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The Widow of the South

The Widow of the South

3.8 136
by Robert Hicks

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In 1894 Carrie McGavock is an old woman who has only her former slave to keep her company…and the almost 1,500 soldiers buried in her backyard. Years before, rather than let someone plow over the field where these young men had been buried, Carrie dug them up and reburied them in her own personal cemetery. Now, as she walks the rows of the dead, an old soldier appears


In 1894 Carrie McGavock is an old woman who has only her former slave to keep her company…and the almost 1,500 soldiers buried in her backyard. Years before, rather than let someone plow over the field where these young men had been buried, Carrie dug them up and reburied them in her own personal cemetery. Now, as she walks the rows of the dead, an old soldier appears. It is the man she met on the day of the battle that changed everything. The man who came to her house as a wounded soldier and left with her heart. He asks if the cemetery has room for one more.

In an extraordinary debut novel, based on a remarkable true story, Robert Hicks draws an unforgettable, panoramic portrait of a woman who, through love and loss, found a cause. Known throughout the country as "the Widow of the South," Carrie McGavock gave her heart first to a stranger, then to a tract of hallowed ground-and became a symbol of a nation's soul.

The novel flashes back thirty years to the afternoon of the Battle of Franklin, five of the bloodiest hours of the Civil War. There were 9,200 casualties that fateful day. Carrie's home -- the Carnton plantation -- was taken over by the Confederate army and turned into a hospital; four generals lay dead on her back porch; the pile of amputated limbs rose as tall as the smoke house. And when a wounded soldier named Zachariah Cashwell arrived and awakened feelings she had thought long dead, Carrie found herself inexplicably drawn to him despite the boundaries of class and decorum. The story that ensues between Carrie and Cashwell is just as unforgettable as the battle from which it is drawn.

The Widow of the South is a brilliant novel that captures the end of an era, the vast madness of war, and the courage of a remarkable woman to claim life from the grasp of death itself.

Editorial Reviews

The title character of this haunting historical novel is Carrie McGavock, whose farmhouse was commandeered as a Confederate field hospital before the tragic battle at Franklin, Tennessee, in November 1864. That day, 9,000 soldiers perished. This tragic event turned McGavock into "the widow of the South." She spent the rest of her life mourning those lost, eventually reburying nearly 1,500 of them on her property. Robert Hicks's first historical novel captures the life-altering force that war exerts even on noncombatants.
Paulette Jiles
… Carrie McGavock's convoluted internal monologues about why she feels impelled to rescue the wounded and bury the dead halt the narrative in its tracks. Better to stick with Cashwell; he alone is worth the read. I'd follow him anywhere, wooden leg and all.
3 The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Hicks's big historical first novel, based on true events in his hometown, follows the saga of Carrie McGavock, a lonely Confederate wife who finds purpose transforming her Tennessee plantation into a hospital and cemetery during the Civil War. Carrie is mourning the death of several of her children, and, in the absence of her husband, has left the care of her house to her capable Creole slave Mariah. Before the 1864 battle of Franklin, Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest commandeers her house as a field hospital. In alternating points of view, the battle is recounted by different witnesses, including Union Lt. Nathan Stiles, who watches waves of rebels shot dead, and Confederate Sgt. Zachariah Cashwell, who loses a leg. By the end of the battle, 9,000 soldiers have perished, and thousands of Confederates are buried in a field near the McGavock plantation. Zachariah ends up in Carrie's care at the makeshift hospital, and their rather chaste love forms the emotional pulse of the novel, while Carrie fights to relocate the buried soldiers when her wealthy neighbor threatens to plow up the field after the war. Valiantly, Hicks returns to small, human stories in the midst of an epic catastrophe. Though occasionally overwrought, this impressively researched novel will fascinate aficionados. Agent, Jeff Kleinman. Major ad/promo, 15-city publicity tour. (Aug.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
John McGavock, the husband of our eponymous heroine, isn't even dead when she begins wearing black, but the mantle of mourning seems to fit Carrie McGavock. Having lost three young children, it is perhaps appropriate that she becomes the caretaker of over 1500 Confederate dead, all killed at the Battle of Franklin, TN, in 1864. Based on a true story, music publisher Hicks's first novel brings the reader onto the battlefield and into the lives of its survivors, including Zachariah Cashwell, an Arkansas soldier whose presence at the makeshift hospital established in the McGavock home shakes Carrie out of her stupor: "I had discovered why I had been drawn to him," she says. "He is a living thing, not a dying one." And it is life, after all, that drives Hicks's story. We know from the outset about Carrie's cemetery, but her journey to that place is compellingly told. Highly recommended for all libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/05.]-Bette-Lee Fox, Library Journal Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A thunderous, action-rich first novel of the Civil War, based on historical fact. Music publisher Hicks treats a long-overlooked episode of the war in this account of the Battle of Franklin, Tenn., which took place in November 1864 near Nashville. As a field hospital is pitched in her field, Carrie McGavock, an iron-spined farm woman and upstanding citizen of the town, takes it upon herself to tend after the Confederate wounded; later, she and her husband will rebury 1,500 of the fallen on their property. Hicks centers much of the story on Carrie, who has seen her own children die of illness and who has endurance in her blood. "I was not a morbid woman," Carrie allows, "but if death wanted to confront me, well, I would not turn my head. Say what you have to say to me, or leave me alone." Other figures speak their turn. One is a young Union officer amazed at the brutal and sometimes weird tableaux that unfold before him; as the bullets fly, he pauses before a 12-year-old rebel boy suffocating under the weight of his piled-up dead comrades. "Suffocated. I had never considered the possibility," young Lt. Stiles sighs. Another is an Arkansas soldier taken prisoner by the Yankees: "I became a prisoner and accepted all the duties of a prisoner just as easily as I'd picked up the damned colors and walked forward to the bulwarks." Yet another is Nathan Forrest, who would strike fear in many a heart as a Confederate cavalryman, and later as the founder of the Ku Klux Klan. Hicks renders each of these figures with much attention to historical detail and a refreshing lack of genre cliche, closing with a subtle lament for the destruction of history before the bulldozer: "One longs to know that somethings don't change, that some of us will not be forgotten, that our perambulations upon the earth are not without point or destination."An impressive addition to the library of historical fiction on the Civil War, worthy of a place alongside The Killer Angels, Rifles for Watie and Shiloh. First printing of 75,000

Product Details

Grand Central Publishing
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
4.20(w) x 6.60(h) x 1.30(d)

Read an Excerpt

From the Prologue


Carrie watched him go and then turned to Mariah, whom she had once owned, a gift to her from her father. She was a gift, whatever the meaning and implications of that word. Mariah had been her tether to the earth when things had spun away, when Carrie wasn't sure if there remaineda real and true life for her, and then when she wasn't sure if she wanted that life even if it existed. Things had been different once. She couldn't believe that she had ever been so . . . what? Weak? No, that wasn't it. She'd never been weak. She'd been buffeted and knocked down, like grass bent to the ground by the wind preceding a thunderstorm. She'd been slow to get up. But she did get up, eventually. There had been no choice. She was not afraid of much, and she especially wasn't afraid of God. Not anymore, not for a long time.

"Mariah, what do you see?"

A mockingbird chased a hawk across the width of the cemetery, diving and chattering at the black shadow until it was banished from whatever bit of territory the smaller bird claimed for its own.

"I see a mockingbird. And some of them yellow birds. Finches. Big old bird with claws, too."

Mariah looked past her mistress, across the field of tall grass.

424 Killed at Franklin/Mississippi

"You know that isn't what I mean."

Carrie could see the markers and the grass, and the iron fence ringing the graveyard. She could turn and see the back of her house and remember the beards on the dead generals laid out on the porch below and the keening of the wounded on the balcony above. She could see just fine. But there was more to seeing than that, she thought. It was either a failure of imagination or a slight by the Lord Himself, but in any case she could not see the things Mariah could see. Mariah could tell her about things that gave her comfort, and Carrie cared not a whit about how she came upon the knowledge.

She pointed at a grave marker in the Tennessee section. MJM, it read. In places, twigs leaned against the stones. She made a mental note to tell the yard boy about them.

"What about him? That one."

"Miss Carrie, please, ma'am. This ain't right."

Carrie stared hard at the seam of her dress, where the new thread of her latest mending stood out like a long dark cord against the faded black of her ankle-length dress. She hadn't known how to sew before the war, and she still wasn't very good at it. They would have to dye the whole thing soon.

"I would like to know about that man."

Mariah wasn't sure that what she saw in her mind was real, just the product of a fevered imagination, or maybe the work of the devil himself making her play games with the white woman whom she loved in a way she could not describe. Fragments of light and sound came to her when she let her mind drift, and the words Carrie craved formed on Mariah's lips unbidden. It was a thoughtless exercise, a pastime to while away an afternoon. The thing she did know, the only thing she knew for sure, was that Carrie believed. Mariah could feel that on her.

"I don't know what to say, ma'am."

"Yes, you do. Don't play. We're too old for that. Tell me what you see when you stare into the earth right there. Don't hold back. I know when you're holding back."

Mariah closed her eyes and went silent, hoping Carrie would forget her little obsession and keep walking. But Carrie stayed put, so Mariah began to speak.

"There a man and a boy. It sunny. They ain't working, so maybe they just home from church."

"How old?"

"The man, he a man. Got a beard. Dark, strong. He ain't old or young. The boy, he just a little one, though he think he bigger. Maybe ten. He got a fishing pole in his hand. They going to catch fish."

"Is there a woman?"

"She dead."

"How do you know that?"

"'Cause they going out fishing in they church clothes."

She heard him before she saw him. A small cough, followed by a louder, deeper cough that he tried to swallow back. She turned toward the house and there, in the path between the gravestones, stood an old man. A surprisingly old man. He was thin and pepper-haired, and his eyes were too dark for her to see where he was looking. They were set back too far in his head to distinguish them from the shadows. He stood up tall and held his old bowler in his hand. She could see him nervously massaging his knuckles under the hat, which caused a little halo of dust to rise up off the felt. He wore a long coat that was slightly too short and scuffed boots. His mouth was twisted up in what appeared to be a smirk, but which she knew was not. He watched her closely and walked toward her with the faintest hint of a limp, enough to make her heart break. The twisted and dried-out parts of him still contained just the memory of his old beauty-all the parts of him were still there, they'd just been used up. He stood before her, so close she could hear the air whistling in and out of him. She knew him immediately, as if he'd left only the day before.

"Why'd you scare that boy, Mrs. McGavock?"

"I love that boy."

"He one of yours?"

"Do I look like he could be my child?"

"I meant, is he your grandson or something? That's possible, ain't it?"

"No, he's not my grandson, just a stray off the street."

"Just a stray," the man repeated.

They paused and looked at each other, and Carrie felt angry that he'd come without warning. The feeling passed. She pushed a stray lock of hair behind her ear and squinted hard at him.

"I didn't mean to insinuate anything," she said.

"I reckon I ain't had anyone insinuate anything about me in a long time. I didn't take no offense."

"But none was meant."

The old man stopped and toed at the grass with his foot. He looked around at the grave markers like he had misplaced something. He started to sway a little, and Mariah moved quickly behind him, ready to steady him if she had to, but not willing to speak or acknowledge him. He spoke again.

"I thought we decided a long time ago that folks don't always know what they mean. Or what things mean, for that matter."

Carrie considered this. "I suppose we did."

The old man bent over in a fit of coughing, slapping at his breast pocket until he found an old handkerchief to spit into. Mariah bent over him with her hand on his back and looked up at Carrie like she'd just seen something she wished she hadn't. He stared at his handkerchief, snorted dismissively, and put it away, all the while bent over like he was catching his breath.

Carrie had the feeling that she was falling. How could he be like this? This was not the man she'd known, not the man she remembered. The air spun and hummed around her.

She walked to his side and took his chin in her hand, hard, and pulled until he was looking her in the eye. Mariah cried out and tried to stop her, but Carrie waved her off. She saw him fully for the first time and reached with her other hand to wipe rheumy tears from the corners of his eyes and to feel the loose drape of his skin over sharp cheekbones. He struggled to keep from coughing in her face.

"What's the matter with you, soldier?"

She let him go, and he slowly stood up straight. He held his bowler near his mouth, just in case.

"Well, I reckon I can guess, but I ain't seen anyone who could tell me straight. Can't afford such a person. I've been thinking that, after all these years, I might finally die and not know for sure what killed me. That makes me laugh some."

Carrie said nothing, and then: "If I were to guess from your past history, I would say you'll outlive us all."

"I once thought I was cursed that way, yes, ma'am. But no more. There ain't no more curses out there. My history don't mean nothing. Not anymore, thank God."

She could picture him as a younger man, lying bleeding on the floor of her parlor and then sitting up in one of the chairs of her husband's study, staring out the window. She remembered his nose and how sharp it was in profile, how the light seemed changed after passing over it. He was like a cameo; at least that's what her mind remembered. She'd become used to him quickly, and back then she thought he'd be there forever. Then he was gone. She closed her eyes.

"If you're going to die, there's a place for you here."

"That's what I meant to ask you about."

Copyright © 2005 by Robert Hicks

Meet the Author

Robert Hicks has been active in the music industry in Nashville for twenty years as both a music publisher and artist manager. The driving force behind the perservation and restoration of the historic Carnton plantation in Tennessee, he stumbled upon the extraordinary role that Carrie McGavock played during and after the Battle of Franklin.

Brief Biography

Franklin, Tennessee
Date of Birth:
January 30, 1951
Place of Birth:
West Palm Beach, Forida

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The Widow of the South 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 136 reviews.
songcatchers More than 1 year ago
The Widow of the South takes place during and after a bloody Civil War battle in Franklin, Tennessee. The title refers to a very real lady who's plantation house becomes a make-shift hospital for the confederate troops. When a neighbor man wants to plow his field under, the same one where the battle took place, Carrie takes it upon herself to dig up the 1,500 soldiers that lie in that field and bury them in her own. She creates a cemetery where she keeps watch over the dead and remembers them so that others can forget. This novel tells Carrie's story but also adds a fair share of fictional characters that add more element to the book for entertainment's sake.

The Battle of Franklin is over and done with in the first hundred pages. The rest of the novel is dedicated to relationships. The relationship between Carrie and a certain soldier who makes her feel alive after so many years of mourning for her three dead children. The relationship between Carrie and her slave Mariah who have been together since birth. The relationship between confederate and union, slave and freed slave, husband and wife. Maybe most importantly this is a story of introspection....Carrie's relationship with herself. She craves meaning and the significance of life and she finds it in Zachariah, a worn out hero of the war who loses a leg in the battle and finds life again at the McGavock plantation hospital.

This is a well researched historical novel surrounding a not-so-well-known lady who devoted her life in caring for the wounded and then the dead in the aftermath of the five bloodiest hours of the Civil War. The Widow of the South is a beautifully written story with characters who have real emotional depth. I'd really like to see more books come from this author!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Shared this with everyone I could! Read this book in three days, gave it to my mom and she loved it. For anyone who wants to feel the love, fear and dedication that true southern woman went thtough. Curl up and enjoy!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well written....didn't want it to end....looking forward to his next book
ZokiLH More than 1 year ago
The author admits that the wounded soldier was put in their for interest; but, I am glad she wasn't alive.....I don't think she would have liked the romantic interest aspect. Other than that it was a fantastic book and if you ever have a chance to go see the plantation and cemetery, do, it is absolutely fantastic.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My cousin and I drove to L.A. together and wished it would have been longer. We both enjoyed the book.
nolenreads 9 months ago
What can I say that hasn't been said about this delightful historical fiction. The author brings to life real characters from history, adds a few extras, weaves in a well-drawn story, and keeps the reader enthralled to the end. What pulls the story along are the lives, loves, and tragedies that surround Carrie, the Widow of the South. The horrible battle of Franklin and the reburial of the bodies are true events that have been captured here in such a way as to make the reader care very much what happens. Recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Read this years ago, it is a book that you remember.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
lelzy More than 1 year ago
Really enjoyed reading about the family and how everyone's lives connected in the story. If you are from Franklin, TN, it made it more interesting to read because you can visualize where it all took place and the roads they traveled based on his descriptions. 
ssnanny More than 1 year ago
If you are from the South a must read about the Civil war. It's a novel based on true facts. My book club picked this for our November read. I live about 45 minutes from Carnton and going to visit soon.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I visited Carnton before this novel was written, so I was excited when I saw it was the setting of this novel. Some parts were good, some parts were just plain weird. For example the herione almost beats her love interest to death...and it doesn't end the relationship! The end of the novel was interesting so I guess I am glad I stuck through to the end, but I was left feeling the novel could have been better.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Frequently there are well-written historical novels that are a pleasure to read. Unfortunately this fictional novel was not. I found the story tedious.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really loved reading this book. I found myself thinking about these people and their situation for days and days afterwards. He was really able to make the events come alive for me and i would highly recommend it It was so eye opening to read and think about all of these people and what they were living through and how it affected them. Mr. HIcks was able to do this in a real and meaningful way.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am a real fan of books taking place in the south and during the Civil War. This book is a total disapointment. The writing goes on and on and the story seems to go no where fast. The fact that this story is based on a real character makes it even sadder. Unfortunately, I also purchased another one of Mr. Hick's books, A Separate Country. I have not read it yet, but I am not excited to start it. I really enjoy reading all the books a author writes, one after the other. Signed a disappointed reader.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book! I have read it several times and listened to it on audio cd many times. I love the story and the history! Beautiful job at combining fact and fiction to weave this beautiful story!!! I can't wait to travel to Franklin to visit the home and burial grounds! Love it, can't say enough about it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great reading .... and I want to visit Carnton Plantation and the cemetery, to make the book really come to life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I stopped reading this book when Carrie McGavock, a character based on a real person, beat a wounded soldier with a crutch. This rambling tome insults the memory of the McGavock family, and of the men and women who lived in Williamson County during those turbulent years. Sullying the life of Mrs. McGavock by having her engaging in an affair with a man outside of marriage was just too much for me to stomach. Mr. Hicks should be ashamed. He, at least, should have changed the names and location.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. Thought provoking and very interesting.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago