I can’t say enough good things about Robert Hicks’ The Widow of the South. I’ve read good reviews and I’ve read some tirades as well but I personally loved this book. I liked this book just as much as I did Geraldine Brooks’ Year of Wonders and that is possibly my favorite book of all time!
Hicks’ tale centers on the small town of
Franklin, and one of the bloodiest battles of the American Civil War that took place there on a frosty November day in 1864. He draws history to fictionally fill in the gaps in the life of Carrie McGavock, wife of a Tennessee plantation owner. On that day, 9,000 casualties (Confederate and Franklin Union combined) resulted from the day’s battle and her house was requisitioned as a hospital. I won’t go into detail but Civil War medicine was a nasty business on many levels. Over half those who died did so from sepsis and disease. Over 1700 Confederate dead were hastily buried in a nearby field after the battle. When the owner of the field decides to return it to cultivation, Carrie and her husband move all the soldiers to their property, creating the only private Confederate cemetery. So, all of that is the real story. Hicks’ takes this framework and imagines a life for Mrs. McGavock, her family, and some of the soldiers that you will find in no history book yet it provided me a glimpse into what that time might have been like, unpleasant as it no doubt was. It is not an easy topic, nor is Mrs. McGavock all that easy to like but she does mature into a character I can respect. There is a great Author’s Note at the back with some additional information on the Battle of Franklin as well as archival photos of the McGavock plantation, Mrs. McGavock herself, and the cemetery.