Heroism and self-sacrifice are often exhibited in battle, but it was in the aftermath of the battle of Franklin, Tennessee that one woman’s selflessness became legendary. The impression of Carrie McGavock’s unflinching kindness and the services she rendered lingered long in the memory of both those she served and the entire South.
The number of wounded that were left behind after the battle to be cared for by the citizens of that small town was staggering. The homes of overwhelmed civilians were crowded to overflowing with Confederate soldiers, hastily attended to by too few doctors equipped with inadequate supplies.
Carnton Plantation and the McGavock Confederate Cemetery
The largest of these field-hospitals was Carnton Plantation, the home of Carrie McGavock. This young mother’s tireless efforts to comfort and calm the soldiers whose shattered bodies filled her home were never forgotten by them.
Accounts written by the survivors of that horrible time are full of gratitude and reverence for the woman who cared for them as if they were her own.
The last of these wounded men would not leave her home until the following year. By that time, Carrie McGavock and her husband, John had taken upon themselves yet another momentous duty.
Offering a portion of their own land, the McGavocks initiated and oversaw the identifying and reinterring of nearly 1,500 Confederate soldiers previously buried in mass graves.
Carrie McGavock was committed to identifying and honoring these brave men whose relations had previously been in ignorance of their fate. In a ponderous ledger, she meticulously recorded their names, possessions and final places of burial.
From 1866 until her death in 1905, she cheerfully welcomed a flood of visitors who came in hopes of finding the grave of a loved one they had not heard of since before the battle. Her dedication to preserving the memory of these fallen sons of the Confederacy earned her the nickname “The Widow of the South.”
The Civil War in the West tour is one of the most interesting and inspiring tours we host, full of remarkable providences and colorful characters including Private Tod Carter, John Bell Hood, Patrick Cleburne and many others. Come walk the battlefields and tour the homes that still bear the marks of war with Landmark Events historian Bill Potter and Sam Turley March 16-17 in Franklin and Nashville, TN.
What a sight it must have been for 24-year-old Captain Tod Carter as he stood near Winstead Hill facing north toward his boyhood home, just over a mile away. It was late November of 1864 and Young Tod had not seen his home since that bitter war began.
Having enlisted in the 20th Tennessee infantry to defend his native state, he fought and campaigned in most of the major engagements in the western theatre. His eyes now took in a sight much different from the home he had left over three years before. The Union Army had taken control of the town of Franklin hours before Carter and his confederate comrades had arrived. They had set up miles of defensive works or trenches, literally yards south of his homestead. Federal cannons glistened in the sun near the Carter family smokehouse and farm office. No doubt he thought of his family and wondered with anxiety of their fate as federal soldiers swarmed through his home that had been commandeered for use as Union headquarters.
On November 30th 1864, two armies totaling some 40,000 men, faced off across the cotton fields and pasture-land that surrounded the town of Franklin. The battle of Franklin, Tennessee would become one of those unique battles of the Civil War: men on both sides, in a seemingly medieval practice, gathered across an open plain, clearly visible was the full scope of their foe before the attack.
When Theodrick “Tod” Carter was born March 24th 1840 to a middle class farming family, his parents could not foresee what was in store for their little boy or what epic event would drastically and forever alter their close-knit family.
As a young boy, Carter showed great aptitude for learning and adventure, studying Greek, Latin and philosophy, and then by his mid-teens, conducted business with his father and two brothers. Tod was continually inspired by the example of his older brother, Moscow Carter. Fifteen years his senior, Moscow was already a veteran of the Mexican American war and was working as a telegraph operator for the Illinois and Mississippi Telegraph Company.
The Carter family was no stranger to tragedy. Tod would never meet four of his siblings that died before he was born and at age twelve, he lost his beloved mother to an influenza that swept through the town of Franklin.
Eventually, Tod became an attorney and settled in his profession as an attorney. With his quick wit, contagious enthusiasm and early success as a lawyer, Tod became popular and well-known in his community. Unfortunately, his brief stint in the field of law was cut short as war clouds loomed. Locking up his treasured two paneled law desk that evening in 1861, surely he wondered whether he would ever return to the career in which he had invested so much.
Tod, with brothers Francis and Moscow, joined the 20th Tennessee Infantry regiment. Tod was quickly promoted to Captain but found himself painfully alone eight months into the war as his brothers were captured and sent to federal prisons.
In addition to his soldiering duties, Captain Carter became a weekly correspondent for the “Daily Rebel,” a newspaper that circulated throughout the South during the war. Writing under the pen name “Mint Julep,” he chronicled the events of the war seen through his eyes, and frequently spoke of his love for the Southern cause, inspiring his readers to patriotism and determination in the face of resistance.
In November of 1863, Tod was also captured by the Union army near Chattanooga. He was transferred to a federal prison on Johnson’s Island, Ohio. The temperature was twenty-six degrees below zero when Tod joined many of his comrades in captivity, and after spending several months in harsh conditions, Tod pondered his escape. In March of 1864, his opportunity came. He was being transferred by train to a higher security prison in the northeast. While traveling through Pennsylvania, Tod jumped off the moving train into the darkness and found himself a free man, once again. After covering nearly four-hundred miles, without detection by the Union Army, he rejoined his regiment at Dalton, Georgia.
The fighting would increase throughout the hot months of summer during the Atlanta campaign, where Tod would once again distinguished himself as a soldier and an aide-de-camp to General Thomas Benton Smith.
The war eventually brought him back home to little Franklin, Tennessee. There Tod stood with his weary regiment across that open ground that led directly to his family home. On that day, Carter was not merely another man “fighting for his home” in some sort of figurative way but he was literally fighting for all he had ever known home to be. Tod knew that the only way he would see his family again, was to fight through the Union trenches that lay in his path.
As the order for the attack began, Tod and 20,000 other southern soldiers stepped off near the string of hills south of town. No doubt, young Carter thought of his family that awaited him. As the shot and shell of Union artillery exploded all around them Tod urged his men forward exclaiming, “C’mon boys, I’m almost home!”
To learn of Tod’s fate and other personal stories of courage and patriotism in Middle Tennessee, join us March 18-19 for our Civil War in the West Tour: Nashville/Franklin.
“If we are going to die, then let us die like men.” These were the last recorded words of General Patrick R. Cleburne, uttered to his men at the battle of Franklin shortly before advancing his division forward into the jaws of death.
This exceptional Christian man was born in County Cork, Ireland on March 17, 1828. Beginning his career in the field of medicine, he quickly realized that he was not cut out to be a doctor. At age 19, Patrick enlisted in the 41st Infantry regiment of the British army. Having joined the army at a dull and uneventful period in Britain’s military history, he subsequently bought his discharge and immigrated to the United States, joining thousands of his fellow Irishmen in one of the largest mass immigrations in our nation’s history. Eventually, he settled in little Helena, Arkansas and was rapidly inducted into southern society. Cleburne grew to love his adopted state and the people in it, making friends and acquaintances who would remain at his side during the war that erupted between North and South.
When Arkansas seceded from the Union and armies began to form, Cleburne once again returned to military life and threw in his lot with friends and neighbors to defend their homes. Because of the young Irishman’s former training and military experience, he rose quickly through the ranks, eventually rising to the rank of Major General, commanding one of the best and hardest hitting divisions this country has ever known. Early in the war at the battle of Richmond, Kentucky a bullet crashed through his face and shattered his teeth. He paid little mind to the injury and continued to deliver orders to his men until his mouth swelled to such a degree and he could not speak. This kind of dogged-determination and courage was something that “Pat” Cleburne’s men saw often, spurring them on to the same virtues, creating a fighting machine capable of defending or attacking against the greatest of odds.
General Cleburne became legendary for his military prowess, and was indispensable to the Army of Tennessee. General Robert E. Lee referred to him as, “A meteor shining from a clouded sky,” while others nicknamed him, “The Stonewall of the West” as he mimicked his eastern theatre counterpart, “Stonewall” Jackson in battle tactics and military genius. As the war progressed, many began to look to that 36 year old Irishman to become the next army commander for the Confederacy in the west.
This hope for command in the west soon evaporated when Cleburne proposed a radical plan that would have insured southern independence -but a plan extremely unpopular among the confederate high command and aristocracy. Late in the war, as casualties mounted and eligible southern white males were becoming increasingly difficult to find, Cleburne composed a document to be sent to the Confederate Congress which detailed a plan to grant any African slaves their freedom if they joined the confederate ranks and fought for the duration of the war. The general stated in this document:
“Satisfy the negro that if he faithfully adheres to our standard during the war he shall receive his freedom and that of his race … and we change the race from a dreaded weakness to a position of strength. Will the slaves fight? The helots of Sparta stood their masters good stead in battle. In the great sea fight of Lepanto where the Christians checked forever the spread of Mohammedanism over Europe, the galley slaves of portions of the fleet were promised freedom, and called on to fight at a critical moment of the battle. They fought well, and civilization owes much to those brave galley slaves … the experience of this war has been so far that half-trained negroes have fought as bravely as many other half-trained Yankees.
It is said that slavery is all we are fighting for, and if we give it up we give up all. Even if this were true, which we deny, slavery is not all our enemies are fighting for. It is merely the pretense to establish sectional superiority and a more centralized form of government, and to deprive us of our rights and liberties.”
At this point in the war, Cleburne’s proposal was viewed as a desperate measure and vigorously opposed. Although this plan would eventually be utilized by the struggling Confederacy, it would be ignored until too late.
Life goes on in wartime. During a brief leave-of-absence in early 1864, Cleburne’s met, courted and became engaged to the beautiful Susan Tarleton of Mobile, Alabama. Tragically, their union was never to be, for they parted for the last time in the fall just prior to the Tennessee campaign.
As the Confederate army passed through Columbia en-route to Franklin, Patrick and his men neared the beautiful St. John’s Episcopal Church, nestled in a rural setting off the Columbia turnpike. Cleburne admired the beauty of the spot and perhaps it was the gothic style architecture, reminding him of his native Ireland, that caused him to remark to his staff, “It would almost be worth dying to be buried in such a spot.” Little did he know, he would be laid to rest in that very ground a few days later.
Before the attack commenced at Franklin on November 30th 1864, Cleburne surveyed the Union entrenchments south of town and subsequently and unsuccessfully argued against a frontal attack, along with a number of other generals.
Dutifully, as the orders were given for the advance, Cleburne and many other top ranking officers led their men forward. Once again leading by example, Cleburne posted himself at the head of his column, uncommon for a division commander, but staying true to his commitment -that if he was to die, he would die like a man. Being pierced through the heart at dusk, Major General Patrick Cleburne’s life was ended, and as many southerners believed, so were any hopes of independence.
Through his life and in his death, Patrick embodied a spirit of manhood and fierce determination that would forever remain in the hearts and minds of his men, and even that of his enemies.
William J. Hardee, Cleburne’s former corps commander, had this to say when he learned of his loss:
“Where this division defended, no odds broke its line; where it attacked, no numbers resisted its onslaught, save only once; and there is the grave of Cleburne.”
The commander of the Confederate army at the Battle of Franklin brought to that engagement more than three years of combat leadership, crippling wounds and serious interpersonal animosities toward subordinate generals. Neither his men nor most historians of the war have forgiven him for sending the Army of Tennessee to its destruction along the Harpeth River in 1864.
General Hood began the war as the regimental commander of the 4th Texas Infantry. His fighting qualities and example brought quick promotion to Brigadier General of the Texas Brigade. That unit fought so hard and with such success they forever adopted his name even after he left for higher command. General Lee called them his “Grenadier Guard.” At the battle of Gettysburg, Hood commanding a division as a Major General suffered a wound by an artillery shell burst early in the attack on Devil’s Den and Little Round Top. He lost the use of his arm and suffered constant pain, alleviated only by strong drugs.
When Longstreet’s Corps shifted to Georgia to fight in the Battle of Chickamauga, Hood was again struck down leading his men into battle. He lost one leg and ever after had to be strapped on his horse. As a fighting general Hood was at his best in divisional command but his aggressiveness and use of his troops as blunt force trauma against the Union lines usually resulted in success but inordinately heavy casualties. The Texan was not a man for maneuver.
In 1864 during the Atlanta Campaign, Hood was made commander of the army, probably a position too difficult for his abilities and temperament according to many historians. In modern times such a situation is known as the Peter Principle—“employees stop being promoted till they reach their level of incompetence.” Hood went instantly on the offensive to try and drive away the Federal troops besieging Atlanta. Union General William T. Sherman ultimately took Atlanta, inflicting twice as many casualties on the Confederates under Hood. The Confederate general had stood true to form with direct headlong assaults against entrenched enemies. No longer a brigade or division commander though—he hurled the whole army at the enemy.
In the cool and rainy Tennessee weather of November, 1864, John Bell Hood led his diminished army of Tennessee across the path of Union General John Schofield just north of Spring Hill to interpose between the retreating Yankees and their ultimate goal of safety in heavily fortified Nashville, a strategically sound plan. His Corps commanders let him down again through negligence, incompetence, or just confused Confederate leadership at one level or several, allowed the Federals to slip by in the night and fortify the already partially entrenched town of Franklin. Hood’s loose reins on his generals and the breakdown of good staff work brought his plans to naught.
General Hood, under the strain of campaigning, the probable effects of pain-killing meds, and sheer anger at his subordinates, called a council of war which turned out to be an order to charge across a mile of open ground against a well entrenched veteran army, and a lecture questioning the will and ability of Cheatham’s Corps to fight anywhere but behind breastworks. Upon viewing the enemy entrenchments, General Cleburne, perhaps the best officer of that rank in the Confederacy, resigned himself to death. Confederate Cavalry commander Nathan Bedford Forest begged Hood to let him take a force around the enemy’s flank and cut them off from Nashville. The leader’s mind was made up. He could not now develop flexibility, an agreement to the counsel of veteran generals, or forgiveness for past failure. The most magnificent display of Southern heroism and suicidal courage would not wait another day.
Western New Yorker and son and grandson of Baptist ministers, Schofield grew up in Illinois where he taught school briefly before attending the military academy at West Point. As providence would have it, his roommate was John Bell Hood. He served as a military instructor in Florida before the war and as a mustering officer in St. Louis when the war began. He served on the staff of General Nathaniel Lyons in the battle of Wilson’s Creek, Missouri, where Lyons was killed in action and Schofield was commended for “conspicuous gallantry,” and for which he would eventually receive the Medal of Honor, due to political connections. His entire military career would be filled with controversy over his decisions and leadership. In his following service in Missouri, pro-Union citizens criticized him in Washington D. C. and begged President Lincoln to sack him for not being tough enough on pro-Confederate citizens. His polished social skills and useful political connections in Illinois brought him only promotion.
Wiley Sword describes him as “a stocky, ruddy faced man with a decidedly dumpy appearance, and his short stature, long patriarchal beard, balding head, and beady squinting eyes made him appear comical, if somehow sinister.” General Sherman rated him slow and suggested he “leaves too much to others.” It did not appear that independent command would suit him at all. Independent command is what he got.
In 1864 the “bookish” Schofield assumed command of the Army of Ohio and joined Sherman’s forces in the Atlanta Campaign. Controversy followed him to Georgia. In the Utoy Creek operation, Sherman attached the XIV Corps to Schofield. Major General John Palmer, a professional politician and the commander of that Corps, refused to serve under Schofield and initiated a flurry of messages with Sherman. As Schofield moved toward the Confederate forces defending the railroad at Utoy Creek, Palmer refused to move. Finally, in frustration, Schofield threw a brigade of the Army of the Ohio at the southern line and was bloodily repulsed twice, thus ending the attempt to turn the rebels out. Sherman accepted Palmer’s resignation.
When Sherman turned most of his army toward the march east to Savannah, he sent Schofield’s troops to oppose Hood’s forces, moving north toward Nashville. In Columbia, Schofield’s men looted and burned as their General had his engineers fortify along the Duck River and settled in for “a warm time.” His superior in Nashville, General George H. Thomas expected him to clash with Hood and keep him clear of Nashville as long as possible. Schofield, not really a fighting general, thought caution the best policy and called for reinforcements. Hood had no intention of letting Schofield relax or avoid contact.
As the Union soldiers abandoned Columbia after being flanked and cut off from Franklin, Schofield’s men slipped past the somnambulant Confederates at Spring Hill, with the intention of continuing right on through Franklin to the safety of the magnificent defenses of Nashville. With the bridges across the Harpeth in disrepair, Schofield stopped in Franklin to fix the bridges and fortify quickly in case the Confederates showed up. They showed up. All the political connections, hesitant movements, and lack of confidence of the Union commander would be worth nothing, for the fight belonged to the privates, NCOs, and line officers of the Midwestern boys in blue.