Behind the Lines: My Life as a Yankee in Franklin, TN, Part 5

By Mel Maurer
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2004, All Rights Reserved

Part 5 of a 6-part article

Franklin had four major events each year at the time I moved there – one in each season. The last weekend in April, the town’s street were closed and filled with various booths of goodies and crafts for Franklin’s annual and very well attended “Main Street Festival.” In August stages were set up on several downtown streets for the town’s annual Jazz Festival (yes, jazz, not country music). On the closest weekend to Halloween, the streets were again closed for Pumpkin Fest with a costumed parade of young and old and various activities and booths. On an early weekend in December, the Heritage Society holds its “Dickens of a Christmas” festival, wherein townspeople dress up as Dickens characters, and the town becomes an English village, an event that attracts hundreds of visitors over its two days. (I was Batman for Pumpkin Fest and David Copperfield for Dickens, but I never had the chance to dress as a Federal or Confederate.)

I loved these events, but other smaller events also attracted my interest. One was a ceremony held at the Confederate Cemetery at Carnton Plantation. (See Part 3.) This event was held to honor those who died in the war on both sides. I found it to be a very moving ceremony with national patriotism and local charm. Old Glory was flown there along with the Stars and Bars, with both receiving great respect as prayers were said and the dead remembered. I was happy to see the ceremony begin with the Pledge of Allegiance (yes, to Old Glory). This cemetery also respectfully included Halloween activities. There was one night around Halloween day that men, dressed as Confederate soldiers, would stand at various graves where they would speak to people touring the grounds, representing the person in the grave. It was always a well-attended event, and I’m told very moving, but somehow I was never able to be there for it.

The Confederate Cemetery at Carnton

It was also interesting to participate along with my nephew, Jim, who was visiting us, in an annual walk on November 30th with the Sons of the Confederacy and others. For some reason our wives did not want to join us, although they were kind enough to take us to Winsted Hill to begin the walk. They also picked us up after the walk. This walk would take us from Winsted Hill to the Lotz House – across Columbia Road (route 31) from the Carter House. Many of the walkers, including Tom Cartwright, curator of the Carter House (who spoke to the Roundtable in 1999), and Ronny Mangrum, curator of the Lotz House Museum, wore very authentic looking Confederate uniforms – or what was left of them – for the walk. (Tom and Ronny are members of the “Sons of the Confederacy.”) They also walked barefooted. Jim and I decided to keep our shoes on for the three-mile walk. After a brief ceremony at the site where Hood looked out over what was to be his battlefield and said, “We shall make the fight,” the walk began on the east side berm of the road, two or three people abreast. (This site is well marked – you can walk up some stairs to a cover platform from which you can look out over the land leading to Franklin. The lookout position also has an excellent relief map to help you get a perspective on the attack.) Our walk had no sooner started when a driver, heading south, apparently opposing the walk, aimed his car at the walkers at the head of the line, nearly hitting some. While Jim and I were not that close to this incident, we couldn’t help but speculate on what would have been the irony of two Yankees getting killed in a Confederate march.

The Lotz House

The march did provide the opportunity to learn firsthand (or foot) the terrain Hood’s men passed over on their attacks. Walking north, the ground rises and falls slightly until rising again to the point where Wagner’s Brigade was stationed until it turned and ran toward its own lines – followed by Confederates close at their heels through the still open lines on Columbia Road. It’s easy to imagine the shock that this brigade felt when all of a sudden they saw thousands of butternut and gray uniforms under bayonets, once hidden by the undulating terrain, coming at them. There were no blue uniforms to run when we got to that point – and neither Jim nor I felt much like running anyway – no more cars were trying to hit us.

The march ended at the Lotz House (now a museum). The young man who had been killed the year before by a gang for having the Stars and Bars on his pick-up truck was honored in a brief ceremony. Unlike the cemetery ceremony, this was totally a “southern cause” event. (A German family named Lotz lived in this house on November 30, 1864. They crossed the road to the Carter House and stayed with the Carter family in its cellar during the battle. It was on their front lawn that Major Arthur McArthur, father of General Douglas McArthur, was shot three times before killing his attacker.) We had good weather for the walk – moderate temperatures and clear skies. I would learn in my four years there that the weather on November 30th varied quite a bit from year to year, but it never got as cold as it did in 1864. I was told that no matter how cold it got, the day’s barefoot marchers always walked barefoot.

The march was not the first time I would see “Confederate” soldiers or, for that matter, “Federal” soldiers in Williamson County. The event that stands out in terms of re-enactors was a major re-enactment of the Nashville Campaign in late October 1995. The Spring Hill Affair, The Battle of Franklin, and the Battle of Nashville were recreated over a three-day period in Spring Hill on hundreds of undeveloped acres directly across Columbia Road from the Saturn Plant. The landmark on this property is a house, known today as “Rippavilla.” During the war it was the Martin Cheairs House (a columned plantation-like structure) and the surrounding land Martin Cheairs’ farm. It was here that Hood held his breakfast staff meeting the morning of November 30th after he awoke to find the Union Army had walked through his lines the previous night.

Earl Van Dorn

The house, now owned by Saturn, is not open to the public. I was fortunate enough to have been in the house for a box lunch one time as a member of a Chamber of Commerce committee. It had no furniture and looked like it had been empty a long time. It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that I could still hear Hood yelling at his generals, blaming them for not protecting their lines. It was also here that Nathan Bedford Forrest reportedly told Hood, “If you were a whole man, I’d whip you.” (This house was also noted as where Confederate General Earl Van Dorn, using the house as his headquarters, was shot to death in the spring of 1863 by the then owner of the house, Doctor George B. Peters. It seems Van Dorn was friendlier with the doctor’s wife, Jesse – described as a beautiful brunette, than he should have been. The doctor rode up to the front of the house, tied up his horse, went in the front door, shot the general in the back of the head, and then escaped. The doctor was not caught during the war – there didn’t seem to be much effort to find him – and was never tried after the war when he returned home.) Hood did not spend the night of November 29 at this house, but rather at what is known as “The Thompson House” a few miles southeast of “Rippavilla. It’s still there today, privately owned and only open to the public on special occasions.

The first day of the re-enactment, a Friday, was cold and very wet, causing some logistics problems in getting everything set up. It helped that each event was to be staged in different parts of the property – each similar in topography to the real events – none more so, of course, than Spring Hill since this was part of the actual ground where that took place. Rick and I began our weekend at the re-enactment early Saturday morning (nice weather), and after reconnoitering the various camps, fields, and structures involved in the recreations, we headed for the fields where the Battle of Franklin would take place. At the time this event would be one of the largest ever held in the country with between 7,000 to 10,000 people and hundreds of horses participating. These numbers – with re-enactors changing “sides” as required – gave a genuine sense of the enormity of the attacks. For the Franklin segment, most of the re-enactors were dressed as attacking Confederates. From our vantage point, Hood’s army attacked from the left coming across the field and down a recreated Columbia Road. On the far right at the end of the road were the Federal lines in front of a recreated Carter House and cotton gin. Thousands of uniformed men charging across open fields gave us an awesome sight. We had walked with the long line of troops heading for this battle and we returned, walking with them after the battle. These walks were as moving to us as were the recreated battles.

The Battle of Nashville was staged Sunday under sunny and clear skies in an area where the audience could view the action from the side of a hill – better viewing than it was at ground level the day before. The action would recreate the Union attack on the Confederate positions on Shy’s Hill, so most of the re-enactors were dressed in blue. The attack began with skirmishing, followed by attacking infantry and then hundreds of men on horses – it seemed the lines of attacking cavalry would never end. The scope of this engagement was magnificent. I have a professional tape of the weekend activities which I’d be happy to lend to any member that would like to see it.

Rick and I will never forget this weekend, nor I suspect will the other 30,000 people that attended it with us. This was the third re-enactment in this area. There was one in 1964 and one in 1989 using the land near Roper’s Knob that is now the Legends Golf Course. Sadly, this re-enactment is noted as the one where a re-enactor died while camping out. He was first thought to have died from the cold weather, but he actually died from a heart attack – although the very cold weather that year didn’t help. He became the last casualty of the war in Williamson County.

In the next article I’ll take you to the Carter House – “ A house caught in the swirling center of one of the bloodiest battles of the War Between the States.”

Related links:
Historic Rippavilla
We Shall Make the Fight: General John Bell Hood, CSA and the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee, November 30, 1864
The Battles of Nashville
Franklin in the Civil War
The Battle of Franklin

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