By GREGORY L. WADE
At Arlington Cemetery in Washington D.C., way back in Section Sixteen on McPherson Lane, lie about 500 Confederate soldiers, most killed in the fighting around the capital when the Civil War’s outcome was very much in doubt.
They are unique because, relatively speaking, few soldiers from the Confederacy rest in national cemeteries across the nation, most are in private sites or mass graves, sometimes forgotten.
Accompanying their burial at Arlington was controversy, resentment and anger from many Union sympathizers because of
these enemies in the midst of their Federal dead, understandable after the turmoil of such a divisive and bloody conflict.
Conversely, similar emotions flowed in places like Columbia, Tenn., where the locals vehemently objected to the burial of Northern soldiers at Rose Hill Cemetery. These men would later be moved to Stones River National Cemetery.
But time, as it often does, soothes emotions while healing wounds. A couple of decades after the war the nation was moving forward, seeking desperately to put its nightmare behind. An energetic and growing republic was spurred by such drama as the settling of the West where former soldiers of both sides found a land of new opportunity — a place where their skills as horsemen and outdoorsmen could flourish in the rowdy early days of ranching and mining.
Northern states recovered with renewed industrial might, an industrial revolution in full speed, while the South, for the most part, would languish much longer dealing with issues not to be resolved for generations to come.
It was in the early years of the 20th century when passions had cooled that a grand monument was erected over Arlington’s Confederate veterans, something once unthinkable, and dedicated by President Woodrow Wilson. The statue is one of the
hundreds of magnificent markers erected to honor our nation’s sons as it grew and more of her best were laid to rest in this place of honor.
Just a short walk from these eternally silent Confederates, across the rolling ground of Arlington in Section Two, stands another impressive obelisk marking the grave of Gen. John Schofield, one of 79 Union Civil War generals interred there. Born in New York and an 1853 graduate of West Point, Schofield had a long and varied career, although he was nearly captured late November, 1864, at Spring Hill the day before the Battle of Franklin. His army narrowly escaped a trap placed by Confederate Gen. John B Hood, but would be part of the Union victory at Franklin the next day. Schofield lived a long life of service with an
impressive post war career as well. Upon his death in 1906, he was the last survivor of President Andrew Johnson’s cabinet.
Only a few strides away from Schofield on a slope in this meticulously manicured cemetery, also in Section Two, is the burial site of a former Schofield adversary, Gen. Joe Wheeler. Wheeler rose in the ranks to become one of the leading Confederate cavalry commanders in the Civil War, well known for his 1863 raid across southern Middle Tennessee. Perhaps his most famous achievement was possibly the single largest taking of Federal property during the war at the Anderson’s Crossroads raid near Dunlap, Tenn. Wheeler rode throughout Middle Tennessee later in the year losing one of his most trusted subordinates,
John Kelly, to wounds at a skirmish in Franklin. Kelly died of these injuries in September 1864 while recovering at the Harrison House, just south of Winstead Hill.
Decades later, Wheeler returned to service now in the United States Army, at age 61, as a Major General of Volunteers in the Spanish American War, serving at San Juan Hill and Santiago de Cuba. He retired as a Brigadier General and became an
outspoken advocate of the nation’s post war healing. Other high profile Confederate generals interred at Arlington who later served with the U.S. Army include Fitzhugh Lee and Thomas Rosser.
In what would become known as the “reconciliation movement,” soldiers of both sides memorialized their wartime service by acknowledging courage and honor with a desire to move forward. Critics of this movement allege it ignored the issues of slavery and emancipation while attempting to control the narrative of the “lost cause.” But there were those from the Union perspective who advocated similar attempts to reconcile as well.
Like the Civil War itself, this “movement” depended largely on circumstances and the eye of the beholder as to what was truth. Nevertheless, actions of men like Wheeler, interred in a revered place of rest just yards away from former enemies like Schofield, speaks volumes.
After time had passed, the resentment toward the Confederates at Arlington was replaced with acceptance and understanding as the war drifted past the decades.
Closer to home in Franklin, the war brought turbulence and conflicting values, certainly amplified by the horrific fighting here. Like much of the South, the town was devastated by fight after fight and would take years to recover.
At the local Rest Haven Cemetery, like at Arlington, those interred in some ways represent all views of the war. Among the approximately 60 or so Confederates are a handful of Federal troops. One was James P. Brownlow, born in East Tennessee
in 1842, the son of former Tennessee Gov. William G. Brownlow. James served in several capacities during the war advancing through the ranks to colonel of the 1st Tennessee Cavalry (U.S.). In late August of 1864 he found himself in the fight against Gen. Wheeler (yes, that general) and John Kelly’s men on a railroad destruction detail. Brownlow was severely wounded but survived and after the war married a local girl, Belle Cliffe. He was by most accounts, well regarded by local citizens. Brownlow is buried at Rest Haven with his last rank of brigadier general on his headstone.
Just across the cemetery is perhaps the most famous Confederate interred at Rest Haven, Capt. Theodrick “Tod” Carter. Tod grew up at the nearby Carter Farm, the farm house in the midst of the Nov. 30 fight and today a prime destination of historians and tourists. Carter had served with the Army of Tennessee and was a quarter mile from his home when shot down. Two days later he died from his wounds, surrounded by family in his boyhood home.
Meanwhile, interred square in the middle of Rest Haven is the grave of the “Unknown Soldier” whose remains were uncovered at a nearby Columbia Pike construction site in 2009. While some believe he was a Federal soldier killed in action after the
Battle of Franklin, experts were never able to confirm which side he fought. In a ceremony and funeral procession that brought out thousands paying their respects, this soldier, known only but to God, was buried with full honors.
In Rest Haven’s seven acres of hallowed ground lie men from each side and one “famous” unknown, the symbolism of “reconciliation” a vivid model for generations to come.
Arlington and Rest Haven are two examples of mending while brimming with the contradictions and ironies of the Civil War itself. There are famous and not so famous men who reunited under one flag for the Spanish American War and whose sons and
grandsons saved the world in two global wars. And even today their great grandchildren defend freedom under the noble flag of the United States of America.
The “reconciliation” of post Civil War America has been messy while we continue to debate what that means today. The story of the black soldier or slave has been slow in being told and an epic still searching for balance in our interpretation of the past. But what can’t be overlooked is the remarkable spirit of unity by the majority of men who had years earlier pummeled each other in that terrible war.
Their leadership an enduring guide for those today still seeking peace with the events of 15 decades ago.
Gregory L. Wade is a Franklin resident, preservationist and writer, and is the founder of the Franklin Civil War Round Table.