Tension mounts as our lines are formed to march forward in the attack on the Yankee line around the cotton gin to our front here in Franklin, Tennessee. “Load!” The hair rises on my neck at the command and it seems others in the ranks experience the same feeling. We are men of the 9th Texas Infantry Regiment, re-enactors, who have left modern times and are now at the 140th Battle of Franklin portraying the 6th/15 Texas Consolidated under Granbury’s Texas Brigade, Cleburne’s Division. Our battalion’s companies have been matched to the original 6th/15th Texas Consolidated companies as close as possible in both strength and designation. Each man in the ranks has drawn by lottery a slip of paper listing a name from the original roster of the company we portray. Officers and NCO’s have been assigned a name based upon the historic rank they hold. Our battalion will take casualties, killed, wounded, and captured based upon historic losses of the 6th/15th Texas at the Battle of Franklin fought on November 30, 1864. [FN1] The slip of paper I have drawn bears the name of Private William Tinnin, age 24, who was wounded in the right hip at Franklin. We are instructed to not tell anyone of the fate of the men we portray. Dead and wounded are to remain on the battlefield at the conclusion of the battle and only those who survived will march away. Men captured by the yankees will spend the night in captivity. In preparation for this re-enactment, we have trained to portray hand-to-hand fighting with a federal unit. The federal unit is also to be trained. There are rules to be followed to avoid emotion overtaking us and a real fight commence. We tie our bayonets or drop them to avoid injury in the confusion that will surely ensue as these armies collide.
This reenactment event takes on a larger meaning as we represent our ancestors in such an awful day. There are many in the ranks that have ancestors who were in the Confederate Army, and we do not take lightly the responsibility to correctly portray them today. We know the history of what had happened here and quietly have laid aside our modern world and now fade back in time to another moment. We are now in Franklin, our modern day identity gone.
The Battle of Franklin
Sam Watkins described Franklin: “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 Confederacy. I was there. I saw it. My flesh trembles, and creeps, and crawls when I think of it today. My heart almost ceases to beat at the horrid recollection. Would to God that I had never witnessed such a scene...The death angel was there to gather its last harvest. It was the grand coronation of death.” [FN 2]
It is an eerie feeling as we try to accurately portray what had happened here. There will be plenty of smoke from the fire of the artillery and black powder rifles, but the carnage will simply be portrayed today where blood ran so on that day.
These men knew the horrible carnage they would face. Honor would not let them leave. As we try to walk in their footsteps, the men in the ranks now quietly shake hands and some say their good-bye as if death has already come for the men they portray and they know it. Although we are not supposed to let others know the fate of the man whose name we have drawn, their good-byes seem to tell us their message. My heart races as I recall the events of 1864, what I know happened to the man I portray and my past experience in the Franklin Reenactment in 1995. It had been my first large reenactment event. I had experienced what some re-enactors experience, that is, “I saw the elephant” as the actual veterans had said of their first battle. [FN 3] My mind quickly drifts, for there are not many here who I had marched with in 1995. How much more intense the feelings of the actual veterans as they marched into this fight, their lines thinned with so many friends and comrades gone. Surely as they had waited to go forward, they had reflections of the past battles in which they had fought, and dread of what was facing them in this battle. Just for a brief while, I am no longer in 2004 but indeed have moved back in time.
There is a Confederate band near us beginning to sound out their instruments. We bid them play “Yellow Rose,” but they strike up “Dixie” and all men cheer, followed by “The Bonnie Blue Flag.” Franklin was one of the few battles where both the shooters and the tooters marched into battle together. “It was the most magnificent sight he had ever seen, the veteran corps commander Benjamin F. Cheatham remembered many years later. An almost unheard of occurrence, where an entire attacking army could be seen from high ground, the frontal assault at Franklin would be remembered by some as the most imposing martial spectacle of the entire war. Bands were playing, 100 battle flags were waving…while 20,000 brave men were marching in perfect order against the foe.” [FN 4]. The band at Franklin had indeed played “Dixie.”
Our colonel shouts to us: “The enemy is to our front. Forward!” There in front of us near the cotton gin is the blue line of Yankee infantry into which we will throw ourselves headlong, true to history. We march at the double quick as the rattle of musketry cascades across our front. We cross the trenches that had been quickly occupied by another Confederate unit in the charge. There is confusion in our lines, and we are quickly engaged in hand to hand fighting. I lock rifles with the Yankee in front of me as I cross the trenches. I butt stroke this Yankee with my rifle and push him away.
Wiley Sword described the action in the trenches: “For five minutes it was a hand-to-hand melee. Bayonets, clubbed muskets, revolvers, broken gunstocks, even bare hands became the weapons of that furious moment.” [FN5]
I look around for my comrades in Company G, but cannot find them. The blue line in front of me is now falling back from the trenches, and I leap forward. There are only a few of us charging forward. I see the white smoke from their rifles as the Yankees pour a volley into the few of us who have jumped into their lines. The five of us who had ventured so far into the Yankee lines go down. There is no movement from the young man in gray who has fallen right beside me. Once again the battle intensifies in the trenches. We are now the 6th/15th Texas Consolidated, Granbury’s Texas Brigade, and Cleburne’s Division charging the federal lines at Franklin, Tennessee. William Tinnin was 24 years old, a private in Company G when he was wounded in the right hip at Franklin, Tennessee. I have drawn his name in the casualty lottery. A federal chaplain kneels down beside me and asks if I am hurt. I reply: “Y’all have about done poor William Tinnin in today. Please say a prayer for William Tinnin.” He knowingly nods when I tell him I have been wounded in the hip. This federal chaplain quickly says a prayer for William Tinnin, gives me the last rites, and moves to the others scattered on the ground nearby.
I had undergone hernia surgery four months ago and the day’s long marching has stretched and caused me pain on the right side and hip. It seems fitting that I have such pain, for it mimics the wound sustained by the man I now portray.
I watch as captured Confederates are led by their captors past me into the Yankee line. I cry for help, but only Corporal Benjamin F. Wilkes (Sean Harla in the 21st century) breaks from his Yankee restraint, lifts my head and gives me water from his canteen before he is pulled away. I see J. Farmer (in modern life he is “Skip”) and cry for help, yet his Yankee captor pushes him forward. A middle-aged man in gray has twisted his ankle and sinks to the ground to my left. He tells me that he is from Fredericksburg, Virginia. As we talk, a Yankee officer tells his men in line that they are going to offer the oath of allegiance to these Confederates and hang those who refuse. I shout, “To hell with the Union.” The man beside me says that such remark will probably get us both beaten by these Yankees. They are too busy to tend to us and focus again on the battle raging around them. Smoke covers the battlefield as the firing intensifies. Cannon blasts echo constantly.
Wiley Sword quotes Brigadier General George W. Gordon: “It seemed to me that hell itself had exploded in our faces.” Gordon said the air “was hideous with the shrieks of the messengers of death.” [FN 6]
After what seems a mighty long while, there is a lull in the battle. I am directed to a nearby Confederate aid station, and I half walk, half crawl there. The battlefield is filled with the wounded and dead. As I approach the aid station I see General Mark Griffin laid out on the ground. Mark had portrayed Brigadier General Hiram Granbury. General Granbury had led his brigade into battle when he was shot just under the right eye while on foot urging on his Texas Brigade. Shot just under the right eye, the bullet passed entirely through his head. Granbury had thrown both hands to his face and sank to his knees in death. [FN7]. Nearby are two freshly dug graves. Our aid station is posted right beside an actual old cemetery with gravestones dated in the 1840’s.
A man in a bloody white apron, the surgeon, is tending to the wounded. This surgeon does what would have been done here, an early “triage” to determine the severity of each man’s wounds and condition. When I tell the surgeon that I have been wounded in the hip, he does nothing for me and goes to the next wounded. The surgeon tells a young assistant to give me laudanum (the opiate pain-killer of the period). I am aware of what faced a man who had been wounded in the hip. If the bone was fractured, it was generally a fatal wound. Next to me is Sgt. Samuel W. Morris, age 20 (Ron White in the 21st century). He has been severely wounded in his right knee. The surgeon ties a piece of bloody cloth around the leg as a tourniquet and then takes a knife and traces around the circumference of the leg as was done to amputate the leg below the knee. Close by is Lieutenant William Dunson (Dennis Young), our company commander. Dunson was 22 years of age at Franklin where he was shot in the abdomen, but had survived. The surgeon then discusses with us what he would have done after the battle in 1864. The surgeon tells us that his knife is an actual surgical knife from the period, but it is now dull. The surgeon tells Ron that his wound and amputation of the leg would probably have become infected and caused his death. He explains that typically the surgeon would have done multiple surgeries, and would not have cleaned his knife and would not have had sterile conditions for surgery. In fact that is what had actually happened, and Sgt. Samuel W. Morris died three weeks later. The surgeon tells me what I had known, that a hip wound was generally fatal if the bone was broken, and that is why I had received no medical attention but the laudanum. If surgery was required for a hip wound, 1 in 99 survived. The higher the wound in the hip, the less the chance of survival for the wounded soldier.
After the Battle
Slowly we returned from 1864 as the battle was now over. It would soon be dark, and we directed our attention to preparations for shelter in the event of rain. We strung my piece of canvas and Ron White’s poncho in between the two parts of the cemetery, as close to actually sleeping in a cemetery as any of us had ever done. The wounded and dead were to stay here, the survivors had marched off to another location after the battle, and those who had been captured spent the night with their federal captors. This was a new experience and drove home further the reality of what we had portrayed here. It was sobering to see the dwindled ranks of our battalion when the survivors marched into our area in the morning.
Until Sunday morning I had subsisted on peanuts, parched corn, and beef jerky. Sunday morning I cooked my salt pork, and used its grease to cook the potato and onion. It was a veritable feast.
Chapel services were conducted Sunday morning in front of the cemetery and where the casualties had spent the night. A man in the ranks secured a mandolin and led us in several hymns of the era including “How Firm a Foundation” and “Amazing Grace.” Mark Griffin led us in prayer and in his sermon talked of these men whom we had portrayed, what faith and honor meant to them and the revival that had swept the Confederate Army about this time.
Our time at Franklin was filled with long marches and the regimen which would have been second nature to these men. It was sometimes taxing with the marching but only because we in the modern world do not regularly march like our ancestors had marched. We had had several forced marches with “heavy marching order” (all accoutrements, rifle, bayonet, haversack, cartridge box, cap pouch, and knapsack or blanket roll). We are on campaign and carry no tents. If it rains we will get wet.
On Friday night rations had been issued. We had been given one potato, an onion, molasses cookies, parched corn and a piece of salt pork. Some men immediately cooked and ate their rations, which is what often actually happened in the war. The men were usually hungry, and probably preferred not to have to carry the food, when it could be eaten, and they might be wounded or killed anyway. I wrapped my salt pork in the brown “wax paper” made from candle wax heated over a burner to melt the wax. In today’s world we have become accustomed to meat spoiling if not handled quickly. In the 1860’s meat was preserved with salt and could last a long time without spoilage. I put my rations into my haversack, and we quickly formed to march.
We had marched till it was long past dark on Friday night and slept the night on the actual site of the Spring Hill battle. Unfortunately, this site is to be developed soon. Our lines were formed in the dark, arms were stacked and orders given to line the men so that we simply lay down from our formation to the ground on which we were to sleep. It was with foreboding that I observed clouds covering the stars, but rain did not come till we were on the move in the morning. I gather canteens from the men in Company G and walk to the water wagon. There in a horse drawn, period correct, wagon is a wooden barrel with water. It goes dry quickly as only a few are able to get water. Upon tasting the water in my canteen it is obvious that this barrel had come from a whiskey distillery for my water had the taste and smell of fine Tennessee whiskey. I laugh as I think of reading stories of veterans who had filled their canteens with whiskey and the morning headaches they suffered thereafter. After a short rest, our company pulled guard duty, first simply in a state of readiness in camp prepared to move out if needed, and then for another hour or so we man forward picket lines. We rise in the dark in the early morning hours and form our lines for another march, a battle and intermittent rain.
During this event there were six horse drawn wagons used for supply that again would have been second nature to the men of the 6th/15th Texas who marched here before us. During the war, horses, mules and wagons were used to transport the various supplies an army needs.
There was an ad for the Sons of Confederate Veterans in the Civil War Courier for the 140th Franklin event. The ad recites: “Out-manned, out-gunned, and out-supplied-but never out-fought-Confederate soldiers wrote a proud chapter in this nation’s history for independence, toughness, bravery, patriotism, and honor.” [FN 8] This seems a fitting tribute for these fine men of honor that we had portrayed at Franklin.
1. “The Dispatch, Newsletter of the 9th Texas Infantry Regiment,” September 2004, Volume 2, Issue 5
2. “Co. Aytch” Side Show of the Big Show, By Sam Watkins, Private, C.S.A. Original Edition Nashville 1881, at page 218
3. “Recollections of the Battle of Franklin 1864-1995,” D.M. Weaver, 1995, at p. 1.
4. The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah, Wiley Sword, 1992, p. 187
5. Id. at p. 222.
6. Id., at p. 222.
7. Id. at p. 222.
8. “Civil War Courier-140th Anniversary of the Battle of Franklin, October 2004.