Days after arriving in Chicago, I hopped into a car headed south for Tennessee. Nine girls were split between two cars, excited to spend the weekend celebrating our dear friends upcoming nuptials. My excitement quickly turned to panic when I realized the car I was in was less than reliable. The driver side mirror was fashioned out of a hand mirror and duct tape, the car died when in reverse, and the dashboard electrical was out. As if that wasn’t bad enough, we hit a tire on the expressway before we even made it out of Chicago. A chunk of the bumper fell off. At the gas station, a truck driver reattached it with zip ties. Sketchy.
With the sun low in the morning sky, coffees in hand, and the bumper hanging on for dear life, we hit the road. I swear the entire route from Chicago to Nashville was under construction.
We made it to Nashville in one piece and had an absolute blast! Broadway, the main drag in downtown Nashville, is lined with honky tonks, barbeque joints, and souvenir shops. The street stays filled with drunk tourists into the small hours of the night. It reminded me of 6th Street in Austin, Texas or East Fremont Street in Downtown Las Vegas. The perfect setting for a bachelorette party. After a few days of line dancing, yummy food, and more than a healthy amount of alcohol and group selfies, the festivities came to an end.
I stayed in Tennessee to visit my aunt and uncle who had recently moved down there. They picked me up in downtown Nashville. (I was incredibly thankful I didn’t have to get back into that death trap of a car.) As we drove toward their house outside the city, CrazyTown faded into the distance and The South came into focus.
My aunt pointed out various statues, monuments and landmarks pertaining to the American Civil War. Having only ever lived in or traveled through the North and West, this was my first encounter with tangible evidence of the Civil War. It didn’t take me long to notice how Confederate-centric these Civil War displays were. At first, I assumed I wasn’t seeing the the whole picture through the sporadic car window snapshots. My uncle picked up on my intrigue and asked if I’d be interested in visiting a Civil War museum. I was indeed. A museum, I thought, would surely portray a well rounded view of history.
The Carnton Plantation & Civil War Museum
The McGavock Family & The Battle of Franklin
Carnton is a plantation house and Civil War museum located in Franklin, Tennessee. The museum, the house and the tour tell the noble tale of the McGavock family and the Battle of Franklin. During the Battle of Franklin, one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War, the McGavocks turned their home into a field hospital where they tended to injured and dying Confederate soldiers. Afterwards they constructed a burial site on their property for the nearly 1500 Confederate soldiers who died in the battle. Carnton commemorates the McGavock family and the Confederate soldiers lost and injured during the Battle of Franklin.
The Untold History
The Confederacy’s stance on slavery, the history of enslaved people and those fighting for freedom was glossed over at the museum. Of the 44 people enslaved by the McGavocks, Mariah Reddick was the only person mentioned by name. Her picture and a brief bio were displayed in the museum.
On the tour, slaves were casually mentioned when the guide pointed out the slave house and discussed the construction of the beautiful two story back porch. When asked where the slaves were during the battle, the guide objectively said “slaves were an expensive investment, so the McGavocks sent them down to Alabama where they would be protected.” This prompted someone to conclude “the McGavocks really were good people,” associating the word ‘protection’ with human lives rather than financial assets.
I read the faces of the other people on the tour to see if anyone else was thinking the same thing I was… “Ummmm this family sounds really cool and all but are we going to discuss the fact that they owned other humans? Or that the soldiers they so tirelessly cared for were fighting to preserve slavery?…” If anyone else was, they weren’t showing it.
Who built that beautiful back porch? Who lived in that shabby drafty house out back? How did the McGavock’s treat these people? What happened to the Union soldiers injured and killed at the Battle of Franklin?
Fighting for the the Preservation of Slavery
Standing in the cemetery, looking at the headstones of young Confederate soldiers, I wondered what had been going through their minds as they prepared to fight on that fateful day. I thought about their mothers and fathers and the several generations of descendants many of them must have now- The very people responsible for the preservation of this historic landmark. It’s impossible to know each man’s individual motive for defending the Confederacy. But the truth is, the Confederacy as a whole was fighting to preserve slavery.
Many American History textbooks emphasize other causes of the war with slavery being a minor factor. When we look directly at several original documents, it’s impossible to deny the Confederacy’s dedication to slavery.
Mississippi Declaration of Succession- 1
“Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery.”
Confederate Constitution, Article I, Section 9, Clause 4– 2
“No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.”
Corner Stone Speech, Alexander H. Stephens (Vice President of The Confederacy)- 3
“…The prevailing ideas entertained by him [Jefferson] and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically…
Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error… Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.”
“With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the negro. Subordination is his place.”
For the Confederacy to be glorified and slavery to appear as an insignificant infraction came as a shock to me. Although I admit it shouldn’t have with the state of our current political climate. Whether this is in an effort to clean up our country’s past or grave denial, distorting the past has stripped many Americans of their family history and our nation of the truth.
Slavery and The Enslaved- Franklin, Tennessee
Dissatisfied, I conducted research to find information about slavery as it pertained to the people formerly enslaved by the McGavocks.
Slavery and The Enslaved Tour
As of September 2017, on select days, the Carnton Plantation and Carter House offer a specialty tour entitled “Slavery and the Enslaved.” Disappointed I missed it and with limited information available online, I emailed the Battle of Franklin Trust for details. I received a response from the genealogist running the tour:
“Unfortunately I know of no books or reading material available about slavery as it pertains to Carnton, nor on the McGavock slaves. I have an incredible amount of information and research, but it is in binders and saved on my hard drive….and in my brain! I wish there was something I could recommend to you, but nothing exists…
One of the reasons we started our slavery and extended tours was to give a voice to stories that had long been set aside…
In 1860 there were 22,000 people living in Williamson County and 12,367 were slaves. There were more slaves than whites. It sounds so harsh for our modern minds, but slavery doesn’t make the house unique. If that makes any sense? AT the same time. Those men on Nov 30 wounded and killed in the fields around Carnton were only fighting for one reason. Slavery. I am so grateful we have a place now to discuss slavery.
If you send your address, I will make sure to send you the next battlefield magazine. There is going to be a great article about Calfernia Carter, a Carter slave. Calfernia had such a life. Its amazing how people and their journeys 150 years ago can affect us so much today. If you have any other questions or are ever planning another trip this way shoot me a message. I’d love to have you on a slavery tour.”
According to the Battle of Franklin Trust’s website, a tour of the home of former slave Harvey McLemore is offered a few miles from the Carnton Plantation.
“In 1880, Harvey McLemore bought a piece of property from his former owner in a neighborhood called “Hard Bargain.” Harvey’s house still stands at 446 11th Avenue North and was occupied by his descendants for 117 years before it was acquired by the African-American Heritage Society and the Heritage Society of Franklin and Williamson County in 1997. It is the oldest remaining African-American owned home in Franklin.” 4
More About Mariah Reddick
In 2016 Robert Hicks, author of Widow of the South, a fictional novel based on the life of Carrie McGavock, published Orphan Mother, a fictional novel based on the life of Mariah Reddick.
Mariah Reddick was given to Carrie McGavock as a wedding present in 1848. During the war, she was sent down to Alabama, without her husband and eight children. There she worked for Jefferson Davis’ (President of the Confederacy) family. Her husband, Harvey Otey, died in her absence. After the war Mariah returned to Franklin and worked for Carrie McGavock for several years. As a free woman she married Bolen Reddick and they had one son together, John Watt Reddick. 5
“This story is one of countless others that for far too long have not been told. When we talk about the history of the Civil War and people related to it, it often is a very white-centric story and has been for a long time… These stories need to be told. This is the fabric of the Great American Story.”
-Eric Jacobson, CEO of the Battle of Franklin Trust 6
The newly added specialty tour on Slavery and the Enslaved, the McLemore House tour and documentation of Mariah Reddick’s legacy were promising discoveries. But I sought out information with intent and still came up short. I do not know who was enslaved by the McGavocks, what their daily lives looked like or how the McGavocks treated these people.
Bound for Tennessee with cowgirl boots in my bag and country music on the radio, I was not anticipating this wake up call. Accounts and artifacts from all angles of the Civil War need to be exposed, preserved, exhibited, studied and educationally interpreted. Under-representing enslaved people and those who fought for freedom in the shadows of Confederate heroism whitewashes our history. It implies Confederate righteousness and gives us the freedom to assume slavery was a minor issue. With limited resources available to the public and segregated tours, people unwilling to acknowledge the impact of slavery can continue to ignore it. Before we can move on as a united nation we have to learn about our past, accept the horror along with the glory, and heal from centuries of oppression, racism, and distortion.