Friday, 12/01/06

FRANKLIN — Fought 142 years ago Thursday, the Battle of Franklin effectively ended the Civil War in a last, bloody gasp.

Franklin officials, re-enactors and residents alike hope the city’s first-ever candlelight ceremony Thursday honoring the battle’s 8,000 casualties becomes a fixture of life here.

"I’ve heard a number of our people say we need to do this every year," Mayor Tom Miller said after the ceremony. "I would hope (so), though it’s going to be tough to top this."

The brief ceremony, held in the public square filled with thousands of luminarias, drew about 500 people who listened to Civil War-era music while re-enactors held flags of that era in somber reflection. The city allocated $5,000 for cost of the materials and to hire the band.

Miller focused on how the battle eventually led to the U.S. being reunited.

"The real message was reconciliation," Miller said. "The country started to heal at Franklin."

Though the event went smoothly, it didn’t come without its fair share of close calls and controversy along the way.

Miller was quoted a month ago in The Tennessean urging that the Confederate flag not be flown during this ceremony. He later backed away from that statement after City Hall was swamped with phone calls and e-mails.

On Thursday, Miller focused on moving beyond any controversy and focused on the ceremony.

Said Miller: "Today was perfect."

Volunteers such as local real estate agent Pearl Bransford helped make and light the roughly 10,000 luminarias, the bags filled with sand and candles. While wind and rain threatened the event, the candles remained lighted.

Bransford, who was one of only a few African-Americans attending the event, said the Confederate flags used in this historical context were not offensive.

"The flag as it relates to the war is a part of the story," Bransford said. "Any flags that represent hatred and bigotry I did not see here tonight."

Some dressed the part

The event drew re-enactors who participated in numerous events, including an annual march several miles from Winstead Hill to the Carter House down Columbia Avenue. The route is considered the "hornet’s nest" of the 1864 battle.

"I’ve been here since 8 o’clock this morning," said Edward Langham, a Nashville resident dressed as a Confederate cavalry general. "I think it’s wonderful."

Franklin resident Valerie Golden dressed in a long mid-1800s-era women’s skirt and brought her daughter, Laina Golden, 16, and friend J.D. Haley, 16, also in era clothing.

"I wish there had been more people that dressed up," Valerie Golden said. "I thought it was beautiful."

Memphis resident Winston Blackley, 76, dressed in Confederate gray, brought his nine replica historic flags — ranging from a "Navy Jack" Confederate battle flag to a replica of General Robert E. Lee’s flag. He and other re-enactors seemed willing to forget about Miller’s statements.

"This was one slip of the tongue about the flag," Blackley said of Miller’s earlier comments. "He’s a good mayor who’s done a lot of good for the city."

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