Be honest, you totally clicked on this because it’s Valentine’s day and you thought I was being clever with my title and referring to a ‘civil war’ in my relationship. Sorry to disappoint! Today I’m writing about the actual Civil War.
But I’m glad you’re here!
As I mentioned in my blog, Shalom Family, while my mom and Papa Scott were here visiting, we had the great pleasure of visiting and touring some amazing historical monuments and sites in the Franklin area, just south of Nashville, Tennessee.
I have to say, this is one of my favorite things about living down here so far- the history! I LOVE the West. I have a tattoo on my body that points west because the west will ALWAYS be home to me, but there just aren’t the same roots out there as there are here. I can’t wait to start homeschooling the kids (well, by ‘can’t wait’ I mean I’m basically terrified but I’m sure there will be perks) because there are one million and twenty seven museums, and historical places that I can take them to. And hey, my kids happen to love themselves some museums.
As I referenced in the afore mentioned blog above, we stopped at the monument at the Franklin Battlefield. That was the first historical stop on our tour, and although it was awesome and I could totally feel the weight of what it must have been like to stand on that hill and watch the battle unfold, I also could hear the freeway and see the huge town of Franklin down where thousands of lives were to have been lost. It’s hard to get a TRUE feel for it, when things are so different now. But the next two stops on our historical tour, were very much still absolutely in the exact same condition that they were in the day the battle raged. Hauntingly so, in fact…
My mom and Scott and Thomas and I, watched a documentary that Saturday night, before heading up to Franklin, where we got a crash course of the entire Civil War in about an hour and a half. It was intense. There aren’t a lot of wars that were fought with such heart, in my opinion. The Southerners weren’t drafted. They weren’t doing a job. They were absolutely, 100% fighting for what they thought was right. And although they were outnumbered, and under dressed (often times fighting without even shoes), and under funded, and under supplied… they were not without spirit. Tennessee is the volunteer state, because no one had to be asked to fight. Everyone was willing. It was a cause absolutely worth dying for, and many of them did.
So after we felt like we were refreshed on the battle and what exactly went down, we spent Sunday up in Franklin touring the various places we had learned about on the documentary.
First of all, how absolutely amazing is it that we can drive 45 minutes to tour one of the exact historical locations that we had just learned about one evening on a documentary? Of course, in the map on the movie, the Carter House (ground zero of the Battle of Franklin) looks like it’s in the middle of nowhere. And in today’s world, it’s on a busy road. I’ve actually driven by it several times having absolutely no idea what it was or what happened there. You see, down here in the South, seeing an old colonial or antebellum house is not uncommon. They’re actually all over the place. And the Carter House is actually pretty unassuming. It’s small, and although there is a metal historical marker in the yard marking it as ‘the Carter House’ and then in writing too small to see as you’re driving by, it describes what that means, you’d absolutely drive by it without ever knowing the story behind it.
Well, not us. Not anymore. We went, we saw… we did not buy the t-shirt, although they are available there if you really do want one. But we did learn. We learned a lot. And as it turns out, I love history! I didn’t know this about me, but there is just something about standing on the porch of a dang near 200 year old house, and looking at a bullet hole that goes clear through the wall and into the living room, that really makes you feel connected to what you’re learning about. And so I wanted to share with you guys, because that’s what I do. I put my thoughts out loud.
So come along as I try to tell you about history…
The Carter House is the home of a man by the surname of Carter- sorry if you were expecting something else.
At the time of the Battle of Franklin, Fountain Branch Carter (unfortunate name, I know), was living at his home with a few daughters, daughters in law and several grand children. On the morning of November 30, 1864, the Union army (aka The North), took over the Carter House as their field command center for the day. They did not expect a battle that day. As a matter of fact, they told the Carter family it would be SAFER for them to just stay put. The Union Army was in the process of retreating out of the southern battle fields and back towards Nashville. They would be leaving, and on their way out, in no time! Or so they thought…
You see, at this point in the war and in the country, Nashville was the third most safe guarded city in the country, right behind Washington DC and somewhere else I can’t remember. But you get the idea. Nashville was occupied by the Northern army, and it was the foremost frontier of their command into the southern states. As long as the Union army held onto Nashville, the south could not win the war. And so in a last ditch effort- truly it was a hail mary- the Confederate army (aka the south) was making a run towards Nashville to see if they could take it while the Union army was distracted with a large battle going on in Georgia. So on November 30, 1864, the Union army was on their way home. They were almost there as a matter of fact, just 20 miles shy of Nashville.
General Hood- Commander of the Confederate army- was in hot pursuit. And although he was disorganized, because a lot of his army had not caught up to what would become the battle line, and although it was almost nightfall when he gave the orders to attack, he really felt like it was a now or never moment. This was the only shot he felt he had to win.
The Carter family, needless to say, found themselves very much in the wrong place at the wrong time. The battle would begin around 5pm about 100 yards to the south of their house. As many as 8,500 men would die or be wounded in and around their home.
Can you even imagine that?
Well, I stood in the yard and I tried. And it moved me. 8,500 men, with more officer losses than any other battle in the war… and over 6,000 of these men were men who the Carter’s believed were doing what was right… and that included Carter’s son, Tod.
Tod was serving as an aid to a Confederate Brigadier General, and as God would absolutely have it, Tod was reunited with his family, in his own home, on a table in his living room as a casualty of the war that accidentally happened in his front yard.
Are you kidding me?
He died the morning after the battle, succumbing to wounds he endured the night before. This is so very sad, but also amazingly profound to me. People ask me all the time why does God allow bad things to happen to good people… I don’t always have the answer, but I understand the question. All I know is this… God is good. And this was a good thing that God did.
We all die. Soldiers face this reality daily. And although I know some of you will say that this was an extraordinary coincidence… that after two years of fighting a war away from his family, where they rarely had any clue as to where he was or if he was alive, this boy found himself in his own yard, fighting a battle that would inevitably end his life…
That’s not a coincidence. That’s God. That’s a blessing.
How many soldiers lost their lives that night? How many of them were alone? How many of them died slowly, crying and cold? How many of them have since found themselves in a grave marked ‘unknown?’
All… ALL but one. Tod.
And as I stood in that yard, I couldn’t help but be grateful for… you guessed it… that perspective. I don’t understand everything that happens in the world. Sometimes things are just so sad, so overwhelming… and to imagine 8,500 men dead in a battle field surrounding this small, unassuming house… that is… heavy. But then there is just one story of grace. And mercy…
One story that leaves me with hope for what’s to come and whose I am. This world is mean, and sad, and harsh, and unforgiving, and dangerous…
My God is not.
Okay, tangent alert! I apologize. But truly, if you have the chance, you should go stand in that yard. You should go sense that weight. Don’t just drive by the house like I have a dozen times. Go in and see.
After the Carter house tour was over, we headed down the road to the Carnton Plantation.
And actually, the word Plantation isn’t historically accurate- although that is what it is called- because apparently Plantations refer to farms that produce only ONE crop. So farms that produced only cotton would be a plantation. The Carnton farm yielded several crops and animals, and yet the Plantation title remains.
That’s not really part of the story, but history nonetheless, so you’re welcome.
The Carnton House was only a few short miles down the battle field from the Carter House. It would have been where the farthest right flank of the Confederate soldiers would be lining up to advance on the Union soldiers. The Carter house is Ground Zero- the dead center of the Confederate attacking line.
The Carter house is modest. Good ol’ Fountain Carter was still a millionaire but only maybe a $1-2 million, millionaire. The Carnton family, however, they were $10-15 million, millionaires (I’m giving you modern day money reference… they only had like $10 and $35 respectively at the time, but you know… inflation). So if the Carter house was modest, the Carnton house was elaborate! And of course, the Carter house just so happened to have about 12 people living in the two bedroom home at the time of the battle, whereas the Carnton home housed only 4 people. 2 adults and 2 children.
So here is the difference between the two tours that day- the Carter house and the Carnton house. The Carter house was ALL battle history. Facts, and figures, and strategy, and big picture.
But the Carnton house… that was heart, and stories, and tears, and details… all the missing pieces of the first tour, were so well rounded out in the second tour. And if you ever get the chance, I strongly recommend you do them both, and you’ve got to do them in the order we did them. The Carter house gives you the bones… and the Carnton house gives you the flesh…
On November 30th, Carrie and John McGavock and their two children, Hattie (9) and Winder (7), watched as their home became the largest field hospital of the battle. Within an hour of watching the Confederate soldiers march through their front yard, Carrie assisted as hundreds of wounded men began to flood through her front door.
It is said that as many as 300 dying men were brought inside the house that evening, and another 200 more were left wounded or dying in the yard surrounding the house, waiting for their chance to come in. The two children’s rooms upstairs became the two operating rooms. They had the best windows with the best light. I stood in these children’s rooms- the wood floors are still stained with blood over 150 years later.
Carrie, whose skirt was noted to have been soaked with blood from the hem to the waist, could do nothing more than comfort and assist men as they crossed over. It’s said that 150 men died in her house that first night, and it was months before the last wounded solider would walk out her door.
Again, I ask you… can you even imagine?
The tour guide at the Carter house was a man, and a history enthusiast. The tour guide at the Carnton house was a woman, and a mom…
She told of the stories of Carrie. She spoke about the many, many references that were made in the journals of the soldiers who were treated or died in Carrie’s home. They spoke about the woman, the mom, who helped them.
I’m a mom.
I think about Carrie, and what it must have been like for her that night, and the nights that would follow. She had lost children- three to childhood illness and disease, as was common then. She knew this kind of sadness. She knew that although she would have loved to, she couldn’t shelter her existing two, young babies from the carnage of that night. She couldn’t erase the horror from their eyes. She couldn’t save them from the haunting memories anymore than she could save the men who were brought to her home that night.
How helpless she must have felt…
The tour guide spoke about a reenactment that they had done at the house a few years ago on the 150th anniversary- these southerners love their reenactments and I can’t wait to see one. She spoke not about the amount of people that were piled into the house, and not about the blood or the smell or the horror of what it looked like in the house that night… she spoke about the sound. She said that the noise coming from the house- the moaning, the crying, the screams of pain, the calls for ‘mom’- she said it was more than she could take. She said it was deafening. And she said she only lasted about 15 minutes before she couldn’t take it anymore and had to leave to compose herself.
That was make-believe. Those were actors.
Can you imagine Carrie?
But no one wrote about how Carrie was losing it, or squeamish, or crying, or screaming… they wrote of how she was kind, and calm, and loving, and patient.
Again… in the midst of this sadness, in the midst of this horror and death and loss and pain… I see God. I see grace. I see mercy. I see hope. I see this woman… plopped right in the middle of it all, holding the hands of the men who are crying out… and I don’t see coincidence. I see Jesus right there living through Carrie.
It absolutely brought tears to my eyes. Tears of sadness, but also tears of joy for a God who cries tears of sadness just like I do.
Like I said, it turns out that I love history. It moves me. It changes me. Not because I was a part of the history, but because when you go and stand in it, it becomes a part of you. You take it with you.
Out back of the Carnton house is the largest privately owned Confederate cemetery. About 18 months after the war was said and done, and the Union Army had won, John and Carrie donated two acres of their land to be used as a cemetery for the men who were buried in mass graves in and around the yard of the Carter House. The funds were raised and the volunteers showed up to exhume nearly 1500 bodies to be properly buried and documented in the Confederate cemetery at the Carnton Plantation.
There is no moving on from this. Yes, although the blood still stains the floors, they cleaned their house. They bought new carpets and new bedding and they painted. They rebuilt there life in exactly the same place that life happened to them. But no amount of paint or carpet causes you to forget. And so why not remember? Why not honor the story and put up a cemetery to preserve the memory of what happened that night? I think it might be one of my favorite twists to the story. Because this is the story of a family. This happened. And Carrie and John and Hattie and Winder… they remembered it. They honored it.
And that’s remarkable.
Thanks for coming along with me on this journey, Readers. It’s been fun to recount… heavy and emotional, but fun nonetheless. I hope you have the opportunity to visit a place like this, not to revel in the sadness of it, but to see the God in it.