Long Shadows in Franklin, Tennessee

“In great deeds something abides. On great fields something stays.  Forms change and pass; bodies disappear, but spirits linger, to consecrate ground for the vision-place of souls….And lo! the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom, and the power of the vision pass into their souls.”

—Col. Joshua Chamberlain, 20th Maine

There are ghosts, and there are GHOSTS.  Not just one, mind you, but dozens–perhaps hundreds.  That’s the way it is with Civil War battlefields in general; and when you combine a whole town with many convenient old buildings to haunt, well then, you have Franklin, Tennessee.

Late November being the anniversary of the one-day battle, it seems a good time to discuss this battle and its haunts.  Probably there are any number of folks in Franklin who have forgotten more about the battle than I could ever tell you and the same holds true for its many haunts.  For those unfamiliar with the battle, however, a little background is in order.

John Bell Hood was appointed by Jefferson Davis to head the Army of Tennessee because Davis did not think its previous commander, Joe Johnston, aggressive enough.  The Army of Tennessee was second only to Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia in fighting ability, elan and experience.  The only difference being that this Confederate army suffered from the same debility that plaugued British cavalry during the Napoleonic Wars.  Napoleon said that British cavalry was “the noblest and most poorly led.”

General Hood was a brave officer but had never commanded an entire army; he had also lost a leg and an arm at Gettysburg and Chickamauga and by the time he took charge of the army, while he was neither drunk nor high on morphine, he had to have been in great pain and his judgment may have been impaired.  At Springhill, Tennessee, on November 29, 1864, Hood seemingly had Union General Schofield’s army trapped; yet it escaped during the night.

When he found the Yankees gone the next morning, one witness described Hood as “wrathy as a snake.”  Pursuing the Federals to Franklin he resolved to attack them regardless of the cost.  He threw his whole infantry across two miles of open field against the Union rearguard, which had had all day to dig in.

It was not for lack of bravery or aggressiveness that the Army of Tennessee failed to defeat the Yankees.  They charged headlong into a withering fire and fell by the thousands.  Five generals and at least twenty colonels died leading the charge.  Even nightfall did not end the bloodletting and the Rebel troops kept pressing the attack, the dead piling up in heaps before the Yankees trenches.  A few days later the servants of the Carter family, whose house was smack in the center of the death-dealing, had to use garden rakes to clear the grounds of the house of the thousands and thousands of spent bullets.

The men who fell before the Yankee muskets were not strangers in a strange land; they were the husbands, sons and brothers of the families of Franklin and the neighboring communities.  The Carter House is haunted by the ghost of Captain Tad Carter, who died within yards of his father’s home.  Other ghosts haunt the Carter House and the Lotz House, standing just across the street.  Because the Columbia Pike ran through the Union Defenses right here, this was the weak point of the Federal defenses and it was here the fighting was hottest.

Another famous haunt is Carnton Mansion, belonging to the McGavock family, and lying on the eastern fringe of the battlefield.  The five dead Confederate generals were brought here and laid out on the back porch; the other Confederate dead were piled like cordwood in a great long heap; most were buried on the grounds.  With so many young men cut down in their prime, the Mansion has several ghosts–some thought to be former family members. As originally chronicled in Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, there are many eyewitness reports of ghosts haunting the grounds of Carnton.

Nor are these spots the only places in Franklin, Tennessee where the ghosts of the Confederate dead still linger.  The day after the battle both sides moved on to Nashville, to the siege and the battle in December; but in Franklin the wounded lingered on in agony for weeks; amputations, disease and cold all took their toll.  Local families took many of the wounded in, but the number of casualties was overwhelming and many died from lack of care.  The old buildings that still stand in the core of town house many such ghosts; some today are retail stores, music recording studios, law offices or residences.

The restless dead still abide in the prosperous modern town of Franklin; so in between the soccer moms, the Yuppie suburban subdivisions, the upscale boutiques, one may still encounter a Rebel soldier’s shade who does not quite know the war is over–or that he is even dead!

For more about the ghosts of Franklin and Civil War ghosts, Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War, Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, and my latest, The Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee.

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