The losses at Franklin are the stuff of legend: six thousand-plus Confederate casualties, plus six dead Confederate generals. John Bell Hood threw the 30-thousand men of the Army of Tennessee against Federal fortifications, winning the battle but destroying his army. Nearly 8,000 Confederates fell.
Those soldiers now lie in neat rows on the grounds of the Carnton Plantation.
“There rests the Army of Tennessee,” Dan says quietly as we stand amidst the graves of the Confederate Cemetery.
Just as infamous at Franklin has been the loss of ground—a whole battlefield gone, swallowed by a Pizza Hut, a neighborhood, little clusters of businesses, parking lots.
But since the mid-2000’s, preservationists have been gaining ground at this lost field. “Overall, the efforts ongoing at Franklin constitute perhaps the most impressive battlefield reclamation project in the country,” the Williamson County Convention and Visitors Bureau says.
They’re not boasting. Few battlefields, once developed, get “unpaved.” Yet at Franklin, five key parcels of ground have been reclaimed, including the site where Patrick Cleburne was killed and a 110-acre parcel on the eastern flank.
Since reading Jason Klaiber’s ECW article a few weeks ago, the “lost battlefield” at Franklin has been much on my mind as we’ve planned this part of the visit. We’re here to take pictures for Lee White’s upcoming ECWS book Let Us Die Like Men, which we’ll release this fall, and I’ve been puzzling over what I’m going to take pictures of.
When we get to the Carnton Plantation, I am surprised the chunk of battlefield that’s here is as big as it is. The City of Franklin has installed a nifty interpretive trail with plenty of markers that offer context for the property and the battle. Nearby, the Franklin Battlefield Trust operates a visitor center and provides tours of Carnton. The Confederate Cemetery sits on a knoll nearby, adjacent to the McGavock family cemetery.
Inside the gift shop, I find a slick 99¢ brochure published by the Williamson County Convention and Visitors Bureau that offers a self-guided driving tour of the battlefield. This is “Eureka!” as far as I’m concerned: 26 places to see related to the battle, including 13 Civil War Trails sites. While not nearly as in-depth and detailed as Lee’s tour will be, this quick overview is enough to help me navigate through the patchwork of sites, signs, and markers that make up the battlefield scattered throughout the modern town of Franklin.
Pizza Hut represents THE great preservation success at Franklin—not because of the size or scope of the specific acquisition but because it was a watershed moment in the history of battlefield preservation. It was a high-profile acquisition, and it demonstrated that land could not only be preserved but reclaimed. (Read more from the Civil War Trust about the history of preservation at Franklin.)
Since, then nine other adjacent plots have been saved, with a tenth one—a two-acre parcel—currently being targeted for acquisition by May 31 (donate now!).
Following the map through the city, some sites are open to the public, others are available for tours by appointment, others are marked by signs. I am incredibly impressed at how many people and organizations seem to be taking place in what appears to be a full-court press to make this lost battlefield available. It’s far from ideal, but folks are making it work: the city of Franklin, the Franklin’s Charge preservation group, the Battle of Franklin Trust, Civil War Trails, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and the Civil War Trust—not to mention, I assume dozens of volunteers.
It is a valiant, inspiring effort.
We finish the day at the Winstead Hill Overlook. The city has set up another park there, and the Sons of Confederate Veterans have set aside a memorial garden, as well. We make our way to the top, stopping at the many memorials on the way up, and finally roost in a restored overlook shelter. A table-sized three-dimension map of the battlefield offers context for the spread of city we see below.
John Bell Hood’s victorious army was a shell of itself after Franklin, and it would pretty much wreck itself for good dashing against Federal defenses at Nashville just two weeks later.
But I am nonetheless heartened as I leave Franklin. Preservationists continue to score victory after victory here. It is a wonderful postscript to a tragic story.