Five hours of intense battle raged; shots fired and cannons pounded, camouflaging screams of pain and passion. Slowly, the war cries morphed into the miserable moans of the dying and injured. The innocent citizens of Franklin, Tennessee, emerged from their homes and basements, safe holds of community, and beheld a grizzly scene. Thousands of bodies lay before them, scattered across the landscape they so cherished and loved. The view would forever scar their memories, and the blood spilled would forever stain their homes.
Those homes and plantations still bear the scars of that fateful day. Many of them serve as museums, honoring the dead and reminding the living of the terror and brutality of the Battle of Franklin. The Battle of Franklin Trust oversees the operations of some of these historic landmarks, including the Carnton Plantation and the Carter House.
The Carnton Plantation, built in 1826 by former mayor of Nashville Randal McGavock, was an iconic plantation for several decades following its construction. The stately home was frequented by famed figures of Tennessee and all of America, including President Andrew Jackson (a close friend of McGavock). The sprawling Greek Revival back porch played host to visitors of all sorts, enjoying the sticky heat of day under her cool eaves. In addition to her frequent visitors, Carnton was renowned as one of the most successful farms in Williamson County, finding unerring success in crops like wheat, corn, oats, hay, and potatoes. McGavock died in 1843 and willed the plantation to his son John; the politician was never to see the massacre of his beloved home.
When chaos struck on November 30, 1864, Carnton became the largest field hospital for the Battle of Franklin. Located just a mile from the center of the battle, hundreds of wounded and dying soldiers flocked to Carnton. The first night alone, the McGavocks tended to 300 soldiers within the walls of their home, with hundreds more dispersed across the property, in sheds and slave cabins. John’s wife Carrie was seen bustling around her home, bringing comfort and supplies to soldiers, her skirt hem drenched in blood. Even their two young children served as surgeon’s aids during the heat of battle.
Following the conflict, thousands of Confederate soldiers were hastily buried across the landscape, their bodies crudely marked by wooden stakes with rough inscriptions. In 1866, the McGavocks donated two acres in order to reinter the soldiers in proper graves. One thousand four hundred eighty-one soldiers were unearthed and reburied in McGavock Confederate Cemetery, within view of the majestic plantation house. The cemetery remains the largest privately owned military cemetery in the country.
The McGavock family continued to own and operate the plantation following the war. In 1911, the widowed daughter-in-law of John McGavock sold the property, beginning a series of decades of miscellaneous ownership as the house and property fell into disrepair. In the late 1970’s, the Carnton Association was formed in the hopes of purchasing, restoring, and maintaining the historic property—a dream that came to fruition throughout the final decades of the twentieth century.
Located a mile and a half west of Carnton Plantation and just south of downtown Franklin sits the Carter House. When Fountain Branch Carter built his house in 1830, he left behind a successful business in town in order to pursue farming. What many might have considered a risky move—abandoning a lucrative business for the over-saturated and unreliable farming market—turned out to be a rewarding venture for Carter and his growing family. In just twenty years, his humble farm grew from nineteen acres to an astounding 288. The property even boasted its own cotton gin. Carter, it seemed, was a natural-born farmer.
But, like so many other residents of Franklin, Carter’s success was abruptly broken with the Battle of Franklin. In the weak light preceding dawn on the day of the battle, the Carters were awakened by Federal Brigadier General Jacob D. Cox. The General took possession of the house and claimed the parlor as his headquarters. Several hours later, the Carters, along with their neighbors the Lotzs, huddled in the basement of the brick abode and listened as war raged above.
Following the decisive battle, the Carters story was changed forever. The farm was never again profitable, seemingly scarred by the blood spilled on its grounds. The family sold the house in 1896; some fifty years later, in 1951, the State of Tennessee purchased the property and opened it to the public in 1953.
Today both the Carter House and Carnton Plantation are operated and maintained by the Battle of Franklin Trust. A short jaunt can take you between properties, both of which tout antiques and artifacts, and even the occasional bloodstain.
SEE MORE “CARNTON AND CARTER PLANTATION” PHOTOS HERE