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Story of a terrible battle.

The carnage at Franklin, Tennessee, next to that of the Crater.

S. A. Cunningham, editor of the Confederate Veteran, tells a story of his personal experience in the great battle of Franklin.

It will be remembered that Hood had brought his army into Tennessee, while Sherman had gone on to the sea. Hood had almost succeeded in cutting off Schofield's forces at Columbia, having reached the vicinity of Spring Hill, between there and Franklin at night-fall of the day before the battle.

No event of the war perhaps showed a scene equal to this charge at Franklin. The range of hills upon which we formed, offered the best view of the battlefield, with but little exposure to danger, and there were hundreds collected there as spectators. Our ranks were being extended rapidly to the right and left. In Franklin there was the utmost confusion. The enemy was greatly excited. We could see them running to and fro. Wagon-trains were being pressed across the Harpeth river, and on towards Nashville. General Loring, [190] of Cleburne's division, made a speech to his men. Our Brigadier-General Strahl was quiet, and there was an expression of sadness on his face. The soldiers were full of ardor, and confident of success. They had unbounded faith in General Hood, whom they believed would achieve a victory that would give us Nashville. Such was the spirit of the army as the signal was given which set it in motion. Our generals were ready, and some of them rode in front of our main line. With a quick step, we moved forward to the sound of stirring music. This is the only battle that I was in, and they were many, where bands of music were used. I was right guide to the 41st Tennessee, marching four paces to the front, I had an opportunity of viewing my comrades, and I well remember the look of determination that was on every face. Our bold movement caused the enemy to give up, without much firing, its advanced line. As they fell back at double-quick, our men rushed forward, even though they had to face the grim line of breastworks just at the edge of the town.

Before we were in proper distance for small arms, the artillery opened on both sides. Our guns, firing over our heads from the hills in the rear, used ammunition without stint, while the enemy's batteries were at constant play upon our lines. When they withdrew to their main line of works it was as one even plain for a mile, About fifty yards in front of their breastworks, we came in contact with formidable chevaux de frise, over or through which it was very difficult to pass. Why half of us were not killed yet remains a mystery; for after moving forward so great a distance, all the time under fire, the detention, immediately in their front, gave them a very great advantage. We arrived at the works, and some of our men, after a club fight at the trenches, got over. The colors of my regiment were carried inside, and when the arm that held them was shot off, they fell to the ground and remained until morning. Cleburne's men dashed at the works, but their gallant leader was shot dead, and they gave way, so that the enemy remained on our flank, and kept up a constant enfilading fire. Our left also failed to hold the works, and for a short distance we remained and fought until the ditch was almost full of dead men. Night came on soon after the hard fighting began, and we fired at the flash of each other's guns. Holding the enemy's lines, as we continued to do on this part of them, we were terribly massacred by the enfilade firing. The works were so high that those who fired the guns were obliged to get a footing in the embankment, exposing themselves in addition [191] to their flank, to a fire by men in houses. One especially severe was that from Mr. Carter's, immediately in my front. I was near General Strahl, who stood in the ditch, and handed up guns to those posted to fire them. I had passed to him my short Enfield (noted in the regiment), about the sixth time. The man who had been firing, cocked it and was taking deliberate aim, when he was shot, and tumbled down dead into the ditch upon those killed before him. When the men so exposed were shot down, their places were supplied by volunteers until these were exhausted, and it was necessary for General Strahl to call upon others. He turned to me, and though I was several feet back from the ditch, I rose up immediately, and walking over the wounded and dead, took position with one foot upon the pile of bodies of my dead fellows, and the other in the embankment, and fired guns which the General himself handed up to me until he, too, was shot down. One other man had had position on my right, and assisted in the firing. The battle lasted until not an efficient man was left between us and the Columbia Pike, about fifty yards to our right, and hardly enough behind us to hand up the guns. We could not hold out much longer, for indeed but few of us were then left alive. It seemed as if we had no choice but to surrender or try to get away, and when I asked the General for counsel, he simply answered, ‘Keep firing.’ But just as the man to my right was shot, and fell against me with terrible groans, General Strahl was shot. He three up his hands, falling on his face, and I thought him dead, but in asking the dying man, who still lay against my shoulder as he sank forever, how he was wounded, the General, who had not been killed, thinking my question was to him, raised up, saying that he was shot in the neck, and called for Colonel Stafford to turn over his command. He crawled over the dead, the ditch being three deep, about twenty feet to where Colonel Stafford was. His staff officers started to carry him to the rear, but he received another shot, and directly the third, which killed him instantly. Colonel Stafford was dead in the pile, as the morning light disclosed, with his feet wedged in at the bottom, with other dead across and under him after he fell, leaving his body half standing, as if ready to give command to the dead!

By that time but a handful of us were left on that part of the line, and as I was sure that our condition was not known, I ran to the rear to report to General John C. Brown, commanding the division. I met Major Hampton, of his staff, who told me that General Brown was wounded, and that General Strahl was in command. This assured me that those in command did not know the real situation, [192] so I went on the hunt for General Cheatham. By and by relief was sent to the front. This done, nature gave way. My shoulder was black with bruises from firing, and it seemed that no moisture was left in my system. Utterly exhausted, I sank upon the ground and tried to sleep. The battle was over, and I could do no more; but animated still with concern for the fate of comrades, I returned to the awful spectacle in search of some who, year after year, had been at my side. Ah, the loyalty of faithful comrades in such a struggle!

These personal recollections are all that I can give, as the greater part of the battle was fought after nightfall, and once in the midst of it, with but the light of the flashing guns, I could see only what passed directly under my own eyes. True, the moon was shining, but the dense smoke and dust so filled the air as to weaken its benefits, like a heavy fog before the rising sun, only there was no promise of the fog disappearing. Our spirits were crushed. It was indeed the Valley of Death.

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