Painted Trillium: A Novel of the Civil War

By Robert Brandt | Wandering in the Words Press | $13.97 paperback, $7.99 Kindle | 238 pages | 2016 | Reviewed by Phylinda Ramsey

War can lead people to do things and embrace lives that they never imagined possible. The proliferation of war can lead people into dark and destructive places, but with the right perspective and a degree of mental fortitude, it can also broaden horizons and open doors we did not know existed. While we generally think of these instances as involving young men and deeds of war, it is a phenomenon that includes young women as well. Painted Trillium: A Novel of the Civil War is an engrossing and thoughtful exploration into how the Civil War changed the fortunes of women in the South.

Cover of Painted TrilliumCarrie Blaylock, the heroine of the novel, is one such woman. She is an astute, resilient and educated woman who might have focused on finding a husband and having children during a more conventional time. However, when confronted with the difficulties of war, she makes unconventional choices and entertains the idea of a life beyond the domesticity that pervaded the 1860s. She becomes resolved to support herself and lead an independent life. A random encounter with a Union soldier staying in a nearby encampment presents a welcome respite from the everyday drudgery of the endless war, with the ensuing relationship producing unexpected benefits. Indeed, while exploring the boundaries of her relationship with the Union soldier, she is ultimately able to develop financial independence.

When the realities of war eventually set in and Carrie’s world begins to unravel, she is forced to rely on inner strength, acumen and perseverance to endure the tragedies that continually envelops her life, which includes the loss of family members and romantic prospects. We later learn that Carrie has indeed overcome such adversity, becoming an accomplished woman who lives on her own terms. Despite the ravaging consequences of war, or perhaps in light of such trauma, she emerges with a clarity that enables her to create autonomy in her life. Carrie’s development during such harrowing times reminds the reader that even devastating circumstances are not without opportunities for personal growth. To quote a certain prolific songwriter, “If you want the rainbow, you’ve got to put up with the rain.”

Painted Trillium is also noteworthy for its examination of the extent to which propriety dissipates during times of war. Whether because of newfound awareness of one’s own mortality or preoccupation with more pressing matters, the novel suggests that the temporary relaxation of social norms allows people to break out of the usual mold and chart new paths. Brandt uses his extensive knowledge of the Middle Tennessee area to explore how these diminished social boundaries affected women in the 1860s. He draws on actual letters, historical research and anecdotal evidence from real women of the era to produce an entertaining and engaging take on the Civil War.

Brandt also highlights the historical significance of the army encampment of Union soldiers in Murfreesboro and the early beginnings of Nashville. Despite being a native Middle Tennessean, I learned new details about and gained new insight into my home state through Brandt’s engaging depiction of Tennessee during the mid-19th century.

I wholeheartedly believe that every Tennessean, native or adopted, should read Painted Trillium to learn some history, reflect on the past and experience a fresh perspective on how women of the Civil War era responded to the challenges of their time. Go out and purchase your copy on Amazon or borrow it from your local library!

PHYLINDA RAMSEY is an assistant metropolitan attorney for the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County. She received her law degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville College of Law.

Brandt, a retired judge and lawyer living in Nashville, is the author of books and articles about Tennessee history, travel and outdoors. Among his books are Touring the Middle Tennessee Backroads, Fodor’s Compass American Guide – Tennessee, and Middle Tennessee on Foot. His contributions to the Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Cultures include entries about the period covered in Painted Trillium, his first work of fiction.

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