This lyrical novel tells a little known story of North Carolina during the Civil War. The inhabitants of Scuffletown are mostly Lumbee Indians and “free men of color”, who have not joined either side in the war but are still affected by it. The turpentine factories have closed so they have no work; the Union Army keeps coming through and taking everything which is not nailed down; and the local Confederates keep kidnapping the young men to work as slave labor in Wilmington. The population of Scuffletown generally sympathizes with the Yankees even though they don’t treat them much better than the Confederates. But mostly they would like to just be left alone.
Sixteen year old Rhoda Strong’s brothers have joined a band of young men living in the swamps, hiding from the macks (the local white landowners, who are all a McSomething). The outlaw band is made up of not only the local men, but also deserters from both armies. As the war nears to an end, the residents of Scuffletown are getting desperate. The macks are losing the war and are blaming it on the outlaws instead of the Yankees. There is very little food available for anyone, and violent acts committed by both the macks and the outlaws are increasing. Rhoda falls in love with the leader of outlaws, Henry Berry Lowrie and then becomes a target for the macks when it becomes known that Lowrie returns her feelings.
Humphrey’s novel has a basis in history. Henry Berry Lowrie was actually the leader of an insurgent group in North Carolina. To tell you his fate would give away the ending, though. I would recommend you read the novel, which not only tells a fascinating story but is also is beautifully written.