“Cold Mountain” is a 1997 novel by the American author Charles Frazier. Frazier has said that the main character was based on his great-grand-uncle, W.P. Inman but that he took “great liberties” in writing a fictional account of his life.
The story is that of a former soldier named Inman, who deserts the Confederate army to return to his long lost love, Ada at home in a place called Cold Mountain. The chapters switch back and forth between the perspectives of Ada and Inman and follow Inman on a journey in which he is attacked, beaten and shot among meeting strange characters.
Meanwhile, Ada, who recently lost her father, is determining how to manage the farm he left over when a young woman named Ruby arrives to help her. Ada and Ruby become friends, and eventually, Ruby’s outlaw father returns to ask for a place to stay.
When Inman manages to make it back to Cold Mountain, it is just as Ruby’s father is shot by the Home Guard for being a war deserter. Inman and Ada have a four day reunion while they care for and revive Ruby’s father. Inman decides that he is going to turn himself over to the Union army as a prisoner as he feels that the war will end soon and that is the only way he will survive. Unfortunately before he can, he is shot by the Home Guard. Ada holds him as he dies and it is revealed in the epilogue that she was pregnant with his child and is now raising their daughter alone.
The novel won the US National Book Award for Fiction and the Boeke Prize in 1998.
A former soldier named Inman wakes up in a hospital bed. Inman has a neck wound and is next to a man who has been more seriously wounded in the Civil War. Inman waits through the early morning for a blind patient that he often speaks to to come into the room. When the man arrives, Inman goes to him and learns that the man has always been blind. The man tells Inman that he would rather have always been blind than to have been blinded at some point because that would mean that he would know what he was missing. Inman says that he wishes that he has not seen what his regiment did at Fredricksburg. He says that he remembers the “heaps” of bodies of Federal troops lining the battlefield and a line of soldiers who killed by smashing their victims heads with a hammer.
A few days later, Inman goes into town and buys some clothes and other supplies. While there, he reads in a newspaper about army deserters. He begins thinking about home, which is nearby a mountain called Cold Mountain. He decides to write a letter to someone saying that he is going home and returns to the hospital. When Inman returns to the hospital, the man in the bed next to him has succumbed to his wounds and died. He packs his new supplies in a backpack and sneaks out through a window that night.
In chapter two, the reader is introduced to Ada as she sits on her porch writing and discarding drafts of a letter to Inman. Ada’s father has recently died, and her primary concern is running the family farm now that he is gone. From her house, Ada can see Cold Mountain. After lunch, she visits her father’s grave and puts flowers on it. After her father’s death, Ada stayed with her neighbors, the Swangers for three days because she was too afraid to return to her house alone.
That day, Ada visits Esco and Sally Swanger at their home. The Swanger’s two sons are fighting in the war but Esco and Sally do not support either side. Esco tells her about a man named Teague who tried to use his Home Guard militia to hassle a family into giving up their valuables. The family was suspected of supporting the Union army (the Federals). Even though they were tortured, they still refused. Esco thinks that these and other bad omens around town predict that the war will soon come to the mountains to town.
Ada is set to return to Charleston and sell the farm, but she hasn’t yet and can’t decide what to do about this. Esco suggests that she go out to their well and look backward with a mirror into it to tell her future. When Ada does this, all she sees is a man walking, and she does not know what this is supposed to mean for her. She leaves her neighbors and goes to Black Cove. While there she reads a letter from her father’s lawyer informing her that his investments are now worthless.
Ada goes home and falls asleep in the upper pasture. She dreams that her father is trying to tell her something, but she cannot make out what it is and when she wakes she takes this as a sign that she should stay in town and not go back to Charleston. The next morning, a girl arrives at the farm and says that she has been sent by Sally Swanger. The girl’s name is Ruby. She offers to help Ada with the farm work on the condition that she is treated equally.
Inman marches for days and deals with bad weather, wild dogs and evading the Home Guard. Three men attack him when he stops to buy provisions and he steals a scythe to beat them with after which he escapes into the woods. As he walks he remembers meeting Ada during a sermon that her father was giving in church. He saw her across the room and wanted to touch the part of her neck that was exposed from her hairstyle. After the sermon was over, he asked Sally Swanger to introduce him to Ada after which they had a brief conversation and Inman thought that she seemed to like his shy smile.
Inman follows the river until he reaches a ferry crossing where he manages to bribe a little girl into paddling him across with her canoe. While they are crossing, three townsmen appear and begin firing on them. Inman and the girl throw themselves into the river and use the canoe as cover as they float downstream. When they reach the other side, Inman gives the girl more money for the damaged canoe, and the girl gives him directions for heading west.
The first thing Ruby does upon arriving at the farm is to inventory everything that needs to be done in the house. She decides on several new ventures for the farm such as raising pigs and selling cider. She tells Ada that they should use these things to barter in town rather than make money off of them. She instructs Ada to pick either the piano or a cabriolet to sell to get them through that winter and Ada chooses the piano. This saddens Ada as it reminds her of a night that she spent singing songs and playing the piano with Inman.
One night, Ruby decides to tell Ada her life story. She tells her that she didn’t know her mother and grew up with her father, Stobrod Thewes. Her father would often leave her for days at a time on drinking binges, and she learned to be self-sufficient at a young age. Stobrod enlisted in the war, and she hasn’t heard anything about him since. Ruby believes that she is twenty-one years old, but she doesn’t know for certain.
Inman follows the river and eventually comes across a man who is about to throw a white bundle into the water. He pulls a gun on the man who tells him that he is a preacher who drugged his pregnant lover and was about to drown her in the river. Inman ties the man up and forces him to lead them into town. Trying to reason with him, the preacher tells Inman that he is engaged to someone else and that he will be shunned by his town if it is discovered that he got someone else pregnant.
Once they are in town, Inman, at a loss for what to do, gags the preacher and ties him to a tree. He carries the unconscious woman to her cabin. On the way, she wakes up and he discovers that her name is Laura. He warns her against the preacher and tells her to go back to sleep. He then writes a letter about what the preacher did and stabs it into the tree above the man’s head. After this Inman begins walking again and leaves the town behind him. Eventually he comes across a gypsy camp where he eats stew and watches as the people prepare for a circus-style show where they ride horses and a man throws knives at a woman. While there, he falls asleep and when he awakes the camp has moved off.
Ruby and Ada tend to a group of women and children from Tennessee who say that they are fleeing the Federals who have burned their houses down. The group leaves after one night and the next day Ruby and Ada have lunch in the orchard and Ruby says that she has accrued all of her wisdom from talking to old women and observing nature. Ada tells Ruby about the last party she attended. There was potential suitor there named Blount who confessed to her that he was afraid to go to war. She only stroked his hand in response. Later she learned that he was shot in the face and killed.
While Inman is walking, he meets the preacher again on the road. The preacher thanks him for saving him from committing murder and tells him his name is Solomon Veasey. He tells Inman that he was thrown out of the community for his crimes and that he plans to go to Texas and start a cattle ranch. Inman does not want the preacher to walk with him but begins to do so anyway. The two men travel together and come upon an abandoned house in which they forage for food. Veasey tries to draw Inman’s story from him but all he will say is that there was a trench explosion in Petersburg after which Inman’s regiment managed to successfully surprise the Federals.
During the next few days, Veasey pulls a gun that he stole from his neighbor on a shopkeeper and almost gets shot himself in a fight over a whore named Big Tildy. Veasey spends the night with the whore and Inman buy a room which he has to share with an old peddler named Odell. The next morning he meets Veasey again who has a cut under his eye from the whore but insists that the night was worth it.
Ada and Ruby buy supplies from the hardware store in town and visit an old widow named Mrs. Mckennet. Mrs Mckennet entertains them by telling over exaggerated war stories. Ada tells her that she finds war “degrading”. Mrs. Mckennet condescendingly calls her naïve. On the way home the women pass the court house and hear a prisoner say that Teague and his men killed his father. Ada and Ruby talk about their father’s and Ada tells the story of how her parents met.
Inman and Veasey find a saw lying by a downed tree and Veasey steals it, justifying his crime by saying that God has no respect for property either. Later, they stop to help a man trying to remove the carcass of a dead bull from a creek. Using the saw, they dismember the bull and remove it in pieces. The man, Junior, is so grateful that he offers them dinner and a place to stay for the night. Once they arrived at Junior’s titled house, they meet his wife, Lila and his daughter, Lula. Inman begins drinking a strange-tasting liquor with them and soon begins feeling dizzy. Eventually he is served a leg of meat that comes from an animal he cannot even identify. Lila attempts to seduce Inman to no avail. Junior returns and says that he has brought the Home Guard. Both Inman and Veasey are arrested and shackled to a line of other deserters. Before they can be taken away, however, Junior forces Veasey to officiate a marriage between Lila and Inman.
For days, the captives are marched back through the woods without food. Inman is depressed about retracing his steps. At one point the guards decide that they are just going to shoot the prisoners and Inman manages to survive with only a small wound to the side of the head. He drifts in and out of consciousness before he is dragged away by wild pigs. Inman is still bound to Veasey’s dead body and he uses a stone to cut the rope between them. He begins walking west again and eventually meets a slave who offers him a ride back to his owners farm. The slave lets Inman sleep in the barn so he can recuperate.
When Inman leaves, the slave warns him to watch out for Confederate patrols and draws him a map of the area. Inman feels bad that he has no money to offer the man. Inman returns to Junior’s house where he retrieves the backpack that he left there when he was captured. He kills Junior by beating him to death with a pistol and walks westward for a day before resting again.
Ada receives Inman’s letter. In it, he tells her that he has changed and doesn’t look like the picture that they took of him before the war anymore. She remembers that nearly every soldier had a picture taken before they went off to war in 1861. She remembers the day she said goodbye to Inman. He asked her what would happen to her if he died and she didn’t answer. That night she felt bad about it, and the next day she visited him and apologized. They kissed in his doorway before parting.
Inman continues to travel according to the slave’s map as he avoids the Home Guard. He meets an old woman who has a camp out in the woods and stays with her for a few days. She gives him some herbal remedies to heal his wound before he sets off again.
Ruby finds a man caught in a trap on the farm and realizes that it is her father, Stobrod. He was caught stealing grain to make liquor. Stobrod tells them that he has been living in a cave with other outliers. Ruby makes him breakfast but does not invite him into the house. Eventually he leaves, but returns several hours later to show them a fiddle that he made himself. He tells them that he hunted a rattlesnake and used it’s rattle for the instrument. Ruby is skeptical but after he plays a few songs she admits that he seems to have a knack for it and that it’s sad that he finally found something he is good at so late in life. Ada thinks to herself that Stobrod’s change in character is amazing.
Inman’s wounds heal as he wanders in the woods with no guidance, having passed where the slave’s map ended. He becomes desperately hungry and bumps into a man who tells him where he can find a meal.
Inman finds the house that the man spoke of and meets a young woman named Sara who cooks him a meal. Sara is only eighteen, but she is already a widow and a mother. This saddens Inman, who agrees to slaughter her pig in return for some of her husband’s old clothes.
The next day, Federal soldiers appear, and Sara warns Inman in time. He hides in the woods and watches as the soldiers threaten Sara. In the end, they take her pig and some chickens. Inman follows the men as they continue on their way and shoots them. He does not feel completely right about this but realizes that he has done worse things. He brings the pig and the chickens back to Sara and leaves the next day.
Ada and Ruby are working in the orchard one day when Stobrod returns with a young banjo player named Pangle. Stobrod and Pangle play their instruments and sing. Afterward, they all eat dinner and Stobrod asks Ruby to occasionally feed him and let him hide out at the farm. Since he and the other outliers have been raiding the town, he fears that Teague will hunt him down. Ruby tells him that it’s not her right to agree and looks to Ada. Ada agrees and Ruby is unhappy with her answer. Later that night, after the men leave, Ada looks up at the night sky and decides to write Inman a letter that only says, “Come back to me is my request.”
Inman begins getting closer and closer to home. As he is camping in the mountains, he is attacked by an angry bear and her cub. Avoiding injury, he manages to trick the bear into diving off of the mountain and then shoots the bear cub since he feels it is kinder than letting it starve without it’s mother. He is guilt-stricken about the incident and decides that this must be a sign that he has created a new deadly sin: regret.
Stobrod, Pangle and a young man and fellow outlier from Georgia awaken one night to find the Home Guard surrounding them. Teague tells them that he knows that they are deserters. He tries to get the information about the cave where the men are staying out of them and eventually gives up, telling them to stand in front of a nearby poplar tree. Stobrod holds his fiddle and Pangle gives them a smile. Teague is unnerved by the smile and tells Pangle to hold his hat in front of his face. The guards shoot both of the men.
The boy from Georgia manages to hide during the fight and rushes to Ada and Ruby to tell them what has happened. Ada asks him to show them to the bodies. When Ruby hears of this, she displays no emotion and says that they should be buried. They women decide to travel up the mountain and bury Pangle and Stobrod. They find Pangle and bury him but when they find Stobrod, he is still breathing, and Ruby removes the bullet from his chest. They bring him back down the mountain and set up camp in an old Cherokee village.
Inman finds Pangle’s grave and the women’s tracks in the snow. As night is setting in, he decides to rest there and not to eat any food until he sees Ada again. On the way into the mountains, he found the boy from Georgia who told him what had happened and where the women were. The next day he tries to find the women’s tracks in the snow but a fresh snowfall has buried them. He takes shelter in a hemlock grove and despairs. Eventually, however, he hears a nearby gunshot and sees Ada shooting turkeys. At first, she does not recognize him but as soon as he speaks she realizes that it is Inman. They return to camp together but while Ada and Ruby are cleaning out a cabin for Inman to stay in, Ruby says that Ada doesn’t need him. Ada only says that she doesn’t want to turn into an “old bitter woman.”
The next day Inman helps to take care of Stobrod. Ruby leaves for a while, and Inman and Ada hold each other while they talk about what they have missed in each other’s lives. When Ruby comes back, Inman leaves. That night, Ruby stays with her father and Inman, and Ada sleeps together in a cabin. Inman doesn’t speak much about the war because he doesn’t feel like he could accurately describe it. Instead, he describes his journey and all of the people that he met. They discuss their marriage plans and where they want to live.
After the third day since Inman’s arrival, they decide that they have to do something about his desertion. Inman does not want to return to the army, although they both agree that the war will not last much longer. They decide that he should surrender to the Federals and they promise to stay faithful to each other until he returns.
Stobrod recovers quickly and is mostly healed by the fourth day. That day, Ada and Ruby leave and Inman and Stobrod wait so as not to endanger them further. Inman is saddened to see his love leave but he soon puts Stobrod on Ada’s horse and follows. Before long, they are intercepted by Teague and Inman realizes that they will not be able to reason with these men. He sends the horse away and shoots a hunting dog and two guards. Teague comes at Inman with a knife and Inman shoots him in the chest. Inman goes after the final guard, a boy who tells him that he will come looking for Inman if they both survive. Inman tells him to put his pistol down and the boy shoots him.
Ada hears these shots and returns to find Inman lying on the ground, dying. She holds him in her lap as he dies.
In the epilog, Ada has a nine-year-old child (presumably by Inman), and Ruby has married the boy from Georgia who is named Reid. Stobrod lives on the farm with them and works every day. Ada reads her daughter and Ruby and Reid’s children a story and then tells them to turn in for the night, latching the door.
W.P. Inman – the male protagonist of the novel. Inman is a former soldier who wakes up in a military hospital horrified at what his regiment has done in battle. He decides to desert the army and return home to his long lost love, Ada. The novel follows his long journey on foot where he is nearly killed several times and meets many unsavory people along the way.
In opposition to the things that he has seen and done in the war, Inman is an intelligent, sensitive man who is often emotionally reserved. He often seeks solace in his memories of Ada and the spiritual world when he is at his most troubled. Inman stops many times on his journey to help stranded and helpless people. He attempts to maintain a better view of the world even though it has shown him so much cruelty. Inman seems to truly love Ada and want nothing more than to return to her.
Ada Monroe – the female protagonist of the novel. Ada is a young woman who has taken over management of her late father’s farm, alone. She is educated and somewhat high-bred, given her schooling in Charleston. Although when the novel begins, she is penniless and distraught at the loss of her father.
Ada is a thoughtful, private woman who often takes time to think about the natural world. In opposition to Inman’s dedication to her, Ada seems almost to love him by default, telling Ruby that she does not want to end up alone. She writes to Inman and wishes to see him when he is away but when he returns she seems awkward and reserved around him. She agrees to him turning himself over as a prisoner readily and leaves without much of a fuss, perhaps realizing that she is not ready to be with him just yet. However, when she hears Inman get shot she returns quickly and holds him as he dies. When the novel ends, she is raising their child with Ruby and her family on the farm.
Ruby Thewes – Ruby is a young woman who is sent by Ada’s neighbor to help heron the farm. Despite the fact that Ruby is illiterate and uneducated, she is a driven, street smart woman who immediately begins planning on how to keep the farm running by starting new ventures and bartering in town. Ruby hates money and chooses to barter for some unspecified reason.
Ruby reveals after a while that she learned to be self-sufficient as a child because her drunken father would often leave for days at a time on binges. When her father, Stobrod finds her on the farm, Ruby does not seem to like having him around. She later admits to Ada that although he never physically abused her, her father neglected her care for many years when she was a child. She has a gruff exterior but a very warm heart and cares about Ada like she would a sister.
Charles Frazier Biography
Charles Frazier was born on November 4th, 1950 in the town of Asheville, North Carolina. His family moved to Andrews, North Carolina when he was a boy, and it was there that he attended school. In 1973, he graduated from the University of North Carolina and later earned an MA from Appalachian State University. In 1986 he finished up his education by earning a Pd.D. in English at the University of South Carolina.
Frazier’s first novel was also his best known. In 1997, he published his instant classic, “Cold Mountain.” The novel is based on the local histories of the North Carolina mountains and stories handed down through Frazier’s family line about his great-grand-uncle, William Pinkney Inman. In 1997, “Cold Mountain” won the National Book Award and it was adapted into a successful feature film of the same name in 2003. It also became a New York Times Bestselling novel.
In 2006, Frazier published his second novel, “Thirteen Moons.” The story is also set in North Carolina and traces the removal of the Cherokee Indians to Oklahoma and one white man’s involvement in it. Frazier was offered an 8 million dollar advance for his second novel based off of the success of “Cold Mountain.”
Frazier’s third novel, “Nightwoods” is his first to take place in the 20th century although it is still set in the Appalachian Mountains. Frazier still lives in Asheville, North Carolina today.