Francis Yelton (actual ancestor of the author) is a reluctant participant in the last months of the Civil War. He would much rather stay on his North Carolina farm, but, he also does not want to be known as the 19th Century equivalent of a draft dodger. Along with Whit Whitaker, his neighbor and fellow farmer, Yelton joins the Confederate Army.
These are desperate times for the Southerners. The men are haggard, exhausted collections of skin and bones. Starvation is an everyday concern; when there is food, which is rare, it is usually moldy and inedible. More men are lost to disease and desertion than to northern artillery. Deserters are usually shot on sight. The war’s outcome is a foregone conclusion; it’s only a matter of time.
Alongside small pockets of humanity, Whit and Francis see the horror of war, up close and personal. The first Union soldier that Francis kills in hand-to-hand combat is only a teenager, who forgives Francis as he dies. Both Francis and Whit are injured, so they experience a field hospital. It’s a place where the main medical activity seems to be amputating of limbs, and the only available anesthetic is whiskey. Whit loses one of his eyes, and the eye socket has to be cleaned out, to prevent the onset of gangrene. Both men are at Appomattox Court House to witness the official end of the war. On their way back home, both men are distressed to learn that the killing does not end just because the war is over.
As much as possible, this is a historically accurate novel, and it shows. It was written by someone who really knows his way around the finer points of the War Between The States. By all means, read the official histories of the Civil War. To get the point of view of the average soldier, the reader could do a lot worse than start right here.
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