The McGavock Confederate Cemetery[1] is the largest privately held Confederate cemetery in the United States. It is located in Franklin, Tennessee. The nearly 1,500 Confederate soldiers buried there were casualties during the Battle of Franklin that took place November 30, 1864. 780 of the soldiers' identities are known today, leaving 558 as unknown.

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McGavock Cemetery with Carnton in background

Background to the cemetery[edit | edit source]

The Battle of Franklin (November 30, 1864) brought a huge problem to the little town of Franklin, with its population in 1860 of just over 900 residents. Almost 2,500 soldiers, North and South, were lying dead in the fields of farmers such as Fountain Branch Carter and James McNutt. When Franklin residents awoke on the morning of December 1, the sleepy Southern town's first concern was what to do with the bodies of nearly 1,750 Confederate boys who had been killed.

The McGavock home becomes a hospital[edit | edit source]

Colonel John and Carrie McGavock's plantation home, Carnton, was situated less than one mile (1.6 km) from the center of the action that took place on the Union Eastern flank at Franklin. Due to geographical proximity, hundreds of Confederate soldiers were taken there for treatment after the battle at Carnton. As many as 300 soldiers found care inside the home and possibly hundreds spread out on the plantation grounds.[citation needed]

Carrie Winder McGavock spearheaded the Good Samaritan efforts of November 1864. She supervised the logistics and donated food, clothing and supplies to care for the wounded and dying. Carrie's two surviving children, Hattie (age nine) and Winder (age seven) served as medical aides throughout the evening as well. When McGavock arose to make breakfast in the morning, witnesses say her dress was soaked at the bottom with bloodstains.[citation needed] At least 150 Confederate soldiers died the first night at Carnton.

Initial burial of the soldiers – December 1864[edit | edit source]

Most of the Confederate (and Union dead) were buried "near and along the length of the Federal breastworks, which spanned the Southern edge of what was then Franklin," according to Jacobson; The McGavock Confederate Cemetery, p. 21. Union dead were placed by twos in shallow graves in long rows by their comrades without marking the identities. Many of the Union dead were later removed either by family or loved ones or by the military and relocated in graves at home or buried at the Stones River National Cemetery in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. The Union soldiers interred at Stone's River were placed there by the 11th United States Colored Troops, according to Jacobson: McGavock, p. 22.

However, the identities of the Confederate dead at Franklin, some 1,750, were mostly identified by burial teams the next day (December 1). They were not buried in mass graves. Rather, soldier burial teams took great care to collect and identify their fallen comrades placing makeshift wooden markers at the head of the graves, identifying the men by name, rank, regiment and the company they served in.

Most of the Confederate dead found initial rest on the property of Fountain Branch Carter and James McNutt. Carter had the largest section of land with interments. He also lost his own son, Todd Carter, in the Battle of Franklin. The Carter-McNutt land would be but a temporary rest until the bodies were transferred to their permanent home some eighteen months later, in June 1866.

Deterioration of the graves – 1865 through April 1866[edit | edit source]

By the spring of 1866, the condition of the graves and markers of the fallen Franklin Confederates were in bad condition. Many of the wooden markers were beginning to be hard to read, and some had been used as firewood unfortunately. The identities, names and stories of these brave men were in danger.

The McGavocks of Carnton donated 2 acres (8,100 m2) of their property to be used as a permanent resting place for the soldiers. Citizens of Franklin began raising funds to exhume and re-bury nearly 1,500 Confederate soldiers, from where they lay on the field to the quiet field just northwest of the Carnton house. Enough money was raised to get started and a citizen named George Cuppett was placed in charge of the re-burial operation. He was paid $5.00 for each soldier. The work was "done in order to have removed from fields exposed to the plow-share, the remains of all those who were buried," according to Col. John McGavock (quoted in Jacobson: McGavock, p. 24-25).

Cuppett was assisted by his brother Marcellus and two others. The entire operation took ten weeks and was completed in June 1866. Sadly, Marcellus, just 25 years old, fell ill during the process and died. He is buried at the head of the Texas section in the cemetery today. George Cuppett wrote, "My hole (sic) heart is with the brave & noble Confederate dead who fell whilst battling for their writes (sic) and Libertys (sic)." (Jacobson: McGavock, p. 25)

Soldiers from every Southern state in the Confederacy, except Virginia, are represented in the cemetery. Wooden headboards with the soldier's personal identification were installed, as well as footboards in 1867.

Carrie McGavock's labor of love[edit | edit source]

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Headstone of John Russell, 6th Arkansas, killed at Franklin

George Cuppett wrote the names and information related to the identity of each soldier in the McGavock cemetery book (Jacobson: McGavock, pp. 39–44). After he finished the re-burials in mid 1866, he turned over the care of the book, and the dead, to the McGavocks. In 1896, the John McEweb Bivouac veterans organization replaced the old wooden headboards with granite markers. The ongoing responsibility of maintaining the cemetery fell onto the able and compassionate hands of Carrie McGavock, a labor of love she shouldered until her death in 1905. The original book is on display upstairs in Carnton.

Time has not been favorable to the identities of the soldiers, though. Today 780 Confederate soldiers’ identities are positively identified, leaving some 558 as officially listed as unknown. The Franklin Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy has maintained the cemetery since 1905.

The cemetery today[edit | edit source]

The present-day cemetery is located off Lewisburg Pike just a few minutes from downtown Franklin. The graves take up a 2-acre (8,100 m2) section of the Carnton plantation property. There are thirteen sections, organized by states, to the cemetery layout. The two sections are separated by a 14-foot (4.3 m) pathway.

On the left side, upon entering are the following sections (with the number of dead buried in parentheses): left front row one will find North Carolina (2), Kentucky (5) and Florida (4). Next section, Unknown (225). Next section, Louisiana (19). Next section, South Carolina (51). Next section, Georgia (69). Next section, Alabama (129). Next section, Tennessee (230).

On the right side, upon entering are the following sections (with the number of dead buried in parentheses): Mississippi (424), the State with the largest number of men who died at Franklin. Next section, Arkansas (104). Next section, Missouri (130). Next section, Texas (89).


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