Carter House Association acquires key part of Franklin Battlefield

As published in the Murfreesboro Post, Mike West, Managing Editor Writer

The Carter House, Franklin, Tennessee

The Carter House, Franklin, Tennessee

Wednesday, November 28, 2006

FRANKLIN – The Carter House Association Inc. announces the acquisition of a key part of Franklin’s battlefield—a portion of the homestead garden of Fountain Branch Carter—from Chris Waller in a transaction that closed on Nov. 14, according to Rusty Womack, president of the Board of Directors of The Carter House Association.

“We are pleased to be able to announce this so close to the celebration of the 142nd Anniversary of Battle of Franklin,” said Womack. “On Thursday, Nov. 30, 2006, we will remember the 1864 Battle of Franklin with ceremonies, a two-mile walk to The Carter House, lectures, and living history programs.”

“Through diligent planning and saving, The Carter House Association has purchased this approximately one-half acre of property, which is part of the core battlefield adjacent to the Carter House. Through the years, the Association has been trying to reclaim the battle site, which was at the epicenter of where the Battle of Franklin occurred. We hope to eventually take it back to the way it was in the Master Plan in 1864, recreating the breastworks, entrenchment and other features of the battle site,” said Womack.

Currently the property that was owned by Waller is occupied by a house, a mobile home and accessory buildings. According to the sale agreement, these residents will be allowed to remain up to one year, until they are able to relocate, then the reclamation of the land will begin to take place over a period of years as additional funds are raised for restoration and interpretation of historical features of the property.

Though the Carter House property itself is owned by the State of Tennessee and operated by the Carter House Association, the ownership of the new property resides solely with the Carter House Association.

Gene McNeil, treasurer, past president and 18-year-member on the Board of Directors, said, ” We have had a goal for years to put money back so that some day when adjacent property was for sale, we would be able to purchase it. Sure enough, we had the opportunity, and we negotiated for over a year. We did this without any public funds, and with the assistance of Cumberland Bank, we were able to purchase the property.”

McNeil continued, “We are excited about the potential of being able to accurately interpret the site as to what really happened during the war. In a year, after the house, mobile home and accessory buildings are vacated, we plan to clear the property of the mobile home and accessory buildings, open up the land by eliminating the fences and make it more a part of the entire Carter House property.”

The newly acquired property, at 124 Strahl Street, is bounded on the east by the properties occupied by Franklin Florist and Willowbrook Hospice Inc., which face Columbia Avenue, and on the south by Strahl Street, with other boundaries adjacent to the Carter House property. The entire Carter House Garden was irregular in shape, about 65 yards deep and 125 yards long, and originally encompassed about two acres. The purchase is approximately one-half acre of this portion. The garden, with the inner trench lines for the North and South on its boundaries, was a “no man’s land.”

Even today, the buildings remaining on the Carter House property are a living testimony to the furious battle that took place on Nov. 30, 1864. Not only does the home itself hold the marks of the bullets, but the wood frame office building, where the business of this working farm took place, is riddled with 207 bullet holes, some of which entered on one side and exited on the other. The Carter farm office has the most bullet holes of any building still standing from the Civil War. Nearby is the brick smokehouse, which also bears the scars from the gunfire. In all, over 1,000 bullet holes can be seen throughout the historic site.

In the chapter, “The Pandemonium of Hell Turned Loose,” in the book, Embrace an Angry Wind, first published in 1992, and later retitled, Confederacy’s Last Hurrah, Wiley Sword relates, “So many attempts were made to get across the Carter garden that one of Strickland’s lieutenant colonels counted thirteen separate, repulsed charges. Due to the converging lines, most Confederate regiments and brigades were randomly mixed together, and no one seemed to be in control. . . .Each time a portion of the Confederate line leapt over the breastworks and dashed forward, they were met with a hail of fire.”

Thomas Cartwright, executive director of the Carter House emphasizes, “These two acres were among the bloodiest of the whole war.” He quotes Confederate General Frank Cheatham, corps commander, “The dead were stacked like wheat and scattered like sheathes of grain. You could walk on the field on the bodies without touching the ground. I never saw a field like that, and I never want to see a field like that again.”

Cartwright, who daily educates visitors from all over the world about the colorful history of the Carter House property, elaborates on the scene, “The 20th Ohio Four Gun Battery was placed near the Carter’s smokehouse overlooking the garden, and they fired 169 rounds. Those four guns were under the command of Captain Scovill and Junior Lieutenant Burdick. This battery was captured by elements of Brown’s Division. Colonel Emerson Opdycke’s Illinois First Brigade recaptured the battery in vicious hand-to-hand fighting. Sergeant Horn assisted in command of the battery after Burdick was mortally wounded.”

Cartwright tells of the words of Canadian-born Lieutenant Alonzo Wolverton, of the 20th Ohio Light Artillery, when he wrote home several weeks later, “The rebs came on to us in full force, and there ensued one of the hardest fought battles since this war commenced. The rebs, determined to conquer or die, made thirteen desperate charges. Several times, they planted their colors within ten feet of our cannon, and our men would knock them down with their muskets or the artillerymen with their sponge staffs and handspikes. . . . I never dreamed the men would fight with such desperation. I never expected to come out alive.”

“The 20th Ohio Light Artillery lost half its men during the battle,” depicts Cartwright. “As an example of how bad the scene was, Col. F. E. P. Stafford, of the 31st Tennessee regiment, was found standing up dead and wedged in by the bodies that were six or seven deep stacked like cord wood.”

In his official report recorded in the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Colonel Emerson Opdycke, 125th Ohio Infantry, who was commanding the First Brigade for operations November 29-30 and December 15-16, 1864, wrote, “I twice stepped to the front of the works on the Columbia Pike to see the effect of such fighting. I never saw the dead lay near so thick. I saw them upon each other, dead and ghastly in the powder-dimmed starlight.”

In an essay published in A History of the Seventy-Third Regiment of Illinois Infantry in 1890, W. H. Newlin, formerly of Company B, 73rd Illinois Infantry, reflected on the horror that day, “Description or imagination is hardly equal to the task of picturing the scene at this time . . . . The contending elements of hell turned loose would seem almost as a Methodist love-feast compared to the pandemonium that reigned there for the space of ten or twenty minutes. The scenes that were witnessed during that short space of time were so indelibly stamped upon the minds of the participants that even a long life spent in peaceful pursuits will not suffice to erase or dim them.”

Cartwright recalls, “These were some of the bloodiest hours of the Civil War, with approximately 9,000 men killed, wounded or mortally wounded in five hours.”

David C. Hinze, author of The Battle of Carthage, Border war in southwest Missouri, July, 1861, writes, “The Carter Garden is one of the most critical pieces of ground of the Civil War. It is when men became living demons brutally fighting at an insanely close range, and yet it represents the dogged persistence of both armies, who refused to yield to their foe. The Carter Garden is as close as we humans will get to the vortex of hell on this earth.”

Built in 1830 by Fountain Branch Carter, the Carter House. a Registered Historic Landmark, is a nonprofit museum and interpretive center for the Battle of Franklin. During this battle, the modest brick Carter House became the Federal Command Post, while the family took refuge in the basement.

Open to the public, the Carter House, its historic buildings, the eight acres of preserved battlefield, and the Visitor Center, serve as a memorial to the Carter family, as well as the countless heroes in the Battle of Franklin. The site, located at 1140 Columbia Ave, is open to the public Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (winter hours), and Sunday, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., for a small entrance fee. For further information or directions, please call (615) 791-1861, e-mail [email protected], or visit the website at

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