Restoring a Battlefield
On November 30, 1864, one of the bloodiest and most consequential battles of the American Civil War was fought on the southern outskirts of Franklin, Tennessee. But unlike other well-preserved battlefields like Shiloh and Gettysburg, the trench lines and places of savage combat were covered over with homes, industrial sites, shops, and parking lots. Whether through ignorance or a desire to forget, the places where hundreds lay dead or dying were now locations where one could buy pizza or cold beer.
It would have been easy to have just written Franklin off, but a determined set of preservation-minded organizations, including the Heritage Foundation of Franklin, Save the Franklin Battlefield, the Battle of Franklin Trust, and the Civil War Trust began the task of reclaiming the Franklin battlefield, often acre by acre, tract by tract. Now in 2012, the Civil War Trust, working with Franklin’s Charge, is set to acquire the keystone tract—the “strip center.” Victory here will finally create a critical mass of ground that can be turned into a battlefield park that will better commemorate the sacrifices of both the North and South at the Battle of Franklin.
Below you will find images that better highlight the challenges and our work at Franklin.
So where's the battlefield? Modern development largely covers the breakthrough region of the Franklin battlefield. (Google Earth)
While the Civil War Trust had worked to secure the 112-acre Eastern Flank property, it wasn’t until 2006 that the Trust produced its first success in the breakthrough region of the battlefield. In that year, the Trust worked to acquire, demolish, and restore the “Pizza Hut tract” along Columbia Pike. It was on this very ground that Maj. Gen. Patrick Cleburne, the “Stonewall of the West”, fell during the attack upon the Union main line.
The demolition of the Pizza Hut in 2005 (left) and the marker commemorating Patrick Cleburne's death as it appears today. (Civil War Trust)
The site of the Pizza Hut has since become a memorial park, with this pyramid commemorating Cleburne's death and the sacrifices of the soldiers who fought here.
A short distance from the Pizza Hut property was the Holt House, another small tract of land with great historical significance. The Union army's main defensive line ran through the yard of this home and was the site of the Confederate breakthrough on November 30th. Like many other Civil War "breakthrough" sites, this ground was the scene of intense hand-to-hand combat as the two sides became embroiled in a terrific melee that lasted until dark.
The Holt House prior to preservation of the property (left), and the view of the tract following the building's removal. (Rob Shenk/Eric Jacobson)
In 2010, Franklin’s Charge, with the assistance of the Civil War Trust, purchased the Holt House property and the postwar house was subsequently torn down. From here, visitors can now look southward from the Union army's perspective and see—almost—the Confederate position near the Cleburne monument. This was an incredible success for preservationists, but there is still work to be done.
In 2011, the Trust acquired another small residential tract next to the site of the famous Cotton Gin – one of the landmarks of the battlefield.
Hundreds died here, including Gen. Hiram Granbury. Want a pizza with that? View of the Civil War Trust’s 2012 target property—the keystone! (Rob Shenk)
In November 2012, Civil War Trust and Franklin’s Charge embarked on a campaign to reclaim this portion of the Franklin battlefield breakthrough region. Situated between the Cleburne monument and the Holt property, today it is home to a Domino's Pizza franchise and small market selling cheap beer. But on November 30, 1864, this ground was the scene of tremendous bloodshed and incalculable chaos in 1864 as Cleburne's brigades smashed headlong into the Federal earthworks. This is truly blood-soaked ground that is begging to be restored.
This painting by renowned artist Troiani depicting Patrick Cleburne's final moments gives us a glimpse of what the strip center and the surrounding area might have looked like on November 30, 1864. (Image courtesy of Don Troiani, historicalimagebank.com)
An artist's rendering (below) is a vision for what a Battle of Franklin park could look like in the not-too-distant future. As you can see, the strip center is--quite literally--the only piece of land between the Cleburne monument and the Holt property. Preserving the missing piece of this puzzle would remove the last obstacle to creating a contiguous park allowing visitors to reflect on one Civil War's bloodiest episodes.
Artist Ben Johnson's rendering of Franklin battlefield park (Franklin's Charge)
UPDATE: In February 2013, the Civil War Trust and its partners completed fundraising for the one-acre "strip center" property, thus opening the way for the creation of a battlefield park at the Frankling Break through. Learn more »
Ben Johnson's 2013 rendering of the anticipated battlefield park at Franklin (Franklin's Charge)