5,000 watch as 500 re-enact Civil War’s bloody Battle of Franklin

Oct. 17, 2011

Reed Davis wears the brown uniform of a UPS delivery man during the week and a $1,500 Civil War soldier uniform in his free time.

He saw a re-enactment when he was 13 while on a family vacation, and he has been hooked ever since.

“Little boys like to play war,” said Davis, 32, of Mt. Juliet. “But once you get into it and start researching it, you realize there was a lot more to the Civil War than just the week of lessons about it in high school.”

Sunday, Davis was one of the guys who drew the short straw among the 500 or so re-enactors at the Park at Harlinsdale Farm in Franklin. So he played the role of a dark-blue-clad Union soldier at the two-day re-enactment event put on by the Battle of Franklin Trust. Most of the re-enactors like to stay true to their roots and play Confederate soldiers, but they rotate with each re-enactment.

Davis ran out of ammo and died on the battlefield during the afternoon re-creation of the Battle of Franklin in front of more than 5,000 spectators.

Shari Lacy brought her children, 5-year-old Ella and 8-year-old Hayden, Sunday to show them another side of their hometown of Franklin. They’ve never known a life without the quaint shops of downtown, the mall and the ease of getting everything at Walmart.

Lacy, 42, a publicist and painter, marveled at the big hoop skirts worn by the 100 or so women re-enactors and the thick wool uniforms of the men.

“Can you imagine how hot they must have been?” Lacy said to her children. “They just don’t realize that Franklin has so much history.”

The Battle of Franklin — the bloodiest five hours of the Civil War — was fought on Nov. 30, 1864, in the area where downtown Franklin is today. According to the Battle of Franklin Trust, about 2,300 American soldiers were killed in the Battle of Franklin, three-quarters of whom were Confederates. An additional 7,000 were wounded, and about 1,000 were taken as prisoners.

“We do this to honor our ancestors, keep history alive,” said Tom Wood, 66, who lives in Mt. Juliet and is the director of campus enhancement at Lipscomb University. “Southern people should be proud of their heritage. We need to honor the men who fought for their freedom, their families. They gave up a lot to fight for our independence.”

For 13 years, Wood and his wife have taken part in re-enactments in Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi and Georgia. The largest was made up of 17,000 re-enactors.

His interest peaked when he started researching his genealogy and found that he had a great-uncle who fought on the Confederate side. While he’s often called out on the battlefield, his role is of a surgeon. He sets up a tent with Civil War-era medical devices and talks with anyone who walks by about it.

Wood said he has put about $25,000 into his hobby.

On his Christmas list this year? Another amputation kit.

“This is a very worthwhile hobby,” he said. “You’re accomplishing more than you might hunting or fishing. We’re really educating people about their heritage. And for me, it’s a great way to get away from life. You come out here and forget about the stress of work and life in general.”

Davis’ father, lawyer Byron Davis, had set up a camp next to Wood’s makeshift infirmary. The 53-year-old Lebanon man portrayed a judge advocate, who would have handled soldier disputes or drawn up wills.

Davis, who majored in history, said the guns, cannons and theatrics of the battlefield re-enactments are what draw spectators, but it is the lessons taught in the camps such as his and Wood’s where the real learning comes in.

“The camps are where you really feel you’ve stepped back in time,” Davis said. “We all are as authentic as possible.”

Of course, in the event you missed any of the weekend’s re-enactment action, there were loads of fancy smartphones capturing the whole thing.

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