The Carnton Plantation

The Carnton Plantation is a historic Federal style house museum in Franklin, Tennessee, South of Nashville.

In 1815, Randal McGavock started building the Carnton Plantation Mansion on 1420 acres in which 500 acres were used for farming.

By the mid 1820's, a large amount of work started using slave labor. Randal McGavock named the property after his father's birthplace in Ireland.

Randal lived from 1768 to 1843 and was a former Nashville Mayor. He knew President James K. Polk, had many important government friends, and was good friends with President Andrew Jackson. They would often come and visit him at the plantation.

In 1843, Randal died and left the estate to his two sons, James and John. John lived from 1815 to 1893, got the property with the Carnton Mansion on it.

In December of 1848, John McGavock married his cousin Carrie Winder who lived from 1829 to 1905. Her home was the Ducros Plantation House in Thibaudaux, Louisiana. They had five children in the years following of which 3 died young.

In the late 1840's the mansion was renovated from the federal style to the Greek revival style. He added a two-story Greek Revival portico and two dormers in the attic. In the 1850's, a 2 story porch was added in the back of the house.

In the 1860 census showed there were 39 slaves. There would be one family per room and in the building above there were four rooms.

The above building is a smokehouse. Its main purpose was to cure meat for the plantation inhabitants. Pork was the main meat source used during the 19th century in the South.

The meat would be salted and put in hollowed out logs to cure for about six weeks. It was then hung on hooks and a slow smoldering fire was used in the smoking process. This would take a few days and it would give it a rich color and flavor.

The spring house above was used at the Carnton Plantation for keeping milk, butter, fruits, vegetables and other perishables. It was built on a flowing spring that would create a 2 foot pool inside the spring house. The water coming out of the ground is 55 degrees.

In 1860, which was just before the Civil War, the McGavock's net worth was about $339,000. In today's money that would be several million dollars. John McGavock's Carnton Plantation was a working plantation, and among some of the crops were wheat, corn, oats, hay and potatoes.

He also had an interest in raising and breeding thoroughbred horses. In 1862 John sent his slaves to Alabama about the time that the Union Army occupied Nashville. So in 1864 there were no slaves on the plantation.

On November 30, 1864 the Battle of Franklin was about to start. Carnton Plantation was only a mile from the front lines. They were close enough to hear the gunfire and cannon blasts. After the battle started, maybe an hour or so, wounded men of the Confederacy were being brought to the Carnton Plantation and other houses close by. They were now field hospitals for the Confederacy.

Carrie Winder McGavock was suffering from deep depression after the loss of 3 of her young children. When the wounded men came pouring in, she felt compassion for these poor wounded men. Her house was the largest field hospital in the area.

It must have been a horrifying scene for her and her two children as they assisted in the care of the wounded. Her daughter Hattie was nine and son Winder was seven was probably helping with basic chores for the doctors and patients. They probably looked for the strength that their mother gave them.

As the wounded began pouring in, the Carnton Plantation House filled up. They started putting men on the porches, and then in the yard. They kept bringing men in all that night. The yard was filled and overflowing beyond that. When the doctors ran out of bandages, Carrie supplied old linens, and then towels, napkins, sheets, tablecloths, clothes and undergarments.

The temperature reached below zero that night and the wounded had to sleep where they lay. There was 4 Confederate Generals laid out dead on the back porch. The floors were soaked with blood as if someone took buckets full of blood and poured it everywhere.

The surgeons made the upstairs nursery into an operating room and the amputated limbs that were thrown out the window would stack a story high against the house. There were about 150 men that died that first night at Carnton. For months after the battle, the McGavock family cared for those that remain in their home. Carrie changed bandages, tended to fevers, and wrote letters home.

The Battle of Franklin was believed to be the bloodiest five hours of the Civil War. It was larger than Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg, and the majority of the fighting was in the dark and at close quarters. The Confederate losses were in the area of 7,000, and the Union losses were about 2,500.

The Confederate General John Hood ordered the burial details to go through the battlefield and identify the dead. The dead were to be buried by units, regiments and companies. There would not be any mass graves where the identity of the dead couldn't be maintained. Bury them in 3 foot deep shallow graves and use wooden markers to identify them.

Over the next eighteen months, many of the markers were either rotting or used for firewood, and the writing on the markers were deteriorating. To save the identity of the soldiers, John and Carrie McGavock donated 2 acres of land of the Carnton Plantation to be used as a Confederate Cemetery.

The citizens of Franklin raised the money to dig up the graves re-bury them in their cemetery. Around 1,481 soldiers were buried there. Many of the Union soldiers buried on this battlefield were re-interred at the Stones River National Cemetery in Murfreesboro.

George Cuppett, it was thought, took great care to preserve the identity of the soldiers' by recording them in a cemetery record book. This book fell into the hands of Carrie, and is now on display upstairs in Carnton. 780 identities were recorded with 558 officially listed as unknown.

When Winder McGavock died in 1907, his widow, Susie Lee McGavock, sold the Carnton Plantation a few years later. It passed through sever owners until the late 1970's when Dr. W. D. Sugg donated Carnton and 10 acres to the Carnton Association.

It was almost unsalvageable, but they took it and restored it. By the late 1990's, after a lot of work it was restored to its former elegance and glory. This was all done by the private sector without government funding.

The McGavock Confederate Cemetery is the largest privately owned and maintained military cemetery in the United States. The Franklin Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy has maintained the cemetery since 1905.

The Carnton is listed on the National Register of Historical Places and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1973.

Because of Carrie McGavock's nursing of the soldiers during the battle, mourning for those that died, and giving the dead a proper burial, earned her the nickname of "the Widow of the South". Her story was used by author Robert Hicks to publish a fictional novel called "The Widow of the South" in 2005. Below is a YouTube video about the Carnton Plantation.

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