One of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War that has not received the historical attention it deserves is the conflagration that occurred at the remote community of Franklin, Tenn., in November 1864 (see Coastal Point’s March 16, 2018, issue). Winston Groom, author of the ever-popular book “Forrest Gump,” also published a book about this battle.
“Shrouds of Glory” is the culmination of Groom’s study of the Civil War over many years, and is dedicated to his great-grandfather who fought for the South. It is replete with command intrigue, unbridled ambition, missed opportunities and unreachable goals that culminate in a major victory for Union forces and tragic consequences for Confederate Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood’s command.
Groom chronicles Hood’s meteoric rise through Confederate ranks despite serious wounds sustained at the battles of Gettysburg and Chickamauga. From this sketch, Hood emerges as a resourceful, brave, hard-fighting individual, but one who demonstrates more political aptitude than strategic insight.
“Shrouds of Glory” provides a panoramic view of the Confederate Army of Tennessee during the last year of the war. The heart of the story revolves around Hood’s strategy to compensate for the Confederates being outnumbered, by disengaging from Union forces around Atlanta and attacking their lines of communications that extend into Tennessee.
The author introduces military leaders who are struggling to come to grips with complex situations that are often beyond their control. He focuses on their strengths, as well as their weaknesses and failures. Sacrifice and heroism on the battlefield are often overshadowed by callousness and deceit.
Hood has to contend with two Union generals as he leads his damaged army out of Georgia following the Battle of Atlanta, and back into Tennessee. They are Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield and Maj. Gen. George Thomas.
When Hood arrived at Franklin, he ordered an attack against Schofield’s entrenched army. The Confederates’ marched some 20,000 strong, in a line 3 miles wide, across a level field.
Despite an initial breakthrough of Union lines, a counterattack trapped Confederate regiments in the midst of a deadly fire. The casualties quickly mounted.
The well-regarded Brig. Gen. Patrick Cleburne “was lying cold and dead” on the battlefield. Gunfire also killed Brig. Gen. John Adams as he reached for a battle flag while his horse straddled the parapet of the Union defensive position.
Groom communicates the reality, as well as gruesome aspects of this clash of cultures, with a story about a slave and body-servant to Brig. Gen. States Rights Gist — a South Carolinian “whose given name was the epitome of the lost cause.” It seems the servant, Uncle Wiley Howard, followed Gist across the field as he led his brigade into battle.
After observing Gist dismount his wounded horse and continue on foot, the servant retreated as the firing grew heavy. Later, Uncle Wiley, informed that Gist was wounded, searched for and finally learned the general had died in a nearby makeshift hospital.
After the battle, when Hood relocated his headquarters into the town, he encountered a number of residents who did not look upon him as a hero “because nothing had been accomplished that could benefit us.” Groom concluded that Hood had, in fact, wrecked the Army of Tennessee.
A grim statistic of the battle was the some 2,000 Confederates who died — more than any other one-day battle of the war, and nearly four times the number who died during Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. Following another costly confrontation at Nashville against the forces of Gen. Thomas, Hood retreated south with the demoralized remnants of his army.
Groom provides a series of vignettes describing the post-war lives of the principal characters who survived this conflict. Whether you view the war through a blue or gray lens, “Shrouds of Glory” will not disappoint you as you revisit the scene of an unheralded Union victory and devastating Confederate loss at Franklin, Tenn.
Next, we will discuss a venture into Civil War intelligence operations titled “On Secret Service” by John Jakes, who is well known for his “North & South” trilogy.
Tom Ryan is the author of the award-winning “Spies, Scouts & Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign” and “Essays on Delaware during the Civil War,” of which signed copies are available at Bethany Beach Books, at Browseabout Books in Rehoboth Beach and at Allison’s Card Smart in Milford. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at www.tomryan-civilwar.com.
By Tom Ryan
Special to the Coastal Point