Homecoming: The Haunting of Carter House

During the autumn of 1864, Captain Tod Carter was coming home to Franklin. He was coming home to stay.
During the autumn of 1864, Captain Tod Carter was coming home to Franklin. He was coming home to stay.

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.

Fountain Branch Carter, the family patriarch, was still alive in 1864 to see the war come to his door.
Fountain Branch Carter, the family patriarch, was still alive in 1864 to see the war come to his door.

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 John Schofield, commander of Union forces at Franklin.
General John Schofield, commander of Union forces at Franklin.

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.

General Cox, Schofield's second in command and in charge of the Union rearguard at Franklin.
General Cox, Schofield’s second in command and in charge of the Union rearguard at Franklin.

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.

On December 15-16th, The Army of the Cumberland, under General Thomas, launched their counterattack, virtually annihilating the once proud Army of Tennessee.
On December 15-16th, The Army of the Cumberland, under General Thomas, launched their counterattack, virtually annihilating the once proud Army of Tennessee.

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.

Tod Carter and the Confederates very nearly broke through the Union lines. Had it not been for the insubordination of Gen. Opdycke and his "Tigers" they would have!
Tod Carter and the Confederates very nearly broke through the Union lines. Had it not been for the insubordination of Gen. Opdycke and his “Tigers” they would have!

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.

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The Haunting of Carter House if fully chronicled in Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground.
The Haunting of Carter House if fully chronicled in Strange Tales of the Dark and Bloody Ground.

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.

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THANKSGIVING AND THE CIVIL WAR: A Civil War Christmas, Part 2

President Lincoln, the actual originator of Thanksgiving as a National Holiday.
President Lincoln, the actual originator of Thanksgiving as a National Holiday.

It is not generally appreciated, but Thanksgiving as we now know it began, not with the Pilgrims and still less with the Puritans, but during the four bitter years of the American Civil War.

The so-called First Thanksgiving of 1621, the standard fare of grade school celebrations, was by no means the first thanksgiving feast in America.  Jamestown had several thanksgivings prior to that and the Spaniards had them earlier still.  Moreover, there were other sporadic celebrations called thanksgiving all the way up to 1863, but these were generally more religious than secular in nature, and by no means national in scope.

Sarah Josepha Hale, Feminist and influential author and editor, persuaded Lincoln to proclaim a national day of thanksgiving.
Sarah Josepha Hale, Feminist and influential author and editor, persuaded Lincoln to proclaim a national day of thanksgiving.

In fact, it was only after a series of articles by Sarah Josepha Hale, a pioneering Feminist, crusading editor, and best-selling author.  It was to Ms. Hale that we owe–or have to blame–for the ever-popular nursery rhyme, “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

Ms. Hale became Editor of the influential Godey’s Ladies Magazine, which was the major arbiter of women’s fashion during the 1860’s.  This magazine not only gave a number of struggling young women authors their start, but also featured works by established male authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Oliver Wendell Holmes and Washington Irving.  While generally ignored by scholars of American Literature in the modern era, Godey’s was tremendously important in the development of early American literature.

Thanksgiving 1863, by Thomas Nast
Thanksgiving in 1863, as portrayed by Thomas Nast

Sarah actually began pressing for a national Day of Thanksgiving in 1846 and badgered five presidents in succession for the creation of it as a national holiday.  Finally Ms. Hale found a sympathetic ear in Abraham Lincoln.  Besides the persuasive lady’s letters and editorials, Lincoln saw the need for a national holiday as a unifying force in this time of division and disunion.  So Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November of 1863 as the first national Thanksgiving.  The war was dragging on and many homes were missing loved ones away at the front; but after Gettysburg, Vicksburg and the Union capture of Chattanooga, Lincoln could at last see an end in sight.  Lincoln’s proclamation (actually drafted by Secretary of State William Seward) read as follows:

Proclamation of President Abraham Lincoln, October 3, 1863

“The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union. In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United   States to be affixed. Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United   States the eighty-eighth.”

For a nation weary of war and longing for home and loved ones, Lincoln’s proclamation struck a chord which has resonated ever since.  Artist’s such as Thomas Nast and Winslow Homer easily turned out illustrations which struck to the heart of a nation at war yet earnestly desiring peace.

A Thanksgiving Ball held at Fort Pulaski in 1862 where Secesh Southern Belles danced with Yankee officers.
A Thanksgiving Ball held at Fort Pulaski in 1862, where Secesh Southern Belles danced with Yankee officers.  (Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly)

 

Christopher K. Coleman is author of two books on the Civil War: Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War (Harper/Collins), and the The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln (Schiffer).  His latest effort, Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife, is now out and available from all the better books stores.  It is published by University of Tennessee Press.

 

 

ambrose-bierce-and-the-period-of-honorable-strife-cover
Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife. (Univ. of Tennessee Press) Ambrose Bierce is well know as a noted  American writer, satirist and cynic. Less well known is Bierce’s military career during the Civil War, where he fought with distinction in many of the major battles of the war. This book chronicles his wartime experiences in depth.

 

The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln (Schiffer, 2012)
The Paranormal Presidency of Abraham Lincoln (Schiffer)

 

GHOSTS AND HAUNTS OF THE CIVIL WAR 3x5
Ghosts and Haunts of the Civil War (HarperCollins).