I just got back from a wonderful weekend visiting my best friend in Franklin, TN. It was an amazing weekend of eating too much, drinking just the right amount and spending uninterrupted hours talking about life with her. I was introduced to Five Daughter’s doughnuts and I think I might have been forever ruined on doughnuts. We had a picnic under the stars at a vineyard nestled in between the grassy hills of Tennessee. And, because I am a massive history-loving, historic sign-reading maniac, we toured a few of the historical sights around Franklin. As just mentioned, I love a good historical marker sign and I will tour the crap out of an old home or muggy battlefield, but this time around it was a little bit eerie. I am a huge lover of the South and all things in it, mostly all things that are edible or drinkable, but it’s hard to dive into Southern history without banging your head on a few hard rocks. This trip to Tennessee was smack full of those rocky reminders and I walked away with a new perspective on some giant matters at hand.
We decided to tour Carnton Farms. Here is a brief history lesson on Franklin’s giant impact on the ending of the Civil War:
Basically, the Union army had control of Nashville and the Confederate army wanted it back. Franklin stands just a few miles from Nashville and even though the town was only 2 square miles at the time, it stood right in the middle of the best route for the Confederates to reclaim Nashville. So at 4PM, the Battle of Franklin began. It just so happened that right smack in the middle of the stuck in the middle town, was a huge plantation style house that was home to the McGavock family. The family had no choice but to ride out the battle in their home and when they started seeing Confederate soldiers go down, they offered up their massive home as a field hospital. It took in hundreds of injured and dying Confederate soldiers over the course of the 5 hours that the battle raged. When it was all over, 2000 soldiers were dead with another 1000 missing and 7000 injured and dying where they had fallen on the field. It was a bloody battle and signified the beginning of the end of the Civil War.
My friend, Jordan, and I decided to go on a tour through this stately and beautiful mansion. We arrived early for our tour and eager to start reading some signs, we traipsed around the grounds outside the house. We eventually found ourselves in a cemetery that sits on the property. Originally the family cemetery of the McGavock family, it later became a cemetery for all of the identifiable Confederate soldiers who had died on that very field. There were hundreds of these graves. Simple white stones, lined up as if they were still holding the line and ready for the battle to commence again. As Jordan and I walked down the center aisle, we couldn’t help but marvel at just how many there were and we wondered how many of those soldiers even knew what they were dying for exactly.
We meandered through the graveyard and headed up onto the steep porch of the grand plantation house that was the last memory of many of those soldiers who now laid to rest a few hundred yards away. Our tour guide was young and energetic and she happily took us from room to room of the house, explaining which pieces in the house were original and why the floors had carpet that looked like tile and how the wallpaper was hung. She explained that during and after the battle there was not one square inch of empty space to be found in the house. These luxurious and decadently decorated rooms were converted into makeshift hospital rooms with moaning and dying men stacked on top of one another, crying out for morphine or water or just delirious with pain.
As we headed up the stairs to the second floor, our tour guide eagerly took us to one of the corner bedrooms. The room had belonged to the youngest child of the family at the time, a boy of around 3, so it was his nursery. But when the battle began, his room became the surgical suite because it had the most natural light. Here our tour guide urged us all to notice this room didn’t have the lush carpeting the other fine rooms had. In fact, if you looked carefully at the bare wooden floors of each of the rooms upstairs you could see large dark stains covering the floors. That was blood, she explained. Soldiers brought in from the battle would be dropped wherever there was space and as a result the blood pouring out of their wounded bodies soaked the floors beneath them, deep into the beautiful carpeting and staining the original hardwood floors of the home.
As we moved from room to room she pointed them all out to us. There was one in this corner and one over by that fireplace and see that blank spot in the middle of the floor over there? That was where the surgeon stood as he removed dead limbs from live patients. His feet left a blank spot as the blood dripped around him. There was blood everywhere. In each room I couldn’t help but stare at it and wonder at the human being who had poured it out. What were his last thoughts as he laid in this huge home, now literally bleeding for his cause? Was he afraid to be dying or proud? Did he think of those he would leave behind? And over and over again the question playing in my head was, “Was it worth it?”
I’m no Civil War expert, although I have read quite a few signs about it, and I think we can all agree that we don’t all agree on what caused the Civil War. States’ rights or the right to slaves? Was it Northern greed or Southern greed? A fierce devotion to the rights outlined by our forefathers or a fierce devotion to independence at any cost? I think they are all right. I think some of soldiers who laid dying on that battlefield were fighting to keep their slaves. I think some were fighting to simply keep their homes. And I think some were fighting because they just liked the fight. I think some of the Union soldiers who were, by the way, dying in their own pools of blood on the other side of the field that night, were dying to protect the rights of all men and some of them were dying to teach those stupid Southerners a lesson they would never forget. Our nation has a complicated and nasty past and sadly it has a complicated and nasty present that is looking like it just might lead to a complicated and nasty future for our children.
Right now we are asking ourselves some tough questions. (Let me be clear, though, not one of those tough questions is whether some humans are better than others based solely on their skin color or religion. That might be a question for some, but it is not a tough one. Hint: The answer is NO, NEVER.) But there are some other questions we are currently shouting at one another. Questions about how we remember our past.
This used to be a simple question for me years ago. The past is in the past. It doesn’t change. And having visual markers of it doesn’t change anyone’s future. But this weekend, as I walked through the cemetery and as I stared at the puddles of blood, I found I had a new question needing an answer: Is standing in the shadow of a statue or beneath the popping of an historic flag flailing in the wind worth the blood on the floor? Because, as an avid sign reader, I can tell you, the events that lead our nation to that terrible, awful, bloody war are not all that different than the events happening around us today. If we keep drawing lines, pushing buttons and quite simply just hating our fellow man, the inevitable will happen: more blood on the floor. There are people among us who are chomping at the bit to spill some blood. There are people ready to fight for what they think is right and there are people willing to fight for the rights of every American. There are people ready and, sadly even eager, for war.
Is it worth the blood on the floor?
I can’t answer that question for you. But I hope you ask it of yourself before you hit “post” on that political tweet or engage in conversation with your fellow man. Some things might very well be and definitely should be worth it, but I think you might find that list is a lot smaller than you originally thought. At least, I did when I asked myself.