Monthly Archives: April 2018

“Diamond Courage,” Part 23

 

Chapter 24

A Turn for the Better

November, 1862

The next morning, we found ourselves on the other side of the Appalachian chain, and I felt assured that if we followed the valley south, we could come upon a river in Tennessee that we could take to the Mississippi and so have an easier way further south. Or we could stay in the mountains and make those our hiding place.

Along about noon, snow began to fall. I was not surprised, as we sometimes had snow in October where our cabin was. I used the word “was,” which rings true since our home that my parents had built was no more. I felt its loss in my heart, but then reminded myself we were making a new and better life for ourselves.

We did not have any winter clothing with us, since it all burned up in the fire and Laurel had not the time to make more. “It’s all right,” she said. “You and I can cover up with the quilts and I can wrap Caleb in the tablecloth. Those will do until we can find something better.”

She was always optimistic. I doubted that we would be anywhere near a store for a month, but I gladly took the quilt she offered me. “This is fine,” I told her. “I don’t feel the cold at all.”

She smiled, and that also warmed me. We continued on our way.

***

Two days later, we had walked out of the snow and it became warmer so we could put away the quilts and tablecloth. Laurel was walking ahead of me, carrying Caleb when we heard something crashing around in the underbrush. It sounded to me like a large stag which must have been wounded since they are normally very quiet. I put Laurel and Caleb behind a tree for protection. “Don’t move from here unless I tell you to,” I said. “If this is a wounded deer, it can be very dangerous.” With that, I set off toward the noise, carrying my rifle. If I could kill it, we would have enough food to last us for weeks. Things were looking up for the success of our journey.

I stealthily made my way through the underbrush toward the sound. The crashing grew louder and louder, and then a young man about sixteen years old came staggering toward me. He did not appear to be injured, but seemed confused. I lowered my rifle and went toward him.

“Are you all right?” I asked. “Are you injured?”

“I’m lost. I don’t know where my family is. Will you help me?”

I came up to him and saw that, like us, his clothing was homemade.  “Here,” I told him. “Sit down. It looks like you’ve been wandering around for quite a while.”

He sat and lowered his head. “Yes. I don’t know how long, exactly. I walked away from our camp to relieve myself and when I came back, my parents were gone! Whatever happened to them, they made no noise, and they did not cry out, so I don’t know what went on.”

“What’s your name, fellow?” I almost called him “son,” as Alphonso does me, but the young was about as old as I was.

“It’s Andrew. Andrew Coggins. We come from near Front Royal.”

“We’re almost neighbors, then. We’re from around Winchester. My name is Caleb Dillard, my wife is Laurel, and our son is Caleb. He’s about eighteen months old now. I’m sorry to hear this has happened to you. I want you to come over and meet my family, and, since it’s lunch time, have something to eat with us. You must be hungry.”

“That I am. I haven’t had anything to eat since early this morning.”

As we walked back to Laurel and Caleb, I asked him, “What’s your family doing in this remote area?”

“My dad was in the army and he got tired of all the killing and suffering. We’re going to try to get out to the Indian territory and see if we can make a go of it.” He stopped. “Listen to me, talking like I knew where my parents were. Anyhow, those were our plans. If I don’t find them, I don’t know what I’ll do.”

“Don’t worry,” I told him. “You can stay with us until we find your parents or come upon another situation in which you can make a go of it. We won’t abandon you.”

He nodded, and looked relieved. “I want to ask you what you asked me: what are all of you doing out here?”

“Same thing you and your family are trying to do—trying to get away from the war.”

“It’s a terrible thing.”

“I’ve seen it up close. It’s beyond terrible. It’s inhumane and reprehensible and senseless.”

By that time, we had come near enough to where Laurel and Caleb were that I could call out to them. “Laurel! I’m almost back and I have a young man named Andrew with me! Don’t worry—he’s been separated from his parents, and he’s a fine young fellow.”

We stepped into the clearing, and Laurel immediately came over to us, a look of sympathy on her face. “So you can’t find your parents. How long ago was it that you last saw them?”

“It was right after breakfast. I went off to take care of some business and they were gone when I came back, so it’s been about four hours.”

Laurel gave me a look that indicated that she thought something horrible happened to the boy’s parents, and he would never see them again, but she said, “We’ll help you look for them.” I noticed that Laurel did not say what more people said in these circumstances, which is, “We’ll find them.” She was too honest for that, and Andrew didn’t notice. “What’s your name?”

I had forgotten to introduce him, but he said, “I’m Andrew Coggins, m’am, and I appreciate  you helping me out.”

“It’s our Christian duty. Are you hungry?”

“Yes, m’am. Very.”

“Well, we’ll be ready to eat in about half an hour. Do you like rabbit?”

“M’am at this point, I’d eat almost anything.”

Laurel laughed. “You’ll be easy to feed since we don’t know what Caleb will be able to shoot. You can watch Caleb while I get lunch ready. Do you have any brothers and sisters?”

“Yes, m’am, I have two sisters.” He winced. “I hate to think anything happened to them.”

“Well, then you know how to watch children younger than yourself. Caleb’s an easy child to entertain, and I have no doubt you’re very good at it.”

He smiled for the first time since I came across him. “I am a right good hand at it, m’am.”

“One thing—you don’t have to call me ‘m’am.’ My name’s Laurel.”

He nodded. “Pleased to meet you, Laurel.”

“And I you, Andrew. I’m just sorry it’s under these circumstances.”

With that, he went over to take care of Caleb and, since we didn’t have enough rabbit left to feed all of us, I said to Laurel, “I’ll go out and see if I can find something else we can have for lunch.”

“All right. Be careful.”

“I will.”

I went into the woods, and heard the sounds of squirrels in the trees. I had shot them since I was a boy, so I had gotten pretty good at it, and had two of them in short order. And these weren’t the scrawny squirrels such as we had around Winchester. No, they were big and plump, and it looked like they would make us two meals, even with Andrew eating with us. I took them and skinned them right there with my knife, something I learned how to do from my daddy. He taught me a lot about being in the woods, and I was using it now.

I took my kill back to our campsite where Laurel had built a fire and had a frying pan ready for whatever I brought back.  “You got two squirrels! And look how big they are! We can have a couple of meals off them!”

“That’s what I figured,” I said, putting the meat in the pan.

Laurel busied herself fixing our lunch while I talked to Andrew. I motioned him to sit down on a rock, while I sat on another one. “I don’t know anything about your family except for what you told me already, which wasn’t a lot. What does your daddy do?”

“He was a blacksmith. He joined Stuart’s outfit and things went well for a while, but the Yankees overran the stables and a couple of his friends were killed. He managed to get away, but that was it for him with the army. We set out to get away from the fighting and killing, as I told you.”

“I see. It must have been hard to leave everything you knew.”

“Well, in truth I was relieved to get away, just like the rest of my family.”

“I understand that. We’re alike, your family and mine.”

“If I still have a family.”

“We’ll look for them. Don’t worry.”

“I appreciate that.”

“Glad to do it. Look, lunch is ready.”

As we ate, I kept thinking of what we would do if we didn’t find Andrew’s family. Nothing came to me, but I knew that it would be difficult. Still, I was glad we could help him. He could prove useful.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

“Diamond Courage,” Part 22

Chapter 23

Westward

October, 1862

And so we went as far north as we could go on the North Fork, pulled the boat ashore and piled out belongings on the bank. I went back to the river and shoved the boat out into the current, which rapidly took it away. I figured someone else could have use of it, and I wished them well with it. I wish we could have taken it with us for our trip south on another river but it would have been impossible to carry what we had and take care of Caleb as well.

We walked westward on what must have been trails the Indians first trod, from the looks of them. I remembered there was a gap somewhere near where we were which I wanted to take. It would be much easier than climbing over the mountains. We made several false starts until we came to a notch in the mountains which looked likely. We crested the pass and then found ourselves beside a creek which Laurel said was Happy Creek, which I think suited the situation, for I was very happy to be with my family and be moving away from all the difficulty we had encountered.

We followed the creek down until we came to the bottom of the pass and, looking at what we would have to do to find a pass through the Appalachians, decided to stop for the night about four o’clock. We were also exhausted by all we had been through. We made camp, and Laurel took out the last of the chicken and beans that the Widow had given us. We ate, and as darkness fell, Caleb went to sleep on his pallet. Laurel and I sat up beside the fire and talked for about an hour before we, too, lay down to sleep. Although we went to bed early for us, it had certainly been a long day.

I had a dream that night. I dreamed that I was walking southward down a valley, trying for some reason the reach the Gulf of Mexico, but I every time I tried, a huge bird with Eleanor’s face kept me from going any further. In my dream, I would climb over the next mountain range into another valley, only to find that the Eleanor bird was there before me. I must have done this ten times, and the last time, I decided to keep going no matter what happened. I had to reach the Gulf.

As I made my way down the valley, I dreamed I could see the Gulf, but just as I was about to reach it, the Eleanor bird swooped down and carried me off to a prison on a ship, where she left me. The ship had no crew, but sailed by itself.

It was at this point in the dream that I felt someone—or something—grasping me by the shoulder and shaking me back and forth. I feared it was the bird from earlier and cried out, “Leave me alone! Let go of me!” in a most piteous voice. Just as I thought I could endure no more shaking, I heard Laurel’s voice.

“Caleb! Caleb! It is I, your wife Laurel! You must wake up!”

I slowly gathered my wits and saw Laurel sitting beside me, her face lit by the dying embers of our fire. “Why did you tell me to leave you alone when I tried to wake you from your sleep. You must have been having a terrible nightmare, you were thrashing about so.”

I embraced her and slowly nodded. “Yes, I was. I dream that a bird with Eleanor’s face picked me up as I was trying to reach the Gulf of Mexico and put me in a jail on a ship and then came back and tried to carry me off again. That was why I was tell you to leave me alone. I thought you were the Eleanor creature, which you could never be.”

She looked at me with mixed love and concern. “‘Tis a strange dream you had, then.”

“Yes, ‘twas most strange.”

“And yet, I can understand why you had it.”

“Understand or no, I wish no more of that kind of dream.”

“Caleb, you are my dream.” She smiled at me.

“And you mine.” We that, we went back to sleep and slept soundly the rest of the night.

The next day, we set out again and, climbing up on the pass, saw our next obstacle, a range of mountains the likes of which I had never seen before. Laurel said they were the Appalachians, and I knew we would have to find a pass through them. As we went on, I saw a low place in the mountains, and we made for that. Laurel looked around, and remembering some maps she used in the classroom, said, “This is Ashby’s Gap. It will give us an easier passage through the mountains.”

We walked all day to come to the other side of the mountains, and there stopped for the night. We had eaten all the chicken the Widow had given us, so I went out to shoot something for our supper, thinking we were too far away from anyone to attract attention. I was being careful, for I did not wish a repeat of our former difficulties.

I quickly scared up a rabbit and killed him with the first shot. I dressed him in the field and took him back to Laurel. She had fashioned a spit from some branches, and soon Mr. Rabbit was turning over the coals. Laurel had found some edible plants in my absence, and with the meat which was soon finished, we had a good supper.

Caleb again drifted off to sleep with the sunset, and so we had a chance to talk about our plans.

“Are you convinced that your plan for losing ourselves is the best one?”

“In truth I cannot say that it is the best one. Rather, I think it is the only one open to us at this time.”

“That is my thinking as well.”

“If you can think of a fairer plan, I hope you would share it with me.”

“You may count on that. I will think more on where we should go and what we should do.

We fell asleep beneath the stars, and I had no nightmare, but only sweet, blissful rest.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

“Diamond Courage,” Part 21

 

Chapter 22

Exodus

October, 1862

I cannot say that I awoke early the next morning, for I had stayed awake and arose with the first light, which we would need to see our way. The Widow was up already, fixing a wonderful breakfast for us which I appreciated, for we did not know what kind of food we would have when our limited store ran out, of if we would have anything at all to eat. I put these thoughts aside, thinking that I had always managed to find something, but then again, I was alone in those circumstances and not with a child and a woman. I would have to trust in God in all things, and reminded myself of the fall of manna in the desert. God would provide.

We ate breakfast quickly, and prepared to leave. The Widow embraced Laurel and they both cried, both being good women of tender hearts. “I will be praying for all of you,” said the Widow. “You take care of your family.”

“I appreciate the prayers, m’am, and I will do the best I can to keep them safe.”

I shouldered my pack and Laurel put the handle of her basket over one arm and picked up Caleb. The Widow came over and kissed him. “Such an angel of a child,” she said, and wiped away a tear.

We set out, and looking back, I saw the Widow waving to us until we topped a hill and could no longer see us.

It was a pleasant autumn day, and if I tried hard enough, I could imagine we were going for a stroll in the woods, so did the beauty of the trees and flowers sway my mind. “Where are we going?” Laurel asked.

“I cannot say specifically,” I told her, “but I think it best if we go farther south, away from Eleanor. I have thought on it, and we are too close for our own safety. I did not tell Laurel at the time, but I was forming a plan in my mind to travel into the mountains of Tennessee where we might find a safe haven. I even wondered if there might be some relatives there who would take us in. I didn’t remember my parents talking about such folk, but they might be there.

We walked until the sun told us it was noon, and so we stopped beside a stream and ate some of the chicken we did not finish the night before, along with some cold potatoes and beans. That might not sound like a good meal to anyone else, but we ate it with relish, I realizing that there was much worse food in the Laurel because of her sweet disposition. I rarely heard her complain, and counted her nature a blessing from heaven.

Our meal eaten, we set out again and came upon a river that I took to be the North Fork of the Shenandoah. We must have been bearing slightly east of south to discover it, and I amended our course accordingly. It was then that I thought if we could find a river flowing south, we could fashion a raft or some sort of conveyance to take us to where we wanted to go with less effort and greater safety. I did not know of any such rivers in this part of the country, and so I put such thoughts aside.

We stopped as evening was coming on, still beside the river, and I judged it safe to build a fire, which I did. Laurel fixed some pork with a marvelous gravy and we had that with some ears of corn which she wrapped and buried in the coals. She also discovered biscuits which the Widow had put in her basket, and altogether, we had a fine meal.

After we ate, Caleb went to sleep on a quilt that Laurel had laid out for him, and she and I sat close to each other and watched the embers of the fire. I have found that such an activity is conducive to thought and so we began talking.

“Laurel,” I began, “do you believe that my troubles here of late are the result of some sin I have done, even unawares?”

She sat quietly for a while. I knew her to have a thoughtful, serious turn of mind at some moments, although she could be playful and jovial at other times.

“I do not think that the bad that happens to us is all our fault,” she began. “Much of it is caused by others and by the presence of evil in the world. We are sometimes the victims of that.”  She looked at me. “You are the finest, kindest, best man I know. I do not see any kind of sin in you that would cause you troubles.”

I leaned over and kissed her. “Thank you. You are the best wife I could wish for.”

We lay down on our own quilt, and, tired from our day’s exertions, soon fell asleep.

***

We were awakened about sunrise the next morning by heavy rain, although we could not see the sun for it. I had some cloth that resisted water in my pack, and we gathered up Caleb and sat under the cloth with him, watching the deluge.

“We cannot easily move with this much rain,” I said. “We will have to find some place to shelter until it lessens. I will go search for such a place.”

“Go, and return soon,” Laurel told me. “We will wait for you here.”

I gave her my revolver. “This is for anyone or anything that might give you trouble, although I pray you will not have to use it.” She took it, and I knew from what happened before that she knew how to employ it.

I started away from the river, thinking there might be a cave or an abandoned mine we could use. I had searched for about half an hour and had not gone too far when I heard the revolver. Knowing that that meant that Laurel was in some sort of trouble, I ran back through the pouring rain to where I had left her, only to find there was no sign of Laurel or Caleb. Someone must have taken them. I knew it was a person because there was no blood where they had been such as an attack by an animal might leave.

I looked all around. Which way had they gone? I could not tell. Then I quieted myself and realized that Laurel and her captor would have left a trail of broken twigs and branches. All I had to do was find that and follow it. I carefully looked in the area and found such a trail leading to the river. I prayed that whoever took them did not have a boat and even now was putting Laurel and Caleb in it and setting out on the river. I would have a hard time keeping up with them if that were so, although it was possible that I would be able to match them.

I ran along the trail I had left, not caring that branches lashed my face. I hardly noticed, only thinking of finding my family and overcoming whoever it was who had taken them. I came to the river and saw that it was just as I feared. Laurel, Caleb and some man were in a small boat moving quickly with the current. I ran along the bank after them, hoping that her captor would not hear me for the noise of the current. I also hoped that if I did catch up with them, Laurel would give no sign I was there since to do so would betray my presence to her captor.

Try as I might, I could not keep up with them. I knew if I didn’t, it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible to find Laurel. In desperation, I jumped in the river. I am not a good swimmer, but I thought I could stay afloat long enough to find a log or something I might hold on to, and so keep up with them.

I swam for a while, but felt myself tiring. I started to go under, heaving myself above the water only with the greatest of efforts. Just as I felt myself exhausted and unable to keep my head up any longer, a large dead tree chose that moment to topple over and fall in the water. With a super human effort, I made my way over and hung onto it like it was the true salvation that it was. After a few moments, I managed to kick to propel myself more rapidly. As I came around a bend, I saw Laurel, Caleb and her captor in the boat, and I appeared to be gaining on them. Laurel sat facing me, while the man faced her, so he could not witness my approach if Laurel did not betray my presence by any sign that her captor could interpret. I prayed that she might do this.

As I came nearer the boat, I saw the man was steering with his left hand, and holding his left shoulder with his right hand. I thought I saw blood welling from his hand, and surmised that Laurel had shot him in the shoulder. If the wound were severe enough, he could not go long without being incapacitated from loss of blood. I prayed that this might be so.

Just then, Laurel spied me, and, as I had hoped, gave no sign of this save a motion to put her hand over her heart, press it there, and then remove it. Such an action would be taken by her captor as a result of her distress at being captured, and therefore did not betray my presence. So, I was able to draw closer.

I was about twenty feet away when something caused the man to turn around. He reached for something in the bottom of the boat and brought up as rifle. As he was sighting in on me, I let go of the log and dove beneath the surface of the river. While I was there, I heard a shot, but the bullet entered the water well to my left. Then there was another shot, and unable to hold my breath any longer, I heaved myself out of the water, fortunately near my log, which I figured I could use as a shield.

I looked at the boat, so close to me, to find the man lying in the bottom of it and Laurel sitting facing him with my revolver in her two hands. Hers had been the second shot, and from the looks of it, she had either seriously wounded her captor or killed him. God forgive me for wishing for his death, but he had taken my family with him to do who knows what to them.

After I got the boat to shore, I had Laurel help me drag her attacker ashore. On my instructions, we gathered some stones about as big as a man’s head. Laurel had a tablecloth that she tore into strips. We used these to tie the rocks to the body, and then I dragged the man to the shore and pushed him into the river. With the stones weighing him down, I knew he wouldn’t bob to the surface and go downstream where someone might discover him and go looking for who had killed him. I didn’t know how long the strips would hold, but I figured it would be long enough for us to get away.

I had thought of a plan: we would take the boat and float as far north as we could, and then make our way westward to the next river flowing south. I did not know what that was, but I knew Laurel would, and she would tell me after I had told her what I intended to do. I knew we would be retracing our route, but we had had enough bad luck going south down the valley. What would happen after we got on the river going south I did not know, but perhaps we could make our way to the mountains of Tennessee or North Carolina. Laurel had told me that those peaks were bigger than any in Virginia, and I was hopeful they would provide a good hiding place until the war was over. Then we would return to the site of our burned cabin and build another, bigger and finer than the first one.

I had Laurel and Caleb go with me to fetch my pack, which I had left when I heard the first shot. I vowed not to leave them alone again unless I absolutely could not help it or when I knew they were totally safe. We found the pack where I had left it, and we took it back to the boat, climbed in, and started our journey down the river. I prayed that this would be a new episode for us, one of peace, tranquility, and freedom.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

“Diamond Courage,” Part 20

 

Chapter21

Reunion

October, 1862

I made my way along the road, careful to listen for anyone who was coming so that I might hide myself in the brush and bushes that lined the road. I had to be careful, for anyone who would be abroad at this time of night would surely be up to no good, and I wanted no part of that. I walked steadily, judging that it would take me eleven or twelve hours to reach the Widow Frederick’s humble abode, though the thought of it made me believe it was a mansion of Paradise, so did I esteem her kindness and my family’s love.

At the first opportunity, I went into some bushes and changed out of my uniform into the clothes I had taken. Then I was on my way once again. The day was sunny and clear, and indeed I became warm with my walking, so I took off my jacket. At about what I judged to be noon, I had some hardtack that I had put in my pack. It was hard to eat without water or coffee to soften it, but I managed to chew it and swallow, then I looked for a stream to take the taste out of my mouth, for although it had little taste indeed, the sensation I had was unpleasant and I wished to be rid of it. After about thirty minutes I came across a stream which I drank from since it appeared to be fresh and clean. I berated myself for not bringing a canteen, but I knew there would be other streams, the area being flush with them.

I walked on, seeing no one which I was glad of. Along about two o’clock, I knew I was nearing Winchester, so I took to the woods to avoid anyone from the army, my being a deserter once again. I made my way down hills and through small valleys until I came to the place where our cabin once stood. It was indeed a piteous sight to see it reduced to charred logs, and very few of those, the destruction being almost complete. I tried hard not to think of the happy and pleasant times I had spent there, which were many, but such memories overcame me, and I confess I shed some tears. Any man with a heart and tender sensibilities would have done the same, and I make no apology for having done so.

I went through a meadow which I knew led to a path that would take me to the Widow Frederick’s humble cabin, and after following the way for about ten minutes, I came to the clearing where the cabin stood. I hesitated at the edge of the clearing and there saw the most welcome and celestial sight that I have ever beheld. There was my Laurel, crouched over a row of beans, plucking them from their bushes and putting them in a basket. I supposed that the Widow and little Caleb were within the cabin. I stepped out into the sunshine, and, attracted by my movement, Laurel looked up. She drew back at first, not certain who this man was appearing without notice at the edge of the woods, but then as I drew closer, she dropped her basket, scattering the beans on the ground, and ran towards me as I did her. We met there among the rows, embracing, kissing and weeping all at once. After a while of this, I held her at arm’s length. “Let me see you! I have dreamed of this moment so often!”

She looked so beautiful in spite of having worked in the dirt in the hot sun. I felt as if I could look at her for an eternity, and hold on to her forever, but just then, the Widow Frederick came out of her cabin, attracted no doubt by the to do of our greeting. She came over to us.

“Caleb, is that really you? You’re so thin I didn’t recognize you at first. Are they not feeding you in that army?”

“No, m’am, nothing like the food I could get at home, and I bet yours is just as good.”

“Are ye hungry?” she asked.

“Yes, m’am, very.”

“That’s good, because I just fixed a whole mess of limas and have an old hen who’s quit laying so I can slaughter her and fry her up, and with some fried apples, I think that will make a dandy supper.”

“It sure will.”

“Well, what are we waiting for? Laurel, let’s fix your man something to eat?”

“Widow Frederick,” I said. “Is Caleb awake?”

“No, son, he’s still taking his nap. He should wake up in about an hour.”

Of course I wanted to hold my boy, but he needed his afternoon sleep. The three of us walked up to the cabin and went inside, being very careful to keep quiet and to walk softly. I went back to the bed where Caleb lay. He looked like a little cherubium lying there. Laurel had told me about these baby angels and how they were shown in paintings and sculptures. She had seen these when she was at college. After all I had seen, I had begun thinking that I would like to go to college, after the war, of course.

I went back out to where Laurel was standing at a table by the stove, shelling the limas while the Widow was outside wringing the neck of the old hen. I pulled a chair over to her. “Here, sit down.”

She shook her head. “No, thank you. It’s easier to shell these beans if I’m standing up.”

I didn’t understand that, but it was her choice.  I took the chair. “You are a sight for sore eyes,” I told her.

“As are you. How did you come to be able to be here?”

“It’s a long story, but basically Eleanor found where I was with the Union army. She took me to her mansion where she chained me in the basement. I felt so insubstantial by then I must have looked like a ghost with chains upon my feet. Anyone reading my mind would have found confusion and uncertainty as to what she would do next.”

“She is an unkind person.”

Laurel always had a soft way of talking about people, even the horrible cases.

“I would say she is the devil incarnate.”

She looked down. “Caleb, in spite of what she has done to you and our family I don’t believe any human being is pure evil like Satan. Something is driving her to do what she does.”

“What she will do is destroy all of us unless we find a way to stop her. That is why we must leave this area and try to find someplace where she cannot reach us, although judging by the past, that will be extremely difficult to do.”

Laurel sighed. “While it will be uncertain if we leave here for what is unknown, I believe from what you said that it is a certainty that this Eleanor person will continue to seek to harm us. Yes, we must leave. I will go with you wherever God leads us.”

I went over and kissed her. “No one has ever seen such a wife! God truly has given you to me, and I rejoice in that.”

We ate quickly and made preparations for our exodus, for that is what it was. We were fleeing danger as surely as the Children of Israel flew from Pharaoh’s army. By the time we had everything in readiness,we were tired, so we sat by the fire for a while.

“You be careful going into the wilderness,” the Widow said. “There are still Indians out there, and they might capture you and keep you.”

“We’ll watch out for them,” I told her.

“My great-grandmother, along with another woman, was captured by Indians. They took her up somewhere in what is now Ohio, but they managed to free themselves after a while. They determined if they followed the rivers they could make it back home. Unfortunately, the other woman lost her mind and began threatening my great-grandmother, so she left her and continued by herself. It took her six weeks, but she finally made it back. I remember her telling this story many times.”

“That’s some story,” Laurel said. “What happened to the other woman?”

“Someone found her and took her to Pennsylvania. Later on, her husband found her and took her home.”

“They were very lucky, I’d say.” Laurel looked at the fire.

“Yes, and the Lord was with them.” The Widow stood and stretched. “I’m going to bed. You young folks stay up as long as you want to.”

“We’ll come to bed shortly.” Laurel stood and embrace the Widow. “Thank you for all you’ve done for me—for us. Good night.”

We sat up a while longer and then, realized we wanted to make an early start, went off to bed ourselves, not knowing what the future days would bring. I did not sleep much. I saw again what I had been through in the past year, and they frightened me and kept me awake as well as any monstrous apparition.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

“Diamond Courage,” Part 19

 

Chapter 20

Encampment

October, 1862

And so, I fell into the rhythms of a winter camp, cutting wood for firewood during the coming cold, making repairs to our cabin, trying to stay warm, amusing ourselves as best we would and drilling, always drilling. Such is a soldier’s life, and always has been I suppose. We had a few days in the month when it was warm enough and dry enough to play baseball, but to tell the truth, my heart was not in it. I pitched one game and did so poorly that Adolphus replaced me in the third inning. “What is wrong with you?” he asked when he came to take the ball from me.

“I am missing my Laurel,” I replied, “And I am afraid that Eleanor will come and take me away yet again.”

“I think you need not fear that so much. I have not reported your return to the colonel, and he rarely visits us. I am not sure that he knows who you are in the first place.”

I cheered up a bit at that. “I thank you for that.”

“It is the least I can do for you. I cannot bring your wife and son here.” He regarded me with great sadness. “Now give me the ball.”

And so I watched that game from the side, not, as I have said, caring about it, although we won. I felt no joy at this, but returned to our cabin and fell asleep. It was in that state that I dreamed of Laurel and Caleb, and when I awoke, resolved once again to leave camp and go to them and see if we might find a place where we would be safe from the army and from Eleanor.

I made my preparations that evening when the others were elsewhere. I still had my civilian clothes, which I put in my pack, along with other necessaries. I would wait until the dead of night and then attempt to avoid the sentries and walk to where Laurel was. In truth, I had never walked as much as in the previous year since we rarely went far. I judged that all that walking made me stronger, so I did not mind it, especially this time since it would bring me to my family.

That evening, a storm blew in with rain but not much wind, giving me the perfect situation to make my escape.  Adolphus came over to me. “Would you join us in a game of cards to draw your mind from your most recent experiences?”

“Thank you, Adolphus, but I am weary from those same experiences and wish to retire early.”

“It is but eight o’clock.”

“My weariness is great, and so I must lie down.”

He regarded me with concern. “Very well. I trust that you are not coming down with some disease.”

“No illness, just fatigue,” I answered and went and lay on my bed in my clothes. If anyone detected me trying to leave, I could say that I fell asleep in my clothes and had a sudden need to visit the latrines. That would do to get me out the door, but I would not know how to take my pack with me in such a way that would not arouse suspicion. I would have to hope that no one was awake when the time came.

The evening progressed slowly as I lay on my cot feigning sleep, listening to the men around me talking and laughing, with an occasional exclamation as one of them drew a good or bad hand in their card game. Finally, about 11, the last of the revelers went to bed, although it was a good half-hour until I heard them snoring, which I took as a sign they were asleep. I impatiently waited another half hour and then, judging that it was safe, eased my pack from the floor beside my cot and tip toed as quietly as I could toward the door. Adolphus’ cot was right there, and I must have done something to wake him, for his eyes opened and he rolled on his side and looked at me. “Where are you going?” he asked me.

I decided to be honest with him, for he was my best friend. I kept my voice down as well. “I am escaping to be with my family.”

He hesitated, and I thought for a moment he was going to raise the alarm. Instead, he smiled and said, “Give Laurel my love. And a hug to little Caleb.”

I relaxed. “I will.” With that, I went out the door into a moonless night. I wish I could say I had planned for that, but in truth I knew not the phase of the moon. I call it Providence once again.

I made for a grove of trees about 200 yards away, thinking that my dark uniform should hide me well. I gained the first gathering of trees, and then it was a simple matter to cross the line and feel a free man.

I was familiar with the way, and so I set out across the hills, my heart light with the idea that soon I would see my family.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

“Diamond Courage,” Part 18

 

 

Chapter19

The Basement

September, 1862

We reached Georgetown at about the time to eat, and I expected we would go straight to the dining room and there have our meal. Eleanor, however, had other plans. Arthur greeted us at the door. “Welcome home, Madame. Welcome home, Lieutenant.” He turned to her. “Will you be dining at the usual hour?”

“Thank you, Arthur. I will not be dining just yet. I need you to take Caleb into the basement. I will join you there shortly.”

“Very well, m’am.” He turned to me. “If you will follow me, please sir.”

I was still in my Confederate uniform, and as we started down the stairs, he said, “We shall have to procure another uniform for you to take the place of the one you have on. It would not go well for you if you appeared on the streets of the Capital wearing that.”

“I can only imagine. Thank you, Arthur.”

“‘Tis my service, sir.”

Arthur lit a lantern and led the way. I had never been in the basement before. Its stone walls were whitewashed, and it was mercifully free from the dampness and smell that plague so many cellars and other underground rooms. Arthur put the lamp down. There were a few chests, which I assumed Eleanor used for travel, and some boxes. Otherwise the space was bare except for some manacles attached to chains and bolted into the way. I had a strange feeling that there were to figure into my punishment.

A few minutes later, Eleanor came down the stairs, holding a large key. It looked as if it would fit the manacles.

“Caleb, you have run like a common slave, so I am going to treat you as one. You will be chained here with only bread and water to eat until you promise me on your oath that you will not try to run again. Do I make myself understood?”

“Yes, m’am.” I thought that I would sooner starve than promise not to run again. Well, we would see.

She held out the key to Arthur. “Arthur, would you fasten Caleb to the wall? I am going upstairs for supper, and I shall have the door left open so that you can smell the delicious odors of the wonderful food I am eating. When you have had enough and are ready to swear, please tell Arthur, and he will set you free. I hope you decide to do this soon. I am not certain how long you will live on the meager portions of bread I give you. Do you have anything to say?”

I looked at her, and thought how she had separated me from my family and threatened them and would not leave us alone, and something snapped in me. “Yes, I do have something to say, Eleanor.  You and your money and your spying and your society and your wicked ways can all go to hell, where they belong. And that is all I will say to you.”

She began laughing.

“Why are you laughing?”

“I am laughing because you are in no position to make threats. I hold all the power, and I will use it to the extent that I find necessary. Remember that, Caleb.” She came over and tried to kiss me. I twisted away.

“The day will come when you will long for that kiss to relieve your misery.” She turned to Arthur. “Come, Arthur. Let us go up stairs. There you may serve me, and then you may eat your own meal, which is nearly as delicious and fragrant as mine, and almost as good to make a man without food willing to do anything I ask.” She smiled at me archly, and then she and Arthur went upstairs.

And so I was left there all night. I tried various means to make myself more comfortable, to little avail. I must have slept some, but what I had of that was brief and poor. I awoke, and a small window told me when the dawn was coming, but I could not say that was a relief to me, for it meant that Eleanor would be coming down the stairs. Sure enough, I heard steps only a few minutes after I had these thoughts.

I expected to see her slipper appear first on the stairs, so I was surprised to witness a boot on the steps. They did not appear to be riding boots such as Eleanor would wear, so unless she had taken to wearing men’s clothing (which I doubted), the boots had to belong to a man. The answer was soon revealed, as Arthur came down the stairs, carrying a carpet bag and bearing a key that I thought I recognized as the one Eleanor used to fasten my manacles. “Arthur! What are you doing here?”

He put his finger to his lips and whispered, “We must be very quiet. I am here to help you make your escape.” He put the key into the lock and I was free. I rubbed my wrists.

“How do you propose to do that?”

He listened for a moment, and then said, “There is a wagon at the back door, in the alley, which had made a delivery to the house. I will go with you, and we will go to the train station. There I have arranged for someone to go with you as close to Leesburg as may be done. That individual will escort you through the lines, and then you will be on your own again.”

“How can I ever thank you?”

He looked at me. “Knowing you are free is thanks enough for me. For a while now I have felt that Mrs. Perry is not right mentally, and her treatment of you was uncalled for and repugnant to the laws of men and of heaven. Here, change into your lieutenant’s uniform.

I quickly put on the uniform, and he handed me the carpet bag. “This bag contains some food and a Confederate uniform you will have to put on once you are past the lines. We must move quickly and use the back stairs to get to the wagon.”

We went upstairs, listening for any signs of life from the rest of the house, and finally reached the back door. Arthur took me by both shoulders. “I wish you the best of luck. Were it not for my aged and infirm mother, I would have quit this job long ago. Mrs. Perry is the most despicable kind of woman, taking advantage and visiting cruelties at every opportunity upon people who cannot defend themselves. I wish I were going with you.”

I shook his hand. “I hope we shall meet again. You are a good man, Arthur.”

“Thank you. Now go!”

I stepped out into the alley to see the wagon as promised, and driven by an elderly Negro. He said nothing, but indicated that I should hide myself in the straw that lay piled in the back. Trusting myself entirely to his mercies, I climbed into the back and covered myself as best I could, hoping the job I did would be adequate.

My driver clucked softly to the horse and we rolled off. We had not gone far, however, when the wagon stopped and I heard the Negro talking with someone. I could not make out what they were saying, but could ascertain that the other speaker was a man. I feared it as a policeman or soldier, but if Eleanor had discovered my absence, would I not be able to hear her cries of alarm? I heard nothing, and so took heart. Then someone began disturbing the pile of hay. Maybe it was a soldier after all, trying to find out where I was. I lay still and hoped whoever it was would not detect me and go away. Then I felt a hand grasp my ankle. I reflexively kicked out, and heard a soft voice whisper, “Caleb, do not kick me again. It is Albert, and I have decided to go with you.”

“How glad I am to hear your voice, Albert.” I reached down, pulled him further up in the bed, and helped him cover himself with straw. “Welcome to my hiding place.”

“I am right pleased to be here.” With that, we fell into silence, waiting for our driver to release us from our secret place. A few minutes later, the wagon stopped, and we heard our driver talking with someone. I surmised we were about to cross the Potomac on the Chain Bridge, which would take us into Arlington. Apparently the sentry decided that an aged Negro could not be carrying anything of interest to him, so we soon were on our way once again.

We rattled along for about half an hour, and the wagon stopped again. “Yous can come out now,” our driver told us, and we poked our heads up from the straw. He stopped the wagon, and I climbed out, went behind a tree, and changed into my Federal uniform. I would have to “shop” for civilian clothes the way I had done a few times before when we got near the lines. I didn’t like doing that, but I would have liked meeting a miné ball even less.

With my clothes changed, I returned to the wagon and started to climb on top of the hay in the back when Arthur objected. “Lieutenant, you should ride on the seat. A person of my station should travel back here.”

“Arthur, I don’t care about stations and other social conventions. I insist you ride in front.”

Arthur thought for a moment, and then said, “If you insist, sir.”

“Good. And don’t call me ‘sir’ any more. I call you ‘Arthur,’ so you should call me ‘Caleb.’”

Arthur started to say something, but didn’t, and settled himself on top of the hay. I climbed onto the seat and turned back to him. “There were times when I counted myself fortunate to ride on any part of a wagon. It all gets where it’s going at the same time.” I turned back to our driver. “Do you have a name, sir?”

“Yassuh, and you don’t have to call me ‘sir.’ My name is Elijah.”

“Well, I’m very pleased to meet you.” I put out my hand for him to shake. He hesitated, and it occurred to me that a white person had never wanted to shake his hand before. Then he shook my hand. “Please to meet you, sir.”

“And I, you Elijah. And please call me ‘Caleb,’ for that’s my name.”

Elijah shook his head, as if all this was too much to figure out, but he said, “All right, Mister Caleb.”

“Caleb” is of course my first name, but I did not bother correcting Elijah. He had had enough for one day.

We drove on until we came to a cabin that looked like it deserted, apparently in great haste. “Pull over, Elijah. I need to see if I can find some clothes here.”

“I’ll go with you,” Arthur said.

“I stays with the wagon,” Elijah told us. “You never know who might come along and decide he would want a wagon with a driver.” Elijah was exactly right about that. In both armies, I had heard reports of wagons being stolen with their cargo.

Arthur and I went up to the cabin and pushed open the door. “Anyone home?” I called. Hearing no answer, I went in, followed by Arthur. We looked around. The inside was bare except for a primitive bed, a broken chair and a homemade chest. I went over to the chest and opened it, and found inside some men’s clothes. I held a pair of pants and shirt that looked like they would fit me. As we were going out, Arthur saw a hat hanging on a peg. He handed it to me.

“This completes your shopping trip, Caleb. And since these are spoils of war, you needn’t worry about being accused of stealing.”

I smiled. I had not been accused of stealing when I took other clothes. Of course, I paid when I could, so it wasn’t stealing in the first place. We left the cabin and resumed our journey, bound for Union lines.

We came upon them late that afternoon. Before anyone could recognize me, I had Elijah stop the wagon and I climbed out. “I’ll leave you here,” I told the other two, “and change in those bushes over there. Give me ten minutes and then come over and take the uniform.”

“All right si—I mean, Caleb,” Arthur said. He came down from his seat and shook my hand. “I wish you well, Caleb. Do let us hear from you.”

“Where will you be?”

“I think an officer would like someone as a valet who has been trained as a butler, don’t you?”

“Yes, I agree.”

Elijah joined us. “Elijah, thank you for your part. Without you, I’d still be in that basement chained to the wall.”

He bowed. “I know what it means to be free,” he said. “I gained mine only a year ago. And I know what Mrs. Perry is like. I tangled with her several times.”

I shook Elijah’s hand. “God be with you both.”

“And with you,” they chorused, and I smiled at their response, which sounded like something I might hear in a church. I went over into the bushes, quickly changed my clothes, and left my uniform under a bush. I took one last look at my companions. They had been so good to me. I hoped I could repay them some way. I don’t know how that would happen, but I would certainly try to make it do so. With that, I started to make my way toward the lines.

I had to find a route that avoided sentries, of course, and to do that, I found a patch of briars and struggled through them. I gained some small cuts as a result, but counted those as a small price to pay for my freedom and return to my comrades. I came to a small hill, which I skirted, staying to the tree line, which I suppose offered the best cover. The sounds of the camp receded gradually, so I felt confident that I could make my way through more open areas, still being alert for any stray soldier who might be wandering the woods on a pleasant day.

I met none, and walked on, bound for our encampment at Leesburg. I felt free and confident, knowing I had escaped a horrible captivity.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

“Diamond Courage,” Part 17

 

Chapter18

The Same Game

September, 1862

The next morning, Adolphus told me the game would be played in three days, and that if I liked, he would let me practice my pitching with him. He had already spoken with some of the other players, and they agreed that I would be welcome. In fact, he told me that the pitchers for the team were not very good, so I would be a good addition to the team.

We went out behind the row of cabins, and he paced off the distance from the pitcher’s place to home plate. He had brought a ball, one of which I had not seen since our time in the prison, and threw it to me. “Let me see what you have,” he called, and I threw the first pitch in.

“Very good,” he said. “Now throw me a high one.”

I did, and he caught it and threw it back. “Now a low one.”

I threw this one too low, and it skipped between his feet and came to rest a short distance away.

“I’m sorry,” I told him. “I’ll do better next time.”

He threw the ball back to me, saying, “I am certain you will.”

I then threw a pitch that he caught at the level of his kneecaps. “That’s it! Bravo!”

I waved my hand by way of thanks and caught the return throw.”

“Now one in the middle.” I did what he asked, and we continued in like fashion for about half an hour.”

“I must cease,” Adolphus said. “I have not done this for months, and my arm is growing tired.”

I agreed, for in truth I had not played for over a year, and my arm was beginning to ache. I would need to practice some more so that would no longer be true.

We walked together back to our cabin. “Are you of the belief that I am capable of pitching against strikers?”

“I believe you will be in three days when we play our first game, but we must do what we have done today every day.”

“I believe so as well. I also believe it is time for a nap.”

“I am for you, my friend.”

With that we went into our cabin, lay on our cots, and soon fell asleep.

***

With each day, my pitching improved, and the morning of the game, Adolphus declared me ready. We were to play a team drawn from the Seventeenth Virginia Infantry, but no one could tell us how skilled they were at the game. We would have to rely on Providence and each other for a victory.

We were to meet at two o’clock, and so we made our way to the field at 1:30. Some from the other team were there, and in truth, they were about the largest men I had ever seen. “We stand no chance,” I whispered to Adolphus. “We are as the spies in scriptures who saw that the people of the land of Canaan were prodigious in size.”

“Perhaps so,” he said, “But remember that those small Israelites brought down the giants, as the boy David also did with Goliath.”

“I wish I could use a slingshot against them,” I muttered.

Our team fanned out and started throwing some balls back and forth to ready ourselves for the game. Other troops began to trickle in to watch the game. About the time we were ready to start, it looked to me as if the whole camp had come to watch us, although I knew that could not be true. I would say that very few of our compatriots did not come to watch us play.

A lieutenant had agreed to serve as umpire, and I must confess that I thought it out of place to see him in his uniform and not the top hat and tails I was accustomed to see an umpire in. Nonetheless, he would serve the same function, top hat and tails or no. As time drew near, he called the captains to home plate.  Adolphus listened intently as the lieutenant explained the rules, although he most likely knew more about them than our umpire that day did. That over, we went into the field, being designated the home team since Adolphus had come up with the idea to have this game. I nervously threw some pitches to Travis Hopkins, who, you will recall, was our behind. The rest of the team was made up of the same fellows I was with in prison. I count it a wonder that none of them had been killed or badly injured or had deserted. We were fortunate indeed.

I would say that the first striker was a large man, but they all were, so I will recall him by his distinguishing feature, which was a flaming red beard. Since I am given to naming objects and people by their most salient characteristic, I mentally call him “Red.” I’m sure you will agree that that is appropriate. Red waved his bat and looked at me menacingly, why I do not know, since we were in the same army. Perhaps he was excited to play and wanted to show something to his team. What that something is, I do not know.

I pitched him a low ball that was barely off the ground, but he managed to reach down and strike it a good stroke so that the ball flew towards David Andrews in right field. David ran over and grasped the ball before it hit the earth. Red slammed down his bat so hard that it broke. I would say he was disappointed.

Next man at the plate was a thin specimen, as tall as he was thin, so that he looked as if he might break apart at any moment. For a name for him, I hit upon the term, “Twig,” since he resembled one. I thought that his fellow might not be able to hit the ball very hard,  just judging by his appearance, but he proved me wrong. After he had swung at two balls and missed both, I became overconfident and, seeking to take him by surprise, I threw him a ball as slowly as I could, thinking he could not hit it as far as a fast one.

The ball reminded me of one of the rockets that we use when he hit it. It flew so high none of us could see it for a moment, and when Travis did spot it, he yelled to Otto Frantz, who was in centerfield, “Otto! Otto! To your right! To your right!”

Otto either did not hear him or understand him, for he stayed right where he was. The ball landed with a mighty bounce, and, having some forward motion as well, skittered across the ground in a way that put me in mind of seeing a frightened rabbit when it is the object of the hunt. It rolled over a slight hill, with Otto in hot pursuit. Alas, he could not reached it in time, and Twig touched all the bases and scored for his team. This was not a propitious beginning, so I resolved to bear down harder. But then something happened that made me forget about the game.

A familiar black carriage was coming towards us. I stared at it, frozen. As I did not make the next pitch, Adolphus called from his position on the sidelines, “Caleb! Pitch the ball, else the umpire should grow impatient with us.”

I did not move.

Adolphus came out to where I was. “What is wrong with you?” We were joined by the umpire.

“Is there something preventing you from continuing the game?” the lieutenant asked.

I pointed at the carriage. “That is.”

The umpire looked around. “‘Tis but an ordinary carriage.”

“Aye, that it is. But it is not the carriage that confounds me so, but what lies in it?”

At that moment, Adolphus understood the cause of my hesitation. “Is it Eleanor who is within the carriage?”

“I fear it is.”

“Give me the ball, then. I shall become the pitcher.”

I gave him the ball, not caring any longer about the game. I would not finish it because who knows what would happen from this point? I walked like a man in a trance toward the carriage.

The door opened, and Eleanor leaned out. “Caleb, you prodigal son. Do come in and sit with me.”

She spoke calmly and even pleasantly, but I feared her demeanor would change once the door shut and we left. Reluctantly I climbed inside and sat down. The driver closed the door and went to climb up to his seat.

Eleanor’s face became a mask of anger and hatred. She thrust it in mine and hissed “Did you really think you could escape me for long? I shall have to think of some way to punish you, and you may be certain it will not be pleasant.”

My head dropped, but she lifted it harshly with her hand. “Don’t you dare look down when I’m talking to you! After all the good I have done for you, you have treated me badly! Soon we shall be back at my mansion, and then the punishment will begin.” She let my head drop and sat back, satisfied that she had frightened me properly and all that remained was to administer the whipping or hanging or whatever she proposed to make me see the error of my ways.

“By what right do you come to a soldier’s camp and take one of them away?” I asked.

She sniffed. “By the right of the wealth that I hold. It opens many doors. It was a simple matter to communicate with your commanding office and obtain his permission to take you into my custody.” She sat back, satisfied with her explanation. God help me, I thought, with women such as this and an evil system that permits them to do as they will.

And so it was that we started on our journey to Georgetown.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized