Carnton was built in 1826 by Randal McGavock (1768-1843) the former mayor of Nashville. The plantation became one of the premier farms in Williamson County, Tennessee. 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 had five children.
On November 30, 1864, Carnton was the scene of one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. The Confederate Army of Tennessee under General John Bell Hood attacked the Union army under John M. Schofield. The Federal army was entrenched along the southern edge of Franklin. The resulting battle featured a massive frontal assault larger than Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg. The majority of the combat occurred in the dark and at close quarters. The Battle of Franklin lasted barely five hours and resulted in around 9,500 casualties of which 7,000 were Confederate troops. During the battle Carnton served as the largest field hospital in the area for hundreds of wounded and dying Confederate soldiers
A staff officer later wrote that "the wounded, in hundreds, were brought to [the house] during the battle, and all the night after. And when the noble old house could hold no more, the yard was appropriated until the wounded and dead filled that...."
On the morning of December 1, 1864 the bodies of four Confederate generals killed during the fighting, Patrick R. Cleburne, Hiram B. Granbury, John Adams, and Otho F. Strahl, lay on Carnton’s back porch. The floors of the restored home are still stained with the blood of the men who were treated here.
In early 1866, John and Carrie McGavock designated two acres of land adjacent to their family cemetery as a final burial place for nearly 1,500 Confederate soldiers killed during the Battle of Franklin. The McGavocks maintained the cemetery until their respective deaths.
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