On November 30, 1864, the once proud Confederate Army of Tennessee suffers a devastating defeat after its commander, General John Bell Hood, orders a frontal assault on strong Union positions around Franklin, Tennessee. The loss cost Hood six of his finest generals and nearly a third of his force.
Hood assumed command in late July 1864 while the Confederates were pinned inside Atlanta by the armies of Union General William T. Sherman. Hood made a series of desperate attacks against Sherman but finally relinquished the city in early September. No longer able to wage an offensive against the massive Yankee force, Hood retreated into Alabama to regroup. In early November, he moved north into Tennessee to draw Sherman out of the Deep South. By now, Sherman had enough troops to split his army. He dispatched General George Thomas to the Nashville area to deal with Hood’s threat while he took the rest of the force on his March to the Sea, during which his men destroyed most of central Georgia.
Hood approached Franklin, just south of Nashville, on November 29. Thomas waited in Nashville, while another Union force under John Schofield was moving from the south to join Thomas. Schofield was aware of Hood’s position and was attempting to move past the Confederates on his way to rejoining the rest of the Federal army. Hood tried to flank Schofield, but he marched right past Hood’s army and planted his Yankees in existing defenses at Franklin. Furious, Hood blamed his subordinates for failing to block Schofield’s route, and then prepared for a frontal assault on the formidable Union trenches. Hood was handicapped by the fact that one of his three divisions was still marching toward Franklin and much of his artillery had not yet arrived. Under these circumstances, Hood’s decision to attack could seem foolish, but he was perhaps motivated by an attempt to discipline his army and rebuild his men’s lost confidence. On November 30, the Confederates charged into the Union defenses. The Rebel lines moved forward in nearly perfect unison, the last great charge of the war. Parts of the Union’s outer trenches fell to Hood’s men, but a Yankee counterattack spelled disaster for the Confederates. They did not penetrate any further and suffered significant casualties.
The fighting continued until after dark before Schofield resumed his march northward. Of 15,000 Union troops engaged, some 200 were killed and more than 2,000 were wounded. The Confederates had 23,000 men at Franklin; approximately 1,750 died and 5,500 were wounded or captured. The losses among the Confederate leadership were major. Six generals were killed, including Patrick Cleburne, one of the Confederate army’s finest division commanders. Another five were wounded, one more captured, and 60 of Hood’s 100 regimental commanders were killed or wounded. Despite the defeat, Hood continued to move against Thomas. Just two weeks later, Hood hurled the remnants of his army against the Yankees at Nashville with equally disastrous results.