Born in the era of punch cards and vacuum tubes, I marvel at technology’s keen ability to accelerate its own growth. As we embark to create new trail signs in Franklin and elsewhere, digital breakthroughs are leaping their way onto our old placards. Take for example Fort Granger, the Union Civil War Fort at Franklin and the object of my dissertation. For students and tourists, the best we could do in the past was to show this geometric jumble of a two dimensional map.
Then there came Google Earth, which enabled us to show the fortification today, albeit carpeted with trees and surrounded by buildings…
Now, we can unearth this fortress and bring it back to life, thanks to the breakthrough of Lidar. With pinpoint precision, here is the long-hidden body of Ft. Granger, with its bastions and moats, set upon a treeless and barren landscape, towering above the Harpeth River, just as it once did at the height of the Civil War.
(Image by Jake Harvey, GIS Engineer, City of Franklin).
At the epicenter of the Battle of Franklin stood the Carter family cotton gin. As the 150th anniversary of the battle nears, various groups have labored to reclaim that historic spot, including the removal of a house that sat atop the old gin site. Contracted to move that house by the end of last March were Wp Camp & Sons. After some progress, they have stalled. It is now July 21, nearly four months after the designated deadline.
Things are happening at Fort Granger. Yesterday, City of Franklin Parks began constructing a new ADA-compliant bridge into the site, and the Tennessee Wars Commission was on hand to conduct archaeology. By the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Franklin, the Parks Department and I will also have new interpretive signs for the refurbished park. A long-hidden story will emerge again.
Arguably the most prestigious sporting trophy on earth has changed hands today, passing from former champions Spain to – for the fourth time – the national team of Germany. Having a love of the game nearly as deep as my Germanic roots, I was quite happy with the result.
And this win has come via a new nation. A quick look at the roster reveals that this is not your Opa’s Deutschland.
Playing perhaps his greatest football yet was defender Jerome Boateng, son of a Ghanan father. Setting a record for most career World Cup goals (16) was the perpetually humble Miroslav Klose, born in Poland. Midfield play-maker Sami Khedira missed the final due to a freak injury during warm-ups, but his work in preceding games made this son of a Tunisian one of the key pieces of Germany’s evolutionary success. Turkish-German Mesut Oezil was not at his best, perhaps overused by his club side in England’s Premier League. Compensating for his exhaustion were substitutes Lukas Podolski, born in Poland, and Shkodran Mustafi, born in Germany from Albanian parentage.
When asked how they were able to succeed in this most entertaining and competitive tournament, the overriding consensus among the players is that they were able to fuse their talents as a team.
Of course, all of this might be called into question had they not advanced out of the group stage, but the undeniable evidence prevails that this nation – the most successful economy in Europe, and now the champions of the world sport – has porous borders, and is not weakened by it.
In commemoration of John F. Kennedy’s assassination fifty years ago today, I was given the great privilege of being on WAKM Radio in Franklin, Tennessee. Hosts Hudson Alexander and Tom Lawrence took calls as we discussed that tragic moment with those who had lived through it.
The phone lines lit up, callers spoke of where they were when they heard the news. But after awhile, I noticed a remarkable pattern – they weren’t talking about Kennedy.
Instead their words spoke of a significantly different experience…
“It was the first time I saw my mother cry.” “The school secretary went silent.” “The older students were coming down the stairs, sobbing.” “I have never seen my father so upset.”
On the day of the assassination, well over 8 million Americans were between the ages of 5 and 14. Today, many of those who can personally remember that day were children when it happened. For them, the impact came not from “the end of Camelot” but through something far more immediate and personal.
In an instant, their homes and schools were transformed into places of collective mourning, and the vast majority of their adult authority figures suddenly humanized themselves into fragile and emotional beings. While the moment would not last, the memory of that moment itself remained indelible, for a half century onward.
Tomorrow morning, Tom Lawrence and I will record our 200th episode of Sesquicentennial Stories for WAKM radio, and here it is…
NARRATOR: Early Autumn, 1863. Spotswood Hatcher of the 45th Tennessee Infantry Regiment was serving in north Georgia, when he sat down to write a difficult letter to his beloved spouse Mary Ann, who was back on their farm southeast of Franklin.
MALE VOICE (dejected): “My dear wife…We had a major engagement with the enemy on the 19th and 20th of September…In the battle, we lost brother R.L. Pollard, which was very distressing to me. He was shot through the neck just below the ears, which killed him immediately…what can I say to comfort his wife?”
NARRATOR: Hatcher was referring to the battle of Chickamauga, which proved extremely costly to the families of Williamson County. At least sixteen soldiers from this area were killed in action, and some 58 were wounded, many severely. Overall, the combined number of Americans killed or wounded at Chickamauga was a staggering 28,400, making it the second bloodiest battle of the Civil War, standing only behind Gettysburg.
Each week I present an actual event in the lives of those who resided in or came to Franklin, Tennessee during the Civil War. The region serves as a microcosm of the nation (as well as the focus of my dissertation), and these events ask of you – what would you have done in their place?…
This week you are Ferdinand Beech of Franklin, Tennessee. In 1862 you join up with many of the local boys in Co. H, 20th Tennessee Infantry of the Confederate Army. At the Battle of Chickamauga in September 1863 you are badly wounded. Two months later at the Battle of Missionary Ridge, you are captured and sent all the way in the dead of winter to the aptly named Rock Island, Illinois POW camp, where ramshackle barracks and subfreezing temperatures await. Soon after, scores of your comrades start to die of disease, primarily smallpox. You are given the option to take the oath of loyalty to the United States for a chance to be released. What do you do?
What did Ferdinand Beech do? He took the oath of loyalty, but only after a nearly year had passed. By that time, well over 1,500 of his fellow prisoners had died. Eventually some 1,960 prisoners (and a number of guards) would perish from disease and exposure at Rock Island, making it the 9th deadliest POW camp in the war.