Bizarre yet true Civil War story of one unlucky Confederate soldier, coming home to Tennessee. Written by Kathy Warnes.
Captain Tod Carter escaped from the train that was carrying him to the Union prison at Johnson’s Island and returned home to fight the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee.
Captain Tod Carter, Confederate States Army, captured at Missionary Ridge, was one of the more than 6,100 Confederate prisoners that General Ulysses S. Grant sent north after the battles around Chattanooga, Tennessee. Captain Carter’s trip toward Johnson’s Island was just the beginning of a southward journey that led him home to Franklin, Tennessee.
Tod Carter Enlists in the Twentieth Tennessee Regiment
Tod enlisted in the Twentieth Tennessee Regiment, in a company formed by his older brother Moscow. His brother, Colonel Moscow Branch Carter mailed a letter to Tod from Nashville, Tennessee, on March 4, 1864. The letter gives more details of Tod’s capture. It is addressed to Capt. Tod Carter, Prisoner of War, Johnson’s Island, Ohio, Block 8, Mess No. 1. After describing the Union occupation of Franklin, Tennessee, Moscow adds, “I have a little piece of news you many never have heard before. After your capture, your horse swam the river, and returned to camp in full rig. The boys thought for a long time you were killed, seeing your horse without you.”
But Tod wasn’t at Johnson’s Island to read his brother Moscow’s letter postmarked May 4, 1864. Family tradition said that Tod made a daring escape “while crossing the State of Pennsylvania en route to a northern prison.” Riding on a moving train in the darkness of a northern night, Tod pretended to be asleep, with his feet resting in the train window and his head in his seat companion’s lap.
Tod Escapes from the Train on the Way to Johnson’s Island
When the guard looked the other way, Tod’s companion shoved him out the train window! The conductor stopped the train and a search party scattered through the countryside to look for him. A northern farm couple befriended Tod and in disguise, he traveled up the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to Memphis, Tennessee. From Memphis, he traveled to Dalton, Georgia, where his Twentieth Tennessee Regiment still lay encamped.
Seven months later on November 28, 1864, Tod clung to a scrap of tablet paper signed by his commanding officer giving him permission to advance ahead of his brigade to visit his home and family in Franklin, Tennessee, less than twenty five miles away.
At home waited his father, Fountain Branch Carter, 67. His older brother, Colonel Moscow Branch Carter, a prisoner of war at home on parole for about a year, waited. At home waited his four sisters and his beloved sister-in-law, nine nieces and nephews all under twelve years old. At home waited the hams and bacon in the smoke house and the good meals his servants prepared in the kitchen in the yard.
The Union Army Waits for Tod at His Home in Tennessee
At home also waited the Union Army. A Union Army of about 24,000 men under General John M. Schofield marched to join the forces of General George H. Thomas at Nashville. It encountered the Confederate Army under General John B. Hood and the battle of Franklin, Tennessee took place the next day, November 30, 1864.
General Cox of the Union army commandeered the Carter House to become the Federal Command post. His family managed to warn Captain Carter away just as he had stopped at the garden gate. Tod’s duties as an Assistant Quartermaster were non-combatant, but no power on earth could keep him out of the battle. The Yankees had built breastworks across his father’s farm and overrun his home. Worse yet, he feared for the safety of his family in the bombardment.
Astride his horse, Rosencrantz, Captain Tod Carter dashed through the Yankee works under the guns of the Twentieth Ohio Battery. About five o’clock in the evening, he was leading the charge in the center of Bate’s Division when his horse Rosencrantz plunged, throwing Tod over his head. Tod hit the ground and lay very still. He had been shot in the head, mortally wounded about 525 feet southwest of his home. Shortly after midnight the soldiers from both sides left the battlefield, leaving their dead and wounded.
The Carter Family Finds Tod
The Carter family and their servants and their neighbors, the Albert Lotz family emerged from the cellar, unharmed and thanking God for their deliverance. Before they could finish their prayers, a Confederate soldier brought the news that Captain Tod Carter lay wounded on the field. His family climbed over the breastworks and trenches carrying lanterns. Just before daybreak they found Tod, lying on the cold ground, deliriously calling his friend Sgt. Cooper’s name. Nearby lay his horse, Rosencranz, gray and powerful even in death.
Nathan Morris, Captain of Litter bearers, a Mr. Lawrence and a Mr. L.M. Bailey of Alabama carried Tod into the debris filled family room wrecked by shot and shell and laid him upon the floor.
The regimental surgeon Dr. Deering Roberts probed for the bullet in Tod’s head while his young nieces Alice Adelaide McPhail and Lena Carter held a candle and small lamp. Despite the efforts of his family and Dr. Roberts, Tod Carter died on December 2, 1864, at the age of twenty four. He died in the front sitting room across the hall from the room where he was born.
James L. McDonough, Thomas L. Connelly, Five Tragic Hours: The Battle of Franklin, University of Tennessee Press, 1983
James R Knight, The Battle of Franklin, Tennessee: When the Devil Had Full Possession of the Earth, The History Press, 2009