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Fannie Courtney-A View from the Other Side (1865)
The following was written by nineteen-year old Fannie in March 1865, four months after the Battle of Franklin, at the request of E. Root, Esq., U.S. Sanitary Commission in Nashville. It was part of “The Sanitary Reporter,” U.S. Sanitary Commission, April 15, 1865, p. 181-182.
It has appeared in numerous newspaper over the years, including the Boston Gazette and the Cincinnati Enquirer, among others.
Fannie Courtney was a strong Union sympathizer despite having a brother and cousin riding in Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest’s regiment. Shortly after the war, she married Lt. Col. George Grummond, U.S. Army, and went with him to Fort Phil Kearny, where he was killed by Indians. Later, she married Colonel Henry B. Carrington and enjoyed the benefits of being the wife of a senior officer.
To: E. Root., U.S. Sanitary Commission, Nashville From Frances Courtney
I hasten to give you an account of the Battle of Franklin, together with a statement of the facts concerning the hospitals and the wounded during the stay of the Rebels, a period of seventeen days, after the Battle. The details of the memorable engagement of November 30th will, of course, be according to my opportunity for personal observation, while terror stirred my soul. The other facts transpired in calmer moments, when my heart was filled with a holy sense of duty toward the suffering.
On the morning of the 30th of November the retreating army arrived at this place, tired and many almost exhausted. But, notwithstanding this, they commenced immediately throwing up breastworks. You would have been astonished to see how quick the work was completed… We felt great uneasiness of mind, fearing that there would be a great battle….
But we were doomed to disappointment; about half past three o’clock I was sitting at the dinner table, when I heard the roar of artillery. I ran into the yard to listen. There was a yell, the Rebels made a charge along the whole line. The bullets were falling so thick it was unsafe to remain longer. I stood within the door, and in a few minutes all was in perfect confusion. Men, women, and children were running in every direction, together with unmanageable teams, loose horses and mules. My position was no longer safe. I hastened to the cellar with the rest of my family and neighbors who sought protection with us…
About 10 o’clock suddenly the firing ceased for a few minutes. I heard persons in the sitting room above. It proved to be some Federal officers off duty for a time, who stopped to let us know how the Battle was going…I heard an awful groan, and within a few yards of me lay a Federal soldier who, (I supposed, had been wounded a short time before the firing ceased.) I sent one of the soldiers out to look after his comrade and to give him water. But he did not have to remain long; the wound proved to be mortal, and the poor man soon expired.
Another desperate charge! Such yells! I can never forget wounded Federal soldiers came in from the battlefield, and stopped in the yard, for they could go no farther. I called to the men outside to bring them into the cellar. Two were slightly wounded. The third was struck in the arm, and the main artery was cut. He was bleeding profusely. One of the neighbors ran up at the risk of his life and brought a bucket of water. My mother had some cotton near, I poured water on the wound for some time. I then put cotton on each side where the ball entered and came out, bound it up with my handkerchief, and with two others belonging to my sister and little brother, made for him a sling. He lay down to rest, but complained of being cold from loss of blood. I had nothing to cover him with. What was I to do? A thought struck me. I took off my woolen skirt and tucked it around him. His comrades decided to try to overtake an ambulance with him, and I suppose they did, as they did not return.
Soon a fire broke out in town… we thought of nothing else but being burned alive in the cellar, as there was no way of getting out if the fire continued to spread. The Rebels could see the
position of our forces, and consequently the fighting was more terrible. Several buildings were consumed, but thanks to a kind Providence, the fire was extinguished by the timely interference of soldiers, assisted by citizens. About thirteen charges in all were made by the Rebels.
At midnight the Federal Army began to retreat, the wagon trains being safe, and gradually the firing ceased. Oh! How grateful to God we felt that it was over… Then we emerged from our place of refuge. I dragged beds into my mother’s room for us to rest there, as we wished to spend the remainder of the night of terror together. I could not sleep, for I longed to go to the battlefield to alleviate [lessen] suffering [and] do all in my power to make the wounded more comfortable until they could be brought to hospitals.
At 3 o’clock, again, such cannonading! What could it mean? It shook the earth, the house; everything seemed in motion above and below. It was a farewell salute sent by the rebels to the retreating army, now far away. I was so frightened I sprang up and aroused everyone to get to the cellar immediately or we should be killed. I remained close to the house, to do which, though it took me not more than two minutes, seemed an age. Just as I reached the cellar door a shell exploded close by, and had I been three seconds later in passing, I should have been struck by some of the fragments, which flew about. How grateful we felt to God that we were spared! But amidst our joy we thought of the dead ones who had fallen to find graves in a strange land, and of the suffering ones lying exposed on the field; of the desolate [joyless] homes, and the many hearts stricken with sorrow when the sad tidings should reach them…
Early the next morning after the Battle I went to the field. The sight was dreadful. It seemed that I could scarcely move for fear of stepping on men either dead or wounded. Some were cold and stiff, others with the lifeblood ebbing out, unconscious of all around, while others were writhing in agony, calling, “Water! Water!” I can hear them now.
… I could not look upon such sights long, but hurried back to care for the wounded. There were forty-four hospitals in total— three for the Federal wounded and the rest for the Confederates. Red flags were waving from unoccupied dwelling, the seminaries, churches, and every business house in town.
My Mother and I took charge of a hundred and twenty wounded men, who occupied the Presbyterian Church, it being the largest Federal hospital, and with what we could spare assisted at another which was in a house owned by my mother and near our own home. When we first went to the hospital, the wounded men told us they had nothing to eat for two days. We first furnished them with bread, meat and tea, and coffee, every little luxury we could prepare, for several days. Then they drew scanty [very little] rations from the Rebels, flour the color of ashes and a little poor beef not suitable for well men, much less for wounded. All the cooking was done, and in truth, everything eatable furnished, at our house.
We fed the men twice a day. Sometimes at 10 o’clock at night we would carry them something prepared with our own hands. Many had been robbed not only of their blankets and overcoats but of their coats, and were lying on the floor upon handfuls of straw, with nothing else to protect or cover them. We furnished them all the bedding we could spare, and made cotton pillows for all. There were no bandages to be had, and I made what I could out of my own underclothing. We would get up at daylight and with the help of servants commence cooking their breakfast. We never had time to rest, only as we sat down to eat something hurriedly, for as soon as we had finished feeding our patients in the morning, we had to return home to prepare the next meal…
Image courtesy of Historic Foundation of Williamson County
F.B. Carter (1797-1871) was born in Halifax Co. VA. and came with the Francis and Sarah Carter family to Williamson County in 1806, settling in Waddell Hollow. F.B. came to Franklin as a young man to make shoes, boots. In1830, he had the Carter House built on Columbia pike south of Franklin, which became the center of the Battle of Franklin on Nov. 30, 1864.
[Original Civil war letter from occupied Confederate Nashville, Tennessee, under the military governor, Andrew Johnson] 4 page letter with original envelope from William Henry Ruse of the 97th Ohio Volunteer Regiment to Maggie Stewart of Adamsville, Ohio. W. H. Ruse worked in a hospital in Nashville, Tennessee (possibly as a pastor). Ruse talks of William Gannaway Brownlow’s sermon just 400 yards away (preacher and future Tennessee Governor) and the transfer of Clement Laird Vallandigham to Confederate lines (on direct orders from Lincoln)
Pleasant Sunday Eve
I have just come in from preaching and now I am going to try to write to you a few lines in answer to yours which I received two or three hours ago. Last Sunday evening you was writing to me. It is slow work talking at such a long distance. For my part I would prefer having the distance shortened. But don’t know how to accomplish it… you say you read my letters often. I don’t think you read them as often as I do yours. For that is the way I past my time reading letters and looking at those treasurable pictures… Monday Evening May 25th.
Well as I did not finish yesterday I will now try to write a little more. It is so excessively warm today that I can scarcely write. Parson Brownlow preached in this City yesterday at 12 A.M. the Church in which he preached is not more than four hundred yards from this hospital, but I did not know he was going to preach until it was all over. I tell you I was spited. To think I didn’t get to hear him when he was so close. It was not generally made known that he was to preach till an hour or two previous to the hour for preaching… The Northern Traitor (Vallandigham) arrived in this City on last evening. On his way south of our lines. He was strongly guarded. I don’t think his punishment was half severe enough.”
Last page contains a poem about death, entitled:
“How, where and when”
(This poem has been attributed to Mrs. Abdy, 1842, Church of England Magazine, Vol. 12)
When shall I die?
Shall death’s cold hand arrest my breath?
While loved ones stand in silent watchful love to shed.
Shed tears around my quiet bed?
Or shall I meet my final doom far from my country and my home?
Or shall my fainting frame sustain the tedious languishing of pain?
Please write soon and often.
Source: eBay auction, March 2011
The roughly 2,000 residents of Franklin, Tennessee in 1860 were predominantly Confederate-leaning in their political ideology, as was most of Williamson County. The Fountain Branch Carter family, including his sons, were no exception.
A letter between Moscow B. Carter and younger brother Capt Tod Carter from March 1864 pulls the curtain back and gives us a very interesting look into the mindset of a typical Franklin family regarding their view of blacks fighting in uniform. It is often stated that the Confederacy widely supported blacks fighting in armed combat for their Cause. Yet such claims are anecdotal at best and mere fancy at worst.
What does the primary evidence show? This letter from Moscow Carter clearly reveals that the typical mindset of Franklin residents in Tennessee (c 1864) was one of complete disgust for blacks taking up arms in combat.
The letter was written March 1st, 1864 by elder brother Moscow B. Carter, who was 39 at the time. He addressed it to his younger brother Tod Carter (age 24) who was a prisoner of war at Johnson’s Island. Tod was a Captain in the 20th Tennessee Infantry and would die on his own farm within months of this letter.
Here is an excerpt:
The letter clearly reveals the disgust of the Carter family with the Federal army allowing blacks to take up arms. Carter even suggests that the general idea on the part of the community, as a whole, was one of disgust. This is in the Spring of 1864. The context shows that the disgust in question is not primarily because they were fighting for the Yankees. The disgust and chagrin is wider than that for Carter and perhaps for the community he lived in in 1864.
“But these were Federal black soldiers, not Confederate,” one might say. Besides the vacuous lack of primary evidence to support blacks fighting for the Confederacy (in uniform), one can hardly make the case for Southern slaves fighting for the Confederacy – even as late as the Spring of 1864 – when Moscow Carter’s letter reveals a disdain by a Southern/Confederate community for black Federal soldiers.
Had the Confederacy been generally supportive of blacks fighting for their cause in early 1864 one could almost imagine that Carter’s response to the presence of blacks Federal troops would have been something like, “Even though blacks (not Carter’s term) serve in uniform for the Yankees, our blacks (i.e., Confederate) are better and more devoted because …..” But Carter does not state anything close to that because he clearly had a general disdain and disgust for blacks serving in the formal role as a soldier in arms.
The few blacks (i.e., slaves) that did serve in the Confederate army were mostly ones who accompanied their master into battle but were rarely mustered in like whites were, and given arms to fight. It’s simply a myth and a distortion that large numbers (i.e., tens of thousands) of slaves fought for the Confederacy, and Moscow Carter’s letter in March 1864 to Tod Carter tacitly proves that.
I’ll close with this point. A reply I often get to this discussion is that my view denigrates and dishonors the blacks who took up arms and fought for the Confederacy. Rubbish. What truly dishonors the fighting Confederate slave – and the evidence suggests there were very few (as in hundreds probably for the entire Confederacy) – is that tens of thousands of blacks are given “credit” for fighting for the Confederacy, thereby diminishing the authentic role of those who truly did. It’s similar to a soldier saying he fought at Franklin or Gettysburg because his unit was there, but in actuality his unit was on dispatch duty, guarding the railroad seven miles away. Being near Franklin on November 30th does not equate with “fighting in combat” on the Federal line in front of the Carter House on that terrible day.
What was civilian morale like in the western Confederacy like in late 1864?
This is an important question because it gives us a window into the civilian soul as Hood’s Tennessee campaign unfolded.
“By November 1864, after three and a half years of warfare, and in the aftermath of the fall of Atlanta, civilian morale in the western Confederacy reached a new low for the year . . .
By late 1864 . . . western Confederate civilians as a whole had not yet submitted, but increasing defeatism unquestionably undercut their confidence in the cause.”
Source: The Confederate Heartland: Military and Civilian Morale in the Western Confederacy, Bradley R. Clampitt.