“The Widow of the South” and Carnton Plantation, Franklin, Tennessee

Carnton Plantation in Franklin, Tennessee, is the setting of Robert Hicks's novel, The Widow of the South.
Carnton Plantation in Franklin, Tennessee, is the setting of Robert Hicks’s novel, The Widow of the South.

One hundred and fifty years ago Carrie and John McGavock’s plantation, Carnton, served as a field hospital for hundreds of Confederate soldiers during one of the most epic battles of the Civil War, The Battle of Franklin, near Nashville, Tennessee. Today, you can tour their the Greek Revival house with its porches that bring to mind the O’Hara plantation, Tara, in Gone With the Wind. But this house and it’s role in the Battle of Franklin are anything but fictional.  Here, the blood stains remain on the floor.

And outside, the cemetery that Carrie created and tended for the rest of her life contains the graves of 1,481young soldiers who died in the battle. It serves as a staggering reminder of the loss and of the remarkable woman who wouldn’t let them be forgotten.

I would never have heard of the Battle of Franklin if it weren’t for Robert Hicks‘s fictional account of Carrie’s story in his Unknownbestseller, The Widow of the South.  Hicks served on the board of Carnton Plantation and became fascinated with its story. He says in the book’s author’s note,”Carrie McGavock became a ‘living martyr and curiosity.’  She became famous without ever leaving her farm, renowned for her daily wandering in the cemetery, for her mourning clothes, for her letters to the families of the bereaved, and most of all, for her constancy.  From the day the last of the dead was buried in her back yard, she never really left her post in the cemetery, continuously checking her book of the dead.” Find out more in this CBS interview with Hicks.

Hicks reconstructed this tale from letters and diaries, adding to the factual mix a number of fictional characters, including Zachariah Cashwell, a young soldier from Arkansas whom Carrie nurses back to life– and she falls in love with him. Though Civil War purists chuckle about the book’s accuracy, it has nonetheless informed a lot of people about the battle, about Carrie, and prompted them to visit the key sites of the Battle of Franklin, the biggest Civil War battle that most people have never heard of.  He says in the book, “I submit my sincerest apologies, to those who require it, for meandering from the history in the interest of telling a story.  Other than Carrie and her immediate family and slave, most of the other characters are either composited of historical figures from Franklin’s past or were born in my imagination.” So, I submit that quality historical fiction serves an important role in creating interest in historical events and sites, even though it may not be 100 percent accurate.  What do you think?

TheCemetery that Carrie McGavock created after the Civil War.
The cemetery that Carrie McGavock created on her plantation after the Civil War.

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A Civil War Battle in Your Backyard: The Carter House and the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee

At first glance, visitors to the lovely Carter House in Franklin, Tennessee  would never guess that it was the scene of one of the Civil War's bloodiest battles.
At first glance, visitors to the lovely Carter House in Franklin, Tennessee would never guess that it was the scene of one of the Civil War’s bloodiest battles.

We’re standing in the dimly-lit cellar of the Carter House in Franklin, Tennessee, about half an hour south of Nashville. Our guide holds us in rapt attention as he paints a mental picture of the battle that raged outside.  We begin to imagine being in this very spot 150 years ago when one of the biggest clashes of the American Civil War blasted away just outside the cellar doors.

This is where, on November 30, 1864, Union forces commandeered the Carter family’s house to be used as the Federal command post.  images-1The Carters and one other family huddled for hours during the night while roughly 60,000 soldiers from the Union and Confederate armies came together in perhaps “the bloodiest five hours” of the Civil War, the Battle of Franklin.

Most people are familiar with the Battle of Gettysburg, but the not-so-well-known Battle of Franklin was larger, longer, and deadlier than Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. In the biggest Civil War battle you’ve never heard of, John Bell Hood’s Army of Tennessee faced off with John M. Schofield’s Army of the Ohio and the Cumberland, much of the time in hand-to-hand combat.  The battle resulted in around 9,500 casualties with 2,000 dead, 6,500 wounded and about 1,000 missing. (As a comparison, the number of casualties at Franklin was roughly comparable to those of the allies during the D-Day invasion of Normandy.) When the smoke cleared the next morning, the family emerged to find dead and dying men literarily heaped in piles.  Fourteen Confederate generals (six killed or mortally wounded, seven wounded, and one captured) and 55 regimental commanders were casualties.The Army of Tennessee never fought again as an effective force and Hood’s career was ruined.

See a related Battle of Franklin post about Carnton Plantation and the “Widow of the South.”

Visiting the Carter House is particularly impressive because it’s Carter House, Franklin TNdifferent from what one sees visiting most other Civil War battlefields.  In Gettysburg, for example, one sees wide open farm fields and wooded areas like the famous Little Round Top.  Here in Franklin, visitors see the bullet holes in the buildings and get a sense

The far office is the site's most bullet damaged building.
The farm office is the site’s most bullet damaged building.

of what is was like as the armies came up the pike to fight in a more settled area. Beyond the battle, it’s interesting to get a glimpse of the Carter house, its furnishings and the farm buildings where life of that era took place.

Unfortunately, modern life has crept into this historic site to the detriment of the story of this battle. Our guide had to describe the armies moving up from down by Domino’s Pizza, which doesn’t exactly enhance the visitor experience. Unlike more well-preserved battlefields like Shiloh and Gettysburg, the trench lines and places of savage combat here in Franklin were, over the years, covered over with homes, industrial sites, shops, and parking lots. Whether through ignorance or a desire to forget, the places where hundreds lay dead or dying became places to buy pizza or cold beer.  Yet a determined group of preservationists (including the Heritage Foundation of Franklin, Save the Franklin Battlefield, the Battle of Franklin Trust, and the Civil War Trust) are fighting their own battle—to reclaim the Franklin battlefield, often acre by acre, tract by tract.

Coming Events to Mark the 150 Anniversary of the Battle of Franklin

November 14-15, 2014 – Blue & Gray Days
Blue & Gray Days draws hundreds of school children and adult spectators every year. Hosted by both The Carter House and Carnton Plantation, guests will meet Civil War re-enactors and get hands-on experience with clothes, trades, and weapons of the past. This living history experience is the perfect field trip and great for families. For additional details or to make field trip reservations, please contact Angell Roberts at (615) 794-0903 or angell@battleoffranklintrust.org.
November 15-16, 2014 – The 150th Anniversary Battle of Franklin Re-enactment
Re-enactors from all over the country will come together to bring the Battle of Franklin to life. Camps will be open for visitors to walk-through and experience civilian and soldier life in the 1860s.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Zig-Zag — The Angles of Frank Lloyd Wright

 

The super-angular patio of the Frank Lloyd Wright House in Ebsworth Park, Kirkwood, MO
The super-angular patio of the Frank Lloyd Wright House in Ebsworth Park, Kirkwood, MO

The subject of this photo challenge is to share a photo that for “foregoes the straightforward.” No one did that better than Frank Lloyd Wright, as you can see from these pictures of a Wright-designed house in Ebsworth Park, Kirkwood, MO, near St. Louis.  It was completed in 1955 for Russell and Ruth Krause.  I couldn’t photograph the interior of the home, but the house is famous for its Wright-designed furnishings, which are odd and uncomfortable-looking,  as full of zig-zags as the exterior.  But, I think creativity was Wright’s goal, not comfort.

The exterior of the home is a continuous series of zig-zags.
The exterior of the home is a continuous series of zig-zags.

Wright’s life was even more fascinating than his architectural ideas and it’s been the subject of a number of books that I highly recommend, especially if you’re going to visit any of his famous Unknown-6buildings. Be sure to read the non-fiction book Many Masks: A Life of Frank Lloyd Wright by Brendan Gill, and the fiction works Loving Frank by Nancy Horan, and T.C. Boyle’s The WomenUnknown-8

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Talkin’ Books and Travel at Brainerd Public Library Brown Bag Series

I love speaking to groups about reading and travel.  Photos from Book Journey.
I love speaking to groups about reading and travel. Photos from Book Journey.

One of the literary blogs I enjoy following is Book Journey, where Sheila DeChantal comments on books, her book club and her life.  She did a nice write up of my appearance at the Brown Bag author series at the Brainerd Public Library.   Thanks to the Friends of the Brainerd Public Library and to Sheila. Be sure to check out and follow Book Journey.

The iconic Santa Monica Pier was an important scene in the crime fiction of Raymond Chandler.

Raymond Chandler and a Noir View of Santa Monica

There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch.  On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight.  Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks.–Raymond Chandler, “Red Wind”

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Raymond Chandler

I’ve never been a huge fan of crime fiction, but I’ve found I can’t resist Raymond Chandler, the king of the detective novel, because he can turn a phrase like no one else.  Sit down with one of his classics–Farewell, My Lovely or The Long Goodbye, for example–and you’ll soon find yourself on the hunt for “Chandlerisms” like “as conspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food.” His dialogue and similes are so crazy and over the top I want to memorize them and use them in my own conversation.

imagesBeyond the similes, you start to recognize in Chandler’s work all of the hallmarks of “hard-boiled” and “noir” detective fiction–the shadowy scenery, the sleazy criminals, and Phillip Marlowe, the epitome of the tough and surprisingly idealistic private eye. The dialogue, the setting, and the characters are all as familiar as the nose on a washed-up boxer’s ugly mug, but it was Chandler who created them and, in the process (along with fellow crime writers Dashiell Hammett  and James M. Cain), pioneered a uniquely American literary genre and style.

Bogie and Bacall brought his hard-boiled characters to life on the big screen and his stories have been the subject of parody by everyone from Woody Allen to Steve Martin to Garrison Keillor.  As Paul Auster, a modern crime writer, says, “Raymond Chandler invited a new way of talking about America, and America has never looked the same to us since.”

In Raymond Chandler's day, an infamous fleet of gambling ships anchored just far enough offshore to be beyond the jurisdiction of California state law.
In Raymond Chandler’s day, an infamous fleet of gambling ships anchored just far enough offshore to be beyond the jurisdiction of California state law.

The Los Angeles area of the 1930s and 1940s was rife with organized crime, greed, and celebrity scandals.  In particular, daily life in Santa Monica, the beachfront town on the western edge of Los Angeles where Chandler lived for a time and which appears as Bay City in his books, offered plenty of material from which to draw his stories.

If you visit Santa Monica and the Los Angeles area, it’s fun to read Chandler’s books and those of his crime fiction contemporaries and picture the area as it was then.  He described it as a place with “lots of churches and almost as many bars.”  It’ll add a little depth to your understanding of the area, beyond Hollywood and UCLA/USC football.  Esotouric offers literary tours of Los Angeles including one focused on Raymond Chandler and another on James M. Cain. You might also enjoy their podcasts.  In addition, the Santa Monica Conservancy offers walking tours that cover Santa Monica history.

Santa Monica’s “mean streets” have been replaced by glamorous shopping streets such as Montana Avenue and the Third Street Promenade.  Yet, enough of the old Bay City remains today to get your imagination moving, including the famous Santa Monica Pier and Main Street’s deco-era City Hall, the scene of many of Phillip Marlowe’s coming and goings. Of course, there’s still the harbor and “beyond it the huge emptiness of the Pacific, purple-gray, that trudges into shore like a scrubwomen going home.”

 

 

 

Travel to the places you read about. Read about the places you travel.

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