S1E11: The Carnton Plantation
Carrie Winder McGavock, a name that is synonymous with the Carnton Plantation in Franklin, TN.
Her name has gone down in history as one of the most benevolent women in the Victorian era.
When her home was turned into a field hospital for one of the bloodiest battles of the civil war, she rose above and beyond the task and made their care, her life’s mission.
She tended the grounds and cared for the graves and connected the deceased with the living until her own death in 1905.
S1E11: The Carnton Plantation
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Bag of Bones Podcast
Season One- Episode 11
The Carnton House- Franklin, TN
Carrie Winder McGavock, a name that is synonymous with the Carnton Plantation in Franklin, TN. Her name has gone down in history as one of the most benevolent women in the Victorian era. When her home was turned into a field hospital for one of the bloodiest battles of the civil war, she rose above and beyond the task and made their care, her life’s mission. She tended the grounds and cared for the graves and connected the deceased with the living until her own death in 1905.
At her death Reverend John Hanner quoted a prayer for the Confederate Veteran magazine
“We thank thee for the… feeble knees she lifted up, for the many hearts she comforted, the needy ones she supplied, the sick she ministered unto, and the boys she found in abject want she mothered and reared into worthy manhood. In the last days they will rise up and call her blessed.”
And brother, let me tell you… they are rising up.
November 30th, 1864 the Confederate soldiers had been marching all through the night and the day, arriving in Franklin, TN mid afternoon mere hours prior to the sun setting. They were weary from their attempts at thwarting the northern army at Spring Hill but there would be no rest.
Union soldiers were already there, waiting. They had built a three- tiered fortification about two miles out of town hours before the Southern army came in. They knew that a battle was destined to happen here because the bridges behind them were damaged. So General John Schofield divided his men. Some to build the fortifications and since their backs were at the river protecting them and they were determined to push through to Nashville, the other portion set to work on repairing the bridge.
The sun was sinking behind the horizon, and the 20,000 men under Lt. General John Bell Hood were ordered to move into a frontal assault against the Federals. They came up through the center after covering the two mile gap and managed to hold their own for about three hours of close range combat. Three hours.
The Union division attempted to retreat back to the main line with the Confederate not far behind, re-invigorated by their enemy’s change of direction. Afraid of hitting their own men, soldiers at the main line held their fire and watched as both north and south came running at them.
And then like the ocean slams against the cliff, both sides were thrown together. Hand to hand combat with fatigued soldiers once again ensued. With this combination it’s no wonder that the Battle of Franklin earned the title of one of the deadliest battles in the war.
The Confederates suffered 6,252 casualties, including 1750 killed and 3,800 wounded. Five generals died that day, more than in any other battle of the war. Seven more were wounded and one captured.
The Army of Tennessee was all but destroyed. Private Sam Watkins remarked that it was “the blackest page in the history of the war.”
Five hours later… and it was done. The Union army was on it’s way to Nashville and they left behind their dead and dying.
Much of the actual battle was played out on the property of the Carter family. While they and the neighboring Lutz family hunkered in their cellar while the battle raged on around them, they had no clue that their son, Tod Carter was to be among them.
When the foray had quieted and the Carter family dared to come up from their hiding place, they were greeted at the door by Brigadier General Thomas Benton Smith. Todd Carter was his quartermaster and although it was not his duty to fight, being close to home bolstered his courage and pride. He mounted his horse early that morning leading the brigade shouting, “Follow me boys, I’m almost home.”
And he was… 500 feet. Only five hundred more feet and he would have been safe in the arms of his family. But he was shot from his horse. He lay in the grass slowly bleeding out as the battle continued on for another four hours. After night fall, Brigadier General Smith and the Carter family headed out by lantern light to find their fallen hero.
He was still alive when they found him and he was taken back to his home. Surrounded by family, he survived the night, taking his last breath the following morning.
And then… he never left. The spirit of Tod Carter, still wanders the grounds of the Carter House… but he’s not alone.
Colonel W.D. Gale wrote home to his wife about the conditions at the McGavock residence that had been turned into a field hospital.
“Every room was filled, every bed had two poor bleeding fellows. Every spare space, niche and corner… Under the stairs, in the hall, everywhere…and when the noble old house could hold no more, the yard was appropriated until the wounded and dead filled that.”
Even though the battle had come to a close, the south had retreated into the darkness and the north had continued on toward Nashville, the wounded and dying were everywhere. Within hours the inside of the home was filled, and then the barns and slave quarters were filled and then the back porch was filled and then, finally the yard.
The front porch was reserved for the fallen Generals to be laid out for a few days following the battle, out of respect.
Upon arriving to the area, the McGavock home was commandeered for use by the Confederates as a field hospital, prior to battle giving the family little warning (or options) but they had no way of knowing the amount of wounded they were going to be faced with.
The home which is better known as the Carnton Plantation was located at the rear of the Confederate line.
The rooms were cleared of furniture and two surgeons were set up in the upstairs bedroom. These were the bedrooms of the children. 9 year old Hattie, and Winder aged 7.
They could not have possibly been sheltered from the horrors of war as it raged only a mile away. The family could see the explosions and gun fire light up the chilly night and could feel the rumbling of the cannons shake the foundation of their home. But that was nothing compared to what came next forever disrupting the safety they once knew. But like their mother, they were forced into a dire situation, and so they faced it as best they could.
The surgeons worked tirelessly trying to save as many lives as possible. Both Confederate and Union took their turn laying on their table.
Blood from open wounds poured over the sides of the tables and down the apron of the doctors as they worked. Useless limbs were piled up in a corner of each of the rooms waiting to be discarded. Buckets, cycling in and out filled with blood and with “clean” water that was used to wash the surgeon’s hands, which only happened when their hands became too slick to hold their tools- it didn’t take long to not be able to distinguish between the two.
One hundred and fifty wounded soldiers died on that first night. Over three hundred men were treated for their wounds and laid somewhere to heal either on a spare space on the floor, in the yard or in the servants quarters.
Carrie McGavock and her two children where there, every single day tending to the needs of their guests. Gale speaks of the Mistress of Carnton by writing, “she was unawed by horrid wounds, unblanched by ghastly death she walked from room to room, from man to man, her very skirts stained in blood, the incarnation of pity and mercy.”
She would sit and talk with the men or take down letters for their loved ones. Many of the letters sent produced family of the men to take them home. And many others, it was their last goodbye. Mrs. McGavock was honored to assist with both
She would make bandages from everything from her linen to petticoats. Her voice was a calming presence. Soldiers would relax and rest knowing she came into the room. Here, in the sight of Mrs. McGavock, they were no longer enemies but sons and husbands of women worrying and praying for their safe return.
Fires were kept burning all across the grounds trying to keep the men warm. The wounded who were able, returned to making their own meals and sharing it where they could in small camps while they healed.
The Carnton Plantation did not go back to “business as usual” once the battle weary soldiers moved on. In fact, the plantation took on a whole new life. The soldiers stayed on at the Plantation until they were well enough to move on. Union soldiers that had healed were taken to prisoner camps. But many did not leave for months and months after the Battle of Franklin. And almost 1,500 never left at all.
At first, the men were largely “buried where they fell” on the battlefield; their graves marked with wooden crosses. Soon, the crosses were being used as firewood and the graves became more difficult to recognize. When the Union came back to claim their dead, it left many Confederate soldiers who died for their cause with no where to rest.
The McGavocks donated two acres of their land and the town of Franklin raised the fund for the organization and identification of as many of the soldiers as possible, reburying them in the new plot of land. George Cuppett lead the team to organize the venture in the spring of 1866. He took so much time and effort trying to identify as many soldiers as he could and placed them in graves according to the state they were from. The entire process took ten weeks, but by June just under 1,500 rebel soldiers had been given a final resting place.
He handed the carefully recorded notebook to the care of Mistress McGavock (which is still at the Carnton Plantation and can be seen under glass. She corresponded with every single person who reached out to her in search of their missing son or husband. It is the largest privately owned military cemetery in the nation.
Trivia- because of you reaching out to me, I know how much you like your bits of trivia tucked in each episode: News of the cemetery and character of the Mistress spread across the ocean so that when English author Oscar Wilde came to America during his 1882 tour, he expressed a wish "to meet the Widow McGavock, high priestess of the temple of dead boys"
It’s a sign of a good leader not to leave your men behind. And some take their job… quite seriously. Among the many apparitions that make themselves known, one is believed to be General Pat Cleburne. He is seen pacing back and forth along the rear portico and around the parameter of the house and is recognized by his mustache and short beard. If you happen to be out there alone, he has been known to engage in conversation. You might want to brush up on your military tactics if this opportunity is in your future… you wouldn’t want to be a rude conversationalist
And his men are still very active. You can feel eyes on you as you walk through the house and in the upstairs area, there is definitely pressure in the air, sometimes almost stifling. There is too, the haunting remnants of the hundreds of surgical procedures by blood stains on the wooden floors that soaked through the thick carpets and remain behind as haunting reminders of the death of the day. The outlines of buckets and even the silhouette of where the surgeons stood were clearly marked with the blood of the fallen. And rumor has it, where there is blood, there is a spirit still connected to it.
The grounds and of course the cemetery have lots of accounts of ghostly presence.
In the 50s and 60s it was a place for teens to hang out and more than once, the soldiers policed the area of those who may have been contemplating doing harm to the grounds or gravestones.
Soldiers can be seen walking the fields, a scene as if on replay happens near the Carter house where a soldier is seen falling from his wounds to the ground only to “live” through the whole thing over and over again.
One report told of a full-body apparition kneeling over one of the graves and when the couple got closer, he turned to look at them. They stayed only long enough to see the sorrow engraved on his features.
Horses hooves, hammering, wood being splintered, footsteps and moaning… this location is a melting pot of all the spooky things.
And if you were to look up toward the open attic, your bravado might fail you to linger too long for fear or sense of what you know is looking back at you, may actually show itself.
While I was there, it was just before the sun was setting and I felt the eyes of what I thought might be a small child. I don’t know for sure, as I didn’t stick around long enough to find out. After coming home, and doing my research, there are several “children” still making their presence known. Three of the McGavock young children passed away, and the two who survived the field hospital fiasco Hattie who was only nine at the time and her brother Winder who was seven, may have chosen to stay to be close to their mother.
The Mistress of Carnton is still running her household as if no one told her that her job was over and she can now rest. She is seen both inside and outside of the home in her large hoop skirts. How do we know it’s her? The tell-tale ring of blood stains along the bottom edge of her dress.
If you can hang on for just one more minute, I have one more interesting story I’d like to share with you about the Battle of Franklin.
He was known as “the Boy Colonel”. He enlisted in the 24th Wisconsin Infantry regiment at the beginning of the war. By 1863, he was already a first lieutenant at the age of 18. In November of that year at the Battle of Missionary Ridge, he daringly captured the flag from a deceased soldier and lead the troops to an unbelievable victory. He was awarded the Medal of Honor and promoted to colonel.
Leading his men into Franklin, he was part of the foray around the Carter House. Our Boy Colonel was shot from his horse. He rose to his feet, and while bleeding from his shoulder, he would draw his sword, he fight his way forward.
As he pushed through the throngs of soldiers halting only until he faced off with a Confederate that leveled his gun at the Colonel’s chest. Now let me slow this next part down… picture this, hand to hand combat is going on all around you. Swords clanging against one another, Shots being fired at close range and here are just two of the thousands facing off. The rest of the battle slips into silence. The Confederate did not falter and fired his gun hitting the Colonel in the chest. A shot that should have killed him. Not defeated, he swung his sword with a last burst of strength and thrust it through the gut of his opponent but not before a second shot was fired, striking him in his leg.
The two men fell to the ground. Their limp bodies being trampled and tossed about within the melee. The Colonel’s men discovered him and drug him to safety. The young Colonel survived.
He continued to fight in the Civil War until June of 1865. Then on to the American Indian Wars being promoted to Major General in 1898.
He fought in the Philippine- American War and was promoted to Major General 1901.
He was promoted to Lieutenant General in 1906.
More than 50 years in service to his country Lieutenant General Arthur MacArthur retired from military service in 1909.
His son, Arthur MacArthur 3rd rose to rank of Captain in the Navy and was awarded the Navy Cross in WWI
And son Douglas MacArthur, became a five- star General in WWII
If…If the Boy Colonel hadn’t survived his bullet wounds and bone fractures from the Battle of Franklin that cold day in November, just think of what affects it might have had for all the major American Battles thereafter.
And if that isn’t distinguishing enough, here’s one last piece of trivia… Lieutenant General Arthur MacAuthor and his son, Douglas MacArthur are the only father and son pair (other than Teddy Roosevelt Jr. and Teddy Roosevelt III) to rise to the rank of General and win the Medal of Honor.
I hope this satisfies your request for both an American battle and a good old fashioned haunting. Please let me know if you have a topic you’d like to hear more about by reaching out to me on my website at elizabthbourgeret.com/contact.
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