Lessons on a Battlefield

Lessons on a Battlefield

A few weeks ago, Ty and I were in Nashville for a work trip. While we were there, we got to take a tour of some historic Civil War sites. These are always my favorite things to do because I just really love history, but this time it was different than it’s been before.

This time, I was seeing all of it through a new lens – the lens of now.


Our first stop was the Carter House in Franklin. The Battle of Franklin was bigger and bloodier than the Battle of Gettysburg, and the Carter family home got stuck in the middle of the front line. The family huddled in the basement for the five hours that the battle was raging around them.

When we went through the house, the scars of war were everywhere. There were bullet holes riddling the outside of the house and much of the furniture inside, reminders of the horror that happened there. It was so powerful to put myself in the basement with my kids waiting out a battle – to picture my boys huddled in the corner listening to the sounds of war. Innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire.


After the Carter House we went down the road to Carnton. “Carnton”, a nod to the word “cairn” (piles of rocks built as a memorial or landmark), was the McGavock family farm and home. The farm was taken over and used as a makeshift hospital for the Confederate Army in the hours after the battle. The family gave every room in the house for the doctors to treat 300 men at a time inside, while over 400 more littered the lawn and porches.

Carrie McGavock was making bandages out of her sheets and tablecloths and curtains and her family’s clothes – even down to their undergarments. Their harvesting baskets were no longer being used for collecting crops, but for collecting amputated limbs. The porch and yard were filled with fires to warm the hundreds of men bleeding and crying in agony.


On our two tours, the tour guides beautifully and masterfully made the battle and the aftermath come alive.

Two sides. 20,000 Union troops and 20,000 Confederate troops. Two deeply held beliefs and positions. Two opposing ideas that couldn’t be reconciled, and neither could their supporters.

40,000 men. And every single man on that battlefield was just that – a man. A person with a family, with a story, with dreams and senses of humor and ideals and opinions.

They are us 150 years ago.

Two sides. Deeply held beliefs and positions. Opposing ideas that can’t be reconciled, and neither can their supporters.

We’re there, you guys. We’re at hate. Just because we don’t have cannons and rifles doesn’t mean that history isn’t repeating itself.

Normal people with families and jobs and homes and ideas, turning on each other. Every opinion laced with disdain for the other side. Instead of finding common ground, we’re burning bridges with anger and contempt. Lumping people into categories based on one opinion. Assuming the worst in each other. Written or spoken, words are drawing lines in the sand.


We’re at hate, and we have to do something about it.

When we were leaving the Carter House, our tour guide took us into one of the outbuildings that had been completely restored, except for one wall.

carter house wall

This wall stands as a poignant reminder of what happens when two sides become so divided it turns to hate.

Carrie McGavock was so committed to comforting the men piled into her home that her dress was soaked in blood for days. She didn’t make the men change their opinions or denounce their beliefs before she tended to them. There were no heated debates about morality, or whether the South should secede or not, or if they owned slaves or supported slavery. No questions or accusations. She just set about the work of loving the real men begging for hope in her living room.

That sounds a lot like Jesus to me.


We need THAT history to repeat itself. A history of love no matter what. Of loving each actual person. Of seeing real people begging for hope and dropping everything to respond with love – no questions asked. Of seeing the person – the one that Jesus loved enough to die for – instead of the opinion or the words or the actions.

Everyone on both sides of everything is a little bit wrong. Some are a lot bit wrong. But we don’t accomplish anything with disgust and condescension. We need to practice listening with open ears and hearts and minds and learn how to disagree with respect. We don’t need to always agree, but when disagreement turns to hate, everything is lost.

Almost 10,000 men were killed, wounded, captured, or counted as missing in the Battle of Franklin alone. Real men. With names and stories. Not evil men – men just like us, who left regular jobs and normal families and small towns just like ours.

When the war was over, even though it wasn’t politically correct, the McGavock family wanted to honor the men they’d cared for in their home, so they donated two acres of their land to bury the Confederate soldiers who lost their lives in the Battle of Franklin, many of whom had died within their very own walls.

Carnton lives up to its name by standing as a cairn. Instead of rocks piled high, it’s rows upon rows upon rows of rocks standing as a reminder of what happens when two sides become so wrapped up in hate.

History is repeating itself, and only love can stop it.

1 Comment


about 1 year ago

Amen Hayley! I pray for the people who read this and find fault with the need for love with rationalizations that bolster their stand and completely miss the point. Love everyone all the time.


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