The Black Flower: A Novel of the Civil War

The Black Flower: A Novel of the Civil War

by Howard Bahr


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The Black Flower: A Novel of the Civil War by Howard Bahr

A Confederate soldier confronts the horror of battle and the power of grace in this “poignant, haunting, and important” novel of the Civil War (The Tennessean, Nashville).
A New York Times Notable Book and Winner of the William Boyd Award for Best Military Novel
In November 1864, Gen. John Bell Hood’s Army of Tennessee prepares to launch an assault on Union forces near Franklin, Tennessee. Dirty, exhausted, and hungry, the Confederate soldiers form a line of battle across an open field. Among them stands Pvt. Bushrod Carter, a twenty-six-year-old rifleman from Cumberland, Mississippi. Against all odds, Bushrod has survived three years of war unscathed—but his luck is about to run out.
Wounded in the battle, Bushrod is taken to a makeshift hospital on a nearby plantation. There, he falls under the care of Anna Hereford, who bears her own scars from years of relentless bloodshed and tragedy. In the grisly aftermath of one of the Confederate army’s most disastrous campaigns, Anna and Bushrod seek salvation and understanding in each other. Their fragile bond carries with it the hope of a life beyond the war, and the risk of a pain too devastating to endure.
Written with profound empathy and meticulous attention to historical detail, The Black Flower brilliantly portrays the staggering human toll of America’s bloodiest conflict. In his award-winning debut novel, “Howard Bahr casts a tale of war as powerful as any you’ll ever find” (Southern Living).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504050555
Publisher: Open Road Integrated Media LLC
Publication date: 04/24/2018
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 350
Sales rank: 633,134
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Howard Bahr is the author of four novels: The Black Flower (1997), The Year of Jubilo (2000), The Judas Field (2006), and Pelican Road (2008). A native of Meridian, Mississippi, he served in the US Navy during the Vietnam War and worked for several years as a railroad yard clerk and brakeman. From 1982 to 1993, Bahr was curator of Rowan Oak, the William Faulkner homestead and museum in Oxford, Mississippi. His last post was as writer-in-residence at Belhaven University.

Read an Excerpt


Bushrod Carter dreamed of snow, of big, round flakes drifting like sycamore leaves from heaven. The snow settled over trees and fences, over artillery and the rumps of horses, over the men moving in column up the narrow road. A snowflake, light and dry as a lace doily, lit on the crown of Bushrod's hat; when he made to brush it away, he found it was not snow at all but a hoe cake dripping with molasses. All the snowflakes were turning into hoe cakes the minute they hit the ground. The road and the field were covered in them, but nobody else seemed to notice. The boys went on marching as if nothing had happened.

Bushrod broke ranks, clambered over a rail fence, and knelt in a drift of hoe cakes. He scooped up a handful and breathed deep of the smell of them. He was just about to bite into one when he noticed the wink of a lantern among the distant trees. Reluctantly, he dropped the hoe cake and moved toward the light. Suddenly, he was in the nave of the Church of the Holy Cross, the lantern now a sacristy candle gleaming redly by the altar. All was exactly as he had last seen it, only that had been in springtime and now a winter sun fell in wine-colored ribbons of light through the windows. Bushrod walked slowly up the nave, the broad pine boards of the floor creaking underfoot. He knelt at the altar rail. A priest in humble linen chasuble was consecrating the elements. Bushrod crossed himself and waited. When the priest turned at last, it was General Patrick Cleburne. "I am glad to see you, General," said Bushrod.

The Irishman regarded Bushrod with his dark eyes. He turned again, and Bushrod followed him across a broad wooden stage that rang hollow with their passage. There were fires burning, between which the darkness lay whole and impenetrable. The General passed into one of these dark spaces and Bushrod did not follow. Instead he sat down on a balustrade and waited. Presently, his cousin Remy appeared bearing a great ham on a silver platter. It was a beautiful ham glazed with molasses, the marrow in the round bone still bubbling with heat. Bushrod breathed deep of the smell of it.

"Take, eat," Remy said, and cut off a golden slab of the ham with a bowie knife and laid it in Bushrod's upturned hands and he was about to bite into it when he awoke.

"Well, dammit," he said aloud, and the sound of his own voice startled him.

He had gone to sleep standing up, leaning on his musket. Hunger gnawed at him, and he watched regretfully as the dream of hoe cakes and ham and molasses faded away. However, he was glad to see that it wasn't really snowing — that was something, anyway. Like a fool, he had obeyed orders and left his blanket roll with the brigade trains down below Duck River; now he would have to steal another one from the Strangers who waited up ahead. There had been some bitter snow coming up from the Tennessee crossing, but the winter was young and fickle yet, and this November afternoon was such as old bird hunters love to dream on: cool and dry, the brittle grass and broomsage brown in the fields, shadows blue in the fence corners. The air was hazy with wood-smoke and the dust of a multitude's passing. There was the smell of sycamore leaves.

Bushrod rubbed his eyes and tried to remember what day it was. He counted backward toward the afternoon they crossed the long pontoon bridge over the Tennessee. He tried to picture every sunrise in his mind, but they all ran together in a swirl of snow and rain. There were ten, he thought — perhaps eleven — so it was either Tuesday or Wednesday. It didn't matter in any case, he supposed.

Then he remembered. Early last evening when they had formed line of battle, somebody remarked that it was too bad because he liked to keep his Tuesdays free. So it must be Wednesday now.

Last night was worse than any coon hunt. They had stumbled around in the dark, running into trees and tripping over old cotton rows, trying to keep their alignment, trying to catch the Strangers when it was all they could do to keep up with themselves. At last, around midnight, the regiment had gone into a cold bivouac, sleeping on their arms, and way off in the night Bushrod had wakened to the sound of troops passing on the Nashville road. He figured it was the Strangers slipping past them in the dark, and he was right. The stars were still out when the First Sergeant came and prodded them awake. All this livelong day they had hurried north up the same Nashville road in the footsteps of the retreating enemy, and now they were in line of battle again on a broad plain with the hills to their backs and a little village in the curve of a river up ahead. They were in line of battle. ... the realization came to Bushrod with a jolt, and the last rags of sleep blew away.

He wished he had some coffee. He looked hopefully, but nobody was making any fires. That was a bad sign, he thought.

On this November afternoon, Bushrod Carter was barely twenty-six, but his greasy hair and mustache were already shot with gray. The grime of the long campaign from Atlanta was etched in the lines of his face and in the cracked knuckles of his hands; crammed under his fingernails was a paste of black powder, bacon grease, and the soil of three Confederate states. Though he was a veteran of all the campaigns of the Army of Tennessee since Shiloh, the fortunes of war had left him still a private of the line, carrying a musket in the ranks of the regiment he had joined more than three years before. True, he had been a Corporal once on the march up into Kentucky, but he had lost his stripes (symbolically, for he hadn't sewn any on) in the confusion over a pitcher of buttermilk stolen from the officers' mess. It was just as well with him, for he really possessed no military ambition. In fact, he was sure he no longer possessed ambition of any kind.

He had never been wounded, never been very sick, never been kicked by any of the multitude of horses that always surrounded them (though he'd been stepped on twice), never broken a limb nor fallen from a wagon nor gotten hold of any whiskey he would call bad. All this singular good fortune he credited to the Saint Michael medal that dangled from his watch chain, a parting gift from Mister Denby Garrison, Rector of the Church of the Holy Cross. On the medal the archangel with drawn sword was in combat with a dragon; around the struggling figures were the words: St. Michael Protect Us in Battle.

Bushrod wore a brown felt hat, misshapen by many rains, with a brass star pinned to the crown of it. He wore his gray roundabout jacket unbuttoned, but arranged so that the Masonic device sewn to the breast was clearly visible beneath his cartridge box strap. He wore checkered wool trousers stained with mud in gradations from the cuffs, and shoes on the Jefferson pattern purchased with Illinois state bank notes from a man in Florence, Alabama, just before they'd crossed the river. Bushrod was glad to be rid of the wrinkled, blood-speckled bills which, until they were translated into shoes, bore the animus of the Recently Departed Stranger from whose pants pockets he had taken them.

Bushrod had taken — on loan, as he saw it — other things from the Strangers during his army career, and many of these he was wearing now. He had a Federal bull's-eye canteen covered in dark blue wool, a Federal cap box on a Federal belt (though the buckle was his own: a brass oval with a star), a Federal tarred haversack with a good linen liner, and a Federal cartridge box still bearing the "U.S." plate crammed with fifty rounds of .577 ball cartridge taken from a waylaid United States Quartermaster wagon just over the Duck River crossing. Back with the trains was his excellent Federal wool blanket rolled in a waterproof gum blanket, also Federal, neither of which he ever expected to see again.

His own side — that is, the Confederate States of America, which existed for Bushrod only as a vague and distant, and rarely generous, entity — had provided him a first-rate Enfield rifle with blued barrel and a rich, oily walnut stock into which he had carved his initials. The blueing was nearly all rubbed off now, and the lands and grooves of the rifling so worn that he imagined the ball wobbled on its outbound trip, but he had carried the piece too long to want to give it up. Besides, he was not a sharpshooter; Bushrod preferred to leave his targets to chance. For this rifle the Confederate States had given Bushrod a bayonet (currently affixed), a bayonet frog and scabbard, and a nipple-protector on a brass chain which he'd thrown away long ago. Finally his government had sent him over the years a series of stylish gray roundabout jackets, on the Army of Tennessee pattern, which he thought were flattering to his rangy frame. His current jacket was stained, tattered at the cuffs, and comfortable. For these, and for all things, he was grateful.

Bushrod also wore a light gray civilian waistcoat; in its pocket, at the other end of the chain from the Saint Michael's medal, lay a gold watch he'd won for declamation as a senior at the University of Mississippi. The watch was thin and fragile and should not have lasted this long, but it ticked on faithfully, wheels turning, balance swinging, and no doubt the time it measured owned some meaning somewhere.

Thus accoutred, Bushrod Carter stood in the melancholy sunlight, wishing for coffee and waiting for something to happen.

When the regiment came into line that afternoon, they were given the command to rest almost at once. They did not stack arms, however, which was always a bad sign. Now most of the boys were sitting or lying in place on the ground so that it did not seem to be a line at all but a vast, untidy mob of lounging vagrants, some talking quietly, some playing cards, a few reading letters or writing them. Many lay with their hats over their eyes, wandering through restless dreams of their own. Bushrod, even tired as he was, did not feel like lying down. He stood with his musket between his feet, idly thumbing the socket ring of his bayonet, and looked at the sky.

In the southwest, the sun was sinking lower and lower. Across the blue interval of the heavens, a quarter-moon was rising in the southeast. Moon and sun all at once, vaguely disturbing, portentous, maybe a bad sign though it could be a good one. Bushrod didn't know. He only knew that, in the narrowing interval between that moment and darkness, something was bound to happen.

Ordinarily, Bushrod tried not to think too much in the time before a battle. Long ago he had learned to close his mind to speculation, fixing his eyes on the crossed straps or blanket roll of the man to his front or, if he was in the front rank (as he was now), the ground at his feet. He never, never, never looked up at the enemy, not since the first charge on the sunken road at Shiloh when the sight of the bristling blue ranks and the waiting guns double-shotted with canister nearly froze his heart. When a fight was joined in earnest, Bushrod did not think at all. The roar of his own blood consumed all thought and drove him deep into the marrow dark, where he huddled in supplication while Another in his shape loaded and fired the musket, swung it at the heads of Strangers, and waded through the shambles. Only afterward — when the mortal spark, having survived once more, crept upward and looked timidly about — did Bushrod dare to think again. He would look at his hands or at some humble element of earth — a rock, a cloud, a blade of grass — and gradually all the scattered atoms of his being would draw together like particles of quicksilver into one Bushrod Carter again. At such times, he could remember almost nothing of what he had done in the battle. The remembering came later, like magic lantern slides, at unexpected times and places, but most often as he was about to drift into sleep. Then he would watch as scene after scene unfolded, with himself at the center of each, and whatever of terror and outrage and violence he'd missed before would return undiminished in fatal clarity and no effort of will would make it stop until it was played out to the end — Bushrod all the while telling himself That could not be me but knowing all the while that it was.

So Bushrod went to great lengths not to think before a fight, knowing there would be plenty of time for that later. On this afternoon, however, he could not seem to keep from thinking, could no more stop thinking than he could check the movement of the sun and moon. He even began to think about this time tomorrow, something he rarely allowed himself at any time. He pictured himself walking out alone by the little river that curled around the village like a protecting arm. There, among the willows, he would sit in the cold twilight and smoke and write in his book. He imagined a kingfisher darting down the tunnel of barren trees. He saw the dimple and swirl of fish in the shallows. What was about to happen now would be all over with then. I wish it was this time tomorrow, he thought.

Then he risked a look at the prospect ahead where the Strangers were waiting for him, and immediately wished he hadn't. A line of trees marked the river, and there were the spires and rooftops of the town, all elements of a world to which he had no access at the moment. Instead, clearly and painfully visible, like new-turned furrows in a field, were the mysterious works of the enemy; these alone, in the prospect ahead, were of his life and of his comrades' lives. Between Bushrod and those works was a good mile or more of treeless plain which he personally would have to cross to get at the Strangers, and he knew that the gunners over there had long since laid their pieces to sow every yard of it with shell and canister. Over there, too, were the long bayonetted Springfields soon to be levelled at him by men he did not know, with whom he had no personal quarrel, whose lives he could not imagine — but who would, if they could, send him straightway to join the long ranks of the Departed.

An unwelcome, but not unfamiliar, thought arrived in Bushrod's mind. If only those boys over there could get to know him for a while — if only they could learn what a charming, what a really extraordinary fellow he was — perhaps they would not be so keen to erase all the possibilities he represented. Then he thought how, among all the minions of the enemy, there was really only one who needed to know him — the one whose every living step since birth had been toward the moment when he would raise his musket or pull the lanyard of his gun or aim his pistol and drop death like a stone into the heart of Bushrod Carter. But which one was it? And even if he knew — For a moment, Bushrod stopped breathing. It was like being underwater, the green world only a circle of light too far above. How could they want to kill him? How could they dare? It was not fair that all his dreams (he had none at present, but no doubt some would appear at their appointed time) were at the mercy of a total stranger, a man to whom he had never been introduced but who, in an instant, could be wed to him so intimately and rob him of all that God Himself had promised —

His breath came back in a long, ragged sob. He looked wildly about, every nerve vibrating against the air. He did not want to think about these things. He did not want to remember what it was like to walk across the open ground in good order under the flags —

Look at you said a voice in his head, disapproving and cold, speaking from somewhere in the marrow dark. It was a voice Bushrod had heard many times before; he believed it belonged to that other Bushrod Carter with whom he swapped places now and then and who rarely saw things as he did. All a-tremble over things that ain't happened yet, that might not happen atall. I won't have this, won't have it. Now, listen. Listen

Bushrod shut his eyes tight, and in the dark behind his eyes arose a vision: the battlefield, the tangled breastworks of the enemy floating closer and closer, what had been life's endless prospect shrunken to a few yards of brittle grass. And the Departed! The Departed rising from the earth like blackbirds, by the hundreds, by the thousands, groaning and chattering, disappearing forever into the smoke —

No, you don't the voice commanded. Listen! So Bushrod set his heart against the vision and listened. What he heard was the murmur of living men, his comrades, and beyond that the sullen utterance of the great army spread around him, that lay under the press of something even greater still. The dark necessity, somebody had called it. That was Hawthorne said the voice. Remember what he said. The black flower. Let the black flower blossom as it may


Excerpted from "The Black Flower"
by .
Copyright © 1997 Howard Bahr.
Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

Shelby Foote

"I recommend it highly."

Ernest B. Furgurson

"I finished it in one long draught, thinking as I read of Crane, Hemmingway, Nailor, and Faulkner...but realizing at the end that it was altogether original."

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The Black Flower: A Novel of the Civil War 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This novel is so lyrically powerful it is stunning. I cannot imagine how other works, such as Cold Mountain, have had greater recognition. This is truly a literary triumph. Faulkneresque is one way to describe Bahr's richness of language and description. The characters are unique and real, though perhaps a bit grungier than necessary. I recommend anything Bahr has written to date, especially this one. If you are not moved after having read it, then your heart is of stone. Having written my own novel, Scarecrow in Gray, I know something about how difficult it is. Bahr is so good at this it is stunning.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the most beautifully written story I have ever read, of any genre. What a great cast of characters, especially Bushrod and Anna. Howard Bahr is a wonderful novelist!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Overall, I really liked Howard Bahr's 'The Black Flower.' I was amazed by all of the intricate details of the Civil War. Even though it was fiction, it was very historically accurate to the warfare of the era. One of the things I liked most about this book was not the intense battlefield descriptions, but the descriptions of the men before the war and how much it changed their lives. It is interesting to see that most of these men were not at all interested in fighting but basically dragged into the conflict against their will. I also liked how it was told from the view of a Confederate soldier and how differently they saw the war opposed to the view of a Union soldier. Throughout the book there are constantly new people being brought into the story and each time their story is told about how they came to be apart of the war. I liked how every individual person had their own unique story. The lead character, Bushrod Carter, appears first to just be another rebel war monger but as I read more and more, I saw that he wasn¿t such a bad guy after all. In fact, he becomes one of the most likeable people in the novel. The 'love story' part of the book is also interesting because of the situation in which it comes from. This book is full of adventure, intense battles, deep friendships, romance and even devastation. It shows all of the aspects of war and the horrors that everyone, not just the soldiers themselves, had to go through. A very good book and I would recommend it to all.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book for my American History class for school. Towards the beginning, it was a little confusing to keep all the characters straight because many are introduced all at once. But after the introductions, it becomes clear that Bushrod Carter, Jack Bishop, and Virgil C. are three best friends that share the experiences of the many battles together. Many battles were explained in the novel such as the battle of Shiloh, the Chickamauga battle and the great Battle of Franklin which leaves many soldiers injured. This leads to the McGavocks opening their big brick house as a temporary hospital for hundreds of soldiers. Many of the men from the 21st Mississippi regiment, which included the three friends, were at the McGavocks. Anna Hereford, a cousin to the McGavocks, adds a romantic twist to the novel. As a caretaker at the hospital, she becomes attached to the main character, Bushrod while tending to his needs. Many other soldiers become attracted to Anna, like Nebo Gloster, a conscript, and Simon Rope, an antagonist in the book who wants to kill Bushrod and his friends however, she falls for Bushrod. The novel tragically ends with the death of Bushrod Carter. The Black Flower provided great insights and details of the courageous lives of soldiers. It described the soldiers getting ready to fight and how a band playing music would follow to keep their spirits high. I would definitely recommend this novel because it can make you laugh, cry and realize how precious life is.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I got this book as a Christmas gift two years ago or so but never got around to reading it until recently - and I am very glad I took the time to do so. Not only does the novel inform you of what the Civil War was really like...but it also has...'character' I guess you would say. It's not sappy but it's not boring. It is realistic and clearly creates the image of War for you...on and off the battlefield. This story focuses mainly on Bushrod Carter, a soldier, and the people he knows and becomes acquainted with. You aslo are shown what war is from his as well as his comrades - and just everyday people's- perspective. It's very moving and captivating and I would highly reccommend it...mainly to older people because of the..'adult language' but once again....Mr. Bahr is only doing a magnificent job as an author and portraying what it was really like back then. So read and enjoy..which I guarantee you'll do!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I just loved this book. I have seen Franklin's battle feild and the house ('Carnton Plantation') that was used for A Field Hospital. This book made everything I remember from my visit come to life. The Author did used great historical accuracy to bring the Battle of Franklin to life!! A must read!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I started reading this book for a U.S. History report and completely fell in love with it. Books related to war don't usually interest me, yet this portrayed war in such a way that I was completely blown away! It is wonderfully written book that I would recommend to anyone, even those who are not particularly interested in the Civil War.