“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.

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