Although Thanksgiving as we know it originated with Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation of 1863, late November had long been the season of Harvest Home, of family and friends returning to gather around the hearth. November 30 was a homecoming of sorts; long distant fathers, brothers and sons were returning to Franklin; but it was not to visit loved ones and enjoy a bountiful meal and celebrate a successful harvest; it was to engage in a deadly and ultimately fruitless duel with their mortal foes. It would indeed end with loved ones seeing their returning family members–lying dead on the battlefield or slowing dying of their wounds.
The first Yankee troops started filing past the Carter family home around daybreak. The house lay astride the Columbia Pike, the main southbound thoroughfare, and sat at the edge of town, with a broad expanse of low-lying open fields lying just to the south. The Carters owned 288 acres of this, including a substantial building housing a cotton gin.
General Schofield, the Union commander, conferred with General Cox in the yard of the house and impressed on him the importance of keeping Hood at bay until the bridging equipment could be put in place: “my duty was to use the forces put under my command to hold Hood back, at all hazards, until the trains and the rest of the army should be safely across the Harpeth,” wrote Cox.
The Yankee general came up to the house to inform the family that they were going to commandeer their property to construct a defensive line. The family had several sons in the Confederate army, so they were hardly pleased with this turn of events–but the patriarch of the family, Fountain Branch Carter, with womenfolk and grandchildren to take care of, kept his opinion on the matter to himself. Their house taken over as headquarters, the family huddled into the underground basement, the servants buried the hams from the smokehouse to keep them out of thieving Yankee hands, and then Moscow (a paroled Rebel son) and some of the servants hastily blocked the small basement windows with coils of rope to try to make them bullet proof.
One of the Carter grandchildren was in the yard playing soldier amid all the chaos of an army preparing for war, when a real bullet came whistling by. The battle was beginning. For what seemed an eternity some two dozen men, women, and children–including Albert Lotz and his family from across the street–waited as the horrors of war engulfed the house and grounds above. Luckily, his oldest son, Colonel Moscow Carter, helped corral the extended family together and bolted the cellar door to keep war out.
It was almost sunset as the Confederate attack began in earnest. Among the throng charging headlong at the Yankee guns was one of the Carter sons–Captain Tod Carter. As a quartermaster he didn’t have to be in the front ranks; but with home so near, he wanted to in the forefront of battle to be one of the first to reach the Carter home. He nearly made it.
The last words his comrades heard Captain Carter utter were, “follow me boys! I’m almost home.” Within minutes, Tod Carter’s body was riddled with bullets. Others followed him, as wave after wave of brave foolish Rebels charged headlong into the fire of the entrenched Yankee rearguard. In the confusion of the initial rush the Confederates nearly succeeded in breaking through; but then when all seemed lost, General Opdycke’s brigade rushed forward to plug the breach in the Union line, using the butt of his pistol to bludgeon Rebels after he ran out of bullets.
For hours more, into the dark of the night, the battle raged, the only illumination of the fire from rifle and cannon spewing death. Around nine pm the fighting subsided; finally, about midnight, Cox’s rearguard withdrew across the Harpeth, whence the rest of the army had already gone. The battle was over; the suffering had just begun.
The next morning his family found Tod Carter, still clinging to life just outside the trenches. He was brought home; for a time his family had hopes he would recover; but like a flickering candle that burns bright just before it goes out, Captain Tod’s recovery was an illusion. He died in a room in the rear ell of the Carter House. Tod Carter was home at last.
Tod Carter was waked in the house he lived his young life in and he was buried in a nearby cemetery; but for all of that, Captain Carter did not leave Carter House. Ever since, visitors have felt a presence in the room in the rear ell where he lingered with his fatal wounds for weeks. Some visitors to Carter House even swear they have seen the image of a young man sitting up in bed in that same room.
Other Carter family members are also reported to have been seen in the house as well; one, a young girl, is playful with volunteers and visitors and has even been seen running down the stairs in the front, as if going out to play. Some even claim to hear the sounds of ghostly gunfire and men shouting on the grounds at certain times.
Of course, there are others familiar with the house and its surrounds who claim nothing at all goes on there–that such reports are merely delusions of the masses or people inventing things. Still, the reports trickle in and while most do not see or hear anything odd, there are just enough who do to give the tale of Tod Carter’s ghost and of the hauntings of the grounds some credibility.
For more about the haunting of Carter House and of the ghosts and haunts of Franklin and the Civil War, see Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground, Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War and my new book, Ghosts and Haunts of Tennessee.