of Stewart's corps...first came into view from behind a body of timber over towards the river, deploying from column on the right by file into line on double quick. As fast as the troops could be marched up from the rear Stewart extended his lines over towards the pike. We could see all their movements so plainly while they were adjusting their lines that there was not a particle of doubt in the mind of any man in my vicinity as to what was coming, and the opinion was just as universal that a big blunder was being committed in compelling us to fight with our flank fully exposed in the midst of a wide field, while in plain sight in our rear was a good line of breastworks with its flank protected by the river. The indignation of the men grew almost into a mutiny and the swearing of those gifted in profanity exceeded all their previous efforts in that line. Even the green drafted men could see the folly of our position, for one of them said to me, "What can our generals be thinking about in keeping us out here. We can do no good here. We are only in the way. Why don't they take us back to the breastworks?" The regiment contained a number of men who had not re-enlisted when the regiment had veteranized and whose time had already expired. They were to be mustered out as soon as we got back to Nashville and with home so nearly in sight after more than three years of hard service these men were especially rebellious. First Sergeant Libey of Company H, was a non-veteran, and was also a fine specimen, mentally and physically, of the best type of our volunteer soldiers. When the enemy was approaching he twice got up from the line and started for the breastworks, vehemently declaring that he would not submit to having his life thrown away, after his time was out, by such a stupid blunder. The little squad of non-veterans belonging to the company both times got up and started to go with him and both times they all returned to the line on the profane order of their captain, "God damn you, come back here." A few minutes later the sergeant was killed while we were retreating to the breastworks.

Read more of Shellenberger's Franklin account; it's a great read.

Shellenberger's entire booklet (circa 30 pages) is available at

The Confederate charge fell differently along the forward line. It fell first and most heavily on Conrad's Brigade and on his regiments closest to the pike at the point of the wedge, the Fifty-First Illinois, the Fifteenth Missouri, and the Seventy-Ninth Illinois. W. D. Thompson [97th Ohio, Lane's Brigade] recalled that "the troops east of the pike seemed to be somewhat in advance of those on the west" (167-8). Shellenberger, at the opposite end of the line, the left of Conrad's Brigade, recalled the same: "The position was such that when the enemy attacked, Conrad's five regiments east of the pike proved to be in the direct path of the attack. [They were overwhelmed before the line west of the pike, refused as to that pathway, became fully engaged]" (Shellenberger, 1928, p. 380). Wagner, in his report for the Second Division—not utterly reliable given the circumstances—stated that Lane's skirmishers "held their ground so persistently that the advance of the enemy was checked from that quarter and did not reach his lines till after they had made their attack upon Colonel Conrad" (OR, 45/1, p. 231). Lane reported simply—that the Confederate advance first struck the Third Brigade, Conrad's Brigade, but soon also was "pressing down on the Fortieth Indiana Veteran Volunteers on the left of my line." The matter is important, not to the fate of the Fourth and Twenty-Third Army Corps at the Battle of Franklin, but to the fate of the Fifty-First Illinois and close-by regiments at the forward line.

The first volleys from the left of Lane's line and the right of Conrad's cut a short swath in the middle of the long Confederate line. Conrad reported, "We poured a very destructive fire into their line, and it staggered them very much" (OR 45/1, pp. 270-1). Buckner of the Seventy-Ninth Illinois recalled that brief struggle at the right of the brigade line, just east of the pike, "We opened fire and continued firing as rapidly as possible, mowing down their ranks" (National Tribune, February 1, 1883). Lane reported that the Fortieth Indiana, positioned on the right of Conrad's Fifteenth Missouri "steadily held its position, driving back the enemy at every attempt to force our lines;" Louis Genung of the Fifty-First Illinois wrote that the Federal regiments at the point of the wedge, in the initial fighting, "broke" the center of the Confederate battle line. Shellenberger, with the Sixty-Fourth Ohio, was at the left of Conrad's line, distant from the pike. He wrote, "Our fire checked them in front for they halted and began to return it" (1902, p. 8). Keesy wrote, "All is smoke, fire and roar of battle" (1898, p. 107). [[Company G of the Fifty-First Illinois opened fire (a little late) "when their heads were first seen above the ridge," just as they began to top the knoll. ]above?]

John Johnson, with Company E of the Fifty-First Illinois at the pike, recalled, "The brigade was blazing away at the masses of Rebs as they marched, unfalteringly, forward." Company E could not do its share, except by firing obliquely, because of the sugarloaf knoll in their front. Johnson—doubled over, making himself small—ran back along behind the lines until he found Captain Albert Tilton, who as senior captain in the field was in command of the regiment. Johnson asked Tilton if Company E could hold its fire until the Confederates showed themselves coming up over the knoll. Tilton ordered Johnson, "Do as you damn well please." This gave Johnson's company an extra moment or two. "I then ordered the men to make shotguns of their muskets, by tearing off the powder, putting in the balls, each man to judge what his gun would bear." The men frantically obeyed their lieutenant, some putting in two, some three, some four. "When the enemy's front line came up in full view, I yelled, 'Fire and aim low'. The "shotgun" blast from Company E had a staggering effect on several yards of the Confederate line.

The four point regiments—three of Conrad's, one of Lane's—felt the brunt of the Confederate charge first and were consumed with their fight with the Confederate center. They stalled the Confederate advance there for a moment. Conrad wrote, "At the second volley from my men the enemy fell back under the crest of a small hill in our front" (OR 45/1, pp. 270-1). Back under the protective terrain of the sugarloaf hill, Confederates filled gaps in their ranks and dressed their lines anew. Regrouped Confederate formations then came on again, suffering more casualties, but they came on. Conrad's regiments on the point continued their doomed fight. Their fighting was earnest but lilliputian—blasting away as if they might be awarded free escape to the main works, or spook Hood back to Winstead Hill, or win the war. The successes of the four point regiments were tiny and evanescent in the afternoon's scheme of things. Certainly, the Federal regiments inflicted serious casualties—for the space of a few minutes. Confederate soldiers advanced in close formation, across open ground, a wall of easy target. Wiley Washburn of the First Arkansas Infantry, Govan's Brigade, which advanced with its left at the Columbia Pike wrote that the "yank first line" started firing on them when they were 150 yards off, "wounding some" (p. 81). Many yielded to the impulse to aim and fire at their Federal antagonists, but their officers ordered them forward, knowing that the most efficient way to defeat the Federal advance line was to reach it quickly, thereby limiting the interval in which it could inflict damage, and to trample on it in going forward—and beyond. Washburn said his company, in response to the enemy fire, came forward double quick and in "a minute or so, we were in their works with a yell" (p. 81).

Overrun: They Were Soon Upon Us.

Thus, at the Confederate center, right at the pike, the opposition of the Federal forward line briefly stalled the Confederate approach, injured the cohesion of the line, and provoked the center to reform—but the line was reformed in a matter of minutes and came on toward the barricades. From first fire to the time the Confederate line marched over the line of outer works was no more than ten or twelve minutes. Atwater wrote,"The distance and time were so short that they were soon upon us" (Atwater). Confederate soldiers mounted the willow-withe works in front of the regiment and came over, cheering themselves and the success of their advance. Some of the men of the regiment were taking taking flight but others used their muskets as clubs to prevent being bayoneted and to gain an interval, a step or two of space, for retreat. Shellenberger wrote, "The salient of our line was near the pike and there the opposing lines met in a hand-to-hand encounter in which clubbed muskets were used." Conrad wrote in his official report, that the Confederate line got "so close... that some of the men of the Fifty-first Illinois clubbed muskets with them" (OR 45/2, p. 271).

Though forced to regroup at the center, the Confederate formation—overlapping the two Federal brigades on the left and on the right—as a whole continued to advance quickly reaching the refused wings of the Federal wedge—and passing beyond them. General Cox wrote, "Cleburne and Brown were checked for an instant, but the Confederate forces passed the flanks of Lane and Conrad, to right and left" (1882, p. 88). Hinman wrote of the Sixty-Fifty Ohio wrote that they "checked the ardor of those in their immediate front, but the advancing line extended a quarter of a mile on either side, and, as those upon the right and left swept on, both flanks were quickly enveloped" (p. 655). On the Confederate right Walthall's Division was funneled left by the Harpeth River which angled toward the town, and Walthall's left-most units came toward Conrad's left. Shellenberger wrote that they checked the enemy, "for a minute only, for, urged on by their officers they again came forward." Shellenberger said, his men had time to fire only five or six rounds (1902, p. 8). The men on the refused left wing of the wedge, men of the Sixty-Fourth Ohio and Sixty-Fifth Ohio, were ordered to fire obliquely as the Confederate line began to lap around the Federal line, but the oblique fire purchased only moments. Colonel Brown of the Sixty-Fourth Ohio wrote that Captain Samuel Wolff of his left-most company called out to him, "They are coming all around us, what in the hell do we do?" (p. 132). Keesy, Sixty-fourth Ohio, left of Conrad's Brigade, recalled the last order he was given before the line dissolved, "Fire left oblique! Fire left oblique. They are bearing down on our left!" (107). They were also bearing down on the brigade right where the section of artillery had been positioned on the pike. When the section limbered up and ran for Franklin, there was a gap in the line between the Fifty-First Illinois and the Fortieth Indiana (Israel Heaps, National Tribune, March 30, 1911). Confederates pushed ahead on the pike easily, fast, when Lane and Conrad's men broke for the main works. Genung wrote that it was this Confederate presence on the regiment's right that ended his escape. John Copley of the Forty-Ninth Tennessee, Quarles Brigade, wrote, "They stood their ground until we mounted the top of their works, but as we went over, part of their line of battle broke and fled, while the remainder lay down flat on their faces in the ditch to save themselves, and were either killed or captured" (p. 50). Washburn wrote, "As soon as we got to the outside corners [of the Federal formation], their whole line broke and ran for the next line ie. what didn't lay down and give up. We fired as they broke and we laid many low" (81-2).

Copley wrote, "All opposition was inadequate to check our columns" (p. 49). It was assuredly so. To the Confederate army, to the entire lines of advance, the Federal forward line was an annoyance (though to the families of the Confederate casualties it was great hurt). The advance line was not a serious contestant in the fight for Tennessee. "Chaff" a Federal soldier rightly called it. Major General Edward Walthall, from the division commander's perspective, reported, "The line moved steadily forward until it neared his outer works, and then fell upon it so impetuously that the opposing force gave way without even retarding the advance" (OR, 45/1, p. 720).

[John Q. Lane's Map of Position of Forward Brigades (2nd and 3rd, Wagner's Division). The map is valuable in showing what Lane and his topographical engineer considered of importance on November 30. It shows the relative positions of Lane and Conrad's Brigades and their positions in relation to the main line of works.]

Taking Flight: Like a Train of Powder Burning.

It was time to go.

Conrad reported, in his official after-action report, that Lane's Brigade on his right gave way first and retreated, thus forcing Conrad to pull back. Lane reported the opposite sequence, that Conrad's Brigade on his left gave way first and retreated, dragging Lane with him. The men, though, the men all along the line—the men and their sergeants, lieutenants, and captains—were waiting, not for orders, but for the crucial moment of retreat, the moment of visceral tacit consensus, beyond which only the futilities of capture or death were possible. Conrad reported that he ordered retreat. "I then gave the order for the Fifteenth Missouri to retire and they did so." But, by then, the retreat was already spontaneously under way. Conrad added, "Before l could get to the next regiment on the left (the Fifty-first Illinois) I found that they had already commenced retiring, and about the same time all the rest of my regiments fell back." The men were taking orders from themselves. John Shellenberger, a captain, wrote, "I had been glancing uneasily along our line, watching for a break as a pretext for getting out of there, and was looking towards the pike when the break first started. It ran along the line so rapidly that it reminded me of a train of powder burning. I instantly sprang to my feet." Then as the men of the two brigades fell back, Shellenberger ordered his company, "Fall back! Fall back!" Shellenberger "gave an example of how to fall back by turning and running for the breastworks." At the opposite end of the brigade line, far to the right, John Johnson, Company E Fifty-First Illinois, less experienced in command than Shellenberg, gave the same order. "I shouted to the men to get to the rear and must admit forgot to wait and see the order obeyed. I have often thought I would like to know the distance I leaped as I went back down hill to the main line."

When Johnson ordered Company E to retreat not all the men heard his shout above the din. Nine of his men—mostly new draftees and substitutes, he said—were captured before they had fairly set foot for the main line. When Johnson shouted out the order, Wiley Pilkenton, seeming dead, remained prone on the ground. He knew, he said, that opponent soldiers "would empty their muskets as soon as we raised up," and exactly so it happened. After the Confederate volley at the fleeing men of Company E (a volley which claimed its victims), Pilkenton jumped up and ran. "They shouted, 'Halt you Yankee son of a bitch, or we'll shoot you.' I knew their guns were empty and did not halt worth a damn. I tried to overtake Lieut Johnson, but the farther we ran the bigger the space between us."

Part II will continue.