Where was the ‘burned Cowan house?’

As published in the Murfreesboro Post, Mike West, Managing Editor, May 6, 2007

Thompson Lane obscures the site of the burned Cowan House

Thompson Lane obscures the site of the burned Cowan House

Those familiar with the “literature” and reports about the Battle of Stones River have encountered the Cowan House countless times.

Often in official reports of both the Union and Confederate armies it is referred to as the “burnt Cowan house.”

Actually, before the Battle of Stones River, the substantial brick residence was the home of Varner D. and Susan B. Cowan and their children.

While the actual site of the house remains unknown for a variety of reasons, the dwelling was located near the Thompson Lane bridge over the Old Nashville Highway on property now owned by New Vision Baptist Church.

The Cowan family was forced to evacuate the farm after Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg decided upon his defensive line.

High ground, still evident today despite the changes made with the construction of Thompson Lane, made the property a key point in the Confederate lines.

Businessman John C. Spence, a Murfreesboro resident during the Civil War, reported that Bragg’s forces burned the Cowan House accidentally while prepping for battle.  The farm had a number of outbuildings that interfered with the line of vision in the area, so Bragg ordered them burned, but gave orders to preserve the family’s home.

Unfortunately, the wind carried the flames to the house, which was gutted by fire, leaving just a brick shell, Spence said.

Despite its burned state, the property proved to be a major hindrance to Confederate troops as they attempted to attack Federal lines in the Round Forest area of the battlefield.

“In advancing upon and attacking the enemy under such a fire, my brigade found it impossible to preserve its alignment, because of the burnt house known as Cowan’s and the yard and garden fence and picketing left standing around and about it,” reported Confederate Brig. General Daniel S. Donelson.

The National Park Service attempted to acquire the Cowan house site in the 1990s, but was unsuccessful.

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