Civil War Personality: Gen. John Schofield


Civil War Personality: Gen. John Schofield

The Battle of Franklin is full of stories of military tactics and heroism. A group of Leadership Franklin members worked with the Battle of Franklin Trust to tell more of the human story – one you can only try to imagine. Today, you will hear from Union Gen. John Schofield who was charged with stopping Confederate Gen. John B. Hood in Franklin until the Federal forces could receive reinforcements. Schofield found the bridges destroyed in Franklin and was forced to turn his troops and fight the Rebels.

Editor’s Note: The Battle of Franklin is full of stories of military tactics and heroism. A group of Leadership Franklin members worked with the Battle of Franklin Trust to tell more of the human story – one you can only try to imagine. Over the next six weeks, the Home Pages will tell 15 of those stories that led to the commemoration of the Battle of Franklin and the events surrounding the Sesquicentennial. Each has an introduction to a personality involved in the battle, a first-person account compiled from historic documents by LF class members, and a conclusion that lets you know what happened to our personality after the battle. Today, you will hear from Union Gen. John Schofield, who was charged with stopping Confederate Gen. John B. Hood in Franklin until the Federal forces could receive reinforcements. Schofield found his bridges of escape destroyed in Franklin and was forced to turn his troops and fight the Rebels.

Introduction to John McAllister Schofield

John McAllister Schofield graduated from West Point in 1853, ranked seventh in his class of 52 graduates. Schofield served for two years in the artillery, was assistant professor of natural and experimental philosophy at West Point from 1855-1860 and, while on leave (1860-1861), was professor of physics at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo.

Gen. Sherman, after the fall of Atlanta, took the majority of his forces on a march to the sea through Georgia. Yet, Schofield’s Army of the Ohio was detached to join Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas in Tennessee. These excerpts are from Schofield’s memoirs, Forty-Six Years in the Army, published in 1897.

Hear from Schofield:

In connection with the action of Gen. Thomas previous to the battle of Franklin, the following instruction from Gen. Sherman on October 31 are important: “You must unite all your men into one army, and abandon all minor points, if you expect to defeat Hood. Gen. Schofield is marching today from here…” Again on the same date he telegraphed: “Bear in mind my instructions as to concentration, and not let Hood Catch you in detail.””

Sherman thus gave the most emphatic warning against the mistake which Thomas nevertheless made by failing to concentrate all his own available troops until it was too late to meet Hood’s advance, thus leaving two corps to bear the entire brunt of battle until the crisis of the campaign was passed at Franklin.

I thus learned a short time after eight o’cock on the morning of the 29th that A.J. Smith had not yet arrived at Nashville, and that the position behind the Harpeth River at Franklin was that to which I must retire when compelled to fall back. I was then confronted with the grave question, How long might it be possible to hold Hood back, and thus gain time for Thomas to get up his reinforcements?

The serious danger at Spring Hill ended at dark. The gallant action of Stanley and his one division at that place in the afternoon of Nov. 29 cannot be over-estimated or too highly praised. If the enemy had gained a position there in the afternoon which we could not have passed ’round in the night, the situation would then have become very serious. But, as I had calculated, the enemy did not have time to do that before dark, against Stanley’s stubborn resistance.

In a dispatch, I proposed Brentwood as a point where A.J. Smith’s and all the other troops could surely unite with mine:

“I have just received your dispatch asking whether I can hold Hood here for three days. I do not believe I can. I can doubtless hold him one day, but will hazard something in doing that. He now has a large force, probably two corps, in my front, and seems preparing to cross the river above and below. I think he can effect a crossing tomorrow in spite of all my efforts, and probably tonight, if he attempts it. A worse position than this for an inferior force could hardly be found. I will refer your question to Gen. Wilson this evening. I think he can do very little. I have no doubt Forrest will be in my rear tomorrow, or doing some greater mischief. It appears to me that I ought to take position at Brentwood at once. If A. J. Smith’s division and the Murfreesboro garrison join me there, I ought to be able to hold Hood in check for some time. I have just learned that the enemy’s cavalry is already crossing three miles above. I will have lively times with my trains again.”

I received an order from Thomas, “Your dispatch of 3 p.m. is received. Send back your trains to this place at once, and hold your troops in readiness to march to Brentwood, and thence to this place, as soon as your trains are fairly on the way, so disposing your force at to cover the wagon train. Have all railroad trains sent back immediately. Notify Gen. Wilson of my instructions. He will govern himself accordingly. Relieve all garrisons in blockhouses and send back by railroad trains last over the road.”

The following is my first report to General Thomas, sent immediately after the battle:

“The enemy made a heavy and persistent attack with about two corps, commencing at 4 p.m. and lasting until after dark. He was repulsed at all points with very heavy loss – probably five or six thousand men. Our losses probably not more than one-fourth that number. We have captured about 1,000 thousand men, including one brigadier general. Your dispatch of this p.m. is received. I had already given the orders you direct, and am now executing them.”

Before the battle, and in anticipation of the order from General Thomas, the trains had been sent back and the preparations made for the army to retire to Brentwood, the troops to commence withdrawing from the line on the south side of the river immediately after dark. In consequence of the battle, the movement of the troops was suspended until midnight.

Upon news of the battle, Gen. Thomas replied: “It is glorious news and I congratulate you and the brave men of your command; but you must look out that the enemy does not still persist. Maj. Gen. Steedman, with 5,000 men, should be here in the morning. When he arrives I will start Gen. A.J. Smith’s command and Gen. Steedman’s troops to your assistance at Brentwood.”

What happened to John Schofield?

Schofield had a versatile postbellum career, including diplomatic missions to France, military governor of Virginia, Secretary of War to Andrew Jonson, Military Division Commander of the Pacific, and superintendent of the United States Military Academy.

From 1888-1895, Schofield served as commanding general of the U.S. Army. He retired on Sept. 29, 1865, when he reached mandatory retirement age of 64. He died at St. Augustine, FL and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery..

DOWNLOAD THE APP: You can now download for free an iPhone app called The Voices of the Battle of Franklin. This app features many first-person accounts from local historic residents, as well as a driving tour through the area of Franklin which served as the battlefield on November 30, 1864. Whether you are local to the Franklin community or a visitor, we encourage you to download the app to transform your experience into an historic one. To download The Voices of the Battle of Franklin app, click here.

This app was produced by a Leadership Franklin group for the Battle of Franklin Trust, which now offers it for free to visitors. Donations to Franklin Battlefield preservation made be made by visiting their site, click here.

About The Author

Kelly Gilfillan is the owner-publisher of Home Page Media Group which has been publishing hyperlocal news since 2009.

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