The Fight to Reclaim America’s Battlefields
150 years ago on November 30, 1864 — Union and Confederate soldiers fought their way across a Tennessee field in Franklin just as reenactors do today. But it was no spectator sport that day. A crippling defeat for the Confederacy; the Battle of Franklin came to be known as “Bloody Franklin.”
The casualties on both sides added up to almost 10,000. Nearly 1,500 of the Confederate dead are buried nearby in the McGavock Family Cemetery at Carnton Plantation.
“When you look today at the battlefield, what do you see? I see Targets and Hardee’s and businesses,” said bestselling author Robert Hicks. “We can over this next decade undo some of that.”
In 2005, if you stood in the cemetery and looked over the fence to where hundreds of the soldiers died, you saw a golf course.
“Hopefully, the day will come that it will be back to what it was,” said Hicks.
The golf course is a park now, and Franklin has become the poster child for something almost unheard of: a major victory in the war to reclaim Civil War battlefields.
“If we’d failed on the golf course, then we would never have gone on,” said Hicks.
“Parts of them disappear every day,” said James Lighthizer who heads the Civil War Trust, which raises money to save endangered properties. “We guesstimate at about 30-40 acres a day because of development, so it’s going pretty fast.”
Gettysburg, site of the bloodiest battle ever on American soil, became a National Military Park in 1895. But significant landmarks were left out, including Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Headquarters.Today, a motel stands next to Lee’s headquarters.
“It’s a sacrilege,” said Lighthizer. “I mean, it’s a destruction of a part of American history.”
For $120 a night, you can actually stay upstairs — that is, for a while longer. The Civil War Trust is raising $5.5 million to buy and restore the property and tear down the motel next door.
“When it comes to preserving land, it’s really all about money,” said Lighthizer. “There’s nothing else to it. Good intentions are just that — they get you nowhere.”
According to the Civil War Trust, 42 percent of the principal battlefields have been lost, or close to it — casualties to development. The fights are not always black-and-white, and good guys against bad guys.
Last November, Franklin, Tennessee came one demolition closer to reclaiming another big piece of its battlefield. A decade ago, it had been written off as lost. But then Franklin had a change of heart – thanks in part to Robert Hicks and lawyer Julian Bibb.
“The battlefield, which had been looked at as forgotten or, ‘Gosh, it’s gonna be way too expensive to do what you all are trying to do,’ that took the convincing,” said Bibb. “And once that began to happen, it completely changed the support we were recognizing politically, locally and statewide.”
“This year we will probably have over 100,000 people come to Franklin [as] heritage tourists,” said Hicks.
The worst part of the fighting was around the site of the Carter House (now a museum) and a Pizza Hut when we first came to Franklin in 2005. Since then, It’s been “now you see it, now you don’t” — one property after another gone. Just like Dominoes, which will be going away in January. All to make way for a 20-acre park on the reclaimed land. The price tag: $14 million. So far, from private donations, the Civil War Trust, and the city, state and federal governments.
“This is hallowed ground” said Hicks. “I don’t know how to say it any other way. Something holy happened here.”
Who knew that people would still be fighting the Battle of Franklin today, 150 years after the fact? The front lines then . . . are the front lines now.
(Courtesy of General William Barksdale Camp 1220 Sons of Confederate Veterans, Columbus, Mississippi, January, 2015)