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On Having Been There

July 2024
1min read

I find I must take issue with Philip Kunhardt (“I Wish I’d Been There,” December 1984) in his account of Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg. It is not the “last great old-style infantry charge in history.” That dubious honor, if you can call it that, belongs to Lt. Gen. John B. Hood, who on November 30, 1864, brought his Army of Tennessee to the outskirts of the village of Franklin, Tennessee. He was pursuing Federal forces under Maj. Gen. John Schofield, who had just eluded a trap set for him by Hood at Spring Hill, Tennessee, ten to twelve miles south of Franklin.

Schofield’s forces had arrived in Franklin some hours ahead of the Confederates and had quickly fortified themselves along the Harpeth River just south of Franklin. As Hood’s army began to assemble in front of Franklin, the Southern general divided his forces between the east and west side of the Columbia-Franklin Pike, now U.S. 31, and prepared to attack.

Despite strong pleas from his chief of cavalry, Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, and his corps commander, Gen. Benjamin Franklin Cheatham, that a frontal assault would be disastrous and that the Federal forces could be flanked with only minor casualties, Hood would not listen. He gave those fateful orders: “We will make the fight.” At 4:00 P.M. , out across the fields on that bright day with flags flying and bands playing “Dixie” and “Bonny Blue Flag,” the Confederate Army of Tennessee marched into the jaws of Hell. Pickett’s forces had almost three hours of artillery support before they launched their attack. Hood’s had none.

Out of a force of some 38,000, the casualties were staggering—4,500 wounded and 1,750 killed. The heaviest loss was in the officers’ corp, where six generals were killed, five wounded, and one captured. Fifty-four regimental commanders were either killed or wounded. In one brigade of 600, a total of 419 men were lost. I would like to have been there to see what possibly could have justified Hood in giving such an order.

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