On Distant Ground
Joe Johnston is a guest contributor who is writing articles related to the Civil War. To read others in the series, click here. His latest book, The Mack Marsden Murder Mystery, was published by the Missouri History Museum in 2011.
Franklin, Tennessee, was the scene of one of the Civil War’s bloodiest battles. On the edge of the former battlefield is a Confederate cemetery. In one section, there are 130 small rectangular stones, each marking the final resting place of a son of Missouri. Beneath one of them lies Patrick Caniff, an Irish-born resident of St. Louis. Caniff was a horse-collar maker who joined one of the many volunteer militia units in February 1861, after the St. Louis Massacre in which Union troops killed 28 civilians. His militia was absorbed into the Missouri State Guard, and Caniff, age 20, was named a lieutenant. He saw combat in several skirmishes and then entered regular Confederate service. He was elected captain of his company and followed General Sterling Price in heavy fighting as they crossed Arkansas and Mississippi. He was among thousands captured at Vicksburg.
Throughout the war, both sides found it impossible to keep the huge number of prisoners they captured. Many were paroled, which entailed being released after signing an oath not to fight again. But when the Federals paroled Patrick Caniff, he rejoined his unit. He was fighting the Yanks again in Georgia, and when the Rebel units were decimated at Allatoona, Captain Caniff took command of a consolidated regiment, made up of survivors, men who had seen over half their comrades fall.
Caniff's regiment, the 3rd and 5th Consolidated Missouri Infantry, became part of Gen. John Bell Hood’s ill-fated attempt to conquer the Union at Franklin, Tennessee. The 30,000 Federal soldiers had plenty of time to dig in and ready their defenses south of town. At dusk on November 29, 1864, Gen. Hood sent his 29,000 men marching across a half-mile-wide cornfield, exposed and directly into the mouths of the blazing Union guns. So many men fell that those coming behind were walking on bodies. Caniff, who had seen at least 21 full days of bloody battle, would not survive that day. As he took his last steps, he was looking toward his chaplain, Rev. Edward McKendree Bounds.
A native of Shelbyville, Missouri, Bounds passed the bar exam at age 18 and opened his law office. But five years later he closed it to enter the ministry. His two older brothers had already joined the Union army when he was assigned to pastor the Methodist Episcopal Church South in Brunswick Station, the hometown of Confederate general Price. There, Bounds found himself ministering to people of both blue and gray loyalties. He was heartsick over the St. Louis Massacre. He found himself preaching at the funeral of 17-year-old John Lenard, who was falsely accused of bushwhacking and was drowned by Union soldiers in the frozen Grand River. Bounds saw other men executed by Union troops. Then he preached at the funeral of one of the victims of the Palmyra Massacre: A Union man who lived near Palmyra had disappeared, and in retribution, Union troops executed 10 jail prisoners, whose cases had no affiliation to the missing man. It was especially sad because the one Bounds buried was a young, unmarried man who gave himself in exchange for one of the condemned men who was a husband and father.
How could a pastor support such cruelty by his nation? Furthermore, as a lawyer, Bounds thought the U.S. government had no Constitutional right to replace the newly elected Governor Jackson and install a provisional state government. When Bounds refused to sign the oath of allegiance, he was rounded up with 247 others and imprisoned, first in Jefferson City, then in St. Louis. The prisoners were so crowded in their cell that there was only room to stand. Women were repeatedly assaulted by guards. After suffering in the bone-chilling heart of winter, they were shipped by boat to Memphis and released at a prisoner exchange camp.
The determined Bounds headed south alone, walking some 200 miles to Pine Bluff, Arkansas, where he secured a mule and kept going. Finally, on February 7, 1863, he found General Price’s army at Port Gibson, Mississippi, and enlisted as a chaplain in Company B of the 3rd Missouri Infantry, Caniff’s outfit. He was in the ranks with his soldiers during the siege of Vicksburg and the retreat south. And he was still with the consolidated 3rd and 5th when they walked into the deadly fire raking the cornfield south of Franklin, Tennessee. As the soldiers in gray marched toward certain death, 29-year-old Bounds was in front of them, his Bible held high above his head, walking backward, facing his men so they could see him quoting scripture and praying for them. Bullets buzzed, shells exploded, and men fell.
After the battle, Bounds helped care for the thousands of casualties in Franklin, which were said to fill every house, church, and slave cabin. Many more had to lie under trees outside, even though temperatures fell below zero. More than one was found on the battlefield, unable to move under the weight of corpses that had fallen on him.
When the Union army left Franklin, they left their own dead along with the Confederate dead, a total of about 2,500 men on the field. The Yanks, mostly unidentified, were buried by local workers. But on Hood’s orders, his troops identified most of the Rebels, wrote their names on wooden markers, and buried them in quickly dug graves only two to three feet deep.
The Federals moved 30 miles north to Nashville, where there were more artillery, supplies, and men who had been occupying the city and building defenses for over three years. Amazingly, Hood, with his army down to half strength, followed them to Nashville and attacked again, only to suffer another disastrous defeat. The battle was fought after a murderous ice storm, through which most Confederates, some with no shoes, suffered without tents or blankets. Among the Missourians in the Federal camp was Private Holmes Knoph, 20, who was probably sheltered from the freezing rain in his canvas tent, and woke up ready to fight. After all, his 11th Volunteer Infantry had chased the Rebels across the South ever since he enlisted 18 months before. Finally, on December 15, he got his chance to fight them face to face. But that morning Knoph was wounded, and he died a week later.
Back in 1862, every healthy man in Missouri was required to either join the Enrolled Missouri Militia or declare himself to be a Southern sympathizer. John Wesley Emerson was a Massachusetts-born lawyer who made his home in rural Ironton, Missouri, so of course he enlisted, and was appointed colonel of the 68th Enrolled Missouri Militia. Though the unit was disbanded in six months, they saw some action, and Emerson was wounded. Then in April 1864, with General Price making his raid to retake Missouri, the 68th was recalled. Private Emerson reported, and by fall the unit was mustered into regular Federal service as the 47th Missouri Volunteer Infantry. They fought at the Battle of Pilot Knob, and again Emerson was wounded.
From that point on, however, the 47th did more guarding of telegraph lines and bridges than it did fighting. Emerson was promoted to major, and in December they were shipped off to Nashville, but took 10 days getting there, and they arrived after the battle. Then they were sent south during the Rebel retreat, but a shortage of transportation meant they shuffled from one camp to another, and they were stuck in Columbia, Tennessee, for a week.
In contrast, Private Jesse Gabriel Johnston, a farmer, husband, and father from Jefferson County, Missouri, was transformed by war into a true fighting cavalryman in blue. His regiment, the 12th Missouri Volunteer Cavalry, saw action beginning in the summer of 1864, which hardened them for what they would face in Nashville. As part of the 1st Brigade, 5th Division, the 12th Missouri was in the first charge on the first day of battle. They were among the soldiers who turned the Southern left flank and captured three batteries and hundreds of prisoners along Hillsborough Pike. The next day they helped route the Confederates, pursued them down Franklin Road, and continued fighting into the night. They pressed for 10 days and captured well over 1,000 prisoners before returning to Nashville.
The battles at Franklin and Nashville were the last major offensive action by the South, and Missourians were there in both blue and gray. They fought and died, won and lost, as tragic heroes on distant soil.
As the war came to an end, the wooden markers at Franklin were deteriorating. Rev. Bounds joined in reburying the Confederates in a pretty little cemetery donated by the McGavock family at their home, Carnton Plantation. Bounds then went home to Missouri, but visions of the battle wouldn’t let him rest. He returned to Franklin, where he spent days in a prayer walk, all across the battlefield and the town. He decided to settle there, and founded a Methodist church. And until the day he died, he carried in his wallet a list of the 130 Missouri men he helped bury at Carnton. Among the names was Patrick Caniff.
—Joe Johnston, Guest Contributor
Thanks to Phillip Duer, Gregory L. Wade, James D. Kay, Jr., John B. Allyn, and the Battle of Nashville Preservation Society.