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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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1,619624,478 (3.59)70
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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interesting history about a little-known place(battle) of the civil war. ( )
  carolynsuarez | Jan 17, 2016 |
Intriguing book. There is some definite gore. I gave 3 stars. ( )
  CrystalW | Dec 15, 2015 |
Intriguing book. There is some definite gore. I gave 3 stars. ( )
  CrystalW | Dec 15, 2015 |
There really was a "Widow of the South," and she really was Carrie McGavock, a main character in this book.

Debut author Robert Hicks had been involved in the preservation of Carnton plantation and of Franklin, Tennessee, the settings for this novel. Carnton, the home of Carrie and her husband John, was the site of a Confederate field hospital during the Battle of Franklin on November 30, 1864.

The novel begins in 1894 with Carrie and her former slave, Mariah, walking through the cemetery at Carnton where nearly 1,500 battle casualties are buried. Then she is approached by an old soldier she knows.

The story then moves back 30 years to the day of the battle. Hicks excels at describing the setting, as well as the battle from the point of view of individuals participating in it or witnessing it. This is "Book I" in the text, and it takes up about 100 pages.

"Book II" is the immediate aftermath of the battle, when Carnton serves as a field hospital. Carrie has been in a depressed state for a number of years over the deaths of three of her five young children, but serving as a nurse seems to snap her out of that. She focuses in particular on one wounded soldier named Zachariah Cashwell (who is completely fictional), who has to have his leg amputated. Inexplicably, they fall in love with each other, but Cashwell is ultimately taken away as a prisoner.

"Book III" takes place in 1865-66, and the last few pages of the book return to 1894. The author's note at the end of the book is especially helpful in sorting out truth and fiction, and has photographs and paintings of Carrie, her husband and children, Mariah, Carnton, and the cemetery.

A 2005 article said Hicks "centered his book on a fictional relationship between McGavock and ... Cashwell because he knew little about the plantation mistress. He says that he didn't intentionally change McGavock's story, but at times he just didn't have all the facts to fully tell it." While this is certainly understandable and acceptable, there were aspects of the relationship I did not find realistic.

Besides the McGavocks and Mariah, Hicks incorporated other real people into his story, such as Nathan Bedford Forrest (in the postwar years) as himself, and Tod Carter (aka "Mint Julep") as Will Baylor (aka "Cotton Gin"). The sentimental tale at the end of the novel about the grave of James Wilson Winn is apparently true.

All in all, I liked this novel, and it has sparked an interest in learning more about the McGavocks, Mariah, and Carter, as well as the Battle of Franklin, and visiting the sites mentioned in the book.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[This book was borrowed from and returned to my university library. This review can also be found on Bookin' It.] ( )
1 vote riofriotex | May 9, 2015 |
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 |
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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:22 -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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