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REVIEW: Widow of the South by Robert Hicks

Dear Mr. Hicks,

The Widow of the SouthI read somewhere that after being involved with Carnton Plantation and its Civil War cemetery for years and trying to interest any author in telling the story, you finally decided to write the book yourself. It’s a fascinating step back in time to a war tearing a country in half and how one woman dealt with having it literally come to her back yard. I just wish that I had known the approach you intended to take to tell the story.

The Battle of Franklin is not as well known as many Civil War battles but it has the dubious distinction of having a higher casualty rate in five hours than the 19 hours of the first day of the Normandy invasion, more deaths than Pickett’s Charge and sounding the death knell to the Confederacy. When it was over, a town of 2500 people struggled to cope with three times its number of dead and dying soldiers. Many were brought to the large plantation house which was visible from some of the battlefield and here Carrie McGavock, her family and slaves struggled to nurse them. Two years after the battle, Carrie and her husband John had almost 1500 buried soldiers reburied on their land when agricultural development threatened the original shallow graves hastily dug after the battle. Carrie gained national acclaim as she spent the rest of her life caring for what is now the largest private Civil War cemetery.

I wanted to love this book. I really did. Parts of it are marvelous. The horrible beauty of the battle, the agony of the wounded survivors, the glimpses into Carrie’s family, the after war fate of many and the ultimate birth of the cemetery are fantastic. I was riveted. But as you portray her, Carrie herself frustrated and annoyed me. She goes into these long, drawn out and convoluted thought processes which baffled me and only served to bring the action to a grinding halt. You insert fictional characters, one of whom serves as a “love interest.” If Carrie loves this man, I’d hate to be someone she didn’t like. She treats him more as a lab rat to watch and observe then goes postal on him at one point. Is there any basis for believing the real woman was like this? And was she truly in a years long state of continual mourning for her three dead children? That I could believe more easily, though, given the high infant mortality of the time. At one point you have her slave and lifelong companion, Mariah, get angry and tell Carrie off as a woman who wants everything “just so” and who doesn’t seem to care who she inconveniences to get her own way. After reading 350 pages of this self obsessed woman, I thought, “you tell her sister!” You also tell the story from many different first and third person points of view. At first I wasn’t sure what you were doing by that but finally guessed that the most important personages speak in first person while the secondary ones use third.

I would have loved this book told as non-fiction. I could handle this book with fictional characters and your attempts to flesh out what is known of the real people and place and events if it hadn’t gotten bogged down in this relationship you invented between Carrie and a soldier which takes an enormous amount of space and yet revealed almost nothing to me. There is enough of the book that I did enjoy to grade it a B- but, oh what I wish it had been.

~Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

11 Comments

  1. Marg
    Jan 13, 2007 @ 16:38:19

    I have had this on my TBR list for forever. I love reading Historical Fiction and about the Civil War so it is right up my alley.

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  2. Jayne
    Jan 14, 2007 @ 08:25:37

    Marg, are you an expat American or do you just enjoy reading about our Civil War?

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  3. Jana J. Hanson
    Jan 15, 2007 @ 16:54:24

    Thanks Jayne!

    I received this book for the holidays (after reading half before the library demanded it back).

    Carnton is a beautiful place and I felt more interested in picking this book back up after visiting there this summer.

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  4. Patricia Thursby
    May 11, 2008 @ 10:59:39

    Mr. Hicks

    Thank you for writting the book. My grandmother was a McGavock and I just love hearing and reading about the McGavock family. I visited the McGavock home this summer in Franklin and was glad I finally got to see it. I am also looking for the book Pen and Sword the journal and letters of Col. Randal McGavock who fought in the Civil War and was mayor of Nashville. Again thank you for writting your book and I really enjoyed reading it. I hope you will write more books about the civil war.

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  5. James
    Jan 20, 2009 @ 23:19:04

    I just got the book and I am about 1/4 of the way in and I love it.. I am a history buff and I love to read and hear about the Civil War. I have been regress and I live through the civil war and was killed. I know this is a lot to take it but it was a real as it gets when I was regressed. This book takes me back to a time that sometimes you don’t want to remember but Its part of you and you cant. The battles are told in a way that puts you in the middle of the action and I can almost see the brutality of war when this country was at its lowest point in history.
    Thanks for the book Mr. Hicks and you have inspired me to visit your little town because I want to see it for my self.. Thanks again. James

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  6. Jayne
    Jan 21, 2009 @ 05:59:24

    James, I thought the battle sequences were among the best of this book and some of the best I’ve read in any war books.

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  7. James
    Jan 21, 2009 @ 20:44:59

    I agree with you about he battle sequences. I am a civil war nuti guess you could say and this is the best I have ever read. I want to go to Franklin so bad now. it abot an 8 hour drive from where i live.. Have you ever been Jayne? I also would love to meet Robert Hicks.. THanks

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  8. Jayne
    Jan 22, 2009 @ 04:37:59

    @James

    No, I’ve never been there though if I were in the area, I’d probably make the effort. A friend of mine and her family recently visited Gettysburg and found it quite moving. She sent me pics of the monuments and one sweeping view of the field faced by the soldiers in Pickett’s Division. It’s almost staggering to actually see it and try to imagine what they were thinking and feeling as they lined up.

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  9. Linda
    Jul 15, 2009 @ 05:27:43

    I have a question? Mr. Hicks leads one to believe that John McGavock had his “way” with Mariah and possible might have been Theopolis”s father??

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  10. Jayne
    Jul 15, 2009 @ 05:33:41

    Linda, frankly it’s been so long since I read the book that I don’t recall this and given the fact that I think he invented some aspects of the family’s personal lives, there’s no telling.

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  11. Mary Morley
    Jul 21, 2009 @ 10:29:31

    I live in Nashville and the Carnton Plantation is a stop for all of my out of town guests. In addition, I like to take tourists to the Carter House tour about a mile from Carnton. It really gives you an overview of the Battle of Franklin. Both are spots that I would highly recommend.

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