Sandra Scott Travels: Remembering The Forgotten Battle Of The Civil War

personal cemetery
A personal cemetery

Last week I asked, “Where is Carnton Plantation, the setting for “Widow of the South?”

It is in Franklin, Tennessee.

Carrie McGavock
Carrie McGavock

I am in the process of triaging my library.

Some books I am keeping because I may want to reread them.

One book that is a keeper is Robert Hicks’ best-selling Civil War novel, “The Widow of the South,” based on Carrie McGavock and the Battle of Franklin.

Carrie McGavock, morose over the death of three of her young children, rises to the occasion when her plantation home becomes a military hospital.

She personally attends to the soldiers.

Like many Confederate soldiers they were buried where they fell on the battlefield.

In this case it was a farmer’s field.

personal cemetery
A personal cemetery

After the war the farmer planned to plow the field so he could replant.

Horrified by the thought, she, with the help of her slave, reburied nearly 1,500 fallen soldiers in her personal cemetery.

Skimming through the book I recalled walking from one beautifully restored room of Carnton to the next.

I tried to visualize the time when the all the rooms and the long porches were packed with the wounded and dying soldiers.

Gone are the piles of dead bodies and amputated body parts that were tossed out the window of the upstairs room that served as a surgery.

Amputated body parts were tossed out the window
Amputated body parts were tossed out the window

Walking through the cemetery and reading the names – Carrie duly recorded the name of each soldier and wrote personal letters to their families – is profound.

Truly, it is, as the guide says, “Hollowed Ground.”

Carton is an historic site open for tours.

National Geographic calls the Battle of Franklin on November 30, 1864, the “most unjustly forgotten” of all the Civil War’s major engagements.

It was the bloodiest five hours of the Civil War.

Deaths exceeded those of Picket’s Charge and in Normandy on D-Day.

Carton historic site
Carton historic site

The Battle of Franklin doesn’t get much attention in textbooks.


Gettysburg was closer to New York City and the Tennessee frontier seemed far removed to the people on the East Coast and, unlike Gettysburg, there was no photographer like Matthew Brady or journalist at the Battle of Franklin to record the battle.

When at Carnton, we were fortunate to meet the author, Robert Hicks.

Instead of writing a purely non-fiction book, he explained that Shelby Foote, a noted Civil War historian, advised him to write an historical novel because it is “the storytellers who keep history alive.”

Robert Hicks
Robert Hicks

This story could easily have faded into the past had it not been for Hicks’ book.

Not far from Carnton is the Carter House, which served as the Federal Command Post during the battle.

Carter House has the distinction of being the most battle-damaged building in the United States with more than 1,000 bullet holes still visible.

The family hid in the cellar during the battle.

Carter House
Carter House bullet holes

Their son, Tod, had joined the Confederate Army three years before and was part of the army that advanced on his hometown.

Mortally wounded on the edge of the property while attempting to see his family, he was carried to the house where he died two days later.

For every soldier there is a personal story.

Today the center of Franklin is a National Historic District.

On a walking tour our guide shared fascinating local stories that included one about a charming Southern belle who enchanted Union officers while smuggling contraband under her hoopskirts to the Confederate Army.

Family portrait
Family portrait

The guide explained that, “A really good petticoat spy could conceal as much as 35 pounds of food, medicine and information on her person.”

Travel Trivia Tease™: Where is the Cumberland Gap?

Look for the answer next week.

Sandra and her husband, John, have been exploring the world for decades, always on the lookout for something new and unique to experience. We have sailed down the Nile for a week on a felucca, stayed with the Pesch Indians in La Mosquitia, visited schools in a variety of countries, and — to add balance to our life — stayed at some of the most luxurious hotels in the world. Let the fun continue!


  1. As a former resident of Syracuse and Ithaca, New York with a personal connection to the subject, I particularly enjoyed Sandra Scott’s article on Carnton and the Battle of Franklin. The enslaved African alluded to was my great grandmother Mariah Otey. Mariah at ten years old was given as a wedding present to Carrie Winder McGavock in 1848.

    To keep her away from Union troops, in 1862 the McGavocks sent her to Montgomery, the then-Capital of the Confederacy. Mariah worked in the household of Jefferson Davis, President of the CSA. Family lore is that Mariah was a spy for the Union.

    Our friend Robert Hicks beautifully told the story of Carrie and featured Mariah as one of three main characters. Now my wife and I have written a novel inspired by the life of Mariah. Clandestine: The Times and Secret Life of Mariah Otey Reddick will be published next year. It will tell the “other side” of the story.

    Damani Keene

  2. Thank you Damaan Keene for your response. I have written about Carrie McGavock several times. She and Mariah Otey are an inspiration for all. I look forward to reading your book. You are fortunate to have such an illustrious ancestor- and, to know about her.

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