Remembering Rutherford: Civil War seduction linked to Carnation evaporated milk

Greg Tucker, Murfreesboro Post, April 25, 2017

Sophie took care of Sophie!

This is the smokestack from the Murfreesboro’s Carnation Milk plant, in operation from 1927 till 1974.

Educated in Philadelphia, Alfred H. Dashiell came to Tennessee in the 1830s as president of the Nashville Female Academy.  After four years at the Academy, he entered the ministry and served four years as pastor of the Presbyterian congregation in Franklin.

Continuing in the Presbyterian ministry, Dashiell spent 15 years in Shelbyville, where he raised a family including daughters Lavinia and Sophia. Lavinia C. Dashiell married William H. Lytle, a Murfreesboro physician and grandson of Capt. William Lytle, Revolutionary War veteran and early Rutherford County landowner.  Sophia R. Dashiell (sometimes spelled “DeShield”) married William F. Lytle, son of Capt. Lytle and father of Dr. Lytle.  (As a result of the two marriages, Sophia was the stepmother-in-law of her sister.)

The young and attractive Sophie was the third wife of the much older William F. Lytle.  As the matriarch of the prosperous antebellum Lytle plantation, Sophie had four children (giving her husband a total of ten by three wives).  Prior to the Civil War, Lytle owned about four dozen slaves, thousands of acres in Rutherford County and elsewhere, several livestock herds and significant bank deposits in Tennessee and Georgia.

The Lytle home was close to the Nashville Pike, the N&C Railroad and the West Fork of the Stones River.  Although initially favoring secession, Lytle evidently recognized during the first occupation of Murfreesboro that his considerable assets were at risk.  The strategic importance of his home and property became apparent as the armies positioned in late 1862 for what became the Battle of Stones River.  In the interest of self-preservation, Lytle and several other notable landowners began expressing support for “preservation of the Union.”

Brig. Gen William Haines Lytle, Ohio

The reoccupation of Murfreesboro following the Battle of Stones River brought to the area General William Haynes Lytle of Cincinnati, bachelor son of a prominent family and “poet of more than a local reputation.”  Claiming kinship, the bachelor poet visited the Lytle home and introduced himself to William and Sophie.  After this initial visit, the Union general arranged for protection for the Lytle property and became a daily visitor.  (If there was kinship between the two families, it was remote.  A common ancestor has never been identified.)

According to Lytle family lore, the visits were focused on the beautiful lady of the house.

“One can only surmise, and yet one is impelled to think that she was more than cousinly polite,” wrote Andrew Lytle in “A Wake for the Living” (Crown Publishers, 1975).  Sophie’s husband died in March 1863 and the Lytle-to-Lytle romance blossomed.

General Lytle took up residence in the Lytle home and called upon family in Cincinnati to send suitable clothing, unavailable in occupied Murfreesboro, to Sophie.  In letters to his family he lavished praise on Sophie’s charms and intellect.  How this wartime romance might have concluded will never be known, for the Cincinnati “cousin” was killed in action at Chickamauga.

During this period of courtship, one of Sophie’s stepsons, Frank Lytle, slipped through the Union lines and sent word to his family that he was in hiding and needed food and clothing.  Sophie revealed to the Yankees the hiding place of her Confederate stepson, and as a result was shunned by the rest of the Lytle family.

Undaunted by the loss of her suitor and her family status, Sophie became a regular visitor at the Yankee headquarters in Murfreesboro.  Before war’s end, Sophie married one of General William S. Rosecrans‘ staff officers.  The new husband was Capt. Carter Bassett Harrison, grandson of President William Henry Harrison and brother of future U. S. President Benjamin Harrison. He was 24; she was 37.

During the last year of the war and thereafter, the Harrisons made the Lytle plantation their home and raised three children of their own.  Harrison was appointed U. S. Marshall for the Middle District of Tennessee in or about 1889, while his brother was president.

Harrison died in 1905 and Sophie moved to New York to live with her son Richard R. Lytle, a practicing physician. T he remaining plantation property was leased with the proceeds going to Sophie.

The Captain William Lytle home was razed in 1927 to make room for the Carnation Plant .

In 1926 the Rutherford community was excited by plans to build a Carnation Milk Company plant in or near Murfreesboro.  The Lytle plantation was the favored site for construction of the evaporated milk plant, but purchase of the plant site was delayed by legal proceedings.

There was no local outcry for preservation of the historically significant property.  The problem was the 1862 will of William F. Lytle which specified that three descending generations would have life estates in the property.  Accordingly, as many as a hundred living descendants could be the ultimate beneficiaries, and two surviving descendants were still entitled to life estates. One descendant was the 99-year-old Sophie; the other was her son Richard.

The pending purchase came before the Chancery Court where Chancellor Thomas B. Lytle, one of the many potential beneficiaries, recused himself. Chancellor T. L. Stewart, “sitting by interchange” from a neighboring judicial division, eventually determined that the $15,000 purchase price offered by Carnation was a fair price, and that the entire amount would be placed in trust with the income for the benefit of Sophia R. Harrison and Dr. Richard R. Lytle. Upon conclusion of these two remaining life estates, the purchase funds and the remaining acreage would be divided among the living descendants. With this ruling, the property title was delivered to Carnation and the local population celebrated.

Sophie died in 1927 at the age of 100. Dr. Lytle died in 1931. He was 79.

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