Franklin really puts a personal face on the Civil War. The Battle of Franklin took place on November 30, 1864, and it’s not one of the most well-known of Civil War battles. The opposing armies, both headed for Nashville, clashed at the little town of Franklin, home of about 750 terrified citizens. At the home of the Carter family as many as 27 civilians, half of them children, cowered in the basement while 5,000 men fought hand-to-hand in the yard. At Carnton Plantation, home of John and Carrie McGavock, Mrs. McGavock agreed to allow her home to be used as a field hospital. On the morning after the battle four dead Confederate generals would be laid out on her back porch, and the wounded would cover every square inch of her home.
I’ve been to Chickamauga and Shiloh; I even cried a little at Shiloh’s Bloody Pond, imagining the poor wounded soldiers crawling there to drink and die. At those preserved battlefields you can get a sense of the scope and strategy of the battles. But there’s something really poignant about Franklin, even though less is preserved there. The focus at the Carter House and at the Carnton Plantation is on people, both soldiers and civilians, and how the fighting there affected them for the rest of their lives.
There is the story of young Tod Carter, a captain for the Confederacy, who had been away from home for three years. Wounded in his own front yard, he was found by his family the morning after the battle. Finally home, he died in his own bed the day after.
is Carrie McGavock, immortalized in the novel The Widow of the South,
who cared for the wounded in her home and spent the rest of her life caring for
the dead buried on her land.
|Carter House, Franklin, Tennessee|
|Cemetery at Carnton Plantation|
At Franklin you can just imagine the terror of the children hiding in the cellar at the Carter House. One of them remarked later that, in the noise of the battle, she could not even hear herself scream. You can still see the bloodstains on the floors of Carnton, where surgeons stood at makeshift operating tables, removing bullets and amputating limbs.
|Bullet holes in wall at Carter House|
|Carnton Plantation House--doctors performed surgeries near|
the windows on the upper story
You can understand why the town of Franklin chose to build fast food restaurants over some of the battleground. One tour guide explained that they didn’t want to remember the battle. Imagine a town of 750 coming out of hiding the morning after the battle and dealing with the bodies of thousands of dead and wounded. Almost 150 years after the battle they are finally planning to rebuild the Carter family’s cotton gin, site of much of the fighting and the place where Confederate General Patrick Cleburne died.
The Battle of Franklin was personal for us, too. On a previous trip to Franklin I had discovered that the 33rd Alabama Infantry, our great-grandfather’s unit, had been practically wiped out at Franklin. I didn’t know much about the 33rd Alabama, except for Grandpa Smith’s Confederate pension application and the inscription on his headstone. After that previous visit to Franklin, I looked more closely at the pension application and at the history of the unit. Grandpa Smith joined the war late—in March, 1864, at Elba, Alabama—and was paroled as a prisoner of war from Macon, Georgia, at the end of April 1865. Almost the only battles he could have participated in were at Atlanta and at Franklin.
|Stephen Albert Smith headstone--Collinsville, OK|
I have been able to find little information about Grandpa Smith’s war experience. I’ve looked for him on the National Park Service’s Soldiers and Sailors Database but found only his enlistment and some quartermaster records. On the other hand, I know that his brother, Alexander Jackson Smith, was wounded at Kennesaw Mountain in Georgia and was in the hospital at Macon.
So I’ve had to rely on Grandpa Smith’s pension application for what little I know. He listed the names and ranks of his officers as “Colonel Adams, Brigadier General Lowrey, Cleburne, Owesson, Hardee Corps, Joe E. Johnston’s Army.” The names listed would tend to support the fact that Grandpa Smith was out of the fighting by Franklin, as General John Bell Hood had taken General Joe E. Johnston’s place as the head of the Army of Tennessee in July 1864. In September Major General William J. Hardee, the senior corps commander, who had requested to be transferred from Hood’s command, was sent east to command the Army of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. Major General Patrick Cleburne, while disagreeing with Hood’s decision to engage the Union forces at Franklin, nevertheless did his duty, died in the battle, and was one of those laid out on Carrie McGavock’s back porch.
On a lighter note: At the end of the trip my brother and I voted on the best place we stayed, the best place we ate, and the best place we visited. Tim’s a big Kayak/Priceline fan, so he took care of our hotels. We were never sure what we would get, but Embassy Suites in Franklin won hands down as the best place we stayed. (Four words: Happy Hour / Breakfast Bar) The best place we ate was Stoney River Steakhouse, recommended by the concierge at the hotel. Yum. Franklin was runner-up as the best place we visited, edged out by our great-great-grandparents’ graves in Kentucky.