Thursday, April 2

The Carnton Plantation and the Battle of Franklin

My husband and I like to tour Civil War historical sites and have been to quite a few. The Antietam Reenactment, with 13,000 re-enactors was the largest, most dramatic and the best one we have been too.  
Recently I picked up a book called The Widow of the South, written by Robert Hicks.  The book is part true story and fact with other parts created to fill in the gaps.  It’s a book about the Battle of Franklin and one family’s home being turned into a field hospital.  

“Mrs. McGavock - later to become known as the Widow of the South - is in mourning over the death of three of her children during a typhoid epidemic. She spends most of her time in bed letting Mariah, her Creole slave, (Mariah Reddick) run the household. But the days of mourning her children come to an abrupt end as she must come to grips with the death of 9,000 soldiers in a single day, and care for the wounded that blanket every square inch of her home and grounds.”

Driving home from a visit with my daughter and her family in Texas we stopped to tour the Carnton Plantation, the battle field and the Confederate Cemetery.  Nearly Spring, the day was chilly and raining off and on but it was still worth the stop.

The tour includes the main house, a smoke house, slave quarters, spring house, gardens, a family cemetery, the Confederate Cemetery and a self guided walking tour of the Eastern Flank of the battle.

Front view of the house at the Carnton Plantation

The Carnton Plantation, a red brick Federal-style 11-room residence, was originally built in 1826 by former Nashville mayor Randal McGavock.  Throughout the 1800’s, the home was frequently visited by those shaping Tennessee and American history, including President Andrew Jackson. Carnton grew to become one of the premier farms in Williamson County, Tennessee.

Randal McGavock’s son John inherited the farm upon his father’s death. John McGavock married his first cousin Carrie Elizabeth Winder in December 1848 and settled into the estate.  They had five children, only two of which survived to adulthood.
The McGavock's son, Winder, inherited the plantation on the death of his mother; however he died only two years later in 1907. His widow and children then left Carnton and moved into Franklin in 1909.
View of the porch and back of the house at Carnton Plantation

The McGavock family owned the Carnton Plantation until 1911 when Susie Lee McGavock, widow of Winder McGavock, sold it. In 1973 the Carnton Plantation was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and in 1977 the house and ten acres were donated to the Carnton Association, Inc. by Dr. and Mrs. W. D. Sugg. By that time the house had suffered from years of neglect and disrepair, having been rented out and also used as an animal barn and was even scheduled to be torn down.

The Smoke House

All that remains of the Slave Quarters

The Battle of Franklin
The battle itself took place on November 30, 1864 in a small town called Franklin, Tennessee.  The combat raged for five hours, leaving 9,500 casualties, 2000 dead, 6,500 wounded and 1000 missing.  The battle also took the lives of six Confederate generals, 4 bodies of which were laid out on the porch of the house. The wounded and dead were scattered across the battlefield from the Carter House to the Carnton Plantation, one mile away.  At least 44 buildings in Franklin were turned into hospitals for both sides.

Carrie McGavock
Carrie and John McGavock lived at the Carnton Plantation during the Federal occupation of Franklin which started in 1862. 
John McGavock was 46 when the Civil War began and was too old to enlist, but he helped outfit and organize groups of Southern soldiers. Carrie contributed to the Southern war effort by sewing uniforms for relatives and friends. 
As the war got closer to home, John McGavock sent most of his slaves to Louisiana so they wouldn’t be taken and freed by Federal (Northern) authorities. When Federal troops took control of Middle Tennessee, and learned of the McGavocks’ efforts to aid the South, they took thousands of dollars of grain, horses, cattle and timber from the plantation.

Late on November 30, 1864 Carrie watched as the Army of Tennessee, approximately 19,000 men passed her home headed to the entrenched Northern Army of equal size.  This small town of about 750 residents saw nearly 40,000 soldiers that day.

Carrie had already been informed that her home would be used as a field hospital for wounded Southern soldiers. The McGavocks most likely did not enthusiastically open their home to the wounded and dying soldiers the night of November 30, 1864. Thomas R. Markham, chaplain of Featherston’s brigade, states at the time that “Randal McGavock was reluctant to let any of the wounded in his house, out of fear of retaliation (i.e., torching the house) by Federals for aiding the rebels.”

Porch where 4 dead generals were laid out
Confederate Colonel W.D. Gale, writing to his wife shortly after the battle described the scene:

“The wounded in hundreds were brought to Carnton during the battle and all the night after.  Every room in the house was filled; every bed had two or more bleeding fellows, every spare space, nook and corner, under the stairs, in the Great Hall, everywhere, but one room for her and family.  And when the noble old house could hold no more, the yard was appropriated until the wounded and dead filled that also.”

The floors of the restored house are still stained with the blood of the men who were operated on during the battle.  In one room where the operating tables were set up, you can see the heavy blood stains in a semi-circle around a clear spot where the surgeon stood.  

Most who are close to me know I can smell things most people can’t and actually have trouble with certain smells giving me headaches.  While touring the plantation I could smell the oddest odor, and by the time the tour got to the upstairs I began to choke and cough.
The Curator stopped his talk, gave me the oddest look and then told our group that certain rare people, like emergency room doctors and nurses or Military personnel who have been in battle (I am neither) are sometimes able to pick up the smell of the blood, ether and chloroform used during the operations that still permeate the walls of the house.
It really gave me a chill and made the battle that much more real to me. 

Blood stains.  This photo is from the website:  Tennessee History for Kids

The war did not end for the McGavock family after that day.  The wounded remained for months after the battle with no help from any state or government agency.  There were no such agencies at that time.  The bodies of the fallen soldiers were buried where they had fallen in fields and pastures by the people of the town.  According to the tour guide, over the next couple years after the battle, bodies turned up while plowing the fields or some days while riding down the lane you might see a human arm or leg sticking out of the ground.  It was not uncommon for the family dog to come home with a human bone in his mouth. 

The Confederate Cemetery with the Carnton Plantation in the background

Creating the Confederate Cemetery
In early 1866, John and Carrie McGavock decided to designate two acres of land adjacent to their family cemetery as a final burial place for Confederate soldiers killed during the Battle of Franklin.
A team led by George Cuppettto and paid $5.00 a body, dug up 1,481 fallen soldiers, identified as many as they could and reinterred them in the new cemetery.  Once the job was complete a book with all the names and location of final resting places in the cemetery was given to Carrie McGavock, who carried the book with her the rest of her days.

In the late 1860’s Mary Gay, upon learning about the relocation of the bodies, which included the body of her fallen brother, Tommy, traveled to Franklin to find his grave.
Mary Gay is best known for a book she authored about her family’s ordeal during the Civil War, which in turn, inspired Margaret Mitchell to write Gone With The Wind.

Carrie McGavock's grave marker
Though the bodies of the fallen Southern soldiers had been moved, Mary was appalled to see free range cattle trampling the graves in the cemetery near McGavock’s plantation.

She resolved to raise money for a fence to protect the graves. The graves were originally marked with wooden head and foot boards.  After enough funds were raised the stone markers, there still today, were finally erected in 1890.

The Houston Texas Telegraph stated that “Miss Mary A.H. Gay has obtained $1000 in that city (Houston) to aid in building the iron fence around the McGavock Cemetery at Franklin, Tennessee."  February 9, 1867, the Bolliver Bulletin. 

It is said that for years, southern soldiers who survived the battle would travel to the plantation to thank Carrie for all the care and comfort she gave the wounded the night of the battle and for months afterwards. The McGavocks maintained the cemetery until their respective deaths.  Ownership of the cemetery was deeded to the McGavock Cemetery Committee in 1911.

The Gardens at the Plantation
Oh my, the garden is beautiful.  Although we visited in early spring and no flowers were blooming or plants growing, it was still quite impressive.  The garden at Carnton is representative of what a middle Tennessee's plantation’s landscape during the 19th century would have looked like. 
When rebuilding the garden, no photographs existed, but despite years of neglect and change, some physical evidence still remained into the 1990s indicating the garden’s extent and layout.

Gates going into the gardens at Carnton Plantation

Justin Stelter, Carnton’s head gardener was instrumental in the rebuilding of the garden.  

“Stelter began to tap into the wisdom of fellow gardeners in Middle Tennessee to help restore the site and track down heirloom plant stock. On more than one occasion, a missing plant that was considered rare or even lost showed up in a local yard after searches of nurseries nationwide had failed (as with the native grape honeysuckle Lonicera prolifera, found in a backyard garden in downtown Franklin). Heirloom roses, tomatoes, and species hostas have all been brought back, along with one of the Southeast’s largest historic daffodil displays and a growing collection of heirloom peonies.”

Because we visited the Carnton Plantation in early March I do not have photos of the gardens in full bloom.  Below are a couple photos from the website The Gardening Partners of Dickson County.

Gardens at Carnton.  Photo from Gardening Partners of Dickson County

Gardens at Carnton.  Photo from Gardening Partners of Dickson County

The tour is excellent and full of facts and details but to me,  a couple things were missing. 
For instance, it seems the details concerning the house and property after Carrie's death and up until the the 1970's is unknown or so we were told.  And we were told they have only been able to locate a couple old photos of the house.  I find that hard to believe. And when I asked, I was even told by the tour guide that it has nothing to do with the story.  Hmmmm.   

If you wish to visit, the Carnton Plantation is located near downtown Franklin, Tennessee:

Carnton Plantation
1345 Eastern Flank Circle,
Franklin, TN 37064 

I hope your spring is blooming! I have been busy for days cleaning flower beds and getting my garden ready for planting,


Other Travel Posts:

“I wanted to leave the whole war behind me, and yet I was seeing something on that 
battlefield that demanded commemoration. It was unholy ground, but I wanted to thank God 
for showing it to me. I would never again look at a man without wondering what crimes 
he was capable of committing. That seemed important to know.”   
~ Robert Hicks, The Widow of the South


Anonymous said...

Really cool story about the battle site. My husband and I absolutely love your blog and find a lot of your posts very interesting and useful for us on our small farm too! Thanks for all the good recipes too. Krisy

Elizabeth Ohiothoughts said...

Thanks and glad my posts help in some way!

Anonymous said...

Cool Civil war story, we like touring the battle sites too. Thanks fοr а marvelous post, this town and Civil War site will be on our list to visit. John and Karina

Gerald said...

Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

Your article is very well done, a good read.

Anonymous said...

Normally I do not read posts on blogs, but I started reading and got caught up in the story! Your writing surprised me. Thanks for sharing the story and the visit to Carnton. I am now intrigued.

Elizabeth Ohiothoughts said...

Well I am really grateful you started reading the story! And thanks for the compliment about my writing, it is not for everyone and is far from perfect. I hope I can write something again that you can not stop reading. Again, thank you for the kind words.

Elizabeth Ohiothoughts said...

John And Karina: So glad you are stopping to visit this Civil War Site. I don't think you will be disappointed. Have a great trip!

Elizabeth Ohiothoughts said...

Krisy: Thanks so much for visiting my blog and glad you like the posts and recipes. You have a small farm too! Don't you love the life?