22 May 2008 by Published in: Battlefield preservation 8 comments

Hat tip to Sam Hood for passing this article along.

The following article ran in today’s issue of the Williamson Herald newspaper:

Cartwright Resigns as Carter House Executive Director


Even with the sounds of traffic passing along Columbia Avenue only 20 yards away, Thomas Cartwright manages to take Carter House visitors back in time to Nov. 30, 1864 and the bloodiest hours of the Battle of Franklin.

For those who have had Cartwright as their tour guide, or have heard him speak publicly, his knowledge, his passion and his love and respect for the warriors on both sides of the picket line, has made the battle and those who fought come alive to be remembered.

The job of telling the stories of Gen. Patrick Cleburne, Gen. John Bell Hood, the Carter family and “the bloodiest hours of the American Civil War,” will now fall to others.” Thomas Cartwright resigned his position as executive director of the historic Civil War house and museum earlier this week after more than 19 years.

“I have been offered some great opportunities doing some consulting,” Cartwright said. “This was not a snap decision. I thought about it. I prayed about it a long time. I love this site with all my heart–that will never change. I love working here–every afternoon at 4 o’clock I think of Capt. Tod Carter on his horse Rosencrantz saying,’I’m going home today.'”

He was mortally wounded just 525 feet from his home.

Opportunities to guide battlefield and historical tours across the country, including a Lewis and Clark tour and even in World War II European battlefield tours are also on the horizon for the 52-year-old historian.

Cartwright said he also looks forward to finishing his book, “The Mascots of the Civil War” and creating some non-historical books, such as a compilation of his collection of old animal photos from 1840 to the 1920s.

An ardent student of history, Cartwright was hired by the Carter House Board of Directors in January 1989 to identify artifacts and interpret the battle, the family, the town and the impact of the war. He became the museum’s military curator in April 1990 and executive director of the Carter House Nov. 7, 1997.

For him the job was so much more–it was a passion.

“Every day of my life I live the Battle of Franklin,” he said. “So many people have influenced my life, including Herbert Harper who saved the Carter House–it was going to be a gas station. I learned from the historians and the guests. If I’ve learned anything, I’ve learned it’s risky–dangerous–to judge the past with our eyes.”

A Nashville native, Cartwright’s interest in the Battle of Franklin began at a very early age when he listened to his grandmother tell stories of her father, who fought in the battle.

“I would love to sit with my grandparents and the old folks–aunts, uncles–and hear their stories over and over again; just stories about people. I think it’s important to know those personal stories– the human side and influence.”

When he was 5, he visited the McGavock cemetery (at Carnton).

“Afterwards, I remember riding by the Carter House and my mother pointed and said, ‘That’s where all the generals were killed.'”

On Nov. 30, 1964–he was 8–he joined his family in Franklin to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Franklin and he recalls the impact of the guide putting a finger in the bullet hole in the family room of the Carter House. As Cartwright got older he tagged along with older boys on relic hunts for mini balls and cannon ball fragments in fields around Franklin and the soil of construction sites.

Since his mother worked for a publishing house, his appetite for history was all the more satiated when the owner would send him history books like “The Blue & The Gray.”

“While others were reading their comic books, I read history books,” he said. “I love all types of history. It’s the people–the personal stories that bring it alive. It’s important to honor them–to tell their stories and keep their memories alive–not glorify their deaths, but glorify their lives. Then we won’t repeat the same mistakes. On one aspect, I hate war and hurting other people, but the other aspect is the human side that captures me. I’m reminded of the quote, ‘In times of peace, sons bury their fathers. In times of war, fathers bury their sons.’ That typifies the Carter House. The Battle of Franklin demonstrated the best and the worst of mankind.”

During his 19 1/2 years at the Carter House, Cartwright said he continued learning through the many great historians he had the pleasure to meet and visitors who related their own family stories.

“So many people have been good to me and to the Carter House–I can’t name them all. I just hope a speck of their greatness has fallen on me so I can carry them with me. They are a part of my life and they will always be a part of my life. I’m the richest man of the face of the earth.”

Nancy Conway, who has been on the Carter House Board of Directors for more than 30 years, said Cartwright’s work has brought the site national, even international attention.

“It is not just what he did here, but the presence of Thomas across the United States that have identified Franklin, Tennessee, and the Carter House as significant Civil War sites,” Conway said.

Author Robert Hicks was with Cartwright on Monday and considers him a close friend.

“Thomas’s departure will leave a huge hole that nobody will really be able to fill for a long time in preservation,” Hicks said. “His passion for the Carter House and history is gigantic.”

Carter House Board of Directors President Shanon Wasielewski said the board is grateful for Cartwright’s 19 1/2 years of service.

“Thomas will be greatly missed. We appreciate everything he has given to the site and wish him the very best as he pursues his new opportunities,” Wasielewski said. “He has made an indelible mark on not only The Carter House, but on the interpretation of the Battle of Franklin and on those that have toured the house or had the fortune of hearing him speak during his tenure as executive director. Many people have been drawn to The Carter House because of Thomas Cartwright.” David Fraley, currently The Carter House historian and assistant curator, will serve as the interim executive director while the board is conducting a nationwide search for Cartwright’s replacement.

“We are fortunate to have someone like David who can help the organization through this transition,” Wasielewski said. “David brings a wealth of experience to the position as has hands on knowledge and expertise regarding The Carter House. He has served in key positions with the historic site for more than seven years.”

Posted on: 5/22/2008

Tom Cartwright has done a superb job of overseeing and preserving the Carter House, and he leaves with its land holdings being expanded and more of the Battle of Franklin’s battlefield protected than ever. He’s been a superb steward, and he will be missed in Franklin. Good luck to Tom with his new ventures.

Scridb filter


  1. Steve Basic
    Thu 22nd May 2008 at 10:25 pm


    I was fortunate to finally meet Tom on my trip to TN last year, and got to spend a lot of time talking to him about the battle down there, and was very impressed with the many changes going on in Franklin in terms of preservation. Much of what is going on is due to his trieless work over the years, and all students of Civil War history should thank him for what he has done for all of us.

    I wish him all the best in his new endeavors as well.


  2. dan
    Thu 22nd May 2008 at 11:00 pm

    To those of us fortunate enough to live near the battlefield of Franklin, Tom Cartwright’s care for the site and stewardship of it has done every Civil War historian, student, and American a great service. When the sesquicentennial arrives, Franklin will be in the forefront I think very much on account of Mr. Cartwright’s efforts to make the world and those close by aware of this amazing place and the brutal appalling battle that happened there. I can only imagine that any arrangement that could pull Mr. Cartwright away from that place must be a very special thing. I wish him well, as do all people who appreciate those who love history, those who care for the past so dearly, and for those who tell the stories so truly and with such depth of feeling and empathy for the participants. There is no question that Mr. Cartwright’s departure will be a sore blow to this area. Now… Mr. Fraley I hope will step in as he is a superb Battle of Franklin historian as well.
    Best of luck to Tom Cartwright and thank you so very much for everything that you’ve done for Franklin and for the memory of the veterans, and of course for Tod.
    Capt. Tod Carter said Come on Boys, We’re Almost Home. And for him he was being quite literal. Falling with 9 bullets he died in his own home under his own parent’s care, with sisters and friends close by. Such a tragic story, and so awesome, too.
    Tod would certainly have appreciated Mr. Cartwright’s efforts, as do all of us who care about Tod and everyone else who fought in that nightmare battle, November 30, 1864.

  3. Thu 22nd May 2008 at 11:52 pm

    I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Cartwright just two months ago when I visited the Carter House. Even though he didn’t guide my tour, the few minutes I spoke with him displayed his insurmountable knowledge of the Battle of Franklin. He and Eric Jacobson ARE the authorities on that Campaign and area. Good luck to Tom!


  4. Brian Heitzman
    Sun 07th Sep 2008 at 11:08 pm

    Sir: I would like to know if you knew Dr. Rosalie Carter? I always called her Aunt Rosalie but her sister Corine was realy my great aunt on my mothers side. I remember visiting her as a small child and being like a kid in a candy shop looking at ll the civil war “stuff” she had in her house. I know she died in 1988 but was wondering if you knew her. Please respond

  5. Mon 08th Sep 2008 at 9:37 am


    Sadly, no.


  6. Glenn Taylor
    Tue 16th Feb 2010 at 3:25 pm

    Sir: I would like to say in Mr Cartwrights favor, that I have enjoyed it so much when I come to the Carter House and talk to Thomas. I have visited a many a time and have always enjoyed it. Mr Cartwright really has a passion for what he does. The best there was, the best there is, and the best there ever will be. Thomas Cartwright is a true friend, historian, and a very well instructed person. Thanks Thomas, and good luck on what you are doing. Your friend, Glenn Taylor

  7. Camille Wyman Allen
    Sat 15th Oct 2011 at 11:03 pm

    To Brian Heitzman: I knew Dr. Rosalie, and my parents, Charles and Edna Wyman knew her very, very well. I know I am reading your message 3 years after you wrote, but let me know if I can be of help in your pursuit of Dr. R’s legacy. I have several mementos of her life as a dentist, and some of her china.

    Camille Wyman Allen, Franklin native, now living in Columbia, 10.15.2011

  8. Donnie Stowe
    Tue 01st Nov 2011 at 9:43 pm

    Would like email contact or any contact info you can give me on Thomas Cartwright. I am VP of Houston Civil War Roundtable and would like to invite him to speak at one of our meetings. Please forward asap.


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