Myths, Legends, and the Search for Truth 

Myths and legends are dilemmas that public historians deal with on an almost daily basis. They are especially troublesome when it comes to the American Civil War and the Battle of Franklin. Here are just some that those of us in Franklin hear regularly. They are followed by some comments about facts and evidence as we continue to adhere to the philosophy that the truth is what matters most.

First, some myths about slavery:

Mississippi Secession Ordinance, January 9, 1861

Mississippi Secession Ordinance, January 9, 1861

The Civil War really wasn’t “about slavery.” 
This is probably the most pervasive myth. The truth is that the United States had struggled with the issue of slavery since its founding.  It was the primary political issue that tore the country apart over time and it led directly to Abraham Lincoln’s election and then secession. Those events in turn led to war.

Most Confederate soldiers did not own slaves.
This is true, but single digit percentages are often used to reinforce this myth. The truth is that closer to 20-25% of all Southern soldiers either owned slaves or their fathers did. Some studies have concluded the number was well over 30%.

Slavery was dying before the Civil War.
This is entirely unfounded by the facts. The slave population increased by 25% just in the decade before the war and the economic expansion of that era showed no signs of slowing down.

Slavery has always existed and it still does.
While true, American slavery, which was based solely on race, was perhaps the most unique form of slavery in the history of the world.

Slavery was exclusive to the South.
By 1860 slavery existed as a virtually exclusive Southern institution, but slavery was an American problem and condition. Northern interests certainly benefited from slavery and the labor markets in the North were almost exclusively white.

The North fought the war to end slavery.
This is only true after the war started. Initially, it was President Lincoln’s intent to preserve the Union. Had Northern forces won the war in its first 18-24 months it is likely the Union would have been preserved with slavery intact. But by January 1, 1863, with the release of the Emancipation Proclamation, the North’s military focus become dual. By the second half of the war it had turned into a struggle to preserve the United States and to end slavery.

My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.
— Abraham Lincoln to Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, in a letter dated August 22, 1862
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
— Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863

John Bell Hood (Library of Congress)

John Bell Hood (Library of Congress)

Next, some myths about the Battle of Franklin:

Confederate commander John Bell Hood was addicted to laudanum.
This myth was deeply entrenched for many years, but its effects have lessened over the years. There is no evidence, and never has been, to support this very personal accusation.

Carter House was a hospital after the Battle of Franklin.
While there were wounded men brought into the house after the battle had ended, most were moved to other locations in town.