The Grand Charge at Franklin; the Death of Col. Mervin Clark
by Gordon Thorsby
The massive Confederate Assault at Franklin was and is arguably on a grander scale than Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. Many men became heroes that day. This story is about Lt. Col. Mervyn Clark of the 183rd Ohio. There are several versions of his death. The account the will be told is how Colonel Isaac Sherwood saw what happened on sunny Wednesday afternoon at Franklin Tennessee.
Allow a brief introduction. At 17, Mervin Clark enlisted in the Sprague Zouaves that became Company B of the 7th Ohio Infantry in June, 1861, just weeks after the firing on Fort Sumter. His 90 day enlistment became three years and a private’s rank became a Captain’s rank. The 7th Ohio Infantry fought at places like Cedar Mountain, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and Lookout Mountain. To Mervin’s friends, he was “Clarkie.”
General Isaac Sherwood (photo below in 1915) commanded the 111th Ohio Infantry. The 111th Ohio was the last Union regiment to to Franklin that day, and so they went in last in the line of defense. Very quickly as fighting began, Sherwood’s horse was shot from under him. The 111th was just to the right on Columbia Pike. Clark’s 183rd was just to the right and in the rear. As Confederate General States Rights Gist’s Brigade hit the blue line, Sherwood recounted:
“I was the officer into whose arms the gallant Col. Clark fell , on the battlefield of Franklin, Nov. 30, 1864, a few words of explanation may be of interest to his surviving friends and comrades…”
“At the moment of Col. Clark’s death I was yelling into his ears to go to the rear and rally his regiment, as I was holding my line-of-battle intact. It was amid a tornado of crashing cannon and blistering bullets, so deafening that I was compelled to yell into his ears. The rebel battalions charged our lines, some five or six lines deep as it seemed to me. We were just in front of the Franklin pike, where the left of my command rested, when the new troops [183rd] gave way.”
The 183rd Ohio had been formed shortly before in Cincinnati and they were brought in to augment Gen. George Thomas’ army that was being organized in Nashville. They were a green regiment and not tested in battle. Other regiments of the brigade were veterans and stood the fire. These included the 24th Missouri, and the 107th Illinois (the 107th held even though their Colonel Lowry had already been killed.)
“When I first saw Clark, he was approaching my line of battle rapidly from the left in the immediate rear of the position from which his command was driven by the rebel charge. Capt. P.H. Dowling of my regiment… who was serving that day on the brigade staff, had just ridden up to the line and ordered me to take the 24th Missouri in the immediate rear of the 111th and make an effort to retake the position. Dowling, with that gallantry for which he was noted sought to aid the movement, but was instantly shot, and had to leave the field. Lt. Fernando Bennett jumped to my side as a volunteer. It was at this moment that I first saw Clark, with his sword in hand, and I remember, in a bright new uniform. He marched down the line to the right, when I rushed to his side…” is when Clark fell, a bullet to the head."
Patrick H. Dowling was serving as Adjutant General that day. Seeing the 111th was holding their position but entirely unsupported, he pulled the 24th up. In the process, he received a severe wound in his arm. Bennett was killed as he tried to aid in rallying the 183rd.
Versions of this story mention he stood up on breastworks.
Sherwood explained, “There was no fort or parapet where we stood. It was in the open field, just in front and to the right of the old cotton gin and at the right of the Franklin Pike. His boyish face was all aflame, and he seemed the only man of his entire command, officer or private, who had stood firm and undaunted amid the awful ordeal. Amid all the memories of the war, many now dim after the lapse of so many busy years, I shall always remember the gallant bearing of the boy Colonel on the battlefield of Franklin.”-- Isaac Sherwood.
After the fighting and in darkness, Clark was found, wrapped in a blanket and buried near where he fell. According to historian Eric Jacobsen, “the grave was carefully marked in a manner that his body was possibly exhumed by family in the spring of 1865 and taken home. Burial records for Cuyahoga County, in Cleveland, Ohio, indicate he was first interred at Erie Street Cemetery in January,1865, and then re-interred in June of 1866 at Woodland Cemetery, Cleveland, Ohio.
Stones River National Cemetery also has a marker to Clark. It is common for families to place a marker of loved ones in family plots while the remains are in National Cemeteries. The location of his remains are not certain. We are certain is that he is remembered.
Longacre, Edward, P., and Rupp, Richard A. “For cause and Country”, O'Moore Publishing, 2008.
National Tribune, Washington, D.C. 1886.