by Andy Turner
On a warm afternoon on the last day of November 1864, Maj. Gen. John Bell Hood leaned on his crutches atop Winstead Hill and watched as his men marched across two miles of open field toward the Federal lines on the south side of Franklin, Tennessee. Larger in numbers than Pickett’s famous charge at Gettysburg, Union Maj. Gen. Jacob D. Cox said “No more magnificent spectacle was ever witnessed.” In the end, from his elevated position on the hill, General Hood watched the destruction of his army.
The Federals were dug in. Union commander Maj. Gen. John Schofield had wanted to get his army north of the Harpeth River at Franklin to move on to the safety of Federal-controlled Nashville. He didn’t, however, think he could get his men and wagons across the river before Hood and his army arrived. So they built breastworks.
When Hood arrived on Winstead Hill to see what he faced, he wasn’t alone. Nathan Bedford Forrest had fought there in the past and advised Hood against a headlong attack. He knew the Federals were in a strong position. Forrest told Hood that he could flank the Union army out of their works if given the chance. Maj. Gen. Benjamin Cheatham, commanding one of Hood’s corps, also believed a frontal assault was a bad idea. It was no good.
The Union army had slipped past Hood’s men the previous night when Hood thought he had them trapped. His army needed to be taught a lesson. They would march across those open fields and drive the Yankees before them. Hood was determined and would not be convinced otherwise. It would cost his army dearly.
The Battle of Franklin has long been overlooked in the war’s history. In 1910 the Federal government declined to set aside funds to establish a national park. From there, much of the battlefield land was developed and became houses and businesses. If you visit Franklin today, there are numerous places to visit related to the battle, but the battlefield itself is largely gone.
The Carter house, the center of the brutal hand-to-hand fighting at the climax of the battle, remains. To stand there, however, it is hard to visualize what the Union defensive position looked like and even harder to see what they saw as they watched the pageantry of the Southern masses march steadfastly towards them.
There is one place at Franklin, though, that offers at least a glimpse of what the men who fought there saw. South of town, about two miles from the Carter house on the Columbia Pike, is Winstead Hill Park. From that overlook, it is possible to get a better idea of what Hood saw as his men marched forth.
In 1948 Walter Roberts deeded almost ten acres on the hill to the United Daughters of the Confederacy for a memorial to the Confederate soldiers who fought in the battle. In 1954 work was begun to develop the site. This included steps and a wall constructed from rock quarried at the site. A shelter was built that covered a bronze relief map of the battle.
Today the park is held in conjunction with the city of Franklin. There is a nice parking area that leads to a ¾ mile walking trail at the bottom of the hill. Civil War enthusiasts will want to travel uphill from the parking lot. A paved path leads to monuments to Tennessee and Mississippi regiments that fought at Franklin as well as ones to Samuel L. Freeman’s battery of Forrest’s artillery, and Francis Cockrell’s Missouri Brigade.
Also on the hill is Brigadiers Walk. One of the infamous aspects of the Battle of Franklin is the toll among the Confederate leadership. When the battle was over, six Confederate generals were dead or mortally wounded. Five of them were brigadier generals: John Adams, John Carter, States Rights Gist, Hiram Granbury, and Otho Strahl. Along Brigadiers Walk are monuments to each of the five brigadiers who lost their life at Franklin. Above them on the hill is a monument to the other general killed in the battle, Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne.
At the top of the park is the shelter covering the bronze relief map. The map is a valuable tool in relating the current landscape with the historic events. While the view may be the best place to get an idea of what happened at Franklin, it has still changed quite a bit. The Carter house is not visible due to the trees and the open fields aren’t so open, but the Columbia Pike still passes below the hill up to where the center of the fight took place.
For visitors to the city of Franklin, there are many places to go to see the area’s Civil War history. One stop everyone interested in the battle should make is to Winstead Hill.