Into the Valley
I had calculated that it would take me 24 hours of walking to reach Winchester, which of course did not allow for rest, which I resolved to do as little as possible. I had grown accustomed to doing without sleep on marches. Some soldiers could sleep while marching, but I was never able to. I supposed that I would see my Laurel in about a day, something I longed for mightily, and which thought served to quicken my steps.
I knew I would have to cross the Potomac, and watched for the first opportunity to do so. I came across a ferry about four that afternoon, and saw that some other soldiers stood waiting to cross. “Hello!” I cried. “What is the name of this place?”
A sergeant saluted. “It’s Conrad’s Ferry, sir. And where are you bound?”
“To Winchester, to rejoin my regiment. I was called on to deliver a horse to the War Department.”
The sergeant looked at me hard, thinking that I was of too high a rank for such a menial chore.
“That must have been a special horse or a special rider to warrant the use of an officer to do such a deed.”
“Yes, there was something special about this mission, but as to its particulars, I may not share them with you.”
“Ah, it is a matter of some secrecy then.”
He peered at me. “What is wrong with your face?”
“Whilst in the city, I contracted some contagion. I fear it is catching, so please do not come any closer.”
The sergeant shrank back, evidently thinking that he had come close enough to catch what I had, and indeed, if he had gotten close enough, he could have had a fine case of poison ivy.
“You need not worry about my coming near. I have enough ills without adding another one. The ferry had pulled in while we spoke, and we went on board, the sergeant apparently telling the other soldiers of my affliction, so that they remained at one end of the ferry and I the other during our short ride across the river.
“I wish you well,” he called. “The hospital tent is behind the headquarters tent.”
“I thank you for that,” I told him. “Although I am familiar with it, that being my regiment.”
The group of soldiers set a fast pace, likely to stay away from me, and they soon disappeared behind a bend in the road. This case of poison ivy is in one wise a fortunate thing, I thought. I only wish that it did not itch so badly.
I figured I had five more hours until I reached Winchester and the camp, and so would arrive there before dusk. But it was not my intent to go near the camp, but continue on to the cabin where I might see my darling wife and precious son. My heart fairly burst at the mere thought of them, and I wiped away a tear, so deep was my affection for them. My plan was to take them down the valley to an out of the way place where we might spend the rest of this, however long it might be waged. In trust, my experiences so far led me to hate war, division, violence and suffer so that I would not have any further part of it on one side or the other. I suppose you might say I was deserting from both sides.
These thoughts led me to recall the uniform I was in and the necessity to somehow procure if not a Confederate uniform, then the attire of a civilian. I judged that to be the more likely case, and, as I passed by what I judged to be Winchester, set myself to looking for laundry hung to dry in about my size which I would take, but unlike the last time, I had money and would leave something to pay for my new outfit.
About two o’clock in the afternoon, I saw such attire hanging on a line outside a small isolated cabin. I hid behind a log and watched carefully for any sign of occupation. After half an hour, I judged that there was none, and made my way to the clothes hanging in the sun, helping myself to a shirt and pants. I would use my uniform hat until I saw someone coming, and hope as well that someone else might have left his hat so that I might have it. If I could find no hat, I of course would continue. The sun was lowering, and I was in the shade much of the time. I would be at our cabin by sunset.
I quickened my step at this thought. Soon my chiefest dream would come true, and I would be with my little family again.