General John Bell Hood looked out from Winsted Hill in the late afternoon on
November 30, 1864, the day he would lead so many men to their deaths in the
Battle of Franklin, he would have seen among other things, three miles north
from where he stood, the farm house of Fountain Branch Carter on the immediate
west side of Columbia Road just behind two lines of Federal entrenchments. The
Carter Cotton Gin was about 100 yards from the house on the east side of the
road. These structures would see some of the heaviest fighting not only in the
Battle of Franklin but also of the whole Civil War.
The cotton gin is long gone but thankfully the Carter House and other
buildings on its grounds remain in a restored state open to the public with a
Visitors' Center that interrupts the battle and houses a unique museum of
battle memorabilia. The parlor of the house was used as the headquarters of
General Cox who led the Union defenders. (Cox’s book, “The Battle of
Franklin” is excellent.)
The Curator of the Carter House is Tom Cartwright who spoke to our Roundtable
two years ago painting for us a vivid picture of the battle and those who
fought it. Tom doesn’t just tell the story of that November 30th day in
1864, he lives it.
The Carter House was one of the first historic places I visited in Franklin. I
would visit it many times while a resident of Franklin, often taking family
visitors there – sometimes whether they wanted to go or not. My most
memorable visit was one with Tom as a guide. By this time I had taken various
tours of it several times and knew the details of the several different movies
shown by way of introduction in its Visitors' Center. I had also read several
books which included some detailed descriptions of the house, its occupants
and its occupiers during the battle. However with Tom as a guide I would learn
more than I had with all of my previous study and visits.
It was as if Tom was personally acquainted with every board in the house and
its supporting structures – kitchen, slave house and smoke house. He also
seemed to know the history of every bullet hole in any of the structures –
some still holding lead. I suppose if old Fountain Branch were still alive and
giving tours, our experience may have been more authentic but with Tom as a
guide, not by much. If you ever visit there, make it a point to ask for Tom.
He’ll be glad to show you around and you won’t ever forget your
Tom takes his job very seriously – protecting the “moonlight and magnolias”
traditions of “The Lost Cause” and defending the Carter family against any
suggestions that old man Fountain Branch was actually a Federal sympathizer as
claimed by Richard Fulcher. Richard, you may remember from one of my earlier
articles, is a local contrarian historian whose goal it is to cut down the
magnolias and bring daylight to the moonlight. He teaches that the Fountain
Branch Carter was more “north” than “south” and has documentation to
prove that he received reparations ($11,030) from the Federal government for
the damage done to his property. He says that only northern sympathizers
received reparations. One time Cartwright barged into one of Fulcher’s Civil
War classes at the Rec center and challenged him to give him time to rebut
what he was teaching. Tom was also known to follow Richard around to other
talks he gave - also demanding rebuttal time. If Carter was a sympathizer, and
after seeing the documentation, I believe he convinced the government he was,
he was not that different from many others in the county. It had voted not to
secede from the union.
Sympathizer or not, Fountain Branch’s three sons, Moscow, Francis and Tod
enlisted in the Rebel Army – Company H, 2oth Tennessee Infantry. Moscow
became a Lt. Colonel before being captured in 1862 and later paroled. Francis
was severely wounded at Shiloh and later released from the army after months
in a hospital in 1862. Moscow was at home during the battle – in the cellar
with the rest of the family. Tod, a captain, was with Hood’s army attacking
his family’s farm. After the battle, the family found the wounded Tod on the
battlefield, taking him home to the room he was born in where he soon died - a
room that’s now part of the house tour.
One of my favorite contemporary stories of the Carter House and its grounds
– and I don’t remember where I heard it – concerns an archeological dig
there several years before I moved to town. It seems that structural work was
needed on the house’s foundation and rather than just digging up around it,
the work was done as if it were an archeological find. The scene, from what I
heard, was reminiscent of those you may have seen on TV in Egypt and elsewhere
where the ground is divided up in small squares and then dug up with the dirt
sifted for artifacts.
The earth held not only those bullets fired at those in and around the house
that did not hit their marks, but also the remains of unspent cartridges –
mainly the so-called “cleaner bullets.” I’m not an expert on bullets but
as I understand it these bullets (slugs) were designed with a saucer like
bottom to them – the idea being that when fired the “saucer” portion
would clean the barrel on it’s way out. At one time, one in every four
cartridges was a “cleaner.” However, apparently they did not work as
planned or were so perceived by the men who preferred to just drop them on the
ground rather than attempting to firing them and risking a jam. The location
of clusters of these cleaners around the various corners of the Carter house
and elsewhere on the grounds provided insights as to the positioning of the
union men during the battle. This may have been the best service these bullets
provided to the Civil War and its history.
In concluding this article and this series, it seems only fair to note by way
of balance, a Confederate victory just about 8 miles south of Franklin in a
small village – Thompson’s Station in a short battle that has been called
a “Federal Fiasco.” On March 5, 1863, a reconnaissance force of about 2400
men, led by Union Colonel John Coburn on its way to Spring Hill from Franklin
was ambushed and trapped by forces led by Generals Earl Van Dorn and Nathan
Bedford Forrest. Much of the fighting took place around a railroad station in
the village. Coburn’s artillery and cavalry escaped without losses but his
infantry of 1323 men had 293 men killed and wounded with the rest, including
The land around Thompson’s Station and it’s reconstructed station is
unmarked by any significant changes since the battle – affording visitors a
good look at the way it was back then. One of the 29 horses, “Roderick,”
that “That Devil” Forrest had shot out from under him during the war is
buried nearby. A sign on Columbia Road commemorates the burial site.
Braxton Bragg was thrilled with this victory – writing, “The skillful
manner in which these generals achieved their victory clearly exhibits the
judgment, discipline, and good conduct of the brave troops of their commands.”
General Van Dorn was quite proud – writing to his sister: “I am a soldier
and my soul swells up and tells me that I am worthy to lead the armies of my
country.” You may recall from an earlier article in this series that two
months after writing this Van Dorn is shot in the head and killed by a jealous
husband a few miles down the road from Thompson’s Station. Given his record
as a leader it’s unlikely the outcome of the war would have been different
had he actually practiced good conduct.
I hope in the course of these articles that I’ve given you a sense of some
of what I’ve learned and the great pleasure I had as a student of the Civil
War era living in so rich a historic area. I look forward to the day when I
can return to Franklin with members of our Roundtable on one of our annual
the Lines, Part I
the Lines, Part II
the Lines, Part III
the Lines, Part IV
the Lines, Part V
the Lines, Part VI
Shall Make the Fight!” General John Bell Hood CSA And The
Battle of Franklin, Tennessee
Battle of Franklin
The Carter House
A peaceful farm,
near a quiet village.
The Carters, and
the Blue, at home -
waiting for the Gray,
and the Red, to call. Exploding shells,
Rebel yells -
War in their yard.
The family sheltered
beneath their house.
All, but one, safe
and that one,
a gray son, will die.
The Blue, the Gray,
their bloody battle,
now - sad history.
a war torn country,
a war torn family
remain, in residence,
at the Carter House.
The Battle of
only memories stop
at this railroad station.
Of Blue men, Gray men
and the battle they fought
in March of sixty three.
Blue descending south
towards railroad tracks -
dividing the land.
Gray, and their fate,
waiting - at the station.
Colors and causes
The Blue to lose.
The Gray to win.
The Red to run, again.
For all her sons -
a nation mourns:
Sacrifices made and
at Thompson's Station.