“I’m a little Yankee!” I said repeating after my Illinois born father. “No, no!” said my Arkansas born mother whose ancestors lived close enough to hear the cannons being fired during the Battle of Jenkin’s Ferry in Arkansas. “Say I’m a little rebel!”
I didn’t really understand the American Civil War and what different worlds the north and south were, at least not “experientially,” until the summer of 2011. I received an invitation to the 200th Ewbank-Smith Family Reunion. Even though there had been previous reunions, this one celebrating the 1811 arrival of the Ewbank family in Indiana, seemed monumental.
Wouldn’t it be interesting to see kin we’d never laid eyes on before (since my cousins weren’t going)! So, I loaded clothes and my 87-year-old mother into my Honda CRV and set off on a 600-miles drive from Arkansas to southeast Indiana.
The route took us close to Franklin, Tennessee. Franklin was the setting where the bloody Battle of Franklin killed about 9,500 on November 30, 1864. When Robert Hicks’ Widow of the South, a novel on the life of Carrie McGavock mistress of Carnton Plantation, was released in 2005 the McGavock name rang a bell. Sure enough, The McGavock Family: A Genealogical History of James McGavock and His Descendants from 1760 to 1903 indicated our McGavock ancestor was a close cousin!
It was late afternoon when we arrived at Carnton Plantation that served as a Confederate hospital during the Battle of Franklin. Walking around the beautiful grounds surrounding the mansion I wondered how many it took to operate a plantation this size. After the war, two acres were given by Carrie McGavock to serve as a massive military cemetery for those who didn’t survive the battle.
The next day we drove on toward Indiana. In honor of my deceased father who had more than a passing interest in bourbon whiskey, we stopped at the Jim Beam American Stillhouse located just 30 minutes from Louisville, Kentucky. Then after stopping at Churchill Downs long enough for a tour and purchase of a 12-ounce Kentucky Derby 137 julep glass (Daddy would approve), we pressed on to Indiana.
On August 6 we gathered with nearly 200 relatives at the Ewbank homestead built by John and Ann Chapman Ewbank when they came to Indiana in 1811 and still owned by a Ewbank today. A man in period costume told us the patriarch John was a teetotaler (was Daddy rolling over in his grave?) and a strong abolitionist who participated in the Underground Railroad. I’m wondering, “Did anyone ever leave Carnton and ride to freedom with help on the Ewbank part of the Underground Railroad?”
I contacted Carnton. Chief Operating Officer and Historian Eric Jacobson responded that in 1860 John McGavock owned 39 slaves. While they aren’t aware of any slaves who escaped to the north, they have an advertisement offering a reward for the capture of one of John’s slave just prior to the war.
Two houses owned by relatives separated by only 300 miles. Two drastically different world views.