In Robert Hicks two offerings - The Widow of the South and A Separate Country, his characters are disfigured veterans of the Civil War battle of Franklin, Tennessee. Whether Sgt. Zachariah Cashwell or Gen. John Bell Hood, both men left Franklin less than a whole man. Cashwell arrived at Franklin with the Army of the Tennessee a battle-hardened veteran that, by the grace of God, had escaped physical harm in the war. Hood, on the other hand, was crippled well before the 1864 winter campaign in middle Tennessee, having lost a leg at the Battle of Chickamuaga and the use of an arm at Gettysburg. Cashwell would lose his leg to a musket ball, but find a new lease on life while convalescing at the home of Carrie McGavick; Hood would leave his soul on the battlefield, and carry the guilt of senselessly sending so many men to their death for the remainder of his days.
The books feature strong women and weak men. Cashwell had Carrie McGavick to renew his hope; Hood had Anna Marie Hennen, a Creole beauty that saw past his physical limitations to give him eleven children.
Death and/or impending death are prevalent throughout both novels set for the most part in the postbellum south. The pages are filled with tales of the disfigured – men who are dwarfs, eyeless, limbless, and scarred - physically and emotionally. Young men who must adapt to functioning in non-military situations after years of campaigning on the battlefield; men who’s injuries have left them so grotesque that civilians turn their heads and look away when they pass – the lower half of their face shot away, nose and eye missing, legless – men who want to cry out I didn’t do this to myself, I did it for you, I’m still the same man inside as I was before receiving these battlefield wounds.
Both books are heavy – depressing, defeated, despondent, dreary, filled with pain, betrayal, anguish, and agony.
A Separate Country is set in New Orleans and gives insight into the Creole culture both antebellum and postbellum. It also tracks some well-known Civil War figures in their attempt to adjust to civilian life. This was my favorite of the two Hicks historical novels.