When the call at ECW went out for articles concerning the Battle of Franklin, I immediately went to the website for the Battle of Franklin Trust http://www.battleoffranklintrust.org/boft.htm. I have been visiting quite a few Civil War websites recently, and am beginning to be a bit critical of those that “work” and those that lead one around in a circle, getting nowhere but frustrated. The website for the Battle of Franklin Trust is in no way frustrating. It is, instead, inspiring.
I have spent many years teaching public school, and I am always on the lookout for websites, museum displays, and exhibits that will, somehow, hook a child into reading and experiencing history in ways beyond those offered in a classroom. The current Carnton Plantation museum installation Battle Scarred appears to be one of these.
Ms. Joanna Stephens is the curator for the Battle of Franklin Trust, which also manages the Carter House and Carnton Plantation, in Tennessee. When asked about the story the installation, Battle Scarred, was trying to tell, she graciously wrote: We want guests to leave with a better understanding of the Battle of Franklin and how it fits into the greater story if the American Civil War. It is important . . . to understand what led up to the Battle of Franklin and how it impacted those involved. The battle left scars, both visible and invisible, on the men in the fight as well as the citizens of Franklin.
In order to help realize these goals, Ms. Stephens has incorporated light and sound into the exhibit. After all, battles were reputedly very noisy places. As guests walk through the exhibit, motion sensors trigger the elements of battle, including artillery flashes and rifle fire. Other sensors trigger two pieces of music that were played during the Confederate advance at Franklin. It is easy to imagine the cacophony of the fight, and using sight and sound is an intuitive way to reach into the senses and have guests respond to the entirety of the event.
When a person enters the exhibit, he or she is given an “Enlistment Card,” containing information about an actual soldier who participated in the Battle of Franklin. This card creates an immediate bond between guests and their soldiers. Ms. Stephens writes, “It is hard for many people to relate to hearing about 40,000 soldiers engaged in the battle. Learning the story of one man brings the experience home for them.” The fate of the particular soldier is not learned until the end of the exhibit.
When Battle Scarred opened on August 1, it received excellent reviews. “This is what the story of the Battle of Franklin has deserved all along,” said Eric Jacobson, CEO and historian of The Battle of Franklin Trust. “This exhibit is something that no one alive has ever seen. It’s the largest collection of artifacts from the Battle of Franklin ever assembled in this town. It took two years to gather the material, curate, and reach out to donors to make this exhibit possible. This isn’t just a one-off exhibit for us – this is the future.”
The exhibit took more than two-and-a-half years, from initial inspiration to opening evening. Contained within the rooms of Carnton Plantation House are military uniforms, guns, photographs, saddlebags, swords, bibles, and artillery shells. Quotes from soldiers are displayed on light boxes, and the sounds of battle surround the viewer. Each part is annotated to help viewers put each piece of history into context.
For younger viewers, a free activity book following a dog, called Harvey, is available. One simply follows Harvey’s paw prints through the display, stopping where he stops to learn more and complete an activity related to the exhibit. Additionally, Family Night is held on the third Thursday of every month during the exhibit. Each has a new theme and takes place after-hours, allowing families to attend multiple times and take a slower, more child-friendly tour of the exhibit. Pertinent information concerning times and costs may be found here: http://www.battleoffranklintrust.org/battlescarred.htm.
Exhibits such as Battle Scarred are, hopefully, the wave of the future. In the quotes I read, one theme was repeated again and again–that what happened at Franklin mattered, not just to the people personally involved, but also to the history of the Civil War. I think supporting installations like this one or, if you live far from Tennessee, finding those that are more local to you, also matter. If history matters to you, seek out local resources and support them.
And if you are in the vicinity of Franklin, Tennessee, take the family to see Battle Scarred.