On to Richmond
The Battle of Spotsylvania was inconsequential for both sides. Pockets of troops engaged each other for three weeks without much result. Whether it was because of the terrain or the growing fatigue of the men, the engagement continued on until Lee decided he needed to defend Richmond, although Grant would move toward Petersburg to set up a siege.
Adolphus had not returned by the time we relocated, whether because he had decided to stay with his father, or he had been caught and was in prison. Either way, once we got to Richmond I felt I would find out one way or another. And if the capital fell, that would spell the beginning of the end for us. I didn’t have much hope for the military outcome, but it didn’t matter to me. I was weary of war and ready for it war to be over.
As we moved toward Petersburg, we went close enough to Richmond for me to take a day (and I must tell you it was with permission) to visit the Curtis family mansion on Capitol Street, near, as the name implies, the state capitol. I went by the capitol, a grand building, on my way to the Custis family home. When I got there, I saw that it was an imposing brick building with and number of white columns across the front. I climbed the steps to a wide porch and knocked. After a minute or so, the door opened to reveal a middle-aged woman who regarded me quizzically. I didn’t look like much: my dirty uniform didn’t match and I needed a haircut. I said, “M’am, my name is Caleb Dillard, and I am a friend of Adolphus, who lived here. I’m with the army and no one has seen him for two weeks. The last we knew, he was headed here to see his father, who was quite ill.”
Her face softened and she said, “Why, of course, please do come in, Mr. Dillard. Adolphus has spoken highly of you in his letters. I’m Rebecca Estes, an aunt of Adolphus by marriage. I married his father’s brother and have been managing the house since Mr. Curtis Senior was taken ill.”
I came in the doorway and was surprised to find very little in the way of decoration in the house. Mrs. Estes must have seen my look. She said, “I can tell you were expecting something elegant by way of decoration. We sold everything for the cause, and this is what is left.” I heard a certain sadness and sense of loss in her voice.
We walked to the drawing room. “Will you please have a seat?” she asked.
“Yes, m’am. Thank you very much.”
She settled into a chair and smoothed her dress. “I’m afraid I don’t have any good news for you. If Adolphus were headed here to see his father, he never made it. We did not see him here, and in fact, we don’t know where he is.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said. “And how does his father fare? I hope he has improved.”
She shook her head sadly. “I regret to tell you that Adolphus’ father died two days ago. We had a hasty funeral and burial because of the armies being so near. So, even if he had come here, he would have found that his father had died.” She looked stricken. “You see, it’s all rather tragic. Do you have any idea of where Adolphus might be since he’s not here?”
I believed that at this point Adolphus might be in a prison of war camp as a deserter, but I said nothing about my surmise to this poor dear lady. I had no certain knowledge of where he was, and it seemed the kindest thing to do to not speak of my conjectures. She had suffered enough already with the death of her brother. “I’m sorry, m’am. I have no idea. I hope he turns up soon and that he is well.” This last sentence was true.
There was nothing more I could do or say, so I bowed to Mrs. Estes and said, “It has been my pleasure to make your acquaintance, m’am. My condolences on the loss of your brother, and when I find Adolphus, I will write and let you know his condition.”
“I would be deeply grateful if you would do that, Mr. Dillard. I hope we both shall meet again soon.”
I turned and made my way out of the house. She stood at the door and waved to me until she could see me no more. I made my way down Capitol Street, seeing very few people on the street, and the ones who were hurried past me without looking in my direction. I crossed the river, figuring I could find the army from the smoke from cooking fires Sure enough, I had only been on the road for half an hour when I saw the smoke in the direction of a place called Cold Harbor. That apparently was where the next battle would take place.
I walked along, having the road all to myself, speculating some more about Adolphus’ fate, and not having any luck thinking of what else might have happened to him. He had to be in prison, and short of being killed, that was the worst of all possible situations. I prayed that he was not dead, and that if he were in prison, he was being well-treated, although I did not have much hope that he was.
After another half hour of walking and not seeing anyone, I heard the jingle of a horse’s harness behind me and looked around to see a sutler driving a large wagon loaded with large barrels. He called to his horses, “Whoa, there! Whoa I say! Stop you brutes.” The horses came to a stop and the driver called, “Greetings, there, soldier, do you want a ride?”
“I’d be most grateful,” I replied, and climbed up to sit on the seat beside him. “My name’s Monk Farrow,” he said, “and my family owns a meat processing plant. I’m on my way to re-supply Lee’s army. Not that I think it will do much good. They are surely going to be defeated and the Yankees will help themselves to all this meat.”
“I’m Caleb Dillard,” I answered, “and I’m headed for the same place. How do you know we’ll lose?”
“I read the papers, and we have relatives on the other side. They still write to us, and the number of men the North can put into a battle and the supplies they have, their victory, in the long run, is almost guaranteed. We have no hope of winning.”
“Why do you continue to do what you do, then?”
He shrugged. “Loyalty. My family’s been in Richmond for a hundred years. You don’t turn your back on that. And there’s a lot of money to be made, although that’s not as important as feeling we’re making a contribution to the cause.” He hesitated. “For all the good that will do.”
“Thank you for explaining that to me. It makes sense.”
“Glad you think so. I’d say this worked out well. You get to ride and I have some company to keep me occupied. Most of the time I’m alone, and it makes the road seem longer.” Farrow said. “And in case you’re wondering about my name, it came from when I was a little boy. I was always climbing on things, so my father called me ‘Monkey.’ Now, that’s not a dignified name for a man, so when I got older I shortened it to ‘Monk.’”
“That’s a good story,” I said. “Say, what are you hauling?”
“Salt pork. Can’t stand it. I’ve been around it too much.”
“I would have agreed with you last year, but some of us have taken to shooting squirrels for food, and the pork doesn’t look bad compared to eating rodents.”
“I bet you’d that the pork tastes good after that.”
“Well, there’s more of it, but, no, I still don’t like it. But it’s better than squirrel.”
We both laughed at that.
“I’m from Richmond, as you might imagine. Where are you from?”
“Yes. My wife’s name is Rachel, and we have a three-year-old son named Caleb as well. We call him ‘Little Caleb.’”
“I see. I’m not married, myself. I like women, but I wouldn’t want to live with one. My brothers are married and have children, so I’m an uncle about five times over. That gives me some time with children, but I don’t have to take care of them and worry about them all the time.”
We fell into a companionable silence which lasted as we passed increasing numbers of soldiers, all checking their weapons and talking about the coming battle. “What are you carrying?” asked one artillery man.
“Dried pork,” Monk said.
“Can you take it back and bring us some steak?”
“I’d be glad to. Just wait here and I’ll be back.”
The soldiers within earshot and Monk laughed. I didn’t. I sometimes don’t’ laugh at something that others find funny. I don’t know why this is, but I’ve been that way since I could remember.
We rolled up to the supply area, which was busy with other wagons unloading their cargoes, taking advantage of the lull in fighting. “This is as far as I go this time,” Monk told me. “It’s been nice meeting you and talking to you. You’re a good companion.”
“Thank you. I enjoyed being with you and I wish you good luck in all you do. May God go with you.”
“Thank you, but you’ll need it more than I do.”
The place Farrow let me off was just over a rise from the lines, and so I reached it very quickly. Andrew saw me and called to someone in our shack to come out. My heart leaped because I thought it was Adolphus, but it sank again when I saw it was Hiram. It was not that I was unhappy to see Hiram: I just expected someone different. In fact, I was pleased that Hiram was out of the hospital.
I came up to them and greeted them both. Andrew’s face turned serious. “Caleb, Adolphus is in Belle Isle.”
I felt sick. I had been there in the early days of the war, and it was bad then, so I could not imagine how horrible it was now. “For desertion?” I asked.
Andrew nodded. I looked at the ground for a minute. “I am right distressed to hear that.”
“As was I. But look who’s here. We then turned to Hiram.
“It’s good to see you!” I said. Are you out of the hospital for good?”
“I sure am, and there’s something I want to show you!”
He seemed so excited that I was sure something wonderful had happened. And, in a sense, it had.
He came back with his drum strapped across him and a single drumstick. He counted to himself silently, then played a call to arms perfectly—with one hand. When he had finished, Andrew and I applauded for a long while.
“How’d you manage that?” I was amazed at what I had seen.
“I can’t explain it. I just play twice as fast with one hand. That’s all I can say.”
“It doesn’t matter how you do it: it’s that you do it so well! Wonderful!”
Of course, at the time, I didn’t think that Hiram’s ability to play the drum would subject him to further injury. He was so happy about it that I didn’t mention the danger.
“I was so amazed when he did that for me.” Andrew smiled broadly. “I have never heard of a one-armed drummer, but here you are!”
“I have to go lead a practice,” Hiram said, and walked off carrying his drum.
“That really is amazing,” Andrew said as he watched him go.
“I have something I want to tell you.”
“I think we should try to get Adolphus out of prison.”
“How? He’s been convicted and sentenced.”
“We get permission from the colonel to go there and ask the commandant.”
“Oh, yes, and he’ll let him go. That won’t happen, Caleb.”
“It’s worth a try.”
“And the colonel isn’t letting anyone go anywhere with a battle in the offing.”
“Then we don’t ask permission. We just go do it.”
“And end up there ourselves? I don’t think so.”
“You do what you wish. I’m going to get Adolphus out. With all he’s done for me, I owe him at least that much.”
I started down the line of shacks when I saw a young man coming my way. He looked familiar, and when he got close enough, I saw that it was Clinton.
“Clinton,” I called. “Is that you?” I was almost certain that it was, but I wanted to make sure.
He waved his hat. “Yes, it’s me, Mr. Dillard! I’ve come to join up!”
I should have known what he was going to say as he came up to me, but I said, “For what?”
“I want to be a drummer, just like Hiram. Miss Laurel shared your letter with me, and when I read about Hiram joining the corps, I thought, that sounds good. And here I am.”
“You walked all the way down here?”
“I caught a ride with the supply wagons occasionally, but mostly I walked. I didn’t mind.”
“Did you tell Laurel where you were going and what you planned to do?”
“I certainly did. I think too much of Miss Laurel to run off without telling her where I was going.”
“Well, that’s good. What’d she say?”
“She said I shouldn’t go because it was too dangerous.”
“That’s what I will tell you. It’s a good way for you to get shot.”
“I think of it as doing my duty.”
“Who’s going to help Laurel on the farm with you gone?”
“Most likely my brother Enos. He’s the next in line.”
“Well, that much is good. Do your parents know about what you’ve done?”
He shook his head. “Not unless someone else told them.”
“All right. The first thing you’re going to do, before you join up even, is to write a letter to your parents letting them know where you are and what you’re planning to do.”
“Yes, sir. They can’t leave the farm and my brothers to come and get me, though.”
“I know. But they will know where you are.”
“Go on into the shack I just came out of. Andrew’s in there, and he can find some writing materials for you and tell you what to put on it to send it. When you’ve finished, take it to headquarters, which is where you’ll be able to mail it. Got that?”
“Yes. I’m glad to see you. I’m sorry I forgot to say that earlier.”
“I’m glad to see you, too, but I’m not happy about what you plan to do.”
“I’m sorry, but I have to do what I have to do.”
“Those were the last words of many a soldier. I have to leave now, but I’ll be back tomorrow. I hope.”
“Can I ask where you’re going?”
“You can, but I can’t tell you.”
“You don’t need to know that, either.”
His shoulders slumped in defeat. “All right. Everyone has to know where I am, but I can’t know where anyone else is.”
“When you’re older, you can do what I’m doing.”
“That’s what my mother says.”
“She’s right. Don’t cause any trouble when I’m gone. You’ve already caused enough just by being here.”
I left him standing in from of the shack, looking morose. What possesses these young men that are really children to want to be in combat was beyond me. I never would figure it out.
I gathered up some hardtack and pork on my way out of camp and started on my way to Belle Isle. Along the way I met soldiers moving up to be in place for the battle. I’m sure they wondered why I was headed the other way. I just kept my head down, didn’t say anything, and kept walking.
The line of soldiers going the other way lessened to a trickle and then disappeared when I was about three miles away from the front. I had a pretty good hike ahead of me, but I had done a lot of walking—or marching—since the war started. I wish I had kept track of how far I had walked, but I had other things on my mind.
I reached the river and knew that the prison was located to the north of that. I had been in the prison, but I came on a train from the north, so that was no help to me. I followed the river, and it became obvious when I neared the prison. There was the smell, for one thing. The other indication were buzzards circling overhead. Apparently they didn’t bury their dead well enough.
As I neared the wharf where boats left to cross over to the island, it occurred to me that I had no idea how I was going to free Adolphus. I had no order requiring his release nor any indication of rank save my corporal’s stripes. I was sure they would not impress the colonel in charge. I had to think of something.
I walked up to the wharf where the boat to the prison would come. There were a couple of other soldiers there who regarded me curiously. I said nothing to them but waited to see what would happen.
When the next boat came in, they boarded it, and so did I. The soldier manning the boat must have thought I was with them, because he said nothing. We went across to the island, and I was able to enter the prison by shielding myself from view of the sentries by staying between the two soldiers. So I was in the prison, but that didn’t solve the problem of how to free Adolphus. At the very least I could see him and tell him about his father’s death.
I stopped a guard and asked where Adolphus might be. “Why do you want to know?” he asked.
“I’m a friend, and I need to tell him about the death of his father.”
“He’s down this way.” He indicated a row of tents, if you could call them that. They were ripped, and had large holes in their tops. I can’t imagine what being in them during the winter was like.
Now that I was actually inside the prison, its odors and an air of despair seemed worse than when I was there, and it was horrible then. I walked down the row of tents and, looking in the last one, saw Adolphus lying on a cot. I went in.
He sat up when I came up. “Caleb, my boy! What are you doing here?” We embraced.
“I came to get you out, although I don’t know how.”
“I don’t either, but it’s so good to see you!”
“It’s good to see you. Adolphus, I have something to tell you.”
Something about the way I said it caused his expression to turn serious. “What is it? Tell me.”
“I’m sorry to tell you that your father passed on. You would not have reached him before it happened in any case.”
He looked at the ground and then lifted his head. “I was afraid of as much. Thank you for confirming that to me. How did you find that out?”
“I went looking for you at your home. There I met your aunt who gave me the sad news. I am truly sorry.”
He raised his eyes. “There is so much death in this war, I must tell you that the effect of this one is lessened. Perhaps I have just become hardened to it all.”
“I don’t believe so. You’re just overwhelmed for now. You will feel it soon enough.”
“Maybe so. What do we do now?”
“I am sorry to tell you that I have no notions. It looks like I came down here for nothing. I should have thought of some way to free you before I came, but I could not think of anything.”
“You did not come for nothing. I am glad to see you. I know no one else here, so seeing a friend is doubly welcome. You have lifted my spirits, even with the sad news you brought me.”
“You are kind, but I must go back. A battle is imminent, and I fear the outcome will be not be good for us.”
He sighed. “Yes, I know. We hear reports from new prisoners about a lack of supplies and men. It is upsetting but not surprising.”
“I see what you are saying. Remember when we were wanting for wood? Had it not been for Eleanor, some would have frozen to death.”
Adolphus nodded. “That is a perfect example of a shortage, but they extend to other important areas now.”
I looked at him. “And yet, perhaps something may happen—I know not what it may be, and the ways of God are inscrutable—and we will prevail.”
Adolphus shook his head. “There are persons here with a great understanding of what is going on in the war, and they say soon all will be lost. I have listened to them, and I believe them.”
“I see and understand what you are saying. I wish I could stay longer, Adolphus, but I must go now. I will be praying earnestly for your release.”
“I thank you for that, as always. I believe we will all be moved or released soon in any case. There is much unrest when a battle is near, and hard to tell who is who and what is what.Perhaps I will be able to take advantage of the confusion, slip away and join you.”
“I will earnestly wish that that would happen. I miss being around you and the talks that we have had, but it is farewell for now, Adolphus. May God guide you.”
“And may He guide you, my friend.” We embraced, and I took my leave of him reluctantly, looking back when I was about to walk down a row of tents where I would lose sight of him. It seemed my life since the war began had become a series of leave-takings. It was hard on me, and hard on the ones I was leaving. Of course I thought of Laurel and little Caleb in these thoughts, and, as sad as I was, I became even sadder thinking of them. It was almost more than I could bear, and I wonder if I could endure the next parting. I concluded that I would have to.
Having seen and spoken with Adolphus, I turned and left the prison and made my long way back to camp, walking slowly and filled with melancholy. I trudged along, noticing that I did not come upon lines of soldiers making their way forward, and I concluded that they were already where they were appointed to be. Seeing the ones coming toward me as I was making my way to the prison made me believe that our numbers would be insufficient for the coming battle, but I had surmised that before. Adolphus had confirmed my thoughts in that area.
When I came our line of shacks and went in the one that we shared, Andrew was waiting for me.
“Well? Did you succeed?”
“No. I would have had him with me had I been able to. I talked to him, though.”
“I am glad for that, and I am glad you were not put in prison. I worried the whole time you were gone.”
“Yes, I avoided prison, but I accomplished nothing.”
“I am certain that you cheered Adolphus. I can tell you are such good friends.”
“That is something, I suppose. I should take comfort in that little bit.”
“Yes, you should.”
“Adolphus believes we have no hope of winning the war. He told me so, several times.”
“Well, I would be inclined to believe him. And yet we fight on.”
“Were it up to us ordinary soldiers, we would not.”
“I believe you are right. And yet we must ready ourselves for what is to come.”
We turned to preparing our equipment for the next day, checking our rifles and supply of ammunition and making sure we had our canteens and pouches where we would keep the ever-present hardtack and dried pork. We had that so often during the war that, when it was over, I found it hard to even look at a pig, much less eat part of one. With everything in general ready, I wondered what would happen next. Life was uncertain at best on any ordinary day, but it becomes even more tenuous when a battle was involved. That would seem an obvious thought, but I did not understand it until I was in a battle. During one of those, all our lives were in each other’s hands in a sense, and there were so many possibilities, I thought. None of us could be certain of anything. I found the thought discouraging and depressing, which is not surprising.
And so we prepared, ate a meager meal, and tried to settle ourselves down to sleep, although we knew that sleep would come hard. The next day would tell the tale.