The Governess of Carnton: A Confederate Love Story

Carnton Plantation Franklin TN

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 and his best-selling novel Widow of the South, Caroline “Carrie” Winder McGavock. However, there was more than one important heroine with a love story even Robert Hicks didn’t know 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.

The Almost Forgotten Story of Lizzie Clouston

Elizabeth Fields Clouston – The Governess of Carnton

Elizabeth Fields Clouston was the governess for the McGavock children who resided at Carnton. Her role was to help with the children’s education and emotional development. The McGavock family 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. Surely having their governess close by to comfort them during the frightening sounds of battle, sights of bloody and dying men, screaming in agony from their wounds, deeply affected young Hattie and Winder McGavock.  

McGavock-Martin House - Winder and Hattie McGavock, Carnton courtesy of Rick Warwick - Lovely Franklin 12
The McGavock children, Winder and Hattie

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. However, all existence of Elizabeth had disappeared over the years, from the records of what happened at Carnton and the McGavock family during the Civil War, until a letter from a relative of Clouston was received by the Battle of Franklin Trust sometime prior to the 150th anniversary of the battle in 2014. Maybe Elizabeth or “Lizzie” as she was known by some, had been wiped from all memory as part of the rest of the events surrounding the city of Franklin that were too tragic to ever bear remembering.  

The American Civil War Comes to Franklin

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 met their deaths. More than 1,750 of the dead were Confederates, and the remaining were 200+ were Federal soldiers. Six Confederate generals were killed or mortally wounded. 

For the 7,000 wounded, 44 homes in Franklin, Tennessee were turned into field hospitals, almost every standing building. Over 300 of these wounded men were sent to Carnton. 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 known 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.

Carnton Confederate Cemetery | Lovely Franklin
The McGavock Confederate Cemetery

Carrie and her husband John donated two acres of their land at Carnton for the proper burials of the soldiers. The McGavock Confederate Cemetery is the burial place of  almost 1,500 Confederate soldiers who fell during the Battle of Franklin, all arranged by state. The McGavock home is within view of the cemetery, creating an exquisite backdrop to the rows upon rows of memorials. Because the mortally wounded during the battle were buried where they fell, the McGavocks and a few others went all over Franklin and moved whatever burials they could find to the plot they’d set aside on their property, but that’s a story for another day. 

Elizabeth Fields CloustonThe McGavock’s Governess

Carnton’s Front Porch

The McGavock’s governess, Elizabeth or “Lizzie’ Clouston, 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 care she could muster. For whatever reason, her service and care to the soldiers at the hospital at Carnton was forgotten.

The truth is, much of the story of the Battle and occupation of Franklin by Federal soldiers has fallen to the wayside until recent years, so Miss Clouston and her very existence becoming one of the mysteries that surround the conflict, is not that surprising. The townspeople of Franklin just wanted to forget what happened, forget the ugliness of death and dying, and the aftermath. The aftermath was so grim, it may have been impossible to survive with a healthy mental capacity, without living in a state of denial. 

Elizabeth Fields Clouston was born in 1833 in Franklin, Tennessee to Edward and Senia Clouston, and Christened at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Her father was from Scotland and he owned a dry goods store where he worked as a druggist in Franklin. Clouston Hall still stands on beautiful 2nd Avenue South, a pristine historic street in the downtown area of Franklin, Tennessee. Read the Lovely Franklin exclusive on Clouston Hall and 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. Whatever the case, proof of Lizzie’s existence, and her being present during the Battle of Franklin and its aftermath, was unearthed many years following the conflict. 

Lizzie and a Wounded Confederate Soldier at Carnton

From Williamson County & the Civil War as Seen Through the Female Experience, 

Inspired by an article in USA Today in October 14, 1993, Roland W. Doty, Jr: sent to Carnton Plantation a touching 1865 letter and the following information:

My great-grandfather was Capt. Roland W. Jones, CSA, who was wounded in the Battle of Franklin and was carried to the McGavock home-turned-hospital. His wife had died in 1863 or 1864. The woman that helped nurse him at the McGavock home was Elizabeth Fields Clouston, with whom he fell in love and married on Dec. 14, 1865. I have been told she was a governess in the McGavock home and that the Clouston family and McGavock family had close ties. After marriage, the two lived at Capt. Jones plantation in Yalobusha County, Mississippi. She died in 1870 and he then married her sister; Emma Wilson Clouston. The sisters were children of Edward G. Clouston and Senia McCabe.

Capt. Jones was transferred to a Federal Hospital No 2. at Nashville on June 18, 1865. I have an original love letter written by him to Elizabeth at that time which included a brief reminiscence of his stay at the McGavock home. Also, I have a tape recording of a talk I had with my aunt, Martha Jeanne Watson, who relates that Elizabeth and a McGavock girl or woman watched the Battle of Franklin from the second story veranda of the McGavock home (lying down for safety). Also, Capt. Jones’s first wife, Susan America Hairston (Jones), wrote her next-to-last letter dated Jan. 26, 1863, to Capt. Jones “Franklin, Tenn., care of Col. John McGavock. ” I have a Feb. 2, 1866, letter from Mannie (nickname) Graham to Elizabeth, who also was her sister. Aunt Mannie lived with her husband on a plantation near Franklin and was thought of dearly by my grandmother (her niece), and by my father: I have a set of tableware that belonged to Aunt Mannie.

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 this above described 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. 

Capt. Roland W. Jones, CSA

A Love Story Emerges from Tragedy

During this time together, Clouston and Jones fell deeply in love, as evidenced by this excerpt of a letter he wrote to Lizzie from the prison hospital, after he was arrested at the McGavock home and taken there:

“Four days have elapsed since we left Franklin and we are still prisoners. It is a short period of time, yet the anxiety and suspense 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 then, 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 ecstatic 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.”

Capt. Ronald Jones and Elizabeth Clouston

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 and dreams 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. Roughly 1,000 men were taken prisoner after the Battle of Franklin.

Former First Lady – Mrs. Sarah Childress Polk Intervenes

Before the Civil War broke out, Jones had been a very wealthy plantation owner in Yalobusha County, Mississippi. 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 that because he had found love with her, he would not be facing a life that had quickly been snuffed out by the brutality of the times in Mississippi all alone. 

Roland Jones plantation in Yalobusha, Mississippi was next to one owned by the widow of President James K. Polk, Sarah Childress Polk. Upon receiving the news that Roland Jones had been arrested and taken as a prisoner, held in Nashville, Mrs. Polk took quick action. The letter penned by Mrs. Polk on behalf of Roland Jones to President Andrew Johnson below.

Letter by Mrs. Sarah Childress Polk, widow of President James K. Polk

The transcription of the letter states (please note that I have transcribed this to the best of my ability): 

To His Excellency, the President of the U.S. 

Dear Sir, 

Be pleased to allow me to beg your consideration to the application of Capt. R.W. Jones of Mississippi for a special pardon and permission to go home. Capt. Jones I know to be an honorable and reliable man, who will perform faithfully whatever is required of him. His aged Mother and family reside near to my plantation in Mississippi, and I know them to be amongst the finest and most respectable people and will be grateful if you will release the unfortunate man, who has been severely wounded, and permit him to go home. 

I am with much respect and consideration for you,

Mrs. Polk

Polk Place

June 12, 1865

After receiving Mrs. Polk’s letter, Captain Ronald Jones was released almost immediately from prison.

The Wedding of Roland and Lizzie

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 beginning of the end of a terrible chapter for Franklin, Tennessee. The Clouston-Jones union also was the first marriage of the four oldest Clouston daughters. Lizzie would go back to Roland’s Yalobusha County, Mississippi plantation to live.

The couple had four children.  Susan America, named for Roland’s first wife, was born in 1867, living only a few months, Maria Louise (1868-1941), Carrie McGavock Jones (1869-1885) and Roland Jr. (1870-1878). 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 Roland Jr. in 1870, Lizzie died. She was only 37 years old. Lizzie’s death was most likely a result of complications from childbirth. Roland and Lizzie were only married for five years and had four children, quite the miracle for a man who came out of the war without full use of an arm and a leg. Regardless, Roland was left alone with a grief-stricken heart and three young children under the age of two, one of which was disabled. 

February 13, 1872 Captain Roland W. Jones and Lizzie Clouston’s younger sister by fourteen years, Emma Wilson Clouston would marry. 

Roland and Emma would go on to have four more children. However, in 1890 both Emma and Roland would pass away, first Emma in January and then Roland six months later.

Senia Clouston and her daughter Elizabeth “Lizzie” Clouston Jones

The above image was recently discovered by Roland and Lizzie Jones descendants. On the right is Lizzie Clouston Jones, with her mother Senia Clouston sitting on her left. 

Letters written by Captain Roland W. Jones can be viewed at Carnton Plantation in Franklin, Tennessee where their love story began. 

Visit Carnton and buy tickets for an excellent tour:  The Battle of Franklin Trust

Tamera Alexander has written a book about Roland & Lizzie called “With this Pledge” and has graciously given permission for use of many of the images included in this article. 

RClutsam Photography, Williamson County Historical Society & The Battle of Franklin Trust also graciously provided photos for this article. 

We highly recommend a tour of Carnton to learn more about the McGavock family and how the Battle of Franklin shaped not only a Tennessee city, but also changed the course of the Civil War. Carnton visitor’s information here.

Sharing the forgotten stories of the women of historic Franklin,

Kimberly Clutsam

About Kimberly Clutsam

About Lovely Franklin

Similar Posts

One Comment

  1. Kimberly I enjoyed every word of this. Thank you so much for writing it! I hope I can find your other articles! Sincerely, Betty Callis.

Comments are closed.