The Widow of the South is a historical novel centered around the Carnton Plantation during the Battle of Franklin. This battle lasted 5 hours and nearly 10,000 men lost their lives, many in hand to hand combat. Through it all, the Carnton Plantation was turned into a hospital for the wounded confederate soldiers. Many of them died. After the war, 2 acres of the plantation were set aside to house a private cemetery for nearly 1500 of the Confederate dead. The woman of the plantation, Carrie McGavock, is called the Widow of the South for her role in maintaining the cemetery and communicating with the families whose loved ones were buried on her property.
It’s an interesting name – the Widow of the South. She wasn’t a widow. Her husband died many years after the war in 1893. She had lost three of her 5 children, but they don’t call women who have lost their children widows. She became the widow of all of the men who died in her house. Who succumbed to their wounds in her presence. Franklin is also considered the battle where the Confederacy died. There was no regrouping after that battle. Four of the Confederate generals lay dead on Carrie’s porch.
The highest compliment I can give a book is that I don’t want it to end. I didn’t want this one to end. I learned a lot about Franklin, a city near to where I live. The book introduced me to fascinating history in places I see every week. It was a book that made me want to dig deeper into these people. Robert Hicks tells a masterful story of this time and of Carrie McGavock. She’s not presented as a saintly hero. She’s presented as a deeply troubled woman who is transformed through the circumstance of serving the dying. The story felt real. It didn’t feel like a contrived set of circumstances to fit into historical details.