Writing the story of the battle of Franklin in Let Us Die Like Men was one I really wanted to do. Franklin captured my imagination and interest very early on after a visit there with my aunt and uncle sometime in the early 1980s. I was struck by the bullet holes in the buildings, the tragic story of Tod Carter (killed near the doorstep of his own home), and a the diorama displayed in the visitor center.
This interest stayed strong through my years as a teen. I read and reread James McDonough’s Five Tragic Hours and took in David Greenspan’s pictorial maps that were the highlight of Bruce Catton’s Golden Book of the Civil War.
In college, I remember eating a diet of cheap menu items from McDonald’s and Taco Bell for several weeks to save up to buy Wiley Sword’s Embrace an Angry Wind, and even my senior thesis in college was tied to Franklin: a piece about the Arkansas Brigade of Cleburne’s Division in the Campaign.
Even when I came to work at Chickamauga, my backyard battlefield, Franklin still meant a lot to me.
So, when presented with the opportunity to write about it, I jumped at it, not only because of my fascination with the battle, but because there were several things I thought I could bring to the table that were not covered in most treatments of the battle. I’d also have the luxury of working with the great history of the battle written by Eric Jacobson and the recent work of Stephen Hood about Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood, which helped sift through many of the myths that clouded the battle. I could clear those myths up while helping to fill in what I wanted to tell about the fight.
Several things emerged that I wanted to emphasis. First was the campaign leading up to the battle, not just from the crossing of the Tennessee River, but all the way back to the beginning of Hood’s move northward in late September of 1864, I wanted to bring attention to several of the small but intense fights that took place in northwest Georgia, such as Moon Station, Allatoona, Resaca, and Dalton (where the largest surrender of USCTs occurred during the war). Then I carried the army westward into Alabama and what they encountered there before moving into Tennessee, where most histories of Franklin begin.
When it came to the battle of Franklin itself, I thought it was important to include more than one map of the fight to show that the charge was actually several separate attacks along the line. Although not planned that way, the terrain, luck, and Gen. George Wagner’s advance line caused it, which aided in the repulse of the Confederates.
I also tried to get into Hood’s head to show that he didn’t attack out of malice to his army, or because of a mind clouded by opiates—that it simply was a general who had limited time and even fewer options. It was a Hail Mary pass that failed.
I think I was able to accomplish this and to work in newly discovered or lesser-used accounts of the fighting.
Let Us Die Like Men was a book I felt that I needed to write, and I hope it has brought more attention to the battle and battlefield.
Let Us Die Like Men: The Battle of Franklin, November 30, 1864
by William Lee White
Savas Beatie, 2019
Click here to read more about the book, including a book description, reviews, and author bio.
Click here for the audiobook, read by Bob Neufeld.