It was a beautiful late fall day as we drove up the drive to Carnton Plantation in Franklin, Tennessee. It was the anniversary of the Battle of Franklin and today was the reenactment, albeit on a much smaller scale. The real thing wasn’t limited just to the fields around Carnton, but stretched into the streets of Franklin itself. Today’s demonstration was to be much smaller, but in addition to seeing a few cannons fire as Yankee and Confederate soldiers marched towards each other across a field, there was also a Civil War village, complete with hoop skirts, daguerreotype camera, field hospital, and even Abraham Lincoln.
It is hard to imagine what it would have actually been like in November 1864 as soldiers began marching across these fields. I’m sure it was much more chaotic than today’s demonstration. We watched as Confederates shot off a cannon as Yankee reenactors marched headlong into the smoke. The sound of one small cannon is enough to shake the ground, so it is impossible to imagine what many would sound like. And the smoke, the smoke that drifted over the field after it fired would have been minuscule compared to the smoke generated by many.
The fear that must have been in the minds of those living in Carnton as the events of that day played out all around them must have been immeasurable. Today, there are small displays of life on a southern plantation in the 19th century. Women sit on the porch in full costume, knitting and talking. Nearby is the sound of slave hymnals being sung, the sound is heartbreaking, but the voices are sweet and clear.
Around to the side and back of the main house are displays of a soldier’s campsite.
Samples of various uniforms and weaponry are laid out as well. An old man sits, balancing on a camp stool, just taking in the scene.
Nearby folks take a closer look at the old time camera and modern day daguerreotypes on display.
All around are others, dressed in costume, and engaging visitors in vignettes of 19th century life. This is all we have left these days – threads of a life that was and the horrors people lived through. Events like this are important as they force us to remember and understand, but they almost seem silly in light of the real history.
Watching over it all is the majestic old lady, Carnton Plantation house. She would have witnessed what happened here in 1864, her wooden floors still stained with the blood of the dying who came here during and after the battle. Her back porch, where just now a group of ladies in hoop skirts sits talking, would have had five Confederate generals laid out dead on that winter afternoon long ago. Near the site where the cannon fires today lie the mortal remains of the real men who fought and died here.
Despite the light-hearted atmosphere of this day, there is a very real feeling that haunts this place – events happened that scarred this land in a way that can never be forgotten or erased. Stepping away from the noise of the crowd, you feel that memory reverberating across the centuries and you want to know more.
There, in the foggy mind of the distant past, is the real story…the one worth telling…
continues with The Widow McGavock
All photos by the author.