At the Center of Hell: The 100th Ohio at Franklin

     In the spring of 1864, the Toledo Board of Trade procured a new stand of national colors to present to the 100th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, replacing the regiment’s original flag that had been captured at the Battle of Limestone Station in September 1863. In March 1865, the colors were returned to the Board from the regiment’s encampment at Wilmington, North Carolina. The flag, bullet-riddled and frail, was stained with the smoke of battle, and with the blood of its bearer.

          “I have the honor to present to you this tattered banner to request that it may be preserved by Toledo Board of Trade in memory of the brave men who have gallantly carried it and defended it in the battles of Utoy Creek, Atlanta, Columbia, Franklin, Nashville, and Town Creek and in sacred remembrance of Color Corporal Byron C. Baldwin who yielded up his life in its defense at Franklin, Tennessee, saturating its folds with his precious blood,” wrote Colonel Edwin L. Hayes. “Its term of service has been short- less than a year- but it is covered with honorable scars worthy of a veteran.”

          “Language is too weak to express the sentiments which the sight of that soiled and blood-stained banner has awakened in our bosoms,” wrote Harry Chase, president of the Board. “We feel ourselves highly honored is being selected as the custodians of this glorious relic and shall take care that suitable means be adopted for its preservation.”

          The memories of Corporal Baldwin and the fight at Franklin would haunt the men of the 100th Ohio for the rest of their lives. The regiment of northwestern Ohio farm boys found themselves in the dead center of the Confederate assault along the Columbia Turnpike on November 30, 1864 and suffered heavily from the attack on their position near the Carter Cotton Gin. The right wing of the regiment, along with the 50th Ohio, fell back from the line before Union reinforcements surged forward to plug the breach in the Union line. In many respects, their position was at the very center of hell of the carnage that characterizes Franklin as one of the most brutal battles of the war.

While period accounts from the 100th Ohio describing Franklin are rather elusive, Adjutant Norman Waite penned this superb account of the action just nine days after the battle while the regiment was in camp at Nashville. The letter was originally published in December 17, 1864 edition of the Toledo Blade.

 

Colonel Edwin L. Hayes, 100th Ohio Volunteer Infantry
Later Brigadier General


Nashville, Tennessee

December 9, 1864

          This is an awful day. A rain and sleet are falling and freezing as soon as it strikes. If we suffer in our pup tents, what must the Johnnies do without anything? I will give you a little sketch of our doings lately and if I get prosy, drop it.

          On November 22nd, we were in camp about three miles north of Pulaski where we had been for six days. We received ordered to march and about noon we broke camp and marched eight miles to Lynnville and camped until 4 p.m. on the 23rd when we took the road towards Columbia and halted about 10 p.m. having made 12 miles. At 3 a.m. on the 24th (Thanksgiving Day) we again started and marched until after daylight. Ours was the advance regiment of our brigade, the Second Brigade being in advance, ours next, and the Third Brigade last. About 7:30 a.m. the Second Brigade had just filed off the road for breakfast and we were just commencing to follow when “Forward, double quick!” was heard and in less than two minutes our regiment was fighting with the enemy’s cavalry who were driving our cavalry pell-mell through our lines. We charged the Johnnies, driving them at once. We skirmished with them all that day, the balance of the troops going into position in our rear and putting up works. Colonel Edwin L. Hayes and I took our Thanksgiving breakfast and dinner of hardtack and sowbelly about 10 a.m.

          We were relieved about 9 o’clock on the 25th and that night we fell back across the river and went into position on the north bank of the Duck River opposite the town. Artillery fire was kept up back and forth until the morning of the 29th when it was said the enemy were flanking us 12 miles above. So, the 4th Army Corps and the Second Division of our corps went to meet them, while our division (the Third) was left to keep them from crossing our front. In the afternoon, they made several desperate charges to get position, but we repulsed them each time. They must have lost over 1,500 men altogether. As soon as it was dark, we commenced leaving and our regiment got on the road at 8 p.m. and at 4:30 the next morning we were in Franklin having marched 23 miles. The enemy had made their arrangements to gobble up everyone of us. We passed within a quarter mile of the fires of a whole corps. A courier, telling them what time we would pass them, was delayed a few hours and we owe our safety to this slight accident.

The Carter House and outbuildings became the epicenter of the carnage of Franklin. 

          We laid down where we halted nearly worn out, but at daylight we had to go to work upon our works as the enemy was right after us. I presume we would not have fought them here if they had not pressed us so close that we were afraid they would get our trains. I enclose a rough map of our position. Our skirmishers were in advance of General Wagner’s line and of course were driven in upon us to once. Ours was the right regiment of the brigade and division, our right resting on the [Columbia] Pike in the main line. We threw up a line of strong works with a head log and in front of our work we placed an abatis of thick brush and put a barricade across the pike a little back of our main line. After we finished our work, the 1st Kentucky Battery was put in our line displacing three companies in our center. They cut four embrasures in the work, weakening them very much. It was intended for the first line (Wagner’s) to fall back upon us as soon as the enemy advanced, so they had only a light work of earth a foot or two high.

          Our work was finished about 3:30 p.m. and about 4 p.m. the enemy appeared in sight, advancing in three heavy lines, a lighter one being still in advance, the center resting on the pike. They charged with two corps on each side of the pike. Our first line, instead of falling back as intended, undertook to hold the Rebs, and when forced back, came pouring over our works, nearing covering our men in the trenches and filling the trenches so full that we could not work. While they were coming back, we could not fire for fear of hitting our own men, and the enemy reached our works almost simultaneously with them.

Unknown soldier of 100th Ohio

          At this juncture, the battery men disgracefully deserted their guns, leaving our center bare and the force on the right of the pike [50th Ohio] at the same time gave way, and the Johnnies came pouring through the gap on our right and around the abatis on our left flank. The right wing momentarily fell back, but Colonel Hayes ordered the color bearer Byron C. Baldwin to advance and place his colors on the works which he did, and the works were ours again. It was now nearly dark, and they charged at six different times, and we fought nearly the whole time until 10 p.m.

 

“At about 4 p.m. the attack came. From the fort on the north bank of the river, I could see the shock of the contending armies. Across the open field in full view came the Rebel lines. Shell and canister tore through them, musketry riddled them, but on they came. The impression on my mind was that of a wave rolling irresistibly ashore. It seemed as though nothing would stop it.” ~Surgeon George Collamore, 100th Ohio

 

          Captain William W. Hunt was acting major and fought nobly. About 7 o’clock we missed him and found him dead near the front works. He was shot by an enfilading fire to which our right was subjected to at the first charge, some of the enemy being in the ditch of the works across the pike and could not be dislodged. Lieutenant Milton Brown was on the skirmish line and was wounded as it was falling back, but he gained our works and while cheering our men he was shot dead. Color Sergeant Baldwin of Co. A had the banner presented to us by the citizens of Toledo. The upper part of the staff was broken off by a bullet and the lower half shot away in some manner. When Baldwin was shot, he wrapped the flag around him and died, his lifeblood staining its folds. How many more such brave men must die in defense of the old flag before it shall wave in triumph over our whole country?

This is the national flag of the 100th Ohio carried by Corporal Byron C. Baldwin at Franklin. Note the heavy stains throughout; the regimental surgeon reported that Baldwin suffered a penetrating wound to the thorax when he charged forward to place the colors on the works and rally the regiment. Baldwin then wrapped the flag around his bleeding body to prevent its capture and died thus protecting the colors. Corporal Baldwin's body was buried amongst the unknown Union dead at Franklin and was presumably later transferred to Stones River National Cemetery. A cenotaph in memory of the 27-year-old Weston, Ohio resident exists at New Weston Cemetery; he left a young widow, the couple having just married in February 1864. 

          One who has never been in such a battle cannot imagine the confusion and excitement of the scene. At the first charge, the non-combatants and cowards rushed to the rear and could not be brought back to take care of our wounded, and we could not spare a single man who could fire a gun to attend to their wants. I buried Lieutenant Brown as well as I could near an old cotton gin close to the works. Colonel Hayes sent Captain Hunt’s body across the river, but all the teams and ambulances were gone, and it was left beside the road about a mile and half north of the river. About 10 p.m., the Colonel received orders to be ready to draw out, and by midnight the movement commenced. We thought perhaps we would fall back across the river and go into a new position, but no; march, march, march, until 8 a.m. when we halted one hour and then marched on to this place 18 miles from Franklin.

          In less than 48 hours we had fought two hard battles and marched over 40 miles besides building a long line of works. We left Franklin full of our wounded. No attention was paid to the dead except in a very few instances. We went into the fight with 250 men and lost 62 in killed, wounded, and missing. Our regiment is getting small. Unfortunately for it, for it is called a fighting regiment and we have to stand the brunt of the hard fighting. Colonel Hayes is bringing our regiment up splendidly, but a few more such fights will render his labors of no account. He is as brave as a lion and the coolest man I ever saw under fire. The regiment worships him for they know he will stand up for their rights everywhere. We mourn our brave dead. They have fallen fighting as only men fight.

 Do you want to walk the very ground at Franklin that Adjutant Waite describes in this letter? Readers are encouraged to visit the Battle of Franklin Trust’s Carter House site located at 1140 Columbia Ave in Franklin, Tennessee. By walking between stops 9 and 10 on their tour located just east of the Columbia Pike, visitors can follow the preserved line of entrenchments dug by the 100th Ohio on November 30, 1864 and see the foundations of the Carter Cotton Gin near which Lieutenant Milton Brown was buried that night. Check out the Battle of Franklin Trust’s website at The Battle of Franklin Trust (boft.org) for more details.


This detail from the American Battlefield Trust's map of the breakthrough region at Franklin features the position of the 100th Ohio in the center stretching east from the Columbia Turnpike. The 1st Kentucky Battery had little chance to use its four 3" inch Ordnance Rifles due to the onrush of Federals belonging to General George D. Wagner's division. By the time their front was clear of bluecoats, the Confederates were right behind and broke through the works. 

   

Sources:

Letter from Adjutant Norman Waite, 100th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Toledo Blade (Ohio), December 17, 1864, pg. 2

Letter from Surgeon George Collamore, 100th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Toledo Daily Commercial (Ohio), December 13, 1864, pg. 1

“Battle Flag of the 100th Ohio Regiment,” Toledo Daily Commercial (Ohio), March 30, 1865, pg. 4

 

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