Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Battle Of Franklin - The Fight Around The Carter House

  Four thirty PM on the afternoon of November 30, 1864 was a critical moment in the Battle of Franklin. Confederate troops had punched a hole in the Federal line on the Columbia Pike between the Carter Cotton Gin and the Carter House. Vicious fighting erupted all around the House and garden. Just a few minutes earlier as the Confederate attack approached the house, Fountain Branch Carter led sixteen members of his family and slaves down into the basement to take refuge from the battle. A little girl was nearly left behind when she went back into the house to find a favorite doll. At the last moment German immigrant and woodworker Johann Lotz led his wife, and twin boys to safety into the basement from his home across the street. The family's were there only because they had been assured by the Yankees that they would have plenty of time to evacuate since Hood would not be foolhardy enough to attack so late in the day. Union general Jacob Cox believed that he would attack first thing in the morning. One Hundred and fifty yards north, and to the rear of the house the brigade commanded by General Emerson Opdyke, was trying to eat their supper when they heard all the noise and commotion in front of them. The brigade had been part of the rear guard protecting the army's retreat into Franklin along the Columbia Pike from Spring Hill. They were tired, hungry and angry at the interruption. Opdykes men met the Confederate attack head-on. The fighting was brutal and at close range. Men used rifle butts, pistols, bayonets, shovels and pickaxes. Brains and blood were spattered everywhere.
Emerson Opdyke
Arthur MacArthur

  Colonel Arthur MacArthur commanded the 24th Wisconsin Infantry regiment and was shot in the shoulder after mounting his horse. He ran into a Confederate Officer in the road near the front door of the Carter House. The rebel shot MacArthur at point blank range in the chest. Thinking he had killed MacArthur he turned to give orders to his men. MacArthur ran the officer through the chest with his sword. The rebel shot MacArthur in the kneecap as he fell. If he had been killed that day his son General Douglas MacArthur would not have been born. MacArthur would recuperate in a Nashville hospital for the next several weeks missing the battle of Nashville. Opdykes refusal to obey orders earlier that day had saved the Federal Army from destruction. His division commander Brigadier General George Wagner had ordered Opdyke to post his men out in front of the main Federal line along with Wagner's other two brigades. Opdyke refused because he considered the order ill advised. It has been alleged that Wagner was drunk that day. Opdyke posted his men to the rear of the line instead. This disobedience placed Opdyke in a position to save the Union army at a critical moment of the battle. Wagner's advanced position almost led to disaster because they were overwhelmed by the much larger Confederate army as it advanced. Wagner's men fled just in front of the Confederate line and men in the main Union line could not fire for fear of hitting their own men. Opdykes men stalled the Confederate attack and for the next four hours the battle became an absolute bloodbath. The battle took place along a line from the Lewisburg pike on the Confederate right to the Carters Creek Pike on the left but the bloodiest part of the battle occurred within a hundred yard radius of the Carter House and Columbia Pike. Eyewitnesses reported seeing pools of blood ankle deep. Dead men were stacked so thick in the trenches that men died standing up. At least two cannonballs passed through the Carter House along with scores of bullets.
Fight around the Carter House

  If you tour the house there is a spinning wheel with bullet holes and you can see the tracks of bullets through the entire house. It is said that the house and outbuildings are the most battle damaged buildings in existence in the United States. The house was built on 19 acres in 1829 and upon Fountain Carter's death in 1871 ownership passed on to his oldest surviving son Moscow Carter. Moscow eventually sold the house and it passed through several owners until  1951 when it was decided that the house would be torn down and replaced by a gas station. Luckily, after a citizen petitioned the governor, the house and land was bought by the State of Tennessee and the Carter House was designated a historic site in 1953. 

Cellar where the family hid during the battle

Farm Office

A Union soldier was standing sentry in this doorway when the battle started. The bullets were flying thick and fast around him. Dents can be seen from his ramrod in the wood over the door as he reloaded his rifle. Suddenly a bullet came too close for comfort. The track of a bullet can be traced in the white door to the right where it lodged in the white post to the left. The soldier took the butt of his rifle and knocked out the bottom panel of the door, crawling inside to safety. After the battle Fountain Branch Carter covered the hole with sheet metal which is still there. The soldier also left his rifle. Years later he came back for a visit to the Carter House and Mr. Carter returned the rifle to him.  


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