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The Freedmen's Bureau Online

Records of the Assistant Commissioner for the State of Tennessee
Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1869
National Archives Microfilm Publication M999 Roll 34
"Reports of Outrages, Riots and Murders"

Special Report on the late riot at Franklin, Tennessee

List of citizens wounded in riot at Franklin, Tenn. on Saturday July 6th, 1867

Selected affidavits before Esquire J. L. Burch, Justice of the Peace, in regard to the riot at Franklin, Tenn. on Sat. July 6, 1867

Bureau R. F. and A. L.
State of Tennessee
Assistant Commissioners Office
Nashville, TN July 15th, 1867

Major General O. O. Howard
Commissioner &c
Washington, D. C.

I have the honor to submit the following report on the affray that occurred at Franklin, Williamson County, on the 6th inst. between the colored Loyal League on the one part, a body of Conservatives so called composed principally of ex-rebel soldiers & Negroes on the other. For a correct understanding of the causes which culminated in riot and bloodshed on the 6th at 8 o'clock p.m. it is proper to refer to a series of occurrences which took place a few days previously.

The Colored League had recently procured drums and a fife, and was had been marching around about the outskirts of the town after supper for several nights without disturbing anyone. On different occasions they were interrupted by colored Conservatives (Dick Crutcher and A. J. Gadsey passing through their column while marching, firing shots &c). In consequence of this interference some members of the League consulted a lawyer and prominent citizens to ascertain if any legal steps could be taken to protect themselves against these disturbances. Finding that there was no legal remedy for these annoyances the League armed some of its members for protection. They were again disturbed and fired on, and returned the fire without injury to anyone. The occurrence taking place out of town was perhaps not known to many citizens.

A general feeling of insecurity seemed to seize upon the members of the League and the idea prevailed that their procession and marching were objected to by many persons and fears were entertained that attempts might be made to prevent their continuances. There is no doubt that the Conservatives viewed the marching and displays of the League as a military demonstration and feared that it might result in strife. Impudent remarks and foolish boasts were made by individuals of both parties, and each had come to regard the other with a jealous eye.

On the 6th instant there was a political meeting which was addressed by Mr. John Trimble & Mr. Elliott, Republican candidate for Congress & State Legislator respectively. This meeting passed off quietly & amicably. In the afternoon a colored Conservative named Joe Williams passed through the town and was prevailed upon to return & speak. After he had spoken a short time, the Radicals became dissatisfied with his style & attempted to withdraw from the meeting. A Mr. J. C. Bliss who was a member of a member of the League, was assailed by Col. John House & a party of armed men who seemed to be acting under his orders. He was struck by this Col. House & assaulted by abusive epithets. Mr. Bliss then went among the members of the League in a very excited condition & attempted to get a pistol with which to defend himself or to attack Col. House. This altercation between Bliss & House & the efforts of the Conservatives to prevent the Radicals from leaving the meeting created great excitement among the members of the League. They were marched away there from the point where the speaking occurred & fired a few shots in the air as they moved off as a salute as they claim. Their white friends urged them to disperse & go to their homes, which they seemed unwilling to do, feeling that their liberties were infringed upon; however they were prevailed upon to march out of town to a grove where they were addressed for an hour & a half by Mr. Elliott & Mr. Clifton, both of whom again urged them to disperse & go to their homes. They seemed to object to this for two reasons - the first was that the Conservatives would attribute their retirement to cowardice; the second that they had planned a torchlight procession for the evening which they were unwilling to abandon, but they finally decided to march in to the public square & there break ranks & disperse to their homes, giving up the plan of a torchlight procession. This was about half past eight o'clock in the evening. In the meantime it was manifest that a collision was expected - and the Conservatives were preparing for it by gathering arms and ammunition into the store of Col. John House -- & perhaps other places around the square. During the afternoon also the number of arms also seemed to have increased among the members of the Loyal League, numbering perhaps ten muskets & a few pistols, the number not known. At half past eight, the League marched towards the public square and the party of Conservatives estimated at from 25 to 30, apparently under command of Col. House, formerly of the Rebel Army, took position under corner of the wall of House's store facing the square.

Abou As an indication of the feelings of the Conservative Party about this time the following evidence is copied from the original deposition of Matilda Ann Fennell:

"I saw the procession coming down the street from the grove. I started to go up & meet the procession. I wanted to let them know that the rebel darkies wanted to kill them. I heard them say so & I told them it was wrong. I heard L. Gadsey, Frank Johnson & Martin Bowley say they were going to fight for their own side, damn old Brownlow's niggers, they were going to have more of them doubled up on this corner than a little (it was House's corner). I then went up to meet the procession in order to tell them to be well armed, for my husband was in it. They would not let me go up, and I was stopped at House's corner by L. Gadsey, Frank Johnson & Martin Bowley, who had muskets in their hands. They told me to go on back or they would put some of there lead in me. I went back."

Just at this time any efficient officer of the law could have interfered and prevented bloodshed, all that was necessary was for either party to disperse and go to their homes or to refrain from firing. The acting Mayor of this city was well aware that a conflict was imminent, in fact he stated to me that he knew it would take place, but made no effort to prevent the outbreak. There was no police force in the town, no indication whatever of the presence of a civil government. It seems that the town had been given up willingly and without a struggle to the mob.

The Colored League seemed fully to expect a conflict on reaching House's store, they had probably been informed of the assembling of the armed party of Conservatives. They marched on, however, past this party of Conservatives at House's corner, and until the with, perhaps, ten armed men at the head of the procession. When the In the meantime Col. House & his party had been notified by a N. A. O. Williams, a prominent member of the Colored League, that they were merely marching into the square for the purpose of breaking ranks & dispersing to their homes.

When the rear of the procession had come about opposite the left flank of House's party a white man advanced from the Conservative Party ten or fifteen steps toward the Colored League and fired two pistol shots towards the league. There is now a conflict of testimony as to the party which fired the first volley succeeding these pistol shots. Many witnesses testified that these pistol shots were followed by a volley from the entire Conservative party, and that that was returned by the armed men of the Colored League, while others testify that immediately on the firing of the pistol shots the armed men of the Colored League faced about & fired a volley, killing Michl. H. Cody Jr. and wounding six white & several black Conservatives.

No doubt that the firing of the Colored League was very deliberate & very accurate as nearly as many Conservatives were killed or wounded as there were arms in the hands of the colored men and it was evident that none of the arms were reloaded and fired a second time. It is worthy of remark that the 27 now colored men whose wounds were dressed by Dr. D. B. Cliff of Franklin were all wounded in the back or in the back part of the limbs sowing clearly that they were fired upon from the rear & flank by the Conservative party while marching in procession, or after they had broken ranks and were running away from the Conservative mob.

There was nothing in the conduct of the League or any member of it to justify the murders and or assault on it. There is no doubt that some of the banners borne in the procession were in bad taste. For example on one was inscribed "Remember Fort Pillow when you go to the polls;" on another "The Radicals build school houses, the Conservatives burn them." These inscriptions were doubtless the work of some of their white friends. The procession of colored men marched under the flag of the United States and the man who carried the flag was wounded in the head. The evidence testimony does not show that there were any particular objection to the banners carried on the 6th, though at a meeting some days previously the Sheriff had forbidden the League to take their banners into the Court House where a Republican meeting was to be held. The flag of the United States was one of those banners.

On the 8th inst. I visited Franklin and found the town quiet and the people apparently very sorry that the affray had occurred. All parties, especially the white Conservatives, seemed very solicitous that the company of U. S. troops sent there by Genl. Duncan on the 7th should remain. The Circuit Court met on the 8th at 10 o'clock and there was consequently no occasion for the Military Authorities to interfere further than to prevent another outbreak. The courts of Williamson County have heretofore been noted for their impartial administration of justice where colored people were concerned. Though (illegible) proves that trial by jury is a farce in Tennessee when party politics or sectional prejudices can be brought to bear on the judge It is perfectly safe in this case to leave the whole matter of the Franklin affray to the action of the Circuit Court of Williamson County, believing that the judge and District Attorney will do all that should be done to bring the guilty to justice. I am informed that the wounded have been well provided for and that Conservatives as well as Radicals contributed provisions and money toward providing for the sufferers.

I am General, very respectfully
Your obdt. Servt.
W. Martin
Bvt. Maj. Genl.
and Comr.