Monday, December 6, 2010

Women and the Battle of Franklin

There is no portrait of a lady to share this week. The women who herded their children down these stairs while a fierce battle waged around them are barely mentioned in this place. They are, as I said last week, more of a footnote to the story of the Battle of Franklin, wherein eighteen thousand mostly barefoot and starving Confederate soldiers engaged the Federal army.Hay bales literally yards from this back door mark the line of battle, but the battle doesn’t stop at those hay bales. It surges past it until
men fight in the yard while sisters and mothers and children huddle in a stone-lined basement room, and two non-combatants do their best to keep soldiers
in search of respite from breaking in.

One of the men in that basement room, Moscow Carter, has already been a prisoner of war. His wife is dead and he has signed the oath of allegiance to the union so he can get home to help care for his four children. Moscow’s father, Fountain Branch, is also a widower. When Fountain Branch and his wife Polly moved into this lovely

brick home, it was at the edge of town on Columbia Pike, the main road to Nashville. It takes more than a little effort to imagine farmland and isolation today, as our tour guide tells us that the
cotton gin was across the two-lane paved road near the Dominos Pizza.

But in the basement, with the saw-marks still evident on the undersides of the floorboards above your head and the faint aroma of “basement,” it gets easier to imagine the four women living here in what must have sounded like hell.

One woman, Fountain Branch’s daughter-in-law, has come north from Mississippi with her two children … to be safer. What must she be thinking as she huddles in the basement? Can she hear the bullets peppering the side of the house? Can sh
e hear the screams?

When the battle is over, Squire Carter and his two daughters light lanterns and go looking for their brother, Todd. He’s been off at war for a long while; a courier and aide to one of the generals fighting here. He’s out there … somewhere. They find him, only 175 yar

ds from the house. He’s been lying on the battlefield through the long, frigid night. While an 8-year-old and an 11-year-old hold lanterns, a doctor operates on Todd’s head wound and moves on to others. He will use the parlor for a surgical theatre. Forty hours later, resting in the room pictured on the right. wounded in what was left of the family’s vegetable garden, Todd will die just a few yards from the room where he was born.

In two days, when the Confederate army leaves the area for Nashville and another ill-fated battle, the women of Franklin will be called on to nurse the wounded left behind. Thousands of wounded. The nurse’s photographs do not hang on the walls of the Carter House museum alongside those of the men they cared for. [Photos aren't allowed there.]

The women of Franklin remain mostly nameless, represented in the museum only by an ammunitions chest that Moscow Carter found on the battlefield and the family (presumably the women) later used “to hold quilts,” and in the fine running stitches that hold white stars on the blue ground of a hand-pieced flag “presented to the men of Company D, First Tennessee Regiment … by the ladies of Franklin.”

Who were they? What were they names? What did they look like? How did they feel about … anything?

The museum doesn’t tell us. The tour guide doesn’t say. And the walls of Carter House keep those secrets.

1 comment:

  1. History.

    Does the time and place really matter?

    Just as there is said to be a universal soldier, so too, there are universal wives, sisters, and mothers.

    There is a commonality in madness where killing is involved. Knowing any one, be they Greek, Indian, or Confederate, is to know the others. It’s the knowledge of good and evil. It can’t be helped.