Battle of Franklin

On November 30, 1864 Gen. John Bell Hood led his 30,000 Confederate troops into Franklin, Tennessee, which resulted in one of the worst disasters for the Confederates during the Civil War. Hood conducted numerous assaults against the Union forces led by Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield. The Army of Tennessee was decimated by the battle and ten thousand men experienced causalities from both sides, with about seven thousand of the causalities on the Confederate side (42). Not only did the Battle of Franklin represent a devastating loss for the Confederate army, it also caused mass environmental destruction to the forested areas of the battlefield. One soldier recalls the scene after the battle, “a small grove of about 200 locust trees, most of them about the size of a common bed-post…These little trees were literally cut to pieces by the bullets. Some of them not as large as a man’s body had 50 and 60 bullet marks. A reward of $25 has been offered by several officers to any person who will find in that grove a tree or limb 5 feet long which has not been struck by a bullet” (44). The dense forest was later described as a strategic advantage for the Union army, because Confederates had such a difficult time navigating through the thick tangle of branches while attempting to attack the Union and defend their own lives. The union troops even cut down a thicket of Osage Orange trees, creating a brush pile so thick that the Confederates could not advance through it (42).

The destruction of forests was commonplace throughout the war, not only at the Battle of Franklin. Trees were consistently caught in the cross fire of battles and cut down at a startling rate for their timber, which was very valuable to military operations. The historian Megan Kate Nelson estimates that 2 million trees were taken nationwide during the war (about 400,000 acres of forest destroyed annually) to support the troops in building encampments and supplying firewood (48). Captain Theodore Dodge described the immense logging operations taking place throughout the country, “The whole country round here is literally stripped of its timber. Woods which when we came here were so thick that we could not get through them anyway are now entirely cleared.” Charles Wills, an infantry soldier gives an intense description of the effect an army could have on the surrounding forests, “One gentleman living between our camp and town has 10,000 pines, hollies, cedars, etc., in the grounds surrounding his house. . . I mean he had 10,000 trees, but the Yankees burned the fences around his paradise, and have in various ways managed to destroy a few thousand evergreens. A kind of parody, you understand, on that Bible story of the devil in Eden” (50).