Civil War re-enactors muster on foggy weekends to re-fight old
battles between the North and the South on the mountainous border
between North Carolina and Tennessee. Donning authentic uniforms
from both sides and armed with muzzle loading, antique rifles, they
camp out, play the old tunes and share legends and tales of a war
that is still fought in the hearts and minds of modern day natives.
They unwittingly conjure up the ghosts of real combatants from 140
years past who hover on horseback on the fringes of the camp.
Malinda Blalock is furious that her hotheaded husband Keith has
signed on with the Confederates. Facing conscription under a
recently passed law, he could either flee to Kentucky to sign on
with the Union, where his sympathies lie, or enlist, go AWOL and
join the Union Army when he gets into battle. Fleeing could cost
him his farm, endanger his wife, and probably find him at the end
of a rope, so he decides on the latter. His wife Malinda, who can
shoot and ride as well as he, and not one to sit on the sidelines
and knit until her husband returns, disguises herself as a boy and
sets off to join him. The pair ends up as outlaws, guiding refugees
through the mountain passes and helping those left behind. Not,
however, without bloodshed and hardship, as they hide out in caves
in the rugged Appalachian hills. Or heartbreak, as they leave
behind loved ones, including their own son, in their pursuit of
Zebulon Vance, a prominent Raleigh attorney with political
ambitions, is equally torn in his allegiance, but is reluctantly
pulled into heading up a division of Confederate soldiers. He rises
to the rank of governor of North Carolina, and we see the war
through his eyes, both as a militarist and as one who must try to
govern a state almost evenly divided in its loyalties.
These three historical figures exemplify the rift between brothers,
friends and neighbors as the war divides a nation and threatens the
future of the Union. Based on historical documents, letters and
speeches, McCrumb brings these and other figures from their ghostly
past into sharp focus.
Only Rattler, a reclusive backwoodsman, and Nora Bonesteel, both
blessed with "the sight," sense the possibly ominous presence of a
band of ghostly horsemen who appear to a few unwitting bystanders
during the re-enactments.
GHOST RIDERS works as an effective device to meld the past with the
present, while casting light on how the South is changing with the
encroachment of Northerners who have no interest or axe to grind
nearly a century-and-a-half after one of the most devastating
events in American history.
Sharyn McCrumb's stature as a historical novelist grows with each
succeeding book. THE SONGCATCHER, which chronicles the collection
of traditional Appalachian ballads, was made into a movie, and both
the book and the movie drew critical acclaim. McCrumb is also well
known for her humorous Elizabeth MacPherson mysteries. GHOST RIDERS
accurately brings to life the sense of place and personal conflicts
of the 19th and 21st centuries.
Reviewed by Roz Shea on January 22, 2011