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The Widow of the South by Robert Hicks

The Widow of the South (edition 2005)

by Robert Hicks

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1,546584,750 (3.6)68
Title:The Widow of the South
Authors:Robert Hicks
Info:New York : Warner Books, 2005.
Collections:Read but unowned, Favorites
Tags:Fiction, literature, historical fiction, Southern fiction, Civil War

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The Widow of the South by Robert Hicks


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Anyone that has an interest in the history of the United States and particularly in the Civil War should take the time to read this novel. It is an extraordinary first novel based on a true story of the Battle of Franklin, in Tennessee, five of the bloodiest hours of the Civil War in which there were 9,200 casualties. It is riveting, and engrossing reading. This novel shares the depths of humanity -the best and the worst- in a very moving and compelling way.

The author's research is detailed in the "Author's Note", "Bibliography" and "With Gratitude" sections at the end of the novel. These sections are not to be missed or the reader will miss very important elements in the quality of presentation tucked between the covers of this book that is now preserved for generations to come. It uniquely describes the past strife of the Civil War, uniquely honors the courage of a soldier in battle, and the human spirit of 'ordinary' individuals that become extraordinary not due to any oratory display or written document in the midst of war but through the simple actions of humanity during their everyday lives that speak louder than any words spoken or written. The story touched my heart and I hope I will always remember the depth of emotions as I closed the back cover.

( )
  Corduroy7 | Nov 18, 2014 |
In November 1864, a desperate battle took place in Franklin, Tennessee. Carrie McGavock took it upon herself to make sure that 1500 of the over 9000 who fell on that day were taken out of their shallow graves a few years later, re-buried, and remembered by her for the rest of her life on her own land. "The Widow of the South" is an excellent telling of her story which has been long lost to history. ( )
  ShouldIReadIt | Sep 26, 2014 |
This novel is based on a true story. It tells of the Civil War battle at Franklin, Tennessee and of the family whose home was used as a hospital during the battle and afterwards and whose property became the graveyard for many of the soldiers. It primarily takes the point of view of the homeowner, Carrie McGavock, who lived on to tend the graves. But it also focuses on one particular soldier, Zachariah, who becomes involved with Carrie. Obviously the author embroidered on the known facts of the family quite a bit, but I enjoyed the story and the regional history. ( )
  gbelik | Oct 9, 2013 |
While the subject matter is truly fascinating, I just could not sympathize very much with the main character in this novel. She seemed a bit too disturbed and selfish. ( )
  thestitcher | Oct 2, 2013 |
Overall this is a wonderful historical novel which provides a look at a specific relatively unknown battle of the Civil War. The Civil War was such a complicated time and this novel reflects those conflicts on many levels.

I liked the author's way of telling each chapter from a different viewpoint. The characters surrounding Carrie and Zachariah were all especially well drawn and believable. It was the relationship between Carrie and Zachariah that sometimes left me wondering; their "falling in love" (if you could call it that) was awkward and vague. I was never sure of the motivations of either. Carrie is obviously the pursurer in the relationship, but I never clearly understand what it was that drew her so much to Zachariah. Due to that, my interest sagged somewhat during the middle of the story. However, Carrie's concern and drive to save the graves I felt was especially well presented.

I liked the author's notes at the end and the pictures of the farmhouse and the real Carrie McGavock. I actually read that first and felt it added greatly to the significance of the story as I was reading it. ( )
  maryreinert | Aug 17, 2013 |
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Prologue ∙ 1894: Down the rows of the dead they came. Neat, orderly rows of dead rebel boys who thirty years before had either dropped at the foot of earthen works a mile or so away or died on the floors of the big house overlooking the cemetery.
Author's Note: If God was watching that Indian summer afternoon of November 30, 1864 (and some have argued that He was not, another explanation of events), He would have been looking here: on the continent of North America; in the southeastern section of what had once been and would again be called the United States; in the central part of a state they called Tennessee; between the mountains and the great river; among the burial mounds of an ancient Stone Age culture that had known nothing of firearms and artillery; in the bend of a small river at the convergence of three bright macadam roads, where brilliant streaks of light rose and fell along a gentle undulation of hills washed in the dun and yellow and red of autumn.
for Tom Martin, Jr. - Semper Fidelis
First words
Book 1 - November 30, 1864: Dawn: That day in 1864 was unseasonably mild for late November.
…the smell of men overpowered me. My nose had no experience with such a smell. It could not parse its elements. The smell was heavy and sour and musty, and I took it to be the smell of that world which had been kept at bay by my house and my husband these many years.”
The newspapers were always on about how the best men of our country – and by that, they meant this new country of ours, these Confederate States of America – went off to fight and were lost forever. But what of the best of our women? How many lovely young women were sacrificed behind the plow in those years? Oh, I’m not saying that a woman oughtn’t guide a plow, although I shudder at the thought of my own incompetence at the reins. It’s not the plowing, you see; it’s the elimination of everything BUT plowing, the possibility that you could be anything BUT someone who walked behind a mule and gathered in the snap beans.
My breathing came harder and my face flushed, as it always did when I began to feel unmoored, or upon the discovery that there was yet another thing under the sun that I had not understood. Or both.
Those men were the chains that bound the living. They were the missing whose absence shackled the survivors in place, people afraid to move on for fear of being gone for their sudden return. They drew the living back to the war, back to that battlefield over and over and over again, reenacting its rituals and its skirmishes until they all would be dead. … They will have to come to Carnton. They’ll be safe there. I will mourn them if no one else will.
Someone had to do it, to be that person. I was the woman they wrote the letters to; this house was the last address of the war. Now it was the final resting place of the dead, or at least almost 1,500 of them, and they could not be left alone. I had resolved to remember so others could forget. In the forgetting, I prayed, would be some relief, some respite from the violence and bitterness and vengeance.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0446697435, Paperback)

In an Author's Note at the end of his book The Widow of the South, Robert Hicks tells us that "when Oscar Wilde made his infamous tour of America in 1882, he told his hosts that his itinerary should include a visit to 'sunny Tennessee to meet the Widow McGavock, the high priestess of the temple of dead boys.'" Carrie McGavock, The Widow of the South, did indeed take it upon herself to grieve the loss of so many young men in the battle of Franklin, Tennessee, which took place on November 30, 1864. Nine thousand men lost their lives that day. She and her husband John eventually re-buried on their own land 1,481 Confederate soldiers killed at Franklin, when the family that owned the land on which the original shallow graves had been dug decided to plow it under and put it into cultivation.

Before the battle begins, Carrie's house is commandeered for a field hospital and all normal life is suspended. Carrie is anything but normal, however. She has buried three children, has two living children she pays little attention to, has turned the running of the house over to her slave, Mariah, and spends her time dressed in black walking around in the dark or lying down lamenting her loss. She is a morbid figure from the outset but becomes less so as the novel progresses. The death going on all around her shakes her out of her torpor, but death is definitely her comfort zone.

One of the soldiers who is treated at the house is Zachariah Cashwell, who loses his leg when Carrie sends him to surgery rather than watch him die. They are inextricably bound in some kind of a spiritual dance from then on. Their reasons for being drawn to each other are inexplicable, apparently, because they remain unexplained, and when Cashwell tells Carrie he loves her, she beats him nearly to death because she loves him too. At least, that is the reason Hicks gives. He violates that first caveat given to all writers: "show us, don't tell us." There is doubtless something deeply flawed in Carrie and screamingly symbolic about her behavior; it is surely elusive. Too bad, because Carrie was a real person whom Hicks lauds for her compassion and ability to grieve without end. Then, he throws in this gratuitous "love story" and confuses the issue. Carrie's relationship with her husband and children remains unexamined. Hicks is better at describing death and "the stink of war" than he is at life. If you read War and Peace and loved all the war parts and were bored senseless by the peace parts, this is your cup of tea. --Valerie Ryan

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:40:40 -0400)

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A story based on the true experiences of a Civil War heroine finds Carrie McGavock witnessing the bloodshed of the Battle of Franklin, falling in love with a wounded man, and dedicating her home as a burial site for fallen soldiers.

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