The Myth of the 5 Dead Rebel Generals – February 1998 Civil War Times Feature

The Myth of the 5 Dead Rebel Generals
The Myth of the 5 Dead Rebel Generals

They were killed at Franklin, all right,
but it’s not true that all five were laid out on the same porch.

By Col. Campbell H. Brown

General John B. Hood on November 30, 1864, launched one of his typically ill-considered attacks on the Federal entrenched position at Franklin, Tennessee. Stanley Horn writes: “. . . in the last two hours of the day . . . the combat was waged with a maniacal desperation witnessed on no other field of the war.” The Confederates suffered a staggering loss–four times as great as that of Pickett at Gettysburg. In no other battle were so many general officers put out of action: for the Confederates, twelve, of whom five were killed outright and one mortally wounded.

Historians have claimed that after the battle the bodies of Major General Patrick R. Cleburne and Brigadier Generals John Adams, states Rights Gist, Hiram B. Granbury, and Otto F. Strahl were brought in from the bloody field and laid out side by side on the small porch of “Carnton,” ancestral McGavock home.

John R. Peacock of High Point, North Carolina, by sound reasoning and the use of a hitherto unpublished source, now concludes that this widely accepted story is not altogether correct. It is true that there were five bodies on Mrs. John McGavock’s porch, and three of them were generals: Cleburne, Granbury, and Strahl. The others were Colonel R. B. Young, General Granbury’s chief of staff, and Lieutenant John H. Marsh, aide to General Strahl. The five bodies were removed, probably on 1 or 2 December, to Columbia and a day later were interred in Rose Hill Cemetery.

Major General Lucius J. Polk, former adjutant general of Tennessee, was outraged when he heard that the five heroes had been buried in that portion of the cemetery set aside as a potters’ field for the interment of criminals and indigents. With the aid of Chaplain Charles t. Quintard he had the five officers disinterred and moved to the cemetery of St. John’s Church near his home at Ashwood. Later three were again moved to cemeteries at their homes; but the bodies of Young and Marsh still rest at St. John’s. Brigadier General Arthur H. Manigault, also a casualty of Franklin, was likewise carried to Polk’s home, Hamilton Place, but he survived.

Brigadier General John Adams, a native of Nashville, had married a girl at Pulaski. Consequently when he fell at Franklin the sorrowing members of his brigade took him in a wagon to Pulaski, where he was buried on December 1. As Mr. Peacock points out, there was scarcely time for a stopover on McGavock’s porch en route. Thomas R. Markham, chaplain of Featherston’s brigade, averred, however, that Adams, who was killed at the moment of crossing the Federal barricade, was picked up in an ambulance and taken to the McGavock home.

Wiley Howard, body servant to General Gist, gave an account to a biographer of the Gist family in which he says that he searched the field for the body of the general, who he had been told had fallen. He found Gist, who had died at 8:30 p.m. at the brigade field hospital, which had been set up near the home of Judge White (still standing at 724 Fair Street in Franklin). With the help of the brigade surgeon he secured a cedar box as a coffin, which he loaded into an ambulance. He drove to Mrs. White’s front door and begged permission to bury the general in the White family cemetery. Mrs. White had the body brought into her parlor, and summoned a minister who held a funeral attended by officers and men from Georgia and South Carolina troops of Gist’s brigade. The remains were then buried in the family cemetery. As the army passed back through Franklin after its defeat at Nashville, Wiley or some member of Gist’s staff disinterred the body and shipped it to Columbia, South Carolina, where it was buried under a big cedar tree (which I remember) in the family plot in Trinity Churchyard, near the State House.

Thus, although in war the bodies of the fallen usually receive only temporary field burial and for various reasons become “unknown” dead, in this case the dead generals did receive proper care, and their resting places are known today.

7 Responses

  1. Katie miller

    i am doing a report on the civil war manily about john bell hood if you got any info on him can i have it?

  2. Lowell Hayes

    Hello, I liked the article on the generals, but my question to this whole event, was there ever a picture taken of these bodies on the back porch of Carnton? I have seen a photo somewhere in the past years, that I was convinced it was of some of the generals killed at Franklin. Have you ever seen such a photo?

  3. southron98

    I’ll say this was a myth because according to my Funk and Wagner there were six generals killed at Franklin, what about John Carpenter Carter?

  4. Randy seymour

    Trying to verify that General Gist was found by Wiley Howard at field hospital in Franklin Tn. at current 702 Fair Street. Who is/or was Colonel Campbell H. Brown? How was this information obtained.


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