Cashing in on History

Friday, November 30, 2007
Photos by Clint Confehr Plans for a new visitors center are being unveiled today at Carnton Plantation in Franklin.

FRANKLIN -- Confederate hero Nathan Bedford Forrest, whose boyhood home is in Chapel Hill, argued for a flanking action, but Gen. John Bell Hood overruled Forrest and ordered a frontal assault instead.

The carnage that resulted is remembered as the Battle of Franklin. Today at 1 p.m., exactly 143 years after that terrible day, Tennessee officials were to unveil plans for a new visitors center at Carnton Plantation.

Like other large homes situated near Civil War battlefields, Carnton Plantation saw service as a field hospital. The fighting there would probably would have made the mansion resemble a big M.A.S.H. tent anyway, but the conflict of opinions between Forrest and Hood on what Rebel troops should have done is among the historical tidbits offered by Carnton tour guide Eric Jacobson, author and Carnton Civil War historian.

Legend has it that army surgeons operating at Carnton amputated arms and legs at such a fevered pace -- tossing the severed limbs through a nearby window -- that they were soon stacked to the windowsill. Jacobson debunked that notion with simple logic during a recent hour-long tour.

He pointed out that in reality the severed limbs probably reached no higher than the operating table. But, he added, isn't that awful enough?

Hood was among those who saw action at Gettysburg. Ironically, on July 3, 1863, it was Hood who argued for a flanking action, but Gen. Robert E. Lee ordered the frontal assault that became known as Pickett's Charge, widely seen as the turning point in the War Between the States.

The war would rage on for more than a year and a half after that fateful day. During Gen. William T. Sherman's March to the Sea, the Union general dispatched troops to defend Nashville, and the conflict at Franklin became a part of the war's history that has been all but forgotten.

A publicity blitz to change that is being waged in Williamson County with the publishing of a relatively new book, "The Widow of the South" by Franklin resident Robert Hicks, and the purchase of a golf course near Carnton Plantation to restore fairways to look like the battlefield.

The concept of heritage tourism isn't lost on the locals here, who have organized a variety of activities this weekend when Carnton Plantation will host what's being called "Blue and Gray Days."

Across from the golf course, which was purchased for $5 million with private donations and city money, there will be Civil War re-enactors, period music, battlefield tours and hospital demonstrations.

A bonfire will burn from 6-9 p.m. Saturday, while from 7-8:30 p.m. there will be guided candle light tours of the house that was once served as one of the largest and most active field hospitals of the Civil War.

Getting to Carnton Plantation from Lewisburg is as easy as following Franklin Pike north from State Route 50 north of town. Motorists will have another dozen miles to drive before crossing Mack Hatcher Parkway. Then, just south of the tracks that served the Nashville and Decatur Railroad in 1864, there are signs on the road that Franklin residents call Lewisburg Pike. Those signs point to Carnton Plantation just west of the pike.

Near the plantation house, nearly 1,500 Confederate soldiers are buried. Almost 9,500 soldiers, Union and Confederate, were killed, wounded, captured or missing as a result of the five-hour battle of Franklin -- a greater toll in human life than that exacted three-quarters of a century later on the shores of Normandy, France, during what has become remembered as the longest day.

Some events are free this weekend. Others cost $5 for students and $10 for adults. For more information call 615-794-0903, or visit