To the Battles of 
Franklin and Nashville and Beyond: 
Stabilization and Reconstruction
in Tennessee and Kentucky, 1864-1866

Benjamin Franklin Cooling
University of Tennessee Press, 2011, 526 pp., $45.95

Review by Gordon Berg

After the war, Tennessee cavalryman Thomas Black Wilson declared, “I look on Fort Donelson as one of the most important battles of the war.”  Benjamin Franklin Cooling has spent much of his career corroborating the prescience of Black’s observation about this Union victory in early 1862 and the war in the Western theater that followed. 

This triumphal volume concludes Dr. Cooling’s definitive trilogy detailing the war in Kentucky and Tennessee.  He deftly combines the insights of an historian with the expertise of a national security analyst to vividly portray how the Confederacy’s hope for nationhood became shipwrecked in the rugged hills and rolling heartland of the upper South.

Assessing the military situation after Ulysses S. Grant’s decisive victory over Braxton Bragg at Chattanooga in November 1863, Dr. Cooling eloquently concludes that “dreams of ’going back to Tennessee’ dissipated in the winter snows of north Georgia and became moot when spring blossoms presaged renewed Federal movements southward on the rail line to Atlanta as well as in Virginia.”   Overly optimistic rebel strategists lacked the men and material to throw the Federal juggernaut off balance and, Dr. Cooling concludes, “the Confederate moment had passed by May.”

But, 16 months of hard fighting for the soldiers and severe economic deprivation for the civilians still lay ahead.  Dr. Cooling punctuates his monograph with poignant anecdotes revealing the how the divided loyalties among the citizens of the two states made for tense and unsettled conditions behind the lines and President Lincoln‘s hopes of reintegrating areas occupied by Northern armies back into the Union an illusive chimera.  He quotes the editor of Union-appointed Tennessee governor Andrew Johnson‘s papers, Leroy Graf, as observing “until the disorders and insecurities created by roving bands of Confederates were quelled, the prospects for successful civil government were dim.”

Dr. Cooling also distinguishes himself as a master of battle narrative.  His descriptions of the fighting at Spring Hill, Franklin, and Nashville are spirited and analytically insightful.  This book is a must read for anyone wishing to understand why the Civil War really was won in the West.
Gordon Berg is a past President and member of the Civil War Round Table of the District of Columbia (  His reviews and articles appear in the Civil War Times and America's Civil War, among other publications.

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