Portrait of a Hero
Randal William McGavock began keeping a diary as early as 1848, when he was a student at Harvard. The diary continued through his European travels and later on into his political life. In 1861, after enlisting in the Confederate Army, he found himself writing from Fort Warren, a Federal prison in the Boston Harbor. After five months of imprisonment, McGavock was exchanged. Immediately, he traveled to Georgia to visit with his wife, Seraphine, and then on to Columbus, Mississippi, to reunite with members of the McGavock family. In September, 1862, he arrived in Clinton and Jackson to begin the process of reorganizing the tattered Tenth Tennessee Irish Regiment.
Even though McGavock had the spirit and determination to fight for the Confederacy, his service proved unsuccessful. In 1861, during the Battle of Fort Donelson, he was captured. Most of 1862, he spent in a Federal prison. Then, in 1863, shortly after the reorganization of the 10th Tennessee Irish, he was killed fighting in the Battle of Raymond. The last entry made in his diary was made from Jackson, Mississippi, on October 8, 1862. The rest of McGavock's story would be told by those who witnessed his death.
Patrick Griffin, only seventeen years old and a member of McGavock's Tenth Tennessee Infantry, claimed to have rushed to McGavock's side when he fell. Forty-three years later, Griffin recalled that dreadful day on the battlefield: "We had marched up on a rise and were out in the open, and they were in the woods about one hundred yards in our front when they began to fire on us… We had been under fire about twenty minutes, when I heard a ball strike something behind me. I have a dim remembrance of calling to God. It was my colonel. He was about to fall. I caught him and eased him down with his head in the shadow of a little bush. I knew he was going, and asked him if he had any message for his mother. His answer was, 'Griffin, take care of me! Griffin! Take care of me!' I put my canteen to his lips, but he was not conscious. He was shot through the left breast, and did not live more than five minutes."
After the battle, Patrick Griffin was taken prisoner but given a brief parole the next day to bury McGavock in the Raymond Cemetery. A rough wooden coffin was hastily nailed together and loaded on a hired wagon. A little procession of townspeople and a ragged squad of Confederate prisoners held in tow by their Yankee captors, walked somberly toward the Raymond graveyard.
Patrick Griffin was not the only soldier to claim knowledge of McGavock's death. Other eyewitnesses wrote of his death as well. The accounts all vary. Lt. Col. James J. Turner, recorded the loss of McGavock on the battlefield in the Official Records: "Colonel McGavock, in a few seconds after ordering the charge, while gallantly leading his men, fell, mortally wounded, and about 5 commissioned officers of the Tenth Tennessee were wounded about the same time. The firing thus continued for about half an hour without intermission on either side." On a personal note he adds, "In the fall of Colonel McGavock the service has lost a brave and meritorious officer, and society an educated and talented gentleman."
Another account of the death of Colonel McGavock was given to the family in Nashville by a 10th Tennessee soldier who claimed to be an eyewitness: "Colonel McGavock, seeing reinforcements coming, ordered his brave men to charge, he himself taking the lead, being some 20 yards in front of his regiment. He had not proceeded far before he was pierced through the heart by a minnie ball. Turning, he called upon Lt. Colonel Grace to rally his men, being the last words spoken by as brave a man as ever drew sword in a holy but fruitless cause. His men took charge of his body and had him interred in a private enclosure. His coat had eight bullet holes through it."
Capt. Lewis Clark, 10th Tennessee, gave a totally different version of the death of McGavock in Military Annals of Tennessee, Confederate, 1886: "His tall, commanding person, with gray military cloak thrown back over his shoulder, displaying the brilliant scarlet lining, made him a very conspicuous figure at the head of his regiment. Noticing from the sound of the musketry that the enemy were pressing our men very closely on the right, we moved in that direction, charging on the enemy's flank. At such close quarters, no doubt many shots were aimed directly at Col. McGavock, and presently one struck near the heart, from which he died in a few minutes. The writer saw him directly afterward, as he lay stretched upon the field, with his stern, determined features relaxed into a softened expression, as he lay like a warrior taking his rest, with his martial cloak around him. Dr. Sidney Franklin was one of those Assistant Surgeons who held it to be the duty of that officer to attend his regiment on the field of battle, and was very near Col. McGavock when he fell, took charge of his remains after the battle, and had them conveyed to the court-house, whence he had them interred the next day with all proper respect and attention."
Because of the many varying accounts of the death of McGavock, the real truth may never be known. The account by Captain Clark would appear to be the most factual. However, young Patrick Griffin, a teenager who literally worshipped McGavock, spun the most colorful and appealing story. If Griffin's story were not true, he should still be commended for his vivid imagination. Apart from the varying personal accounts of the battlefield death, one fact remains - Col. McGavock died on the Raymond battlefield and was buried the following day in the Raymond Cemetery. Attending his funeral were Confederate prisoners, a few townspeople, and Union guards.
Several weeks after the Battle of Raymond, McGavock's sister, Ann Dickinson, and her husband, Judge Dickinson, traveled to Raymond to find the grave. They arranged to have McGavock's remains moved to their home in Columbus, Mississippi. On July 29, 1863, a second funeral service was held for McGavock - this time in Columbus.
Three years later, after the close of the war, McGavock's body was moved one last time to the family vault in Nashville. A notice, in The Nashville Dispatch, March 16, 1866, called attention to McGavock's final resting place: "Yesterday evening, the remains of our late fellow citizen, R. W. McGavock, who was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Confederate Army, and was killed in one of the engagements with General Grant's forces a little before the taking of Vicksburg, was brought to this city for reinterment. Col. McGavock was a Mayor of Nashville in 1858 and filled the office with signal ability. He was a citizen widely known and highly esteemed." McGavock left behind a wife of six years, Seraphine Deery McGavock.
Source: Pen and Sword, The Life and Journals of Colonel Randal McGavock, edited by Herschel Gower and Jack Allen, Published and copyrighted by the Tennessee Historical Commission, 1959-1960. Used with permission.Editors note: Seraphine Derry McGavock mourned the death of her husband for less than five years. In 1868, with McGavock's diamonds still on her hand, she married Connally F. Trigg, a prominent Tennessee judge. After the death of Trigg, Seraphine married yet a third time. Her third husband was Major Augustus Pettibone, veteran of the 20th Wisconsin Infantry. Pettibone established himself in Nashville as a prominent lawyer. Pettibone drank excessively and was remembered for having tobacco stains all over his clothes and beard. Seraphine McGavock passed away in 1918 at the age of seventy-three. Obituaries in the Nashville Banner and the Nashville Tennessean stated that she had been married three times but bore no children. The names of her second and third husbands were listed but not that of Randal McGavock. A social climber to the end, Seraphine had listed only the names of the husbands that she thought would give her social prominence. The faded beauty failed to realize that her first husband, Randal McGavock, Confederate Civil War hero, would become the most famous of them all.
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