The Battle of Franklin: When The Devil Had Full Possession of the Earth, James R. Knight, The History Press, 158 pp., 38 b/w illustrations, 6 maps, notes, appendix, Fifth Printing 2011, $19.99.
The History Press well serves the local, regional and state book markets. In the publisher's Civil War Sesquicentennial Series each book is a concise, illustrated history of an epic battle, a critical turning point, a pivotal campaign or an important city. The authors are respected Civil War scholars and regional historians who offer their research in crisply written, well illustrated and suitably mapped volumes. James R. Knight has offered two in this series; one on Fort Donelson and one on the Battle of Franklin. Both are fine examples of clear and complete within the series that has a 200 page, or there about, limit. A few weeks ago, CWL reviewed Fort Donelson: No Terms But Unconditional Surrender.
Franklin's battlefield is in the process of recovery from development. The Carter House is now a National Historic Landmark located on the field of the 1864 Battle of Franklin. The house serves as the interpretive center for the battle and features a museum and guided tours. Following the bloody battle on November 30, 1864, wounded soldiers were treated at the Carnton Plantation with its antebellum mansion. Probably four or more Confederate generals were laid out on its back porch. Nearby is the McGavock cemetery, one of the largest Confederate graveyards in the nation. Both of these sites were featured in Robert Hicks' bestselling novel The Widow of the South. The Lotz House Museum features artifacts and antiques from the Battle of Franklin, the Civil War, and frontier Tennessee. Organized in 2005, Franklin’s Charge is an organization dedicated to preserving Civil War battlefields in Williamson County, Tennessee, and to educating the public about Civil War events occurring in Middle Tennessee. One of its goals is to bring together all preservation groups operating in Williamson County. James Knight's The Battle of Franklin is in part evidence that the citizens of Franklin and their neighbors have been successful their preservation efforts.
In late November 1864, the last mobile Southern army east of the Mississippi started out from northern Alabama on the Confederacy’s last offensive. Army of Tennessee and John Bell Hood, its commander, set out to capture Nashville and then march on to the Ohio River. A small Union force, commanded by John Schofield, slipped by at Spring Hill and faced Hood's army at Franklin. In a desperate attempt to smash John Schofield’s line at Franklin, Hood threw most men against the Federals' field fortifications the center of which as on the Carter house and its cotton gin. With reports from the Official Records, letters and diary entries from the Carter House Archives, middle Tennessee historian James R. Knight paints a vivid portrait of leaders and enlisted men.
Knight addresses what can be known of the battle and the questions are left unanswered. The questions of Hood punishing the army for its failure at Spring Hill, the likelyhood of Hood of being over medicated for wounds, and just how many dead Rebel generals were on the Carnton house front porch are reasonably answered by the author. Knight recovers the story of the civilians during the battle and their attempt to live after a battle which heavily damaged their property and filled their yards and fields with the dead and dying. He handles Hood's campaign strategy well and the army's path to middle Tennessee, the event at Spring Hill and John Schofield's mistakes and achievements during the retreat to Nashville. Federal and Confederate rank and file troops' testimony of the campaign is present in every chapter. Knight nicely concludes the book with a brief description of the demise of the Confederate army during and after the Battle of Nashville. Also, in an epilogue, Knight offers brief summaries of the commanders careers and lives after the battle and war.
Knight's Fort Donelson and The Battle of Franklin are essential for visitors to the sites and for those are looking for accessible books on the turning points of the Civil War.