Sherman’s Little Known Failure: The 36th State

By Dick Crews
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2008, All Rights Reserved

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in The Charger in the Spring of 2000.

The reason the United States doesn’t have 51 states is due to the failure of General William T. Sherman to act adding the 36th State. What State is missing? The State of Franklin (Tennessee).

We were taught in school that at its founding the United States had thirteen colonies. This is nonsense. The Continental Congress would only recognize 13, but there were more. One colony not included was Franklin. This is an outrage considering the people of Franklin were one of the keys to the United States winning the War of Independence against the British.

The State of Franklin that never was, consisting of eight counties in northeast Tennessee

The men of Franklin were the main fighting force against the British at the Battle of King’s Mountain, North Carolina. King’s Mountain was one of the few victories for the colonies against the British.

Again in the Civil War, the people of Franklin were ready for Statehood. They voted 3 to 1 against secession from the Union. They sent representatives to Washington to discuss the situation with President Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was anxious to help and promised Union troops if the people of Franklin would rise up against the Confederacy.

Believing the President, the people of Franklin started their rebellion on November 8, 1861. Eight railroad bridges on the main line between Atlanta, Georgia and Richmond, Virginia were burned. Franklin men then waited in camps for the Union Army, Union Army which did not come. General William T. Sherman told President Lincoln it was not possible for the Union Army to launch an attack from Kentucky. Sherman became depressed and returned to his home in Lancaster, Ohio.

William T. Sherman failed the people of Franklin.

Franklin men became very depressed at the end of the hangman’s rope. Confederate troops quickly arrived to put down the rebellion and hang the bridge burners. Even though let down by President Lincoln and Union Army General William T. Sherman, the people of Franklin continued to fight and die for their beloved Union. They formed a white underground railroad to smuggle men north to join the Union Army. These men, if caught, could be hanged. Indeed, the Confederacy hung scores of men from Franklin caught sneaking north.

Franklin provided more troops for the Union Army than any other Southern area including West Virginia.

Franklin units in the Union Army were almost all cavalry units. One unit, 2nd Tennessee Mounted Infantry, was even involved in the chase throughout Ohio after Confederate raider John Hunt Morgan. Fourteen months later, the 13th Tennessee (Union) killed John Hunt Morgan in Franklin (Greeneville, Tennessee) on September 4, 1864.

Confederate troops would occupy Franklin until late 1864 when Union troops, mostly Franklin men from the white underground railroad, liberated their homeland from the Rebels in November 1864.

The men of Franklin were involved in a final campaign of the war under the command of General George Stoneman. They were part of a force sent to capture North Carolina from the west. The Franklin men were horrified to hear the North Carolina girls call them “Yankee boys.” They never considered themselves Yankees.

During the invasion they captured the notorious Confederate prison at Salisbury, North Carolina, although all the prisoners had already been sent elsewhere. They were 100 miles west of Raleigh when the North Carolina capital fell to the Union Army of W.T. Sherman.

The last war effort of the regiments from Franklin was the chase to capture Confederate President Jefferson Davis. The major problem with pursing Jefferson Davis was the crossing of South Carolina. Franklin people always felt South Carolina was the cause of the War. Troops were kept moving night and day so they would not have time to burn and loot South Carolina. Although missing out on the Jefferson Davis capture, and the reward money, they did bring Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens and Confederate General and Cabinet member Robert Toombs to prison.

Franklin provided the United States with a much needed victory in the Revolutionary War, the 17th President of the United States, and 31,000 Union troops in the Civil War but never achieved Statehood. Clearly, William T. Sherman had the best chance to make Franklin a State in the fall of 1861, but failed to act. It would have been great to see Franklin become the 36th State following West Virginia in July of 1864.