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For Cause & for Country: A Study of the Affair At Spring Hill & the Battle of Franklin Hardcover – 2007
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Top Customer Reviews
The Spring Hill and Franklin events are significant in their own right. Spring Hill could be summed up as “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory,” whereby Hood let slip a momentous opportunity to spring a set trap and cut off the only Union force able to stop him in Tennessee, and perhaps Kentucky and beyond. Franklin hosted one of largest and most vicious close-quarters battles of the war between 40,000 troops across a single, mile-wide battlefield, and one of the most costly for the Confederacy as the army lost a disproportionate number of troops, including many of its bravest and brightest veteran field commanders.
In addition to a detailed account of the movements and actions of the Army of Tennessee and the Union forces under Gen George Thomas opposing them, including excellent battle narrative, the authors sew together numerous eyewitness accounts on both sides to help explain what happened, why it happened, and the consequences.
Ultimately, the short campaign was disastrous for the Confederacy, with estimates of 40-60% casualties followed by many desertions and breakup of the army, but not because of the lack of fighting ability or grit of the fighting soldier or cavalryman. Numerous first-hand accounts provide ample testimony of the courage and sacrifice of Confederate troops and officers leading them on the field, as well as those fighting for the Union.
Despite Jeff Davis’ continued claims that the loss of cities and territory meant little to the Confederacy’s ability to win, he replaced the popular Army of Tennessee commander Joe Johnston with the hyper-aggressive Hood in July 1864 in an effort to save Atlanta and stop Sherman. But after losing four battles and over 25,000 casualties (many more than the Union) and with his last rail lines of supply severed, Hood abandoned Atlanta 1 September 1864 to Sherman. Also lost were enormous stockpiles of ordnance and supplies including 28 rail cars full of ammunition. Davis chose to keep Hood at the reins and sanctioned his new proposal of attacking Sherman’s rail supply line north of Atlanta, with the stated intent of drawing him out of the city and possibly the state, while providing opportunities to defeat his army in detail. To the chagrin of Davis and Gen Beauregard (appointed by Davis as theater commander in an effort to placate criticizers, but given little actual power), he avoided contact with Sherman.
With Sherman closing in, Hood moved his army into Alabama and after repeatedly failing to give battle, Sherman realized the futility in chasing him while also trying to protect his supply line, Atlanta, and territory previously fought over. Sherman devised a new strategy to hasten the war’s end by moving his base of operations to the coast while continuing to destroy the South’s capacity and will to make war along the way. As a stipulation of Lincoln and Grant, Sherman gave his best commander, Gen Thomas in Nashville, three corps under Gen's Schofield, Stanley, and A.J. Smith to check Hood if he decided to march into Tennessee, which he did.
The book provides a political and military run-up to the campaign, including essential background information on senior leaders. It then describes Hood’s move into Tennessee to recapture the state and continue on through Kentucky and potentially reinforce Lee in Virginia, and efforts by Union troops under Thomas to stop him. With small units scattered throughout Tennessee, Schofield’s and Stanley’s combined two corps is the only substantial Union force readily available to Thomas. A.J. Smith is in Missouri, and his arrival is substantially delayed by the weather, logistics, and distance.
Hood’s strategy for invading Tennessee in November, 1864 is to capture Nashville and its supplies, supplement his three corps under Cheatham, Stewart, and Stephen Lee—along with Forrest’s cavalry corps—with new Tennessee recruits expected to flock to his Army (they didn’t), and capture or destroy Union garrisons and any force he meets along the way. As he invades Tennessee, a footrace begins between his army and Thomas’ two corps to Columbia, where Hood wants to cut them off, and where Thomas wants Hood stopped or at least delayed. The two combined Union corps under Schofield’s command is smaller than Hood’s army, with Thomas waiting on the arrival of Smith’s corps to give him the edge.
Schofield wins the race to Columbia, but Wilson’s cavalry is driven away from the north banks of the nearby Duck River by Forrest, leaving Schofield unable to detect and check the crossing of Hood’s infantry. With unconfirmed reports of Hood’s army crossing the river, Schofield hesitates, but does send artillery, wagons, and two divisions under Stanley heading up the road to Spring Hill. Schofield orders a general retreat up the pike hours later, but only after Hood has passed around him with the intention of cutting his army off at Spring Hill.
SPRING HILL: Forrest’s cavalry arrives at Spring Hill the afternoon of 29 November to find wagons streaming into town along the Franklin and Columbia pike, and attacks. His efforts are repulsed by a patchwork of garrison troops, wagon guards, and a couple of small cavalry units. As Hood’s two infantry corps and another division of Lee’s arrive southeast of Spring Hill, Stanley hurries a division to town in time to help repulse Forrest and an initial attack by Cheatham’s two lead infantry divisions. As darkness descends and with Stanley now outnumbered by more than 3-to-1, Hood chooses to renew the attack in the morning--a fateful decision.
Schofield, at Stanley’s urging, marches his army as quietly as possible out of the Columbia area up the pike and through Spring Hill all night toward Franklin. His army, strung out for many miles and highly vulnerable, march past Hood’s troops, in some places within 200-300 yards of them, who are bivouacked just east of the pike. Forrest challenges the movement north of Spring Hill, but with small numbers, and they are chased off. Hood is later awakened by a soldier who reports the Union army is on the move, and he sends him along with an aide to find Cheatham with orders to block the movement, but none occurs when a reconnaissance finds the road empty. Hood and his army wake up the next morning to find the entire Union army has escaped to Franklin.
A livid Hood blames Cheatham, as well as Cleburne and Brown, for not taking the pike as originally ordered, and quickly gives chase. He does not blame Forrest, who despite having almost three divisions available and no opposing cavalry to contend with, made little effort to cut the road north of Spring Hill, and did not inform Hood of their continued movement all through the night.
FRANKLIN: In the early morning of 30 November, Schofield finds the two bridges over the Harpeth River damaged and orders their repair, while Gen Cox oversees the building of a mile-long defensive works on the south edge of town, with both flanks anchoring on the river. A second line of works behind the first is put up near the center. Schofield wants his army across the river by evening, and believes the line of works, facing appx. two miles of relatively open ground, will deter Hood from attacking. Hood instead orders a mass frontal attack by his entire two infantry and one cavalry corps on hand despite reservations by his commanders, vs. a flanking maneuver suggested by both Forrest and Stewart. He responds the Federals are only feigning a stand. Lee’s Corps, with most of the army’s artillery, is still making its way up the pike. By design or coincidence, Hood orders Cheatham to attack the center with Cleburne and Brown aligned on either side of the pike where the defense is the most formidable, and the ground most open.
Hood’s massive gray wave, after taking heavy casualties, makes it to the Union works all along the line except the far Union right, but are then held up in places by abatis, and are slaughtered by devastating point-blank artillery and small arms fire. Confederate Gen’s Cleburne, Granbury, Carter, Adams, Strahl, and Gist are killed or mortally wounded in front of the works. Four other Gen’s are wounded and one (Gordon) captured. Cheatham’s troops break through the center after a career-ending mistake by Union division commander Gen Wagner, but are met by a spirited counterattack by Col Opdycke’s veteran brigade, resulting in a desperate close-quarters, hand-to-hand melee. As day turns to night and with thousands dead, wounded, and captured, the Confederate attack runs out of steam. As Lee’s Corps finally arrives, his lead division is thrown into the center by Hood after dark, but it is too little too late, and it also meets the slaughter.
Hood plans for another massed frontal attack in the morning, this time supported by all of his artillery. Most of Schofield’s commanders want to stay and finish their good work, but Schofield sees no need to press his luck and orders a general retreat toward Nashville overnight, burning the bridges behind him. In just 24 hours, Hood has gone from placing the bulk of his army and cavalry between Nashville and the only sizable Union force in Tennessee, to a costly defeat at Franklin. His army suffers at least 7,000 casualties, including 65 division, brigade, and regimental commanders, vs. about 2,600 Union troops. He sends a dispatch to Richmond three days later claiming a victory.
NASHVILLE AND THE RETREAT: Although the book does not detail these events, it does provide a summary of them. Despite severe losses at Franklin, failure to replenish the ranks with locals, depleted supplies, and a turn in morale of his army—Hood chooses not to retreat or consolidate his territorial gains but instead continue with his plan to capture Nashville. He now is heavily outnumbered by a confident and well-supplied Union army, but already facing being relieved of command and a tarnished legacy, Hood has nothing to lose at this point (except thousands more of his troops and total destruction of his army).
Hood’s stated strategy is to dig in and draw Thomas out by sending a force to threaten Murfreesboro, but instead it is routed by the garrison there under the capable Gen Rousseau while Thomas sits tight.
Lincoln and Grant also want Thomas to move out of his works and attack Hood, worried that time favors Hood more, who may gain reinforcements and supplies, destroy the railroads, or even cross the Cumberland. Thomas delays to refit his depleted cavalry and because of severe weather, but Grant still wants him to attack without delay. Thomas refuses and indicates they can relieve him of command otherwise. As Grant moves to do just that, the weather breaks, and Thomas attacks on 15 December.
Hood, still convinced Thomas will move on his right, is hit on his right, but it’s only a demonstration, and his left flank is attacked by a wheeling movement from Smith’s corps and Wilson’s cavalry, with Wood pushing from the north. Hood shifts men to the left but they are too few and too late, and with a division of infantry and two thirds of his cavalry scattered elsewhere (Forrest himself near Murfreesboro), his left quickly collapses, but the rout is stalled by darkness.
Instead of retreating, Hood retrenches not far to the south on high ground overnight, still missing a division of infantry and most of his cavalry. Gen McArthur, Smith’s division commander, observes Bate’s Division strung out on top of Hood’s left anchor, Shy’s Hill (after Hood removed troops to respond to attacks on his right and in his rear), and entrenched across the summit, instead of just below it, where they should be to effectively defend it. Bate’s men, unable to challenge the attackers until they are almost on top of them, are overwhelmed, and a panicked unraveling begins along Hood’s entire line from left to right as Wilson’s cavalry presses the rear and Union troops join in all along the front.
After failures by officers to turn around the fleeing masses, Hood’s army takes flight south toward Franklin, leaving behind over 8,500 captured troops, including three generals, as well as 53 artillery pieces and thousands of rifles. Wilson’s troopers give chase with an opportunity to cut Hood off, but are delayed by orders to consolidate, and by darkness. Thomas’ opportunity to catch Hood is later compromised by mistakes that delay the pontoon train needed to cross his infantry at Franklin, bad weather that swell waterways and ice over roads, failures by gun boats and an infantry force transported down the Tennessee River to intercept them, and a stout rear-guard defense by Forrest and Walthall.
AFTERMATH: Hood escapes to Tupelo, MS where he reports to Richmond high morale and numbers of available troops that don’t exist, and keeps his superiors in the dark about the campaign. As the truth comes to light in subsequent weeks, Hood is replaced with Taylor, Davis’ former brother-in-law. In less than 6 months under Hood, the Army of Tennessee has experienced a continuation of defeats and far more casualties than the Union forces opposing it, leaving only a shell of the last major Confederate army in the west. What remains of two of the army’s three corps are soon transported east to the North Carolina to deal with Sherman.
The subsequent military careers of Hood, Thomas, and other major players are discussed, as well as their lives after the war, including their often conflicting views of the campaign and the events. As with the Atlanta Campaign, Hood did not take responsibility for the failed Tennessee campaign, but continued to blame his officers and troops to the end.
In addition to the bibliography and index, the book includes an organization of both armies, and extensive notes at the end of each chapter, which I find preferable instead of crammed together at the back, as found in most books.
GRAMMAR AND STORYTELLING
This book is targeted to a wide audience, and is easy to read and comprehend with excellent word choice and organization. Transitions are smooth and information flows well chronologically. Editing is not the best, with a number of grammatical errors.
The author effectively introduces key leaders at appropriate points in the book without interrupting the flow and action. He also provides details on their relevant communications, interactions, decisions, and actions, as well as details surrounding their wounding, death, capture, and subsequent care and/or burial.
Much of the story is told by those who were there, gleaned from journals, letters, memoirs, manuscripts, regimental histories, official war records, newspapers, and other sources.
The battle narrative is engaging and lively as the author effectively weaves together first-hand accounts that give readers a sense of the chaos, desperation, fear, courage, and carnage of battle. Numerous accounts describe close-quarters and hand-to-hand combat, artillery action, violent deaths and injuries, and the suffering and privations endured. Many sensory details are provided by the participants of the sights and sounds, as well as their feelings of terror, frustration, anger, exhilaration, and even admiration for their opponent.
A few good maps of the theater of operations and battles, some focusing on specific sectors of the battlefield, are provided at appropriate points throughout the book. Most of the black and white maps are easy to comprehend. Period photographs, including those of the battlefield, and drawings are also included at appropriate locations.
CONCLUSION AND AFTERTHOUGHTS
This is an excellent, well-researched account of Hood’s Tennessee Campaign through the Spring Hill affair and the Battle of Franklin, with an effective summary of the subsequent Battle of Nashville, the retreat of the remnants of Hood’s army, and the aftermath. The battle narrative is outstanding, but could have been better served by more maps than those provided. This book is less controversial than some others written on the Tennessee Campaign, because it focuses less on Hood’s mistakes and character flaws, although the details provided generally lead readers to the same conclusions on what happened and why.
I’ve also read Wiley Sword’s “The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah,” which is also an excellent book on Hood’s Tennessee Campaign, and point to some differences in that book vs. this one:
--Sword’s account details the entire Tennessee Campaign, including the Nashville and Murfreesboro battles, and the retreat.
--It delves more into Hood’s personal life and character.
--Provides effective but fewer eyewitness accounts that help explain the comedy of errors of the Spring Hill affair.
--Does not suggest Brown may have been drunk or that due to twilight and cover, he and Cheatham may not have known only a single regiment was on Brown’s flank, all which may have influenced Cheatham’s argument against another attack before morning.
--Does not indicate that Stewart also argued against attacking after dark once his corps was settled into camp alongside Brown.
--Does not indicate that Forrest told Hood that he would attempt to cut the road north of Spring Hill overnight despite ammunition problems, or that Hood directed him to obtain ammunition from Stewart.
--Regarding Hood’s questionable decisions and retiring early at Spring Hill—does not discount the theory he was under the influence of alcohol or laudanum. Sword cites Hood’s guide that there were many toasts at dinner, and only suggests he may have taken laudanum before retiring, given his injuries and being in the saddle all day. Both books indicate his actions that evening demonstrate that he did not feel the setbacks would change the outcome, and went to bed confident Schofield was not going anywhere and would be defeated the next day.
--Concerning Franklin, the book does not attempt to discount that Hood’s decision for a mass frontal attack across open ground against the Union defensive works was an emotional response to the Spring Hill debacle hours earlier.
--Offers contradictions regarding Gen Adams death, as well as Opdycke’s actions during the close-quarters fighting around the Carter home.
--Provides more maps with better detail, and the editing is better.
Regarding the Spring Hill affair, Hood was initially on the field, then went to his headquarters after giving orders. Some of his own officers and others, including modern day analysts, indicate Hood should have stayed on the field, or could have returned when frustrated by the lack of progress. But he could also have made better use of his staff to actively monitor events, report back, and act in his place. Similar to Bragg, Hood’s management style as army commander, further evidenced by the Atlanta battles, largely consisted of giving orders before battle and waiting on the results at his headquarters, and not being in position, or to have taken necessary steps, to ensure follow through or make timely adjustments to the often-changing dynamics of battle. It should be noted also that at Spring Hill Hood went to bed without developing a plan of action or issuing orders for his commanders for the following morning.
Hood also seldom digressed from his attack-dog style, whether the odds favored such strategy and tactics or not, beginning with his short stint as a corps commander in his ill-advised and costly attack at Kolb’s Farm a month before taking over army command. In the beginning, he cited the superior fighting ability of the Southerner as a rationale for charging Union defensive works. He later rationalized such attacks by stating his troops had become “soft” under Johnston and needed to learn how to fight when not behind breastworks. Furthermore, his attacks were most often conducted without proper reconnoitering of the ground and Union lines ahead of time.
These failed attacks resulted in excessive casualties that quickly depleted the South’s most critical and limiting resource—fighting men—made worse by increasing desertions and recruitment difficulties. Stephen Lee stated that during the Tennessee Campaign, thousands of potential recruits fled behind Union lines at Nashville to avoid service. Fully aware of the criticisms after Atlanta, Hood promised his army before the Tennessee Campaign that there would be no more fighting on the enemy’s terms, and that the choice of ground would be assured before battle.
Experience is only beneficial if one learns from it, and the same can be said for Davis, who had a penchant for appointing friends to army and corps commands, resisting their removal, and marginalizing those he disliked personally, especially in the west. Perhaps he should also have given more consideration to Robert E. Lee’s misgivings of Hood being promoted to senior command, or that Hood graduated from West Point near the bottom of his class, including last in the discipline of ethics, and nearly last in infantry tactics. Some excuse Davis for not replacing Hood (who actively sought and developed a close personal relationship with Davis while convalescing in Richmond) after the fall of Atlanta, because he had no other credible options. However, Hardee, Beauregard, and even the return of Johnston were just some of his options, but neither Davis nor Bragg (appointed as his top military advisor in the last year of the war) liked these individuals on a personal level.
This book begins by giving a wonderful overview of the fighting in the western theater. It them provides a summary of the fighting in and around Atlanta. The decision was then made by Gen. Hood to take his army into Tennessee and attempt to advance all the way to Cincinnati. This was wishful thinking at this time of the war where the tide had clearly turned against the South. The affair at Spring Hill is provided in wonderful detail and the book clearl provides a picture of the breakdown in communication among the Southern Generals at a time that the Union Army could have been soundly defeated. It has to be one of the largest blunders of the Civil War.
Once the Union Army was allowed to retreat to Franklin, it moved quickly to make some very impressive fortifications that would cost many of lives. Gen. Hood has his mind set on making the charge against the fortifications even against the advice of his corp and regimental commanders. This decision would cost thousands of lives that the Confederate Army could ill afford to lose. The writing of the battle of Franklin is very well done. it is easy to rear and understand. However, this book needs more maps. As the units move, there are not additional maps that show these movements. I own the West Point Atlas of Civil War Campaigns and the Battle of Franklin is contained therein. I used it as a guide and that did help.
The Battle of Franklin is not a well known battle but one that should be known. It reminded me of a Confederate Fredericksburg when the charge was made knowing that it was going to fail. However, all the southern men charged nonetheless. Not only did the common soldier take the brunt of the battle but many, many high ranking officers were killed and wounded for the Confederacy in this battle. The carnage of this battle was impressive for the number of men involved.
If you are interest in the civil war in the western theater, then this book is a must. You are able to tell that this book was very well researched and written. If you are interested in the civil war, then this book is a must. You will not be disappointed. Enjoy.