Book Review: The Widow of the South by Robert Hicks

Carrie McGavock has spent years wrapped in deep depression, a recluse, the result of losing three of her children while they were still practically babies. Her husband has become accustomed to living with a shadow of a woman. Mariah, Carrie’s Negro slave and life long companion assists in keeping the world at large from intruding on her mistress’s grief until one fateful November afternoon in 1864. The Union army decided the McGavock residence could be pressed into service as a field hospital when they engaged the Confederates thus Carrie finds herself being drawn back into the world of living, of loving again.

The Battle of Franklin played out not far from McGavock plantation and before long Carrie’s home was filled with dead and dying solders. When the house overflowed, men were laid out on the porch, then the yard until all the ground was covered with bodies. Piles of amputated limps grew as high as the smokehouse roof, the household supply of sheets, linens, than curtains were sacrificed for bandages, then entire plantation was taken up with care of the dying. It is here amongst the horror of war that Carrie meets the man who will eventually hold her heart. With the passing months after the battle, the survivors eventually disperse as they return home, back to war, prison camps or are hastily buried.

As with most of the south, times were hard for the McGavock family in the years following the end of the Civil War. As they struggled to hang onto what little was left of the plantation, one wealthy landowner became more embittered by the loss of his son for what he considered a wasted cause. He decided to cultivate the field which held some 1,500 dead, a way to show his utter contempt for the war and those who died in it. Outraged townspeople, including Carrie tried to talk him out it; offers to purchase the field were turned down flat. When there seemed no way to dissuade him from carrying out the monstrous act Carrie struck a deal whereby the bodies would be relocated to the McGavock family plot.

It was an onerous, nearly impossible task but when completed resulted in the nameless, faceless dead being identified and given a peaceful resting place in what is now the nation’s largest private military cemetery. Always wearing black, Carrie spent her remaining years with Mariah at her side, caring for the honored dead, responding to the thousands of letters searching for lost loved ones and awaiting the return of the solder who won her heart.

This touching, well written novel is based on actual places, people and events leading up to and following the Battle of Franklin, one of the truly horrific episodes of the Civil War. The five bloody hours of the Battle of Franklin resulted in 9,200 dead, including the largest number of American generals lost in battle. To put the numbers into context, that’s more casualties then the nineteen hours of D-Day and over twice the casualties of Pearl Harbor. For all horror of warfare this is much more then a tale of battle and death, it’s about strength and courage in the face of adversity, it’s a story of honor, dignity and love.

The book is in stores now and available via Amazon or Amazon UK.

Note the date on this article may be incorrect due to importing it from our old system.