Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Governess of Carnton: A Confederate Love Story

Carnton Plantation in Franklin, Tennessee
She walked through the halls of Carnton Plantation House amongst the cries of wounded and dying soldiers, blood soaked skirts skimming the floors. She sat by the bedsides of men, seeing them slowly fade away, wiping their brow and writing their final letters to their families, sweethearts, children. The woman that comes to mind here may sound like the focus of Robert Hicks best-selling novel Widow of the South, Caroline "Carrie" Winder McGavock. However, there was more than one important heroine with a love story attached at Carnton Plantation when it was made into a field hospital that terrible Indian Summer evening in Franklin, Tennessee when the famed Battle of Franklin ravaged the town.
 Elizabeth Fields Clouston was the governess for the McGavock children who resided at Carnton. The McGavocks, had a total of five children.Only two were still living by the time the war arrived on the front steps of Carnton Plantation. The Mcgavock children, Winder, 7 and Hattie, 9, most certainly could have never realized the carnage which quickly entered their home as it transformed into a field hospital.  It's not completely clear when Elizabeth Clouston would have begun working as the governess to the children, but it's possible it may have been for a few years prior to 1864.
Winder and Hattie Mcgavock
If you know anything at all about The Battle of Franklin, you know it is infamously known as the bloodiest battle of the civil war. In only five short hours, going into the night, 10,000 casualties occurred. Eyewitness accounts claim you couldn't walk across the battlefield without stepping on a soldier, with many piled on top of each other, falling as they were wounded or died. More than 1750 of the dead were confederates, 200 union soldiers. So many were wounded, that 44 homes in Franklin, Tennessee were turned into field hospitals. Over 300 of these wounded men were sent to Carnton Plantation. Before the sun rose the following morning, 150, half of them, had already died. It was a sad and desperate situation, and one the mistress of Carnton, Caroline "Carrie" Winder McGavock handled with grace, empathy and a devotion  that she maintained until she drew her final breath. Carrie is know as the "widow of the south' because of her commitment to not only the soldiers following the battle, but to the maintenance and safe-keeping of their burials until her death. Carrie and her husband John donated two acres of their land at Carnton for the proper burials of the soldiers.
Elizabeth or "Lizzie' Clousten did not achieve fame for her devotion to the soldiers during their dark hours after the battle, although she surely nursed them with all of the steadfast devotion Carrie Mcgavock exhibited. But Lizzie does have a very interesting story. Elizabeth Fields Clouston was born in 1833 in Franklin, Tennessee to Edward and Senia Clouston. Her father had come from Scotland and he owned a dry goods store where he worked as a druggist in Franklin. The Clouston house still exists on beautiful 2nd avenue, a pristine historic street in the downtown area of Franklin, Tennessee.
Clouston Hall in downtown Franklin, Tennessee is now home to an art gallery called Gallery 202.
It was common for a woman of a certain age to be considered an "old maid" if she wasn't married by a certain time in her life. On November 30, 1864, the day of the Battle of Franklin, Lizzie Clouston would have been 31 years old. The mistress of Carnton, Carrie Mcgavock, was only 34. It's possible that Carrie and Lizzie may have been friends as well as employer and employee, since they were so close in age and attended the Franklin Presbyterian Church together. At any rate, evidence of Lizzie being present during the time of the battle of Franklin as experienced at Carnton is very eloquently memorialized in a series of letters penned by a civil war soldier who was taken to Carnton. Captain Roland W. Jones was a member of the 1st Battalion of the Mississippi Sharpshooters, and he was badly injured during the battle. Both arms being broken, and with one leg almost completely shot off, Jones was in bad shape.  Lizzie Clouston nursed Jones back to health, and he was the very last soldier to leave the Mcgavock home. During this time together, Clouston and Jones fell deeply in love, as evidenced by this excerpt of a letter he wrote to her from the hospital in Nashville:
"Four days have elapsed since we left Franklin and we are still prisoners. It is a short period of time, yet the anxiety and suspence of years seems concentrated in it. Those and only those that love deeply and devotedly can fully appreciate the torture of being separated from those that are dearer far to them than life itself, and they, only after they have been tutored by recesses of my heart and see how fully and entirely its every throb and impulse are your own. In the language of the infatuated Hargrove, I think of the Sacred Past of those I love, and every form and face is that of one whose image is engraved indelibly on the tablets of my heart. I am often in imagination transported back to Col. McGavocks and fancy that I am rested in the Hall watching with restless impatience for the appearance of her who is dearer to me than the whole world beside. Such pleasing defusions are short lived however and sober reason whispers that inexorable fate has decreed that prison walls shall for a time separate us.
I console myself with the reflection that this state of things will soon be over, and at no distant day, I will be able to claim you as my own, and in exstatic happiness that will then be mine forget all of my past trials and sufferings.  
My Lizzie shall it not be so – I feel assured that no effort of yours will be wanting to bring so desirable a result."
Captain Roland W. Jones met Lizzie Clouston at Carnton while the home served as a field hospital.

 It's apparent from the loving words in this letter, that Jones was sweeping Clouston off of her feet, after falling head over heels in love. His hopes for the future were obviously being thrown off course by the fact that he was being held prisoner by the Federals in Hospital number 2 in Nashville. Before the civil war broke out, Jones had been a very wealthy plantation owner in Yalobusha County, Missisippi. Having married Elizabeth Hairston in 1852, she had passed away shortly after the birth of their child in 1862. Meeting Clouston was probably a godsend to Jones, knowing he would most likely face going back to a life that had quickly been snuffed out by the brutality of the times.
Lizzie Clouston and Roland Jones were married on December 14, 1865, only two weeks past the one year anniversary of the battle of Franklin. The affair had to be a joyous one for the Clouston family, as it most likely signified the end of a terrible chapter for Franklin, Tennessee. The Clouston-Jones union also was the first marraige of the four oldest Clouston daughters. Lizzie would go back to Roland's Yalobusha County, Mississippi plantation to live, They had two children,  Maria Louise Jones in 1868 and Carrie Mcgavock Jones in 1869. Evidently, their second child, Carrie McGavock Jones, was named for the mistress of Carnton, an indication of  Lizzie's admiration for her former employer. Unfortunately, shortly after the birth of Carrie Mcgavock Jones, Lizzie died. Probably as a result of complications from childbirth.
The letters Roland wrote to Lizzie will be forever immortalized, and because of their preservation, Lizzie will be a young and beautiful civil war heroine forever. Lizzie died at only 37 years old. She left behind two young daughters, an already grieving husband and a devastated family in Franklin, Tennessee.
February 13, 1872 Captain Roland W. Jones and Lizzie Clouston's younger sister by fourteen years, Emma Wilson Clouston would marry. They would go on to have two more children, both girls.
Carnton Plantation as seen from the Confederate Cemetery, the largest private one in the United States

Letters written by Captain Roland W. Jones can be viewed at Carnton Plantation in Franklin, Tennessee where their love story began. They are framed and on display within the mansion and can be seen when touring. 

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