“The Widow of the South” and Carnton Plantation, Franklin, Tennessee

Carnton Plantation in Franklin, Tennessee, is the setting of Robert Hicks's novel, The Widow of the South.
Carnton Plantation in Franklin, Tennessee, is the setting of Robert Hicks’s novel, The Widow of the South.

One hundred and fifty years ago Carrie and John McGavock’s plantation, Carnton, served as a field hospital for hundreds of Confederate soldiers during one of the most epic battles of the Civil War, The Battle of Franklin, near Nashville, Tennessee. Today, you can tour their the Greek Revival house with its porches that bring to mind the O’Hara plantation, Tara, in Gone With the Wind. But this house and it’s role in the Battle of Franklin are anything but fictional.  Here, the blood stains remain on the floor.

And outside, the cemetery that Carrie created and tended for the rest of her life contains the graves of 1,481young soldiers who died in the battle. It serves as a staggering reminder of the loss and of the remarkable woman who wouldn’t let them be forgotten.

I would never have heard of the Battle of Franklin if it weren’t for Robert Hicks‘s fictional account of Carrie’s story in his Unknownbestseller, The Widow of the South.  Hicks served on the board of Carnton Plantation and became fascinated with its story. He says in the book’s author’s note,”Carrie McGavock became a ‘living martyr and curiosity.’  She became famous without ever leaving her farm, renowned for her daily wandering in the cemetery, for her mourning clothes, for her letters to the families of the bereaved, and most of all, for her constancy.  From the day the last of the dead was buried in her back yard, she never really left her post in the cemetery, continuously checking her book of the dead.” Find out more in this CBS interview with Hicks.

Hicks reconstructed this tale from letters and diaries, adding to the factual mix a number of fictional characters, including Zachariah Cashwell, a young soldier from Arkansas whom Carrie nurses back to life– and she falls in love with him. Though Civil War purists chuckle about the book’s accuracy, it has nonetheless informed a lot of people about the battle, about Carrie, and prompted them to visit the key sites of the Battle of Franklin, the biggest Civil War battle that most people have never heard of.  He says in the book, “I submit my sincerest apologies, to those who require it, for meandering from the history in the interest of telling a story.  Other than Carrie and her immediate family and slave, most of the other characters are either composited of historical figures from Franklin’s past or were born in my imagination.” So, I submit that quality historical fiction serves an important role in creating interest in historical events and sites, even though it may not be 100 percent accurate.  What do you think?

TheCemetery that Carrie McGavock created after the Civil War.
The cemetery that Carrie McGavock created on her plantation after the Civil War.

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2 thoughts on ““The Widow of the South” and Carnton Plantation, Franklin, Tennessee”

  1. I visited the house last year. I knew nothing about the place but came away with the feeling that something very wrong happened there. I found out why. It wasn’t a battle, it was a slaughter.
    The only other time that happened was in Cape De Vincenzo in Portugal .
    I am glad I found this book. It’s a universal tale

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