Tuesday, January 09, 2018

In Franklin, Tennessee, a walk through a Confederate cemetery

Confederate Cemetery at  Franklin, Tenn.  John McGavock's plantation house appears in right background.

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1,496 Confederates are buried in the cemetery on the old
McGavock plantation, according to the historical sign there.
On the morning of Dec. 1, 1864, the bodies of four Confederate generals killed during the Battle of Franklin a day earlier lay on the back porch of Carnton, the impressive plantation house of John McGavock. Blood stained the floors of his home, used as a hospital, and his vast property was a mass graveyard. Nearly 1,500 Confederate dead from the battle were later re-buried in a two-acre plot on McGavock's land, within site of his red-brick house. Those soldiers, many of them unknown, came from Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, Texas and elsewhere in the Confederacy. The bodies of generals Patrick R. Cleburne, Hiram B. Granbury, John Adams, Otho F. Strahl were buried elsewhere. (The generals on the back porch story has been disputed. Read more.)

After the war, a national cemetery for Union dead originally interred in the Franklin, Tenn., area was considered, but local citizens were bitterly opposed. In a report from the quartermaster military division of Tennessee sent to Washington on June 6, 1866, Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs wrote:
"The [military] board [of officers] states that the citizens of Franklin will do everything in their power to defeat the locating of a cemetery there and will not sell land to the government at any price. In case a location is taken forcibly, a guard of twenty (20) men will be necessary to prevent desecration. 
Montgomery Meigs
"The board, therefore, recommend that no national cemetery should be established at Franklin; the cost of removing the five hundred  (500) bodies to Nashville, where there is ample room, or Columbia, where land has been donated being trifling in comparison with the expense of maintaining a guard to protect them at Franklin. 
"Brevet Major General JL Donaldson in forwarding the above report states that Major General Thomas wishes to locate a cemetery at Franklin, as an important battle was fought there; but the people are hostile, and will not sell land for such a purpose. It will therefore be necessary to seize what is needed. But General Thomas does not feel authorized to seize land and therefore directs General Donaldson to submit the question to the Quartermaster General for the requisite authority of the Secretary of War. In case land cannot be had at Franklin, General Donaldson states the dead can be removed to Columbia, where land has been donated to the government. 
"In consideration of the facts that the cemetery at Franklin would require a keeper; that the number of bodies is not great, and that the graves will be liable to desecration from the hostility of the people, I would respectfully recommend that authority be not granted to seize land for a national cemetery at Franklin, Tennessee, but that the bodies of all Union soldiers interred there be removed to the national cemetery at Columbia, Tennessee. This will save the United States an expense of not less than a thousand dollars per year of keeping up a cemetery at Franklin without adding to the annual cost of the Columbia cemetery when once established." (Hat tip: Daniel Crone for pointing out Meigs report.)

On a frigid Saturday afternoon,  I walked among the rows of graves at the McGavock Confederate Cemetery -- the largest privately owned military cemetery in the country -- to shoot these photographs.

A Confederate flag adorns a marker designating 51 South Carolina dead.
An unknown marker near an old gravestone and a tree stump.
The McGavock family donated a two-acre plot for the cemetery.
A close-up of a marker for Confederate unknowns from the Battle of Franklin.
Eighteen soldiers from Louisiana are among the 1,491 Confederates interred at the cemetery.
A more recent marker near an old marker for Confederate unknown.
Sixty-nine Georgia dead are among soldiers from nine Confederate states buried in the cemetery.
A marker for unknown. The privately run cemetery relies on donations.  Click here for more information.

Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.


  1. Thanks! There are more men from Mississippi buried there than any other State. One University of Mississippi alumni is buried there, William W. Witherspoon, Law Class of 1859. He was Colonel of the 36th Mississippi Infantry.

  2. This family is to be honored for taking care of the dead. My thanks to them for doing this great deed.

  3. Anonymous10:42 PM

    My 3rd Great Grandfather is buried there, near the bodies of his brother in law, and 4 or 5 of his cousins. They were all from Mississippi. He fell and was originally buried near the cotton gin.

  4. Two of our best Civil War novels, THE BLACK FLOWER, and THE JUDAS FIELD, by Howard Bahr, are based on the Battle of Franklin. THE BLACK FLOWER is also based partly on the McGavock family, during and after the battle.

  5. These grave sites are so sad. And i don't give a hoot what the modern thinking is in the US today I feel that all the Confederate soldiers deserve every bit as much respect as the Union ones are given . BTW I am not an American but have always had a great interest in the Civil War and have read widely

    1. I am in total agreement with you Eileen. I believe Confederate soldiers deserve just as much respect as any other American Veteran. Also the disrespect seen in the media for Confederate soldiers, their monuments and their flags hardly represents the actual feeling on the ground for the memory of the honored dead of Dixie.
      I also agree that these grave sites are sad, and I have the upmost respect for those who take the time to show respect and love for those buried there -- including you and Mr Banks.

  6. Absolutely wonderful photos sir. Thank you for posting this and for the respect you show the men and boys who fought on both sides in this terrible conflict.