Saturday, April 7, 2018

Carnton Plantation

By Michelle Shocklee

I have a secret obsession. Well, it may not be so secret if you've read my books or follow my blog posts. For those of you still in the dark, I'll make my confession public here for all the world to see.

I'm obsessed with plantations!

I'm fascinated with all aspects of plantation life. From the big house to the slave quarter, I have an insatiable appetite to learn everything I can about that period in time and the people who lived through it. Perhaps it's because I grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico where such things don't exist. Ask me about dashing Spaniards, Pueblo Indians, or adobe homes, and I'm a wealth of information! But plantations and slavery were not on my radar until a few years ago. Hubby and I took an anniversary trip to the southern part of Texas where I learned, much to my amazement, plantations once existed. You might recall my post from last November took us to Liendo Plantation in Hempstead, Texas, a beautiful historic home I used for inspiration as I wrote about life on a Texas plantation in my historical novels The Planter's Daughter and The Widow of Rose Hill.

Today I'm taking you to Tennessee where hubby and I moved last October. To say this state is a plantation-lovers haven is an understatement! Just a few miles from my home is one of the most famous plantations in the Nashville area. Carnton. I'd love to take you on a little virtual tour of this lovely and oh-so-interesting historical house and share some of the fascinating events that happened here.


Carnton was completed in 1826 by southern planter Randal McGavock. It won't surprise anyone to learn slave labor was used to build this lovely Federal-style home. What did surprise me on my first visit to the house was that the beautiful "front" of the house pictured above is now actually the back. Visitors to Carnton arrive on the opposite side of the house, pictured below. Either way, it's a gorgeous, gorgeous building. Some features, like the Greek-revival styled portico and rear gallery, were added later by McGavock's son, John.




It was John and his wife who redecorated the home, adding fashionable wallpapers, elaborate fireplace mantels, and carpets in nearly every room. Visitors to the plantation can see a lovely 200-piece set of china used by the McGavock's as well as other furnishings original to the home. A staircase in the airy foyer leads to bedrooms where I could almost picture Carrie Winder McGavock tucking her children into bed. A portrait of three of their children hangs in one of the rooms. Sadly, all three of the children died fairly young. 
In 1860, John McGavock owned 39 slaves.
Because a census was taken that year, we know that slaves actually outnumbered white residents of Williamson County, Tennessee. It's estimated that nearly 300,000 slaves resided in the state at that time, with slightly under four million across the entire country. That number is staggering to me. Shameful and staggering.

There is a small house on the property where some of the slaves lived. It's stark and drafty and cheerless. It's actually roomier than other slave quarter houses I've seen, but when compared to the grandeur of the main house ... well, we'll just leave it at that. There is no comparison. 

The Civil War arrived on the doorsteps of Carnton in November 1864. General John Bell Hood and his Confederate troops were encamped just outside of Franklin, a small town twenty-five or so miles south of Nashville. Union forces were well fortified two miles to their north, and Bell's men were unable to break through or prevent Union General Schofield's plan to withdraw to Nashville. 

Kurz and Allison - Battle of Franklin, November 30, 1864.jpg
The Battle of Franklin
On November 30, 1864, one of the bloodiest battles of the war was fought, resulting in nearly 10,000 casualties. The carnage was unimaginable. Bodies of dead, dying, and injured soldiers lay strewn over fields and farmland. Many private homes and businesses in town were commandeered as hospitals, and Carnton was one of them. 

As many as 300 Confederate soldiers eventually made their way to Carnton, whether carried and dragged there by fellow soldiers, or arriving in the dozens of wagons used to transport the injured. Every room and every inch of the porches and yard was filled with bleeding and moaning men. By this time the McGavock slaves were gone, having been relocated to a more southern property, but Carrie and her remaining maid helped tend the wounded. In one of the upstairs rooms, a large stain remains on the floor where the blood of dozens of men dripped while a surgeon worked to save their lives, often resorting to the amputation of limbs. 

Stained floor at Carnton



After the battle, men were buried on the battlefield with their graves marked with wooden markers. As these markers began to fade, the citizens of Franklin raised funds to exhume and re-inter the soldiers on land the McGavock's donated. The cemetery is the final resting place for 1,480 men who died in the Battle of Franklin. One definitely feels a sense of reverence and sadness walking through the markers, knowing how horrific and fierce the fighting was. 

Last November, hubby and I attended events to honor the memory of the fallen on both sides. It was very moving to see 10,000 luminaries lit at dusk, the time the battle began. They do this every year on November 30, so if you're in the area, I encourage you to attend. 

Well, folks, that concludes our mini tour of Carnton plantation. Now you know my obsession. What's yours?

Luminaries lit on the battlefield of the Battle of Franklin, with the
town of Franklin in the background.

Michelle Shocklee is the award-winning author of The Planter's Daughter and The Widow of Rose Hill, historical sagas set on a Texas cotton plantation before and after the Civil War. Her historical novella set in the New Mexico Territory is included in The Mail-Order Brides Collection. Michelle and her husband of 30+ years make their home in Tennessee. Connect with her at www.MichelleShocklee.com.





THE WIDOW OF ROSE HILL

Widowed during the war, Natalie Ellis finds herself solely responsible for Rose Hill plantation. When Union troops arrive with a proclamation freeing the slaves, all seems lost. How can she run the plantation without slaves? In order to save her son’s inheritance she strikes a deal with the arrogant, albeit handsome, Colonel Maish. In exchange for use of her family’s property, the army will provide workers to bring in her cotton crop. But as her admiration for the colonel grows, a shocking secret is uncovered. Can she trust him with her heart and her young, fatherless son?

12 comments:

  1. I toured Andrew Jackson's home when hubby and I visited Nashville almost ten years ago. I small size of the mansion surprised me. He'd lived in a two story log cabin for most of his marriage. When he built the mansion he cut off the second story and made two slave cabins. He felt it was not right for any of his slaves to have such a luxury. I'm a visit historic sites kinda girl too. I love learning my own family history. I have pictures of an ancestor who served in the navy during the civil war. He was a recent immigrant. most of my ancestors didn't come to this country until the 1850s or much later. My grandmother was the only one of her siblings born in America. My great-grandparents immigrated from Wales and left three of their adult children behind.

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    1. Jubileewriter, I have plans to visit Andrew Jackson's home soon. There are so many interesting sites in and around Nashville! Like you, I love learning about my own ancestors too! Thanks for leaving a comment! Have a wonderful weekend!

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  2. I love history and historical fiction and this recounting was fascinating. As a child, we visited many sites when we went on vacation to my grandparents in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania. Hubby and I also lived for a short time in Portsmouth, Virginia, so we visited a few places near there such as Jamestown and Williamsburg.

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    1. Paula, hubby grew up in Richmond, and I so enjoyed going to visit there for his high school reunion. So pretty!! Loved Williamsburg and needed a lot more time to see everything! Thanks for posting!

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  3. This blog might be my obsession! I love "traveling" with all you folks and learning about all the bits of history you all share with us readers!

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    1. Thank you, Connie!! I too love the fascinating posts the authors here on HHH post!! We definitely love our readers! :D

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  4. Thank you for sharing your wonderful post..so very interesting! I love visiting historical homes, plantations, and Presidential libraries.

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    1. You're welcome, Melanie! I have yet to visit a Presidential library, but it's on my bucket list!

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  5. I love plantations too! I'm a Southern girl (SC) so I've visited or read about some, and certainly learned about this time period in school. The Civil War has always been my favorite time to read about. No surprise, my favorite movie is Gone With The Wind. I've always imagined living and dressing like that, with modern amenities, of course.

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    1. Linda, no surprise Gone with the Wind is a fav of mine too!! I *think* I would have loved dressing like they did back in the day...but I'm with you on the modern amenities! Ha!

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  6. Thanks for this reminder of a compelling, tragic place. I've been there twice and it's unforgettable. What "the widow of the South" did for the boys after that battle stays with a person. I've loved reading the Widow of the South and Christmas at Carnton (the latter by Christian novelist Tamara Alexander), but the "real story" is always even better, isn't it.

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    1. Stephanie, you are so right! I've read Tammy's book, but couldn't finish Widow of the South for some reason.

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