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The Widow of the South Hardcover – Anamorphic, August 30, 2005

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Editorial Reviews Review

In an Author's Note at the end of his book The Widow of the South, Robert Hicks tells us that "when Oscar Wilde made his infamous tour of America in 1882, he told his hosts that his itinerary should include a visit to 'sunny Tennessee to meet the Widow McGavock, the high priestess of the temple of dead boys.'" Carrie McGavock, The Widow of the South, did indeed take it upon herself to grieve the loss of so many young men in the battle of Franklin, Tennessee, which took place on November 30, 1864. Nine thousand men lost their lives that day. She and her husband John eventually re-buried on their own land 1,481 Confederate soldiers killed at Franklin, when the family that owned the land on which the original shallow graves had been dug decided to plow it under and put it into cultivation.

Before the battle begins, Carrie's house is commandeered for a field hospital and all normal life is suspended. Carrie is anything but normal, however. She has buried three children, has two living children she pays little attention to, has turned the running of the house over to her slave, Mariah, and spends her time dressed in black walking around in the dark or lying down lamenting her loss. She is a morbid figure from the outset but becomes less so as the novel progresses. The death going on all around her shakes her out of her torpor, but death is definitely her comfort zone.

One of the soldiers who is treated at the house is Zachariah Cashwell, who loses his leg when Carrie sends him to surgery rather than watch him die. They are inextricably bound in some kind of a spiritual dance from then on. Their reasons for being drawn to each other are inexplicable, apparently, because they remain unexplained, and when Cashwell tells Carrie he loves her, she beats him nearly to death because she loves him too. At least, that is the reason Hicks gives. He violates that first caveat given to all writers: "show us, don't tell us." There is doubtless something deeply flawed in Carrie and screamingly symbolic about her behavior; it is surely elusive. Too bad, because Carrie was a real person whom Hicks lauds for her compassion and ability to grieve without end. Then, he throws in this gratuitous "love story" and confuses the issue. Carrie's relationship with her husband and children remains unexamined. Hicks is better at describing death and "the stink of war" than he is at life. If you read War and Peace and loved all the war parts and were bored senseless by the peace parts, this is your cup of tea. --Valerie Ryan

From 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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 426 pages
  • Publisher: Warner Books; 1st edition (August 30, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0739458434
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446500128
  • ASIN: 0446500127
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (300 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #176,347 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I was born and raised in South FLorida. In 1974 I moved to Williamson County, TN (; in 1979 I moved to 'Labor in Vain,' a late-eighteenth-century log cabin, near Leiper's Fork, TN.

WOrking both as a music publisher and in artist management in both country and rock music, my interests remain broad and varied. A partner in BB King's Blues Clubs ( in Nashville, Memphis and Los Angeles, I serve as 'Curator of Vibe' of the corporation.

A lifelong collector, I was teh first Tennesseean to be listed among Arts & Antiquities' Top 100 Collectors in America - my collection focuses on Outsider Art, Tennesseana, and Southern Material Culture. I served as co-curator (with Ben Caldwell and Mark Scala) on the exhibition, Ar of Tennessee, at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville. The exhibition was a seven year endeavor from conception at my kitchen table to its opening, September 2003. I was co-editor of the exhibition's award-winning catalog, Art of Tennessee (UT Press, 2003).

In the field of historic preservation, I've served on the Boards of Historic Carnton Plantation (, the Tennessee State Museum, The Williamson County Historical Society, and the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts ( In December 1997, after a third term as president of the Carnton board, and in light of my years of service to Carnton, I was named by board resolution: "the driving force in the restoration and preservation of Historic Carnton Plantation."

For the past two years, I've headed up Franklin's Charge: A Vision and Campaign for the Preservation of Historic Open Space ( in the fight to secure and preserve both battlefield and other historic open space in Williamson County. Franlin's Charge has taken on the massive mission of saving what remains of the eastern flank of the battlefield at Franklin - the largest remaining undeveloped fragment of the battlefield - and turning it into a public battlefield park which will eventually run from the Lotz and Carter Houses ( to Ft. Granger and Carnton Plantation, with significant holdings around Breezy and Winstead Hills. (

THE WIDOW OF THE SOUTH was born out of my many years of work at Carnton and my passion for the preservation of the remaining fragments of the battlefield. In writing the novel, my hope was to bring national attention back to this moment in our nation's history, the impact those five bloody hours played in making us a nation, and in the preservation of the sites tied to the story.

As a writer, my essays on regional history, southern material culture, and music have appeared in numerous publications over the years. I'm now hard at work on my next novel.

In my spare time, I like to garden - even though, in truth, I know I should be jogging.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 34 people found the following review helpful By A. Owen on August 30, 2005
Format: Hardcover
The `Widow of the South' will bring Carrie McGavock's story to people who have never heard of this remarkable person. As a young, high spirited woman, she sat for a portrait wearing black, certainly not the done thing at the time. Ironically, black becomes the color of her life. She knows firsthand the loss of three beloved children and treats all the dead boys from the battle that raged outside her home as if they were her own.

One of the most touching parts of the book is the true story about a Georgia family who traveled to Tennessee to bring their dead son home from Carrie's cemetery. After seeing how she lovingly cared for him, they decided to leave him in Tennessee returning only to bring Georgia dirt from their farm for his resting place.

One read of this book is not enough.
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61 of 71 people found the following review helpful By Tamela Mccann TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 2, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This novel's premise intrigued me because I live close to Franklin, Tennessee, and have learned a good deal about the Battle of Franklin in recent years. McGavock is a well-known name around Nashville, which added to my interest. I eagerly picked this book up and dived in, prepared to meet the main characters and learn more about the battle and its aftermath, and previous reviews made the book that much more appealing. However, as I read, I found myself disappointed in the actual retelling of the battle itself; I was hoping for more action and deeper characterizations. The plot meanders between points of view and Carrie McGavock's motivations are particularly difficult to understand. On a personal level, I could delve into her darkness of depression over the loss of her children, but since it was a common occurrence in the mid 1800s, I found it a bit over-the-top. Her feelings for Zachariah are not in character and are never believable. Mariah is a strong character who never achieves her own voice and a few of the side stories seem forced as well. The novel finally achieves its goals in the last 100 pages as the focus for Carrie becomes clear and her determination shows. Hicks has a wonderful way with words but he needs to show the why of his characters rather than letting them stew in their own juices for much of the story. Overall this is a good book, but not as compelling as I'd hoped.
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36 of 41 people found the following review helpful By A. Drescher on September 6, 2005
Format: Hardcover
In 1991, after nine years in the Marine Corps, I settled in Franklin, Tennesee, the setting for Widow of the South. I had the privilege of meeting the man to whom Robert Hicks dedicated his novel, Marine Corps Vietnam veteran and Williamson County resident, Tom Martin, Jr. Mr. Martin was wounded in combat and confined to a wheelchair. Despite his condition, he looked surprisingly fit. Sad to say, like so many before and since, Mr. Martin died an untimely death just a few years ago. I've visited the Carter House, and the museum there, along with the Carnton cemetary with its 1481 Confederate graves. Mr. Hicks is a talented writer. Toward the end of his narrative, he makes rather obvious but important references to remembering the thousands who fell (on both sides). The battlefield in Franklin is notorious for its LACK of preservation. By bringing the story of the battle and Carrie McGavock to life, he does a great service to us, the living. I found the narratives of Sgt. Cashwell to be particularly well written and moving. Surely many who made that fateful charge on November 30, 1864 knew they were going to die. Sgt. Cashwell ruminates about facing death and overcomes his fear by embracing it. Over 9,000 Americans died in five hours, most in the first forty minutes. Carrie McGavock honored the dead by caring for their earthly remains. We should thank her and Robert Hicks for reminding us that it is our solemn obligation to do likewise. It has been predicted that this novel will bring more visitors to the battlefield and to Carnton. I know I will be going back--with a deeper and richer appreciation for what transpired in those five tragic hours. Widow of the South is an important book about important events.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By J. Voyce on September 1, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is a beautiful and extremely well written story. It is about real people who behave like real people. I particularly appreciated the relationship between Carrie and John McGavock. Theirs is a long term marriage which survived, not a fairy tale. The marriage had its ups and downs as do all. But "lust in ones heart" is benign. John appears as a man, not a typical fictional husband and that is refreshing.

The build-up to the battle, particularly that going on in the minds of the soldiers, is believable and thought provoking. For those of us who have never been in the military, it suggests how men (and today women) can anticipate such a horrendous situation.

I loved "The Widow of the South!"
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By MaddalenaC on September 20, 2005
Format: Hardcover
"The Widow of the South" presents the fictionalized little-known story of Carrie McGavock, a young Southern matron who devoted her life to the wounded and dead after the Civil War Battle of Franklin, Tennessee brought the war to her doorstep. A hithertofore sheltered Southern wife, still grieving the loss of three of her five children, Carrie rose to the occasion when her house was commandeered as a field hospital by General Nathan Bedford Forrest, putting aside her grief and depression to nurse the wounded and eventually to rebury the dead on her own plantation, (The dead from the battle had been buried on a neighboring plantation and were in danger of being plowed under by the owner), stand guard over the cemetery and the memories of the men buried there, and communicate with and attempt to comfort their families. In a sense, the needs of the dead and wounded as well as a chaste romance with a war-maimed man from Arkansas, brought Carrie out of a paralyzing depression and constant meditation on death and loss to a realization of the value of life. The Author's Note at the back of the book further fleshes out the story, giving a short history of Carrie, her husband John, and their plantation, Carnton (now the McGavock Confederate Cemetery) with pictures of the McGavocks, their three lost children, Carrie's friend and companion Mariah who had been given to her as a slave when they were girls, and the cemetery. Mr. Hicks also provides an extensive bibliography for further research into the factual core of the story. An engrossing addition to Civil War literature, unromanticized, but spellbinding. As for the explanation of the love story which another reviewer questioned, it is the heart of the novel. Each completes the other.Read more ›
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