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The Carter House

Having been drawn to Franklin, Tennessee, since reading The Widow of the South, we came to Nashville with plans of spending time in Franklin.  Today (12/26/17), we made a power trip to three main sites.

We started chronologically at the Carter house.  We planned to arrive around opening time (9:00 AM) to explore a bit before the 10:00 Slavery tour (held on Tuesdays at the Carter House and Thursdays at Carnton).  Since the tour was just my mom and I, and I had a good grasp on the legislation involving slavery, we got a unique experience.  Christy shared with us some of the things she felt were the most interesting in her vast research on slavery and specifically on the slaves at the Carter House.

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Slave Cabin moved in from another plantation in the area

She started with slavery’s origin in Africa.  While I knew there were huge losses during the Middle Passage, I wasn’t aware just how many lost their lives.  12.3 million slaves left Africa on slave ships and only 10.7 million survived.  That’s roughly 17%.  Another surprising statistic was that only 450,000 came to America–less than 4%.  The rest were sent to the Caribbean or South America where they were often worked to death.  One thing that made American slavery unique was allowing some slaves to stay together in family units–something Carter did.

While Christy rightfully stressed that even the best slavery was still slavery, the Carters seemed to be one of the best.  They worked alongside their slaves in the field and protected their slaves with them in the day of the Battle of Franklin.  Their 28 slaves were not only able to live as family units (and were listed as family units instead of most valuable to least valuable), but several were also left 200 acres of land a piece in Carter’s will.  The families (both names Carters as the slaves took the Carter’s name) have also remained close through the generations after slavery.  We got to see a picture, probably from the 1890’s) of the mom’s and babies of both the black and white Carters standing together–just two moms and their boys who grew up and stayed best friends all their lives.  It was neat to see Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s “sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners sit down together at the table of brotherhood” before Martin Luther King was even on the scene.

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Visible damage in both the smoke house and the field office

After the Slavery Tour, we stayed for the traditional house tour.  Adam did an incredible job of explaining the carnage of November 30, 1864.

He started with a conflict between John Bell Hood (Confederate) and William Tecumseh Sherman (Federal).  The two had been engaged in conflict before Sherman began his famous March to the Sea.  When Sherman set out, Hood tried unsuccessfully to lure him back into the area, but Sherman continued on.  Hood then decided to take Nashville, both for a morale boost and supplies.  Sherman sent Schofield to cut Hood off, leading the two to embark on a race to Nashville, where only around 8,000 federals were guarding the area.

Hood and Schofield, both with around 30,000 men, each outmaneuver the other.  Finally, Hood gets around Schofield.  He has Schofield  trapped, and both sides know it.  Hood gives strict orders to block the road, and not leave any way for Schofield to retreat.  He then prepares to accept Schofield’s surrender in the morning.  But, in the fiasco of the century, the order is dropped, and the Confederates bed down for the night on either side of a wide open road.  Schofield is somehow able to march his men right through the sleeping Confederates, a testimony to either his stealth or their exhaustion.

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View of the Carter Property

Around 4 AM, Federal Brigidier General Jacob Cox knocks on the door of the Carter house, looking for a place to rest for a few hours–his own men are as exhausted as Hood’s.  Fully believing his men will be able to retreat across the river, he tells Fountain Branch Carter there will be no battle–the men are just exhausted and need a place to rest.  Fountain Branch asks about leaving, but Cox recommends staying, as he can’t guarantee the safety of their house or belongings if he leaves.  However, when Cox’s scout wakes him up around 4:30 AM to let him know the bridges are badly damaged and none of the promised pontoon boats have arrived, leaving them trapped, things change.  Cox awakens his men, sends engineers to repair the broken bridges, and orders the rest to entrench.  They know Hood will wake up, discover they’ve left, and be hot on their heels, madder than a hornet.  They build lines of defense:  the first, a two mile trench from river bank to river bank with the city of Franklin behind.  They then build a secondary line of trenches near the Carter house.  The third line (advanced guard) is about 1/2 mile south.  Now, they wait.

Wagner (Federal) had ordered Opdycke and two other brigades to utilize their men for an advanced line of observation.  Opdycke, however, argues with this command and Wagner finally tells him to “fight wherever you d–n well please!”  Obdycke takes his men back to the Carter house–a move that will prove providential for the Union (and bring recognition to Opdycke).  Opdycke’s men who left the advanced guard go in to rest.

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View showing the distance between the cellar (right) and the front door (left)

As expected, Hood’s men start arriving around 1 (They will be seen by Mrs. McGavock over at Carnton as Franklin is mostly fields with only 750 actual residents.)  Schofield expects Hood to see the entrenched Yankees, observe the lateness of the day, and wait–hopefully allowing the bridges to be repaired or the boats to arrive.  Yet, at 4:00 PM, as it’s beginning to grow dark on Winstead Hill, Hood’s men step off.

Hood’s battle plan is brilliant and initially effective.  Attack the advance guard, and push them back to punch a hole in the middle of the Union line.  Then, pour his men through the gap to flank the Union.  Initially, his plan works.  The Union advance guard makes a full speed retreat.  The first line of defense can’t fire because their own men are coming between them and the Confederates, who punch a hole straight through.  Surprisingly, the flanks hold.  The weak links–rookies from Ohio and Missouri, who were put in the second line to keep them from screwing things up, are now fighting like the devil.  Opdyke’s men, now rested, hear the commotion and come charging in without orders.  Running to the fray, they charge straight up to confront the Confederates.

What follows is hours of the most brutal hand to hand combat in the war.  While the family, their slaves, and their neighbors the Lotz family crouch in their basement, soldiers are cut down with grape shot (canister), bludgeoned with guns, bayoneted, or bit (yes, actually bit.)  Men used everything they could get their hands on to hurt each other, and bodies piled up 6-7 deep or were used as human shields.  In some places, soldiers couldn’t even fall to die because the number of dead around them held them up.

After fighting finally died down around 9:00 PM, the sun rose to 10,000 casualties–7,500 of whom were Confederates.  There were six generals dead and another 7 captured, making this a significant loss.  One out of every four soldiers were killed in the 5 hours of fighting.  Carter described having to shovel a path from the cellar to his front door through the bodies (57 of them) and carrying a bucket for brains.

The bridges were finally finished, and Schofield’s regiment would cross the river to reinforce Nashville, where a mere two weeks later, Hood would try another assault which also fails, and he is chased back through Franklin–a town that will be indeliably changed.

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The Lotz House

Finishing the battle tour, we rushed over to the Lotz House where we had the privilege to take a tour with Thomas Cartwright–leading expert on the Battle of Franklin.  He shared much of what we heard at the Carter House, but understandably focused more on the Lotz family–particularly the daughter Matilda Lotz who became an internationally famous painter.  He explained the Lotz’s held their daughter’s birthday party the night before the battle, oblivious of events about to unfold.  The next day, the area is overrun by federals, and Matilda’s pet calf is shot in front of her.  Tom attributes this experience to the fact that Matilda will make her international reputation painting with kind faces.

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Artifacts from the Lotz House–I think there had to be a good story here

In addition to the horrors of losing a pet, Tom asks us to imagine being Mr. Lotz trying to rush his wife and three children 150 paces over to the Carter cellar.  It must have been nerve-wracking!  Tom also shows places where blood stains the floor of the Lotz house and cannon balls damaged both floor and ceiling–in fact, so much of the house was destroyed that it took Lotz four years to repair a house it’d taken him only three years to build.  Tom also points out that Lotz, a master carpenter, was obviously in a hurry to get his family out of the cellar, as there are hammer marks in the repaired areas of the floor.  Another disturbing fact is that the nails in the floor are horseshoe nails.  Knowing that six horses were left dead in the Lotz yard, and how many nails per horse shoe, it is interesting to see the same number of horseshoe nails holding together the patches in the floor.  Another indication of how desperate the area must have been left after the battle.

One connection to the slavery tour, Tom shared that Mr. Lotz’s slaves weren’t field hands, but skilled laborers.  In fact, he paid $2,500 a piece for two slaves who were also skilled carpenters.  When slaves were generally between $500 and $1,500, to pay $2,500 a slave indicates these were incredibly special slaves.  Definitely a fascinating tour!

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The McGavock’s Carnton Plantation

From the Lotz House, we rushed over to the McGavock Plantation at Carnton, one of many houses used as a hospital for Confederate soldiers.  This was the site we especially wanted to see, as it was the setting of The Widow of the South.  It truly did not disappoint!  The McGavock plantation is huge and lovely.  While the owner after the McGavocks sanded off the bloodstains on the bottom floor because they bothered his daughter (understandably!), he did leave the stains on the second floor.  These are by the windows on the South side, so doctors were able to utilize the light.  Additional tables were set up in the yard to continue to operate.

When you realize the Battle of Franklin left 10 wounded men per citizen, one can understand how every house in town became a hospital  What made the McGavock farm different is the family themselves.  Our tour guide quoted an eye witness who recounted seeing Carrie McGavock sitting on the stairs writing a letter for a wounded soldier who knew he was going to die.  Carrie’s described as having most of her overslip torn away for bandages, and her sleeves and skirt about 3/4 coated in blood.  The McGavocks were offered the opportunity to leave or to sequester themselves in one room on the second floor.  Instead of running or hiding, the McGavocks jumped in to help out, even with their young children.

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The McGavock Family Cemetery

But, the McGavocks involvement didn’t end with just offering their house as a hospital for months.  They also donated a portion of their land, next to their own cemetery containing both the McGavock’s and the McGavock slaves, to provide a cemetery for Confederate soldiers who had been buried shallowly on the battlefield, then washed up in a torrential rain.  While they had help cataloging the bodies, which are arranged by state, they also spent the rest of their lives answering letters from relatives who thought their men were here and caring for those relatives when they visited the graves.  Carrie McGavock also mourned these men as her own three children who had died young as she daily walked through the cemetery.

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One side of the Confederate Cemetery

Though our feet were killing (3 one hour tours, and one 90 minute tour), we thoroughly enjoyed our experience and hope to return in warmer weather.

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