Local Tourism: Historic Carter House in Franklin, Tennessee

The front of Carter House. The room on the left was Fountain Branch Carter’s bedroom, and the room on the right was the parlor. Upstairs are two children’s bedrooms. The home’s dining room was in the basement (under the bedroom). An addition to the home behind the parlor contained two more bedrooms. The Carters raised eight children in this home. (Photo credit: The Battle of Franklin Trust)

When we decided to visit the Carter House in nearby Franklin we thought we’d be taking a quick stroll through the grounds, checking out the house’s exterior, learning a little bit of Civil War history, and leaving with enough time left to walk through downtown Franklin to check out the shops and restaurants located there. Little did we know that we’d end up spending a fascinating afternoon learning about a short but decisive Civil War battle and a family that unexpectedly ended up in the middle of it. Our visit to Carter House turned out to be one of the most informative and enjoyable historic tours we’ve ever taken.

The Carter House was home to the extended Carter family, built by Fountain Branch Carter in 1830. A farmer and businessman, Carter owned 28 slaves, and not only owned a large farm but also owned and operated the largest cotton gin in the area (located just across the road from his home). He ran a third successful business in the city of Franklin as well.

Outbuildings at the Carter home, clockwise from the upper left: original slave quarter house which was moved to its present location from another part of the property: slave quarter interior (which probably didn’t look as cozy and comfortable back in the day); kitchen interior; kitchen exterior – the building sits just outside the house in back; bullet holes in the south-facing back wall of the farm office; the bullet-riddled south-facing back wall of the smokehouse; the hand-hewn brining trough in the smokehouse.

On November 30, 1864, Carter House ended up in the middle of the Second Battle of Franklin, perhaps the shortest battle in the Civil War (only five hours long), and maybe the bloodiest as well, with heavy casualties on both sides but more so on the Confederate side. The family had been given a small window of time to leave the area before the fighting began but decided to stay and ended up barricaded in a basement room as the battle raged outside. The house and outbuildings are said to have more bullet holes than any other surviving buildings from the war, with every one still standing on the site – house, farm office, kitchen, and smokehouse – riddled with holes and scars, mostly on the outside but some inside as well, including the main house. The 28-member Carter family, ranging in age from three to sixty-seven, survived the battle.

The parlor, the dining room (located in the basement), and our wonderful guide telling about life in the Carter home. Many of the furniture pieces in the house were owned by the Carters and were in the home at the time of the battle. The interior has been authentically restored.

Because we had brought our puppy along with us for the day and he was not allowed inside the house, Brett chose to walk him through the grounds where the fighting took place. The property is well-marked with informational plaques about the Second Battle of Franklin and what happened in different places on the property that day. I went on the home tour to learn about the Carter family, the house, and what happened on that day in 1864. I can honestly say I’ve never had a better guide anywhere! A natural storyteller, he brought the history of Carter House and the Battle of Franklin to life in a clear and engaging way. The more I learned as we went along, the more I wanted to know.

The south side of Carter House shows the large covered porch at the rear of the house. Bullet holes are visible up and down the side of the house.

Fountain Branch Carter lived in the house into the late 19th century and was its original tour guide as veterans of the battle and their families returned to visit the site. He eventually sold the house to private owners but when they put the house up for sale in 1951 it was purchased by the state of Tennessee as a historical site. It is now operated by the Battle of Franklin Trust who maintain and manage the site along with two other mansions involved with the battle that also survived, Carnton and Rippavilla.

Our guide took my picture through one of the bullet holes on the north side of the farm office. The number of bullet holes visible on the property was truly shocking.

Carnton, also located in Franklin, will be our next visit. The area around Franklin is loaded with historic sites and markers, and we’re making it our mission to get to as many as we can while we’re here. Carter House though was the ideal place to start!

21 thoughts on “Local Tourism: Historic Carter House in Franklin, Tennessee

  1. Beautiful building and interesting history. Huge number of bullet holes! Glad you were able to visit.

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    1. I was honestly shocked by how shot up the buildings were and yet they survived. The cotton gin did not though – there is just an empty field now where it stood.

      I’m really looking forward to visiting the other two homes.

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  2. I went to Carnton, it was amazing. Please read The Widow of The South. It really adds to the Franklin battle story. I’m from Minnesota and the book caused me to go through that area!

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    1. The woman who was on the tour with me had just come from Carnton and raved about the house, the history, and the tour. I’m looking forward to it.

      I’ve put the book on hold at the library.

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    1. This home and what happened there was fascinating. One of the grown Carter sons was killed in the battle, just few yards from the house. He lived for two days after being shot (in a coma) but the family was able to say goodbye to him.

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  3. I’m sure I am some how related to these Carters if Fountain was born in Halifax VA. Prolly related some way to Robert “King” Carter. lol

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    1. I grew more surprised as the tour went on and I learned more about the battle that anything had survived let alone all those years, the furniture especially. However, they built things to last then . . . . It was truly an amazing place, considering all that happened there. The five hours of battle were apparently extremely intense.

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  4. Such a great history lesson! I like the picture of you, it conveys the size of that bullet hole quite well. Although I’m not sure if back then they were using bullets or just gunpowder.

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    1. They definitely used bullets – there were some in the museum and they were quite large (58 caliber I think?) The one back wall looked like stars in the sky at night because there were so many holes – amazing that the building is still standing.

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  5. Fascinating. We were stationed in Ft Campbell when I was a child but we never visited any of the local tourist sites. I only saw the Parthenon from the car.

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    1. We were stationed places where we never visited or almost never visited anything in the area. We lived in Key West for two years and didn’t visit Hemingway’s house until the day before we left! Lived in Memphis for two years and never visited Nashville or any other part of the state except Shiloh and The Hermitage, and that was on our way to the next duty station! We’re better travelers and visitors these days.

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  6. The South is full of Civil War sites. The tour sounds great. When you lived in Memphis, did you go to Elvis home?

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    1. We just drove past Graceland; when we were there it hadn’t been opened yet to visitors.

      I have always been interested in the Civil War (WWII too) so I’m hoping to visit as many sites as possible during our time here. The “big one” would be Vicksburg – we’re going to try and get there. But, as I learned last week, the smaller sites can be equally compelling and important.

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  7. So interesting! Those bullet holes! How do they keep the bugs & critters out?

    Thanks for taking us along. I love this kind of tour.

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    1. That’s a really good question!! I have no idea but will ask on our next tour. The kitchen, house, and smokehouse had brick exteriors but the farm office was wood – I really don’t understand how it survived.

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