Nashville Mayor's Civil War Diary Returned to Tennessee



As evidenced by his picture at the right, Randal McGavock was one of Nashville's most handsome mayors. He also looked a tiny bit like a Muppet, which goes to show you that the bar for "Nashville's most handsome mayor" is quite low. McGavock was born in Nashville, went to The Classical and Mathematical Seminary and then to the University of Nashville. He graduated from Harvard Law School and then went abroad for almost two years, after which he wrote a book about his experiences. He died in the Civil War.

Historians love McGavock, and not just for his striking red hair. He was a very thoughtful and observant writer and his diary, housed at the Tennessee State Library and Archives is a real window to a time much different than ours. Except the portion of his diary devoted to the Civil War has long been missing.

Until now.

The TSLA sent out a press release on Tuesday announcing that the Civil War volume has been found and returned to Tennessee:

“This nice lady from California called and said, ‘I wonder if anyone in Tennessee would be interested in this diary,’" [State Librarian and Archivist Chuck] Sherrill recalls. "When she told me it was Randal McGavock’s diary, my first thought was to fly to California and get it before it disappeared again.”

Sherrill and others at the State Library and Archives had long been aware of Randal McGavock and his diaries, as eight volumes of his diary have been housed there since 1960.

“We had this great set of diaries, but the volume from the beginning of the Civil War was missing,” he said.

Shearn eventually flew to Nashville to visit Two Rivers Mansion, Carnton and other sites associated with Randal McGavock and his family. She and her husband brought the diary with them and generously donated it to the archives.

So, that's awesome. Thanks, Andrea Shearn.

Not so awesome was The Tennessean's coverage of the story.

McGavock, who served as Nashville mayor and later built Franklin’s Carnton Plantation, kept meticulous diaries of his life’s travels, which he detailed in nine volumes. Eight of those volumes have been kept at the State Library and Archives since 1960.

The ninth volume, which chronicles McGavock’s early days fighting in the Civil War, was discovered by Andrea Shearn, a retired science teacher from California who was helping her parents move into an assisted living facility from their home in Cincinnati.


Instead, Shearn donated the diary to the state archives to complete the state’s collection of diaries about McGavock’s life, which included serving as Nashville mayor from 1824 to 1825 and building Carnton Plantation in 1826. He died in September 1843.

I love a good ghost story as much as the next person, but how did a guy who died in 1843 keep a diary during the Civil War, The Tennessean?

The apparently-confusing truth is that Nashville had two mayors named Randal McGavock. The first one served as mayor from 1824 to 1825, built Carton Plantation down in Franklin in 1826, and died in 1843. I don't know if he was handsome or not, having never seen a picture of him.

The Civil War diarist was the second Randal McGavock, the first Randal McGavock's grandson.

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