“Ghost Riders” – Sharyn McCrumb

Here is another book that I may have never read if it had not been lent to me. I love how sharing books can open up new ways of thinking for people! I am so glad I read it as it has wet my appetite for learning more about the Reconstruction following the Civil War.

“Ghost Riders” is set in the Appalachian Mountains and tells the tale of the impact of the Civil War on those who lived in these mountains bordering North and South Carolina, in particular. Sharyn McCrumb poured over historical documents to learn more about the people who lived in these mountains and the way the war affected them. Families were divided on which side they were on from farm to farm and that made for a very unique war.

McCrumb used the real stories of a woman who dressed as a male soldier to fight alongside her husband, a famous governor of North Carolina (Zebulon Vance), and a few other central characters to provide a frame of realistic reference and offer credibility to her story.

The story is told from the perspective of several characters and weaves its way through modern and past times to show the way the Civil War left a massive impact that is still felt to this day. The tales of those who faced the war head on are juxtaposed with the modern-day reenactors and those who have “the sight” and are able to communicate with the ghosts that play a significant part in the story. At times, these changing perspectives can be confusing and it is easy to mix them up, but the style offers a comprehensive way of viewing the way the mountains bore the horrors of war.

She uses the supernatural presence of ghosts of soldiers on both sides to signify the ways in which the war is still not over. Grudges were formed between families who sided with either the Confederacy or the Union that she suggests are still felt today.

Having grown up in both North and South Carolina, I have often visited Grandfather Mountain, a unique mountain that is now known for its mile high suspension bridge between the twin peaks. Grandfather Mountain is an important character of sorts in the book as it serves as a haven to those resisting joining up with the Confederates and also a death trap for those who are caught. Thinking of all of the time I have spent there hiking and visiting, it is difficult to fathom the role it played during the Civil War.

At the end of the story, I was struck by how difficult it must have been to go on after the war was over. In the story, one of the characters sagely suggests that it is easy to start a war but almost impossible to make it stop. Despite the fact that the Confederacy had surrendered, there were still scores that many felt needed to be settled and the war was far from over for them. This was a dark time for our country and a time of healing that I imagine many thought was not possible.

McCrumb does a wonderful job of proving this difficulty and making her readers really think about how such a war tore apart our country.

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