William B. Franklin

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William Buel Franklin
William B. Franklin enh.jpg
Major General William B. Franklin
Born (1823-02-27)February 27, 1823
York, Pennsylvania
Died March 8, 1903(1903-03-08) (aged 80)
Hartford, Connecticut
Place of burial Prospect Hill Cemetery York, Pennsylvania
Allegiance  United States of America
Union
Service/branch United States Union Army
Years of service 1843–1865
Rank Union army maj gen rank insignia.jpg Major General
Commands held VI Corps
XIX Corps
Battles/wars American Civil War

William Buel Franklin (February 27, 1823 – March 8, 1903) was a career United States Army officer and a Union Army general in the American Civil War. He rose to the rank of a corps commander in the Army of the Potomac, fighting in several notable early battles in the Eastern Theater.

Early life[edit]

William B. Franklin was born in York, Pennsylvania. His father Walter S. Franklin was Clerk of the United States House of Representatives from 1833 until his death in 1838. One of his great-grandfathers, Samuel Rhoads, was a member of the First Continental Congress from Pennsylvania.

Future President James Buchanan, then a Senator, appointed Franklin to the United States Military Academy in June 1839. Franklin graduated first in his class in 1843, before joining the Corps of Topographical Engineers and being sent to the Rocky Mountains for two years to survey the region with the Stephen W. Kearny Expedition. He then was assigned to duty in the administrative offices in Washington, D.C. He served under Philip Kearny during the Mexican-American War and received a brevet promotion to first lieutenant in the Battle of Buena Vista.

Upon his return from Mexico, Franklin served as a professor at West Point for three years before supervising the construction of several lighthouses along the Atlantic Coast in New Hampshire and Maine. In 1852, he married Anna L. Clarke, a daughter of Matthew St. Clair Clarke who had preceded his father as Clerk of the House of Representatives. The couple had no children. In March 1857, he was named the supervisor of the Light House Board and oversaw the construction program across the nation.

In November 1859, he replaced Montgomery C. Meigs as the engineer supervising construction of the United States Capitol Dome. In March 1861, just before the outbreak of the Civil War, he was appointed as the supervising architect for the new Treasury Building in Washington.

Civil War[edit]

Soon after the beginning of the Civil War, Franklin was appointed colonel of the 12th U.S. Infantry, but three days later, on May 17, 1861, he was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers. He led a brigade at First Bull Run, and afterwards became a division commander in the newly created Army of the Potomac. In March 1862, the army was formed into corps, and Franklin appointed to head of the VI Corps, which he then led in the Peninsula Campaign. He was promoted to major general on July 4, 1862. During the Northern Virginia Campaign, Franklin stayed with the main army and did not participate in it. At Antietam, his VI Corps was in reserve and he tried in vain to convince Maj. Gen. Edwin V. Sumner to allow his corps to exploit a weakened position in the Confederate center. Franklin was a staunch ally of Army of the Potomac commander George McClellan, part of the reason he was not considered for command of the army following the latter's dismissal in November 1862. At Fredericksburg, he commanded the "Left Grand Division" (two corps, under Maj. Gens. John F. Reynolds and William F. Smith), which failed in its assaults against the Confederate right, commanded by Lt. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson. Army of the Potomac commander Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside blamed Franklin personally for this failure, although he appears to have executed his orders exactly.[1]

As political intrigue swept the Union Army after Fredericksburg and the infamous Mud March, Franklin was alleged to be a principal instigator of the "cabal" against Burnside's leadership. Burnside caused considerable political difficulty for Franklin in return, offering damaging testimony before the powerful U.S. Congress Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War and keeping him from field duty for months. When Joseph Hooker took command of the army that February, Franklin resigned his command, refusing to serve under him. During the 1863 Gettysburg Campaign, Franklin was home in York, Pennsylvania, and assisted Maj. Granville Haller in developing plans for the defense of the region versus an expected enemy attack.

Franklin was reassigned to corps command in the Department of the Gulf and participated in the ill-fated 1864 Red River Campaign. He was wounded in the leg at the Battle of Mansfield in Louisiana. Returning from the field with his injury, he was captured by Maj. Harry Gilmor's Confederate partisans in a train near Washington, D.C., in July 1864, but escaped the following day. The remainder of his army career was limited by disability from his wound and marred by his series of political and command misfortunes. He was unable serve in any more senior commands, even with the assistance of his West Point classmate, friend, and future president, Ulysses S. Grant.

Postbellum career[edit]

Following the Civil War, General Franklin relocated to Hartford, Connecticut, and became the Vice-president of the Colt Firearms Manufacturing Company until 1888, as well as a director on the boards of several manufacturing concerns. He supervised the construction of the Connecticut State Capitol Building, and served on various boards and commissions, where his engineering experience proved helpful in expanding Hartford's public water service.

In 1861, Franklin was elected a Hereditary Member of the Pennsylvania Society of the Cincinnati. After the Civil War, General Franklin became a member of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States. In 1887 he joined the Aztec Club of 1847 and was also a member of the Connecticut Society of Colonial Wars.

In 1872, Franklin was approached by a Pennsylvania and New Jersey faction of the Democratic Party to run against Horace Greeley for the party's nomination as President of the United States, a task he declined, citing a need for party unity. He was vice president of a Hartford area insurance company, and a delegate to the 1876 Democratic National Convention. In June 1888, after his retirement from Colt Firearms, he was named as the U.S. Commissioner-General for the Paris Exposition of 1889.

William Franklin died in Hartford, Connecticut in 1903 (one of relatively few general officers from the Civil War who lived to see the 20th century) and is buried near his birthplace in York, Pennsylvania, in Prospect Hill Cemetery. The York Country Heritage Trust preserves many of his papers and personal effects from the Civil War.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Warner, p. 452.

References[edit]

  • Eicher, John H., and David J. Eicher. Civil War High Commands. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001. ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.
  • Snell, Mark A. From First to Last: the Life of Major General William B. Franklin. New York: Fordham University Press, 2002. ISBN 0-8232-2148-2.
  • Warner, Ezra J. Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1964. ISBN 0-8071-0822-7.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
none
Commander of the VI Corps
May 18, 1862 – November 16, 1862
Succeeded by
William Farrar Smith