Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Just imagine: 10 images of hallowed ground at Franklin

Kentucky regiments swept over this ground during the Battle of Franklin. The site of the infamous 
Carter cotton gin is in the far left distance.  (CLICK ON ALL IMAGES TO ENLARGE.)
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While a vulture stands triumphantly on the carcass of a skunk in a nearby yard, I quickly conquer a Sam Adams Summer Ale at a place called the Bunganut Pig Pub & Eatery in Franklin, Tenn. Something isn't right about this scene, and it has nothing to do with the large, black bird that picks on remains of a varmint on a muggy Sunday afternoon.

Seventy-five yards or so from where I sit on a patio enjoying a cold brew, bodies of Confederate soldiers were piled outside Union earthworks during the Battle of Franklin on Nov. 30, 1864. The 16th and 12th Kentucky regiments swept over this ground near Fountain Carter's infamous cotton gin, plugging a disastrous gap in the Union line. This land, near the war-time Carter house and bullet-scarred outbuildings along Columbia Pike, is hallowed ground.

Thanks to remarkable work by preservation groups, part of the Franklin field has been reclaimed, and there's a tremendous story to be told here. Come visit. Sadly, however, most of the bloody battleground of Franklin long ago was lost to development.

"It is impossible to exaggerate," a Union officer noted about the battle that produced nearly 10,000 casualties, "the fierce energy with which the Confederate soldiers, that short November afternoon, threw themselves against the works, fighting with what seemed the very madness of despair."

Here are 10 images of the "lost" battlefield.

Just imagine what might have been ...

Near Winstead and Breezy hills, jumping off point for Army of Tennessee commander John Bell Hood's assault along a two-mile front, you'll find a Target in a large strip mall. Nearly all the land on both sides of  historic Columbia Pike leading toward the Carter house -- eye of the hurricane of the fierce struggle about two miles away -- has been developed. Imagine putting five strip malls, four service stations, five fast-food restaurants and a residential neighborhood or two along the route of Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg.

On busy Columbia Pike, a historical sign notes the position of the Union forward line, overwhelmed during the battle. Yards away, you'll find a service station and a funeral home. Out of view toward the immediate right, a large storage company occupies ground that Union General George Wagner's soldiers defended.

Confederates under generals Patrick Cleburne and Edward Wathall advanced here from right to left. Today it's a residential area. Six streets in the immediate area are named for Confederate generals who died of wounds suffered at Franklin. The dead end sign is near Adams Street, named for Confederate Brigadier General John Adams, killed a short distance away.

A roofing company occupies land where Rebel divisions advanced near the war-time Nashville & Decatur Railroad tracks. Nearby, a sliver of rarely visited battleground has been saved by Save The Franklin Battlefield, Inc. and the Civil War Trust.

Near Carter's cotton gin, the 6th Ohio Light Battery spewed death. For about 100 yards in front of Union lines here, 'rebel dead lay in heaps," according to a 104th Ohio soldier. Now this cannon denoting the battery's position points into a neighborhood that was mostly open plain during the battle. Once home to a small strip mall that included a pizza restaurant, this immediate area has been reclaimed by preservation groups as an open, grassy space.

A residential neighborhood occupies ground where Union works once snaked toward the Harpeth River and Nashville & Decatur railroad tracks. Nearby fell Irishman Patrick Cleburne, one of the greatest Confederate division commanders.

Now filled with apartments, this area near the Carter house was a killing field upon which Confederate soldiers under John Brown advanced. It's a "smoke-free property," according to the sign.

Today this is a busy intersection on Columbia Pike. Then it was ground upon which Colonel Emerson Opdycke's Brigade rushed to help stymie the Confederates' breakthrough at the Union works near the Carter house, just beyond the trees to the right.

Children play and families gather for barbecues where vicious fighting occurred in 1864. Strahl Street Park, near the Carter house, is named for Confederate General Otho Strahl, who was killed near here.

-- Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.


  1. Sam Hood9:33 PM

    To those of us who have been visiting Franklin for over 20 years, the reclamation of the battlefield is nothing short of miraculous. At one point there was literally nothing other than the Carter House grounds; there is exponentially more reclaimed battlefield today. It's a fascinating place to visit, notwithstanding the occasional skunks and buzzards!

  2. I am big fan of the field, Sam. Eager to discover some of its secrets. And, yes, the reclamation works is impressive. But what might have been ...

  3. Sadly we've lost so many of these battlefields to development. Thank God for the Civil War Trust. They've saved close to 50,000 acres. Everyone who cares about these places should support the CWT.

  4. Sometimes you just have to take what you can get as far as preservation is concerned and when you consider what the area looked like as little as ten years ago, they have come a long way in Franklin.

  5. John
    Thanks, when were you there?