Join a Historic Effort to Save Franklin
A Message from Jim Lighthizer, Civil War Trust President
““It is the blackest page in the history of the war of the Lost Cause. It was the bloodiest battle of modern times in any war. It was the finishing stroke to the independence of the Southern Confederacy. I was there. I saw it. My flesh trembles, and creeps, and crawls when I think of it today.”
— Private Sam Watkins, 1st Tennessee Regiment
How many times in life do you get to do something that is truly heroic?
How many times do you get the chance – not just to preserve – but to reclaim, restore and even resurrect a part of America’s history that had been lost forever?
How many times do you get to turn every $1 you donate for a cause you care about into $6.50?
And how often do you get to do all three things – be a full-fledged hero, leverage your generosity $6.50-to-$1, and save a priceless piece of America’s Civil War history – all at the same time?
As the year draws rapidly to a close, it is my good fortune as president of the Civil War Trust to tell you about one of the most important historic preservation projects I have ever been associated with – at the uniquely significant Franklin Battlefield near Nashville, Tennessee.
Normally, I would send you a special Trust map showing the battle lines of the Union defenders and Confederate attackers in this epic battle on the Indian-summer afternoon of November 30, 1864, nearly 148 years ago to the day.
Today, I’ve done that, and more: I’ve sent you a vision.
To set the table and put things in perspective, let me first remind you about Franklin’s past, and why this ground is so incredibly significant . . .
. . . it was on this hallowed ground that 28,000 Union soldiers under General John Schofield dug in and held on against Confederate General John Bell Hood and his 27,000 boys in gray.
During six hours of the most brutal combat of the entire war – the soldiers who wrote letters or left memoirs universally use the word “slaughter” – the armies were locked in a death struggle, often separated by no more than a few feet of earthworks.
It was certain death for a man on either side to raise his head above these works, so they furiously loaded, stretched their aching arms over the top, held their guns aloft and fired blindly into the opposite side of the mound of earth. There are grisly reports of men in this battle tragically losing both hands, shot off when their arms were only momentarily exposed. The bodies of the dead and wounded piled up like cordwood. The trenches literally ran with blood.
The Battle of Franklin may not be as well known to the general public as Gettysburg, Shiloh or Manassas, but I suggest to you that it is every inch as significant.
Private Sam Watkins noted in his book Company Aytch, that this battle was “the finishing stoke” for the Army of Tennessee and, perhaps, the Confederacy itself.
Hood’s army was decapitated at Franklin. In one unimaginable afternoon, six of his generals were killed or captured (including arguably the South’s best division commander, Patrick Cleburne), another six generals were wounded, and sixty-five other unit commanders of various ranks were cut down.
All told, about 8,500 men – North and South – were killed or wounded that day. That means one man fell on average about every two seconds. . . for five solid hours!
Look at the second hand of your watch, and try to imagine that . . . one-one thousand, two-one thousand, a man goes down. Two seconds later, another falls . . . tick tock, and another . . . and another . . . and another . . . For FIVE HOURS!
Is it any wonder that on the morning after the battle, fifteen-year-old Franklin resident Hardin Figuers reported that “the dead and wounded were so thick that it might be said that one could walk upon the dead and never touch the ground”?
And is it any wonder that many people who lived in the Nashville-Franklin area over the intervening years simply wished to erase this horrific chapter of history from their memory by slowly but surely burying the battlefield under houses, pizza parlors . . . even a golf course?
Now, let’s talk about the present and the future. Comparing the photo and the artist’s rendering, you can see this portion of the battlefield is on the cusp of something previously unimaginable.
For several years now, you and I (working hand in hand with several local preservation organizations) have been patiently . . . systematically . . . methodically, saving one small parcel after another at Franklin, specifically this site of the famous “Cotton Gin,” which was “ground zero” of this battlefield.
Working with local preservationists and the City of Franklin, the infamous “Pizza Hut” (believed to be the spot near where Patrick Cleburne was killed) was purchased and razed several years ago, and a cenotaph to Cleburne was erected there. It is now a small park, clearly visible at the bottom of the photo.
We’ve helped to save several small properties . . . a half an acre here, an acre there, all the while quietly engaging the owner of that small strip shopping center, which includes a Domino’s Pizza and a convenience store.
This was the big prize, my friend; the last major piece of the puzzle. Pardon the pun, but if this “domino” fell, we had a chance to do something that has never been done before, and that was to not only reclaim the heart of a major Civil War battlefield that, just a few years ago, had been believed lost by everyone . . .
. . . but also to restore it for the benefit of future generations.
I hope by now you’ve looked carefully at the artist’s rendering of this vision of the future.
In place of asphalt parking lots, with our help, the local preservation group Franklin’s Charge will not only restore the battlefield, they will also re-create those historic earthworks which ran through this hallowed ground and are such an important part of its story.
In place of modern buildings, they will build a replica of the historic Cotton Gin.
Instead of paving over our nation’s history, we will reclaim it, and make it a must-see destination!
This is the ultimate victory for Franklin that so many of us have dreamed about for years.
But as you well know, any hard-fought victory – especially one this large – comes at a price. In this instance – to finally save the 1-acre site of the strip center, and another half-acre or so on two other nearby parcels, nearly completing the site – will cost $2,209,000.
The good news is that fully 85% of that money has already been committed: A little more than $1 million is coming from federal matching sources, and $500,000 is coming from Franklin’s Charge.
After all of the matching funds are totaled up, the Civil War Trust is responsible for the last $689,000, but the news gets even better. We’ve already received a wonderful lead gift of $250,000 from a heroic preservation donor who wishes to remain anonymous, and another $100,000 in gifts and pledges from a group of Civil War buffs who call themselves The RASCALS.
This means that it now falls upon me to raise the final $339,000 to make this dream a reality.
You can do the math, but I’ll tell you that, if you were to donate to this effort – even if it is your final gift to the Trust for 2012 – this is a $6.50-to-$1 leveraging of your donation dollar.
If we can raise the final $339,000 before the end of the year, we can save some of the most important and significant Civil War battlefield land in America.
My friend, if you are still on the fence as to whether or not you want to get involved in this historic effort, even after seeing this vision of Franklin’s future, and knowing that I can turn every $1 you give today into $6.50, I ask you to consider just three questions:
1. Would the soldiers who fought and died at Franklin 148 years ago approve of what we are attempting to do? I believe they would.
2. Will our descendants – 200 years from now – think we did the right thing by saving this hallowed place and restoring this part of America’s history when it was our chance to do so? I believe they will.
3. In a few years, when you and I have saved as much hallowed ground as we possibly can, will you – like me – look back on this moment and count the restoration . . . the reclamation . . . the resurrection of the Franklin Battlefield as one of the proudest accomplishments of your preservation career? I believe you will.
The hardest element we face right now is, unfortunately . . . a brutal deadline. The multiple years of slow-motion, log-jammed discussions have, like the bursting of a dam, broken upon us all at once. Now, we must close by December 31 of this year. That gives us about 45 days to raise our portion of the match.
If I don’t sound panicked, it’s because I have full faith in you and your fellow Trust members; we have tackled urgent deadlines before, and I believe – because this is so important – we will do it again.
Today, I ask you to consider being as generous as you possibly can and help me raise our $339,000 commitment. Please give the amount that you think is right for you to give, personally . . . that’s all anyone could ask.
For any gift of $100 or more, it will be my honor to include your name on the donor recognition signs that will be erected on the property we are purchasing, that is right across from the proposed parking area of the restored Cotton Gin site.
This is my modest way of thanking you for taking this heroic action; of course, you will also have my own deep personal gratitude, and the thanks of grateful future generations.
I hope, for the sake of the Franklin battlefield, you will make your gift before year’s end.
Please let me hear back from you as soon as possible, and I thank you in advance, if not for your wonderful generosity, then at least for the gift of the valuable time you took to read my letter today.
Yours, for victory and success at Franklin,
P.S. As I rush to get this letter out before Thanksgiving, please read the Civil War Trust's brief report on our success so far in 2012. As you read of our string of victories over the past year, to which I give you full credit, let me leave you with this thought: Good intentions in battlefield preservation get us nowhere. It takes real money to save our history, and, as this $6.50-to-$1 opportunity at Franklin shows, no other national organization is better at lining up matching funds, and making you donation dollar go farther.
Our cause is noble, our time is limited and our resources are stretched: Please send your most generous possible contribution to help today. Thank you again, my friend.