May’s pick for our When Johnny Comes Marching Home: A Civil War Book
Discussion is The Widow of the South by Robert Hicks.
This book had been sitting on my to be read bookshelf for more than 8 years (and yes, I do have an entire bookcase of books that I have not read yet!). I remember picking it up in the grocery store, of all places, when I was out shopping with my grandmother, and thinking it was intriguing enough to go in my cart. Eight years later, the book finally made it to the top of my list for this book club.
It’s November 1864 and the Civil War has waged on for more than 3 1/2 years now. Carrie McGavock is sitting in her bedroom, rocking back and forth in her chair when General Nathaniel Bedford Forrest comes knocking at her door. Her house is being taken as a field hospital. Her town of Franklin is now a battlefield.
All throughout town men are falling, wounded or dead. Carrie’s plantation has now become a field of the battle scarred. Four generals lie dead on her porch and the pile of limbs grows taller and taller. One soldier taken to Carrie’s plantation is Zachariah Cashwell, a Confederate soldier from Arkansas. Cashwell was struck with a bullet in the leg when he attempted to raise the colors. He’s in tough shape- he needs his leg amputated but would rather die.
What ensues between Carrie and Zachariah was recently named by Amazon as one of the Top 50 Love Stories. Initially angered at Carrie’s interference in the amputating of his leg, Zachariah grows to love Carrie. Theirs is a relationship that will never be anything more, they care deeply for each other.
While I enjoyed Zachariah and Carrie’s friendship- really what I found the “love” story to be- what I enjoyed the most was the telling of the battle of Franklin and Carrie’s quest to honor the men and boys who fought and died there. Too much time was spent on matters that were not pertinent to the heart of the story, which was Carrie and the cemetery.
Based on the true story of Carrie McGavock and Carnton plantation, McGavock’s backyard became the final resting place for 1,500 Confederate soldiers. She was known for her meticulous care and keeping of the cemetery, which she tended until her death some 50 years later.
I listened to this book, which was a full cast audio, switching between the voice of Zachariah and Carrie, as well as a narrator. The readers were just OK in my opinion- the woman who read for Carrie sounded much older than her 35 years.
Hicks, to me, what at his best and most passionate in his Author’s Note, when he told the story of Carrie and her cemetery. Hicks had worked for many years as the driving force behind the preservation of the Carnton Plantation, and he was intimately acquainted with the property and those who lived there. I wished the rest of the story could have been so eloquently told as his Author’s Note.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.