General Sherman continued to follow Hood's army in north Georgia but broke off the pursuit after Hood crossed over into Alabama and reached Gadsden. Sherman was anxious to get to his march to the sea and "make Georgia howl"
General Hood's original plan was to cross over into Tennessee and retake Chattanooga. He would then re-supply his men there with captured Union food and clothing. At some point after reaching Gadsen he changed his attack point from Chattanooga to Nashville. Hood bypassed some Federal garrisons on the Tennessee River but on reaching Decatur, Alabama, he decided to attack the Yankees there and try for a river crossing. The attack was mostly cannon fire and skirmishing and casualties were light. The Federals stood their ground and Gen. Hood moved on.
On 29 Oct. 1864 the Confederates marched westward toward Tuscumbia, Alabama. General Sherman had decided that Tennessee was Hood's target and had sent Gen. George Thomas to Nashville to defend against the Confederate invasion. Sherman had also sent Gen. A. J. Smith from Missouri and Gen. John Schofield from Sherman s own troops to reinforce Gen . Thomas. The total Federal force under Thomas would be about 70,000 men.
The Confederates reached Tuscumbia on 31 Oct. 1864. On 7 Nov. 1864 the 33rd Mississippi moved about 1 mile out from Tuscumbia and camped. Two days later the regiment moved to the Tennessee River and camped, about 5 or 6 miles from their previous camp. On 20 Nov. 1864 the 33rd Mississippi crossed the Tennessee River and headed north. By 25 November the regiment had reached Henryville, Tennessee, and camped. The three prongs of the army reunited at Mt. Pleasant, Tennessee, on 26 November. Including the horse troopers of Gen. N.B. Forrest, the Confederate army at Mt. Pleasant numbered 38,000 men and 108 cannons. The Federal forces were still scattered and some were actually south of Hood. If Hood could get to Columbia, Tennessee, rapidly, he could put himself between Thomas at Nashville and Schofield at Puluski, Tennessee, with a natural defense line of the Duck River to put between the Confederates and Schofield's army of 30,000 men. But Hood was too slow. Schofield won the race to Columbia and crossed the Duck River on 27 November, 1864. Gen. Hood sent his troops to the northeast of Columbia to find another crossing which they accomplished on the morning of 29 November, 1864. The men of Featherston's Brigade marched on until 8 or 9 o clock that night and then went into camp at Spring Hill, Tennessee.
What happened that night was one of the strangest episodes of the war. The responsibility for the mistake has been assigned to several people but the truth will probably never be known. By hard marching, the Army of Tennessee had managed to get Stewart's and Cheatham's Corps plus one division of Lee s Corps between Franklin and Columbia while Schofield's Yankees were still at the north bank of the Duck River confronting only 2 divisions of Lee's Corps. The Confederates at Spring Hill then went to sleep beside the turnpike but did not block the road. During the night of the 29th Gen. Schofield's entire army marched down the turnpike toward Franklin past the sleeping Confederates without a shot being fired! On finding that the Federals had marched past him during the night Gen Hood was "writhing as a rattlesnake" according to one Confederate general. General J. B. Hood was not a well man. He had suffered greatly during the war and had undergone the amputation of one leg and had one arm which was partially paralyzed and in constant pain from injury to nerves. He required medication to function and to sleep. It is not known if he was under the influence of drugs at that point in time but he was certainly in daily pain.
The humiliation at Spring Hill seemed to make him almost irrational. He wrote later that he felt that his army was "unwilling to accept battle unless under the protection of breastworks." How could he say such a thing! He was making this statement about the men he had sent against the entrenched Yankees at Peach Tree Creek, the men who had been sent in piecemeal fashion against fortified Yankees at Ezra Church, the men who went into battle against the well-known fortifications at Allatoona Pass. But he refused to accept the blame for his own mistakes and shifted the blame to the brave men in the ranks who had to follow his orders. In Gen. Hood's mind the solution to his own mistakes was to send his army into battle against fortified Yankees, some with repeating rifles, who were covered by artillery that commanded the field of battle. Somehow he thought that this would restore confidence in the minds of his soldiers. Instead it would lead to the physical and psychological destruction of his army.
The 30th of November 1864 found the men of Featherston's Brigade marching up the turnpike (now U.S. Highway 31) from Spring Hill toward Franklin. Just south of Franklin there is a broad plain and then a range of hills. Federal troops were in the hills so the Confederates marched to the east to outflank them. Featherston's men marched via Henpeck Lane to the Lewisburg Pike and then northward to a point about 1.25 miles southeast of Franklin. This flanking move was successful and the hills were cleared of Yankees. They had retreated into the main defenses on the south side of Franklin. Gen. Loring's Division formed the right flank of Hood s attacking line. The attack would be made without Gen. S. D. Lee's Corps and most of the army's artillery since those troops were still marching northward from Columbia. They could not arrive in time to participate in the attack.
It was already near 4 p.m. when the attack would be made and there was mot enough daylight left to wait on the artillery or on Gen. Lee. Some of Gen. N. B. Forrest's cavalry would cover the right flank of Loring's division as they marched into battle. The Harpeth River and the Lewisburg Pike would be just to the east of the attacking infantry. Gen. Adam's brigade was just to the east (right) of Gen. Featherston and Gen. Scott was just to the rear of Gen. Featherston. The Confederate line ran 3 miles to the west to the Carter's Creek Pike. Hood's headquarters was on Winstead Hill overlooking the flat plain between Winstead Hill and the Union defense line centered on the Columbia Pike. It was three miles from one end of the Confederate line to the other. Because of the convergence of the roads and the shape of the Harpeth River bend at Franklin the Union defense line would be only about one-half mile long. The long rebel line would have to advance over 2 miles of open ground while being forced into a smaller and tighter formation against a Union breastworks defense that was covered by artillery from the breastworks itself and from Fort Granger on the eastern end of the Union line. Featherston's Brigade charged forward toward the Federal line. Union General Jacob Cox saw the entire Confederate line advancing and later stated, "No more magnificent spectacle was ever witnessed."
The Confederate attack against the center of the Federal line was able to push through due to a Yankee blunder. Union Gen. Wagner's men were kept out of the main line on an advance outpost for too long. When they broke and ran toward the main line the Confederates were able to follow them into the Union lines. The 104th Ohio Regiment broke and ran, leaving a regimental sized gap in the line. There was hand to hand fighting in the area just behind the breastworks and on the grounds of the Carter House until Union Col. Emerson Opdyke's men pushed the Confederates back to the southern side of the breastworks. While this breakthrough was being repulsed the men of Featherston's Brigade were still trying to get to the Union line. Because of the curve of the Harpeth River and a railroad cut in their path the Confederates on the far right were having to halt and change directions in order to continue the assault. As they came out of the railroad cut they were hit by ten artillery pieces on the north bank of the Harpeth River, by the guns in Fort Granger to the northeast, and by the small arms fire from Gen. John Casement's Brigade behind the Federal breastworks. To make matters even worse, there was an abatis in front of the Union breastworks, an osage orange thicket about thirty feet from the breastworks, and Casement's men were using Henry repeating rifles.
Federal Col. Israel Stiles filed his official report of the battle saying, "The front line of the enemy soon came within range of our muskets and was repulsed. A portion of their second line succeeded in reaching that part of the works held by the One Hundred and Twenty-Eight Indiana and planted their colors upon them. The color bearer was killed and the flag fell upon the outside. A number of the enemy succeeded in climbing over the works and were taken prisoners. This charge of the enemy was soon repulsed." This action reported by Col. Stiles almost certainly was the final act of military service done by Lt. Henry Clay Shaw of Amite County, Mississippi. Gen. Featherston reported, "The color bearer of the Thirty-third was killed some 15 paces from the works, when Lieutenant H. C. Shaw of Company K, carried them forward, and when in the act of planting them on the works was killed, his body falling in the trench, the colors falling in the works."This was the second time that the 33rd Mississippi had lost its colors but unlike the flag lost at Peach Tree Creek this flag has disappeared into history.
Despite the overwhelming odds of being killed there were a few men who did make it across the fields of the McGavock plantation, who survived the murderous artillery fire from numerous Yankee cannons, who were able to struggle through thickets and wooden stakes in the ground while thousands of bullets whirled through the air all around them, and still had the bravery to climb over the breastworks and into the ranks of the Yankees. Company A commanding officer Lt. James Simmons made that risky charge and spent the rest of the war in a prison camp at Johnson's Island near Sandusky, Ohio.
In the June, 1894, edition of Confederate Veteran D. J. Wilson of Era, Texas, wrote about that charge. "I was a member of Capt. J. E. Simmons' Company A, 33d Mississippi Regiment, Featherston's Brigade, Army of Tennessee. Capt. Simmons would always give his company a big dinner of pork and potatoes once a year when it was possible for him to do so. He was loved by his men. At the Battle of Franklin he said to me, as we were going into the charge, November 30, 1864, 'Dan, I will beat you to those Yankees over yonder.' Says I, 'Captain, I will get there by the time you do.' The first line of works was soon reached. I fired my gun at the enemy as they were leaving those works, and was reloading when I saw our Captain on the works waving his hat to his company to 'come on.' He leaped off of the works and called to his company, 'Come on, my brave boys, let's drive them from the field!' He went over the main line of works at the gin house and was captured. I was wounded inthe hip just at their abitis. The smoke soon settled on us with the darkness, so we could only see by the light of the guns. Our flag bearer was killed on their works. The enemy got the flag. If the old regiment could get our flag returned to them it would be a pleasure to have it at our reunions."
Having failed to overwhelm Gen. Schofield's entrenched soldiers the Confederates continued to plink away at the Yankee breastworks until late in the evening. Shortly after midnight the Yankees began to retreat northward toward Nashville. General Hood was in possession of the battlefield and his enemy had retreated but it cannot be said that he "won the battle."
The Confederate losses were 1750 killed, 4500 wounded, and 702 taken prisoner. Federal losses of killed, wounded, and prisoners added up to 2326. (Today the area where the 33rd Mississippi fought at Franklin is covered with houses and streets. The site of the railroad cut where the Yankee artillery shot huge gaps in the ranks of the regiment is now the Willow Plunge Swimming Pool.)
Many of the regiment are buried in the McGavock family cemetery at Carnton. Pvt. Matthew Dunn is there, he never got to see his beloved Stumpy again. The regimental sergeant major, Charles Napoleon Bonaparte Street, is there. His individual marker is one of the most prominent in the cemetery. A picture of it is on the cover of "Five Tragic Hours: The Battle of Franklin" by J. L. McDorrough and T.L. Connally. Pvt. Van Kees stated that his company loss was, L. Dunn killed, R.A. Ham, A.H. McGuffee and J. S. Byrne wounded. On 1 Dec.1864 the day was spent carrying the wounded off the field and burying the dead. Late that evening the regiment moved three miles north of the Harpeth River and camped.
On 2 December the regiment marched up the pike (now U.S. Highway 31) to within two or three miles of Nashville, formed a line of battle and established camp. The following day the men of the 33rd Mississippi advanced one-half mile further north and built breastworks. On the 12th they moved back one-half mile to their original position. During all this time there was sporadic skirmishing and cannon fire.
"You should attack before he fortifies & Put forth, therefore, every possible exertion to attain this end. Should you get him to retreating, give him no peace." Gen. Thomas would not be forced into what he considered precipitous action. He wanted to get more horses for his cavalry and then the ice storm forced him to put off his attack. Gen. Thomas was known as "The Rock of Chickamanga" after his heroic defense at that battle and as "Old Slow Trot" by his men because of his rather deliberate approach to marches. Gen . Grant was frustrated with Gen. Thomas slow pace and left the Army of the Potomac at Petersburg, Virginia, and was on his way to Nashville with the intention of replacing Gen. Thomas with Gen. John Logan.
Gen. Grant had reached Washington,D. C., when he received word that on 15 December the attack had begun. For the first several hours of the battle the 33rd Mississippi was engaged only in picket skirmishing. Gen. Thomas made his main attack on the Confederate left flank. This area was held by only a small force. Gen. Matthew Ector's brigade numbered 700 infantry and a few hundred cavalry. The Federal cavalry under Gen James Wilson numbered 12,000 and Gen. A. J. Smith s infantry was about the same strength. The Confederate skirmish line consisted of two companies of Texas cavalry under Captain House and Lt. Tunnell. They were posted east of Richland Creek across the Harding Pike. The two companies of Texans managed to get off three volleys at the Federal masses. Lt. Tunnell reported, "When they got unconfortable near, we hastily fell back, but in good order, over the ridge and then made a run for the brigade."
The Federal masses described by Lt. Tunnell swept forward and eventually forced the Confederate back to Hood's left flank at the intersection of the present Hillsboro Pike and Old Hickory Blvd. The Federals were making a demonstration attack on the far Confederate right while the main attack was coming at the Confederate left. Stewart's Corps held the left one-third of the Confederate line. Loring's Division was the far right division of Stewart's Corps and Featherston's Brigade was the far right of Loring's Division. Featherston's Brigade consisted of the 1st, 3rd, 22nd, 31st, 33rd, 40th Mississippi Infantry Regiments, and the 1st Battalion Mississippi Infantry. It totaled only 781 men. The regiments position would probably be close to the present day Granny White Pike intersection with Woodmont Blvd. The Federal infantry and cavalry pushed against Stewart's center and left divisions from mid-morning on throughout the day. About noon, Stewart's requested Hood to send reinforcements. The Confederate line "was stretched to its utmost tension," as General Stewart later noted. The redoubts out in front of the main infantry line began to fall to the combined infantry and cavalry forces. Redoubt Number 4 was commanded by Capt. Charles Lumsden, former Commander of Cadets at the University of Alabama. He held out for over three hours despite close fighting and men being killed all around him. One artilleryman was killed right beside Capt. Lumsden splattering his blood and brains into Lumsden's beard. (The site of Lumsden's Battery was developed for housing several years ago and during the construction the author walked through the area and picked up both .58 cal Minie balls and Spencer Repeating Rifle bullets.)
The new position was on the eastern side of the Granny White Pike and just south of the present day Battery Lane. The men of Featherston's Brigade were dug in behind a stone fence that formed the northern boundary of the Lea family farm.
On the morning of 16 December 1864 it became obvious that the defensive chosen by Gen. Hood was untenable. The Federals cavalry had already out-flanked the Confederate left and the commanding hill on the left half of the Confederate line (now known as Shy's Hill in honor of Col. William Shy who was killed while defending it) was too far in front of the line and could be hit with artillery from both sides as well as in front. There are no written records of Gen. Thomas plans for the action of the 16th but it appears he expected Gen. Hook to be in full retreat. When Gen. Thomas found Gen Hood's men still on the battlefield and in their defensive positions he spent most of the day firing cannon balls at the Confederates although some infantry probes and attacks were also made. Pvt. Van Kees said, "Very heavy cannonading all day."
One determined Federal assault on the Confederate far right flank at Peach Orchard Hill was led by Co. P. Sidney Post, and contained both black and white regiments. The hill was defended by Gen. S. D. Lee and resulted in the deaths of numerous attacking Federals, including Col. Post. This site is now occupied by Franklin Road Academy. The area where most of the fighting occurred is now a football field.
While General Lee was being successful there was less success for Gen. Cheatham on the Confederate left flank and for General Stewart in the center. Around noon the weather worsened and a drizzle of cold rain made life even more miserable for the embattled rebels. On the far left flank the Union cavalry had gotten in behind the Confederate lines and began to pour in rifle and artillery fire to the sides and rear of the Rebel trenches. One southern soldier wrote, "The Yankee bulletts and shells were coming from all directions, passing one another in the air."
About four PM the pressure became too great to bear on the Confederate left and center. The initial break came at Gen. Bate's position at Shy's Hill and was rapidly followed by the collapse of the entire center and left. The 33rd Mississippi Infantry was now under the command of Capt. T. L. Cooper. Just five months earlier the Leake Countian had been promoted to Captain of Company F after Capt. Sharkey was killed at Peach Tree Creek. Capt. Cooper had started his service in the 33rd Mississippi as a private in the ranks. Now he had to try to lead the few remaining men of the regiment in the retreat that rapidly became a rout. Most of the Confederates left the lines in an "every man for himself" situation and headed for the Franklin Pike. Gen. Hood was shocked by this retreat and stated, "I beheld for the first and only time a Confederate army abandon the field in confusion." Gen. W. B. Bate described it later, "The whole army on this thoroughfare (the Franklin Pike) semed to be one heterogeneous mass, and moving back without organization or government."
Strenuous efforts were made by officers of all grades to rally and form line of battle, but in vain, the disorganized masses swept in confusion down the Franklin Turnpike, amid the approaching darkness and drenching rain, until beyond Brentwood. When the fragments were, in some measure, united, and bivouacked in groups for the night. Pvt. Van Kees says the regiment reached Franklin (not too far south of Brentwood) around 11 p.m. and camped. Many of the men of the regiment did not make it to Franklin and were captured in Nashville or were captured in Franklin the next day when the following Federals entered the village. Pvt. Jesse Dunnaway of Company E was left as a nurse for the wounded at Franklin on 17 Dec. 1864 when the army retreated toward Spring Hill and was among those taken prisoner. He would live to sign the oath of allegiance on 13 June 1865 at Camp Chase Prison Camp in Ohio.