McGavock Confederate Cemetery

  • McGavock Cemetery

    McGavock Cemetery

    More than 1,400 Southern soldiers are buried in the McGavock Confederate Cemetery near the Carnton mansion.

  • Strolling the cemetery

    Strolling the cemetery

    Visitors to the Carnton Plantation often stroll through the tombstones.

  • McGavock Cemetery in 1866

    McGavock Cemetery in 1866

    Neat rows mark the graves of Confederate soldiers killed in the Battle of Franklin.

  • Remembered annually

    Remembered annually

    Memorial services are held each June, under the auspices of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

Soldiers Gathered from Battlefield Graves

After the Battle of Franklin, dead Confederates were generally buried in groups and individually on the battlefield. Many of the graves were marked with boards on which were carved or written the soldiers’ names, and sometimes their units. Some were buried in nearby homes’ private cemeteries, gardens and yards. A few were taken to their homes for reburial. But most were left in their battlefield graves. 

The temporary grave markers steadily deteriorated in the rain, snow and heat of the changing seasons, and they began to disappear. It was clear the names would be lost and the graves eventually forgotten. In 1866, John McGavock and others in the Franklin area organized a campaign to raise money for transferring the Confederate dead to a new cemetery. McGavock provided two acres adjacent to his family cemetery, behind Carnton, and men were hired to dig up and relocate the Confederates’ remains. Work began in April 1866, and Caroline “Carrie” McGavock kept a record book of the reburials. She included any information still legible on the original grave markers or information recovered with the remains.

Soldiers who could be identified by their home states were buried together. In a separate area were buried 225 unidentified soldiers whose home states could not be determined. The relocation project ended in June 1866. The remains of 1,487 Confederate soldiers were in the new cemetery, and whitewashed headboards marked their graves. 

Later, an iron fence was built around the graveyard. It was the idea of Mary H. Gay of Macon, Georgia. Shortly after the war, Mary traveled to Franklin to visit the grave of her beloved half brother, Lt. Tom Stokes of the 10th Texas. As she looked at the neat rows of wooden grave markers, she realized the little memorials to Southern soldiers who died at Franklin needed protection, and she launched a determined fund-raising drive. Most of the money came from Texas.

Who else is buried in the cemetery?

Though the cemetery was created for Confederates killed or mortally wounded at Franklin, other soldiers are buried there, too.

About 24 soldiers who were mortally wounded at the Battle of Nashville in December 1864 are in the cemetery, plus some who were killed in a skirmish in Franklin in 1863.

The only general in the cemetery is Johnson K. Duncan, who died of fever in Knoxville in 1862. His widow, for unknown reasons, asked the McGavocks for permission to have his remains transferred to the cemetery at Carnton. Battle of Franklin researcher Tim Burgess says the reburial was before 1870. 

Burgess also found in his research that about a dozen Confederate veterans were buried in the cemetery after the war, and some markers in the cemetery are for men whose remains were removed and buried elsewhere, including the colonel of the 1st Georgia and Colonel Jones of the 24th South Carolina, who was taken home for reburial.

In 1890 the soldiers’ whitewashed wooden markers were replaced by stone markers.

Over the years after the relocation project veterans wrote to the McGavocks and offered information that helped identify some of the remains.

Carrie McGavock’s record book was kept in the family until 1989, when her great-great-granddaughters presented it to Carnton. (Carrie was the inspiration for Widow of the South, the best-selling novel by Robert Hicks.)

Extensive work was done on the cemetery in 1996 and 1997. Changes included restoration and repair of headstones and the iron rail fence.

Memorial services are held at the cemetery every June, under the auspices of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Franklin Chapter 14, which owns the cemetery.

Adjacent to the Confederate graveyard is the McGavock family cemetery. Randal and Sarah McGavock, John and Carrie McGavock, three of their children and about a score of McGavock relatives are buried there. Two sharecropper’s children also are buried there, and it is thought McGavock slaves are buried under the sandstone markers in the west end of the cemetery. 

Buried almost adjacent to the McGavock family section is Marcellus Cuppet, 25, who died in 1866 while working on the reburial project. He is sometimes erroneously identified as a former slave.

Sources:

“A Visitor Guide to Historic Williamson County, Tennessee,” (published by the
Williamson County Tourism Committee.)
“Archaeological Investigations at Carnton Plantation (40WM32) of Williamson County,
Tennessee,” prepared by Dan Sumner Allen IV, Middle Tennessee State University, Mid-
Cumberland Archaeological Society.
Carnton “Fact Sheet” (three pages), undated
Carnton fact sheets, undated and untitled, sent to me in April 1997 by Lauren Batte of Carnton
Carnton newsletter, “Columns,” Summer 1996
Carnton newsletter, “Columns,” Summer 1998
Carnton press release, dated October 20, 1995
Hattie’s Carnton. Plantation Life in the generation of the Civil War, by Helen Hemphill.1998.
Historic Carnton Plantation, 1998
Historic Carnton Plantation, Franklin, Tennessee, undated brochure
McGavock Confederate Cemetery, Franklin, Tennessee, published by Franklin Chapter
#14, United Daughters of the Confederacy. 1989.
Self-Guided Walking Tour of the grounds, cemeteries, and outbuildings, published by
Tennessee Antebellum Trail Guidebook, by David R. Logsdon; 1995
Tim Burgess interview, April 16, 1997