Franklin Honors Civil War Slaves Turned Soldiers

Posted at 7:10 PM, May 28, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-28 20:19:12-04

Leading into the Civil War, there were more slaves than free Americans living in Williamson County, and when the war broke out, many of those slaves turned into soldiers. 

It's a history that has been largely forgotten, but on this Memorial Day in Franklin, hundreds gathered to remember and honor those who gave their lives both for freedom, and for their country. 

It was previously reported that only eight Williamson County slaves fought in the Civil War, three identified as joining the U.S. Army's segregated division called the "U.S. Colored Troops," and five had been found to have joined the U.S. Navy.

In the past 20 years, researchers have gathered documents and stories to confirm that about 300 slaves from Williamson County can now be confirmed as fighting for the Union in the Civil War.

"59 of them, 20 percent of them, died serving the U.S. Army during the Civil War," Tina Jones, a researcher who helped bring all of the history to light, said. "Their stories and sacrifices have been largely forgotten." 

There was a descendant and reenactor at the ceremony to set the scene and help people understand the sacrifice these soldiers made.

"A call to arms is what they heard, some on the battlefield uttered their very last words," Gary Burke said. 

Thelma Battle and her sister Emily were at the ceremony to honor their relative, Felix Battle, who joined the Union troops as a musician when he was just 13 years old. He was present at the Battle of Nashville, and after earning his freedom, he went on to become a respected member of his community. 

"I'm proud to be a descendent of Private Battle," Thelma Battle said, adding that honoring this group of men had been a long time coming.

A total of 27 pavers were installed with the names of slaves that turned to soldiers during the Civil War, and the hope is to get all of the pavers sponsored so they can all have proper acknowledgement through the Slaves to Soldiers Project.