The Battle of Franklin, pt. 3

We hadn’t brought chairs–didn’t think of it, honestly. So, we ended up sitting on the ground. Still, we had front-row seats and, lucky for us, sat next to a woman from St. Louis, whose husband was one of the reenactors. Doubly lucky, we sat right behind the big artillery her husband and his group of reenactors were operating. So, we had someone who could answer all of our questions, and a group of men we could feel a little personally vested in.

Though we were physically facing north, looking towards Spring Hill, in the pretend world of the reenactment, we were facing South with the Union troops looking out of Franklin and awaiting the Confederates. For those of you who have been to Franklin before, I think we were sitting somewhat behind and east of where the Pizza Hut is now.

Because we were sitting with the woman from Missouri, many of her men came over to talk to her. One of them, the captain, I think, was so dashing that the Professor and I developed instantanious crushes on him, though I’d venture to guess that the Professor’s first thought was “I wonder if I can convince him to shave” and my first thought was, “I wonder if he gets to sleep in one of those awesome white tents every weekend.” To each their own, of course.

Behind us were some girls from Cincinatti, who were skipping their homecoming dance to get all dressed up in hoop skirts and spend the weekend in a field. They were nice enough to keep brushing the crickets and spiders off of us; the field was full of them. We all talked about what the different men on the field were and how it ought to be a lot harder to tell which soldiers were women and we learned that reenacting can be very dangerous, as the St. Louis woman’s husband had, on various occassions, shot himself in the leg, ran a sword through his cheek, and busted some ribs when he “died” and fell on a tin cup.

As they were moving equipment around and repositioning troops, I was briefly sad that my uncle was dead and not here to do this kind of stuff with me. When he was alive, I loved it when he came to visit because we’d always go to museums and he, like me, always wanted to linger and read every sign and touch everything and just absorb it. He was a history buff and I know he’d have loved what happened next.

At first, the start of the battle was only obvious because the fife and drums started playing. Then, we’d occassionally hear the infamous “Rebel yell” but because they were on the other side of a hill, we didn’t see them for a long time. The artillery fired repeatedly, but still, I’d say for a good twenty minutes, we were just seeing a lot of smoke from the artillery, hearing a lot of fifing, and seeing a lot of folks milling about.

But then, we saw some flags peak over from the top of the hil. And suddenly there was a long line of gray rising up over the hill. Towards us, were a lot of Confederate calvary, and to our right, in the heart of the battle, we watched the Confederates charge the main Union line, watched us fall back and regroup and charge back and this went on and on, them coming over the hill and us falling back. We regrouping and falling back and then pushing them back across the ridge. Wave after wave, though each was progressively smaller as men “died” and were “taken captive.”

Meanwhile, by us, the two calvaries were clashing and shooting at each other and, once they ran out of “bullets,” they took out their swords and began to fight that way. Our guys from Missouri kept firing and about this time, we had our first “casualty,” a big guy right in front of us. After he lay dead about ten minutes, the oldest guy in the group came over and tickled him to make sure he wasn’t just gravely wounded. I don’t know about the historical veracity of the tickle test, but it seemed to provoke some last, fading signs of life from our first dead guy.

The whole thing went on for over an hour before the Confederate Calvary got bored with history and came charging over through a hole in the artillery. Imagine, if you can, fifty men on horseback at full gallop not three feet from you. They came through the hole, turned along the rope that separated spectator from participant, and waved and hollered as many of the specators cheered. Then, since they had departed from history, they just milled about behind our lines before a couple of Union reenactors noticed them and turned around and shot at them, thus giving them an excuse to come storming back by, to even louder cheers, and rejoining the historical record back in front of our guns.

It was shortly after this that the gun the St. Louis woman’s husband was helping to operate was hit and, after a few short, valient minutes, everyone around that gun, including the dashing, handsome captain, seemed dead. However, there was a miracle when the St. Louis woman’s husband realized he’d not made the gun safe before he “died,” and he was able to muster the strength to not die, but only develop a terrible leg injury, thus being able to raise himself up and do something to the gun so that there was no danger of an open flame encountering any gunpowder, before he fell back to the earth.

Then, after a while, the dead rose up and made their way off the field, and the battle was over.

I have to tell you, I thought it’d be unbearably corney and that I’d sit there every minute wondering why in hell folks spent good time and money doing this. But it was really, really cool. Maybe it mattered that I sat with other folks who were on the Union’s side. I might have been bothered if we’d had to sit with the folks who were second-guessing every Confederate move in order to figure out where they went wrong. Maybe it’s easier to enjoy this stuff guilt-free when you know you’re on the side of the winners? Still, I’d guess that 85-90% of the people who were there were cheering for the Confederates.

I don’t know what, psychologically, they get out of it.

But I thought it was really awesome and it’s something I’d highly recommend on a cool, October afternoon.

p.s. For you horse fans, they didn’t seem at all bothered by the noise and the guns and, in fact, seemed to be having a lot of fun running around. I didn’t see any of the calvary men die, but the St. Louis woman explained that, when they do die, they’re very careful to keep hold of the reigns so that the horses aren’t just running around loose. She said it occassionally still happens, but not very frequently.

I, myself, am more of a mule fan, and, happily, we saw some beautiful mules and I now have the Professor convinced that we must go down to Mule Days in the spring. The mules also seemed to be enjoying themselves.

The Battle of Franklin, pt. 1

So, the Professor and I had been weighing whether it would be more fun to go to the reenactment of the Battle of Franklin or to the Moon Festival on campus. After short deliberation and a check with Madams J & B, we decided that there’s only one 140th anniversary of the Battle of Franklin and so we’d better go down and be a part of it.

First, though, I convinced the Professor to come with Mrs. Wigglebottom and me to the park and then to have some lunch in our fine, if messy, home. I had a hamburger; the Professor had corn dogs. Mrs. Wigglebottom was happily worn out from the park, so she just had a piece of ice, which she broke in two and set beside her for later (poor Mrs. Wigglebottom and her poor grasp of basic physics!).

The battle was just one of three major battles being held in an enormous field just south of Spring Hill. Friday night had been the Battle of Spring Hill (which, you history buffs know, ended rather abruptly when the Union forces marched by the Confederate forces in the middle of the night and snuck north to Franklin), Saturday was the Battle of Franklin, and today is the Battle of Nashville. Since both Franklin’s and Nashville’s battlefields are under 140 years worth of urban sprawl, they hold all of the battles in the same field, part of the actual battlefield of the Battle of Spring Hill, just turning the forces in various ways so that the layout of the land varies a little from battle to battle.

The movie at the Carter House in Franklin actually does a very nice job of explaining the intricacies behind these series of battles. In a nutshell, here’s what’s going on. In one of the strangest, to me, anyway, moments of the Civil War, Confederate General Hood had been fighting Union General Sherman in and around Atlanta. As Sherman marched out of Atlanta towards the Atlantic, Hood headed out of Atlanta in the other direction, intending to retake Nashville and regain some momentum. Though he hoped to somewhat surprise the Union forces as his men marched up the road to Nashville (what is now Route 31), he was engaged in Battle at Spring Hill, then at Franklin, before reaching Nashville.

Though the Union forced retreated from both Spring Hill and Franklin, the damage they were able to do to the Confederate forces (six Confederate Generals were killed at Franklin), made it impossible for Hood’s forces to recapture (or liberate, depending on your point of view) Nashville.

The Battle of Franklin, pt. 2

Now, for those of you who’ve been to visit me, you know that Faulkner is right when he says that the past down here isn’t even past. So, the Professor and I had some misgivings about going to an enormous reenactment of a Civil War battle. As we drove down the dirt lane towards the parking field, we developed a cover story that we thought would keep us from getting harassed, if this were to be some strange Southern Pride event. I forget what all it involved, but I was going to have some kids named Billy and Owen.

The first thing that struck us was just the magnitude of people who were directing this thing. We saw, I’d guess, ever Columbia cop, every Maury County sheriff’s deputy, all the Spring Hill police, many of the Tennessee State Guard, all the area Boy Scouts, and hundreds of event staff, and that was just to make sure that we got to where we were going smoothly and parked in a timely manner.

Once we got out of the car, we had to walk a long way to the front gate. As we were walking, we saw a young woman giving a young man in a halo (not the holy kind, the “I broke my neck” kind) a piggyback ride. We briefly wondered if we should have worked up some kind of “Peole you migth see” scavenger hunt to make the day more interesting. Then we paid and went in.

I think that, as one goes through the gate, she is confronted by a kind of psychic dissonance that made me, at least, wonder if we’d made a grave mistake. On the one hand, there was the kind of stuff you’d expect at a historical reenactment: places to buy homemade rootbeer,or old-fashioned clothing and hats, lanterns, and candles. Then, of course, there were plenty of places to buy Confederate flags. And there were lots of places to buy food, including funnel cakes, that were covered in bumperstickers that said the expected things like “Heritage, not hate” and “The South is Going to Rise Again” and the more unexpected things like “Fighting Terrorism Since 1861” (with a Confederate Battle Flag) and another one that encouraged us to love all Confederates, White, Black, Brown, Red, and Yellow, equally.

Stranger still was the tent that contained framed pictures of trick photographs in which a war widow dressed all in black could be seen weeping at the grave of her soldier who’s ghostly presence seemed to be trying to comfort her. There was a whole series of weeping widows with ghostly husbands. And, I still wonder what I would do if I walked into someone’s home and saw that they had even one of these, let alone the whole series.

I think that, after about an hour, the Professor and I were still undecided as to whether we’d made a grave mistake or not. But we decided to get something to drink and a funnel cake and head on over to the battlefield and eat and drink and chat.

It was at this point that the afternoon went from mildly scary and troubling, to all out interesting.