Monday, November 24, 2014

150-years-ago -- THE BATTLE OF FRANKLIN, Tennessee, Nov. 30, 1864

[Excerpted from Company Aytch, Maury Grays, First Tennesse Regiment, or A Sideshow of the Big, by Sam R. Watkins, Columbia, Tenn. 1900]  

"The death-angel gathers its last harvest. 
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 of the Lost Cause. 
It was the bloodiest battle of modern times in any war. It was 
the finishing stroke to the independence of the Southern Con- 
federacy. I was there. I saw it. My flesh trembles, and 
creeps, and crawls when I think of it to-day. My heart almost 
ceases to beat at the horrid recollection. Would to God that I 
had never witnessed such a scene! 
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. 
Our regiment was resting in the gap of a range of hills in 
plain view of the city of Franklin. We could see the battle- 
flags of the enemy waving in the breeze. Our army had been 
depleted of its strength by a forced march from Spring Hill, 
and stragglers lined the road. Our artillery had not yet come 
up, and could not be brought into action. Our cavalry was 
across Harpeth river, and our army was but in poor condition to 
make an assault. While resting on this hill-side, I saw a courier                          dash up to our commanding general, B. F. Cheatham, and 
the word, "Attention !" was given. I knew then that we would 
soon be in action. Forward, march. We passed over the hill 
and through a little skirt of woods. 
The enemy were fortified right across the Franklin pike, 
in the suburbs of the town. Right here in these woods a detail 
of skirmishers was called for. Our regiment was detailed. 
We deployed as skirmishers, firing as we advanced on the left of 
the turnpike road. If I had not been a skirmisher on that day, 
I would not have been writing this to-day, in the year of our 
Lord 1882. 
It was four o’clock on that dark and dismal December day 
when the line of battle was formed, and those devoted heroes 
were ordered forward, to "Strike for their altars and their fires, 
For the green graves of their sires, For God and their native land." 
As they marched on down through an open field toward the 
rampart of blood and death, the Federal batteries began to open 
and mow down and gather into the garner of death, as brave, 
and good, and pure spirits as the world ever saw. The twi- 
light of evening had begun to gather as a precursor of the coming 
blackness of midnight darkness that was to envelop a scene 
so sickening and horrible that it is impossible for me to describe 
it. "Forward, men, is repeated all along the line. A sheet of 
fire was poured into our very faces, and for a moment we halted 
as if in despair, as the terrible avalanche of shot and shell laid 
low those brave and gallant heroes, whose bleeding wounds at 
tested that the struggle would be desperate. Forward, men! 
The air loaded with death-dealing missiles. Never on this earth 
did men fight against such terrible odds. It seemed that the 
very elements of heaven and earth were in one mighty uproar. 
Forward, men ! And the blood spurts in a perfect jet from 
the dead and wounded. The earth is red with blood. It runs 
in streams, making little rivulets as it flows. Occasionally there 
was a little lull in the storm of battle, as the men were loading 
their guns, and for a few moments it seemed as if night tried to 
cover the scene with her mantle. The death-angel shrieks and 
laughs and old Father Time is busy with his sickle, as he gathers 
in the last harvest of death, crying, More, more, more! while his 
rapacious maw is glutted with the slain. 
But the skirmish line being deployed out, extending a little 
wider than the battle did passing through a thicket of small 
locusts, where Brown, orderly sergeant of Company B, was 
killed we advanced on toward the breastworks, on and on. I 
had made up my mind to die felt glorious. We pressed for- 
ward until I heard the terrific roar of battle open on our right. 
Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne
(Library of Congress)
Cleburne's division was charging their works. I passed on until 
I got to their works, and got over on their (the Yankees) side. 
But in fifty yards of where I was, the scene was lit up by fires 
that seemed like hell itself. It appeared to be but one line of 
streaming fire. Our troops were upon one side of the breast 
works, and the Federals on the other. I ran up on the line of 
works, where our men were engaged. Dead soldiers filled the 
entrenchments. The firing was kept up until after midnight, 
and gradually died out. We passed the night where we were. 
But when the morrows sun began to light up the eastern sky 
to reveal its rosy hues, and we looked over the battlefield, O, my 
God! what did we see! It was a grand holocaust of death. 
Death had held high carnival there that night. The dead were 
piled the one on the other all over the ground. I never was so 
horrified and appalled in my life. Horses, like men, had died 
game on the gory breastworks. General Adams horse had his 
fore feet on one side of the works and his hind feet on the other, 
dead. The general seems to have been caught so that he was 
held to the horse’s back, sitting almost as if living, riddled, and 
mangled, and torn with balls. General Cleburne’s mare had her 
fore feet on top of the works, dead in that position. General 
Cleburne’s body was pierced with forty-nine bullets, through 
and through. General Strahl’s horse lay by the roadside and 
the general by his side, both dead, and all his staff. General 
Gist, a noble and brave cavalier from South Carolina, was lying 
with his sword reaching across the breastworks still grasped in 
his hand. He was lying there dead. All dead! They sleep 
in the graveyard yonder at Ashwood, almost in sight of my 
home, where I am writing to-day. They sleep the sleep of the 
brave. We love and cherish their memory. They sleep beneath 
the ivy-mantled walls of St. John’s church, where they 
expressed a wish to be buried. The private soldier sleeps where 
he fell, piled in one mighty heap. Four thousand five hundred 
privates! all lying side by side in death! Thirteen generals 
were killed and wounded. Four thousand five hundred men 
slain, all piled and heaped together at one place. I cannot tell 
the number of others killed and wounded. God alone knows 
that. We’ll all find out on the morning of the final resurrection.

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