“Scarecrow In Gray” is how the Confederate soldiers described their appearance as they struggled while fighting the Union soldiers. The author has written a novel that opened my eyes dramatically as I read about the rag-tag appearance of these men as they attempted to learn how to fight in a war, how to march, how to retreat, and how to overcome the mental and physical damage they suffered while attempting to fight for a cause that they were not sure they completely agreed with.
Francis Yelton was a farmer in North Carolina. All he wanted to do was farm to keep his family alive with the meager income from the crops he grew and those crops his family needed for year round existence. Francis was not a warrior. He wanted nothing to do with fighting against other soldiers that lived in the same nation he did. After time the pressure from the recruiters made him give in and, despite not wanting to leave his wife and children, he took off for the area the recruiters told him to report for training. Along the way he met another area farmer, Whit Whitaker, and they traveled off together, both reluctant to go but Whit had been conscripted whereas Francis was a volunteer. Both regretted having to leave their farms before the crops were ready for market, each knowing that their wives and children would bear the work of finishing plowing and picking and the other extremely hard work that a farm required. They only hoped and prayed that the war would not last much longer.
After a long journey to get to the camp, they settled in to the harsh way of living, eating, and merely existing. Food was in such short supply that even in this training camp the meals were very meager and many food items were non-existent. They had to learn fast since the Confederacy was so short of soldiers. They were vastly outnumbered by the Union troops in numbers, food, weapons, and ammunition. Clothing was also short. Uniforms existed only when some could be found. Whit and Francis did indeed learn fast and took off towards the battle lines with their ragtag fellow men along side.
The battles were such that both sides suffered terribly but with the vast overpowering Union army, there were too few Confederates fighting the Yankee masses. Scarecrow In Gray is not for the faint at heart. The description of the battles, the holes that the round bullets placed in bodies or going through bodies, the loss of limbs torn off by a shell, the piercing of men by knives in hand-to-hand combat, and the turn and retreat if you can move, all combined to tell some of the horrible sufferings caused by this Civil War.
Then when those survivors, wounded physically and/or mentally did retreat, their camps became a human nightmare of limbs being sawed off, the screaming of the many in pain, and very little and, in most cases, no pain reliever and certainly no sedative other than occasional alcohol to help during the surgeries. Many could not take this and deserted. If they were caught they usually suffered death for desertion.
Barry Yelton has captured a period in our nations history that we can’t be proud of. He tells it like it was as he describes the suffering of not only the soldiers on both sides, but of the terrible toil the war took on the families of all these brave soldiers. They never knew from one day to the next if their loved one would ever come home. The death and injury toll was beyond what we can ever imagine. The close contact between the combatants made the fighting even more intense.
REVIEWED BY CY HILTERMAN
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