- - Friday, October 10, 2014

It is a cold, gray November day.

For three-and-a-half years the war has raged, but now the end is near. Union Gen. William T. Sherman marches through Georgia, fulfilling a vow to make the South howl. The Army of Tennessee hurls itself toward Nashville in a desperate bid to cut his supply lines.

As the Confederate Army marches north, a Union force plays a game of cat and mouse, trying to retreat back to the safety of Nashville.

At this little town in the bucolic rolling hills of Middle Tennessee, the armies met.

For the last three-and-a-half years, America has been quietly observing the 150th anniversary of America’s War between the States. So, too, have those in Middle Tennessee and Civil War enthusiasts elsewhere — especially those interested in the Battle of Franklin.

Historians called it the “Antietam of the West.” Some more cynical called it  “Pickett’s Charge of the Western Front.”

The battle was the kind of tragedy that only happens in a civil war. The commanding general of the Confederate forces had lost the use of an arm and one of his legs as a result of his wounds. Some say, in a fit of anger, he ordered his men to attack fortified Union positions, crossing two miles of open terrain without any artillery support.

In the bloody five-hour battle, 1,750 Confederates were killed, compared to 189 Union soldiers.

One of the Confederate casualties was Capt. Todd Carter. The eldest son of Fontaine Carter, the owner of a farm just outside of Franklin. Much of the fighting centered around the Carter House, where Union forces used the building as a command post and two families sheltered in the basement.

Todd Carter was 24 years old.

In 1861, he left his home to fight for the Confederate Army. On Nov. 30, 1864, Carter was leading troops to his home. His last known words were, “I’m almost home. Follow me boys!”

The day after the battle, his family found him badly wounded about 100 yards from the family home. They carried him back to his home, where he succumbed to his wounds the next day.

One-hundred-and-fifty years after the battle that defined the town, much has changed. What was once a town, a day’s ride from Nashville, is now a full-fledged suburb of Nashville.

Much of the main battlefield has long since been lost to development. Following the Reconstruction Era, houses began to appear on the battlefield. Today, almost the entire area of the main charge, leading from Gen. Hood’s command post on Winstead Hill to the Carter House itself, is covered with houses, businesses and even the county jail.

In recent years, the preservationists have tried to recover parts of the battlefield.

Franklin is pulling out all the stops to mark the 150th anniversary of the last major, bloody battle of the western theater of the Civil War.

Franklin is very easy to reach. It is about 30 minutes south of Nashville, just off of Interstate 65.

Seeing the battlefield

The first stop for anyone wanting to see the Franklin Battlefield is the Carter House. Many of its outbuildings still have the bullet holes from the intense fighting. The Carter House is open daily and the admission is $15 for adults.

The Carter House has open spaces where you can walk and see the history firsthand. The outbuildings are open, and both look and smell like they stepped out of the Civil War.

Across the street is the Lotz House, where the Lotz and Carter families huddled in the basement of the Carter House during the battle. The Lotz House is a simple walk across Columbia Pike, a two-lane road that leads into downtown Franklin. Due to the explosive growth in Franklin and the surrounding areas in the last few years, getting across that street can be an adventure.

Guided tours are available. The Lotz House charges $10 for admission.

Just five minutes up Columbia Highway is Winstead Hill, Gen. John Bell Hood’s observation point for the battle. The Hill has been turned into a small park with memorial markers for the states that were represented in the battle as well as memorials for several of the Confederate generals who were killed in the battle.

Winstead Hill has plenty of parking and is an easy walk up the pathway to the top. A number of years ago, the Boy Scouts built a small shelter with a relief map of the battle. Downtown Franklin is visible from the shelter and in the fall, Winstead Park is often the launching point for hot air balloons.

In the last few years, the less contested Eastern Flank of the Battlefield has seen a lot of preservation activities.

The center point of the Eastern Flank is the Carnton Plantation. The plantation was captured by Confederates during the battle and afterward was used as a hospital. The plantation has been restored to its Antebellum glory and can be toured daily.

Next to Carnton is the Confederate Cemetery. This is the largest, privately owned Confederate cemetery.

In the days after the battle, the casualties were hastily buried on the battlefield. By the spring of 1866, it was a putrid mess. Bodies were coming up from the ground and it was extremely unsanitary. John McGavock and his wife, Carrie, worked and donated a portion of their land for a cemetery. The soldiers were disinterred and moved to the new cemetery. The soldiers’ graves lay in rows, divided by the states they fought for. Many are unknown and some are only identified by their initials.

Downtown Franklin is home to one of only seven surviving Antebellum courthouses in Tennessee. It was used as a Union headquarters during the battle. In downtown, the historic Presbyterian Church, which still stands, was used as a hospital for Union soldiers after the battle and was badly damaged.

Franklin today

Franklin remains a picturesque southern town even today. Franklin has a several block shopping district of unique and hip stores and restaurants.

The shopping district features two blocks on Main Street plus a few side streets. In downtown Franklin, there are no chain department stores. There is everything from antique stores to clothing stores to restaurants.

Just off Fourth Avenue in downtown Franklin is Merridee’s Breadbasket. Started decades ago by using old family recipes, Merridee’s today is the place where many people who live and work in downtown Franklin choose to have breakfast or lunch. Merridee’s atmosphere comes from not only its great food but the naked brick walls and hardwood floors. Merridee’s is one of those places that should come with a surgeon general’s warning that it is hazardous to your waistline.

Just beyond Merridee’s on Fourth Avenue is Puckett’s Groceries. It isn’t a grocery story.

Puckett’s is a restaurant and often features hot up-and-coming country acts. If you go to Puckett’s in the evening, good luck. At best there will be a long wait and at worst, you can’t get in.

Franklin is the home of many of today’s country music stars. Running into one of them just walking down the streets of Franklin is not an uncommon experience.

The Civil War is now a distant memory for America. The wounds have long since healed. But the history remains.

Especially in Franklin.

For more information: Visit this Franklin battle site. Also, for information on food and entertainment visit Merridee’s Breadbasktet and Puckett’s Groceries.

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