Franklin L. Riley
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JOHNSON'S DIVISION IN THE BATTLE OF FRANKLIN
By Stephen D. Lee
In the Memphis Evening Scimiter, December I7th, 1892, there appeared an article on the Battle of Franklin, written by Captain J. P. Young, in which appears the following: "The assaulting column was composed of Stewart's and Cheatham's corps of six divisions, with Lee's corps, three divisions in reserve." An article also appeared in the New Orleans Picayune of November 3Oth, 1902 (about ten years later), written by Captain James Dinkins, which resembled in many respects the Scimiter article, and in which appears the following quotation:
"The Confederates actually engaged at Franklin were as follows:
"Stewart's Corps—Loring's Division, 3,575; French's Division, 1,998; Walthall's Division, 2,304; total 7,877.
"Cheatham's Corps—Cleburne's Division, 3,962; Bate's Division, 2,106; Brown's Division, 3,715; total, 9,783.
"S. D. Lee's Corps of 7,852 men, in reserve, with 2,405 artillerists, were not engaged."
When the Scimiter article first appeared, I wrote Captain Young as to the error in his article, in not giving proper credit to Johnson's division of Lee's corps. In a letter to me, December 13th, 1902, he says:
"When you asked me to correct the narrative as to Johnson's division, I was then about to begin on my history, and did do Johnson the fullest justice in the book. * * * * You remember the original Scimiter article was undertaken to prove or ascertain where Cleburne fell, hence it did not incisively involve Johnson's operations, and they were unfortunately omitted." The inference is clear in the quotation of the Scimiter article that "Lee's corps, three divisions in reserve," took no part in the battle; and Captain Young corrects the error in his recent letter from Memphis—dated December I3th, 1902—explaining the correction in his book, not yet published. 1 A biographical sketch of the author of this contribution will be found in the Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society, Vol. III., pp. 21.- 22.—Editor.
In the quotation from Captain Dinkin's art1cle, he says: "S. D. Lee's corps of 7,852 men in reserve, with 2405 artillerists, were not engaged."
It is seen from the quotation of the two articles, that the part taken by Johnson's division of Lee's corps, composed of the two Mississippi brigades of Sharp and Brandy, the Alabama brigade of Deas, and the South Carolina and Alabama brigade of Mani- gault, is omitted; and the omission is emphasized in both articles, by the brigades of Stewart's and Cheatham's corps being especially named as actually engaged. This omission does great injustice to the Mississippians, Alabamians and South Carolinians, who made the night charge over the bloody field west of Columbia Pike, and who, under orders, made the charge without firing a gun. They were informed, before moving, that the troops of Brown's and Bate's divisions of Cheatam's corps were engaged in the trenches, and if they fired they would fire into these splendid divisions. All the praise they give to the gallant troops of Stewart's and Cheatham's corps, viz., the divisions of Loring, French and Wal- thall, in Stewart's corps, and Cleburne's, Bate's and Brown's in Cheatham's corps, is deserved, and words could not be found too strong to express their heroic conduct in this engagement. These troops merit every possible praise and honor. Fortunately the official reports of the battle of Franklin are found in series I, volume 45, part I, serial No. 98 of the United States Rebellion Records—Union and Confederate Annies. From this and the other volumes carefully prepared by the government, history must be written, and while survivors of the war may give their memories of events, these can only color or bring out light on doubtful record. The facts in the official record are potent, and must have right of way, and no soldier of the great war can afford to write at this late day what purports to be history without consulting these records. It is not my purpose to write a full account of the battle, as it has been ably done by others, but merely to correct error. If the omission is not challenged, the facts in the two articles may be accepted as true, appearing as they do in two of the leading papers of the South. The official report of Lieut. General Stephen D. Lee says:
"My corps, including Johnson's division, followed immediately after Cheatham's, towards Franklin. I arrived near Franklin about 4 p. 1n. The commanding general was just about attacking the enemy with Stewart's and Cheatham's corps, and he directed me to place Johnson's division, and afterwards Clayton's, in position to support the attack. Johnson moved in the rear of Cheatham's corps, and finding that the battle was stubborn, General Hood instructed me to go forward in person to communicate with General Cheathan1, and if necessary, to put Johnson's division in the fight. I met General Cheathan1 about dark and was informed by him that assistance was needed at once. Johnson was at once moved to the attack, but owing to the darkness and want of information as to locality, his attack was not felt by the enemy till about one hour after dark. This division moved against the enemy's breastworks under a heavy fire of artillery and musketry, gallantly driving the enemy from portions of his line. The brigades of Sharp and Brantly (Mississippians) and of Deas (Alabamians) particularly distinguished themselves. Their dead were mostly in the trenches and on the works of the enemy, where they nobly fell in a desperate hand-to-hand conflict. General Sharp captured three stands of colors. Brantly was exposed to a severe enfilade fire. These noble brigades never faltered in this terrible night struggle. Brigadier General Mangault, commanding a brigade of Alabamians and South Carolinians, was severely wounded in this engagement while gallantly leading his troops to the fight, and of his two successors in command Colonel Shaw was killed and Colonel Davis was wounded. I have never seen greater evidences of gallantry than was displayed by this division under command of that admirable and gallant soldier, Major General Ed. Johnson." General Hood in his report, page 653, serial No. 98, says: "Johnson's division of Lee's corps also became engaged on the left during the engagement, etc."
There were few night charges during the war, and this was a remarkable one. The circumstances surrounding it are these: General Lee, with two of his divisions (Stephenson and Clayton") was left at Columbia to hold Schofield's army, while General Hood, with Stewart's and Cheatham's corps, and Johnson's division of Lee's corps, made the flank movement around Schofield's army to Spring Hill. Lee held most of the enemy in his front all day, Nov. 29, and one division till after dark. The enemy left his front north of Duck river (at Columbia) about midnight. He (Lee) pursued and arrived at Spring Hill (eleven miles distant) at 9 a. m. on Nov. 30, expecting to attack the enemy in the rear, while General Hood was fighting him in front. On arrival it was found the enemy had made his escape. General Hood then ordered General Lee to move with his corps (including Johnson's division) slowly, bringing up the trains and artillery of the army with him, while the two corps of Stewart and Cheatham, unencumbered, followed the enemy more rapidly in pursuit. General Lee arrived near Franklin late in the afternoon, having marched from Columbia to Franklin (23 miles) during the day.
He went a little ahead of his corps and reported his arrival and progress to General Hood. It was at this time that General Hood ordered him "to go forward and in person to communicate with General Cheatham, and if necessary, to put Johnson's division in the fight," as related in General Lee's report. General Lee found General Cheatham about dark, which on Nov. 30 was a little after 5 o'clock. General Cheatham said "that assistance was needed at once, and Johnson's division was hurried up and put in line for moving forward in the night to reenforce General Cheatham on the left of the Columbia Pike." General Cheatham was much wrought up over the terrible battle and the slaughter of his corps. As neither General Lee nor anyone with him knew the ground, having arrived after dark, General Lee asked General Cheatham for a staff officer to guide the division, or some one to give him an idea of the direction and ground over which the division was to charge or move. General Cheatham replied, in effect, "that he had no one to give him. Let the division move to the left of the Columbia Pike. I have no one; they are all in front bearing orders or are dead," and pointing to the front, said:
"Yonder line of fire at the breastworks is where you are needed and wanted at once. There is the place your division is to go, and the sooner you put your men in, the better, as the slaughter has been terrible with my brave men." The scene then was certainly not an inviting one. To the front, about half a mile distant, was the death struggle going on, for a mile in length, occasionally a cannon shot, but continuously the line was lit up by infantry fire on both sides of the intrenchments. The engagement was so close that only an occasional use was made of artillery. The terrible scene of the battlefield was in full view, while the shouts and groans of wounded men coming to the rear were being wafted back to my division, waiting the order to move out in the darkness, over rough ground towards the lighted line of breastworks. Before starting forward, both General Cheatham and Bates warned the division not to fire into their friends contending in front with the enemy. The noble veterans of Johnson's division heeded not all these discouraging features, but intent on carrying succor and a fresh supply of ammunition to their struggling comrades in front, at the command moved forward over ground they could not see, not knowing its character or the obstacles to be met on it. The darkness caused by night and the smoke of battle was almost intense, with the blazing line in front as the only guide. It was difficult to preserve the alignment, as the division moved forward in the darkness, and it was necessary for the officers by voice to try to preserve it. The enemy soon became aware of the advancing reinforcements, and all of a sudden the artillery opened all along the line, but especially on the west of the Columbia Pike, and the infantry fire of the enemy redoubled and trebled as they fired to their front into the darkness, in the direction of the approaching division. There was a second line of intrench- ments occupied by the enemy, in the rear of their main line, and the artillery and infantry in this line fired over their own men in the line in front of them. If it can be so expressed in imagination, after the approach of the division was discovered by the enemy, it looked as if the division was moving into the very door of hell, lighted up with its sulphurous flames.
The division moved steadily forward till they reached the in- trenchments. They found a good many of Brown's men of Cheat- ham's corps heroically fighting, but they did not find any of the men of General Bate's division; they never reached that part of the intrenchments in their front, or if they did, they did not stay there. They found parts of the intrenchments not occupied by any living Confederates fighting, but occupied by many dead and wounded ones. General Brantly's brigade was on the extreme left. There were no Confederate troops on his left. It was supposed his left would have been covered by Bate's men; his brigade was enfiladed by the enemy firing into his left flank down the intrenchments, occupied by the two divisions, Brown's of Cheat- ham's corps and Johnson's of Lee's corps. It was a terrible charge or march over that unknown ground on that dark and terrible night. Johnson's division struck the intrenchments, drove the enemy into another interior line and tried to drive them out of that and held their ground fighting heroically till after midnight, when they reported that the enemy had disappeared and retreated. General Sharp's brigade and part of General Deas' went through the celebrated locust grove. General Sharp captured three stands of colors from the enemy, driving them from their works; so far as I know, the only colors or trophies captured on that ensanguined field.
Now let us again go to the Records of the Rebellion. On page 691, serial No. 98, we find a report of the casualties in Johnson's division, signed by Ed. Johnson, Major General commanding, giving a total of 587 men killed, wounded and missing, his division by the Nov. 6 return being numerically less than the numbers shown in the divisions of Generals Brown, Cleburne and Loring, three of the five divisions especially named by Captain Dinkins. Again, on page 684, serial No. 98, we find in the ''List of division, brigade and regimental commanders killed and wounded, missing and captured in the battle of Nov. 30, at Franklin, Tenn.," that Johnson's division lost ten such commanders, more than is shown in Brown's, Loring's, French's and Bate's divisions, while Wal- thall's division shows a loss of eleven and Cleburne's fifteen, the only two out of the six divisions that showed greater loss of commanders than Johnson's division.
A distinguished Confederate soldier and writer has devoted from ten to fifteen years of his life to the study of Hood's Tennessee campaign, and has collected a mass of accurate detail and material, which could only have been accomplished by a skilled and discriminating mind and laborious industry. It will be a misfortune if his manuscript is not published. It was my privilege, in a measure, to consult with him and aid him 1n the collection of material in his work. The following extracts from his correspondence with me is given in support of what has been said by Hon. J. P. Young, of Memphis: "I find, after careful investigation, that part of the line only which sho\ys was charged by him (Johnson), was occupied by remnants of Carter's, Strahl's and Gist's brigades; Gordon in the charge veered to the right and crossed the Columbia Pike, with almost his entire brigade. Gist closed up on Gordon's left, bringing his brigade right nearly to the pike; Carter, his supporting brigade, consequently reached the works entirely to Gist's left, where some of Jackson's brigade of Bate's division also came in later. At about 7 p. m., when Johnson charged, part of his command confronted the line of intrenchments to the left of the remnants of Carter's brigade, while his two right brigades came up in the rear of the remnants of Gist's and Strahl's command; but in either wing they met a desolating fire, the right receiving the fire of the Federal interior line, which was on the ground four or five feet higher than the outer line occupied by Gist and Strahl."
In a letter three years later he writes: "It must be remembered that a great many of Gist's and Strahl's men had been killed and wounded before Johnson charged, and we may assume that many men had left the fight in the dark and gone to the rear, thus shortening the Confederate line in the Federal trenches very much. * * * I have abundant evidence, both documentary and oral, that Deas' men, like Sharp's, charged through the locust thicket and came upon the remnants of Gist's and Carter's men to the left of the Federal battery there." In another letter, differing in date one year from one of above quotations and two years from the other, he says:
"That the Federals had a double line of trenches on this part of the field, and was a little over 100 feet north of the outer or main line. * '' * This interior line was stronger than the main line or outer line, and four or five feet higher on the hill, which enabled the enemy to command the entire approaches in front, over which Johnson's division charged. On this interior line at dark were the Federal brigades of Strickland and Opdyke, and the remnants of Lane's and Conrad's brigades, which had been driven out of the advance line of trenches 470 yards in front of the main line. Judge Thompson, a Union officer, says they were six or seven deep in that interior trench. When Johnson charged he encountered this fire as he approached the main line, and his men mingled with Brown's. When they arrived there I think the darkness was all that saved Johnson from annihilation, as he approached fully as much exposed as Cleburne was, and opposed to stronger intrenchments." In another letter he says:
"There is an incident mentioned that may be of use to you in your article. I will give you the story briefly. When Johnson's men first reached the trenches under a hot fire at the angle about 300 feet west of the Columbia Pike, and in rear of the Carter House, their first care was to supply the men of Carter's brigade with extra ammunition, which they had brought. There were three demonstrations to cross the breastworks and drive the enemy from beyond, but as the enemy was powerfully intrenched in an interior line at that point, 150 feet northward, these efforts failed, as had the efforts of Carter's men before. At this time a young stripling lieutenant (Lieutenant Pearle, or Earle, of Deas' brigade) of Johnson's division leaped on the top of the works, sword in hand, and called to his men to follow; this they endeavored 1o do, but were hurled back by the storm which burst in their faces from the enemy's line, but the young man stood there under the fire of a thousand rifles and appealed to his men to try again. He was finally pulled back in the trenches by Major Wilder, of Carter's brigade. That young man's name should be rescued from oblivion."
So, without pursuing the matter further, it appears that Johnson's division of Lee's corps was considerably in evidence at the battle of Franklin, and that it was an unfortunate error and omission, when it was stated that Lee's corps was in reserve, and that only Stewart's and Cheatham's corps did the fighting, with 5,000 cavalry under General Forrest.
Another error in the Picayune article is the statement that "Bate's division of Cheathams corps was detached to the right flank"; on the contrary, he was sent to the extreme left of Brown's division, his left resting on the Carter Creek turnpike, with Chalmers' cavalry on his left. Johnson's division in moving forward in the night passed over a part of Bate's division between the Bostick House and the intrenchments of the enemy, where they had been reformed after being repulsed. It is true the extreme right of General Bate's division may have reached the intrenchments of the enemy, but if they did, they were not seen by any of Johnson's division, which did reach the intrenchments. The loss in Bate's division was 345 killed, wounded and missing, which shows severe fighting, but the division generally was repulsed and did not remain in the intrenchments in contact with the enemy, for there were no Confederate troops near the enemy to Brantly's left, nor any signs of any having been there, as I examined the field the next morning after the battle, and this is my recollection now of that part of the field, and it is generally borne out by General Bate's report.
It is not inappropriate in this article to allude to the Spring Hill fiasco, for now that the facts are known, it is clear that the "apathy or mistake of a subordinate" at Spring Hill caused the great disaster to the Confederate cause at Franklin, Nov. 30, 1864. In a letter to Major W. T. Walthall (May 20, 1878), who was assisting Mr. Davis in his great work, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, I said: "Had that army fought at Spring Hill, instead of Franklin, Hood's Tennessee campaign would have been a brilliant success." The army of General Hood did not fight at Spring Hill, and someone committed a great blunder or disobeyed orders. I do not think the record sifted down will place the blame on either General Hood or General Cheatham, who have borne the blame these many years.
One thing is now clear—"twenty thousand infantry and five thousand cavalry in front of 5,689 Yanks, who, in slender skirmish line, two and one-half miles long, successfully bluffed them off the great wagon train from 3 p. m. till midnight." The wagon train of the Federals was composed of the reserve artillery, ordnance supplies, hospital wagons and everything but the rations in the haversacks, and cartridges in the boxes on the soldiers' belts in Schofield's army, and numbered 800 wheeled vehicles.
General Wagner, U. S. A., with his division of infantry and artillery, numbering 5,689 men, got to Spring Hill about noon on Nov. 30, at the same time that General Forrest arrived there with his cavalry; and this was all the force of the enemy that was there till 7 p. m. (after dark), when General Schofield arrived with Ruger's division from Rutherford creek (eight miles from Spring Hill and between Columbia and Spring Hill), where General Ruger had been posted in his retreat from Columbia. The divisions of Wood and Kimball followed in rear of Ruger; they were still south of Rutherford creek, and Cox's division, which did not leave the front of General Lee at Columbia till after dark, did not arrive at Spring Hill till after midnight of the 2gth and 3Oth of November, nor did two regiments and his skirmishers leave the front of General Lee at Columbia till after midnight of Nov. 29 and 30. The rear guard of Schofield's army (Wagner's division) did not get away from Spring Hill till 6 a. m., Nov. 30. It is now known that General Forrest's advance on the great train was checked about noon by the arrival of Wagner's division, and at 3 p. m. Cheatham's corps was at Rally Hill, only two and a half miles from Spring Hill. With these conditions, why did not Hood's splendid flank movement to the rear of Schofield's army succeed ?
I have felt that someone should clear this mystery, and it has been my desire to do it, but as I was not at Spring Hill, I have felt some one else should undertake this line of research. It is now an open secret that a distinguished citizen of Tennessee (a Confederate) has devoted many years of his life to solving this problem. I have seen his manuscript and believe that he has solved it. For years I have awaited the publication of his conclusions, and once a year I write to know why his book has not been published. He has had trouble in getting it published, as war literature has failed to pay these late years.