A frontier massacre and its ties to Franklin

A frontier massacre and its ties to Franklin


Legends of Williamson County and the Civil War go well beyond our county’s borders and the November 1864 Battle of Franklin, the defining event in our local history. The tales of the personalities who passed through our community, entangled in the drama of war, could fill many columns. One would even play a role in western frontier history.

Some examples:

Arthur MacArthur was wounded near the Carter House, the iconic site now part of the Carter Hill Battlefield Park on Columbia Pike. One of his sons, Douglas, would go on to great fame in World War II and Korea.

Missourian Edward McKendree Bounds found himself in Franklin serving as a chaplain with the Third Missouri Volunteer Infantry Regiment (CSA). He would be wounded in the attack with his regiment. Upon recovery and time back home, he returned to Franklin to minister to a community in need of spiritual renewal. Bounds later became a prolific writer about prayer and an icon in Methodist circles.

Canadian John Harties Brown served with the 12th Kentucky Infantry (U.S), and was credited with capturing a Confederate flag at Franklin. Brown would be one of four soldiers from our large neighbor to the north awarded the U.S. Medal of Honor for valor.

Michigan’s George Grummond, after Civil War service in Franklin, became better known for his part in one of the more controversial military actions in the U.S. Army’s illustrious history, just months after the Confederates ultimate surrender.

frances-gormmundGrummond had a successful and sometimes controversial career rising from sergeant to lieutenant colonel during the war years. He saw combat early and in 1862 went home to his wife Delia to recover from an illness.
Months later, he found himself posted in Franklin in 1863 to serve as provost marshal while the town was occupied by federal troops. During this time he met Frances Courtney, the daughter of a slave owning pro Union Franklin family. According to local historian Rick Warwick, their house still stands today at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Church Street.

By any account Courtney was beautiful, obviously capturing Grummond’s fullest attention. As the war wound down Grummond and Delia divorced and he returned to Franklin to wed Frances. By any account the timing and execution of Grummond’s personal life was becoming complicated. He then accepted a post war commission in the western frontier army as a second lieutenant.

In 1866 in the Montana and Wyoming territories, Sioux Indians under the leadership of Red Cloud, along with allies from the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, were resisting the arrival of emigrants from the east. These new settlers arrived via the Bozeman Trail, generally in what is known as the Powder River country.

Driven by the discovery of gold in Montana, their encroachment violated what the Sioux saw as one of their best hunting grounds, still rich with game and several streams including the Yellowstone, Powder and Tongue Rivers.

During this time, there were numerous raids and skirmishes and several dozen settlers were killed in the general vicinity of Fort Phil Kearny, built along the Little Piney River to help keep the trail secure. Just months before, the army initiated the Powder River Expedition, launched with about 3,000 soldiers under Brigadier General Patrick Connor. While several skirmishes took place, this expedition ultimately failed in its attempt to intimidate or defeat the Indians. But it did set the stage for what would come.

Lt. Grummond arrived at Fort Kearny in late 1866 with his new wife, Frances. She, along with other spouses like Margaret Carrington whose husband Henry built and commanded the fort, added a touch of home in the drab and harsh conditions of Wyoming frontier life. Because of the threat of war parties, often within sight of the stockade, wood cutting details were escorted by detachments of troops outside the safety of the forts walls.

Some of the officers, including Captain William J. Fetterman, became critical of Carrington’s conservative approach believing no Indians could be a threat to experienced Civil War veterans like those at Fort Kearny. He once supposedly bragged, “Give me 80 men and I can ride through the whole Sioux Nation.” In spite of their veteran experience, Fetterman’s command, which included Lt. Grummond, already had several close calls. This prompted famous mountain man Jim Bridger to quip, “These soldiers don’t know anything about fighting Indians.”

On a bitter cold Dec. 21, 1866 afternoon, Col Carrington sent a team of workers with about 90 soldiers to bring in firewood from a forested area about five miles from the fort. It wasn’t long until pickets were reporting the men under attack. Carrington ordered Fetterman along with Lt. Grummond and another detachment of 81 soldiers to provide relief to the wood detail. Frances Grummond, in her memoirs years later, confirmed that Carrington had put limits on how far and what direction the relief party was to pursue. However, Fetterman, against orders, opted to go another direction. A fatal mistake.

Cheyenne veterans of the ensuing battle recalled several warriors were used as decoys to lure Fetterman and Grummond in pursuit instead of going directly to assist the wood cutters. While many facts will never be known with certainty, Grummond was among the first killed along with several of the cavalry, while others were pursued in a running fight along a wide open rocky ridge a short distance from the fort.

In about an hour all 81 of Fetterman’s soldiers were dead, mostly by arrows and war clubs. Sioux casualty numbers vary but most estimates are around 100 killed. That night Carrington sent a civilian volunteer named John Phillips in a raging blizzard to deliver a message to Fort Laramie 236 miles away. Miraculously, Phillips made it to the post where he stumbled exhausted into a Christmas ball with his message of the tragedy.

The next day Carrington left Fort Kearny with another detail to gather the mutilated bodies of those killed, most later buried at the post cemetery. Weeks later Carrington was relieved and departed Fort Kearny on Jan. 23, 1867 with his wife and the other dependents, including Frances Grummond, pregnant with George Grummond’s child.

The Fetterman massacre realistically ended the defense of the Bozeman Trail and two years later Fort Phil Kearny was abandoned. Meanwhile Red Cloud signed a peace treaty with the U.S. Government effectively giving the Indians control over the Powder River country.

Like most agreements with native Indians, this treaty would be violated as the West was settled. The Fetterman massacre gave notice that danger in the Powder River country would continue, capped 10 years later by the more infamous Custer’s Last Stand.

This amazing connection to Franklin has a permanent reminder. Frances brought Lt. George Grummond’s body home to Franklin where he is buried in Rest Haven Cemetery, just off Columbia Pike.

In a twist of irony, Col. Henry Carrington’s wife, Margaret, died in 1870. He would later marry Frances Grummond, who with her current husband’s help, authored Army Life on the Plains, describing her experiences at Fort Kearny. They are interred in Boston.

About The Author

Related posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *