This is one of those lyrical and beautifully told stories of the Civil War, of a volunteer who came down from his deeply loved mountains and joined the Confederate Army in the last year of the war, even as it became clear that the Confederacy was all but lost. Francis Yelton, (who was a real person, the ancestor of the writer) had never owned a slave, never felt particularly drawn towards the secessionist cause, and wanted nothing more than to farm his few acres and make a living for his wife and daughters. Proud, stubborn and hot-tempered, he does not want to be thought a coward eitherâ€¦ and so he volunteers, along with his friend Whit Whitaker, and finds himself in the Army of Northern Virginia, at the siege of Petersburg.
He becomes accustomed to the dirt, the privations and the bad food; and he becomes a soldier, one of Leeâ€™s Miserables. But he does not fight for the South, as much as he fights for his friends; Whit, and Preacher and Sergeant Cas and the others. And he fights and hopes to survive long enough to return to his blue hills and his beloved family. The privations of camp life and the final bloody, brutal skirmishes as Leeâ€™s army dissolved are closely and simply observed. The writer has a fine ear for the wry and self-deprecating way that 19th century men had of speaking of themselves: Says one wounded Confederate â€œ Now, I am a worn out old soldierâ€¦with enough holes in me that Iâ€™ll whistle like a pipe organ in a strong wind.â€ And Francis Yelton remarks of his fried Whitâ€™s affinity for scrounging food and supplies as coming from â€œthe dead Yankee general storeâ€.
There are no heroic martial deeds and adventures in â€œScarecrow in Greyâ€; only the challenge of surviving a 19th century battlefield with some kind of honor and dignity as a human being. Private Yelton does have an interesting adventure with holding a Union General and his staff hostageâ€¦ but all that he is after is some medical supplies. It is not one of those grand, sweeping panoramas of that war; it is a miniature on ivory, related in tiny and precise detail.