General George D. Wagner and the Battle of Franklin

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#1
General George D. Wagner and the Battle of Franklin

I'm not versed in the history of Gen. George D. Wagner, but I will make a bold attempt to understand the man and his war career and how in one day it went up in flames. Less than a year after the war ended his wife died and in 1869 he died at age 39. Gen. Wagner is buried in what seems like an obscure place.

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There seems to be no clear conclusion as to what caused Gen. Wagner to hold his position in front of the main Union line at Franklin on Nov. 30, 1864.

I've read that he was drunk and got caught up in the moment and disobeyed orders to fall back once it appeared the Confederates were indeed going to fight--straight up the center of the Union line.

One theory was that he was ordered to hold the position and that Hood would never charge the center.

Another was that he was hung out to dry/sacrificed by Gen. Schofield (to buy time) and/or that he wasn't a West Pointer.

The general consensus of his men in the two brigades on the field was that no matter what (drunk or not) that Wagner wouldn't have left them in a suicidal position unless he was following orders.

I find it interesting that from the account below, it mentions Col. Opdyke's brigade, massed in column, and lying in reserve.

On the field it's said that when Opdyke came upon Wagner and his orders to hold the ground, that Opdyke refused and marched his men back behind the front line.

Wagner had been rush ahead to Spring Hill to guard the safety of the 800 wagons and for Schofield when he came through, and if things would have worked out for Hood, he may have crashed into Wagner at Spring Hill. Wagner brought up the rear after all had passed Spring Hill, and once Wagner got to Franklin he stopped 400 yards in front of the main line with two brigades, why?

Supposedly Wagner had orders in his pocket from Schofield to hold the position. Wagner reached his position at noon and set up as a ruse, his forces made a display, as if to resist the further advance of the enemy. The ruse was successful, and Hood was kept at bay until all the trains could be got across Harpeth River.

If by chance Schofield had passed down orders for Wagner to hold his assigned position and if Wagner had pulled his men early, before contact with the enemy, how would that have looked, being a coward, disobeying orders. Would Wagner have been brought up on charges?


Were there similar situation during the war where two brigades encountered the initial blow of a whole Army?

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Note: I don't take every word from the following as gospel, I simply use it as reference. From what little I've read on Wagner and Schofield, I will give Wagner the benefit of doubt, I have an open mind, I desire to understand what happen to this man.


From the Annals of the Fifty-seventh regiment Indiana volunteers. ... Kerwood, Asbury L. - 1868

THE BATTLE OF FRANKLIN

About 4 o'clock in the afternoon our forces quietly withdrew inside the line of earth-works, extending from the river above town to the same below, except two brigades, which were posted in front, to develop the force of the enemy. With our flanks thus protected by the river, and the line of defenses encircling the town in a semi-circular shape, the position was one of great strength. The troops that were posted on the main line, in order 'to make the position still stronger, cut down and carried out the locust trees with which the streets were shaded, and placed them in front of the works, as an abatis, to obstruct the approach
of the enemy.

Four hundred yards in front was the 2d Brigade, commanded by Col. Lane, of the 97th Ohio, and the 3d Brigade, commanded by Col. Liebold, of the 15th Missouri. Our command was posted on the west of the pike and the only chance for cover was a succession of short rifle-pits, which had been thrown up for pickets. They were several rods apart, and afforded protection to but a small number of the men. In front of us the ground was open — a grassy common extending some distance, when it was joined by a corn-field. The ground was slightly undulating as far back as the ridge heretofore mentioned, on which our troops made the display earlier in the day, and from which Hood was now viewing our position, and making his disposition for the attack.

It will be remembered that more than one half of the men now composing the 57th were new soldiers — raw recruits, who were never under fire except at Spring Hill, and were never drilled an hour. At Columbia these men were furnished with arms, accouterments, and shelter-tents. The order we received was to hold our position —to "stay right there." The only place of entrance to the main works, except over the thorny abatis, was where the pike went through a space barely wide enough to admit a single platoon. In plain view from our position were the columns of the rebel army, forming to commence the attack. Such was the situation and condition of the two contending armies less than half an hour before the solemn stillness was broken by the noise of as bloody a battle as was fought during the late war.

Before ordering his troops into the bloody conflict. Hood rode along his lines and told his men that Schofield was there with 17,000 men, and if they would only break that
line and drive us into the river, the way would be open to Louisville — that we could raise no more troops to resist their advance, and victory would be theirs. It required
only this final charge from their leader to fire their passions, and make them willing to march to the fatal strife.

As the last lingering rays of departing light glanced athwart hill and dale, it disclosed the serried columns of Confederate grey, marching to the attack of our strong position. A deep and awful silence reigned, interrupted only by the pattering rifle-shots of our retreating skirmishers. The voice of command from the rebel officers, or the words "steady, boys," on our own lines, preceded the first roar of the engagement.

Destruction inevitable seemed to await our little command, as we stood before the irresistible 40,000 who were bearing down upon us. "Steady, boys ! Reserve your fire !" came in slightly tremulous tones, from men who knew we must be swept away like chaff before the devouring flames. Nearer and nearer ciame the hostile forces, until one hundred yards are all that separate us. "Steady, boys; fire !" and the deadly strife begins. Volley after volley greets the enemy, as they attempt to penetrate our line. In a few moments their lines have reached around, overlapping our left flank, and already the brigade on the left of the pike has given way. "Rally behind the works!" is the only order that can be heard above the noise and confusion. A moment more and the line is broken,
and we are rushing pell-mell to escape the unfriendly clutches of our pursuers.

Four years have passed away, and I shudder to recall that scene. Rebel artillery was planted to sweep the pike, and here our men were mowed in perfect windrows. Hundreds were captured and taken to the rear, by the enemy. Our troops in the works dare not fire, for fear of hitting our own men outside. A rebel column approached the works, and several regiments stationed nearest the pike turned to run. A panic seemed inevitable. Our gunners commenced drawing off the artillery, and the infantry rushed in confusion toward the river. For a moment it seemed that all would be lost. The rebel columns had penetrated our lines. At that moment Opdyke's brigade, massed in column, and lying in reserve, charged the rebel column in the- flank, compelling them to surrender. This restored the line, audit was never again broken. The rebel force moved on to the river, as prisoners; and the enemy, exasperated at their loss, rushed headlong against our lines, but all in vain.

Darkness had now closed over the scene. Double charges of grape and canister blazed from the muzzles of our guns, while deafening volleys of musketry poured like a sheet of flame from behind the works. Occasionally the noise of battle would almost cease, as the enemy prepared to renew his unsuccessful assault. Then, as we peered through the darkness, to hear the rebels yell, and watch the fire of their guns, the groans of the wounded and dying could be distinctly heard. It was after 10 o'clock p. m. before the enemy ceased to hurl their columns against us. Not until the loss of six thousand men paid the sacrifice — which they could little afford to give — did they give up the struggle, and allow the mortal combat to cease. For the fourth time the plain and simple truth had come home to the minds of Hood and his army, that we were sent down there to fight.

About midnight our army silently withdrew across the river, and started to Nashville. The most of our wounded fell into the hands of the enemy. Many were still on the field, and those we had collected in hospitals were left behind. Our ambulances were loaded with those who could be hauled, and taken to Nashville. Near noon, on the 1st of December, Ave reached the vicinity of Nashville, well nigh exhausted by a march of forty miles and the labor of two engagements in forty-eight hours, with no sleep and but one cup of coffee. But we had saved Nashville. In the engagement at Spring Hill the regiment had one man wounded, a new recruit, belonging to Company "F."

At the battle of Franklin we lost in all one hundred and thirty-four men. Of these a large proportion were taken prisoners, but a large number were killed. Capt. Addison M. Dunn, a good and brave officer, was killed in the works at the time the line was broken, and his resting-place is unknown. There are others whose fate is wrapped in mystery; but never having been heard from, they are supposed to be dead. Of those who were captured or killed, there were thirty belonging to the regiment whose time was out on the 18th of November, and they were, to all intents and purposes, no longer subject to military duty. By an unjust and tyrannical interpretation of the law, they were forced into battle when the Government no longer-had claims upon them, and when they should have been with their friends.
 

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Michael W.

First Sergeant
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#2
Wagner is a strange character. One of his brigade commanders, Opdyke as you mentioned, was the last brigade in line of the division, and as they marched north up the Columbia Turnpike, Opdyke continued on towards the main defensive line without stopping to form up alongside the rest of the division. Wagner rode out to meet Opdyke to instruct him to halt and fall in-line. Opdyke and Wagner had a "history" between each other, and they DID NOT get along. Opdyke ignored Wagner with a few choice words, and continued on towards the main works. Wagner maintained his line with his remaining two brigades, of which the 57th Indiana was a part, and of course was overrun when Hood advanced. You mentioned that Wagner is buried in remote place. The reason why he is buried in that little remote country cemetery in Warren County, Indiana, is because that is his hometown.
 

Michael W.

First Sergeant
Joined
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Messages
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#3
By the way, 57th Indiana Infantry, last year at Cowans Auction House in Cincinnati, at the November Firearms and Historic Militaria auction, there was a staff officers sword from Capt. Thomas Ridge of Company B, 57th Indiana Infantry, that was sold. It was a presentation sword, I tried to get it, but it went way too high. Look it up, the pics are still up. www.cowans.com
 

civilken

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#5
The last time I spoke about this an individual let me know I did not know that much about the battle. I have read several books on this the same I cannot understand what was HOOD thinking after the Army had passed him by what was he trying to gain at that point or was it just pride if someone out there knows right me a small piece on it thank you. PS nothing long just what he was thinking why the charge.
 
Joined
Feb 1, 2016
Messages
446
Location
North Florida
#6
The last time I spoke about this an individual let me know I did not know that much about the battle. I have read several books on this the same I cannot understand what was HOOD thinking after the Army had passed him by what was he trying to gain at that point or was it just pride if someone out there knows right me a small piece on it thank you. PS nothing long just what he was thinking why the charge.


I'll admit that I don't know enough. I don't believe any one person can know it all (that is) history in general. I have a personal connection to WW I, which has taken a good bit of my time. I have a connection to WW II...I like ancient history the best, then add family history, its a tough challenge to cover everything.

My GG Grandfather was in Col. Lane's Brigade.

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