Hood hoped to trap part of the Union army in Tennessee, commanded by General Schofield. This part of the army was seventy five miles south of Nashville, guarding the long lines of communication across what was still a hostile occupied state. However, two attempts to outflank Schofield had failed, most recently on 29 November at Spring Hill. In the aftermath of the close call there, Schofield fell back to Franklin, where his troops began to fortify.
Meanwhile, Hood was furious with the performance of his army. He was now convinced that the ‘spirit’ of the army was gone after their long cautious retreat under Joseph Johnston, and was determined to force them to fight. Accordingly, despite protests from his senior commanders, he decided to attack the Union position at Franklin on the afternoon of 30 November. This was a dreadful decision. Significant parts of his army were absent. Some of the infantry was still marching north, while almost none of the artillery had kept up with the army. The result of this was that the two sides began the afternoon's fighting with roughly equal numbers, about 22,000 infantry on each side.
The initial Confederate charge achieved some success. One green Federal regiment fled near the centre of the line, and Confederate troops were able to get into the gap, occupying part of the Federal line. However, Schofield’s reserves were able to regain the Federal defences, restoring the line. Elsewhere, repeated Confederate assaults (as many as thirteen separate attacks were reported against some regiments) achieved little, but cost many casualties. Thirty-three Confederate colours were captured during the battle, indicating how close to the Federal lines the repeated Confederate attacks reached, but also how little they achieved.
That night Schofield withdrew from Franklin, continuing his move north to join with Thomas at Nashville. Despite the heavy losses he suffered at Franklin, Hood soon followed him north, where he took up defensive positions just south of Nashville, and settled down in the hope of receiving reinforcements.
Franklin took a dreadful toll of Confederate generals. John Adams, Patrick Cleburne, H. B. Granbury, Oscar F. Strahl and States Rights Gist were all killed in the battle, and as many more captured or wounded. Half of the Confederate regiments lost their commanders dead, wounded or captured. Hood reported his losses at 4,500, but they were probably higher, perhaps as high as 7,000 in all (Federal losses were much lower, at 2,326). Despite this, two weeks later he fought at Nashville with more men than at Franklin. If Hood had waited for more of his army to reach Franklin, the result of the battle may have been very different.