Image above: John Bell Hood, Confederate General, Army of Tennessee. Right: Battle of Franklin lithograph, Kurz and Allison, 1891, courtesy Library of Congress.
Battle of Franklin
In some ways, this is a bit premature. Not in the idea that the November 30, 1864 Battle of Franklin, the second such battle of the Civil War held in that town, which effectively ended the western theatre battle strength of the Confederate Army with its defeat there, is not part of the best, and most important, events in American history. But it's in the emergence, and restoration, of the town and its heritage with the recent preservation efforts, which several years from now will be more complete.
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- Then and Now
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These efforts are continuing at such a good pace, that we are willing to say that eventually Franklin will be noted for this battle, and not as a suburb of Nashville, despite the last one hundred and fifty years which has seen the town try to forget and not preserve. But that is changing. And it is remarkable to see that in a town built out and over the battlefield for decades, that plot by plot a battlefield, an important battlefield in american history, is being reclaimed.
The defeat of John Bell Hood's Confederate troops in this charge into Franklin was such a terrible setback, with loss of six generals, a large number of commanders, and over 6,000 men, about 20% of his entire force, that the town decided to forget and not commemorate it over the years. It built houses, and commercial strip malls, golf courses, et all, over the earthworks of the Union troops who repelled the advance, again and again, handing those troops their defeat. There were a few gems in town that commemorated the event, including the Carter House in the center of the battle, and the Carnton Plantation on the East Flank, which, in 1864, had served as a staging area and later hospital for the troops. However, for the majority of the battleground, it became a plot by plot buildout over more than one hundred years.
However, that is now beginning to change, and change quicker than most would have thought. In many Civil War quarters, they had given in to the thought that the Battle of Franklin ground was lost to development. But now, a 112 acre plot, directly north of the Carnton Plantation, has been bought and is now in development as a battlefield park, and other plots of ground near the Carter House, including the ground of the Carter Cotton Gin, the focal point of many during the battle, are being preserved as well in a twenty acre Carter Hill Battlefield Park, with new visitor center and museum in the planning stages. Preservation groups like the local Franklin's Charge, as well as others, and the national Civil War Trust, have been accumulating the acreage one plot at a time.
Battle of Franklin
Along a three mile front going east to west in town were the entrenchments of the Union Army under General Schofield, a strong line of men anchored at the river with its center near the Carter House along Columbia Avenue. It was a good defensive line, one which John Bell Hood, the commander of the Confederate force, should have known would have been very difficult to breach and hold. As his troops pushed north toward the Union line, they would actually find initial success and create such an opening, but it would be held for a short time as reserves for the Union quickly filled and repelled the advance. This Confederate charge would continue through the day, with its troops repulsed from the East to West flanks. And after it was over, it would encompass an action in scale not far from that of the famous Pickett's Charge in Gettysburg. And with the loss of 6,000 Confederates, along with six generals and many other top commanders, that the fighting force of the Army of Tennessee would never be the same.
Franklin Battlefield - Don't expect a defined and finished park like that at Shiloh or Antietam, this is a work in progress. In some ways a visit now is getting in on the ground floor of a preservation project, which will eventually pull back the history that sits beneath the development that is still there. For some, you might wait a few years before more of the effort is finished. For others who like to see the progression, it might be a unique view of today's preservation, plus the defined sites that are there now.
What sights are there now? The Carter House and Gardens, Carnton Plantation, the Lotz House. A Civil War marker program and driving tour. Franklin East Flank Battle Park, with an interpretive trail, loop road, and events center, plus other features. The events center may, in the future, serve as a Visitor Center, but is now only available for special events. The Carter Cotton Gin, ground now purchased and a planned re-creation of the Cotton Gin in the future.
1. Visit the Carter House and Lotz House. These two homes are just across Columbia Avenue from the other. The tours of these homes, as well as some further battle walks that you can get from there at some times of the year, will provide the best glimpse of what happened in the central battle area in 1864. There are bullet holes in more than a few places at the Carter House. These tours are not cheap, $15 per for Carter and $10 for Lotz, but you can get a $30 for all three, including Carnton, pass.
2. Visit Carnton Plantation. This large plantation home of the McGavock family and grounds on the East Flank, is outside the developed area of town and provides a more open space view of the grounds, and looks more like it did in 1864, than near the center. Carnton is a home that not only has importance to Civil War fans for its history, but to antebellum architecture, too.
3. Take the Franklin Civil War walking tour. This 90 minute tour takes you to seven sites around the town where aspects of the battle took place. Tickets available at the Carter House. Reservations needed some days. There's also a driving tour brochure available at the Williamson Country Visitors Bureau, if you're more inclined to drive.