Saturday, November 30, 2019

Franklin: The Death Angel Gathers Its Last Harvest

By Maj. William Carraway
Historian, Georgia Army National Guard

If you have participated in a staff ride at a Civil War battlefield, it is likely you learned of tactics employed, leadership tests and decisions made in the heat of conflict. A staff ride provides the opportunity to connect with leaders and great events of the past, to reveal the human dimension of war and to apply lessons of the past to present and future Army operations. One human dimension hitherto lacking in the staff ride experience, has been the roll of post-traumatic stress on the veterans of these great battles. We are left to assume that our generation is the only one to combat PTS, and yet, a study of Civil War letters reveals a connection between our experience and the experiences of the Civil War Soldier. It is critical that we make this connection, that our veterans know that they are not alone in their experiences. 

The Battle of Franklin Tennessee, fought on November 30, 1864, provides a study in the savagery of war and its lasting impact on those who return. Samuel Watkins, a private in the 1st Tennessee wrote of the Battle of Franklin:

“Kind reader, right here my pen, and courage, and ability fail me. I shrink from butchery. Would to God I could tear the page from these memoirs and from my own memory. It is the blackest page in the history of (the war). It was the bloodiest battle of modern times in any war…  I was there. I saw it. My flesh trembles, and creeps, and crawls when I think of it today. My heart almost ceases to beat at the horrid recollection. Would to God that I had never witnessed such a scene!”[1]

Writing in his memoir, Co. Aytch, nearly 20 years after the Battle of Franklin, Watkins reveals the difficulty in discussing the battle, an experience shared by Veterans of 21st century conflicts:

“I cannot describe it. It beggars description. I will not attempt to describe it. I could not. The death-angel was there to gather its last harvest. It was the grand coronation of death. Would that I could turn the page. But I feel, though I did so, that page would still be there, teeming with its scenes of horror and blood. I can only tell of what I saw.”[2]


In the waning days of November 1864, the Confederate Army of Tennessee under Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood had pursued the smaller Federal army of Maj. Gen. John Schofield to the town of Franklin approximately 15 miles from Nashville, Tenn. Hood intended to isolate the Federal Army before it could reach the safety of Nashville and its Federal garrison.

Federal forces arrived in Franklin in the early hours of November 30 and began improving defensive works left over from a previous battle. The division of Brig. Gen. George Wagner was the last Federal force to reach Franklin. Wagner ordered his three brigades to take up position about a half mile forward of the main entrenchments. Colonel Emerson Opdycke of Ohio refused the order and marched his brigade to the rear of the Federal lines and went into camp. This decision would have far-reaching impact on the coming battle. 

Post-war map of the Franklin Battlefield.  Library of Congress

Survey of the Battlefield

As the Confederate Army drew into a battle formation on the crest of Winstead Hill its 20,000 Soldiers looked down on two miles of open ground and Schofield’s 25,000-man army. The defensive line was anchored near the brick home of Fountain Branch Carter. The Columbia Turnpike pierced the Federal center adjacent to the Carter House. Running perpendicular, in a crescent shape, from the Carter House and the turnpike, massive earthworks rose eight feet high topped with head logs. The lines on the Federal left were fronted by a grove of thorny trees. Fort Granger, located on the opposite bank of the Harpeth River, overlooked the fields southeast of the Franklin Line with guns that could range the field. Rather than wait to consolidate and reconnoiter the lines, with daylight fading, Hood ordered an assault at 4:00 p.m. Major Gen. John C Brown’s Division with 10 Georgia regiments would advance west of the Columbia Turnpike while Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne’s Division would advance east of the turnpike. Major Gen. William Bate’s Division would attack to the left of Brown’s Division. Lieutenant Gen. Alexander P. Stewart’s Corps would assault east of Cleburne’s Division with the divisions of William Loring, Edward Walthall and Samuel French. Lieutenant Gen. Stephen D. Lee’s Corps, on the march from Spring Hill, would arrive with three additional divisions including nine Georgia regiments after the initial assault. Confederate cavalry under Maj. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest would harass and attempt to turn the Federal flanks.

The home of Fountain Branch Carter was at the center of the Battle of Franklin
Photo by Maj. William Carraway
The Attack

With perhaps a half hour of daylight left, eighteen Confederate brigades with over 100 regiments began the two-mile march from Winstead Hill to destiny. Wagner’s 3,000 Soldiers watched as a vast gray tide surged towards them. Some of the veteran Soldiers began to run for the main line of defenses. The rest waited until the Confederates were within 100 yards, then unleashed a volley. Cleburne’s men returned the volley and surged forward over the works. In moments Wagner’s position was overrun. Worse than the loss of more than 700 captured, Wagner’s fleeing men prevented the Federals from firing. Cries of “follow them into the works!”[3] echoed across the field and a desperate footrace ensued. Unable to fire because of their fleeing comrades, Federal troops watched in horror as the full force of the frontal assault closed the distance and broke upon the earthworks. Confederate Soldiers surged unchecked onto the Carter House grounds clubbing and bayoneting in a ferocious melee. Those in the breach, both Federal and Confederate, were subject to a hailstorm of fire from all directions. One captured Federal recalled huddling in terror against a trench wall with his captor as bullets sailed above them. A captain of the 72nd Illinois recalled that the shriek of powder and lead was so loud that his orders could not be heard even as he shouted them to men within arm’s distance. Within moments, a 200-yard section of the Federal line had been swept away by a tsunami of Confederates. Two hundred yards south of the pandemonium at the Carter House, Opdycke’s six regiments were resting and eating rations. Hearing the sounds of battle, these veteran Soldiers from Illinois, Ohio and Wisconsin took up arms and charged south into the smoky hell of the Carter House lawn. Opdycke’s charging westerners met Cleburne and Brown’s juggernaut at a dead run in a scene reminiscent of medieval hand-to-hand combat. Eyewitnesses recalled the two armies crashing together like a great wave.

Opdycke emptied his revolver then used the weapon as a club in close quarters. Major Arthur McArthur at the head of the 24th Wisconsin had reached the Carter House when he was shot by a Confederate officer. MacArthur rose and ran the officer through with his sword. MacArthur survived his wound to become the father of General of the Army Douglas MacArthur.

A Scene from The Bowels of Hell

Out buildings on the Carter House property bear mute witness to the savage
fighting that occurred at Franklin, Tenn. Photo by Maj. William Carraway
Slowly, the counterattack pushed the enemy back, but the Confederates still held the outer trenches. Men clung to opposite sides of earthworks raising muskets and firing blindly and desperately over the opposite side. In the sixty yards between the inner and outer trenches a scene out of the bowels of hell played out as Federal officers and infantrymen serving the cannons of the 20th Ohio Battery raked the grounds between the trenches with canister, reaping men like a great iron scythe. Those who tried to surrender could not be heard over the din of musket and cannon fire. A severely wounded Federal Soldier was observed through the smoke furiously swinging at a throng of Confederate Soldiers with a pickaxe.[4] A Soldier of the 41st Tennessee had to stand on bodies of his comrades to fire over the trench. Handing him loaded muskets was his brigade commander, Brig. Gen. Otho Strahl, an Ohioan by birth. Struck in the neck, Strahl managed to crawl 20 feet across the bodies of his brigade before being fatally struck in the head. Strahl was one of six southern generals killed at Franklin. Hiram Granbury had fallen in front of his Texas Brigade while his division commander, Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne, had been shot through the heart while on foot. Brig Gen. John Adams reached the works east of the Columbia Turnpike. Grasping the colors of the 65th Ohio, he was shot through both legs, mortally wounded. To the west of the Carter House, Brig. Gen. States Rights Gist led his South Carolinians and Georgians forward when he too was fatally struck. Brigadier Gen. John C. Carter fell in front of his brigade while moving in support of Gist. Within 60 minutes of the attack’s commencement, the sun had set, and the Confederates had suffered more casualties than the U.S. suffered in the 24 hours of D-Day. But the fighting was not over. Stephen Lee’s Corps arrived on the battlefield and began funneling troops into the fray. Marching forward in darkness, the troops used torches to align their ranks. By 7:00 p.m. Their assault was broken with heavy loss and Hood decided to end the attack for the evening. Firing continued through the frozen night air, breaking the constant wail of the wounded. Ghastly scenes greeted those brave enough to move about the field. John K. Shellenberger of the 64th Ohio wrote that the dead “were piled high as an artillery embrasure.”[5]

This ground just south of the Carter House was the scene of savage hand-to-hand fighting. Photo by Maj. William Carraway


By 2:00 a.m., the Federal Army withdrew across the Harpeth River. The Confederates were in no shape to pursue. Fourteen Confederate generals had been killed or wounded and nearly sixty regimental commanders were casualties. Federal casualties were relatively light: 2,300 compared to 6,300 for the Confederates. Nevertheless, Hood ordered his army to pursue Schofield to Nashville, where in an ill-conceived siege, his army would be annihilated by Maj. Gen. George Thomas.


The July 3, 1863 assault at Gettysburg, popularly remembered as “Pickett’s Charge” is
Memorial to fallen Georgia Soldiers in the 
McGavock Cemetery in Franklin. Photo by
Maj. William Carraway
 perhaps the most famous attack of the American Civil War, but it paled in comparison to the assault at Franklin. Franklin witnessed nearly twice as many men charging twice the distance with no reconnaissance and one-battery of artillery support against three-lines of earthworks. Yet, unlike Gettysburg, the Franklin battlefield is largely forgotten. Until recently, the ground on which Maj. Gen. Cleburne fell was occupied by a pizza restaurant. Gettysburg’s silent marble monuments invite visitors to celebrate the honor and valor of war. Franklin, meanwhile, seems to exist in a forgotten corner of our national memory not as a commemoration, but as a grim reminder us of the agony and misery of conflict. A Mississippi private wrote of the battle:

“Franklin was the only battleground I ever saw where the faces of the majority of the dead expressed supreme fear and terror… Their very attitude as they lay prone upon the ground, with extended earth clutching fingers, and with their faces partially buried in the soil told the tale of the mental agony they had endured before death released them.”[6]

The Civil War generation wrote about and experienced these memories just as our veterans experience them now. But we must not allow the horror of war to be something left to the memory of our veterans. The experience of Franklin must be available for future generations just as surely as the experience of Gettysburg. We cannot allow ourselves to forget the savagery of war, lest, as Robert E. Lee admonished, “we should grow too fond of it.”[7]

[1] Watkins, Sam. “The Project Gutenberg EBook of ‘Co. Aytch’, by Sam R. Watkins.” Gutenberg, August 17, 2004.
[2] Watkins
[3] Sword, Wiley. The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah. Spring Hill, Franklin and Nashville. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1993, 193
[4] Sword, 210
[5] Sword, 249
[6] Sword, 267
[7] Alexander, E. Porter. Memoirs of a Confederate. New York, Charles Scribner & Sons, 1907, 302.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

A Thanksgiving Apart: A Century of Overseas Service for Georgia’s Citizen Soldiers and Airmen

By Maj. William Carraway
Historian, Georgia Army National Guard

Soldiers of Company F, 2nd Infantry Regiment Georgia Guard eat Sniders 
Pork and Beans from the can within site of the Mexican Border while
 mobilized in 1916. Georgia Guard Archives
As families in Georgia sit down for Thanksgiving dinner this year, nearly 700 Georgia Guardsmen will observe Thanksgiving away from their families. Among those currently deployed are aviators of the Georgia Army National Guard’s Marietta-based 1st Battalion 171st Aviation Regiment and Airmen of the Georgia Air National Guard’s Warner Robins and Savannah-based 116th Air Control Wing and 165th Airlift Wing. These Soldiers and Airmen are the latest to experience the sacrifice and separation of a century of overseas service for the Georgia National Guard.

World War I

In the summer of 1916, the Georgia National Guard was called to active service along with other National Guard states to provide security along the Mexican Border. Among the 3,600 of Georgia’s Citizen Soldiers mobilized was Sgt. Robert Gober Burton of the Monroe-based Company H, 2nd Georgia Infantry Regiment. The Guardsmen enjoyed a Thanksgiving feast, but as Burton wrote on December 1, 1916, Thanksgiving Day was memorable not for dinner, but for duty.

Georgia Army National Guard Soldiers of the Macon-based 2nd Georgia Infantry Regiment on duty on the border on Thanksgiving Day 1916. The Soldiers are George Feeker, Robert Gober Burton, E. J. Moore and Jim Mathews. Georgia Guard Archives

“We certainly had a Thanksgiving dinner today. We missed ours Thursday but made up for it Friday. We missed it because we were on outpost duty. We had all the things that go with a Thanksgiving dinner: chicken, dressing, cranberries and everything…

Your devoted son,


The Georgia Guard returned from border duty in the spring of 1917. By then, the United States had declared war on Germany. Presently, Burton and the newly formed 151st Machine Gun Battalion would be dispatched for overseas service in October 1917. By Thanksgiving Day, Burton and the 151st MGB were in Uruffe France. Writing the day before Thanksgiving, Burton requested comforts from home.

Somewhere in France

November 28, 1917

My dearest mama,

I wrote you to send me something for Christmas. Well don’t forget to send me a big fruitcake. The amount that you can send is limited but just send another box.

By all means, send me some chewing tobacco. Some toilet articles, soap, shaving soap, talcum powder, and don’t send over one towel at a time.

Don’t you worry about me for a minute for I am getting along just as fine as possible

Your devoted son,


For the next 12 months, Burton the 151st endured unspeakable conditions along the western front until the Armistice of November 11, 1918 ended the war. Writing home to his mother the day after Thanksgiving 1918, Sgt. Burton gave voice to the incredulity of a generation that the war was finally over.

Septfontaine Luxemburg

Nov 29, 1918

My dearest mother,

It has certainly been a busy year for me. It has also been rather full of thrills and adventure.

Well mother dear, it seems that it won’t be long till we are back in the dear old U.S.A and home. Can it be possible that the war is over? I can hardly believe it. But the Germans have given up their fleet, the fleet that was to dominate the seas. They are turning over their big guns and all the material asked for so it must be so. God has certainly been good to me. I have been blessed.

Well mother dearest, I can’t think of anything else to write tonight.

As ever, your devoted son,


Sgt. R.G. Burton

Co. A. 151 M.G.Bn.

World War II

Burton returned home in 1919 along with his fellow Soldiers of the Georgia National Guard. A generation would pass before the Georgia Guard was again called to mobilize for overseas service. In September 1940, nearly 5,200 Georgia Guard Soldiers were brought to active duty due to events in Europe. Soldiers of the 118th Field Artillery and 121st Infantry Regiment would spend Thanksgiving 1940 at Fort Jackson, S.C. conducting initial training. Thanksgiving of 1941 would find Soldiers of the Georgia Guard participating in the Carolina Maneuvers while aviators of the 128th Observation Squadron trained at Lawson Field at Fort Benning.

Corporal Jimmie Smallwood from Ola, Ga., and Pfc. Gordon Mitchell, 
of the Georgia Army National Guard’s Battery A, 945th Field 
Artillery Battalion, 4th Armored Division, set up their tent on 
the snowy ground of Luxembourg. National Archives
As families gathered around the table for Thanksgiving in 1942, Georgia Guard Artillery units were participating in the Louisiana Maneuvers while other units trained at Camp Blanding. Meanwhile, in the Pacific Theater, the anti-aircraft guns of the Georgia Army National Guard’s 101st Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion repelled Japanese bombing runs on Papua New Guinea. The 101st continued to defend airspace over Papua New Guinea in 1943 while units bound for the European Theater of Operations continued training. 

By Thanksgiving Day, 1944, seven battalions of Georgia Army National Guard Soldiers were fighting in Europe. The 179th Field Artillery Battalion was supporting operations near Bidestroff and Loudrefing, France while Soldiers of the 118th Field Artillery Regiment were stationed near Langweiler, Germany. The guns of the 230th Field Artillery Regiment were in action near Langendorf and Lohn while the 945th Field Artillery supported attacks by the 26th Infantry and 4th Armored Divisions in the vicinity of Dieuve, France during the Loraine Offensive. Meanwhile, Georgia Guard aviators of the former 128th Observation Squadron flew missions out of Sterparone, Italy with the 483rd Bombardment Group.

Korean War

With the outbreak of hostilities on the Korean Peninsula, the Georgia Army National Guard’s 108th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Brigade was activated. The Soldiers spent Thanksgiving of 1950 at Fort Bliss Texas before being dispatched to locations from Chicago to Philadelphia where they provided anti-aircraft cover to American industrial centers.

An F-84 Thunderjet of the Georgia Air National Guard’s 158th Fighter Squadron is lifted onto the deck of the Escort Carrier Sitkoh Bay preparatory to sailing to Japan to assist in the United Nations’ air war against communist forces in Korea. Georgia Guard Archives
Georgia Air National Guard aviators were mobilized in 1950 including the Marietta-based 128th Fighter Squadron. In 1951, the Savannah-based 158th Fighter Squadron was dispatched to Japan aboard the U.S.S. Sitkoh Bay. The 158th flew combat missions in the skies over Korea before returning to the United States in 1952.

Georgia Army National Guard Soldiers of the Bainbridge-based Tank Company, 121st Infantry Regiment, 48th Infantry Division prepare a meal of turkey and fresh vegetables at their mess tent at Camp Stewart in 1955. Georgia Guard Archives

Desert Shield/Desert Storm

Nearly 40 years would pass before Georgia’s Citizen Soldiers were again called to overseas service. Following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, more than 500 Georgia Guardsmen of the 190th Military Police Company, 1148th Transportation Company and 165th Heavy Maintenance Company were mobilized to Saudi Arabia where they experienced Thanksgiving in a foreign country. By the end of 1990, nearly 5,300 Georgia Guardsmen had been mobilized.
Georgia National Guard Airmen, from the 165th Airlift Wing, conduct an airdrop of American, Italian, French, and Dutch 
paratroopers over Pisa, Italy, on Thanksgiving Day in 2016. Georgia National Guard photo by 116th Airlift Wing
Iraq and Afghanistan

Since September 11, 2001, more than 21,000 Georgia Guard Soldiers and Airmen have
Ga. ARNG Soldiers of the 1-171 Aviation Regiment observe
Thanksgiving 2019 in Kosovo. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Lee
deployed overseas. On Thanksgiving Day 2019, Georgia Army National Guard Soldiers of the 1st Battalion 171st Aviation Regiment received Thanksgiving lunch served by Col. Dwayne Wilson, chief of staff of the Ga. ARNG and former commander of the 1-171st. Joining in the Thanksgiving meal were Lt. Gen. Christopher G. Cavoli, commander of U.S. Army Europe as well as Col. Jason Fryman and Command Sgt. Major Jeff Earhart, command team of the Marietta-based 78th Aviation Troop Command. 

The next Ga. ARNG unit to deploy, the Marietta-based 248th Medical Company departed November 30 in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.