1826 ~ 1863
Randal William McGavock was born on August 10, 1826, in Nashville. He was a fourth generation Irish-American and had a very rich heritage.
The McGavocks moved from Scotland to Ireland in the 1600's. James and Randal McGavock lived with their mother and were farmers in Ireland. James was born in Carntown, Ireland in 1728. Sometime after 1750, James sold out to his brother and came to America. He worked at a number of different jobs. James saw what a vast wilderness existed in America when he was on expeditions against the French and Indians. In 1760, James married Mary Cloyd of Rockbridge County, Virginia and they had ten children who all lived to maturity. In 1761, our Randal's grandfather Hugh McGavock was born. James and his family traveled down the Wilderness Road and moved in 1772, to Ft Chiswell, which was a wilderness outpost. He was later granted a license to operate an "ordinary," in which he agreed to provide "good wholesome and clean lodging and diet for travelers and stablage and provender or pasturage, as the season shall require, for horses...". He also agreed, under this same license that he would not "suffer or permit any unlawful gambling in his house, nor on the Sabbath Day suffer any person to tipple or drink any more than is necessary."
James was active in local public affairs, serving as a Justice of the Peace. He established the first court and jail in Montgomery County, Virginia. During the revolution, James was a militia captain and served as commissary and recruiting officer. He was responsible for protecting vital lead mines in the area and directing volunteers against local Tories. These lead mines produced 8000 pounds of lead per day. James son, Hugh served as quartermaster of the Western Battalion. After the war, James helped found the local Episcopal Church and a school.
Hugh returned to Ft. Chiswell after the war and settled on his father's Upper Max Meadow tract near the present village of Max Meadows, where he brought his wife Nancy Kent. To them were born twelve children in the log house that Hugh built west of Ft. Chiswell. Hugh was a Deputy Sheriff of Montgomery Co., and a Revenue Collector for Wythe Co., Virginia. He was appointed by President James Madison to the Office of Principal Assessor and Collector for the 1st District of Virginia. As the oldest son, he was James' right hand and was taught manual labor of farming and how to trade land and Merchandise.
After the war, second and fourth sons, David and Randal, were sent to the settlement at Nashborough where they could find plenty of work and a lot of land they could speak for and defend in the name of James. David was a surveyor. He went to Nashville in 1786. He acquired in his own name and his fathers 2,240 acres in Davidson and Williamson Co. for the family. Randal came to Nashville in 1796. He married Sarah Dougherty Rodgers, sister of Mrs. Felix Grundy. Their daughter married William G. Harding, builder of Belle Meade. Randal built a plantation south of Franklin and named it Carnton after his ancestral home in Carntown, Ireland. Randal was Mayor of Nashville in 1824-25. After an adventurous and active 84 years, James died in 1812.
Hugh's third son, Jacob, was born in 1790 in Max Meadows, Va. Jacob moved to Tennessee in 1807 to work as scribe for uncles David and Randal. He served in the Creek War with Andrew Jackson. He was wounded at Enotochopco on January 24, 1814. In 1816, Jacob was appointed Clerk of Circuit Court of Davidson County. In 1819, he married Louisa Caroline Grundy, daughter of Felix Grundy. Felix Grundy(1777-1840) had been elected to the state legislature and appointed Judge in Kentucky before moving to Tennessee in 1808, where he was elected to Congress in 1811 and 1813. Grundy's wife, Ann Rodgers, started the first Sunday School in Nashville in 1820.
The Grundys lived at "Grundy Hill," near the Capitol, which was sold in 1849 to James K. Polk and later known as "Polk Place." Jacob and Louisa McGavock lived three blocks away at 16 Cherry Street(4th Ave.). Their first child, Ann, was born in 1820. Their next three children did not live long: Margaret Jane 18 months, Felix Hugh, born in 1823, 14 months, and Hugh Felix, born in 1824, 9 months.
Our Randal arrived amid the blazing heat of summer, kicking and screaming, displaying stout limbs and healthy lungs and displaying carrot-colored down on his head. His red hair was the pride of both families which boasted of red-haired men with ruddy Scotch-Irish complexions. At a young age, Randal met the likes of President Andrew Jackson and Governor James K. Polk. While growing up, there were many parties and social events in their home. His earliest schooling was reading and ciphering taught by his mother. He began to read the Bible at the age of 7 or 8. He started reading Shakespeare before he went to school two years later, at 10 or 11 years. He attended the private academy run by a Professor Moses Stevens under the name of The Classical and Mathematical Seminary. His studies included Greek, Latin, Geography and Mathematics.
In the fall of 1843, he enrolled in a three year course at the University of Nashville. He attended with his cousins John Harding McGavock and David H. McGavock. At this time, he was six feet tall and still growing. By the time he graduated in October of 1846, his older sister Ann, had married and there were six younger brothers and sisters at home.
At this time, Jacob McGavock was the Clerk of the Circuit and District Courts of the U.S. for the Middle District of Tennessee. There are no existing diaries for the time between October 1846 and when he entered Harvard in September of 1847, but it is likely the Randal spent time in his father's office reading law books and learning about legal matters. Randal's grandfather, Felix Grundy had died in 1840 and Jacob had the responsibility of going to Grundy's Pecan Point plantation in Arkansas to help with the accounts and supervise the planting of cotton. Randal went with him and it was here that Randal learned the value of land, the buying of seed, breeding of stock and how to plan a harvest. He also learned the disappointment of poor crops and the unpredictability of crops.
It was during this time that Randal took a steamboat trip to New Orleans. New Orleans was the queen city of the South and there was much there to entertain the young Randal, such as the Opera and Mardi Gras. He also engaged a tailor and came home with the clothes he would need for going off to Harvard.
On September 1, 1847, he registered in Harvard Law School. At this time, Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson were prominent and very influential in Massachusetts. Emerson was very critical of the South's agrarian society. He disliked the Southerner and believed them to be spoiled, good for nothing and dumb. He felt that if you give a southerner an inch, he will take a mile. Instructors at Harvard included the likes of Edward Everett, Henry Longfellow and O.W. Holmes. While at Harvard, Randal was active in school activities such as the debating club(Kent Club) and Moot Court. From his diaries, we see that he read his Bible daily, enjoyed an occasional "segar" observed "tea time" on a regular basis and drank occasionally. He regularly wrote letters to family and friends. When he started at Harvard, the U.S. was at war with Mexico. This was a controversial topic of the day. He attended meetings where the secession of Massachusetts was debated. These where social times. Randal made regular trips into Boston, usually by walking, to make visits to friends and acquaintances. He frequented the theater there. In the fall of 1847 he courted Miss Lemira Ewing, a Tennessean living in New Haven with her mother and brother. This affair was broken off in early January of 1848. Also in January of 1848, he traveled to Washington City, where he took in all the sights of interest. On one occasion, he went to the White House and met with President Polk and on another, he dined with the Polks at the White House. During school he regularly went to plays, operas, political meetings and even went to hear some of the fire breathing abolitionists of the day speak. In August of 1848, he traveled to New York, Niagara Falls, Quebec and Montreal.
After eighteen months in Cambridge, Randal completed the requirements for a Harvard law degree on February 21, 1849. He returned to Nashville and on May 10, 1849, was granted a license "to practice as an attorney, solicitor and Councilor in the several courts of Law and Equity in the state of Tennessee. At this time, of the three icons of the Democratic Party in Tennessee, Andrew Jackson and Felix Grundy were dead and James K. Polk had only five weeks to live. These men had brought the backwoods democracy of Tennessee to prominence in national affairs. Lawyer McGavock had much to live up to in order to follow in their footsteps. He had a license, but no experience and lawyers were plentiful in Nashville at the time. Early on, he had few clients and experienced the usual starvation period of his profession. At the same time, however, his father kept him busy with family business and began to shift responsibility of the McGavock property in Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky to Randal. He might have settled down more earnestly to business in the courts if the affair with Fanny Jane Crutcher had ended in Matrimony instead of disappointment. He bore the scars of this disappointment much longer than his courtship with Lemira Ewing. He also had a curiosity to see the sights of the world. Thus he decided to explore for himself the wonders of the Old World and embarked on a seventeen month tour abroad.
He left Nashville on March 20, 1851, aboard a river boat and went by way of Paducah, Louisville, Cincinnati to Pittsburgh. From there he and his traveling companions went by canal barge to Johnstown and by rail to Philidelphia. He then went to Washington to obtain his passport and then to New York on April 4, where he had booked passage to Liverpool aboard the Waterloo. The Waterloo departed New York on April 12 and arrived in Liverpool on May 8. He toured England for 33 days, Wales 2 days, Ireland 12 days, Scotland 8 days and back to England for 6 days. While in London the second time, George Peabody gave a large ball in honor of the Fourth of July. He left for France on July 8. He spent 35 days in Paris then went to Belgium for 4 days, Holland for 4 days, Germany for 11 days, Switzerland for 20 days and Italy for 76 days. While in Venice, he went to the Duomo (Italian for cathedral) and saw the stone on which John the Baptist was beheaded, the rock from which water gushed when touched by Moses, a piece of the Cross and soil containing the blood of Christ. He next went to Malta for 4 days and then to Egypt for 24 days. His European journals ended here, though he also went to the Holy Land, Russia and Eastern Europe before returning home in September 1852 after spending 18 months abroad. Throughout his trip, he sent articles back home to the Daily Nashville Union that were published under the title A Tennesean Abroad. In October 1854, he published a book by the same name based on these articles.
Upon his return, he resumed his law practice in earnest, though in his diary he states that it is hard to settle down to the dull lifestyle after the excitement of his journey. He was active in the Democratic Party in both local and State affairs. He kept company with a number of eligible ladies on a regular basis. He joined the A.O.M.C., a fraternal organization whose members wore black robes and hoods during ceremonies.
Early in 1853, he met Miss Seraphine Deery of Franklin County. On August 23, 1855, Randal married Seraphine Deery to the great surprise of his friends, and only the immediate family was in attendance. He was still making regular visits to a number of young ladies up until the time of his marriage.
McGavock was active in politics, both local and national. He canvassed middle Tennessee campaigning for James Buchanan in the 1856 campaign. He built up quite a following during the campaign. He also cultivated the emerging Irish vote.
Mid 19th century mayoral races began the first Saturday in September and ended with the election the last Saturday of the month. Only adult, white, male citizens could vote. Of 10,000 men in Nashville, 9,000 could vote. McGavock had gotten the Irish vote in the 1856 presidential campaign, so he reasoned that they would be helpful in the mayoral race. He joined the local St. Patrick's Club where he made many valuable aquaintenances. At the St. Patrick's Club, the lads drank whisky and beer, exchanged stories and sang songs. These supporters called themselves the "Sons of Erin" and admired "Randy Mac." The Sons of Erin passed out handbills and canvassed the town whipping up support for McGavock. In a close race of four candidates, McGavock received close to 2000 votes, 1400 of which came from the Irish Neighborhood.
McGavock was a popular mayor and a good organizer. He worked to streamline the Nashville government. Having higher aspirations, he decided not to run for reelection. He was a delegate to the Democratic convention in 1860 and campaigned hard for John Breckenridge. Randal was a strong advocate of "states' rights." He was disappointed with the split Democratic ticket and felt that it was a bad omen of things to come.
With the coming storm, McGavock and Gov. Harris felt that one of the weak areas in Tennessee, was its militia. The Irish, some, who had only recently emigrated would be reluctant to take up arms against their new homeland if war came. McGavock decided to form an Irish company made up of the same men who got him elected mayor. With him as their leader, he rightly felt that they would join and fight. Using his home-made political machine from 1858, and the St. Patrick's Club for recruitment, the lads lined up without hesitation. Seriphine organized the wives into the Ladies Soldiers' Friend Society, a patriotic group that included Sarah Polk, widow of the president. The company was officially designated D Company, Tennessee Home Guards (state militia). The ladies made a flag for the company which became famous as the regimental flag of the Rebel Sons of Erin. Randal was naturally elected Captain of the company. In three weeks he had recruited 124 Irishmen. On May 9 they were officially mustered into the state militia. On May 25, two weeks before secession was passed, Governor Harris sent them to Forts Henry and Donelson to drill and help construct the forts. These two forts were key points of defense of the state. If they fell, Nashville would be defenseless. Command of the forts was given to Adolphus Heiman, prominent Nashville architect from Prussia. At the start of the war, he was made a full colonel of engineers in the Tennessee Home Guard. By the time they got to Dover, the Irish numbered 350. Their clannishness helped swell the ranks. On May 29, at Ft. Donelson, Heiman formed them into an undersized regiment, officially designated as the Tenth Tennessee Infantry Regiment of Volunteers(Irish), Home Guard(state militia). McGavock was elected Lt. Colonel, second in command.
Work commenced on Ft. Donelson. On July 1, they left it unfinished and moved on to Ft. Henry. With Heiman in charge of construction, command of the tenth was left up to McGavock. At this time, work on the forts took priority over drill and discipline was lax as long as the men put in a full days work for a full days pay. There were occasions of drunkenness and brawls, but the work progressed and McGavock felt that "the lads must be lads." On September 1, 1861, with 720 officers and men, the Tenth was officially mustered into regular Confederate service with the "Irish" designation appearing on official Richmond documents. McGavock's company D became company H. The Tenth Tenn. and the Sixth Louisiana were the only two predominately Irish regiments of the 669 regiments in Confederate service.
There were advantages to having a rich Lt. Colonel in command of the regiment. In September, McGavock personally bought fancy new uniforms for the Tenth. The jackets and pants were Confederate Gray with a scarlet line running down the pant legs. The hats were gray with scarlet trim. The shirts and insides of the jackets were also scarlet. The officers got crimson and gold trimming on their jacket sleeves. They worked hard, but there were too few of them. Heiman and McGavock continuously asked for more men and supplies. On October 7, Heiman sent McGavock to Ft. Donelson with three companies to continue work on that fort. They return to Ft. Henry on November 27, when additional forces arrived at Ft. Donelson. In late December, McGavock thought his lads had worked hard and deserved some treats. He purchased some moonshine from across the river in Kentucky and sent a wagon to Dover which came back on the morning of December 23 with hams, turkeys, geese, ducks, can of sardines and crackers plus a variety of coats, shoes, hat and blankets. They had the last merry Christmas that they would have for some time.
From the start, Heiman had reservations about the location of Ft. Henry because of its low elevation. On January 29, 1862, his fears were realized when the skies opened up with a hard rain. The fort was unfinished and taking on water making the whole area a quagmire. Defending the fort, was a columbaid that fired 50 pound balls, a rifled cannon, nine smoothbores, two small batteries of 4 guns and 3 guns, some heavy artillery and a small battalion of Cavalry for a total of 2659 men. The Yankees began moving south in the vicinity of Paducah on February 1 and arrived on the morning of the 4th. McGavock and the 10th were sent north up the east side of the river on reconnaissance at 12:30 p.m. The gunboats moved up river to shell the fort. After an hour of exchanging shots, Grant moved the boats down river and called for his infantry. The 10th reached the banks of Panther Creek at 5:00 p.m. and had a short skirmish. Knocking a Yankee from his horse in the skirmish was the first success against the enemy for the 10th. McGavock then got word the Yankees were landing infantry on both sides of the river in full strength. They then headed back to the fort. Gen. Tilghman arrived with 3 companies of cavalry. On the 6th, two regiments of infantry arrived from Ft. Donelson. A cavalry skirmish was reported at 11:00 northeast of Ft. Henry. McGavock and 8 companies of the 10th were sent to reinforce the cavalry but this was a wild goose chase as the cavalry had left by the time the 10th arrived so they returned to the fort. It was decided that night, that with the rising river nearing the elevation of the fort, that it could not be held and must be evacuated. Col. Heiman would command the march to Ft. Donelson, with the 10th guarding the rear, while Gen. Tilghman would remain behind with 54 man battery of heavy artillery to delay the Yankees. At 11:45 a.m., the Yankee gunboat began shelling the fort. At 1:00 p.m., after much planning and preparation, the infantry and cavalry began the march to Ft. Donelson. Gen. Tilghamn held out for 3 hours before surrendering, but that was long enough for the escape to succeed. Due to the unseasonably warm weather, many soldiers discarded coats, blankets and other weighty items. McGavock had his men pick up and carry all the items they found no matter how hard it made the march. This would later prove to be a brilliant move.
More than 2500 escapees from Ft. Henry arrived late that night tired to the bone. The total strength at Ft. Donelson was now 5600 men. With Gen. Tiglhman captured, Heiman was temporarily in command. Though the 10th sometimes drove him crazy, they were his favorites in the brigade and they were posted in already dug rifle pits and instructed to make their camp in an ideal location near the Dover tavern. They were positioned in the center of the 3 mile Confederate line at the highest point in rifle pits 5 feet deep with a log and earth wall in their front for protection. In addition to this they were on top of a steep hill with a clear valley in their front. To approach this position would be near suicidal. In Heiman's brigade, were right to left, the 10th, the 53 Tenn., the 27 Ala., the 48 Tenn. and the 40 Tenn. Between the 53 and the 27 was Maney's battery of 4 smoothbore cannons and behind them was the 42 Tenn. in reserve.
At 7:00 am. on February 12, The Yankee artillery opened up on the Confederates, with them returning the fire. The shelling continued off and on until 5:00 p.m. with little damage being done. At 12:45 p.m., the Yankees assaulted Heiman's Hill. They made three charges, the third being directly at the 10th. This attack was beaten back with a murderous fire. The Yankees regrouped and were again quickly repulsed with heavy loses. McGavock had to work hard to keep his boys in the rifle pits and not chase the retreating Yankees. They behaved calmly and coolly in their first real fight as a full regiment. At 4:00 the rains returned and at sundown the temperature began a drop that went from 60 degrees down to 10 with a raging blizzard blowing in straight from the north. Now McGavocks order to pick up coats and blankets and the Christmas clothes that he had bought for his boys, looked like a pure stroke of genius. Dawn broke with 2" of snow and ice. The 10th received a surprise attack of snowballs from the 27th Ala. who weren't used to snow and were feeling their oats. The Yankee gunboats came up river to attack the river batteries and thinking that they were being evacuated, advanced too close. The battery opened up with deadly effect, disabling three of the ironclads which floated helplessly down river. The remainder of the boats turned back down river and retreated.
The plan for the 15th was an attack on the Union right to open the road for escape to Nashville. The 10th would be held in reserve and were not engaged at all. The attack was so successful that the army was allowed to keep pushing the Yankees back. By noon, the Yankees got reinforcements to stop the Confederate advance. Late in the afternoon, without explanation, the Confederates were ordered back to their original position. They went to bed expecting the attack to be renewed. McGavock was awakened at 1:00 am. and told to have the 10th ready to move out at 4:00 a.m. which he did. At 4:30, McGavock "smelled a rat." He found both Heiman and Gen. Bushrod Johnson, but neither knew the cause of the delay. Johnson came back from headquarters with the news of the surrender. McGavock tried to find an escape route for his boys as Forrest had done, but it was too late.
The privates and non-commissioned officers were separated from the commissioned officers and sent to Camp Douglas in Chicago. The commissioned officers were sent to Camp Chase. The conditions there were terrible, cramped quarters, three or four men per four foot wide bunk, with little protection from the elements. Three days after arriving at Camp Chase the field and staff officers were sent to Fort Warren, leaving the company officers at Camp Chase. Fort Warren was on an island in Boston Harbor. They arrived there on March 6 and found that conditions were much different. The officers were three or four to a room with its own fireplace and had a bed with a mattress, sheets and blankets. McGavock was quartered with Col. Heiman and Col. John Gregg of the 7th Texas. The prisoners were allowed to have just about anything they wanted as long as they could afford it. Mc Gavock had some cloths made by the same tailor he had used when in school at Harvard. On March 17, he writes in his journal that "he wished he was with his Irish regiment to celebrate the day and cheer the lads." They occasionally had visitors, read local newspapers to keep up on the war and relished letters from home. By late August the officers were exchanged and they headed south. Randal spent a happy week with his wife and in-laws at Tunnel Hill, Ga. then took a train to Jackson Miss. where the 10th was again mustered into regular Confederate Service. The 725 that mustered in for one year at Fort Henry, had dwindled down to 383 mustered in for three years at the reorganization. Even with recruiting, the 10th would never reach it's Fort Henry strength again. Col. John Gregg was now a Brigadier General and the 10th was placed in his brigade.
The 10th was reorganized, outfitted and on the march by mid October. They were sent to Snyder's Bluff and were once again put to work digging rifle pits. They were present but not engaged during the Chickasaw Bluffs Campaign in late December 1862. During this time, the 10th was was further weakened by illness caused by the damp weather that alternated between hot and cold. One of the nine deaths at this time was their much loved Col. Heiman, who they called "Uncle Dolph." He died on November 16. Since Father Bliemel was absent at the time, McGavock conducted the funeral service. They were next sent to Port Hudson, about 75 miles northwest of New Orleans to help prevent the Yankee navy from advancing up the Mississippi River. The weather was much more to their liking and the food much more plentiful and varied. When Admiral Farragut tried to take the fleet up river on March 14, he got through with his lead ship, but the 10th lit fires across the river from most of the shore batteries and the rest of the army. This allowed the batteries on both sides of the river to see the boats and inflicted heavy damage on them before they were able to escape back down river.
By April, the 10th had settled down to routine army life and it seemed that the war was far away. But on May 6, Gen. Gregg's brigade left Port Hudson and arrived in Jackson on May 11 to stop Grants advance on Vicksburg. They then marched 12 miles to the little town of Raymond, southwest of Jackson. Gregg's 2730 troops were about to be hit by Gen. McPherson's 5500 Yankees. Gregg found a small battlefield area that he could control about a mile and a half southwest of Raymond. As the Confederate line was deployed in front of Fourteen Mile Creek, McGavock's 10th Tenn. were on the extreme left of the line.
At 10:00 on May 12, The Yankee artillery opened up on Granbury's position in the right front of the Confederate line. McPherson's attack was tentative because he thought he was up against a much larger force. Gregg defended aggressively because he thought he was up against a smaller force. By keeping several units in reserve, McPherson made it a fairly even battle. Some Yankees crossed the creek to the Confederate right, but the area was heavily wooded and it gave them little advantage. Gregg took advantage of the "blind spot" and redeployed some of his troops to the right. The new line was now west to east: 7th Texas, 3rd Tenn., 50th Tenn., and the 10th Tenn., with the 41st Tenn. in the rear supporting Granbury's Texans. At noon, Gregg charged with the 7th hitting the 20th Ohio and the 3rd hitting the 23 Ind. surprising and driving back the Yankees. Gen. Logan was able to stop the Ohio retreat and led a counter-attack. The Yankees were starting to get the advantage with their superior numbers. So far the left side of the Confederate line had not been engaged. At 1:00 p.m., the 50th and the 10th were ordered forward. Lt. Col. Beamount of the 50th then saw what Gregg had not yet seen. Two Yankee divisions were massing to attack in his front. He withdrew his regiment to the rear. This left a 400 yard gap in the line with the 10th all alone. By 1:30, the Confederate right began to collapse. McGavock's vision was blocked by the woods and had no idea that the 50th was gone. Mcpherson ordered Stevenson's brigade to attack the Confederate left, being now only the 10th, which was a regiment the size of four companies with two smoothbore guns against 21 enemy guns. When Gregg discovered that the 50th had disappeared, he ordered McGavock to stop Stevenson. When McGavock rode to the crest of the ridge, he saw what Beamount had seen. At 2:00 p.m., instead of retreating, he prepared to attack. With his sword in his hand, he turned toward his faithful Irishmen to signal to advance. With a deafening Irish-rebel yell, they surge into the oncoming Yankees. Their advance was temporally stopped by a fearsome artillery bombardment. After making the signal to advance, McGavock turned to face the Yankees. At that moment, a single Yankee minie ball struck him in the heart, knocking him to the ground. The regimental surgeon was immediately at his side, but he died five minutes later without saying a word. Lt. Col. Grace led the men forward into hand to hand combat. After 20 minutes, they were driven back, but after catching their breath and regrouping, the followed the 30th Tenn. out of some woods to ambush the 32 Ohio. By this time, the 10th knew of McGavock's death and filled with rage, fought like savages to avenge their Colonels death. By 4:00 p.m., badly outnumbered, Gregg began an organized retreat to save what was left of his brigade. The 10th had held on and fought valiantly and fearlessly. Raymond was the single best effort by McGavock's "Sons of Erin."
McGavock was buried in the graveyard in Raymond. A few weeks later, his sister Ann and her husband, Judge Henry Dickenson, traveled to Raymond and made arrangements for the body to be brought to their home in Columbus Miss. After the war, the remains were moved one final time to Mt. Olivet Cemetery. On St. Patrick's Day, 1866, McGavock was buried. The ceremony was conducted by the Masons amid a large crowd that included most of the city's Irish and most of the veterans of the 10th Tenn.