Monday, 21 February 2011

Carnton - a Scotch-Irish plantation

The historic Carnton Plantation is situated in Williamson County, some miles from Nashville, and it was established in 1826 by Randal McGavock (1768-1843), who was mayor of Nashville in 1824-25.

The McGavock family were Ulster-Scots and the estate was named after their ancestral home district near Glenarm in county Antrim.  They had settled in Ulster in the 17th century and like most Ulster-Scots settlers in Antrim they were Presbyterians.  James McGavock (1728-1812) emigrated from Ulster to America in 1754 and he was the father of Randal McGavock.

For several generations the Carnton Plantation was the home of the McGavock family and the African-American families who lived as slaves on the property.  Randal McGavock's son John (1815-1893) inherited the farm upon his father's death.  John McGavock married Carrie Elizabeth Winder (1829-1905) in December 1848 and they had five children.  Three of the children died at young ages but two survived, Winder McGavock (1857-1907) and his sister Hattie (1855-1932).

On 30 November 1864 the Confederate Army of Tennessee attacked a well-entrenched Union force at Franklin, about 20 miles from Nashville, and this was the scene of a bloody and decisive battle.  It lasted less than five hours but it led to 9,500 soldiers being killed, wounded, captured or counted as missing.  Nearly 7,000 of that number were Confederate soldiers.  This was the bloodiest five hours of the Civil War.

As the battle went on the doors of the Carnton mansion were opened to provide shelter for injured and dying Confederate soldiers, who required medical attention.  One soldier wrote that 'the wounded, in hundreds, were brought to [the house] during the battle, and all the night after.  aAd when the noble old house could hold no more, the yard was appropriated until the wounded and dead filled that.'  The house became in fact a field hospital during that battle.

Many of the floors in Carnton became stained as the Confederate blood soaked through the carpets and seeped into the wooden floors.  Many blood stains are still present today and the heaviest stains are in the children's bedroom which was used as an operating room.

Afterwards most of the Confederate dead were buried in shallow graves on the battlefield and so in 1866 the McGavocks designated nearly two acres of land near the family cemetery for the re-interment of almost 1,500 Confederates.  Today, the McGavock Confederate Cemetery is the largest privately owned military cemetry in America and it is a lasting memorial to those soldiers.

The McGavock family owned Carnton until 1911, when Susie Lee McGavock, widow of Winder McGavock, sold it.  The house suffered years of neglect but in 1973 it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and in 1977 it was handed over to the Carnton Association.  Since then it has been restored and maintained as a historic attraction for visitors.