In late November of 1864 bullet holes riddled the house of Fountain Branch Carter and his wife Polly. The shots were fired by thousands of men in a little known but significantly bloody battle that took place in Franklin, Tennessee during one of the final fights of the American Civil War.
One of the men on the firing side was Albert Thornton Edwards, Ms. Jeannie’s great great grandfather. At the time of this battle he was a young Union soldier of 24, serving in the Ohio cavalry.
The Confederate army was on their way to Nashville to recapture their state capitol. The Union Army was coming up from Atlanta to stop them from capturing the city. The small rural town of Franklin, and the plantation of Fountain Branch and Polly Carter happened to be on the way and consequently in the way.
It was early morning on November 30th, 1864 when Union General Jacob Cox knocked on the front door of Fountain Branch’s house, walked in and declared his intentions to set up headquarters. He told Fountain Branch that he and his family were free to go about the house as they liked and continue their usual activities of the day. He then laid down to take a nap in the front parlour while his aides shuffled in setting up field camp materials in the two front rooms of the house.
No one expected that a battle would take place that day in the backyard of this pretty plantation. Not General Jacob Cox, not Fountain Branch Carter and certainly not any of the residents of the peaceful town of Franklin. But of course, war has a way of surprising everyone.
By nightfall, Union soldiers would attack the Confederate soldiers and the Confederates would fight back. Within a five hour time time span from mid-day to sundown over 10,000 casualties would be sustained and 3,000 soldiers, both Union and Confederate, would lose their lives right there in the yard including one son of Fountain Branch and Polly.
When bullets were blazing fast and furious Fountain Branch took his family, house servants and some neighbors down to the basement where they waited out the warring in a dark, cold room made of brick and stone. On the outside, in the yard, Albert fought his battles for the Union cause on horseback, a select skill that took so much training the military almost deemed it pointless for the amount of time it consumed and experience it required. As night crept across the sky it became harder and harder for the soldiers to see who and what they were shooting at. Mayhem set in and men fell on both sides. Some piled two or three bodies high all around the plantation.
Ms. Jeannie toured the Carter House last week unaware of the fact at the time that Albert had participated in the fighting there. Her sympathies that day definitely lay with the Carter family and the horrific hours they had to endure as the war raged all around their home. She was especially struck by the haphazard splattering of bullet holes still evident in the clapboard on the back porch.
It wasn’t until Ms. Jeannie was back at home herself going through the service records of Albert (one of her only ancestors to fight in the Civil War) that she discovered his involvement there at the Carter House. One of those back porch bullet holes could have come from Albert.
It is startling to know that an ancestor witnessed such a tragic day but even more so knowing that he actually played a hand in making it tragic. Of course Albert was just doing his job – trying to be a good soldier two years into fighting a war he believed in. But there he was nonetheless, shooting at a house with innocent people inside. In looking back on that event and these two men of history who faced each other on opposites sides, Ms. Jeannie couldn’t help but think how similar they really were.
Fountain Branch and Polly were long-time loves, married for almost 30 years and had 10 children between them. Albert following the Battle of Franklin would muster out of the military 8 months later and head home to Ohio so he could marry his bride Martha and move west via covered wagon to Iowa. Albert and Martha would go on to have 11 kids and celebrate 56 years of marriage. Neither spouse in either family remarried after their significant other passed away. Both families knew the loss of young children, both were farmers, both revered citizens in their communities and both of course survived the horrors of the Battle of Franklin. Albert sustained eye injuries somewhere between Franklin and Nashville which he carried with him for the rest of his life. Fountain Branch lost his 24 year old son Tod in Franklin who had insisted on joining the fight that day to defend both his family’s land and the ideals of the Confederacy.
The one main difference of these two men living in 19th century America was their philosophies on equality for all people. While Ms. Jeannie isn’t excited that Albert could have potentially destroyed someone’s home and family she is proud that her great great grandfather was fighting for the very freedoms that she enjoys today, 150 years later. She’s also thankful that the Carter House has survived all these years so that she can see first-hand her family’s impression on history and walk in the footsteps of a man who lived four generations before her.
Read more stories about Albert and Martha here, here and here including pictures of Albert’s civil war inkwell and Martha’s honeymoon quilt handmade on her wagon trip west just after she was married. Read more about the Carter House and the Battle of Franklin here.
If you have any surprising stories in your family history, please share them in the comments section. You just never know what we might discover!