Events Leading Up to the Franklin-Nashville Campaign
In September 1863, Confederate General Braxton Bragg and his Army of the Tennessee were attempting to recapture Chattanooga, Tennessee from Federal forces by besieging the city. Union leaders responded by sending Major General Ulysses S. Grant and reinforcements to Chattanooga with orders to break the siege. After establishing a new supply line into the city, Grant ordered a breakout offensive in late November that successfully drove Bragg’s army back into northern Georgia. With the “Gateway to the South” secured, Union forces prepared to launch an offensive aimed at capturing Atlanta.
Grant’s Umbrella Strategy
Following the breakout at Chattanooga, President Abraham Lincoln promoted Grant to the special rank of lieutenant general and placed him in command of all Union armies. Grant moved his headquarters to Washington, DC, leaving his trusted subordinate, Major General William T. Sherman, in command of federal operations in the Western Theater. Grant’s primary military strategy was a coordinated effort to attack and defeat the two main Confederate armies in the field, the Army of Northern Virginia in the east, and the Army of Tennessee in the west. On May 5, 1864, Grant launched his Overland Campaign in Virginia. Two days later, Sherman opened his Atlanta Campaign in the West.
Using a series of flanking maneuvers, Sherman persistently drove the Army of Tennessee south toward Atlanta. On July 17, 1863, Confederate President Jefferson Davis replaced General Joseph E. Johnston with General John Bell Hood as commander of the Army of Tennessee.
Hood proved more willing to fight than Johnston, but the results were the same. By July, Sherman had Hood’s army bottled up in Atlanta. On July 20, Sherman ordered his artillery to begin bombarding Hood’s lines, as well as the city, which still harbored about 3,000 civilians. The shelling lasted for five weeks, but Hood continued to hold on as long as he was receiving supplies. Toward the end of August, Sherman stopped the flow of supplies into Atlanta. With his main supply line severed, Hood evacuated Atlanta on the night of September 1, burning all military stores and installations. Sherman’s forces occupied the city the next day, ending the Atlanta Campaign.
After evacuating Atlanta, Hood reorganized his forces at Lovejoy’s Station, south of Atlanta, and Sherman chose not to pursue. On September 21, 1864, Hood moved north to Palmetto, Georgia, where he met with President Davis on September 25. Davis and Hood devised a plan to have Hood’s 39,000 soldiers move north toward Chattanooga and destroy Sherman’s supply lines back to Tennessee along the way. Sherman learned of Hood’s intentions when Davis foolishly revealed the plan in a series of speeches on his way back to the Confederate capital at Richmond. Sherman responded by sending Major General George H. Thomas to Nashville on September 29, 1864, to organize all the Union troops in Tennessee. Sherman also sent troops to reinforce the garrison at Chattanooga.
During October, Hood’s infantry and Major General Joseph Wheeler and his cavalry conducted a series of raids along the Western & Atlantic Railroad, Sherman’s main supply line from Chattanooga to Atlanta. Sherman’s soldiers quickly repaired the damage, but they could not keep pace with the faster-moving Rebels.
William T. Sherman Divides His Forces
By late October, Sherman convinced Grant to let him “make Georgia howl” by allowing him to march to Savannah rather than chasing Hood around the South. Grant agreed, and Sherman turned the pursuit of Hood over to Thomas and about 60,000 soldiers, 30,000 of whom were in the Nashville area. The other 30,000, commanded by Major General John M. Schofield, moved north from Georgia to join Thomas.
Battle of Columbia
Meanwhile, Hood moved into northern Alabama and aimed for Tennessee. He hoped to defeat Thomas near Nashville before he could join forces with Schofield.
After waiting to join forces with cavalry led by Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest, Hood left Alabama on November 21, 1864. His goal was Columbia, Tennessee, about midway between Thomas’s army in Nashville and Schofield’s army at Pulaski, about 75 miles south of Nashville. Anticipating Hood’s intentions, Schofield raced to Columbia, arriving just hours ahead of the Confederates on November 24. There, the Federals blocked Hood’s advance for five days by controlling an important bridge over the Duck River.
Battle of Spring Hill
On November 28, Hood found a way across the Duck River east of Columbia, and the Battle of Spring Hill took place. In danger of being outflanked, Schofield began to fall back toward Franklin. Hood’s army attacked Schofield’s forces at Spring Hill, ten miles north of Columbia as the Northerners withdrew. After a series of command blunders, Hood ended the attack after dark. During the night, Schofield safely moved his entire army and supply train along the main turnpike past the sleeping Rebels. The movement did not go entirely undetected, but inexplicably, neither Hood nor any subordinate officers took any action to stop the Federal evacuation. By the morning of November 30, Schofield had escaped Hood’s grasp.
Battle of Franklin
The wait was not long. Enraged that the Federals had slipped past him at Spring Hill, Hood berated his subordinate officers and then ordered his army to resume its pursuit. Hood’s army began to arrive outside of Franklin at about 1:00 p.m. on November 30, 1864. Once in position, Hood ordered an all-out attack that began approximately at 4:00 p.m. Initially, the Confederates exploited a weakness in the center of the Union defenses, but the Federals recovered. Rebel attacks on both flanks were also unsuccessful. Repulsed on all fronts, Hood called off the assault after darkness descended. By 11:00 p.m. that night, Schofield’s army began crossing the Harpeth River and was on its way to Nashville.
The Battle of Franklin was a devastating loss for the Confederacy. The Rebels suffered over 6,000 casualties, including 1,750 killed, compared to fewer than 2,500 Union casualties, including 189 killed. In addition, Hood lost fourteen generals (six killed, seven wounded and one captured), plus fifty-five regimental commanders. Most importantly, Schofield had once more escaped and was on his way to uniting his army with Thomas’s army in Nashville.
John Bell Hood Advances Against Nashville
Although the Battle of Franklin decimated the Army of Tennessee, Hood continued his pursuit and advanced against the combined Union armies firmly entrenched at Nashville. On December 5-6, 1864, Hood ordered Nathan Bedford Forrest on a cavalry raid against Murfreesboro, which destroyed a few miles of railroad track but accomplished little else.
Battle of Nashville
Bad weather deterred further action from either side, despite the pressure that Ulysses S. Grant was exerting on Thomas to advance from Nashville and destroy Hood’s debilitated army. On December 13, Grant ordered Major General John A. Logan to travel to Nashville and assume command of the Union army if Thomas had not engaged Hood by the time of his arrival. Logan was in Louisville on December 15, when Thomas left his fortifications in Nashville and attacked Hood’s army.
Enjoying a numerical advantage in manpower of nearly two-to-one and facing a demoralized army bereft of senior commanders, Thomas’ victory at the Battle of Nashville was no surprise. On December 15, 1864, the Federals successfully attacked Hood’s army on both flanks. When the fighting stopped because of darkness, Hood re-established his lines during the night but to no avail.
Outcome of the Franklin-Nashville Campaign
The outcome of the Franklin-Nashville Campaign was that John Bell Hood was forced to evacuate Tennessee. Following another wave of Union assaults the next day, the Rebel line crumbled, and Hood’s army fled. Thomas pursued Hood for ten more days, driving the Confederate army out of Tennessee. The retreat ended at Tupelo, Mississippi, where Hood resigned his command on January 23, 1865.