Reviewed by Mary Lydon Simonsen, author of Pemberley Remembered
The title of this novel, Scarecrow in Gray, refers to the soldiers of the Confederacy who are reduced to fighting in uniforms that are little more than rags. Because there is so little food left in the bleak landscape of what was once the Confederate States of America, these undernourished men fight one hopeless battle after another in an unwinnable war, and their lack of food has given them the appearance of the scarecrows guarding their now abandoned farms.
This is the story of Francis Marion Yelton who did not go off to war. The war reached into the distant mountains of North Carolina, carrying him away from his family and farm into the maelstrom of the last desperate months of the Civil War. The author, a descendant of Francis Yelton, a private in a Confederate regiment, has expanded on family lore to tell the story of a man who probably realized the war was lost even before he arrived in training camp. From the filth and tension of an Army camp to the terrors of Petersburg and the long hard road to Appomattox Courthouse, Barry Yelton recreates with measured prose the desperate battles of the closing months before the Confederate surrender in April 1865.
In the midst of unspeakable horrors, he keeps his character tethered to a saner world by frequent references to the natural beauty around him: “The night it was a vast obsidian dome infused with sparkling points of light.” Mr. Yelton has the soul of a poet, but his beautiful prose is not at the expense of detailed and horrific descriptions of the battlefield where brave, but outnumbered, Confederates await the next Yankee onslaught: “Then we heard it, the low roar of the blue ocean, coming out of the woods, then the pounding of thousands of horses’ hooves.”
Scarecrow in Gray is reminiscent of Cold Mountain and The Black Flower and is a compelling tale of one man’s attempt to do his duty while preserving his humanity.