Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All (1989)

by Allan Gurganus

Readers’ enjoyment of Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All will depend on whether they like the company of Lucy Marsden, who not only has 99 years of her own life to relate but also remembers the war stories of the Confederate veteran she married. Garrulous, spunky, and outspoken, Lucy is not a straightforward storyteller. As one would expect of an old woman reminiscing, Lucy meanders as she speaks into a tape recorder in her room in a Falls, North Carolina, nursing home. She is determined to tell all—literally all, from the life-changing to the banal.

By the time Lucy was born, the Civil War was already 20 years past. At age 15 she married “Captain” William Marsden, more than three times her age and plagued with what we’d today call posttraumatic stress disorder. Will saw his best friend killed by a sniper, watched the Yankee soldier he shot die, and returned to North Carolina to find his plantation home burned and his mother physically and psychologically scarred. All of these events are recounted by Lucy in great detail, along with her observations about just about everything, from sex and race to the fashions of 1980s’ youth.

Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All has interesting vignettes but could have been cut drastically. Its 700-plus pages can wear down even the most patient reader.


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