I recently sat down with Joanna Stephens, Collections Manager of the Battle of Franklin Trust, which oversees the items in the Carter House and Carnton archives.
What is the purpose of Brothers in Arms?
Our exhibits normally focus on the Battle of Franklin or a related aspect like our recent Hood exhibit.
We wanted to tell the story of the common soldier so our guests can develop a broader understanding of the Civil War and we wanted to showcase some of our own pieces from the Carter House collection that haven’t been on display before.
So you have lots of typical items a soldier carried?
To think what a soldier carried is really amazing. We’re showing people what the Civil War soldier carried in his knapsack. They had a lot more technology than we usually give them credit for. They weren’t cavemen.
What is the importance of displaying everyday items the soldier carried?
At some point we need to connect with a person. Life in a Civil War camp was “organized boredom” according to Bell Wiley. You rarely hear about things like the plays the soldiers put on, or the games they played.
Game box of dominoe chips.
How did the items in the exhibit come together?
I wanted to use the tremendous resources from the Carter House collection that haven’t been viewed in some cases in over 130 years. We also partnered with a private collector, Bruce Hohler – owner of Franklin Relics – who provided items in this present exhibit that weren’t in the Carter House collection.
How are these kind of items part of understanding the story of the Civil War soldier and the Civil War itself?
People come here because they want to see the old house. So what we try to do here is to get them introduced to the story and wrap them into it in a personal way. If you can get people interested in a part they can connect to, that can expand their interest. This exhibit is about the common experience, not the specific story of any one soldier or unit.
Game pieces like poker chips, dice and marbles.
Do you have a personal favorite item in the exhibit?
The “housewife”. If you kook at it you can see how it was used. You can tell what was stored where. You can see where the needles were. It was something the soldiers were using all the time. I debated where to put it in the exhibit; next to the accoutrements or next to the uniforms? I decided next to the uniform because it was almost part of the uniform. The ‘housewife’ is also from Nashville.
A 'Housewife' or sewing kit.
What was an important item you wanted in the exhibit?
The haversack, because it was with a soldier all the time. It’s sole purpose was to carry other things. An item like that is often overlooked.
A Union soldier's knapsack.
How many people would you expect to see this exhibit before it ends December 31st?
We expect at least around 30,000 to 35,000 people to see this exhibit in person.
Confederate canteen inscribe J. Williams. Nashville.
Why is it important for the Battle of Franklin Trust to work with people in the community like Bruce Hohler?
That is the whole goal of this organization. Our goal is not just to educate our guests, but to reach out to the community. Many people have wonderful private collections and those items could never be seen by as many people unless they are on display here. It’s important for people to understand that the Trust is not an island unto itself. There are people in the community that care about the Civil War and what happened here at Franklin in the 1860s.
A soldier's writing desk.
What were some of the items you discovered in the Carter House collection that really excites you?
A lot of stuff was in storage. Much never before seen. We have a photograph of Jefferson Davis inscribed to a friend. A letter written by Robert E. Lee. A whole collection of family war letters. Swords, sabres, uniforms. The roster book for the 20th TN CSA. The authentic roster of the veterans who attended the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Franklin in 1914, signed by each man with their regimental unit notated to the side. Boxes and boxes of reunion ribbons.