|

Civil War Sites in Franklin, TN: Why You Should Visit These Historic Homes

2 Story Brick plantation home with white columns and green shutters

This post contains affiliate links. Read the full disclosure here.

When I traveled to Franklin, TN, going to the historic Civil War sites wasn’t exactly my top priority.

I was more interested in the food and the shopping and the general vibes of such an adorable downtown.

But when I had a little extra time, I thought I’d check out some of the Civil War homes Franklin is known for, and boy am I glad I did.

I was hesitant at first. I mean, we’re talking Civil War homes IN the South. What perspective were they going to have? What kinds of stories were they going to tell? I really didn’t know what to except, and I definitely worried that they might cling to some notion of the South that they shouldn’t.

BUT I am happy to report that they did not at all. And I walked away from the two Franklin Civil War homes I visited — Carter House and Carnton — with stories I can’t stop thinking about.

Why Is Franklin Significant in Civil War History?

So before we get to the Civil War sites, you should probably have a general understanding of why Franklin is so significant in the history of the Civil War.

First of all: Tennessee. I didn’t even realize it until I visited these spots in Franklin, but Tennessee wasn’t too keen on joining the Confederacy at first, and there was a lot of support in the state for the Union. But after the attack on Fort Sumter which began the Civil War, they decided to join their Southern neighbors and were the last state to secede.

SO that’s how Tennessee ended up being a part of the Confederacy.

But what about Franklin?

Well, it was the spot of the Battle of Franklin, part of the Confederacy’s attempt to defeat Union forces in Tennessee in the Franklin-Nashville campaign. But it ended up being a significant loss for Confederate troops and specifically the Army of Tennessee, with over 7,000 casualties and losses during just 5 hours of battle.

And two homes in Franklin played a significant part in the Battle of Franklin. Carter House was basically where the battle was fought. And Carnton became a field hospital for wounded soldiers. They are both so interesting and have their own unique stories to tell about this part of history.

Franklin Civil War Sites

Carter House

Large green backyard with small cabins next to a main house
So much of the Battle of Franklin was fought in this backyard at Carter House.

Carter House was the first spot I visited in Franklin, and basically the Battle of Franklin took place in their backyard while members of the family (and nearby neighbors) took shelter in the cellar.

It’s a small house, and on the tour we saw the grounds (briefly, because it was about 100 degrees outside when I visited), the interior of the house, the cellar, and a couple of the nearby buildings.

The most amazing was the building that was once used as an office. They’ve removed part of the wall so that you can just see the original wall…and all the bullet holes that went through it during the battle.

This was an extremely violent battle, and when members of the household emerged from their cellar, they could hardly walk anywhere because of the all the bodies. And they’ll explain all of this to you on the tour and point out significant spots.

I’m sure your experience at Carter House will completely depend on the tour guide you get, but mine was amazing. She did such a great job explaining the Battle of Franklin in an accessible way.

And when we went into the cellar and saw where all the members of the household sat during the battle, our tour guide explained just how important these stories are to tell. And how important it is not to forget the atrocities of slavery. Because she pointed to a chair where a little enslaved boy had sat, and explained that she had a friend who had known him.

It’s not as far back in our past as we like to think.

Wooden slat wall of a small square room with bullet holes letting the light shine through.
Incredible powerful wall of bullet holes at Carter House.

Carnton

While Carter House is near downtown Franklin, Carnton is a bit outside the city center. It was a large plantation home that became a field hospital for the Battle of Franklin.

And just like at Carter House, the tour guides at Carnton did such an amazing job of telling the story of the battle and the people who lived in the house, included those enslaved.

At Carnton you’ll tour the house and then be able to walk through the grounds on your own, where you can see a slave cabin, gardens, the slave cemetery, and the McGavock Confederate Cemetery.

And there are two big things that especially stood out to me about my visit here.

First of all, Carrie McGavock was 35 years old when the Battle of Franklin happened and her daughter was 8. When I visited, I was 35 and my daughter was 8, and I could not imagine spending days with my young child caring for the wounded of war. Apparently, Hattie, the daughter, never even spoke about the events of that night until the end of her life because they were so traumatic.

The second part of Carnton that really impacted me were the cemeteries.

First there is the McGavock Confederate Cemetery And while I know it can feel super easy to dismiss a confederate cemetery because of the side they took, what I thought was really significant about this place was the McGavock family commitment to care for this cemetery. They didn’t ask for a battle to be fought on their land, but when it did they took it upon themselves to care of the wounded and bury the dead. And then they did everything they could to give the family members of the deceased some peace.

Even more impactful to me though was the slave cemetery that sites right next to that first one. I’ll be honest — I don’t even have a picture of it because it just felt too sacred to me. And I’m not really sure what else to say about that without taking away from the experience. It was like I could feel an energy rising up out of the ground. I’ve never experienced anything like it.

So just go. It’s incredible.

Cemetery with neat rows of white headstones
McGavock Confederate Cemetery at Carnton (this was taken standing in the slave cemetery)

The “Fuller Story” in Franklin

Here’s the deal. When I went to Franklin I was really uncertain about how their history was treated. And I definitely didn’t want to tell you to visit someplace that didn’t tell the history of the South in the way it should be told.

But Franklin and these Civil War homes do SUCH a good job. They make sure the stories of the enslaved are a significant part of the stories. They give context to the history. And they don’t glorify a period of history that shouldn’t be glorified.

AND both Carnton and Carter House offer tours specific to Slavery & the Enslaved.

The embracing of this part of history extends beyond these specific sites though. In 2019, Franklin placed signage around the town square (where a monument for the Battle of Franklin is located) to tell the “Fuller Story” of the African American experience in Franklin. And I think it’s so amazing that this Southern town has taken what became a flashpoint in the news (particularly regarding the removal of Confederate monuments) as an opportunity to educate people about the history of African Americans in Franklin.

I knew Franklin was going to be a great place to visit for food and shopping and just general fun, but I had no idea I would fall in love with the history there. And I’m so glad I got to.

Statue of a US Colored Troop from the Civil War in front of a large columned downtown building
US Colored Troop Statue in Downtown Franklin

More Civil War Homes to Visit

Want even MORE Civil War history in Franklin? There are actually two other houses you can visit!

  • Lotz House — This house in downtown Franklin is just across the street from Carter House. And while it’s not part of the Battle of Franklin Trust, you can still take a tour here and learn about the family who lived here (AND how they took shelter in the cellar of Carter House during the Battle of Franklin).
  • Rippa Villa — This house in Spring Hill is about 25 minutes away from Franklin. Here you can take a variety of tours and learn more about the Battle of Spring Hill, which led up to the Battle of Franklin.

More Resources


Like this post? Pin it for later!