David Madden sets Willis Carr’s stories about his experiences as a soldier during the American Civil War within the framework of a meeting of the Knoxville chapter of the Daughters of the Confederacy on March 21, 1928. Indeed, the entire story takes the form of the report of the organization’s secretary. Introduced by Professor Jeffrey Arnow, a member of the history department at the University of Tennessee, Carr tells the women gathered in the music room at Bleak House what he remembers about the siege of Knoxville (in November and December of 1863), part of which he spent as a sharpshooter in the tower at Bleak House itself.
Carr’s story is rambling, slightly unfocused, and structured by the process of association. He is roughly eighty-two years old, having been born on Holton Mountain, Tennessee, in 1846, and he was fourteen when he served under Confederate General James Longstreet in what his hostesses prefer to call “the War Between the States.” Carr remembers that he was suffering from a fever when he reached Knoxville in 1863, which accounts for the haziness of his recollections. He does remember Bleak House clearly and tells his audience that there was a man painting a fresco on a wall downstairs during the military action. He remembers, too, that he was one of four sharpshooters sent up in the tower of the house. When one of them was killed and the other two wounded, Carr sighted an officer on a white horse dashing back and forth between the Yankee and Rebel lines. He remembers thinking that this was a hallucination induced by fever, for no officer on either side would behave so recklessly, and he shot at the man, thinking that he could do the phantom rider no harm.
Two years after the war was over, Carr returned to Tennessee from the West. Stopping in some small town—he thinks that it was Pulaski—he met and sketched a man introduced as the killer of General Sanders during the fight at Knoxville. Having returned to Holton Mountain and swept the decomposed body of his great-grandfather into the fireplace, Carr remembered one day while hunting bear...
(The entire section is 856 words.)