The center of the courthouse square in Franklin, Tennessee is a circular island. In the center is a monument to Confederate war heroes. Four original 1841 model six pound smoothbore cannon on accurate display carriages stand on the cardinal points. Not far away, the 1864 Battle of Franklin sealed the fate of the Confederacy's last army in the field. The monument was erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which was created in Nashville. On a spectacularly clear day last week, my wife & I drove to Franklin to look over the ground. There have been significant improvements in preserving the battlefield that we wanted to see.
We also had another agenda, as well. Everyone has, no doubt, very firm opinions on the recent removal of Confederate monuments. In Franklin, it is the reverse of the metal. It is the U.D.C who are demanding that a Civil War monument be taken down.
Claiming that they own the courthouse square circle, the ladies have gone to court to have two historical markers removed. When we walked across the street to the circle, I confess that neither my wife or I could see the offending monuments. I wondered if the UDC had triumphed in court.
Imagine my surprise, when we discovered two signs the size of waypoints in National Parks, one on the east, the other on the south side of the circle. The information on the markers is accurate & appropriate for the location. You can check that out for yourself. Attractive young ladies from a bachelorette party were busy having their pictures taken with a cannon with the Confederate monument in the background. They didn't even glance at the new markers. Exactly why the ladies of the UDC were up in arms about the markers escapes me. Maybe not.
I asked my longtime friend, a current member & former officer of the local UDC Chapter what the deal is. Her answer was as direct as it was brief. "The old guard of the UDC do not want anything that contradicts the pie in the sky fantasy version of the Civil War to get out." But wait a minute, aren't they the same people who have been up in arms about N.B. Forest's bust in the state capitol being moved to the State Museum? "Forrest is a Confederate hero, that marker about the slaves is a slap in the face to Southern tradition." Really, I said, "No kidding, that is exactly what this is all about."
I have heard since that the UDC could not produce any record that showed they own the courthouse square circle, so the markers will stay where they are. I could not help but ponder the contradiction inherent in not just the Franklin UDC's rejection of any mention of the black population of Franklin with the bitter resentment that removal of statues erected by segregationist in Memphis for the express purpose of showing the local black population who was still boss. (Their words, not mine.)
With the apparent contradictions of the courthouse square circle on my mind, we drove the few blocks to the Carter House. There was an opening in the line of rifle pits that harbored Union General Schofield's troops. A drunken fool had ordered a small detail of troops to stay put in an exposed position in front of the Union works. Breaking for the rear at the last moment, the fleeing men in blue were followed by Patrick Cleburne"s full moon battle flags. It was here & only here that General Hood's frontal assault had any chance of breaking through. The gray infantry was met had on by General Opidyke's counter attack. All around the Carter House & the pike camera right, the most desperate kind of hand to hand fighting occurred. In the end, not a single Confederate was left standing. Bodies were heaped in piles. Wounded men were buried under the corpses, crying out for aide. In the night, Schofield ordered his men to quietly leave the trench line that ran along the military crest in this image. The next morning, a few brave men slid into the ditch, walked over the heaped bodies & entered the deserted works. Hood declaimed victory. In order for the Army of Tennessee to advance on Nashville, the hundreds of mangled bodies lying on the Pike were dragged to the side, forming a nightmarish gate through which the army had to march. Adding an additional touch of the macabre, a dead horse straddled the top of the works along side pike. What went through the men's minds as they walked through there with their shoes sticky form all the blood... best not know.
A dramatic relic that testifies to the ferocity of the fighting is to be seen on the sides of the two outbuildings camera center. The pockmarks in the brick are from bullet strikes. On he clabbers of the white plantation office, there is hardly a hand span of space that is unmarked. To lay your hand upon these walls & feel the stigmata left by the battle is a uniquely moving experience. I have never experienced anything like it on any of the many battlefields I have walked.
If you have not visited Franklin for several years, you will be very pleased at what you see in my shot of the Carter farm. The houses that stood a driveway's width away from the smoke house & office are now gone. So is the Pizza Hut that covered the place General Cleburne fell. For the first time in living memory, you can walk the ground & have some feel for what happened there.
The Carter House & the Lots House across the pike are both open for tours. Canton Plantation, with its Confederate Cemetery, is a few miles away. On the eastern side of side of the city, on a bluff above the Harpeth River, is Fort Ganger. It is a remarkably preserved earthwork from which Union batteries rained shot & shell down on Hood's men almost from the first moment of their advance. The hills upon with the entire Army of Tennessee are accessible & have vantage points from which you can survey the daunting scene that greeted Hood's men. Stones River National Battlefield & Cemetery & Fortress Rosecrans are thirty miles east near Murfreesboro. You can see one in the morning, pause at the award winning Arrington Vinyard halfway in between & finish your day at the other. Not a bad way to spend a day. If you contact me, it would be my privilege to show you around. I will give you the "our side of the rope" tour.