Froe Chips, September/October, 2021, Researched and Written by Barry Lamb
As Lieutenant Carter Bassett Harrison and his regiment, the 51st Ohio Infantry Regiment, USA, prepared for battle against the southern defenders of Murfreesboro on January 2, 1863, he had no way of knowing that he would soon be engaging in battle, a division of men, including the 18th and 45th Tennessee Infantry Regiments, CSA, who would later become his neighbors and friends. He was also oblivious to the fact that a year later he would marry one of Murfreesboro’s most attractive widows and later live in one of the town’s finest homes.
The courtship between Lieutenant Harrison and Sophia Lytle was the talk of the town. The sight of the 22-year-old Yankee officer and a southern widow nearly twice his age seen cavorting about town, her husband’s grave not yet fully covered with grass, was likely a revolting sight to a local populace with a predominant Confederate sentimentality.
Harrison was born in North Bend, Ohio in 1840 to John Scott Harrison and Elizabeth Irwin Harrison. He was a younger brother of President Benjamin Harrison and grandson of U.S. President William Henry Harrison. He attended Miami University of Oxford, Ohio from 1859-1861 and at the commencement of the Civil War, enlisted in Company C, 51st Ohio Infantry Regiment as previously stated.
The fortunes of war brought Harrison and the 51st Ohio to Murfreesboro and the six-month occupation of the town by the Union army following the battle provided the lieutenant the time to call on Mrs. Lytle and her charm and beauty was the impetus for his pursuit of her.
Sophia Ridgely Dashiell Lytle, a native of Baltimore, Maryland, was born there in 1826 and moved to Shelbyville, Tennessee with her parents at an early age. She was married to William Franklin Pitt Lytle of Murfreesboro in 1846 and became the step mother of six children.
Lytle was twice her age, having been born in 1805 to Captain William Lytle and his wife, Nancy Ann Taylor Lytle. He had previously been married twice and had contributed to the birth of eight children by those wives, six of them still living in the Lytle mansion which he had inherited from his father’s estate. Like his father before him, William F.P. Lytle, used his vast acreage of land holdings for agricultural pursuits. He was also the proprietor of the Lytle Hotel, located on the south side of the public square, during the 1840s. He and Sophia became the parents of seven children before his death in March 1863.
When Sophia inherited the Lytle home place, it was one of the oldest and most expansive houses in or near Murfreesboro. Its builder, William Lytle, served as a captain in the regiment of his brother, Colonel Archibald Lytle, during the Revolutionary War. He owned over 7,400 acres of land in Rutherford County, 7,200 of which was originally granted to his brother, Archibald Lytle. That land extended south and southwest of Murfreesboro, reaching near Barfield at its southern boundary. (Masters & Puryear, page I-11). He also received 210 acres from the State of Tennessee. (Tucker, page 24). It was on this land that he built his two-story brick mansion in 1810, just west of what would soon become the town of Murfreesborough. The home was once located near the intersection of Northwest Broad Street and Old Fort Parkway, due west of the course of Lytle Street.
It was also from the state grant that he presented 60 acres to the commissioners, authorized by the State of Tennessee to select a site for the location of the county seat of government, establishing Murfreesborough as that site in 1812. (Spence, pages 85-86, 114, 173; Tucker, page 24)
Captain Lytle was a native of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, having been born there in 1755. He moved to North Carolina before 1780 and served in the War of Independence as previously stated. He was married to Nancy Ann Taylor in North Carolina circa 1787 and brought his family to Tennessee before 1798.
The following description of him was provided by the great local historian, John Cedric Spence. “Captain William Lytle. Among the first settlers in the neighborhood of Murfreesboro…the time he came being a dense forest of timber, cane and grape vines. More suited for wild animals than man. When he first came to the country, was a man of moderate means, but by his energy and industry, he accumulated an amount of substance around him, with the increase in value of lands. He raised a large, respectable family, taking a high stand in society, leaving them in affluent circumstance. He was a plain, unpretending man, unambitious, willing to take things as they run, allowing others to suit their inclinations. In his early years followed one of the most useful occupations of the time, blacksmithing. His general character was that of a good citizen”. (Spence, page 64)
The captain and his wife gave life to seven children and most of them lived a life of affluence and privilege. Their eldest son, John Taylor Lytle, owned a sizeable plantation about seven miles west of Murfreesboro. The eldest daughter, Sarah Ann Lytle, married Benjamin McCulloch and lived on a plantation that was once located on River Rock Boulevard. Jennet Mebane Lytle married Ephraim Hubbard Foster, who served as a U. S. senator during the 1830s and 1840s, and lived in Nashville. Nancy Ann Lytle married John M. Tilford and lived in the first two-story brick home built in Murfreesboro. Elizabeth Lytle married George West.
William Franklin Pitt Lytle, the youngest son, inherited most of his father’s property. Their youngest child, Julia Margaret Lytle, married William Nichol, a banker, merchant, planter and mayor of Nashville from 1835-1837. They lived in the plantation home, Belair, located east of Nashville.
Captain Lytle and his wife had several distinguished descendants including Lieutenant Colonel Ephraim Foster Lytle of the 45th Tennessee Infantry Regiment, CSA, Thomas Blanks Lytle, who served as mayor of Murfreesboro in 1898 and Andrew Nelson Lytle, a noted author of books of the historical genre. One of his works gives a description of many of his ancestors and family members, including Carter B. Harrison and Sophia Lytle Harrison.
With the passage of time, the ill feelings of the townspeople seemed to have faded away. Carter B. Harrison, known as Captain Harrison, was welcomed at various social functions around town and was particularly conspicuous at meetings of local historical significance. He once donated a Civil War musket found in Stone’s River to the Tennessee Historical Society when that organization met in Murfreesboro in 1885. He also served as the master of ceremonies at the 40th anniversary commemoration of the Battle of Stone’s River held at Mason’s Opera House in 1901.
A successful farmer of the old Lytle land for several decades following the war, Captain Harrison also served as U. S. marshal of Middle Tennessee during the administration of his brother from 1889-1893.
Mr. Harrison died in 1905, leaving his wife and three children. Sophia continued to live in the mansion until 1909, when she moved to Cincinnati, Ohio to be near her daughter, Elizabeth Buckner.
Her residency in Cincinnati did not leave the old house abandoned, instead, William Lytle Patterson, a great grandson of Captain Lytle, and his wife, Mary Jetton Patterson, inhabited the place for many years afterwards.
Sophia sold the old home to Carnation Milk Products of Tennessee just before her death in 1927 at the age of 101. Before the old mansion was razed, many of its inner features such as mantels, doorways, stairways and other items were taken and placed in other Murfreesboro homes.
Sources cited: Annals of Rutherford County, Volume 1, John C. Spence, 1991; Rutherford Ramblings, Greg Tucker, 2014; Thoroughfare for Freedom, Jack Masters & Bill Puryear, 2011.