Francis Watkins Carter

by Brad Kinnison

Originally published in the Battlefield Dispatch Vol. 7 No. 1 Winter 2019 - read the rest of the issue here.

Francis Watkins Carter, ca. 1870

Francis Watkins Carter, ca. 1870

Francis Watkins Carter was born in Franklin, Tennessee on November 30, 1842 to Fountain Branch Carter and Mary Atkinson Carter. He was the eleventh of twelve children. His family referred to him as “Wad,” a shortened version of his middle name, and later in life he was known simply as Frank.

In a letter dated May 29, 1855, Fountain Branch Carter wrote, “[Tod] is nearly grown, perfectly steady, learns very fast, and understands what he reads better than any boy I ever saw. Frank also is learning well, poor Fanny is nearly grown and don’t learn anything but making dolls.”

Moscow, Tod, and Francis, all three of Fountain Branch’s living sons, enlisted in the Confederate Army. Interestingly, Francis chose to enlist on April 6, 1861, a few weeks before his older two brothers, in Co. D, 1st Tennessee Infantry. In June 1861 he transferred to Co. H, 20th Tennessee Infantry, the unit to which Tod and Moscow were assigned.

In January 1862, Francis fought in the Battle of Mill Springs, where his older brother Moscow was captured, and then in the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862, in which Francis was shot through his right hand. The wound was severe enough that he was discharged from the 20th Tennessee on August 15, 1862.

It is unknown what happened to Francis in the months immediately following his discharge. He next appeared in what is modern-day Oklahoma, where he enlisted in the 34th Texas Cavalry in May 1863. He had fought with that regiment for about a year, when, on May 18, 1864, he was captured in the Battle of Yellow Bayou. He was then sent to prison in New Orleans, exchanged a few weeks later, and spent the latter portion of the war sick in Louisiana.

Many former Confederates felt displaced or unwelcome in their homes after the war and decided to head for greener pastures elsewhere. Some travelled West to the frontier and California, but tens of thousands decided to leave the country entirely and make their way to South America. By Spring 1868, when he was 25 years old, Francis Watkins Carter had travelled to Venezuela, where he obtained a land grant of 2,000 acres from the Venezuelan government. In a letter to his father, written March 6, 1868, Francis spoke positively of his experience, “In my business with this government, I have really been more successful than I would have dared to anticipate in a matter of such magnitude and under so many difficulties.”

In January 1870, Francis’ older brother Moscow wrote in his journal, “Frank returned home today after a three-year absence in Venezuela, South America. He has spent most of his manhood in roving about, but I hope he will, in the future, be satisfied to remain at home, and devote his time and talents to some useful employment. He looks but little changed, except somewhat thinner in flesh, and in the loss of some of his teeth.”

Francis made a return trip to Venezuela the next year, but did not stay long; he was back in Tennessee by early 1872, when Moscow wrote: “[Francis is] back home from Venezuela...He left last March. His health is very bad. Money all gone, and time wasted. Such is the result of his foolish and erratic course. I yet hope he will profit by his frequent, and especially, this last costly lesson. Poor fellow! His capacity for doing good has been of little service.”

Francis next moved to Texas and married Mary Katherine Lockett, known as Mollie, in 1874. According to the United States Federal Census of 1880, Francis and Mollie were living in Bosque County, TX with their three children, Corinne, Fannie, and Kate, and Francis was employed as a mill worker. They had two more children in the coming years, Thomas and Ruth, then moved to California where Francis jumped between different jobs, working for a time as a carpenter, then a rancher, then as superintendent of a mine. The Federal Census of 1900 lists Francis working as a rancher in San Diego, living with Mollie and their children. According to the census, Mollie had given birth to eight total children but only five were still living.

On February 4, 1920, Francis wrote a letter to his niece, Alice McPhail Nichols, saying, “We seem to have lost touch with our kindred, but we have not forgotten a [single] one of them... Tennessee seems like a dream, I have been as long gone from its once familiar scenes. When Lena and Winder were here, it seemed like a resurrection to hear them tell of Franklin and its folks – so many gone hence. We are not likely to ever visit there again. Age [prowls] upon us and opportunities lessen...Heavens, what memories does all this evoke!”

Francis died on February 3, 1923, followed by Mollie on March 26. An obituary, published in Franklin, stated, “Wad Carter, a brave Confederate soldier, left here forty years ago for the west in the prime of his life...a very interesting type of the Confederate soldier and the old-time Southern gentleman so rapidly passing away.”