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.

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