Monthly Archives: October 2018

Diamond Hope, Part 17

 

 

Chapter Seventeen
A Letter from Laurel
September, 1863

My dearest Caleb,
I am writing this in hopes that it will reach you soon. You said my last letter took a month to arrive. Ah, well, I know the deliveries can be sporadic due to what you are about, so I try to be patient. Write me back soon that I may know how you are doing.
I miss you so much, my darling, and think of you often. While we are making do here, our lives will never be complete unless you are here with us. Little Caleb asks about you often, and I tell him we must pray for you and that you will be home in a while. We have this talk every day. I don’t know if he understands what is happening or if his childish mind can’t retain what we talked about. He is a dear boy, and I love him so much. I pray for this horrible war to end soon so I will not have to tell Caleb that you will be home soon, but so that you will be here with us and we can live our lives happily. Too many lives have been lost in this horrible war, and there is too much sadness in too many homes, widows and orphans and friends and companions all deprived of a life that would have made such a difference.
I am pleased to tell you that our garden has come in, and there will be plenty of fruits and vegetables for me to dry so we can enjoy them this winter. Clinton and Hiram are big helps—I could not have done it without them, or it would have been much more difficult. Hiram has turned into quite a hunter, and he is teaching Clinton how to hunt as well. We don’t have a gun for Clinton yet, but I thought if I bought some chickens, I could sell the eggs and use the money to buy Clinton a rifle. He says he has no experience with one. You don’t think he is too young, do you? Please let me know your opinion in this matter. I took your old rifle and had the Mr. Dailey shorten the barrel so that Hiram could carry the it more easily. He has already shot two deer, and we butchered them and built a little smoker so we could have smoked venison. It tastes good, and I think of you having to eat that awful dried pork all the time, although I understand some soldiers steal chickens or help themselves to apples. I know you would not do such a thing, for you are an honest man. That is one of the many things I love about you.
We don’t have much company out here, so our weekly trips to town for supplies are welcome. Everyone asks about you, and I tell them what I know, which is not much. I am sure they wonder who Hiram is and where he came from, but when they ask, I tell them he is a nephew who could not abide the big city. That is more or less true, so I do not feel bad telling them that.
Little Caleb has grown so much I wonder if you will recognize him when you see him. I long for that day and pray for your safety.
I am, as always, your devoted and loving wife who wants above all to have you here beside me,
Laurel

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Diamond Hope, Part 16

 

Chapter Sixteen
Up in the Air
August, 1863

I raised my binoculars to my eyes and looked across the river. Yes, the Army of Northern Virginia was still there. I wonder if my captain thought they had given up and gone home, and he wanted to be the first to know. He was just benighted enough to think so. In fact, I wondered how he ever became a captain.
I was in my accustomed position in a large wicker basket swaying beneath a huge envelope filled with hydrogen, high above the ground, surveying the troops facing us across the Rappahannock. In short, I was once again up in the balloon. Eleanor had wanted me to learn about this new wrinkle in warfare, and of course, I had no choice in the matter, although I would have thought being part of an artillery brigade or a scouting unit would have served as well. But I didn’t make the decisions. She did, and did what I had been told to do.
The first few times, it was exhilarating to be up with the birds and having an unobstructed view to the horizon in all directions. But it was the same thing day after day after day, and I tired of it. It was useless to complain about it since my captain said I did a good job, and Eleanor wanted me to observe in this way, and I had no say about that.
I spent those empty hours thinking of Laurel and little Caleb and Hiram and and Clinton, and I wondered how they were. I hoped they had been able to put in a garden, and maybe Laurel and Hiram had learned to shoot game, since the money Andrew had found in the coat was no doubt exhausted, unless they had some other source of income I didn’t know about. Still, I knew they had all come through some difficult times, and I knew they would be able to do so again.
“What are you thinking of?” I turned and saw Abner’s smiling face. Surprisingly, he had become a part of the balloon corps shortly after I did. I had no doubt Eleanor was behind that as well. She continued to surprise me, although Abner’s joining the corps was a pleasant surprise.
“My family. I’m wondering how they are. I miss them so much every day.”
He nodded. “I could tell as much from your expression. I’m sorry.”
“Am I that transparent?”
He nodded again. “Yes, you are. I can read you like a book.”
“That can be helpful or embarrassing.”
“I know.” We stood there for a while in silence, looking down at the scene below and in front of us.
“It’s always the same, isn’t it? he asked.
“I was just thinking that. I wonder how many times we’ll have to do this before the captain realizes there are better ways to gather information.”
“Those ways are beyond counting. I think he’ll never stop,” Abner said. “If he did, he would have to do some real soldiering, and he wouldn’t like that.”
I laughed. “No, he wouldn’t. He’s strange fellow for a captain, isn’t he?”
“He is that, isn’t he?” Abner peered over the edge of the basket. “Looks like they’re going to bring us down.”
“I’m glad. I’m so hungry I could eat some dried pork.”
“Throw in some of that awful coffee we’ve been having and I’ll join you.”
“I think we’ll both have your wishes,” he said, and we both laughed.

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Diamond Hope, Part 15

 

 

Chapter Fifteen
A Strange Development
July, 1863

We drove back to Eleanor’s mansion in Georgetown, but she was strangely silent until we had almost reached the bridge across to the town. While I did not mind that she had nothing to say, finally my curiosity got the better of me, and I asked, “Why is it you are so silent?”
She said nothing for a minute, and then spoke slowly. “I am wondering if it is worth all my time, effort and expense to keep you on your present assignment. Perhaps I should cut you loose and see what would happen.”
What would happen, I thought, would be I would become the happiest of men. “Why would you want to do such a thing?”
She sighed. “You have provided no information that I could have obtained more easily from other sources. Maybe this enterprise has been a mistake from the start.”
“So, let me go.”
“It’s not that simple. I need more information, and I think I have found a way for you to gather that information.”
“How so?”
“I will have you placed in the balloon corps.”
“What is a ‘balloon corps’?”
She sniffed. “It is a military enterprise which involves filling a large envelope with a gas that is lighter than air. This envelope is attached by cables to a large wicker basket in which several men may be put. The balloon is released to float perhaps 1000 feet above the ground, providing a kind of artificial place above all else by which a number of observations may be made. The generals are quite enthusiastic about this method.”
“Wouldn’t it be possible to shoot such a contraption down?”
She shook her head. “No, it is situated to far behind the lines of battle and too far away for any rifle or artillery to do harm. I know you are fond of avoiding battles, so this arrangement should suit you well.”
What would suit me well would be to away from you, I thought, but I said, “What do I do?”
“I will transport you to the lines near Fredericksburg where you will become familiar with this method of observation. When you are ready, you will seem to observe Confederate positions while in reality you will be observing the army you are a part of. You will then report anything you think I might of interest to me. And you had better find out more than you have heretofore. Your life will depend on it.”
I digested this bit of information. Apparently I was not going to be free any time soon. That blessed event would have to wait.
***
“All right, sir, all this is very easy. You step into the basket, and then we will hold the ropes and let the balloon lift you. There you are to observe and note anything that is significant. Is that clear enough?” The sergeant looked at me and watched as I climbed into the basket. I then waited for the rope holding the balloon down to be released.
The sergeant looked at me to see if I were ready. I nodded and he turned to the corporal holding the rope and nodded. I felt myself being lifted into the air and suddenly, I was higher than I had ever been before, even higher than the church steeple I and my friend used to climb up into. I could see so much, and I was delighted to watch birds flying below me.
The sergeant, who looked like a doll from my height, stepped off to one side and shouted up to me. “Are you all right, sir?”
I called back down. “Yes, I’m fine! This is so beautiful! I can see for miles!”
“That’s the idea, sir! You’ll get used to it.”
I can never become used to this, I thought. It was like being in the dream in which I could fly, which, in a sense, I was.
“Now tell me what you see!” The sergeant indicated by his motions that I should look all around me, which I did.
“I see a church over there, and beyond it, a river. Close to us I see some soldiers and a few tents. Further away across the river, I see the city of Fredericksburg.”
“Do you see any Confederates?”
“Let me see…yes, there are some over in the woods to the east of the city. Yes, they’re there!”
“All right, sir. Are you ready to come down?”
“No, but if I don’t come down now, I never will!”
“We’ll bring you back down, then.”
I felt myself slowly descending, and all that I had seen became hidden behind some trees. I was sad to not be able to see so very far.
“What did you think?” the sergeant asked as he helped my climb out of the basket.
“It was the most wonderful thing I have ever done!”
“I’m pleased you like it, but you’ll have a serious purpose when you go up for real. You’ll have to look where you’re told to look.”
“I’m accustomed to obeying orders,” I told him.
“Very good, sir. We’re done here. You’re to report for you first observation at 8 AM. Please be prompt! You’ll ascend with three other observers and a telegrapher. Do you have any questions for me?”
“No. I’m just eager to come back and go up again.”
“That will happen tomorrow morning. Thank you, sir.” He saluted, and I returned the salute. His crew began bringing the balloon down and emptying it of hydrogen. I watched them for a while and then went back to my tent.
Abner looked up as I came in. “How did you like it?”
“Abner, it was a wonderful experience! I could have stayed up all day! You’ll have to go up soon.”
“I’m glad you liked it. Do you think I could join the unit?”
“My sister arranged for me to be a part of it, so I don’t see why you can’t,” I told him, thinking that Eleanor would never want to grant me any favors.
“That’s great!” He was so excited at the prospect, I didn’t have the heart to tell him otherwise.
Abner went off to see if we had any mail, and I lay on my cot. I heard someone at the entrance and called, “Who’s there?”
The person came into the tent, but I couldn’t see who it was since the sun was behind them. “Who is it, and what are you doing in my tent?” I said.
As they came in, I could see who it was. Eleanor stood before me as I sat on my cot. I stood up.
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
“My, aren’t we full of questions? I don’t have to answer any of your questions.”
“All right. Tell me why you’re here.”
She laughed sardonically. “You think you’re so clever, but I’ll tell you anyhow. I came here to make sure you hadn’t run off again.”
“Couldn’t you have telegraphed the same question?”
“I could have, but I enjoy seeing the look in your eyes when you first regard me. It’s wonderful,” she purred.
This is really a sick and twisted woman, I thought.
“Well, here I am.”
“I can see that. Did you receive your training?”
“Yes. My first real flight is tomorrow.”
“Very good.”
“Yes, and—”
“I don’t care what you thought of it. I just want to make sure you go up, so I’ll stay here overnight and see what you do.”
Instantly any thought I had of enjoying my flight vanished, and a heavy darkness settled over me. Eleanor once again had ruined something, but there was nothing I could do about it. “I guess there’s nothing I can do about it,” I said weakly.
“You’re absolutely right. I will be there tomorrow, and you’d best be there as well.”
I hung my head and said nothing. When I looked up, she was gone.
She will continue to ruin my life, I thought, until something happens. And I hope that will be sooner rather than later.

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Diamond Hope, Part 14

 

Chapter Fourteen
Back to the Past
July, 1863

True to her word, the old woman served us breakfast the next morning, eggs and fatback bacon. I couldn’t remember the last time I had an egg, breakfasts in the army mostly consisting of coffee and hardtack infested with weevils. Another soldier told me to eat around them, but I didn’t want them that close to my mouth, so I picked them off and threw them into the fire. They sizzled when they burned.
It was another clear day that promised to be hot later on. Andrew and I walked along easily, sure that our charade would hold since we were moving deeper into Southern territory. I found out I was wrong, though. We had made it almost to Front Royal when we were caught up with by a band of Northern soldiers on horseback.
As they came toward us, I said, “I’m sorry, Andrew. I was wrong. I thought we’d be safe.”
“You couldn’t have known, Caleb. What do you think will happen to me?”
The soldiers rode up to us. The lieutenant asked, “What are you doing here?”
I put on my best poker face, although I didn’t play. I had watched plenty of games, however. “We’re coming from Gettysburg. I’m under orders to deliver this prisoner to headquarters, which I thought was in Leesburg. Turns out it wasn’t so we’re on our way to try to find the HQ in the Valley. Do you know where it is?”
The lieutenant had studied my face while I spoke. “May I see your orders?”
I shook my head. “The commander said it was urgent that I go, so he didn’t want to take the time issue written orders.”
“Who is your commander?”
“Colonel Martin, of the 71st New York.”
“I see. We’re to head north to look for any stray bands of Rebs, but I’ll talk to Colonel Martin when I get back from that. I hope for your sake that your story is true.”
“It is, Lieutenant.” He thought for a long moment and then said, “I have my doubts about your story, so I’m going to take custody of the prisoner. We’ll find someone he can tell his story to and proceed from there.”
“But my orders—”
“You don’t have written orders. It’s your word, and I have no reason to trust you.”
I saw that he was resistant, so I said, “May I speak with the prisoner briefly and see if I can learn what he knows?”
The lieutenant hesitated. “I suppose that would do no harm. Go ahead.”
“We’re going to withdraw a distance since the information might be sensistive.”
“All right.”
Andrew and I went off about 30 feet, and whispered together. “This development will do me no harm: I’ll return to my unit, but you might be taken off to a prison. Wherever you go, write me when you can. I’ll also let Laurel know where we are.”
“Who should I send the letter to?”
“Laurel, I think. Yes, that’s it. That way she’ll know where you are without my having to write to tell her.”
“All right.”
“Good-bye, my friend. I hope that we’ll meet again soon.”
“As do I.”
As we went to rejoin the group, I shouted, “Go ahead and be stubborn fool! You don’t know what will happen to you! I tried to help you, but you won’t tell me anything. I hope they hang you!”
“You can go to Hell,” Andrew shouted, rather convincingly, I thought.
I watched them take him away, and he looked back with a pleading look. The lieutenant saw that and gave me a long, penetrating look, but they didn’t turn back.
I felt bad. We had helped Andrew and he had become almost a son to us, and so he ended up in prison because of my miscalculation. I felt it was my fault somehow, and did hope we would be reunited soon. Providence has many twists and turns, and I prayed to myself, God, please let Andrew know that You are with him, and that I am praying for him. I would write Laurel and ask her to pray for him as well.
Since the group had an extra horse, I rode with them back to Leesburg, where headquarters was. I found my unit, and the fellows had a number of questions about my actions on the battlefield since they had last seen me before the battle.
“What happened to you?” Abner asked. “I didn’t see you after that first day. I guess we got separated.”
I nodded. “I ended up all the way over on the right flank. I witnessed Pickett’s charge, although I thought they all must have been suicidal and so I stayed back and watched.”
“And then you captured a Rebel?”
“That’s right. I think he was running from the charges and strayed off a little too far. Say, what’s going to happen to him?”
“Depending on what he’s done, he could be executed or he could be sent to prisoner. The ones around here Prisoners captured here are remanded to the Old Capitol Prison. Have you heard of it?”
“I certainly have,” I said, thinking of the months I spent there and Adolphus and learning to play baseball. How long ago and far away all that seemed.
“John.”
“Huh, what?”
“You looked like you were some place far, far away.”
“Sorry. I was thinking of something. Is there any word on what we’re going to do next?”
“Well, rumors are that we’re going to pursue Lee, all the way to Richmond if we can, take the capital and bring this war to an end by next spring. It would be sooner, but we’ll be in winter camp for several months.”
“Yes, I know. I tell you, those are big plans.”
“Well, I think there are plans and then there’s what happens. We’ve seen that all too often. I think the war will last longer than that.”
“Well, maybe it will. We’ll have to see.”
Just then I spotted a black carriage coming toward us, and a chill ran down my spine. There were thousands of black carriages in the area, but I was certain somehow that this one belonged to Eleanor. I cannot tell you how I knew, but it was a certainty to my mind. She was the last person I wanted to see on this earth, particularly after all I had been through recently.
Sure enough, the carriage stopped, and the driver climbed down and opened the door. There came a voice out of one of my worst nightmares. “John, come here. You can greet your loving sister, can’t you?”
“You have a sister?”
“Yes, and she is very wealthy and powerful. I’ll have to go with her, Abner.”
“Go with her? Isn’t that desertion?”
I shook my head. “It would be for most men, but my sister has the ear of men who are highly ranked in the government and in the military. She gets what she wants. I will hope to see you again, my friend. God go with you.”
“You’re sure you’re coming back?”
“No. I’m certain of it. This is good-bye, maybe for good.”
“Well, then may God also go with you.” Abner hugged me, which was one of the few times that a man had done that. “I’ll see you in heaven.”
“That is a certainty.”
I got into the carriage and took one last look back at Abner. He looking puzzled and maybe a little bit lost, and I felt sorry for him.
I climbed into the carriage and sat facing the evil woman. I could not bring myself to even think of her name.
Her calm, warm manner changed in an instant, and he face became rigid and strained. She hissed, “What did you think you were doing, running away from me? I have given you so much!”
“You’ve given me so much? I would say you’ve taken so much from me. How can you say that?” I said, feeling a surprising sense of calm.
“I say it because it’s true. What have I taken from you?”
“So much that I can’t even think of it all.”
“That’s not helpful.”
“I don’t care.”
She was silent for a moment, and then snarled, “Where did you go?”
“Some place far away from you.”
“I can make you tell me the truth,” she spit out, and I had no doubt she could.
I sighed and said, “In truth I was trying not only to get away from you. I wanted to get away from this terrible war. I took my family and we started west, thinking we could wait out the war where no on knew us, but my wife was kidnapped, and I pursued her through three states until I caught up with her and we were together again. We came back to Winchester, but I was caught up by the army and went to Gettysburg with them. I survived that, and you know that I was in Leesburg when you caught up with me.”
She smiled slightly. “Yes, all this is what I have heard. You have told the truth.”
I shivered. Somehow she had learned everything that I had done, and I did not know how she did it.
“You will come home with me and learn of your next assignment. The war is changing, and it is vital that we have accurate information.”
“I suppose I have no choice.”
“I suppose you are right,” she laughed. With that, she called, “Home, Reynolds!” and we were off.

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Diamond Hope, Part 13

 

Chapter Thirteen
Rally ‘Round the Flag
June, 1863

We caught up with the regiment near Front Royal, and Captain Reynolds delivered me to Colonel Martin so he could determine what to do with me. Reynolds had said they were so short on men, they’d take anyone, no matter what they did, but that was Reynolds’ opinion. He was not in charge. I waited on a stool while Reynolds went in. He came back after about a minute. “The Colonel will see you now. Good luck.”
I went in and recognized Martin from being with the regiment before. I saluted, and he returned the salute and said, “Sit down, Duncan, if that’s what your name is. What’s your story? Why were you away for so long?”
I gulped and decided to tell the truth. “Sir, my name is Caleb Dillard, and I was a Virginia regiment when the war started. I was captured and put in prison.”
Martin didn’t seem surprised by this, and I wondered why. “It’s a long way from being a prisoner of war to ending up as a lieutenant in the other army. How did that happen?”
“Well, sir, I learned to play baseball there, and at one of our games I noticed a young woman taking an interest in me. To make it short, her brother, who was in a Confederate prison, looks enough like me to be my twin. She helped me take his place in this regiment so I could spy on what you were doing.”
“I see. Did you succeed?”
“No, sir. I gave her some inconsequential matters, so minor that the became upset with me and threatened me.”
“What did she threaten you with?”
“With killing my family. She is very rich, very powerful and has a long reach. Recently she burned our cabin because we weren’t there and she couldn’t hurt us.”
“So you deserted and took your family away.”
“Yessir, we were gone for months, and then came back. I went to town to mail a letter, and that’s where Captain Reynolds found me.”
“And you’re back in the Federal army right now.”
“Yes, sir. That’s right.”
Martin sat back and studied the ceiling of his tent for a moment. “You know I could have you shot for desertion, but I think I understand why you did what you did. We’re getting ready for a big push to try to block Lee’s invasion of Pennsylvania, if my information is correct. We need every man we have to do that, so I’m going to let you re-join your regiment. There could be further consequences for you, so behave yourself.”
I let out a sigh of relief. “Yes, sir, I will sir,” I said, not really knowing what I would do. But once again, I was a Federal soldier.
“You’re dismissed.”
“Yes, sir,” I said as I saluted. “Thank you again, sir.”
Martin waved a hand. “I have bigger problems than you, Lieutenant.”
I went back outside where Martin told me where I would be issued a uniform, rifle and everything else I would need. As soon as I did that, our marching orders arrived, and we drove hard for Leesburg, where we crossed the river at Harrison’s Landing and went over to the north and the east, through Maryland toward Pennsylvania. The coming battle would take place wherever the two armies met, and no one knew at that time where it would be.
I was marching beside Abner, and we talked as much as we could while we were moving almost at the double.
“I don’t know how much longer I can keep this up,” said Abner.
“Me, either. I wonder what the gol danged hurry is.”
“We’re not generals, so we wouldn’t know.”
“We’re going to be dead not-generals after a while if we keep this up.”
“You’re right.”
We reached Emmitsburg on June 30 and slowed down. Abner looked serious. “I would be glad of an easier pace, but I believe it is a sign that we are nearing the site of the battle.”
“I have had little experience with such things, and so I trust your judgement.” I wondered how I could get through the coming battle and see my family again. I prayed to God that I would be spared.
“Are you afraid?”
“Yes, of course. I pray for safety for me and my friends, but I know that is no guarantee that we will come out of the fray alive.”
“I am the same way.”
We camped out overnight, and, sure enough, our officers told us that scouting reports indicated that Lee’s troops were to the west and north of us and could be expected to make a turn soon to meet us head on. They also told us the battle likely would be near the town of Gettysburg, a place I had never heard of. It was soon to be renowned throughout the whole world.
We heard of an encounter that morning between Confederate infantry and Federal cavalry near Gettysburg, and we made ready to move forward. Lee apparently arrived in Gettysburg mid-afternoon, but as we drove forward, we were met by our troops. We retreated, expecting to meet the enemy coming after us. That attack didn’t materialize because Ewell hesitated to press his advantage. This gave the North time to bring up fresh troops like us and to set up artillery.We held our position as night fell. We heard that Meade had ordered all the troops under his command—more than 90,000 of them—to Gettysburg. And so we lay down on our blankets but did not sleep, awaiting the dawn and a certain battle.
Abner and I talked for a while, but not too long, since there might have been people sleeping, although I doubted anyone got much sleep anyhow since everyone must have been like us, unable to sleep for thinking of what was coming the next day.
“Caleb,” whispered Abner. “Are you afraid of what’s going to happen tomorrow?”
“I’d be a liar if I said I wasn’t scared. Someone I know said those who aren’t afraid before going into the battle are either stupid or just don’t understand the situation.”
“Have you been in many of these?”
“No. The ones I’ve been in I managed to avoid any heavy fighting and usually spent the time behind a tree. Some might say I’m a coward, but I say I wanted to see my wife and child again. I keep doing that, and then I’m wrenched away from them time after time. I don’t know what’s going on most times.”
“That’s understandable. I’ve heard fellas talk about the confusion of war, and I certain believe that.”
“Let me ask you something now. What do you think happens when you die?”
“I don’t know: I’ve never died.”
We chuckled at that, and then I asked again. “What do you think happens?”
“I truly don’tknow. I wasn’t brought up in any religion. My mother read these pamphlets that said that all of life is what we see here and there isn’t any heaven or hell, either. That doesn’t seem right to me, but I don’t know what to put in its place. What do you believe?”
“I did go to church, and so I believe that because I have accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, I will be with Him in heaven through all eternity.”
“That sounds good. And you came to this by going to church?”
“Indirectly. I believe that going to church or reading the Bible doesn’t save you. They’re like good soil. Nothing grows unless a seed is planted, and that seed is the Spirit of God coming into our lives. It can’t do anything with us unless we ask it to. Are you thinking about accepting the Lord?”
“I am, but I want to think about it some more.”
“As our preacher used to say, ‘Tomorrow will be too late.’ I wish you would take the Lord and see how good it is.”
“From what you’ve said, I’ve noticed your life hasn’t been exactly good.”
“Yes, I have had some trials and temptations, but I have overcome those because Jesus was guiding me. I don’t want to try to force you to believe. That is strictly up to you.”
“I’ll think on it. Right now, I think we should be quiet and let anyone who wants to sleep do so, although like I said, there can’t be that many that are.”
“That’s fair enough. Good night, Abner. I enjoyed talking to you.”
“And I did you. Goodnight, Caleb.”
As I lay there awake most of the night, I thought about the battle and about Laurel and the boys at home. I prayed that they were all right, and I prayed that I could come through the upcoming battle in good condition. Thinking these thoughts, I closed my eyes and, to my surprise, fell asleep.
***
We were awakened by the sounds of artillery, and we scrambled to ready ourselves. Men and horses were running everywhere in such haste that it was a wonder that no one was hurt before the battle began. “Caleb! Where do we go?”
“Over to the right!” I shouted. “Be quick about it!”
We joined other soldiers in our regiment and those from other groups and began advancing toward the sounds of battle, which now included rifle fire. We topped a rise and there was the line of gray-clad soldiers with their rifles raised and shooting at us. I never got used to the idea that someone was trying to kill me or that it could very well happen at any moment. The Union lines cheered (why I do not understand) and started firing.
And so began the worst three days of my life. Anyone who has not been in a war cannot begin to understand the effect that the sight and sounds produce—the deep thunder of cannons, the crackling of rifle fire, the screams of the wounded and, worse yet, the groans and prayers of the dying. I saw many things too horrible to describe adequately—men with half their faces torn off, men missing arms and legs attempting to find them (to what purpose I do not know), soldiers blown high in the air by explosives, horses shot from under their riders, crushing them before dying themselves. All this I witnessed and more, and the next two days passed in a rapid succession of scenes pulled from a nightmare. I soon lost track of Abner in all the noise and confusion and wondered if I would ever see him again. That would have to wait until the battle was over, and even then such an outcome could not be guaranteed. It was extremely difficult to identify some dead soldiers, such was the damage caused to a human body by our horrid weapons.
On the last day of the battle, I was at the far end of the line when General Pickett ordered his troops to charge. In truth, they did not charge, but walked into a murderous hail of shot and shell which cut soldiers down like wheat before the reaper. I did not understand then why Pickett would order a maneuver that was bound to fail and at great cost of life. I found out much later that it was Lee who ordered him to make the charge, and he never explained what his thinking was. Possibly there was no thinking behind it, just a desperate attempt to make the invasion succeed. I think Lee knew somehow that Gettysburg would be his last chance to at least bring the North to the treaty table, since he understood that defeating them would be impossible.
Halfway across the field, I looked at what was going on and could bear no more, so I hid behind a huge rock, vowing not to add to the carnage, enemy or no or soldier or no. I lay there, listening to the screams and moans, when someone came over my rock and landed right in front of me. I brought my rifle up to shoot him, not wishing to die myself, when he called out to me. “Caleb! Caleb, is that you?”
He asked because both our faces were begrimed with gunpowder streaked with sweat, and, in my case, tears. “I am Caleb Dillard,” I said, and then I recognized him. “Andrew! What are you doing here?”
We put down our guns and he slid over to lie beside me. “A group of soldiers came by the day after you disappeared and gave me a choice: either I could go with them or they would shoot all of us. Of course I went with them and found myself part of the army.”
“But you’re so young!”
He smiled sardonically. “There are some younger than I. Boys, really. They are so desperate for soldiers, I am surprised they do not take women.”
I had heard of women in the military on both sides, but believe they did so voluntarily, to be near their husbands or lovers, but I said nothing. He was speaking of a different case. “Well, I am glad we found each other. Now we need to figure out how to get away from this and go back home without either of us being shot or arrested.”
He nodded. “I am mightily in favor of that.” What little of war I have seen has convinced me I want to see no more. I am with you.”
“Before you agree so readily, I have a question for you.”
“Certainly. Please ask it.”
“Do you know what desertion is?”
“Of course.”
“And if we leave without permission and they catch us, they can have us executed.”
“I am aware of that. I would rather take my chances with being caught that with being on a battlefield with all its uncertainty and violence.”
“Good. We understand each other, then.” I looked over the rock and wished I hadn’t. The carnage was beyond description. “Let us stay here until the fighting is over, and then we can make our escape.”
“But how? The field will still be swarming with soldiers.”
“I have a way. I believe the North will win, and I can act as if you are my prisoner and am taking you to the rear. Does this sound as if it will work?”
He nodded enthusiastically. “Most surely, but I would alsoagree to a less clever plan if I thought it would take me away from here.”
We lay there for hours, listening to the battle rage, and then a blessed silence quickly fell over the scene. From the cheers in the direction of the Northern troops,I could tell that they had won, and it would be safe to take my “prisoner” away.
“Let’s go, Andrew,” I said, “and remember to act as if you had been captured.”
We stepped out from behind the rock, and, while I had looked out at the field not three hours before, I still could not believe the number bodies strewn over the field. Why Lee had all those brave lads walk toward those murderous guns, we will never know. I said a silent prayer for all of them, Southern and Northern alike. The slaughter of the war had continued with this confrontation, and there likely would be much more of that to come.
A group of Union soldiers came toward us. “Hey, I see you got you a Johnny Reb!” called one. He walked up to us. “How’d you survive? Hide behind a rock?”
That, of course, was exactly what we had done, but I said, “I captured him over yonder, to the far side. He didn’t put up much of a fight.”
“Yeah, I’d say he was a coward,” the man said. He raised his fist to strike Andrew, but I stepped between them.
“The Colonel wants our prisoners to be able to talk to find out what they know. If you hit him in the face, he’ll find that will be difficult to do, so leave him alone. He’s my prisoner.”
The other fellow narrowed his eyes. “If I didn’t know better,” he said, “I’d say you had some sympathy for this coward. What outfit are you with?”
“Seventy-first New York.”
“I’ll just have to check with the colonel to see if your story’s true. If not, you’re both going to get a beating from me.”
I leveled my rifle at him. “I can fix it so you won’t be checking with no one about nothing.”
“You wouldn’t do a thing like that.”
“Try me. Say you won’t follow up. You won’t be the first man I’ve shot today.”
He hesitated, and something in my eyes made him reconsider.
“Well…well,” he said. “All right. This time. But if I catch out alone, it will go badly for you.”
“I welcome the opportunity,” I said, surprised at my boldness, but I had to get Andrew to safety.
The soldier muttered an oath and rejoined his fellows. I could see him gesturing as he talked, and knew he was relating the story of our encounter, but no doubt leaving out the part where he agreed not to check up on me.
“Come on, Andrew,” I said. “Let’s get out of here.”
“What do you plan to do?”
“I don’t know. Make it up as I go along, I guess, just as I did back there.”
We walked toward the rear, and we excited nothing but the most ordinary of interest. I was glad for that. We would need a lot of luck like that to make our plan work.
A lieutenant stepped in our path, and I saluted him.
“I see you got one.”
“I did. And he didn’t fire a shot.”
He nodded. “We’re holding prisoners down by that barn yonder. Go down there and turn him in.”
“Yessir.” I saluted again, and started walking with Andrew toward the barn. “Look around,” I whispered to Andrew, “and tell me if that lieutenant is watching us.”
Andrew turned his head and then said, “No. He’s walking off.”
“Good. I’ll think of what to do between here and there.”
“I hope you can.”
“Do not worry. I have become quite adept at last-moment fantasies.”
As we neared the barn, a plan occurred to me. “Here’s what we’ll do,” I told Andrew. “I’ll tell the officer in charge that you have valuable information and that I am under strict orders to take you to headquarters.”
“Do you know where headquarters is?”
“It doesn’t matter. We’ll get away from here and then figure out what to do next.”
“More fabrication will be needed. All right. You haven’t failed me yet.”
“And I pray I don’t this time.”
We stepped into the barn and went up to a table where two sergeants sat, taking information about each prisoner. “All right,” one of them said, “What’s this one’s name?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “He says he’s under strict orders to talk only to generals.”
“He what?”
I repeated myself as if I were talking to a child. “He’s only supposed to talk to generals because he has important information for us.”
“What kind of important information would an ordinary soldier have?”
“I don’t know. He won’t tell me because I’m just a corporal.”
“Are you being clever with me?”
“No, sergeant, just telling you what I was told. The colonel told me.”
“Which colonel? We have a lot of them.”
“He didn’t say. But he said if I didn’t get this prisoner to headquarters, it would be both of our heads.”
The sergeant sighed wearily. “Go ahead, then. Just when I think I’ve seen and heard it all, something else comes along.”
“Thank you, sergeant.” I saluted and turned to Andrew.
“Come on, Private What’s Your Name. Let’s go.”
“That’s not my name,” Andrew said.
“You won’t tell me your name.”
“That’s right.”
“Well, then.” I looked back at the table and made motions that signified that Andrew was simple minded. The two sergeants nodded, trying not to smile, and we went on our way to try to find out how we might get away from the war.
“They must have thought I was dumb,” Andrew observed.
“You did well to make them think that.”
“I did?”
“Just believe me.”
“All right. I will.”
And so we went off to look for some place in the lines we could get through and make our way home. I did not know how we would do that, but at least we would have to try. I have been in harder places than this, I thought, so I am certain we can work something out.

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Diamond Hope, Part 12

 

Chapter Twelve
The Coming Storm
June, 1863

We went to several other towns up the Valley, collecting five more soldiers as we did, although they were all enlisted. They all had different reasons why they weren’t with their unit, but none, I thought, was as good as mine. Most had just gotten tired of the war and of military life and left. I noticed that Reynolds was short almost to the point of rudeness with these other men. I suppose my reason for being absent disposed him to treat me more favorably, or maybe his treatment of them was because they were enlisted. I couldn’t tell which one it was.
We stopped for the night about ten miles from Front Royal when it became too dark to travel safely. Someone made a campfire, mostly for the light it gave since we had the usual meal of hardtack and dried pork. I had not missed that part of army life at all. It was worse than before since I had had Laurel’s cooking in the past few days. I tried to think of what I did miss about army life, and concluded it was some of my fellow soldiers, and certainly the ones on the baseball team, wherever they might be right then, and, of course, Adolphus. Thinking of these friends made me think of my family, and I hoped that John Green was able to tell Laurel what had happened. I would have to write her soon, although I did not know when that would be.
I sat next to one of the soldiers who was part of the group that caught me. He seemed to be a good young fellow, with blond hair and blue eyes. “What’s your name?” I asked him.
“Abner Putnam. I’m from upstate New York. Where are you from?”
“Same.”
“Which town?”
I knew nothing about that area beyond a few large cities. I certainly didn’t know the names of towns, but I took a chance and said, “Attica.” I figured I couldn’t go wrong with a classical name that I heard about from Alphonso. I assumed it was a place name, but Abner gave no sign that it wasn’t.
“I haven’t heard of that,” he told me. “It must be really small.”
“It’s so small I have to mark it with a rock so I can find it again.”
We both laughed at that. “So your wife was kidnapped and you took her back?”
“That’s right.”
“Where was she kidnapped from?”
I would have to change my story somewhat to make sure no one could find out too much about me. “From our home, about twenty miles from the town where you found me.”
He stared at the fire. “It must have been difficult having her taken from you like that.”
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever been through. We’ve only been married a couple of years.
“I see. That made it even harder. And where did you catch up with her?”
I thought that was so far away it wouldn’t matter if I told the truth. “It was in Chattanooga.”
“Did you have to shoot some people to get her back?”
I nodded. “I’m not sure how many. Four or five, I think. They were down inside a ship and I couldn’t see very well. But I got her back, and my son, too.
“You have a son?”
“Yes. He’s two.”
“That must have made it harder having him with your wife. I’m sorry you had to go through all that. You’ll have to tell me more about it.”
“I will. We’ll have plenty of time. Say, do you know where we’re going?”
“I don’t exactly know, but I heard we were going to try to get ahead of Lee’s army and make them fight us at a place that will be to our advantage.”
“I wonder where that will be?”
“I believe not even the generals know that. Say, it’s about time to turn in. We’ll talk in the morning.”
“Good night, Abner. Thank you for talking to me even though you know very little about me.”
“You have an honest face, and I feel as if I can trust you.”
“I feel the same way about you.”
We joined the others in lying down under a star-filled cloudless sky. As I had so many times before, my thoughts turned to Laurel and little Caleb, although now I had Andrew and Hiram and, I thought, now Clinton to think about as well. They had become a part of my family as surely as Laurel and Caleb were. And it was with these thoughts that I fell asleep.
 

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Diamond Hope, Part 11

 

Chapter Eleven
Happenstance
June, 1863

The next morning, we ate another of Laurel’s wonderful breakfasts, and I headed for town to take the letter to the post office. It was another beautiful day, and although I was pleased to be at home with my family, I enjoyed being by myself, walking along and seeing what I could see and hearing what I could hear. I could not believe how much I had missed being in this area, and it seemed everything around me conspired to reminder me of how beautiful it all was.
I came to town without seeing anyone and once again went along the backs of the stores and slipped into the post office. John Green was there behind the counter, and I was glad to see no one else was there. I had been lucky that way twice. “I have a letter to mail,” I told him.
“I’ll take it,” he replied, and I handed the letter over to him.
“Both times I’ve come in there has been no one here.”
“It’s a slow time. It gets busier later in the afternoon. I heard you had some visitors at your place yesterday.”
News does travel fast in a small town, I thought. “Yes, Virgil Dailey and some other men came over and did most of the work building a new cabin for us.”
“I hear they finished the whole thing. I’d say that that was a real neighborly thing to do, but Virgil’s a fine man.”
“He certainly is. It would have taken me a week even with my family’s help if they hadn’t done that. And they did a really nice job, maybe better than what I could have done. Well, that’s all I need to do here. I wish you well and I’ll see you next time.”
I turned to go out when suddenly the door burst open and a Federal captain came in, along with several other soldiers of varying ranks. He looked at me. “I’m Captain Reynolds of the U.S. Army, charged with finding soldiers absent without leave. What might your name be, sir?”
I had to think fast. If I used my real name and he found out I was a Confederate soldier, I would end up back in prison camp. Or I could tell him I was John Duncan of the 71st New York Regiment and end up back in the Union Army. Either way, I would be in the army and I would not be going home for a while.
“My name is John Duncan, of the 71st New York under Colonel Martin.” I looked directly at the postmaster, but I had known him for a long time, and I knew he would not betray me. He nodded, and I knew he would not contradict me.
Reynolds looked at Green. “Is he telling the truth?” he asked.
“Yessir, that’s who he is.”
“How would you know? He’s from New York.”
“He told me who he was. He came in here to mail a letter.”
“And you did not turn him in as a deserter.”
“I was going to wait until he left. If he thought I was going to do that, he might have shot me.”
Reynolds grunted in a way that made me think he believed John.
In any case, he’s away and not in uniform, so I’ll have to take him in and see what happened to him.
One of the sergeants grabbed me by the arm. Simon turned to him. “That won’t be necessary. We’re armed and he isn’t, and I haven’t met a man yet who could out run a bullet.
The soldiers laughed.I think it was just a matter of bad luck that these men came upon me.
Reynolds looked at me. “I am with the 71st. I don’t recall seeing you. What is your rank and why are you out of uniform?”
“I am a lieutenant, and I am not in uniform because I was given leave to go find my wife, who had been kidnapped.”
“I see. And did you find her?”
“I am most pleased to tell you that I did.”
“Well, you’re going to have to be separated from her again. The reason I have been charged with finding all absent soldiers in this area is that we’ll need every man we can find because Lee is planning to invade us soon, but I will check your story with Colonel Martin, and if all is not as you said, you will be tried and thrown in the stockade as soon as the battle is over. Do you understand?”
“Yessir, I do. Clearly.”
“Good. You will now come with us.”
“One moment, please, sir.” I turned to John. “Will you tell Laurel what has happened to me? And will you tell her that I love her? And little Caleb. Also please give my regrets to Andrew, Caleb and Clinton. Tell them I’m sorry I will not be there to help them. And tell all of them I will be praying for them.”
John nodded, and we went outside where a number of horses were tied to the rail. “Take the sorrel,” said Reynolds. “I assume you know how to ride a horse.”
“I do indeed.”
As we walked to our horses, I thought about making a run for it but decided not to since I couldn’t outrun a horse, any more than I could outrun a bullet. It would have been no contest.
We saddled up and rode out of town. People had come in along the streets while I was in the post office, and we made a spectacle for all to see. I saw people pointing and whispering as we rode past them. They must have been trying to figure out why I had been taken and where I was going. I tried to ignore them. I surely did not know what awaited me. I had fallen from the utmost happiness of having a home and being with my family to being forced to do something I really didn’t want to. It was about the worst thing that could have happened to me at that time. I would have to see what would happen next.

 

 

 

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