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JeffreyKeeten

JeffreyKeeten

THE BLACK FLOWER: A Novel of the Civil War - Howard Bahr I don't generally think of myself as someone who reads civil war literature and yet perusing my bookshelves I realize I have accumulated more books about that period of history than I would have thought. I have severalStephen W. Sears series involving a character I really grew to appreciate Abel Jones. I still think about a line from [b:Faded Coat of Blue|1793509|Faded Coat of Blue (Abel Jones, #1)|Owen Parry|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1188426453s/1793509.jpg|1792503]. "I often contemplate the loneliness of Jesus." I'm not per say a religious man, but that line resonated with me and the stark truth of it keeps it lingering in my thoughts. I have [b:Landsman: A Novel|1061148|Landsman A Novel|Peter Melman|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1328744729s/1061148.jpg|2589456], [b:Booth: A Novel|1863159|Booth A Novel|David M. Robertson|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1189386488s/1863159.jpg|1863878], and [b:Sweetsmoke|3185276|Sweetsmoke|David Fuller|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1347953362s/3185276.jpg|3218138]. I recently picked up a copy of [b:Coal Black Horse|352676|Coal Black Horse|Robert Olmstead|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348314468s/352676.jpg|342901] per the recommendation of my friend Mike Sullivan. Little did I know that I am a reader of Civil War literature and Black Flower joins this illustrious list of books that will always find a home in my library.

Like many American families I have a history with the Civil War and I want to thank both my great great grandfathers for having the fortitude and the luck to survive so that I am here today. I am directly descended from both sides of the conflict.

My great great grandfather, Thomas Newton Keeten, was conscripted into the Confederate army at age 17. He served with the 26th Virginia Battalion, Finigan's Brigade, Brecken Ridge 3rd Division of Earley's Army Corps.

My great great grandfather, Robert Campbell Ives, served with Company K, Iowa 19th Infantry. He enlisted at age 21. He marched all the way from Iowa to Arkansas only to promptly get shot in the jaw in a cornfield. A Confederate doctor poured gunpowder in the wound, as legend has it, that stopped the bleeding and saved his life. For the rest of his life he wore a full beard to hide the damage to the structure of his jaw. A few years ago we hired an intern from Arkansas that was telling us about how her family homestead served as a Union hospital during a battle fought on their land. I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck start to tingle. Turns out, sure enough, my GG Grandfather was more than likely treated at her family homestead. The Intern's ancestor was paid in Union script and because she thought there was no way the Union was going to win the war she used the script as kindling to light the fire in her kitchen stove.

Photobucket
General John Bell Hood

Black Flower is set around the Battle of Franklin in Tennessee. The Union troops were on the high ground settled in behind earthworks so when General John Bell Hood decided to attack little did he know he was dealing a death blow to his own cause. The losses suffered at Franklin were devastating to the Confederate Army. They suffered 6,252 casualties, but as importantly they lost 14 generals and 55 regimental commanders. It shattered the leadership of the Army of Tennessee and destroyed its ability to be an effective fighting force for the rest of the war. Because the Union army retreated to Nashville some on the Confederate side considered it to be a victory. One of the many times the South won a battle only to slide closer to losing the war.

Our hero of the novel is Bushrod Carter. He is 26 years old and from Cumberland Mississippi. After the battle in which he lost a finger and was knocked silly. He is looking at the carnage and says:
"I was about to say how funny it is...I mean, I am so use to losin, I thought winnin might be different---but it ain't, not so's I can see. Ain't that funny?" To me that sums up the whole Civil War experience for most soldiers. There is no difference between winning and losing there is just losing and losing.

CarterHouseandCarntonPlantation_zpsbaa3e71aCarnton Plantation

The Carnton Plantation served as a medical hospital for the Confederate side and the children's rooms were used as a makeshift operating room. The blood that soaked into the woodwork of the floor is still visible today.

CarrieMcGavock_zps15b72a53Carrie McGavock

Carrie McGavock, the lovely Southern belle who worked tirelessly to help the wounded, found herself the next morning cooking breakfast for an army in a blood stained dress. Nearly 1,500 Confederate soldiers are buried on the McGavock land and for the rest of her life Carrie tended those graves.

PhotobucketConfederate graves in a field at Carnton Plantation from the Battle of Franklin

In this story, her cousin Anna Hereford, in one of those moments that defies logic; and yet, that is the definition of love itself, falls in head over heels for Bushrod Carter.

Bahr wrote a lyrical, ethereal dreaming novel. The characters are frequently floating away from themselves remembering another time, trying to forget the horrors of the present, wondering if life will ever be worth living again. One such memory Bushrod has while holding Anna's hand.
"So he put out his right hand, palm up, and Anna settled her own in it like a bird alighting. Bushrod thought of when he was a boy and sometimes a chimney swift would come in through the hearth; when that happened, he would always be the one to catch it, he loved to wrap his hand around it and feel the softness and the little hammer of the swift beating heart. Outside he would open his hand; for an instant the bird would lie blinking in his palm, then flicker away so fast he could never find it in the sky. He half-expected Anna's hand to do the same, but it lay still, and he closed his own around it."


I have heard of people experiencing trauma that for the rest of their lives changed the way food tasted or the way scents would linger, that only they could smell, for decades after an unpleasant event. Lieutenant Tom Jenkins describes such an affliction that haunted him the rest of his life.
"Tom Jenkins could smell them: their sour breath, their farts, the stink of their wool and sweat, the smell of death. That was one of the things he would carry away from the war: how it stank like death--a rich, sweet smell that festered in the nose and clung to everything but most of all to men. Years later he would smell it on men that had been there. He would smell it on himself in the nights when he would slip from his bed, dress quietly and leave the house---smell it while he walked the streets and alleys of Cumberland until daybreak. Nothing smelled like that, nothing else in the world. And nothing could wash it away."


This book is only 267 pages. It is a book that every sentence carries weight. I couldn't read this book with anything going on in the room around me. I found the best time to read this book was during the midnight hours when the house is quiet and I could let myself sink into this slice of Civil War Tennessee. Howard Bahr has written other Civil War novels and I will certainly be adding them to my growing shelf of Civil War literature.

For the bonafide Southern perspective of this novel read my friend Mike Sullivan's review. Mike Sullivan's Review