During our trip to Civil War sites more than two decades ago, discovery of our nation’s Civil War battlefields and sites continued after leaving Murfreesboro, Tenn., heading west for 35 miles to Franklin. It was there that a senseless and tragic, yet little-known, battle occurred in November 1864.
At the time we were there in October 1995, most of the Franklin battlefield had been transformed into residential and commercial areas. The principal remnant was Fountain Branch Carter’s home, a central point around which the fighting flowed.
The battle occurred when Confederate Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood’s Army of Tennessee, with 33,000 men, pursued Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield’s Union force of 30,000. The Northern troops were fortunate to elude entrapment at Spring Hill, 13 miles to the south, as a result of questionable decisions on the part of Hood and his commanders.
Schofield’s forces entrenched in preparation for battle, with the town of Franklin and the Harpeth River at their back, and an enraged Hood sent about 20,000 of his troops across an open field 2 miles wide into the teeth of the Union works. The battle began late in the day on Nov. 30 and continued into the night before Hood finally broke off after suffering a horrifying number of casualties, including several generals in about five hours of fighting — losses totaling 6,350 Rebels vs. 2,300 Yankees.
The 20,000 men taking part in the Confederate assault far surpassed the 12,500 who crossed the field during the heralded attack at Gettysburg in July 1863 known as “Pickett’s Charge.” Yet, Franklin received little notice in comparison, because it occurred in the western theater, out of the spotlight that focused primarily on the eastern front.
The State of Tennessee maintains the Carter home as a shrine commemorating the battle. In addition to the main house where the Carter family and slaves hid in the cellar during the fighting, the property includes other buildings that bear the scars of battle.
A nearby plaque marks the spot where a Carter son named Tod, a Confederate captain at the time, was mortally wounded during the battle on his own family’s property. Carried into his house after the battle by family members, Tod died two days later.
Located nearby is the Carnton Plantation, with a red brick Federal-style residence built in 1826 using slave labor. It served as an observation post for Rebel Maj. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest during the battle.
In 1866, the plantation owner set aside a plot of ground as a resting place for almost 1,500 Confederate soldiers disinterred from their battlefield graves and grouped by state of origin. A dozen different Southern states were represented, as well as 225 graves marked “Unknown.”
Five Confederate generals died during the battle (Patrick Cleburne, John Adams, Hiram B. Granbury, Otho F. Strahl and States Rights Gist); all except Gist were laid out on the Carnton back porch. The plantation house, which served as a hospital for the wounded, is restored and open to the public.
A tour of the Carter House included a film, museum and bookstore. Capt. Tod Carter’s death scene was realistically recreated in the basement of the home.
Items acquired at the bookstore included “The Confederacy’s Last Hurrah: Spring Hill, Franklin & Nashville by Wiley Sword” and “A Visit to the Carter House, Franklin, Tennessee in Photographs, Poems & Paragraphs” by Rosalie Carter, a descendent of the Carter family, who composed a poem:
Come visit the Old Carter House
On Franklin’s Battle Field,
For here the South’s great Cause was lost,
And here her fate was sealed.
Come view the ancient battle scars
Which time cannot erase;
Come live again great battle scenes
At this historic place.
Two critically acclaimed novels relate the Franklin battle story from the eyes of the owner of Carnton plantation and a surviving Mississippi soldier suffering from PTSD. The titles are “The Widow of the South” by Robert Hicks and “The Judas Field” by Howard Bahr.
Preservation organizations are hard at work to reclaim and restore portions of the battlefield that were lost to development over the years. They include Franklin’s Charge, Save the Franklin Battlefield Inc. and the Franklin Battlefield Preservation Commission.
Leaving Tennessee and heading south via the historic forest trail known as the Natchez Trace, our next destinations were Tupelo and Brice’s Cross Roads, Miss. The next part in the series will discuss the audacious Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forest, who engaged in battles at both locations.
Tom Ryan is the author of the multiple award-winning “Spies, Scouts & Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign” and “Essays on Delaware during the Civil War;” signed copies available at Bethany Beach Books, at Browseabout Books in Rehoboth Beach and at Allison’s Card Smart in Milford. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at