Many support battlefield preservation, but who should pay for it?
Many support battlefield preservation,
but who should pay for it?
JEANNE REISEL / STAFF
Winstead Hill on Columbia Pike.
This November will mark the 140th anniversary of the Civil War's Battle of Franklin. The war is long over, but the fight to preserve the land involved in that battle continues. Much of the land has been developed, but recent plans have been proposed to reclaim tracts or to protect open land. Some want to clear the old Battle Ground Academy campus to create a battlefield park. Several Country Club of Franklin members are protesting the city of Franklin's consideration of funding part of the purchase of the club's golf course. The plan is to restore land by Carnton Plantation to its antebellum appearance. Protestors said little, if any, fighting occurred on the land. City planning commissioners recently approved the building of Davis Auto Center on vacant land across from PlusMark in a close 5-4 vote. People protesting the auto center said remaining open parcels of battlefield land should be protected.
Should government intervene in historic preservation? Should taxpayer money be used to support heritage preservation? How important is our Civil War heritage?
All of our history is important because the past is the vehicle which brings us to our present and establishes direction for our future. In order to truly appreciate our present, it is sometimes necessary to place the past in perspective. Preservation for preservation's sake, or to hold on to some idea of glories of the past, means nothing unless we consider it well and give it meaning for the present.
Is another Civil War battlefield more important than the legacy of educating hundreds of young minds?
BGA's history goes back almost as far as the Civil War, and the ''old'' old campus has passed its 100th birthday as well. I do not know if there are any, or how many, of those buildings that still occupy the old campus, but in other areas of our metropolitan area, it would be unthinkable to outright destroy something that old.
What is the true intent of tearing down one historic site for another one that is only 30 years older? What is the value in doing that when many of the battle's lines were literally all over this county? Why that spot? Is it because it is an easy target with its proximity to Carnton? What is it we are trying to recapture by raising yet another monument to the Old South?
We live in a special place, but what makes it special to me has to do more with the nature of our people, the beauty of the land, our willingness and ability to change and grow — not in some well-meaning but frozen idea of past glories.
Build the battlefield if we must, but it is a very contradictory message when we say we must destroy one very important part of our past to honor another.
Suzanne Clement, Franklin
I never really studied the Civil War until I moved to Franklin nine years ago. Now I like to think my period book collection rivals the special archive at the Franklin library. I know that both armies marched through downtown Franklin on three different occasions. I know the Harpeth River was high when the bridges were burned. I know both armies camped and grazed their horses within sight of my front porch. I know where the old dirt highways ran, the collapsing slave walls still marking the path through the brush.
Residents rush off to the metroplex to see the latest epic on the big screen, never realizing the real-life epic that unfolded around them. They are clueless to the fact that Franklin's historic downtown buildings were not reduced to rubble by cannon fire simply because they contained so many wounded.
We cannot preserve everything from the Yankee developers, but we should reclaim the center of the hallowed ground. Our local government wants to purchase Harlinsdale Farm to preserve the character of Franklin. The character of Franklin was forged on Nov. 30, 1864.
Jay Wade, Franklin
Keep it private
Historic preservation should reside in the private sector unless there is national significance to the preservation. Government is already involved with markers and memorials. Tennessee had too many battles in the Civil War involving vast acreage to consider preserving most of them. The Battle of Franklin has enough representation. The Civil War has enough. As our nation grows in population with increasing immigration, generations of Americans to come will find less connection to that time in our history. Those who wish to highlight it should do so on their own without government funding.
G. W. Hassler, Franklin
Removing fixed assets from a community's tax base should be undertaken only through a carefully drawn strategy and approved in open meetings, with the votes of the elected governing body recorded. A long-term community land use plan must be in place to identify historic legacies, and preservation efforts undertaken and financed in a scheduled and structured plan. This avoids creating tax-exempt lands as ill-advised future costly burdens to be financed by homeowners and their property taxes.
Each battlefield preserved must be taxpayer-financed with bonds, the costs of which are paid by revenues generated or tax increases. After accountants and bond attorneys take their cut, taxpayers must pay what remains. Historical legacies are important finite community resources. But costs of community growth are infinite and will always strain finite resources to pay for it. Bargains are no bargains if they really aren't necessary.
Jim Charlet, Brentwood
The historical aspects of our society are vital; those that ignore history are doomed to repeat it. The historical and cultural significance of the War of Northern Aggression cannot be overstated. Preservation of these battlefield sites is also a very worthy cause, and one that should be pursued. However, the government should not be the entity to undertake this process.
The government should be in the business of doing that which the people cannot or will not do for themselves. There are many philanthropic organizations that make preserving historical and cultural sites their chief aim, and we should let them do it. To perform functions like this, government would have to spend tax money, money they claim to need desperately in other areas. Not only would the purchase use tax money, but the upkeep would also require additional taxpayer funds. While preserving these sites is a very worthy endeavor, it is simply not an activity the government should undertake.
Art Darden, Franklin
Our heritage in battle sites should be protected and the land set aside for public use. Governments of the city of Franklin as well as Williamson County have been a rubber stamp for just about any type of commercial or residential development for most of the 20 years I have lived here — regardless of public outcry or the significance of the sites being developed. Franklin has a historic past. It has a tourist appeal as a Civil War site and as a ''quaint'' town. If we continue to turn it into a commercial ghetto, as Cool Springs is becoming, the quaintness and thus our appeal to others will fade rapidly.
Buddy Peden, Franklin
No event has impacted or shaped the United States like our Civil War. Every fiber of our nation's cultural, economic and legal fabric was changed and continues to change as a result. While some of our historic sites and treasures have been saved, the question is how much and is it really important?
Franklin has failed to create something special with much of its battle areas. The Carnton golf course is the last best chance to do something significant. Virtually anyone who understands the battle recognizes the heavy cavalry and infantry action in this area. Had the Confederates been able to penetrate the Union left flank, results in Franklin, as well as the entire Western theater, would have been different.
We must always be careful when utilizing public funds to strike the right balance. But the Carnton opportunity presented by preservationists is the best option in many years. We have a responsibility to make it work. It is too important not to.
Gregory Wade, Franklin
I am a descendant of a Mississippi soldier who charged across the bloody field on the eastern flank of the battlefield at Franklin in Loring's Division of Stewart's Corps of Southerners and into the outskirts of Franklin where Union veterans began firing against them as they passed the Carnton Plantation. I am so pleased the leaders of the city of Franklin are making efforts to preserve and protect this land on which so many gave their lives and upon which so much occurred on that fateful day.
Generals Forrest, Loring, Scott, Featherston, Stewart, Walthall and Tennessean John Adams, who lost his life in the desperate charge, were there on the golf course. Many of the 10,000 men of Stewart's Corps were there. So too were many of the famous Confederate Cavalry under General Forrest. This land was the northern portion of the McGavock property between Carnton Plantation and Lewisburg Pike that is today a golf course. It may be purchased and preserved by a collaborative effort of local groups, providing valuable green space for a growing city and county, and protecting for our descendants a rich and important part of our history.
On Nov. 30, 1864, the Confederacy made its last and fatal charge, sending its sons into a death trap in a final attempt to free Tennessee from Union control. Today, another battle to save the remaining battlefield for future generations to honor these men and boys, from both North and South, who fought and bled for our country, is occurring in Franklin to prevent a key portion of the battlefield from being developed into a subdivision. It was a shame Franklin's leaders a century ago failed to protect and preserve the entire battlefield property before permitting development and construction which now dots much of the bloody field's landscape that stretched from Winstead Hill east to the Harpeth River and west to Carter Creek Pike and into Franklin. Many efforts to form a National Battlefield Park in the 1910s and 1920s fell short as the federal government failed to step in and looked to the Volunteer State and the city of Franklin to create their own park.
It is difficult to imagine what it must have looked like when nearly 20,000 weary and tattered Confederate soldiers formed up across two miles in width running approximately along today's Mack Hatcher Road from the Harpeth River to west of Columbia Pike as they charged into town where Yankees were waiting for them. As they neared the Carnton property, they paused briefly to reform lines and begin their final approach. Southerners on the right side of the line — mostly from Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Tennessee — said their last prayers, loaded their rifles and heard the command to march forward. It is ironic that many were standing where the McGavock Cemetery is today, which became a final resting place for some 1,500 of them. They were inspired by a couple of bands, from Mississippi and Missouri, which played as they proceeded. As soon as they cleared the Carnton home and the area that is now the cemetery, they were spotted by Union artillery near Lewisburg Pike by Northern guns on Fort Granger just over the river. General Hood ordered the charge, and the Southerners bravely accepted it, many knowing or believing what their fate would be.
The Southerners had to cross today's golf course under a storm of cannon fire, which continued until they reached the outskirts of town on the Union line. There the Union artillerists switched to short-range grape shot and canister, where the Husky Lumber yard and Collins Farm properties are today. Where golf balls now fill the skies, on that Indian-summer day in 1864 hundreds of rounds of artillery rained down on Southerners as 12 to 14 cannons from Franklin and four from Fort Granger trained their fire on them. In the space of one hour, more than 166 rounds alone were fired in the direction of the golf course from Fort Granger. More came from the other three Federal batteries on that part of the Union line. One such shot burst over Company I, of the 31st Mississippi, killing and wounding seven men and boys who came from the small farms of Choctaw County, Miss. Three are buried at the McGavock cemetery. Many more were maimed or killed. One round landed just in front of a column of Alabamians on the golf course and bounced harmlessly over them, but nearly took out General Forrest on his horse.
We have an opportunity today to protect 110 acres of pristine battlefield property at the golf course and I am excited that the leaders of Franklin and others are working together to preserve it. In more than 20 years of researching and coming to Franklin, never before have I seen such an opportunity to preserve so large and so important a place. I fully support the efforts to preserve this property and I am sure our good neighbors of the Volunteer State will, too.
Robert D. Jenkins Sr., Dalton, Ga.
(Jenkins is an attorney and historian who has a private law practice in Dalton. He has conducted lectures and given tours on the Franklin Battlefield and in Georgia and Mississippi. His ancestor, Caradine T. ''Jerry'' Jenkins, was one of only a few who survived his company's charge.)
Civil War stupid
We have two questions here. The first has to do with the public good derived from preserving awareness of our heritage in general, and the second has to do with the validity of the assumption that heritage is defined only by the Civil War.
How important is it for us — and perhaps more importantly, our next generation — to know who we are? Or, how important is it for us and our children to know what it means to be Americans? A recent report by the Albert Schanker Foundation sounds the alarm that our schools do not regard it as very important and thus are doing a poor job of imparting an awareness of our heritage, values and ideals to children. Locally, we seem bent on promoting the ''Wal-Martization'' of all physical vestiges of our heritage, values and ideals as we allow the graves and memory of our own 200-odd Revolutionary War veterans — those who risked everything to give us America — to be covered with the construction debris, literally and metaphorically, of our so-called progress. Progress toward what? A future of mindless and soulless cyborgs without identity, heritage, ideals or values? Is that what we want? Not me!
Should government intervene? Should taxpayer money be used to support historic preservation? If you wish your children and grandchildren to perpetuate the ideals and values we hold dear, then absolutely yes.
Why do you imagine so many people want to locate in Williamson County? So they can shop at Wal-Mart or Cool Springs? The reputation of our schools is one thing, but the people I talk to are attracted by an implicit sense of connection to our heritage. So again the answer is a resounding yes.
How important is our Civil War heritage? Obviously, it is important, if only because it is part of our larger heritage. Having said that, I have difficulty with the assumption that all history began at Fort Sumter. Even with my Williamson County ancestors who rode with Forrest, I can only see the Civil War as an exercise in stupidity — on both sides — and the suicidal Battle of Franklin as the supreme example of that stupidity.
Perhaps we need to be aware of that stupidity, if only because ''those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it.'' Even so, I find the story of those brave people who came here during and after the Revolution, with nothing but their own grit and determination and who carved a gracious society out of the wilderness with their bare hands, to be far more meaningful than that of how later John Bell Hood replicated the disaster of Pickett's Charge.
Fount T. Smothers, Thompson's Station
City should help
Yes, the government should assist in preserving our unique battlefields, no matter how dissected the battlefield, if it is as important to history as Franklin is. Our tax money is wasted on all sorts of things these days and I see nothing wrong with some of it being used to preserve historic sites. Our War Between the States, a.k.a. Civil War, heritage is very important and should be supported by everyone. We would not be the great nation we are today if we had not endured the War Between the States. The battle fought at Franklin was a desperate and vicious battle and should be remembered. It played a pivotal role in the war where one of the main Confederate armies basically bled itself to death here before going on to try to fight in Nashville.
The claims of the protesters about no fighting being done there is simply erroneous. I have metal-detected over much of the Carnton property, including the golf course, and have found numerous minié balls and other battle gear — all donated to Carnton Plantation years ago. The developers building yet another Kroger and more near Winstead Hill also claimed that property was not a battleground. There was a tremendous amount of relics found there before earthmovers destroyed the topography. Maybe we could have an interpretation center actually based on fact and not politically correct revisionism that permeates our educational system today. Saying the war was about slavery is about as accurate as saying the Revolutionary War was fought because of the tea being tossed into the Boston harbor. Sure, the tea party played a role, as did slavery, but it was hardly the main cause. It boils down to the same reason as all wars do: It was about taxes/money and power. Nothing more, nothing less.
Ronny Mangrum, Franklin
When I first moved to Franklin 14 years ago, I was impressed by the historic preservation that seemed to be a priority of community leaders, based on the original buildings still in use downtown and the number of historic homes in the area. But, I had no idea that there had been a Civil War battle fought here, let alone a major one. I drove down streets named ''Battle'' and ''Cleburne'' and passed Battle Ground Academy at least once a day with no awareness of the thousands of soldiers who had fallen here. I drove by the Carter House and thought, ''What a nice historic home.''
I lived in this town for at least a year before I knew of any Civil War connection, and then only learned it after seeing something in the paper about the curator from the Carter House reading from some soldiers' letters. It sounded interesting, so I went. And I was shocked. Actually, I was appalled that there was nothing in Franklin that visibly made reference to the 1864 Battle of Franklin, deemed the bloodiest hours of the Civil War. There was no park, no signage or historic markers that told the story of what was probably the last major battle of the Civil War, or that spoke of the six generals that died in the battle — more than in any other battle in U.S. history — or that mentioned it saw the largest infantry charge of any battle ever fought on North American soil.
The more I learned, the more shocked I was. I grew up in Illinois, where we studied the Civil War and were taught a lot about Abraham Lincoln. In fact, any site or little town that Lincoln had ever set foot upon was marked with a monument of some kind.
But it didn't have a personal relevance, since the real battles of the war were fought in distant states.
Granted, there is a monument on the square in Franklin, but how many people who drive through that square, including locals, have ever stopped to read the small print on it? Yes, there is Carter House, where you can hear the battle story, and there is certainly Carnton. But for someone who is new to town, or just passing through, all of that is lost. I also know that for many people who have lived here for years, the history of this major event is vague at best. Why Franklin has chosen over the years not to preserve the property that was once a part of a major Civil War battlefield is baffling. Why the property at Mack Hatcher and Columbia was allowed to be developed as another Kroger and Target is beyond comprehension.
However, we are now presented with the opportunity to purchase a piece of land that joins the Carnton property and turn it into a historic park on the site of what was the eastern flank of the battlefield. This property is currently the site of the Franklin Country Club. Understandably, the members of this club would be upset about being displaced and losing something that they have had an emotional connection with for years. But the bigger picture is about the emotional connection Franklin and all its citizens have to this historic property. If we don't seize this opportunity now, we will have lost it forever, and along with it, the memories of the soldiers who gallantly lost their lives there 140 years ago. We will have lost a part of ourselves in the process, as it is truly the unique legacy of this community and can easily be forgotten by us and future generations if we don't act.
If paying tribute and preserving a major part of history isn't reason enough to be motivated, then perhaps we should consider the potential revenue from tourism dollars alone. Currently the Carter House and Carnton combined draw an average of 37,000 visitors a year. Stones River Battlefield Park in Murfreesboro draws close to 200,000 visitors each year. Kennesaw Mountain in Georgia (not nearly the significant battlefield site that Franklin is) draws 1.4 million, with its close proximity to the interstate. Shiloh, with over 400,000 visitors a year, is not easily accessible and lies in a remote area. Franklin has the good fortune of being located on a major interstate route that brings Midwesterners and others right through it on their way to Florida, an annual pilgrimage for many families. Franklin happens to be the midway point for many making that trip, and what better place to stop than to see Civil War history up close — an actual battlefield site, no less, something you'd never see at home. There is the additional revenue from tourism as visitors would undoubtedly make their way downtown to shop or eat. And certainly those of us who live here would be proud to bring our children or visitors to the battlefield park for recreational, as well as educational, reasons.
Franklin's future rests on our ability to preserve what is important from our past as we inevitably grow and change. Is progress really measured by how many commercial endeavors we've managed to erect over the years? It's interesting to me how the people of Franklin will rally around the preservation of a historic drugstore, yet when it comes to saving a major Civil War battlefield, few seem willing to make the effort. Hopefully, the people of Franklin will get behind this while they can. I'd like to believe if people truly understand its importance and relevance they will.
Cindy Sargent, Franklin
Heroes tested here
I was asked by members of the Franklin Battlefield Coalition to submit a letter citing the Civil War Preservation Trust's support for preservation of the country club golf course.
The purchase by Rod Heller of the country club adjacent to Carnton Plantation provides Franklin residents with an unprecedented opportunity to reclaim a key portion of the historic Franklin battlefield. This property is not only a historic shrine to the sacrifice of countless American soldiers, it is also a potential economic asset for a community that already prides itself on being a tourist destination.
Unfortunately, a small but vocal group of country club members have begun a campaign to discredit efforts to protect this historic property. I think it appropriate to correct for the record two of their more mistaken statements.
The country club property is battlefield land. The golf course was the scene of a historic charge by the Confederate Army of Tennessee on Nov. 30, 1864. Most historians consider the attack across golf course property to be comparable to Pickett's more famous charge at Gettysburg. In 1993, a Congressional commission identified the country club property as ''core battlefield'' land. This means the golf course is nationally recognized as the site of ''combat engagements and key associated actions.''
The golf course has no future as a golf course. If not for the intervention of Mr. Heller, the property would have been sold for development. This is not a choice between a golf course and a battlefield park. Rather it is a choice between more residential housing — which costs taxpayers more money in schools and emergency services — and a battlefield park that will generate tourism revenue for local tax coffers.
For many years, the Civil War Preservation Trust (CWPT) has identified Franklin as one of the most endangered battlefields in the nation, principally because so much of the battleground has already succumbed to sprawl. The golf course represents perhaps the last opportunity to reverse this trend and reclaim a key part of the battlefield. This month, CWPT announced preservation of the golf course is the organization's No. 1 priority on the Franklin battlefield and committed at least $250,000 toward protecting the site.
One of CWPT's 50,000 members — renowned writer, presidential adviser and TV personality Ben Stein — visited Franklin in 2002. He later wrote of his experience: ''If respect for America, especially in this time of war, means anything, it means protecting and preserving the places where American heroism was put to the test and not found wanting.''
We couldn't agree more. The time has come to protect the site were American heroism was put to the test at Franklin — and not found wanting.
Civil War Preservation Trust, Washington, D.C.
Want to be a part of this?
Boyle Investment Co. is developing plans for the 660-acre Berry property along Goose Creek Bypass. The company is considering a mix of commercial and residential for the area near Interstate 65. What would you like to see there? What would you not want? Please send responses to yourvoices@... by Thursday.