Monday, December 31, 2007

Year End Musings

As I ponder the further direction of my new novel, The Season of the Crow, I struggle to come up with fresh ideas for plot direction. I know where the book is going. I am just not quite sure of all the side roads it is going to take to get there.

Anyone who has written a work of fiction can tell you that it is a challenge to bring to life characters, action, and story in a new and fresh way. It is indeed difficult to do what no one else has ever done. The old saw "there is nothing new under the sun" is especially true of literature.

At the same time, I believe I am making solid headway with this book, which will have several plot lines woven through it. A family of slaves struggles to find a new life in western North Carolina. Former Confederates deal with the realities of the reconstruction era. Duty to former compatriots impinges on the effort to return to a normal life. Nightriders wreak havoc on blacks and whites alike.

The book will doubtless be better written than the first, with greater depth, more involved plotting, and (believe it or not) even more excruciating and extreme violence. Even as I write it, I cannot help but wonder if the real facts of that place and time were much worse than my story would indicate.

The South after the Civil War was a harsh, embittered and impoverished place. Western North Carolina was no different. While spared from the worst depredations of the likes of Sherman, Sheridan and their ilk, it was nonetheless battered by the economic hardships of the war compounded by the burden of the thousands of dead and wounded. The former burdened the land with grief; the latter burdened it with wrecked bodies and minds. Maimed and scarred, they tried to return to life at home, but it would never be the same.

I hope to complete the book in 2008. As this year draws to a close, I would like to wish you, dear reader, a very Happy and Peaceful New Year.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

What's Great About America?

Dinesh D'souza, a news blogger and immigrant from India, just re-posted a column he wrote a few months back. I highly recommend it for its positive viewpoint on the value and values of the United States.

You can find it here -

I think the man hits the nail on the head.

Happy reading.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Pict, by Jack Dixon, A Review

by Barry Yelton

Jack Dixon has done an impressive job of writing an historical fiction piece that is highly readable, action filled, and evocative. The book was particularly meaningful for me, because of my Scottish heritage. The book begins with the background story of the Picts, a mysterious people who lived in what is today Scotland. From the distant mists of the past they come fleeing the barbaric hordes from Eastern Europe, which invade ancient Scythia, on the European continent, homeland of the Picts. They make their way across the North Sea, to the British Isles, are befriended by the Scoti of Ireland and settle in the highlands in the north of Brittania.

The book’s hero, Calach, leads his people in a heroic David versus Goliath campaign against the invading Romans, with the love of his life, Fiona, at his side. The battle scenes are powerfully drawn (definitely not for the squeamish). Mr. Dixon creates plenty of righteous outrage at the depredations of the Romans against defenseless Pict villagers, which impels his hero to wage merciless war against the invaders.

There is romance, though it is secondary to the primary action, the life and death struggle against the mighty Roman Empire. The writing in the book gets better as it goes along. The last half of the book truly is a page turner, with enough surprises along the way to keep the book from being totally formulaic. Anyone who enjoys ancient history should find this an interesting, informative and entertaining work. Congratulations to Mr. Dixon on a fine first novel.

The book is available at,,, and at bookstores everywhere by special order.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Independent Authors Guild

My enterprising friends from the Amazon Historical Novel Discussion group have formed a guild for self published authors and authors from independent presses. The touchstone for the group is a new Yahoo discussion board -

The statement of purpose is produced here in whole, along with a list of the charter board members, which include (amazingly) one Barry D. Yelton...

A proposal to create the Independent Authors’ Guild (IAG)
As a project partner of Community Partners


In the past decade, electronic ‘print on demand’ (POD) publishing has revolutionized the printing industry, just as independent music production did to the music industry in the last decade of the twentieth century. Distribution and inventory control problems, ‘ship backs’ and production costs have been dramatically reduced or eliminated, and Internet book sellers such as, Barnes and Noble and others give every author at least theoretical access to the market.

With this new publishing structure came new pricing structures as well. Print on demand authors are required to participate in initial production costs. These up-front costs are offset by royalties from book sales, of course, and in almost every case are less than agent fees charged in ‘traditional’ publishing ventures. But the very fact that authors can now by-pass the ‘platinum nozzle’ of an ever-shrinking number of literary agents and mass-market publishers makes some believe that quality-control issues are being skirted. The Authors’ Guild, which is looking more and more like a room full of generals making plans to fight the last war, refuses membership to any independently-published author, for example.

Some independently published books are god-awful; some are brilliant. But the authors of each of these books merit the respect and fostering that their months, often years, of artistic endeavor engenders.

They deserve the Independent Authors’ Guild.

The Independent Authors’ Guild

The Independent Authors’ Guild, whose initial board of authors is in formation (see attached), will be an Internet-based educational institution open to any independently-published author.

The IAG’s initial programs will include a web-based and print periodical called ‘Declaration of Independents’; guides to best marketing and promotion practices; recognition of outstanding independent books through contests, ‘best seller’ lists, etc.; and the general promotion of the field. The IAG will also work with the burgeoning number of independent book publishers, such as Book Surge, Bookstar, ExLibris, iUniverse and others to create standards in pricing, production values and marketing.

The establishment of the Independent Authors’ Guild as a tax-exempt nonprofit organization under Community Partners is essential to the Guild’s ability to serve its membership, secure grants where appropriate, and maintain proper administrative and reporting functions.

We look forwards to becoming a project partner of Community Partners

Independent Authors’ Guild Board of Governors 2007-2008

Jack Shakely, chair
Rancho Mirage, California

Nan Hawthorn, executive director
Bothell, Washington

Julia Hayden
San Antonio, Texas

Michael S. Katz
Ardsley, Pennsylvania

Stuart W. Mirsky
Belle Harbor, New York

Dianne K. Salerni
Lincoln University, Pennsylvania

Barry Yelton
Mooresboro, North Carolina

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Pict

My internet friend, Jack Dixon, author of The Pict, was kind enough to write a review of Scarecrow in Gray, which I found to be very perceptive (as well as very generous).

He has a great blog at where the review can be found along with information about his fine writing.

Thanks, Jack!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Epitaph of the Miscreant Scribe

To write he liked a lot
but couldn’t develop a plot
so he stole from others
who had other druthers
and look at what he has got!

Monday, October 8, 2007

A fine book about a 19th century wagon train journey


To Truckee's Trail, by Celia Hayes is a partially fictional account of pioneers making a journey by wagon train across the western American plains and mountains in search of a better life. Drawing on the journal of an energetic and multi-talented doctor and from interviews with some of the participants done in later years, Ms. Hayes paints a portrait of the extremely difficult struggles pioneers of the early 1800's experienced.

Her prose is measured and the characterizations are true to life. Her descriptions are often colorful and at times poetic such as when she describes a night sky: "The sky had entirely darkened now, pricked by a brilliant spangle of stars."

Her attention to detail and her obviously thorough research of the era make this book a solid, believable account, richly textured and with wonderful historical detail. As I got further into the book, I became increasingly engrossed, wanting to know what was around the next bend, or over the next mountain.

Ms. Hayes brings the characters vividly to life and and in so doing illuminates for us something of the 19th century mindset. I recommend To Truckee's Trail because it is entertaining and educational. A fine work and a worthy read. The book is available at and other booksellers.

Friday, October 5, 2007

A Writer's Site Posts Review of Scarecrow in Gray

Brian Catherman, a friend of my friend, Marva Dasef, has posted her review of Scarecrow on his web site. Please check it out:

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Still Another Review of Scarecrow in Gray

A fine writer of historical fiction and non-fiction, Ms. Marva Dasef, has written a review of Scarecrow in Gray and posted it on her blog at

Please check out her book, Tales of a Texas Boy on Fascinating stories of a young boy growing up on a farm in Texas. Good reading for anyone interested in true-to-life stories of real people. Here is the URL -

I want to thank Marva again here for going to all the trouble of reading the book, writing the extensive review, and posting it in a number of places. She went above and beyond the call of duty. Thank you, Marva!

Friday, September 21, 2007

A UK Review of Scarecrow in Gray!

The brilliant historical fiction writer from Cornwall, UK, F.J. Warren, (author of Archelaus Hosken's Dilemma, Broken Bonds and two other novels) recently posted a review of Scarecrow in Gray on Here it is:

The Heart of War (Rating 5 av 5) » F J Warren (not my real name) Barry Yelton has produced a wonderful story depicting the history of his ancestor, Francis Yelton, who fought for the Confederates during the American Civil War.I have read this book and I loved it! I didn't expect to but I did. What would I, one who knows little of the American Civil War, find to enjoy in such a work? Well, Mr Yelton is a beautiful writer and he manages to bring home the horror and futility of the struggle that his hero/ancestor finds himself in. It is such an engrossing tale that you find yourself immersed in the personal struggle that Francis Yelton has to go through. You want him to succeed even when you know that defeat is staring him in the face. The characters in the book come to life on every page. In the past I've read so many books with two-dimensional characterization in them that I almost despair of ever finding a 'human being' leading me through a novel. I had my reward with this book - what a splendid work.

Friday, September 7, 2007

A New Author Friend, David Blixt

I met an author (who is also a Shakespearean actor) on the forum I frequent, "Calling all self-published authors..." and he has written an intriguing book, The Master of Verona, which may be of interest to many. Here is a quote from the Amazon site as quoted in Publishers Weekly (did I leave anyone out?):

"From Publishers Weekly. Upon the death of his elder brother in 1314, Pietro Alaghieri, 17, is thrust headlong into the post of scion to his father, the famous poet Dante, in this rollicking historical debut from Shakespearean actor Blixt. In trying to keep up with his razor-sharp father and their new patron, the scintillating and brilliant Francesco della Scalla (known as "Cangrande"), Pietro finds qualities in himself that surprise him. Cangrande may or may not be the prophesied "Greyhound" who is to cast out evil and usher in a new world under God—many seek the role. Meanwhile, Pietro's two best friends, Mariotto and Antonio, are pushed to the edge of rekindling an ancient blood feud by their joint love of a woman, which stretches Pietro's loyalties to their limits. The precipitous ending, marked with dizzying revelations by the protagonists, do nothing to mar a novel of intricate plot, taut narrative, sharp period detail and beautifully realized characters. (July) Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. "

Sounds like a great book from a talented new author! Congratulations, David.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007


Perfect title for a blog like this that is often random. A friend recently nicknamed me Beau Rambles. I guess it fits.

Whatever the case, I do wonder about a lot of things, more now that I am north of sixty summers than ever before.

Hae you ever stopped to think about what happens when you reach the edge of the universe? Some theorize that it curves back on itself. I keep thinking, what's outside the curve? Does the physical universe stretch on for infinity or does it just taper out? If it does, what lies beyond.

No doubt questions for far greater minds, but no one has to my knowledge come up with even a decent theory about this. It may be a question that our minds are simply not capable of comprehending. Even the most brilliant of us has a finite mind, with finite capabilities. How can the finite comprehend the infinite?

These things sometimes give me a severe headache (figuratively speaking). But once you hold that thought in mind, about that place that is beyond what we call the universe, how can you again be content with contemplating your navel so to speak? If beyond the edge of the universe is more universe then does it stretch on to infinity? How can physical matter or the place it resides be infinite?

I hope this keeps you up at night once in a while. It makes the problems of our little world seem awfully small.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Civil War Reflections

I have stated and written in other places that I write in order to produce good quality work and to inform and to move people in a positive way. I like to make people think and to consider such things as their heritage and the sacrifice of their ancestors.

Civil War Novels often concentrate on the blood and battle, a romance back home, or the brother against brother theme. In Scarecrow in Gray, I tried to create a book that first of all honors the sacrifice of my ancestors, but secondly tries to inform the reader of just how desperate and full of poignancy was the America's holocaust.

I used a few thematic devices, especially the imagery of the crow and the owl, both harbingers of death. The image of the Scarecrow is seen as one who seeks to somehow defeat or delay death.

I tried to elevate the common man not to the stature of super hero, but to a plain where dwells honor and basic fidelity. I wanted my primary characters to behave in honorable ways while facing the most intolerable of circumstances. I hope by doing so I elevate both the memory of our forebears as well as the outlook of the reader. Doing the right and honorable thing is always the best path.

Friday, August 24, 2007

A Delightful Dilemma

I finished FJ Warren's book, Archelaus Hoskens' Dilemma. Ms. Warren is the "Shy Cornish Lady" I spoke of in a recent post. She is modest in the extreme and after reading her book I am quite convinced she is so for no good reason. She is a very fine writer.

Here is the review I just posted to Amazon, which should show up in a few days:

A young pick pocket finds himself in jail after being caught in the act and then is bailed out by a young lady who has plans for him that change his life in a dramatic way. This is a hilarious tale of scheming and subterfuge, of marriage and romance (in that order). The author brings to life a number of enchanting characters and has the reader smiling from the very first pages.

The book is written as though by an author from the early 19th century. So immersed did I become that I began to feel I was reading a book published in 1810 rather than one of recent vintage. The author has done a masterful job of weaving a clever tale using local color and the language of antiquity to remove the reader to another time and place.

The book is very brief at 109 pages, but is well worth the read. The author manages what very few do and that is to engross the modern reader without gimmickry, sex, or violence. Kudos to Ms. Warren for a fine piece of work.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Shy Cornish Lady

Another friend I have had the pleasure to meet through's discussion board is F.J. Warren, a young lady from Cornwall, England who has written four books, one of which I just ordered, Archelaus Hosken's Dilemma. I look forward to reading Ms. Warren's work and I will offer up my own humble critique of it on Amazon as well as here.

She is so shy that in her Amazon photograph, there is a scarf wrapped about her face. I told her that if I could show my not-so-Robert-Redford face, she surely could show hers. She is obviously talented and assuredly a very kind and gentle person.

Check out her work on Amazon. Perhaps someday they will mention her name in the same sentence with Rowling.

I want to again thank Dianne Salerni, author of High Spirits; A Tale of Ghostly Rapping and Romance, for starting the discussion group for self-published writers of historical fiction on Amazon. It has been both very enlightening and very gratifying to read of the trials and tribulations of self-published writers, as well as to share a few experiences with them. I believe this is now one of the bigger discussion groups I have seen on Amazon and many have benefited from it. Thank you, Dianne. You did a very good thing in starting this.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Great New Books

I just read a couple of fine books that I believe will be of interest to some.

The first is High Spirits, a Tale of Ghostly Rapping and Romance by Dianne Salerni. It is the story of the Fox sisters, who in the mid nineteenth century began perpetrating a fraud in which they pretended to be communicating with the dead.

They were able to fool a great many people and survive skeptical inquiries, until one sister fell in love with a worldly traveler. Well written with meticulous detail, this book will appeal to teenagers, women readers, and any who are interested in the spiritualist movement of the nineteenth century.

The second is Tales of a Texas Boy, by Marva Dasef. Ms. Dasef puts on paper the stories told to her by her father of his growing up in the Texas panhandle in the thirties. The stories are real, fresh and heartwarming.

The book is a very quick read and I would recommend it to anyone who appreciates reading about the real America in a much simpler time and place. The people are genuine and the stories are touching.

Stay tuned. As I read other interesting books, particularly from self-published authors or authors published by small presses, I will let you know.

Happy reading,


Monday, August 6, 2007

A Twice Self Published Author

A self-published author, Timothy Fish, dropped by and as promised I am adding him to the blog. Here is what he says about his books and self publishing...

"I am the author of two self published books. The first is Church Website Design: A step by step approach. The second is Search for Mom, a novel about a young girl who has never had a mother, but decides to do what it takes to find one. I think you are right that self published authors need to help each other. In many ways, it is an uphill battle for any self published author. Still, it is hard to know how best to help each other. I am hesitant to support authors and books that I have not read, but there are too many for me to read. "

Monday, July 16, 2007

Anna makes my day!

A reader named Anna dropped by and made a very kind comment about my Impromptu Poem. In gratitude here is a poem for Anna...


By Barry Yelton

In the early morning,
from a gilded dream,
where sunlight sparkles in the watchful air,
walks Anna
bringing light into the gloom
and joy into the heart.
Walk hopefully, Anna,
through this blessed day,
and may peace
be your nearest companion.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Friends at Amazon

I have recently communicated with some people on one of Amazon's discussion boards about self published novels. One of the people, Dianne Salerni, was kind enough to add a mention of Scarecrow in Gray to her web page, so I herewith return the favor. Here is what she says about her book:

"My name is Dianne K. Salerni, and I have recently published a novel for young adults and (ahem) not-so-young adults about the Fox Sisters. Maggie and Kate Fox were two teenagers who accidentally founded the Spiritualist Movement in the 1850's when they claimed to be spirit mediums with the ability to contact the dead. My novel follows the story of Maggie Fox's life as she first learns to make a living as a fraud, then becomes a national celebrity, and finally falls in love with a man who tries to extricate her from a life of deception.I am published with iUniverse. My book is High Spirits: A Tale of Ghostly Rapping and Romance. It is listed here with Amazon and also with B&N. I have a website:"

We self published authors have to help each other in order to get noticed and hopefully sell some books. If you are self-published, please contact me here by posting a reply and I will be happy to give you a mention. Surely can't hurt.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

The Civil War Novel

My first book, a Civil War novel, Scarecrow in Gray, was an exercise in patience, diligence, and fidelity. Patience came into play when I struggled with the elements of the story. I knew the basic outline from the beginning, since the story is based on the Civil War service of my great-grandfather, Francis Marion Yelton. However, writing the book and putting together believable and consistent episodes was a challenge.

I wrote at night. I have a demanding day job. As a consequence of this part time approach, I found myself at the keyboard many nights at 11 PM struggling the make the story make sense. Patience, my child, as my kindly muse might say, if I had had one. Patience is not a virtue of mine and I had to learn a lot of it during the nine years or so I struggled to write my book.

Diligence was even tougher. Consistently writing, then re-writing and then editing (since my book is self published and therefore bereft of the noble talents of an editor). I had to grind it out many nights when tired, distracted, unmotivated, etc. Diligence may be a more valuable trait than Patience.

Finally, fidelity must be acknowledged as a guiding principle for any work of historical fiction. You must be true to the period, the cultural background, and (in my case) the military facts including troop movements, battlefield locations, weaponry, equipment, and the mindset of the troops.

For a 218 page book, I probably took longer than a Doctorow, Hemingway, or Faulkner would take to write 500 pages. Forget about Asimov. He could write 218 pages a day (without too much exaggeration on my part). Anyway, perhaps this gives you some sense of the process and how we authors suffer for our art (that's supposed to be funny).

I am in the raw beginnings of doing it again. Look for the sequel for Scarecrow sometime about 2020 AD.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Humility, by Barry Yelton

The politicians and the pundits are forever declaiming as to what America needs - more healthcare, immigration reform, a new strategy in Iraq, etc. I would propose that of all the things America needs, corporately and individually, the greatest is good old fashioned humility.
Humility is so important as to be the very key to reaching a solution for the many ills that afflict our nation and our world, if we can but see the obvious. I am not speaking of that sort of humility equated with an inferiority complex or false modesty, rather the kind of humility referred to in the Bible, which implies a modest unpretentiousness.
I believe the achievement of personal humility to be the result of true emotional maturity. Humility’s opposite arrogance and its cousin pride are on the other hand indicative of a kind of emotional immaturity. This sort of arrogance is vividly on display daily in the mugging, preening videos of popular musicians of virtually every type. They possess the emotional maturity of two year olds who have successfully gone to the potty.
As musicians and celebrities mug for the camera, they declare, “Look at me. I am the greatest thing since sliced bread.” Likewise, some of the demonstrations performed in the end zone after a touchdown are equally absurd, arrogant, and juvenile.
The examples are numerous and they do not end with popular music and sports, though in the areas of serious endeavor, they are both more subtle and more troubling. Politicians, for example, universally believe they have all the answers, while their opponents are hopelessly misguided or malicious. The fast trackers in the business world look down on the plodders, wielding their Wharton MBA’s like avatars. The rich often disdain the poor.
Arrogance is often seen as a virtue in modern America, a sort of autocratic platform from which to view the world. When and where this came to be, I am not sure. I am sure it is in simply the preening of the emotionally immature.
Humility, on the other hand, practiced by such luminaries as Mother Teresa, Gandhi, Robert E. Lee, and most dramatically, Jesus Christ, has an amazing palliative effect on relationships among individuals as well as groups. Humble people do not push and prod, but instead accommodate and defer. Humility offers a “soft answer which turns away wrath.”
I believe possessing an unassuming attitude while achieving great things may well be the single highest attainment of which human kind is capable. At the very least, it is clearly one of the most endearing qualities a person can possess and something to be highly valued.

Friday, June 29, 2007

The Scribe indeed has readers!

Well two very nice people visited my blog and said kind things. So I am renewed and reinvigorated and ready to post more stuff. Herewith is an:

Impromptu Poem

Light has faded, the shadows stretch
across the leaf strewn yard
and across that hill yonder
the Blue Ridge rises,
giants of old,
their haze creating an impressionist
covering for the crags and the blue spruce
dressing them like brides of the morning.

And I turn to my screen
and try to tell you, dear friend,
that life resides in the dew of that moment
when the heart is open to the beauty
the world lavishes on us between acts of savage fury
and life is lived in the margins amid the folds of the mind
on an afternoon when sunlight washes
the leaves and the crows lumber
across the sky and you breathe
the precious air and cling tightly to
almighty hope.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Sound of a Tree Falling...

Well, I guess the question is answered. There IS nobody out there. It has been over a week since I asked that apparently rhetorical question and still no comments. I wonder how many blogs are on Blogger. Probably millions, 95% of which are read only by friends and family. Ces la vies or whatever the heck it is that those benighted Frenchies say.

I am wasting my time...or am I? If someone eventually reads this, then the time will not have been wasted. If no one reads this but I get something off my chest, the time will not have been wasted. Either way, I am a winner. Now, I feel much better!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Is ANYBODY out there?

Well it has been a few weeks now that this remarkable little web log has been up and running and guess what; there have been -0-, nada, zilch, bupkus comments!

Are you out there dear reader, somewhere on that vast information highway, trudging through blogs about dogs and blogs about nothing? Am I too old and quaint for your taste?

I know most of you are young and probably much too hip (do they still use that word?) for me.

Well here's some news...I saw Jimi Hendrix live in 1969. How about that? That ain't all...I have seen The Who, Led Zeppelin, Iron Butterfly, Grand Funk Railroad, Santana, Chicago, and many others live in the late sixties. Still think I'm not cool?

Oh well, I probably became not cool somewhere north of thirty years ago. My question still rings across the vastness of the world wide web like the squeak of a mouse across the Grand Canyon.

Is anybody out there?

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

General Musings

This is dangerous. I am writing this as I post or posting this as I write, unsure which is correct.

I worry for America. We seem to have lost not only our morality and conscience, but our cohesion as a people. Not to overplay it, but I remember an America of the fifties and early sixties where most of us danced to the same beat, or at least condescended to each other's beat.

I was just on an AOL blog about Obama's reckless statements about blacks and a "quiet riot." The talk was mostly hateful, to a large degree banal and of an ignorant bent.

The blacks were shouting (rhetorically speaking) at the whites and the whites were shouting at the blacks, dredging up all the old racial stereotypes. They were like children furiously screaming at each other on the playground, spittle flying, faces red. It was discouraging to say the least.

After all these years, we are still at the point where the slightest thing brings out the racist in many of us. I grew up in a racist environment, where blacks were viewed as third class citizens at best. I never attended school with a black person until I was in college (definitely dates me). And I must confess when I see certain behaviors my knee jerk reaction is to attribute it to race, then I always think of an example just as deplorable in my own race, and I seem to gain a level of perspective about it.

Somehow, someway, we have to get beyond all that. We all have to take responsibility for our own actions, something I believe more whites than blacks believe in. However, whites have no exclusivity to responsible behavior and blacks are certainly not predominantly irresponsible. In any case, a little humility and some simple humanity will go a long way toward healing and reconciliation. Jesus Christ had it right. Too bad the vast majority of us pay no more than lip service to his teaching.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Scarecrow in Gray, the First Chapter, by Barry Yelton

Scarecrow in Gray
Copyright 2005
By Barry D. Yelton


A soldier who fights
in a war not his own,
bears the burden
of manifold tragedy.

I am not a soldier. I have been a farmer for most of my thirty-one years. I come from the hills of western North Carolina, from a county called Rutherford, a land of hills and hollows. It is a place where the evening mist tints the ridges blue as they roll toward the far horizon, each layer of hills becoming ever lighter in hue until the sky appears to be joined to the land. The ancient mountains and lush river valleys pulse with life planted by God and watered by the very lifeblood of my forebears. Since before the Revolution our family has lived here, farmed the land, and left our earthly remains in this good soil.

I confess that I did begin thinking about joining the Southern Army shortly after the war began, but I had a family and there was no one else to provide for them. My brothers had their own families to look after and some of them had already made their plans to go to war. Foolish plans they were in a foolish time.

As strange as it may seem now, in the beginning many thought it a great adventure, lots of fun marching, and parading and shooting at Yankees. I think most learned pretty quick that the fun is mighty scarce on a battlefield. I never had any illusions about that.

I am a fair hand with a musket. I hunt a little, mostly deer, rabbits and ‘coons, sometimes bear. I never shot at a man before the war. That’s an entirely different matter than hunting game. You shoot a deer and look in that black shining eye and you can see there’s nothing there but flesh and blood. You look into the eyes of your fellow man, no matter how debased he may be, and you know there is a soul, a being of a higher order, not just an animal.

I thought about this a lot before I went to war and it kept me from marching off to join I must tell you, along with the fact that I had my family to feed. I couldn’t grow crops in Camp Creek from an army post in Virginia or Tennessee. And even if I went, could I really bring myself to kill my fellow man? Would I have the courage to fight and to die? These questions burned in my mind as I watched men leave, go to war, and die. Those who did manage to come home were often maimed or scarred so badly, the folks at home treated them like pariahs. They were damaged people who often could no longer work. The presumption was that somehow they did something wrong to get shot or lose a leg or an arm or an eye. I wondered if I could deal with that if it were my lot.

Anyhow, I never owned any slaves, none of our family did. We often jested about how we worked like slaves ourselves, we just didn’t have any master to feed and clothe us. All we had was what we could grow on a few acres, which were sharecropped, or bought on credit from some parsimonious banker or maybe purchased from a hard up farmer who needed money more than land.

Where I come from, we don’t take freedom lightly. Mountain folks have always been of freedom loving, independent mind. Our people fought like demons against the British and Tories in our War for Independence. My grandfather, James Yelton, was one of those who pledged his all to fight for our new country.

I suppose that hill country folks’ love of independence came from having to rely on your own wit and will to survive when money was scarce and life was hard. When winter howled into the hill country and hunger sniffed at your door like a bear out of hibernation, you had to be strong of will and body just to survive. Heeling and toeing to a tyrant was never something we cottoned to whether it was a British tyrant or an American one. We bowed to neither foreign kings nor slaveholders from down east. We always went our own way, paying allegiance only to God Almighty. We believed that if you settled for anything other than freedom you might as well be a dumb animal.

Our folks had no quarrel with the Yankees about whether whites could own slaves or not. What reason did I have to go off to Virginia or somewhere and shoot at men with whom I had no quarrel? The recruiters sometimes came around telling me I needed to do my patriotic duty and I told them I was, by growing crops to feed my family and others. I sold what I could to the Confederate quartermasters and the home guards and I trust it went to help feed the soldiers fighting in Virginia, as well as those hometown heroes whose primary combatants were colored bottles on fence posts. They paid me in Confederate script in amounts which seemed large at the time, but when I went to buy something, I found I had sold too cheap. It seemed to me it would take a wheel barrow full of Confederate script to buy a shoat. It also seemed to me like I was doing my duty and then some, working my body into old age and selling my produce to the government for a song.

I served for a while as a lieutenant with the North Carolina Militia, but then folks began to accuse me of dodging the war. I pondered joining the regular army because I did not want my reputation to suffer by being considered a dodger. Fact was the recruiters were always preaching that General Robert E. Lee needed men like me; that the Yankees were coming in hordes. I usually replied that if the Yankees were coming in hordes one more farmer with a musket wasn’t going to make much difference, but I might try my hand anyway if it upheld my good name to do so.

Things came to a head one Friday morning in late July of ‘64 when I was in the bottom plowing weeds and early crops under. I got up about four thirty because daylight comes early in July and I wanted to get the bottom plowed, so I could move on to the west slope. I walked out to the barn to get “Moses.” That’s what I called the old black mule I bought from Silas Freeman over by Gilbert Town.
Moses was more than a little bit stubborn and he wasn’t a big mule, about fourteen and a half hands, but he was well muscled and bull strong and once you got him going he’d plow all day, long as you stopped and gave him water once in a while. He needed to be talked to, like he was something more than a tool to be used, like he was important, which he was. He was a smart animal. I treated him well and he knew it. Animals may be dumb, but certain things they perceive better than we of two legs. Moses liked sorghum a lot, so I dropped an armload at his feet, and then I walked on down to bring him some water from the creek, our aged hound Samson trotting at my heels.

As I walked to the creek I glanced up at the house and saw my sweet wife, Harriett, looking at me through the kitchen window. Her honey colored hair wreathed her face, which today wore a weary smile. She didn’t have much reason to smile these days. She lost a brother in the war and her Pa was bad sick, but most of the time when she looked at me she smiled anyway, like she did when we were courting ten years ago.

I don’t know how she kept looking so good, when I couldn’t afford to buy her nice dresses and other female fixings. But somehow she always seemed to look fresh, with the warmest glow about her. A few lines showed on her face, but I counted her the prettiest girl in these parts. Her penetrating hazel eyes were like water in a mountain spring. As she looked out the window that morning, I saw something in her face that bothered me somehow; a shadow and a foreboding. I tried not to think about it. I just smiled back at her and waved and walked on down to the creek to get Moses his water.

The dawn glowed softly behind the dark bulk of the mountain, mysterious in the early morning gloom. A few high clouds streaked pink and purple across the deep blue. Samson sniffed at the creek bank. An old ‘coon dipped in the creek for crawdads until he saw Samson and me and shuffled off, flicking his ringed tail as he scurried into the brush. Samson woofed and then went back to inspecting the creek bank. He was too old to give chase and he knew it. The leaves on the trees along the creek rustled softly. An owl called mournfully, which always seemed to me to be the saddest sound on God’s earth, like he was lost and alone in a desolate place. It was a dreadfully lonesome sound. It always made me uneasy, like I was the lost one. I sometimes wondered about that in my darker moments.

Sometimes on Sunday morning, when I didn’t have to rise early to work, I would lie in my bed listening to a hoot owl off in the distance. To me his refrain was a mournful reminder of the passing of things. The Indians say that an owl calls your name when it’s your time to die. I can understand why they would say that. The sad call of an owl is not quite like any sound I ever heard, maybe not like any sound on earth.

I shook off my gloomy thoughts and dipped the bucket in the cold, rushing water, then sat it down and dipped some for myself with my hands. The water was cold and clear. The creek came from a gushing spring up on the side of the mountain. I’d been there many times, usually hunting deer and squirrels. The water gets a thorough cleansing coming through that blue granite rock in the mountain and the creek water has the purest, cleanest taste. It was a true blessing.

I listened to the sounds of the morning; the owl, a soft wind in the tree tops, the cheerful murmur of the rushing stream. I breathed deeply of the fragrance of the summer morning. As I looked across the fields and my eye traced the rustling rows of corn and traveled up the slope toward my house, I had to smile to myself at the beauty of it all and I thanked God for giving me such a place to live and work. I thought of my ancestors who had farmed this land, fought the Indians and the British, suffered disease and want and backbreaking toil, all so we could live in this peaceful and verdant country. The thought made me humble, thankful and very proud.

As I walked back to the barn, I looked at our little house again, sitting there at the foot of the mountain on a gentle rise, bathed in morning mist. The wood of the house had turned dark after eight years. I couldn’t afford to paint it. But that old forest pine aged well and it would last many a year. A tendril of cook smoke rose from the chimney, spread low across the corn crib and mingled with the mist. The old oak, hickory and sweet gum trees framed the house like a picture. It was how I knew it would look when I built it eight years ago.

I had worked nights and any other spare time as a pitman at Whit Whitaker’s sawmill. I stood in that pit at the lower end of the two man saw, covered with saw dust, for days on end. It wasn’t bad. The sawdust that peppered my face had a sweet redolence about it. He paid me with lumber to build the house, much of which I helped saw myself. My brothers helped me, just as I helped them with their houses. I split the shingles for the roof myself. It took me many months. I worked on the house whenever I wasn’t farming. The house wasn’t big or fancy, but it was home and Harriett did love it so.

The air was sweet to breathe so I stood for just a minute, savoring the hallowed morning that would soon be transformed into another commonplace day. Old Moses was stirring, getting impatient and he let out a little “eeee-haw.” He wanted his exercise. He couldn’t wait to get going, but by six he couldn’t wait to get back to the barn. Foolish old mule he was. I walked up past the field to the barn and gave him his water. I stroked his muzzle as I put on the bridle and traces. He huffed and flicked his ears. Then I led him down to the bottom to hook up the plow. Samson stood watching me. After I bent down and scratched his ears, he waddled back up to the porch to maintain his constant and somnolent vigil.

“Mule! Hup! Mule!” I let the plow settle into the steaming brown soil. The shares spoke in a whisper, with an occasional clink of stone, as they cut through the soft loam, the smell rising up like new birth. Moses lumbered along in his steady gait while I gripped the plow and we turned the weeds under and rolled the damp soil upward. The plowed vegetation smelled pungent in the heavy air.

It was about as pleasant a job as any man ever had. Don’t misunderstand me; it was sure enough work. A long day of plowing will make a strong man tired. You had to keep the plow straight and steady, especially when you were laying off rows, and you had to keep pace with the animal, slogging through soft soil for ten to twelve hours, sometimes more. It worked on your legs, your shoulders and your back. But at the end of the day, you could see what you had accomplished. Making things grow from God’s good earth made a man feel part of the natural order of things, something you could never get working in some manufactory or general store.

About mid-morning I saw two fellows riding up the road, one on a chestnut gelding and the other a fine roan mare. They stopped the horses at the edge of the field, two hundred yards away, and waved down at me. I whoa’d old Moses, tied the lines to the plow handles and walked up to see what they wanted. They were fairly well dressed fellows and I didn’t recognize them, so I figured it was official business of some kind. I hollered out “good mornin’” and they nodded real solemn like.

“Mr. Francis Yelton?” the taller one said like he was asking. I said I was he. The taller fellow smiled a little and said, “Mr. Yelton, I’m Wallace McIntyre and this here is Joe Deck, we’re recruitment officers.” They had my attention.

“Mr. Deck, Mr. McIntyre,” I replied with a nod.

The tall man looked even more serious, “I don’t know if you heard, but things ain’t goin’ so well for us in Virginia. Lee’s been backed almost all the way to Richmond and the Yankees is gettin’ stronger every day. They keep comin’ faster than we can kill ‘em. We need men like you to join the fight to stop those Yankee devils. I hate to say it but looks like it might be now or never. We know you’ve served well in the state militia, but we’d like for you to join up with the volunteers. Some of the North Carolina regiments has got purty small and they need help. What do you think?” I furrowed my brow and studied the men. My mind was divided and there was no getting around it.

I looked from one to the other of the men and said, “Gentlemen, I want to go but I joined the militia so I could keep on workin’ the farm at least part of the time. I’m a farmer and all I got is what you can see from your saddle. If I leave, I am afraid my family will starve. There’s nobody else to take care of them, what with my brothers all dead or off to war.” They looked at each other like they had heard the tale a thousand times.

Mr. Deck said, “Look Francis, we need you in the army. The situation is desperate and people like you are needed more on the lines than here at home.” Again I looked from one to the other of them from under the brim of my slouch hat. We were all silent.

The horses shifted and huffed, their withers glistening in the heat. One flicked his ears at a bothersome fly. The saddle leather creaked as the horses moved. There was a dull clink of metalwork. The sun beat down on the fields, the men and me. They looked at me hard, as if expecting me to say something.

I sighed deeply, looked at the fields and back at the men. “Gentlemen, I have much work to do and I can’t leave just now,” I said as I swept my arm toward the fields. “I’ve got crops in the ground that will need harvestin’ before long and I have a family to feed. Could I maybe join up after the harvest?”

Mr. McIntyre looked off across the fields and said, with a trace of irritation in his voice, “The need is urgent. If the Yankees reach Rutherford, your family will starve and your farm will probably be gone anyway. They’ll come into this valley burnin’ and takin’ everything that they can. Ask the folks up in the Shenandoah.”

Mr. Deck added in a flat, matter of fact voice, “And sometimes it’s been said some of them boys ain’t above takin’ liberties with the women folk. Ain’t that worth fightin’ for? We’re down to recruitin’ old men and boys and to conscriptin’ those that refuse. We need you bad and we need you now. Here’s an enlistment form. Take it to Camp Vance in Morganton within thirty days time. If you can talk any of your neighbors into coming, bring them too. We need every man.”
Mr. McIntyre’s lowered his voice. “We know you have brothers that have served and have died in the war. We respect that. Come on to Camp Vance and join up within the next four weeks. General Lee and his boys have fought long and hard. They’s been a lot of losses in the ranks and the army needs men real bad. Your country needs you real bad. Don’t let us down.” They both looked at me with hard eyes. McIntyre touched his hat, smiled slightly, and then they wheeled their horses and rode off down the road at a canter. The horses’ hooves kicked up little clouds of dust. The men disappeared around the bend, the clop of the hooves fading.

I looked up at the bright sun beating down, pulled out my bandana and wiped my brow. My gaze turned to my house. I thought I saw Harriett’s face in the window, but I wasn’t sure from where I stood. My eyes turned toward the fields, the woods and the mountains beyond. I looked at my barn, corn crib and chicken coop. They all seemed somehow diminished. Everything suddenly seemed temporary; like it was passing away. I looked down at old Moses, patiently waiting in the shade near the creek. I looked back at the house, slowly took a deep breath and then walked on back down to take up the plow again.

With my hands on the plow, the blades once again cut deep into the earth. The rhythmic movements of the animal and the soft sound of the plow seemed somehow comforting. I was about half done by one o’clock, so I stopped to get a bite to eat. I got Moses some water, tied him in the shade near the creek and went on up to the house. I knew Harriett would have something cooked.

As I walked in, she was standing by the stove looking at me with the most distressed look I ever saw on her face. Twisting a cloth in her hand, she said in a soft voice, “Who were those people?” I told her who they were and what they said. Her eyes dropped and a tear ran down her cheek. “I knew this day would come,” she said quietly.

I walked to her and lifted her face toward mine and said, “I have to go darlin’. It won’t be for long; surely the war can’t last much longer. Folks are sayin’ I’m a dodger and I can’t have that. I’ve got to do my duty.”

I’ll never forget the look that came upon her face. It seemed to crumple and a look of desolation took the place of her warm, loving expression. Her shoulders slumped. Her lips trembled as she said, “I am so afraid you won’t come back. Mary Hollis’s husband left for Virginia five months ago and three months later she got a letter saying he was dead. Two of your own brothers are dead and God knows what’s become of the others. I can’t stand the thought of living life without you.”

I held her close and said, “I will come back, don’t you worry. The Good Lord will watch after me.” My words of comfort didn’t seem to help very much. We stood in silence for some time holding each other. Our two little ones, Jane who was nine and our baby, six year old Susan, came in from the yard where they had been playing and we sat down at the table to eat.

I got as much done as I could in the next few days. My girls helped more than usual. Harriett went about her work solemnly and earnestly. She read her Bible more and she prayed a lot. We spent as much time with each other as we could. She cooked my favorite foods and sang my favorite hymns.
We sat on the porch in the evening after the girls went to bed and she would rock and sing “Amazing Grace” and all the great hymns we sang in church as the stars sparkled in the vast blackness above us and the whippoorwills persisted in their plaintive refrain. Then we would retire and I would lie awake for hours it seemed holding her in my arms, smelling her sweet, soft skin, dreading the day we would part. I kept telling myself it would not be for long, surely could not be for long, somehow.
Author's Note: I wanted to post this first chapter of my book in the hope that you might read it and want to read the entire book. It is available at, and by order from bookstores.