By Mel Maurer
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2004, All Rights Reserved
Part 1 of a 6-part article
Franklin, Tennessee is located in Williamson County – an area rich in history first occupied by Indians with a highly developed culture who lived on farms and in towns. Later, other Indians, Creeks, Chickasaws, and Cherokees, made Williamson’s lush hills, valleys, and streams their hunting grounds. The original white settlers moved into the area in the late 1700s from Ft. Nashboro in what is now Nashville about 20 miles north of Franklin. General John Bell Hood brought his Army of Tennessee into the county from the south in 1864, taking on the Federal army of John Schofield in the Battle of Franklin in what would be called “The Bloodiest Five Hours of the Civil War.” Although not likely to be noted in any history books, my wife Elaine and I arrived in Williamson County in late December 1991.
Native Clevelanders, we had been living in Ft. Wayne, Indiana for six years, having moved there with the relocation of my division. Now my division was being merged with another division which was headquartered in Brentwood, Tennessee, 16 miles south of Nashville in Williamson County, just north of Franklin. While we regretted moving even further from our adult children and their families in Cleveland, we looked forward to life in a new part of the country – especially me with a long-time interest in the Civil War.
This area became Williamson (after Revolutionary War General Hugh Williamson) County in 1799. The same act created the town of Franklin (yes, Benjamin Franklin). Revolutionary War soldiers, using land grants received during the war as compensation, became its first settlers. During the “War Between the States,” as I learned to call it in the South, Tennessee was the second most fought over state during the war, and as I would learn, the “Bread Basket” Williamson area with its farms was its most fought over county. I intended to make the most of this unique opportunity, and I did. In this series of articles, I’ll try to share with you my experiences as a student of the war and as a Yankee in the sSuth – the history, the people, the places, and some insights.
Not that being a Yankee there was that unusual – Franklin and Brentwood, Williamson County’s largest towns, today are bedroom communities for the greater Nashville area and many of those working at the Saturn plant in nearby Spring Hill. Its approximately 100,000 people are from all over the country. These towns are also home for many of the country music stars including the Judds, Vince Gill, Amy Grant, Dolly Parton, George Jones, Tom T. Hall, Billy Ray Cyrus, and many others – some movie stars, too. Pam Lewis, Garth Brooks’ manager until 1995, owns the Harrison House where John Bell Hood held his last staff meeting before the battle on November 30, 1864 and where CSA General John Carter died of the wounds received in the Battle of Franklin – the 6th general to die. Pam and her husband are very active in historic preservation.
Once our move date was confirmed, I prepared for house hunting by getting maps of Williamson County and Franklin. I also bought and read Five Tragic Hours: The Battle of Franklin by McDonough and Connelly, which includes historical maps. (This would be the first of many books I would read on Hood’s last campaign.) With all of these maps I was able to attach historical significance, if any, to the various areas we looked in for housing. While I wasn’t exactly looking for a house on the old battlefield (there is no field left to this battlefield – it’s now filled with various businesses and many homes), I thought it would be neat to get something close to where some action took place. This approach also enabled me to learn quite a bit about the area in a short time.
After initially not finding an existing home – the growth rate in the county had just taken off after a lull of a few years – we decided to build a place in a relatively new development. My wife liked the area, and I was thrilled to learn it was very close to where the Federal (as the Union is called in the South) artillery was set up during that bloody battle just slightly northeast of downtown Franklin. “I like the neighborhood, too, honey,” I said to my wife. However, after the builder wanted more money out of my carpetbag than I was willing to give him (a transplanted Michigander), we gave up those plans and began to search again after the first of the year. We had success within two weeks – buying a two-year-old home in a nice development on one of the hills just about three miles northeast of Franklin. Three miles down the hill and north was my office and the area’s biggest shopping mall. I was pleased to learn that the development’s grounds were once known as “Rebels’ Rest,” an area used by Hood’s forces after the battle before heading up to the hills overlooking Nashville.
The development included a historic home, almost in our backyard, dating back to 1840. This home, like every other home, church, and business, was used as a hospital after the battle. I took it as a bonus that I could stand on my front steps and look up at Roper’s Knob, the highest hill in the area, the top of which served as a communications center for the Federals during their occupation of the area. I was told it still had the remains of an earthen fort at the top, although everything on the hill was overgrown and completely undeveloped. One of my many goals was to find a way up to the top to see what was left of a fort that once held 60-80 men.
I would eventually get to the top of that hill and to many other places not readily available to tourists. I would also learn much from new friends whose families date back to those antebellum days of moonlight and magnolias and slavery.
In Part 2, I’ll cover some initial contacts I made and where they led me at a time when the Franklin area was just in the early stages of recognizing its unique history and beginning to take steps to preserve it and market it. It will feature the return of a Confederate general and one of Franklin’s historic mansions.
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