Barry Yelton Of Scarecrows and Scots
Paperback: 218 pages
Publisher: iUniverse, Inc. (September 26, 2006)
Buy it at Amazon.com
Barry Yelton’s story, Scarecrow in Gray, is a fictionalized account of his own great-grandfather’s service in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. We first meet Francis Yelton as he’s plowing his fields and thinking what a lucky guy he is: farm, good wife, two beautiful daughters. He knows the war is going on, but hasn’t felt any urge to join up. He’s not a slaveholder and doesn’t particularly agree with slavery, but he just wants to continue with the bucolic life he’s living.
However, war does impinge on his life. Local men have taken on the task of conscripting (drafting) any male of more or less the right age and physical condition. Francis doesn’t want to be thought a shirker, so he decides to enlist rather than be conscripted.
Francis goes off to sign up with his neighbor Whit. They end up spending their entire service together for the last few months of the war. By this time, the Confederate Army is almost a shambles, still fighting only through the stubbornness of the Generals. Robert E. Lee is worshipped by his men, but I have a very difficult time sympathizing with the leaders on either side of this war. Lee continued the war well past any decency, all for some mystical "honor." What is honorable about sending wounded and starving men against the well-fed and well-equipped Federals?
But this isn’t really a story about war, but about one man’s experience of it. Francis is an honorable man; that’s why he continues the fight. He feels regret at the killing and sympathy for even the dying Union man from whom he asks forgiveness. Francis knows full well that the scenes of war and his role in it will haunt him the rest of his life.
Mr. Yelton clearly wants to paint a sympathetic portrait of his great-grandfather. We can only hope that his positive portrayal of Francis was close to the truth. The fact that Francis did not join the Confederacy until late in the war shows he was a reluctant soldier. Mr. Yelton describes many incidents of Francis showing humanity and sympathy for both his fellow soldiers and even the blacks he’s fighting to keep enslaved. He shares food with a black man and is beaten up by some of his fellow soldiers for doing so. He asks a dying Union soldier to forgive him. It’s clear that Francis does not relish war or killing.
"Band of Brothers" is an apt description of the real reason why men fight in wars. Do they ever fight for their country? They might say so, but men go to war for very personal reasons. The man fighting next to them, their mothers and fathers back at home, their wives and children.
This is what Francis Yelton did and we can sympathize with him, no matter what we feel about a war waged to enslave another people.
Now, to the mechanics. Is the book well-written? Yes. I was very pleased with Mr. Yelton’s writing ability. He’s darned good. I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in Civil War lore. I’ll warn that some of the fighting scenes and the aftermath are fairly graphic, but no more than you might see in PG-13 movies. Descriptions are vivid and on-point. Just a note here about what that means. I’ve found more than one book that takes an extended break from anything having to do with the characters and storyline. This annoys me. I don’t want a multi-page gap in the story describing mountains or flowers. Stick to the point and you’ll keep me reading. Mr. Yelton puts in just the right amount of descriptive information to keep you in the scene.
Very well done. I'm glad I had a chance to read it.