Military Life in Civil War Franklin, TN

Written by Mike Hoover

 

Military Life in Civil War Franklin

            The fall of Franklin, TN can be attributed to the fall of Forts Henry and Donelson.  When these two forts were captured Grant split his army in two and Buell marched unopposed into Nashville.  After a short stay in Nashville, Buell was ordered south to reunite with Grant.  To do so he had to march through Franklin.  On March 16, 1862 several citizens of Franklin reported watching thousands of Federal troops march through the town. 

            The town was not immediately turned into a gigantic fort.  In fact an active garrison would not remain in the town until around late October, early November 1862, when Braggís invasion of Kentucky failed and he retreated to Murfreesboro.  Franklin being only 30 miles away was immediately seen as a prime objective.  General Gordon Granger was sent from Nashville to oversee construction of a set of fortifications.  Designed to stop any Confederate force that came through Franklin trying to hit Nashville.  For the next two years Franklin was turned into a big fort.

           

The Fortifications

            The first thing that Granger did was set his men to building trenches on the southern outskirts of town. These trenches ran through the land of the Carter Family.  The Harpeth River does a ĎUí shape around Franklin, so the Federal troops connected the trenches from the Harpeth River to the East, to the Harpeth on the Western side of Franklin. 

            While construction of the trenches was going on, Granger found a perfect bluff overlooking the Harpeth River, the train station, all three bridges, the square in Franklin, and a clear shot for two miles in any direction.  This location was on Figuerís Bluff, on the northeastern direction of Franklin.  It was named Fort Granger in his honor.  The building materials for the fort came from the town itself.  Harpeth Academy, the same school most of the Williamson Grays attended, was torn down the brick used to build a powder magazine inside the fort.

            8 to 6 feet tall trenches were built on every side of the fort.  They only brought one piece of heavy artillery to the top of the hill where the fort was.  Most of the rest of the cannons were standard field guns.  This was because by the time they moved the cannons up Braggs had already lost the Battle of Stones River and was retreating towards Shelbyville, therefore the threat was not as great anymore. 

            If you are going down Cool Springs Blvd. and get to where the road dead ends into Mack Hatcher and look up you are looking at Roperís Knob.  Here the Federals built a signal station.  They began by clearing the trees towards the top of the hills, and dug a few trenches around it.  Then they started constructing a tower in which to shoot flares up.  This signal station was able to communicate with Nashville and Triune.  From Triune the message could also be relayed on to Murfreesboro and Fort Rosecrans.      

            They also installed a pulley system to bring cannons to the top of the hill for extra artillery coverage.  Soon a roof was added over part of the outpost to keep rain off of the soldiers manning the post. 

            One more final aspect of the Franklin garrison was the camps themselves.  The Federals tended to camp close to Fort Granger.  One Cavalry camp was located off of Liberty Pike between Fort Granger and Roperís Knob.  Sometimes they would camp off of Franklin Road on the north side of the river.  In case attacked, the enemy would have to cross a river and the Federals would not have any obstacle obstructing their retreat.  Plus, from these two locations Fort Granger could offer artillery support.

 

Life on the Garrison

            Franklin during its garrison years usually had between 1,000 and 10,000 men depending on Confederate activity.  The population of Franklin was generally peaceful and there were very few clashes between the civilians and soldiers.  Franklin was more of a base for stopping guerilla activity outside the city.  The soldiers generally stuck to improving fortifications, guarding the two road bridges and the rail road bridge over the Harpeth, and patrolling the streets at various hours at night.  Once in a while someone would sabotage a bridge.  Like Cornelia Nichols, George Nicholsí sister who was in Company D, burned the bridge down when she found out Federals were going to use it.  Generally, the troops were bored with relatively little to do in town for fun.  

 

Battles of Franklin

            There were two major attempts to retake Franklin mounted by Confederate troops before November 30, 1864.  The 1st came on April 10, 1863.  Sent by Bragg to raid against the Federal rear, General Earl Van Dorn moved north through Columbia, Spring Hill, and eventually to attack the garrison defending Franklin.  Van Dorn split his troops into two columns.  One was sent down where Mack Hatcher is today, but back then was cross country, to the Lewisburg Pike to move against Fort Granger.  His other column moved down the Columbia Pike towards the works around the Carter House. 

            Van Dornís force ran into the Federal garrison defending near the Carter House and was successful in pushing them back after a few hours of fighting.  The Federals fell back through town towards Fort Granger.  Fort Granger had succeed in stopping Van Dornís other column on the Lewisburg Pike and now turned their guns on his main column moving towards town.  General Granger moved his cavalry force to a ford in the rear of Van Dornís troops and struck.  They temporarily captured Freemanís Battery.  General Forrest (then Van Dorn subordinate) counterattacked and drove them back across the river.  By this time night was falling and Van Dorn realized his flanks were unprotected and the hardest part, taking Fort Granger, was still ahead of him.  He withdrew his force to Spring Hill that night.  In all the Federal forces lost 100 men, the Confederate lost 137. 

            Two months later General Forrest (with his own command) decided to make his own raid against the town.  Several of his men had been captured and were being held in the courthouse on Franklinís Square.  On June 4, 1863, he rushed his men down the Columbia Pike and ran through the streets of Franklin.  The few Federal guards wandering in town fled to Fort Granger.  As Forrestís men freed the prisoners, the Federal Garrison got wind of what was going on and the artillery in Fort Granger opened fire on the square.  One of the first shells fired killed several men and horses near Forrest.  Forrest realized he would still have to cross the river and charge up Figuerís Bluff to take the fort, all while under fire.  He decided it was best to retreat and his men left as quickly as they appeared. 

            After this encounter Franklin was peaceful for over a year until November 30,1864.  The Federals had such an easy time making fortifications because they were already there.  They just touched up the trenches and relaxed.  During the battle Fort Granger inflicted the only structural damage to the town of Franklin when they knocked the corner off of the roof of the Masonic lodge.  After the Confederate army retreated from Nashville, Franklin was peaceful till the end of hostilities five months later. 

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