Wartime:

 

 

Musings and stories

On November 30, 1864, the Confederate Army of Tennessee, commanded by Gen. John Bell Hood, found itself at Franklin, Tennessee, a few miles south of Nashville.  Hood had driven his forces toward Nashville with the intent of disrupting the Federal army's ability to supply the forces of Sherman and others who were wreaking havoc with both Confederates and civilians in Georgia with a steady movement toward the Carolinas.  At Spring Hill to the SW of Franklin, the Federal army sent from Nashville to resist Hood's advance had been trapped by the Confederates for a period of time; however, they had managed to escape the encircling grey-clads and retired to Franklin where they dug into earthwork fortifications built earlier in the war.

Hood was incensed that the relatively large force of Federals had escaped and ordered his men on to Franklin.  He ordered an assault on the earthworks for late in the day on the 30th.  This resulted in the battle carrying over well into the night with the battlefield illuminated only by the flash of muskets and cannon.

Due to Hood's pressure, the infantry and limited cavalry troops were forced into the fight before the Confederate artillery could be brought up and put into action.  This resulted in the Confederates having to attack across an open, rolling plain of farmland some two miles across without any preparatory cannon barrage against the Federal line and without any cannon fire during the charge to suppress that of the Federal side.   Prior to this, the most famous attack by the Confederates across open ground had been the Pickett-Pettigrew charge on the third day of the Gettysburg campaign.  That charge was preceded by a significant artillery barrage and the charging infantry had only a mile-wide field to cross.  This comparison of battles later caused some historians to refer to Franklin as the 'Gettysburg of the West.'

Although Hood's army had troops from all the Confederate states (except Virginia), the greatest number of units had originated in Mississippi.  As a result, when the official battle losses were tallied, Mississippi had the highest casualty rate.  (Officially, 424 Mississippians died; however, there was such a large number of unknowns that it's almost a certainty that the Mississippi losses were greater than this.)

Featherston's Brigade was part of Loring's Division and was assigned to assault on the far right (east) of the Confederate battle line.  They were protected from flanking by the Federals only by the presence of Nathan Bedford Forrest's cavalry that rode on east of the infantry line.  The 33rd Mississippi Infantry Regiment which was raised in Amite County was part of Featherston's Brigade and was the unit with which my great grandfather Jeff Anderson and his brother John had fought since their entrance to service in March 1862.  When they reached the earthworks (after a number of casualties on the approach, including John Anderson), they found two ways into the Federal line -- through a narrow cut in the land created for the railroad and up and over the earthworks themselves.  Their attempts to use the railroad cut were repulsed by concentrated fire from both artillery and massed muskets; so great was the firing into the Confederates that attempted to cross the cut, a survivor later remarked that even a rabbit couldn't have made it all way through.  When they turned their attention to scaling the earthworks, every attempt was repulsed although some men did survive to reach the top only to fall dead or wounded on the summit or behind the line.

John Anderson was wounded on the approach to the battle line, though how is not known.  One of Jeff Anderson's sons that was interviewed by the WPA for the Amite Co. history compilation said that John had been wounded in both arms.  Apparently John was killed by shrapnel from an artillery round that exploded above him as he sat beneath a tree awaiting medical assistance some distance from the line.

An oft-repeated story from the War Between the States was that many men had 'feelings' of when they would not make it through a battle and often asked comrades to hold personal belongings and send them back home for them.  General Patrick Cleburne supposedly had just such a premonition of his death at Franklin and was killed there.  I have no reason to think that John Anderson had such a premonition for himself, but put this song together on the premise that he did.  The song/story is told as though Jeff Anderson is relating it.

A Cold Wind’s A-Comin

© 2003 Wayne B. Anderson

 

John stood patiently waiting, then I heard him say

A cold wind’s a-coming, I think today’s the day

A cold wind’s a-coming to chill me to the bone

A cold wind’s a-coming to carry me on home.

 

I replied the weather’s cool and the wind might blow

We might get a cold rain or even snow

But that’s no sign the end is near, that your time has come

‘Til this war is over, there’s no hope of going home.

 

But John saw what I could not in the breeze that freshened then

And the next words that were spoken gave the order "Forward, men."

So we stepped out on the two-mile plain that would soon be red with blood

And we’d "play Hell" in Tennessee to please our General Hood.

 

We were part of Loring’s men on the battle line far right

Someone called, "If we double-quick, we might get there ‘fore night.

With all the cannon soon to fire they’ll light their lines like day

But an angry wind of shot and shell is what will come our way."

 

While too far out for musket fire, the cannon shells began to fall

Though no shell fell near, John to me he did call

"The wind just freshened and I felt its first stab of icy pain

I can’t go on; come back for me when the battle wanes."

 

At the earth works no cold wind blew ‘cross the ranks of grey

Hot and angry came shot and shell as night fell over day

I looked back to where John sat ‘neath a small tree all alone

I saw the shell burst in the branches; I knew John was gone.

 

John sat patiently waiting, I could almost hear him say

A cold wind’s a-coming, I know today’s the day

A cold wind’s a-coming, I’m chilled to the bone

A cold wind’s a-coming, I’m finally going home.

 

Want to hear what the song sounds like?  Here's a rough, home-recorded version that sounds half-way decent.  Click the link to open the file in your player; right-click and select "Save Target As" to save it to your hard drive for later.  Note:  Playing the song as streaming audio may not work and is definitely not recommended for anyone but users of a high-speed connection.  The MP3 file is over 8 meg in size.

A Cold Wind’s A-Comin

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Feelings

One of the classic wartime emotions has been the dread and fear felt by the aging parents of barely grown children that have gone off to war.  In my initial review of the reprinted WPA Amite Co. histories, I was drawn to a poem that deals with this emotion.  The original poem was submitted anonymously to the Southern Herald newspaper and was printed by the paper in the April 22, 1918 edition.  The reproduced verse can be read on page 345 - 346 of Volume 1 of the reprinted history.

I guess I'm a 'sucker' for sentimental poetry and songs like this but, upon reading this poem the first time, my only thought was, "I've got to make that into a song."  The original verse shows the earmarks of being written by someone who did not frequently express himself in that manner but was obviously a heart-felt expression from a father whose son had entered service in the American Expeditionary Force that was sent to France in WWI.  Likely the young man had been drafted since the verse doesn't imply that he had been avid to enter the military.

To keep the emotion intact but make the verse more suitable as a song, I did a bit of altering, rearranging and repetition.  I don't think I lost anything and, hopefully, the adding of a musical rhythm makes the emotion even more profound.  Unfortunately when you work with the 'mechanics' of verse, you begin to lose the impact the words have on you personally.  I hope that whatever I've lost personally in this won't dull the impact it will have on you as the reader of the verse or listener to the song.

The Empty Coat

From anonymous poem from the Southern Herald, April 22, 1918

 

‘Taint no use, a hangin’ there on its peg no more,

Sleeves a showin’ too much wear, pocket badly tore.

Prob’bly when the war is done, it’ll be too small

Guess he’ll have another one – if he returns at all, if he returns at all.

 

First Chorus:

Now it looks so sad and lonely, just a hangin’ there.

But it’s sacred in our eyes, something like a prayer, something like a prayer.

 

Seems like yeste’day I stood, watched him ‘bout his chores

Bringin’ in the kitchen wood, stompin’ ‘cross the floor.

Laughed to see his snoopin’ around like he used to snoop

Whistlin’ happy when he found his Ma was making soup, his Ma was making soup.

 

Now that he ain’t here no more, our own hearts’ delight

We glance at the old coat he wore ‘fore he went to fight

Nights when all doors was shet, ‘fore I got up stairs

I’d touch his sleeve and find it wet – he’d been cryin’ there, he’d been cryin’ there.

 

Second Chorus:

Now somethin’s smartin’ my eyes too, have to wink ‘em tight,

When I whisper, "Proud of you; goodnight, lad, goodnight, goodnight, lad, goodnight."

 

Repeat first verse and chorus:

‘Taint no use, a hangin’ there on its peg no more,

Sleeves a showin’ too much wear, pocket badly tore.

Prob’bly when the war is done, it’ll be too small

Guess he’ll have another one – if he returns at all, if he returns at all.

 

Now it looks so sad and lonely, just a hangin’ there.

But it’s sacred in our eyes, something like a prayer, something like a prayer.

 

Want to hear what the song sounds like?  Here's a rough, home-recorded version that sounds half-way decent.  Click the link to open the file in your player; right-click and select "Save Target As" to save it to your hard drive for later.  Note:  Playing the song as streaming audio may not work and is definitely not recommended for anyone but users of a high-speed connection.  The MP3 file is almost 10 meg in size.

The Empty Coat

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