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Guest comment by Don D. Crawford 9/09
Author Hicks wrote a New York Times best seller as a fiction, Widow of the South, with a disclaimer to any real characters as coincidental, however, the depiction of Caroline Elizabeth "Carrie" McGavock 1829, the mistress of Carnton, and the depiction of John McGavock, the master of Carnton, exploits the identities and histories of these distant relatives. James McGavock 1728 is John McGavock's grandfather and my five-great grandfather. In many ways, Hicks portrayed Mariah, the slave, as the heroine. Hicks generally portrayed the mistress of Carnton as naive, weak, incompetent, mentally unsound,lacking in confederate patriotism and at times morally bankrupt. Obviously, this reversed reality sells in the contemporary American culture.
In contrast to the depiction by Hicks, the real Carrie Winder McGavock was remarkably grounded, admirably strong, exceedingly competent, unusually bright, demonstrated saintly Christian character and evidenced loyalty to the Confederacy and loyalty to the loved ones fighting under the Stars and Bars. For goodness sake, Carrie was the grand daughter of the famous Felix Grundy, one of the War Hawks in the Senate for the War of 1812 and appointed as U. S. Secretary of State by President Van Buren. In additon, Carrie was related closely to numerous other loved ones, whose character, loyalties and devotions provided her with uncommon ability, strength and valor.
Two examples immediately occur. First, Carrie's double cousin (both from the McGavock line and from the Grundy line),Harvard law school graduate Class of 1857, Colonel Randal William McGavock 1826 - 1863 made the supreme sacrifice defending liberty and inalienable rights at the Battle of Raymond, Mississippi leading Confederate troops in battle. Randal served as the Commanding Officer for consolidated Tennessee Infantry 3rd, 10th & 13th under General J. E. Johnston CSA, who wrote, “The loss of Colonel Randall McGavock,… who fell gallantly on this occasion, was much regretted.” For me, Randal is a hero. I truly believe Carrie McGavock felt the same about her cousin, whose life, generosity and sacrifice continues to be remembered by some today. Randal's father was Jacob McGavock (grandson of James McGavock 1728) and Randal's mother was Louisa Caroline Grundy 1798, (Felix Grundy's daughter and Carrie's Aunt). Second, John McGavock's sister,Elizabeth Irwin McGavock, was born at Carnton and married General William Giles Harding, who owned, resided on,and managed Belle Meade Plantation nearby. Selene, the daughter of William Giles Harding and Elizabeth Irwin McGavock Harding marrried Confederate General W. H. Jackson. President/General Andrew Jackson purchased race hores from and boarded race horses at Belle Meade. General Harding is reported to have provided half a million dollars in aid to the Confederacy and served on the Military and Financial Board for Tennessee. The list of Carrie's close relatives serving the Confederacy is extensive and will be more fully presented in the Freedom Essay.
In an audio book interview, author Hicks claims to understand Carrie McGavock and John McGavock, but to best understand Mariah, the slave. How research through two rooms of McGavock records would produce this conclusion is a mystery. Mariah's story, however, is remarkable and the most remarkable character trait was Mariah's loyalty to the McGavocks, her white folk family. Mariah remained with the McGavocks after the War Between the States. Mariah's loyalty to the McGavocks was similar to the loyalty of another McGavock slave, Susanna Carter. As was the McGavock custom, when Elizabeth Irwin McGavock married William Giles Harding, Randal gave a slave to his daughter, as a wedding present. The slave was Susanna Carter 1812-1892. Gay Mathis, Susanna's great grandson, wrote an article about Susanna. Mr. Mathis wrote, “Typical of a house slave, Susanna viewed herself as a member of the Harding family and was considered a member of the family by the white owners…. Susanna sent two letters (June 3 and August 25, 1862) when her master, W.G. Harding, was in prison at Fort Mackinac Island, Michigan, for supporting the Confederate rebellion against the United States during the Civil War. The letters were remarkable, considering that slaves were not allowed to read or write or dictate letters.” Susanna described the conditions at the plantation under Union army occupation. Susanna claimed that “no slaves disgraced themselves by fleeing to the Yankees.”
Stereotypes of slave owners and of slaves abound. To truly understand particular relationships between particular slaves and particular masters, within the peculiar institution of slavery, one must put on some historical lenses. Only through historical lenses can we hope to open a perspective to the prevailing values of the times and be willing to imagine what conformed to the reality of the times. The Widow of the South failed to provide such lenses, but imposed contemporary values and judgements on the lives of the McGavocks. Hicks displayed skill in painting portraits of individuals with words that resulted in an emotional reaction to the characters, rather than an intellectual or a rational reaction. If Forrest were alive today, there would be huge entertainment to watch Robert Hicks stand man to man,toe to toe, eye to eye with General Nathan Bedford Forrest, and describe Forrest as “General Forrest, standing before me now, (is) as alien as a platypus. Perhaps he (is) from Anatolia or one of those vast places on the globe labeled simply 'Desert.'… He look(s)like a skeleton, a tree, a gnarled piece of metal. Does he even speak my language?” Among the acclaims in the book, one finds “An intensely moving and wholy believable novel.” Historical Novel Society.
It is worthy to note, that two other family plantation homes were also used as Confederate hospitals during the War Between the States. Carrie's remarkable story is representative of her family, not an exception to it. Carrie's character was typical, not atypical. Carnton, and the mistress of Carnton, exemplified an elegance, prestige and power unnecessarily demeaned by Hicks. Carnton had been visited often by men of the highest social and political ranks of American culture, including President/General Andrew Jackson, Senator Felix Grundy and President James K. Polk 1795 (President James K. Polk studied law in the office of Senator/U.S. Secretary of State Felix Grundy). After Felix Grundy died in the office of Senator and after James K. Polk completed his Presidential term, James K. Polk purchased the nearby home of Felix Grundy as the location for his retirement. Andrew Jackson boarded race horses at Belle Meade, a nearby mansion with another McGavock mistress. The mistress of Carnton, whether Carrie's great Aunt, Sarah Rodgers McGavock, or Carrie Winder McGavock, would have presented such manners, intelligence and imagination as might be expected to entertain men such as these. Carrie McGavock, I rise up and call you blessed.
Author Hicks served on the Board of Carnton and speaks of an earnest desire to assist the future of Carnton. The website for Carnton appears to embrace the book. Attention has been brought to Carnton through the publication of the book. In some ways notoriety may be preferable to no notice. As with entertainers, perhaps bad press is better than no press. To balance the foregoing, for the benefit the book has brought to Carnton - Thank you Mr. Hicks. http://www.carnton.org/
General Nathan Bedford Forrest
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