Interview with author Eric Jacobson about his new book coming out on the Battle of Franklin

Eric Jacobson’s new book – Baptism of Fire – comes out this weekend.  I asked Jacobson about the book.

1. Why did you write this book?

Because I knew the roles of the 44th Missouri, 175th Ohio, and 183rd Ohio were virtually unknown, even to folks with some knowledge of the Battle of Franklin. But most importantly, I felt that the men who served in those units deserved a better fate than to be completely forgotten.

2. What might some “experienced” Battle of Franklin students even find surprising about this book?

That their core understanding of how the battle turned in favor of the Federal forces is/was flawed because there has too much focus of the role of Col. Emerson Opdycke’s Brigade.

3. What are a few highlights of primary resources used in this book that have not been used in previous treatments on Franklin?

Extensive Ohio and Missouri newspaper coverage of the Battle of Franklin, as well as its aftermath, and a variety of letters and diary accounts which have never before been published.

4. Got a favorite story or character from the book?

No favorites in particular. However, collectively the stories and accounts make the overall story of Franklin even more compelling, at least in my opinion.

5. If the reader only gains one thing from the book, what would you hope they walk away with?

That Opdycke’s Brigade did not alone “save the day” and that the men who fought in these new Missouri and Ohio regiments are indicative of the sacrifices made by American soldiers across many years and many places. Jim Lighthizer, President of the Civil War Trust, composed a beautiful quote for the back of the book and compared these Civil War soldiers to those who were depicted in Band of Brothers. I only hope many more people feel the same way as these read the book.

Part Two: Interview with producer-directors of forthcoming documentary – Heading Back Home

Why did you choose the story of the unknown soldier?

Jodi and I moved to Franklin in the summer of 2008.  We had been living on the northern California coast, and as beautiful as it was, we knew we wanted to live in the south, where Jodi’s from. We quickly narrowed our choices to Charlotte and Nashville.  I’ll never forget when we were in the decision-making process and we drove into downtown Franklin for the first time.  Jodi almost cried, and said right away ‘This is it!’  We were so taken by the charm and beauty of downtown that we knew this was the place we wanted to call home.  Now that we’re here, we’re in Williamson County to stay.

It honestly took the discovery of the soldier ten months later for us to really grasp what had happened here in November 1864.  I think 90% of people who live here are the same way we were; they know something happened here, but probably don’t know how significant it was, and why the Battle of Franklin deserves such a prominent place in history.  So when the soldier was found, we saw a real opportunity to tell the battle’s story with a contemporary hook.  I was in Arizona on business, sitting by my brother’s pool, when Jodi called me and told me he’d been found less than a mile from our house.  That hits home.  We knew right away that this was a story we wanted to tell; not just to give the unknown soldier his due, but to tell the story of the Battle of Franklin in a way that everyone will be able to understand and relate to, but more importantly, be emotionally moved by.

Part One: Interview with producer-directors of forthcoming documentary – Heading Back Home

What is the title of the film?

Heading Back Home: The Story of Franklin’s Unknown Soldier and the Five Bloodiest Hours of the Civil War

Coming up with a name was extremely difficult.  The breakthrough came from one of Franklin’s most talented musicians.  Michael Bonagura (from the country group Bailey and the Boys) expressed interest in this project early on, and ended up writing an amazing song that you’ll hear exclusively in HBH.  The title?  Yep, Im Headin Back.  Once we heard it, Jodi and I just looked at each other like ‘That’s it!’  The song is told from the perspective of a Rebel soldier walking home from somewhere to the north after the war is over.  It’s sung by Michael’s dear friend Lizard, whose folksy and unassuming voice is absolutely perfect for it.  It’s just a beautiful piece of music, and we consider ourselves so lucky that Michael was so touched by the story of Franklin’s unknown that he wanted to contribute to  this project.  There’s also another original song by Louise Mosrie that we hope to use for the closing credits. It’s the story of the battle told through one of the Carter children hiding in the basement, and it’s absolutely stunning.  These two songs are treasures.

 

Filmmakers and Franklin residents, Brian and Jodi Speciale

 

Behind-the-scenes of the ‘Brothers in Arms’ Carnton exhibit.

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.

Eating utensil.

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.

Confederate kepi