Monday, July 10, 2017

...a Book by its Cover...Robert Hicks' "The Widow of the South"...


What an eye-catching cover design on this novel of historic fiction! So evocative of the second half of the 19th Century. But is it fiction? Partly: the story is a novel based on the life of a lady--almost totally forgotten now--whose name, Carrie McGavock--was practically a "household word" at the turn of the 20th Century.

In the tiny town of Franklin, TN (now part of greater Nashville; home to country music stars) late in the American Civil War, a giant gush of bloodletting took place called The Battle of Franklin. The South lost; even had they won the battle it would not change the outcome: the surrender came about 4 months later. For the number of troops and the length of the battle: about 5 hours, Franklin is considered perhaps the bloodiest battle ever fought by Americans; a hopeless charge by the South against entrenched Northern troops in the town.

At end of the day, about 6,000 Confederates were dead--all over town--along with 1,000 Northerners.
Countless were horribly injured, waiting to die in parlors, public buildings, churches---and all over Carrie's plantation farm, Carnton. (Northern dead and injured were quickly whisked away to Nashville and beyond.)

She and the others in town nursed the injured and helped carry off the dead to a common burial in a field near town. It took months until the scene was cleared.

Carrie became world famous because eventually, the farmer whose field was used for the burial, wanted to replant with crops. But Carrie and her husband organized an effort  to bring all the remaining dead back their own farm for burial in the family cemetery. She spent the rest of her life documenting the dead, answering letters from families who wondered if their relative was with her at Carnton and tending the large cemetery. It still remains today.

Carrie McGavock was so well-known in her old age (she died in 1905) that the story of her work was influential to Margaret Mitchell when she was crafting "Gone With the Wind".

We "accidentally" visited Carnton and the Cemetery years ago, about 1993: the house was a hulk, though the grave yard was maintained by a local group. Since then, the author was this novel and others in the Nashville-Franklin area have raised funds and renovated Carnton as it was before the Battle. It serves as a venue for special occasions, etc. as well as a tourist site.

Even if not for the history, the novel stands alone as an exciting story of courage--and even a little romance. It reminded me a bit of "Cold Mountain", my all-time favorite Civil War novel.

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