The Battle of Franklin: A Tale of a House Divided

Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph…A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments…

~T.S. Eliot
Little Gidding, Four Quartets

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Franklin, Tennessee is a town steeped in history. And we never tire of telling, and retelling, our stories. We preserve old houses, we name our streets after fallen heroes, and we do a brisk trade in antiques.

Why this preoccupation with the past?

Because we understand that stepping inside the lives of these real flesh and blood people who lived in a time very different from our own ironically helps us to see ourselves more clearly.

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Studio Tenn Theatre Company is presently retelling one of the most poignant and heart-rending of our stories in their first completely original play, The Battle of Franklin: A Tale of a House Divided.

On November 30, 1864, 20,000 federal troops met 20,000 confederate troops in the town of Franklin (which at that time had a population of less than 800 persons). A bloody five hour battle, most of which took place after dark, resulted in 10,000 casualties.

These are formidable statistics, but they are just numbers. Pete Peterson, writer of the screenplay, takes us deep inside the human story. The focus is primarily on the family of Fountain Branch Carter whose home, requisitioned by General Jacob Cox as a headquarters for the union army, will be at the very epicenter of the battle. To add to the drama, Captain Tod Carter, beloved brother and son is out there somewhere in the battle, and has finally come home…to die.

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It is Tod, in his guise as Mint Julep, who tells the story. This is appropriate since one of his duties during the war was as a correspondent for The Chattanooga Daily Rebel. Tod is only ten years old in the first scene and fresh off a day on the river with his young friend Henry, a slave. Henry will be an important character in the story, as will the river. In this very first scene we taste tensions present within the family; tensions that parallel those festering in the nation.

Fact and poetry are creatively woven together to convey a story that plunges directly to the heart. The spiritual We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder roots the story in time, while haunting new compositions from Patrick Thomas give voice to longings, dreams, and prayers. Instrumentation is appropriately spare enabling us to hear every nuance of anguish in the voice when Carrie Tillis sweetly sings the wistful I Will Comfort Thee.

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The play also gives a glimpse of the excruciating plight of slaves, even those who are “well treated”. The otherwise sensitive Mary Alice prattles on to Retha about needing a husband that is as easy to control as Henry and laughingly asks Callie her secret, much to Callie’s obvious discomfort. When Henry is told to tear up his copy of the Emancipation Proclamation with its radiant words “thenceforward and forever free”, I involuntarily gasp. And when Callie stands all alone on the stage and exquisitely renders a lament for a life of hurt, and a plaintive plea on behalf of her husband, my heart aches.

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The story is, of necessity, solemn, but not without hope. Taking a cue from Eliot, the play explores the cyclical nature of life and how revisiting our stories, even the difficult ones–perhaps especially the difficult ones–is necessary because each visitation helps us see farther and deeper.

Time rolls ever on as we repeat our forgotten histories. And in its turn it reveals the faithful freedoms that bind and keep us. It brings us face to face with all we tried so hard to push away until, in a whirl of apocalyptic vision, we see clearly, if only for a moment, and do our best to remember what we’ve seen.

~A.S. “Pete” Peterson

Do not miss this important and compelling play. Tickets for remaining shows are selling fast. An extra show has been added to accommodate high demand, but I encourage you to act quickly. Find tickets and more information HERE.

*Music links in post feature composer Patrick Thomas and are available for purchase. All photos property of Studio Tenn.