I got distracted and never quite finished blogging about the Nashville trip that my sister and I took over spring break. And, I kept thinking that I had to get around to blogging about our visit to Carnton Plantation. I figured Memorial Day was a fitting day to get the post in since Carnton is the burial site of almost 1,500 soldiers.
I wish I could remember our docent’s name because I’d tell all of you to try to ask for her; she did an amazing job helping to transport us back some 150ish years to help us imagine what it would have been like to watch the battle unfold. I was spellbound after years and years of resisting all my dad’s efforts to make me understand what happened during the Civil War and after not really being phased by growing up only a 15-20 minute drive away from the site of the infamous Pickett’s Charge in Gettysburg.
Carnton Plantation became one of the largest field hospitals to treat soldiers in the aftermath of the Battle of Franklin, which has been called the bloodiest 5 hours of the Civil War. Our docent helped us understand that at that time in history there were no 24 hour cable news networks to spot troop movements. There were not even any radios. The residents of Franklin were aware that nearby Nashville was a key tactical position, but they would have had no way to know that in the wee hours of the morning a Union commander would find a break in Confederate defenses along a key road leading into Franklin. He progress towards Nashville was stalled due to a bridge outage, so his forces entrenched themselves and prepared to fight. Confederate General Hood discovered the tactical break and marched over 20,000 men to the outskirts of the town by the early afternoon of November 30th.
So, hunkered down in the town, the inhabitants of the town had to wait. Before the days of behemoth football stadiums, the sight of tens of thousands of people all gathered in one place must have been surreal. After 3 hours of tense standoff between the two armies, Hood launched an assault on the Union army at 4 pm only about 30 minutes before the sun would sink in a cold Tennessee sky. Five hours of fighting in the dark lead to the loss of over 6,000 soldiers.
As we walked through Carnton, the docent explained to us that every room in the house except for one was filled with soldiers. Even the boot closet under the stairs held a soldier. Surely the fate of the soldier in the boot closet was better than the fate of those who were left injured in the yard because the house could hold no more.
On the first floor, we learned, to my surprise, that carpets covered the floors of the house — thick heavy wool carpets. The first floor of the plantation had been extensively renovated by homeowners post-Civil War era including a sanding down of the wood floors, so we mostly spent our time learning about the lineage of the family and imagining what it would have been like to sit in your home and hear a battle rage around you with no cell phones or computer to distract you or to communicate with the outside world. You’d just sit, and you’d wait, knowing neighbors and their sons were some of the men fighting around you.
The second floor of the house was sobering. The wood floors had not been sanded down after the war, so the blood of Civil War soldiers still bloodies the planks. The docent explained that the floors were not discolored everywhere because the wool rugs would have absorbed much of the blood; however, she explained that this meant that areas of staining indicated a severe pooling of blood. Typically, these areas were near fireplaces and windows where the surgeons working feverishly to save lives would position themselves to make the most of the available light. I don’t think I’ll ever forget standing in a bedroom upstairs, likely one of the children’s rooms. On my right was a little bed for a child, and on my left was a box of surgeon’s tools. Stained into the floor was a ring that the archeologists working the site discovered was the exact diameter of chloroform containers used at the time. And, there in front of the window was a semi-circle outline of blood with a clean center. Here a surgeon most likely stood for hours, planted in the same place to take advantage of the light, with his heavy, leather surgery apron protecting him and the floor he stood on from the carnage all around him.
Over 150 years later, the stains still remained. Since the house remained in use until the 1970s as a private residence, generations of children most likely lived in that very room, played on its floors.
I walked out to the cemetery and saw where wreaths are still laid before the few graves marked by actual names on tombstones.
The day was drizzly and overcast, and the walk through the cemetery was a time of reflection for me. On Memorial Day, I’m thankful to so many men and women who have given their lives to protect our country, and I’m astounded by their families who make that sacrifice alongside them as well. And, I’m reminded that we’re thankful together for all those soldiers because we’re all citizens of one nation. But, on that day, I was saddened too because we don’t always act thankful. We fight and bicker, and we use our 24 hour news channels and their website comment forums to berate one another with inflamed rhetoric, seeing who can yell the loudest and make the most outrageous claims. And, I understand that we have big differences of opinion, and that’s one of the freedoms that all those men and women fought for, the freedom to say what we want to say and to hold to our own opinions. But, I wish everyone could take some time to stand in that bedroom with the semi-circle of blood outlining where brave surgeons tried to saves lives. I wish they could walk through the cemetery on an overcast day, and I wish we could all thank those who sacrificed much by trying to reason through our differences rather than flinging inflamed rhetoric about them. I wish we could remember that its not impossible for neighbor to turn against neighbor and that once done, the repair is costly.
In short, brave men and women have given their lives to preserve our freedoms, and unfortunately, they will continue to have to make that sacrifice. But, we can all do our part to make sure that it doesn’t happen on our soil ever again by treating one another with the dignity and respect due to neighbors bound together as citizens of one nation.