The Battle of Franklin, Tennessee, During the American Civil War

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Carter House outbuildings

The bullet-marked outbuildings of the Carter House remain standing today. Copyright image by Bonnye Good, all rights reserved.

The Battle of Franklin occurred on November 30, 1864, over the span of a few short hours, but remained vivid in the life-long memories of the battle-hardened men who fought that day, according to Civil War historian James R. Knight.

Confederate Army General John Bell Hood decided to engage the Union Army in Franklin, Tennessee, even though his expected reinforcements had not yet arrived.

While Hood’s decision continues to inspire debate after the battle, Knight told Decoded Past that if Hood waited to engage in Nashville, then the Union Army would have benefited from additional forces and supplies.

The Carter House as Battlefield

Knight explained that the Union Army originally intended to cross the Harpeth River and retreat to Nashville, but were unable to do so in time. Brigadier General Jacob D. Cox commandeered the Carter House as he prepared to move the army across the river, assuring the family that they should remain in the home. As The Battle of Franklin Trust notes in The Carter House, Cox told them to stay unless a “battle was imminent,” a development he did not anticipate.

General Hood made his decision to fight in Franklin soon after 20,000 Confederate soldiers arrived around 1 pm. He chose to engage in a frontal assault against an entrenched, fairly evenly-matched Union Army. The battle began about 4 pm and lasted until after nine. Civil War historian Roger Busbice told Decoded Past that, “because of the extremely close quarters of the battle, the fighting was brutal, with bayonets, clubbed muskets, and point-blank rifle and cannon fire producing masses of bodies piled up on the battlefield.”


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The Carter Family

The Carter family contributed three sons to the Confederacy’s military, including 24 year-old Tod Carter, who was the only son to participate in the battle. As an Assistant Quartermaster in the 20th Tennessee Infantry, Tod was actually on leave, but asked to fight when he learned that the direction of the battle would move towards his parents’ home.

Carter House bricks

The fighting at the Carter House left its mark on the buildings. Copyright image by Bonnye Good, all rights reserved.

During the battle, the frightened Carter family, their servants and some of their neighbors hunkered down in their multi-room basement. The Union officers gradually pushed them into one room, where they listened to the fighting all around  them and desperately pushed rope into the windows in the hopes that the ropes would stop errant bullets. Knight noted that the families in the basement remained physically unharmed.

The Aftermath of the Battle

The Confederates lost six generals; those combing the battlefield brought the bodies of at least four of the generals to the Carnton House, which served as a field hospital during and after the battle.

Tod Carter suffered nine bullet wounds and lay mortally wounded in the garden; his family found him there the morning after the battle. They brought him back to the family home and nursed him in his childhood bed, where he died two days later.

James R Knight

Noted historian James R. Knight gives a tour at the Carter House. Copyright image by Bonnye Good, all rights reserved.

By that morning, the Union Army was on its way to Nashville, while the Army of Tennessee remained in Franklin, allowing each to claim victory in spite of harsher casualties on the Southern side.

In all, of the approximately 40,000 combatants, there were nearly 10,000 casualties according to Busbice and the Battle of Franklin Trust. The Army of Tennessee had at least 1,750 killed, another 3,800 soldiers wounded and 702 taken by the Union Army. The Union Army reported about 300 dead, 1,033 wounded, and 1,104 missing after the battle.

Carnton Plantation now serves as the resting place for about 1,500 of the dead. John and Carrie McGavock, the owners of the 700 acre plantation during the battle, maintained their graves which cover some two acres, and Mrs. McGavock earned the moniker of the “Widow of the South” for her dedication.

The Battle of Franklin’s Legacy

The Battle of Franklin lasted only a few hours, but left a lasting mark on the men who fought there and the citizens caught in its wake. The Carter House and Carnton Plantation are open to the public, serving as museums and key components of the battlefield. On November 15-16, 2014, the Battle of Franklin Trust recreated the Battle of Franklin to commemorate the 150th anniversary.

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© Copyright 2015 Bonnye Good, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Past

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