OT: Premier Tennessee Civil War Site On Auction Block
Spring Hill Raped Again..
When Will it End!
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The Absalom Thompson House
Civil War Interactive has learned that the Absalom Thompson House, also knownTennessee Locals Fight New Battle of Spring Hill (Gerry Regan - Washington
as Oaklawn, has been put up for absolute auction on May 12 by its owner,
Marvin Parker, owner of American Excavators in Columbia, TN. According to the
auction site, the 273 acres surrounding the house have been subdivided into
tracts which will be sold separately. Open house dates for the auction are
May 4,5, and 6.
The Oaklawn house was the home in Spring Hill where Gen. John Bell Hood spent
the night of November 29, 1864, expecting to wipe out the Union forces of
Gen. John Schofield the next morning. Instead, Schofield's troops evacuated
the town via an unguarded road, setting the stage for the Battle of Franklin
the next day.
The mansion was built in 1835 by Absalom Thompson, and at that time contained
only one floor with ceilings towering sixteen feet high. Although Thompson
was one of the largest slaveholders in Maury County, he gained the reputation
of being what was then called a "slave spoiler", noting his kinder attitude
towards his slaves.
The rooms of the original home were large, averaging twenty by twenty feet.
Over the next 15 years, the house began to take the form that visitors see
today. A second floor was added, along with a front porch, a second floor
balcony, and the four majestic columns that can still be seen today. During
these renovations, the estate was flourishing. In 1843, for example, records
show that it produced 25,000 pounds of cotton.
Three of Absalom's son's served the Confederacy. Thomas died in battle, while
his brother Elijah succumbed to TB shortly after the end of the war. It was
the third son, James, that thrust the home into history's limelight by
inviting General Hood to spend the night there on the evening of Nov.29,
1864. James had served as a doctor on the staffs of both Joseph E. Johnston
and J.B. Hood.
The Oaklawn house has long been a source of fascination for students of
Hood's disastrous campaign to recapture Nashville for the Confederacy. Rumors
have abounded that Hood, who had lost a leg and the use of one arm from
earlier war wounds, was under the influence of laudanum, an opiate, for the
pain. Some sources suggest that he might also have had whiskey with or after
dinner that night, further disordering his judgment.
He was infuriated to learn that Schofield's troops had escaped, since his
entire plan of attack was based on destroying these forces before they could
link up with Gen. George Thomas' forces at Nashville. He left the Absalom
Thompson house and rode to another Spring Hill residence, the home of Col.
Nathaniel Cheairs. There he determined, not so much of a battle plan, as
simply a determination to catch and destroy Schofield by any means necessary.
Catching him at Franklin, Hood ordered a suicidal charge over two miles of
open ground, more than twice the distance of Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg.
Six Confederate generals were killed that day.
After the war, ownership of the house passed to Dr. James T. S. Thompson. It
passed out of the Thompson family early in the 20th Century. After a string
of owners, the house ceased to be used as a residence and was even used as a
hay barn for a period of time.
In the 1950s it was restored as a residence by the family of Allen Sloan, and
they added such amenities as electricity, plumbing and a heating system. In
1973, country singers George Jones and Tammy Wynette purchased the estate,
but sold it after one year to the Tower Real Estate Development Corporation.
Marvin Parker bought the property 10 years ago, and had always been regarded
as friendly to Civil War causes, allowing several reenactments of such
battles as Spring Hill, Franklin and Nashville to be conducted on the
The sudden listing of the house, and perhaps more importantly the land, came
as a shock even to those who are considered friends of the Parkers. Panoramic
pictures of the site show a magnificent estate surrounded by pristine open
fields, with only a few out-buildings in sight.
According to authorities at the American Battlefield Protection Program,
Oaklawn sits on the south end of the "core battlefield" associated with the
battle of Spring Hill. The town of Spring Hill has been under increasing
attack of late from Civil War enthusiasts and preservationists.
According to recent stories by reporter Gerry Regan, past events reveal a
disturbing pattern in Spring Hill designed to downplay the significance of
Spring Hill's Civil War history, even to the extent of denying that a
"battle" took place there at all. (Regan alerted Civil War Interactive to the
imminent sale of the Absalom Thompson house, and gave permission for material
from his Spring Hill stories to be used in this report.
Regan explored the Spring Hill situation in depth in recent stories at
Office.com and in the March 31, 2001 edition of the Washington Times.)
Mayor Ray Williams is the leader of these forces. First elected in 1999 and
reelected last month, he favors continued industrial and commercial growth
for the town. Since the selection of Spring Hill as the site for the premier
plant of Saturn Motors Co., the town has seen population rise from about 1400
to over 9000. The size of the city has expanded, through annexation of
surrounding territory, as well.
The amount of green space in Spring Hill has dropped from as much as 70
percent a decade ago to less than 50 percent today. That figure may drop to
35 percent by 2010 as the city's population more than doubles, Spring Hill
City Administrator Ken York says. "The commercial growth is going to change
the face of Spring Hill," he says.
According to Regan's report, Mayor Williams, 44, who lists his occupation as
"a semi-retired builder-developer", owns 211 acres of what a 1993 Federal
commission described as "core battlefield" at Spring Hill.
The situation recently came to public attention when the Nashville Tennessean
reported that another developer, Ira Adams of Brentwood, TN, had requested
rezoning on another 240 acre parcel he owns with his sons. This was also
described as "core battlefield" by the same commission. The requested
rezoning was to allow him to build an industrial park. Military historian
Dave Stieghan, executive director of Spring Hill's Rippavilla Plantation
historic site, says Adams' land is where, "the heaviest, concentrated
fighting took place."
"If they listen to us preservationists, then they won't be able to sell to
whatever industrial company comes in," he quoted Effie Heiss, publisher of
The Informer, a weekly newspaper in Spring Hill. "I guess they're afraid
we'll stand in their way."
Cindy Williams, listed as an independent appraiser in Spring Hill, noted that
land prices there have increased about fourfold in the last decade, to around
$20,000 an acre. Williams is also the wife of Mayor Ray Williams.
The mayor denies that self-interest colors his position, noting in Regan's
story, "I'm not against land preservation, but I believe if a man wants to
preserve something, he needs to buy it, then he can preserve it."
Williams says he has had a price tag on his 211 acres "ever since I bought
it," most recently, says his wife, more than $2 million. In fact, he says,
"Every piece of property I have is for sale."
Stieghan agrees that "Adams is perfectly within his rights to develop it as
he sees fit," though adding that developing it would be "a shame."
Battlefields are a boon to communities, he says, generating tourists, income
for local businesses, green space and jobs. "You don't have to provide
schools and sewer lines for tourists, but you sure can use their money and
take the taxes from it."
"I am not trying to spit on the gravesites of anyone who died in that war,"
says Williams. "It's (Adams') right to develop the land any way he sees fit."
Williams notes also that Adams' land was rezoned from agricultural to
industrial nearly 15 years ago and asked why preservationists didn't act then.
Development pressure has pushed the price of a parcel like Adams' into the
vicinity of $2 million, a virtually impossible sum for private Civil War
preservation groups to raise. The State of Tennessee, in a perpetual
financial crisis due to its reliance on sales taxes for virtually all state
revenue, is not in a position to help out either. Regan quoted Justin Wilson,
deputy to Tenn. Gov. Don Sundquist, as saying that the idea of spending state
money on battlefields "is very new."
Jim Campi of the Civil War Preservation Trust told CWi that this development
comes at an extremely unfortunate time, since the CWPT has just begun to make
inroads in the preservation of Civil War sites in Tennessee. All parties that
would discuss the matter with CWi admit that the situation looks bleak,
considering the value of the land in question, and the short time to act
before the sale.
The house and land had been publicly listed for sale several years ago at a
price of $2.7 million, but no sale resulted. Up until recently Stieghan had
been in discussion with Marvin Parker about the possibility of both
Rappavilla and Oaklawn becoming stops on a proposed tour of the areas stately
historic homes. At the time of this writing, CWi's attempt to get a comment
from the Tennessee Historical Commission have been unsuccessful.
(A view of the house and grounds can be seen at Furrow Auction's website,
www.furrow.com . Panoramic views of several rooms of the house, and the
acreage outside, can be accessed. It appears to work best with versions of
Netscape earlier than 6.0.)
Times - search archives)
A City Shuns Its "Battlefield" Designation (Gerry Regan - Office.com)
The Second Battle of Spring Hill (CWI)
The Rape of Spring Hill (CWI)
© Civil War Interactive, 2001