Help Save the central part of the Franklin battlefield
A Message from Jim Lighthizer, Civil War Trust President
Dear Fellow Preservationist,
As the year draws rapidly to a close, I have three questions for you:
- Will you be a preservation hero once more in 2014?
- Will you please help me – in the closing hours of this year – save a crucial piece of America’s heritage by turning every $1 you give into $14.00…which will then secure an additional $100,000 challenge gift?
- And will you help me answer a friend’s call for help?
I pray that you just answered “yes,” because I need 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, exactly 150 years ago today.
Today, I’ve done that, and more: I’ve prepared for you a vision for Franklin's bright future.
To put things in perspective, let me first remind you about what happened there, and why this ground is so incredibly significant…
… while alerting you that this letter will not be filled with warm holiday images. Franklin was one of the most brutal, bloody and terrible battles in American history, and there is simply no way I can sugarcoat what happened there. Thank you for bearing with me.
On this hallowed ground, 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 several hours of the most brutal combat of the entire war, the armies locked in a death struggle, often separated by no more than a few feet of earthworks.
Do you see the blue line of earthworks running through the middle of the battlefield? 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. 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.
In fact, Bloody Franklin – as so many soldiers called it – saw one of the largest infantry charges ever mounted in North America – yes, even larger than “Pickett’s Charge” at Gettysburg.
At Gettysburg, you will recall that 12,000 Confederates charged across a mile of open ground after an hours-long artillery bombardment against smaller, hastily prepared fieldworks.
At Franklin, 20,000 Confederates made a frontal assault across nearly two miles of open ground with almost no artillery support and against formidable earthworks!
Is it any wonder that so many Confederates were killed outright on this now-sacred soil? Private Sam Watkins noted in his book Company Aytch that this battle was “the finishing stroke” 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 (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 once 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!
These hallowed acres were among the bloodiest of the whole war. The men who fought there all agree:
Lieutenant Alonzo Wolverton, of the 20th Ohio Light Artillery, posted at the northern edge of this property, wrote home several weeks after the battle, saying, “The Rebs came on to us in full force, and there ensued one of the hardest fought battles since this war commenced. The Rebs, determined to conquer or die, made thirteen desperate charges. Several times, they planted their colors within ten feet of our cannon, and our men would knock them down with their muskets or the artillerymen with their sponge staffs and handspikes…I never dreamed the men would fight with such desperation. I never expected to come out alive.”
Lieutenant Colonel Hamilton Gillespie, 50th Ohio, whose regiment was squarely on this land we are helping to save, reported gravely, “Never before did I witness such a bloody contest.”
Captain James A. Sexton, of the 72nd Illinois, tells us, “I discharged my own weapon nine times and the most distant man I shot at was no more than twenty feet away…A Rebel colonel mounted our breastworks, and profanely demanded our immediate surrender…Private Arbridge…thrust his musket against the abdomen of the rash colonel, and with the exclamation, ‘I guess not,’ instantly discharged his weapon. The effect of the shot was horrible and actually let daylight through the victim.” Such close-quarters slaughter had almost no match in the four years of the war. After the battle, scores of others reacted to the carnage. Confederate General Frank Cheatham said, “The dead were stacked like wheat and scattered like sheathes of grain. You could walk on the field on the bodies without touching the ground. I never saw a field like that, and I never want to see a field like that again.”
One soldier said, “The dead were piled up in the trenches almost to the top of the earthworks.” Another: “At the gap in the works where the pike road went through were lying a Confederate and a Federal soldier, both with bayonets sent through their bodies. It was plain to see that they were each other’s victims.”
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 bloody battlefield under houses, pizza parlors, and other commercial development?
But now, let’s talk about the future. Comparing the map to 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 local preservation organizations) have been patiently, systematically, methodically saving one small parcel after another at Franklin.
Today, you and I have the chance to purchase another MAJOR portion of this battlefield, as shown in yellow on the map.
And while I cannot promise to you that I will never come back to ask for your help to save more of this sacred battlefield, I can tell you that if we are successful in securing this nearly-three-acre part, you and I will have saved the central part of the Franklin Battlefield.
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, local preservation organizations and the City of Franklin will not only restore the battlefield, they will also re-create those historic earthworks and cotton gin on this hallowed ground that are such an important part of its story.
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, it will cost $2,800,000.
The good news is that fully 92.9% of that money will be coming from other sources: About $1.3 million is coming from a battlefield federal matching grant, and another $1.3 million from local organizations and donors, the City of Franklin, and other sources. Our friends at Franklin’s Charge, one of the local organizations leading the effort, called me with one request: Would the Civil War Trust be the “last money in” for this historic transaction by committing the final $200,000?
If you and I can raise the final $200,000, we will help make this dream a reality. But it gets even better - the current Chairman of Board of Trustees of the Civil War Trust, Michael Grainger, is a resident of Franklin, Tennessee, and he has challenged us all:
If the members of the Civil War Trust join together to give that $200,000 in the next 100 days, he will personally make an additional donation of $100,000 to this campaign to save Franklin.
At a $14-to-$1 match, if you and I can raise $200,000, our Chairman will give an additional $100,000, and we can help save some of the most important and significant Civil War battlefield land in America.
That, my friend, is called leadership.
How many times in life do you get the chance to do something 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 $14.00, and then secure an additional $100,000 challenge gift?
My friend, if you are still on the fence as to whether or not 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 $14, plus collect an extra $100,000, I ask you to consider just three questions:
- Would the soldiers who fought and died at Franklin 150 years ago approve of what we are attempting to do? I know they would.
- 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 know they will.
- 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 know you will.
Today, even if it is your final, year-end gift for the cause of battlefield preservation, I ask you please to be as generous as you possibly can, and help me raise our $200,000 commitment, which will secure our Chairman’s $100,000 “above and beyond” challenge gift. On the donation form, I’ve suggested some specific donation amounts that will help us reach our goal, but as always, please give the amount that you think is right for you to give, personally…that’s all anyone could ask.
I hope, for the sake of the Franklin battlefield, you will make your gift as soon as possible. There is literally no one else who these dedicated local heroes can turn to for help. No one but you and I, through the Civil War Trust, are doing this work. If we don’t do it, no one else will.
Please let me hear back from you as soon as possible, thank you in advance for your wonderful generosity.
Yours, for victory and success at Franklin,
P.S. It takes real money to save our history, and, as this $14-to-$1 opportunity at Franklin shows, no other national organization is better at making your donation dollar go farther. Please visit our website at www.civilwar.org/franklin2014 for even more information on this historic effort.