We practically live in a Civil War museum here in Middle Tennessee. You can’t go five feet without seeing some historical marker about the Battle of Franklin or the Battle of Nashville. A lot of people don’t know this, but I believe the Battle of Franklin was the bloodiest five hours of the Civil War. I’ve been to all the Civil War places around here and, I must confess, I don’t get very emotional about it. I don’t believe in all this “recent unpleasantness” stuff. But I got choked up today.
I’ve been down Columbia Pike in Franklin a million times, never knowing that just by the side of the road a man was buried 145 years ago. He died during the Battle of Franklin and was buried, either by his comrades or by those left behind after the battle. Nobody knows which side he was fighting for. He was found this summer by construction workers.
Tomorrow, he’s being buried with full military honors. He’s now in repose in my church, St. Paul’s Episcopal, which was a thriving church when this man was alive. He may have even noticed it as he passed by preparing for battle. I went there today, just curious. A woman in period costume stood in the narthex and welcomed me, not knowing I am a parishioner.
There was a book of condolences for mourners to sign. It looked antique. “Those who called” was the heading. I passed it by. At the front of the sanctuary was the coffin, draped half with an American flag and half with a Confederate flag. Two sentries stood guard, one from each side of the conflict. I don’t know why, but I was overcome with emotion. It is the Episcopal practice to kneel while praying, and I sunk to my knees in one of the pews and said a prayer for this man who never went home. He was someone’s son, perhaps someone’s husband and father. His family no doubt waited for months, looking down a road somewhere, waiting for this unknown soldier to turn the corner and rush into his family’s arms.
The men in Union and Confederate uniforms, in real life insurance salesmen or doctors or mechanics, have kept vigil with the body for two days. They stand guard in 30-minute shifts but some of them stayed hours the first night because there weren’t enough of them for replacements.
I stood in the sanctuary for a few minutes, watching parents bring their children to witness this historic moment. It’s not often that history comes alive. It did for me. As I left, I signed the book, leaving my condolences for the unknown soldier.