Monthly Archives: October 2018

Diamond Hope, Part 30

 

Chapter Thirty
Mud and Mire
June, 1864

The next morning, reveille sounded earlier than usual. William and I arose from our cots, but Clinton kept sleeping. No doubt he was exhausted from his long walk. Since he had not bee able to practice with the drummers, his orders were to stay in camp and make himself useful, ig he could.
Hiram was nowhere to be seen. “Where is he?” I asked.
“The drummers likewise had an early call. He’s with them, receiving his orders.”
We dressed quickly, trying not to wake Clinton, but Andrew dropped his canteen and woke him. He sat up, rubbing his eyes.
“What’s happening? Why are you dressed like that?” In his soporific state, he did not recall the coming battle.
“We’re off to fight. I’m sure you remember our talking about it.” Andrew looked at him.
“Oh. All right, now I remember. Be careful and come back.”
“We will. You get dressed and make yourself useful around the camp.”
“All right.”
With that, we ran outside. We could hear artillery and rifles from over the hill, and so we knew that the battle was joined. We knew we could kill or wound thousands of Northern soldiers, but Grant always seemed to have more to replace them, so they ended up overwhelming us. At one point that afternoon our lines were breached, and we all broke and run and kept running until we had gotten to the other side of the river. We gave up Richmond and withdrew to Petersburg. It was a hard loss, but one I expected.
Andrew and I caught up with Hiram and Clinton, pleased to see that they had not been harmed. “I could tell it was an awful big battle,” Hiram said. “It must have been terrible.”
“It was,” I said grimly. “It was horrible.”
When we reached our stopping place, a wagon came by loaded with shovels. “What are these for?” Andrew asked of the driver.
“They’re for you to dig trenches with,” the man said. “And the deeper the better.”
We fell to it, digging as if the devil were after us. I looked over after about an hour, and asfar as I could see soldiers and anyone else who could be made to dig were working on trenches as far as I could see. It would have been a sight to marvel at, but I couldn’t waste much time looking and went back to my digging. We stopped for twenty minutes, and then went at it again
Hiram had joined us in digging. He could move an amazing amount of dirt by holding his shovel with his one good arm. He was an inspiration to all of us.
We were still digging when a familiar figure came along the line. Hiram saw him first. “Look! It’s Adolphus!”
And so it was. “How did you get out?” I asked him.
He shrugged. “We received word that the Federals were coming, and every—prisoners, guards, commanders—ran for their lives. And their freedom, ironically. I ran with them and didn’t stop until I had crossed the James. I made my way here, and here I am.”
“We’re happy to see you.”
“I’m glad to be here. Now give me a shovel!”
I think Adolphus had never done a bit of manual labor in his life, but he fell to it, understanding the urgency of what needed to be done.
When I lifted my head again, the trenches around us were so deep I could only see the dirt come flying out of them. We’re like moles, I thought, except that our tunnels are on the surface. I wonder how much protection they would provide. I was trained in ways to find cover on a battlefield, but this was a different kind of cover. I wondered how it would all work out.
We finished digging about noon, and the four of us gathered to eat lunch and talk.
“What do you think will happen next?” Andrew asked.
“I think we’ll sit here until the other side does something. Lee can’t afford to lose many more of us and attacking them now would be best way to do that.” Adolphus looked pensive.
“Adolphus, do you still think we can’t win this now?” I looked at him.
“I don’t. I think it’s as good as over, but none of the uppers want to admit it. They’re a proud bunch. My family knows some of them, and their pride borders on arrogance.”
“What should we do then? Leave?”
Adolphus sighed. “I suppose that would make matters worse all around. No, I am committed to stay. Maybe that is in part because of the time I spent in prison. I don’t want to go back.”
“Do we even have enough to bring back deserters?” Andrew wanted to know.
“I don’t think we can tell. It would be taking a chance to leave, and that’s one I don’t want to take.”
We sat silently, mulling over what we had talked about. Then, because no one had more to say, we went in different directions to try to find some wood that we could use to afford some shelter from the elements—and from the enemy.
I went with Hiram and Clinton since I felt a special sense of responsibility for them. We searched for an hour and only found two planks from what was left of a barn. The problem, of course, was that thousands of other soldiers were doing what we were doing, and most the wood had disappeared quickly. “Clinton, you and Hiram take that plank, and I’ll take this one.”
We made our way back to our trench to find Adolphus was back already. “How did you do?” he called.
“Not well. We have two planks.”
“I found four. We’ll have to see how Andrew has done.”
“I’m sorry we couldn’t find much. Most of it was gone when we go to where we found this.”
We started using the planks to make a shelter, and had been at it for ten minutes when Andrew came, bearing five planks. That was all we would need, with material from our tents. I had never lived in a hole in the ground before, and I wondered how it was going to work out.
We moved our possessions into the trench after we had placed some pieces of canvas for a floor. Adolphus surveyed it and said, “This won’t be good in the long run. It will get muddy and wet, and we will be miserable. We must find more boards tomorrow or try to think of something else.”
We settled in and, lying on the floor, talked and speculated about what would happen next as it grew dark and bedtime drew near. “We also need something better to sleep on,” Andrew said. “I wonder if there are any cots available.”
“We’ll have to find that out,” Adolphus told him. “Right now, I’m planning to go to sleep.”
He went over in an angle of the trench, and soon was snoring. I made the best “bed” I could with some planks and canvas. It wasn’t much, but it beat sleeping in the mud. I hoped our conditions would improve, but at that moment, I couldn’t see how.

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Diamond Hope, Part 29

Chapter Twenty-Nine
On to Richmond
June, 1964

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?”
“Near Winchester.”
“You married?”
“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.”
“What’s what?”
“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.”
“Yes, sir.”
“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.”
“Why?”
“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’m sorry.”
“I know.”
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.

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Diamond Hope, Part 28

 

Chapter Twenty-Eight
A Letter to Laurel
May, 1864

May 7, 1864
My dearest Laurel,
I am writing you in the quiet that always follows a hard battle, as soldiers from both sides tend to their wounded and bury their dead. There are many of both, and I am sorry to tell you that young Hiram was wounded in the battle and suffered the loss of his left arm. The poor lad is beside himself at the thought that he will not be able to continue drumming. He was taken to a field hospital where the amputation was performed and now is in a hospital in Richmond. I do not know which one it is, but I will find out.
Adolphus, Andrew and I came through the fighting without a scratch, and I wish I could rejoice that we won, but the losses and suffering were too great to do so. There were so many killed and wounded we could scarely bury the dead and tent to the wounded before we had to move on.
The word is that Grant will continue to move toward Richmond after this setback. There he evidently plans to meet up with Butler, who will come up the Peninsula. I fear that all this will not turn out well for us. There are simply too many of them, and they have more weapons. I find myself wishing for their victory or anything that would end the war, because it would mean the fighting and suffering would cease. Such thoughts are treasonous, I know. I am not a very good soldier to want victory for the other side, but that would also mean that we could begin to recover from this terrible conflict, and build new lives for ourselves on both sides.
Since the Union troops plan to come at us again and very soon, we must ready ourselves as best we can. Some of our troops have deserted, no doubt because their homes are so near. Three men were caught and are to be executed. We will be required to witness this, but I do not wish to since I have seen so much death already. These troops must have deserted several times before, for it seems to be policy that first time deserters are given lesser penalties.
Writing about such things has made me sad and hopeless, so I will turn my thoughts to you and to little Caleb. I wish mightily that we could be together for all time, which will probably happen when the war is over. Until then, hold me in your thoughts and prayers, and I will do that same for you.
Is Clinton a help to you? I earnestly wish that he is, for you have so much to do, and you have done it too much without me there. How I wish I could be with you, not only to be close to you once again, but also to do all I could around our home.
I pray that you are well and that the planting of the garden will be successful. Clinton
Adolphus sends his best wishes, as do Hiram and Andrew.
I love you, my sweet, wonderful Laurel.
Your loving husband,
Caleb
I looked over the letter and then, satisfied that it said what I wanted it to say, slid it into an envelope. Adolphus came in. “Did you just finish writing Laurel?”
I nodded.
“Would you take a letter I have to the headquarters tent?”
“Gladly.”
Adolphus fished out a letter from his pack and gave it to me. “This is to my father. He is seriously ill, and I have tried to write him some words of encouragement.”
“I shall pray that he improves. That is worrisome when one who is elderly has a bad illness.”
“Thank you.”
I took his letter with mine and started to go out.
“Caleb.”
“Yes, Adolphus?”
“What time is the execution tomorrow?”
“Ten A.M.”
He drew closer to me. “I will tell you something, and you must promise on our friendship not to repeat what I have to say to anyone.”
“Of course.”
He looked around quickly. “Tomorrow, while the execution is taking place, I plan to leave to see my father.”
“How did you obtain a pass to do that? In these circumstances, with a battle soon to begin, generally there are no passes given.”
“I have no pass.”
I caught my breath. “Then you are deserting.”
“Temporarily, yes.”
“The army makes little distinction between ‘temporary’ and ‘longer.’ Could you not see the chaplain and see if he might do something so that you do not endanger yourself to see your father?”
He looked down. “I am sorry, but I do not have time for that. I will leave while you are gone to mail the letters.”
“Adolphus, it is not worth it.”
“I recall that you left your post for your family: I am doing the same thing.”
I could think of no way to counter this, so I said, “Well, go, then, and God go with you.”
We shook hands, and he looked me in the eye. “If the worst happens, you have been one of the best friends I have ever had.”
“I feel the same way, Adolphus. I pray that I shall see you again as you are now.”
“You shall.” Having said that, he left, leaving me to wonder how this plan of his would turn out. I hope it ends up well, I thought, but I fear that it will not. So much could happen to a soldier journeying alone, and I prayed that Adolphus would be safe.

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Diamond Hope, Part 27

Chapter Twenty-Seven
Into the Fray
May, 1864

The spring day was fine, with soft breezes, bright sun, a clear sky and apple trees in flower all along the road that we marched down. Both sides had broken winter camp, and we were moving toward the east, to an area near Orange. From what some of the locals said, it was overgrown with thick brambles and bushes, and heavily forested with trees. They called it “the Wilderness,” and I had no doubt it would make for some difficulty maneuvering for both of us if we could meet them there.
The word was that some of our scouts had seen Grant’s army as it crossed the Rapidan, and that is why we moved to meet them. I couldn’t help but contrast the beautiful weather and scenery with the terrible carnage that was sure to come, imagining that unbidden. I did not know if those images and sounds would ever leave me. I said a prayer for our safety, as I imagined many others were, including the prayers of those on the other side, knowing some of the prayers would not be answered in the way the troops wanted them to be. I wondered how God sorted out who would live and who would die, realizing that some in a state of grace would be with Him before the day was over. I thought that God’s choosing who would join Him was a grace-filled moment, and so it was difficult to know how to pray. I finally decided to pray that God’s will be done. That was the prayer of our Savior in the garden, and it was good enough for me.
We had been on the move for about 45 minutes when, ahead of us, in the nearly impenetrable woods, we heard the sound of drums and then of rifle fire, and knew the battle was joined. There was nothing to do but press on. At that point, we had no other choice.
As we came across a clearing just before we would go into the shrubs and brambles, I saw some drummer boys retiring from the field, as were their orders. Some of them had looks of terror on the faces, while others seemed remarkably calm. Once they had summoned the troops, their job was done, and they could move to the rear. I could not tell if any had been wounded or killed. That grim discovery would come after the battle, and I couldn’t help thinking of Hiram and hoping that he was well.
Just then, I recognized one of them as Hiram. “Hiram!” I called. “Hiram! Over here!” I waved my cap in hope that he would see me, and, sure enough, he came over to us. This was his first battle and he was wide-eyed at what he had seen.
“Caleb! There are so many soldiers who are against us, I do not see how we can begin to defeat them! They kept coming and kept coming!”
“We will do our best! You may be sure of that! You need to hurry to the back. We’ll see you later!” I hoped earnestly that we would be able to. Hiram ran back to catch up with his fellows, and did so just as we went into the thickets.
Once there, we could hardly see, much less move, and soon came across Federal soldiers. They were as hampered as we, and so we shot without really knowing who—or what—we were shooting at. We knew when our bullets had struck home by the horrible screams and cries coming at us. We hammered away at each other the whole day without ceasing, not stopping for food, and only taking sips of was as the sun reached its zenith and then started back down. The conditions of the battlefield seemed a perpetual dusk, and, as darkness fell, we knew no more than we did before. The only thing I knew for sure was that Adolphus and I survived, and I thanked God for that. We withdrew to the place where we had started, and made our beds as best we could.
“Adolphus, do you think there will be another day of battle?” I asked. I could barely see his face.
“I cannot tell that. Indeed, I cannot tell anything about this meeting.”
“Nor can I. I pray that we will not be attacked in the night.”
He chuckled. “I do not think we will be, given we can see less at night than we did during the day.
We slept only fitfully for the thought of what the morrow would bring. One of the times I awoke, I studied the moon, which was nearly full. Even then it gave little light, and I wondered if Laurel were looking at the same moon. This thought calmed me some, and my next interval of sleep was deeper and more restful. It was the only sleep of that sort I had all night.
Rifle fire woke us early the next morning, and we scrambled to prepare for the day’s battle, throwing on our clothes and readying our weapons. We were soon at it again, hammering away at a foe which, again, we ofttimes could not see. I visited some of the fields I had been on after the war and was astounded at the number of bullets that were lodged in trees and fences, so many I do not think it would be possible to count them all. This is a testament to the ferocity of the fighting as men on both sides shot time after time after time in a mad rush as if their lives depended upon it, which literally they did.
Late in the day, we saw a soldier coming toward us, firing as he came. At that moment, Adolphus and I were lying in a small declivity, using it for the meager cover that it afforded. When the soldier drew near enough, we saw that it was Andrew. We had not seen him for a while, since he had finally been assigned to a unit about a mile away from us.
“Andrew!” I exclaimed. “What are you doing over here? Why have you risked your life?”
He shot at some unseen target, and then slid into our hole next to us. “I am sorry to tell you that I come to bring you bad news.”
“What is it?” It could have been any of a number of things, and for a moment my imagination took hold of me and I feared the worse, that Laurel or little Caleb had been killed, although I did not know how such news would have reached Andrew in the midst of a battle.
“It’s Hiram. I fear that he has been shot in the arm, and I regret to say that I do not know how badly.”
“Oh, no, not Hiram! That’s terrible. Do you know where he is? Tell us if you do!”
“He was taken to the field hospital back along the main road. I came here as soon as I saw it was he.”
After this exchange, we noticed that the firing began to slacken, and it seemed that the Union troops had started to withdraw. This meant we had won the battle, but that seemed of little consequence, save that it allowed us to go see about Hiram.
The three of us made our way back to the main road in the company of exhausted soldiers, some of whom had lesser wounds and who wanted to see a doctor. As we went along, we collected more and more, until there was a steady stream of the wounded, which we became a part of. We walked down the main road for about half a mile before we came to the hospital, which was in a church at a crossroads. As we drew nearer, I saw that the surgeons had thrown amputated arms and leg out of a rear window into a huge pile. I had seen this before, but never with so many limbs stacked up. The sight made me nearly sick, but we went in.
“We’re looking for a wounded drummer boy.” Adolphus spoke to a young orderly who was covered in blood. He looked exhausted as well.
“We have a couple of those. How was he wounded?”
“We’re told he was shot in the arm.”
“Oh. In that case, he’s over there toward the back, left side. I don’t know if we had to amputate or not.”
“Thank you.”
As we made our way to the back past a score of soldiers lying on pews, I saw that many of them were more badly wounded that I supposed Hiram might be. I did not think most of them would live long and said a silent prayer for them. As if reading my mind, Adolphus whispered, “I do not believe most of these brave souls are long for this world.”
“Nor do I,” I answered.
As we continued down the aisle, we were assailed by the groans of the wounded men, with an occasional scream as a surgeon probed a wound. The table where amputations were performed was to the other side of where Hiram lay, and I saw that four orderlies held a sergeant down while the surgeon wielded a wicked-looking saw. The man they were working on shrieked horribly, and I cannot imagine the pain he was in. The only thing that the doctors could do for that was to administer whiskey, and I do not know if this poor soul had any or not. If so, it seemed to make little difference in the agony he was suffering. I could bear to watch no longer, and turned my eyes away.
We came up to the pew where Hiram was lying with his eyes closed. “Hiram,” Adolphus said gently. “We’ve come to see you. Wake up.”
His eyes fluttered open. “I hurt something awful,” he said.
“We know. Is there anything we can do for you?”
He began to cry. I had never seen him do this before, and he said, “You can give me back my arm. How can I be a drummer with one arm?”
Adolphus put a hand on his good shoulder. “We must trust the providence of God. The same One who healed the leper will provide for you.” I saw there were tears in his eyes as there were in Andrew’s and mine.
“I don’t see how that will be possible. Why did God allow this? It hurt so much when they took my arm off.”
“There are so many things we don’t understand, but we shall when we see God face to face.” Adolphus regarded him with tenderness.
“I want to understand now! I want an answer!”
Adolphus stepped back from Hiram. “You’ve been through a lot, but try to rest and we’ll be back to see you.”
We turned and went back outside. I hoped never again to see such sights, but I knew that as the war continued, I most likely would. It didn’t seem right that so many men should suffer so much, but there was little I could do about it except pray for them, which was a mighty act. Still, I felt sadder and sicker than I should have.

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Diamond Hope, Part 26

Chapter Twenty-Six
Spring Thaw
March, 1864

The weather turned unaccountably warm for the time of year, although the almanac said it would, and we took advantage by doing laundry and simply enjoying the cloudless skies and warmth of the sun. Someone in the next shack found a baseball, and I marked off a field and we started throwing the ball back and forth to each other. Another soldier came along with a bat, and I found out several of them had played ball before. We marked out a field and divided ourselves into two teams, and began a game, which wasn’t like the games we played when we were in Old Capital prison. As I told you, we had gotten to be very good by the time Eleanor pulled me away, but these men had never played before and some of them were new to the game entirely. The games wasn’t good at all, but it was baseball, and it felt good to be playing it. We were in the sixth inning (I think—no one was keeping score) when Adolphus called to the teams. “Look! Across the river!”
We looked and saw the Federals on the other side playing a game of baseball as well. I had a warm feeling watching them play such as one is not supposed to have when looking at our enemies. It made me realize once again that we were not really that different from each other. I again prayed for the war to end so that we might enjoy our games—and all else—in peace. I could imagine the Northern troops engaged in similar activities of all kinds, but my idea was tempered by the thought that warmer temperatures meant that winter camp would be over with in about a month, and we would be back to the killing, wounding, violence and suffering that was war.
Hiram had become an excellent drummer, and in fact was given the designation of Drummer-in-Chief. I had never heard of such an appellation, but his crisp rhythms and the calm confidence that his playing conveyed to the troops made him the subject of many a kind word and expressions of gratitude. Drummers might seem insignificant, but they played an important role in keeping the army informed as to what it should be doing.
On one of the last days of winter camp, Adolphus and I went to watch Hiram lead the other drummers. We joined some others sitting on a fence rail where we had good view of the proceedings. Hiram was crisp and authoritative with his commands and spoke in a loud and clear voice I would not believed might come from such a small fellow. When the program was over, we found our way through the other drummers to greet him afterward. He was standing beside the shack where they stored their drums.
“Hiram!” Adolphus exclaimed. “I have never seen drummers practice, but from your authoritative way and forceful commands, I see why you were chosen Drummer-in-Chief! Whoever selected you certainly knew what he was doing.”
“Thank you, Adolphus,” murmured Hiram. “Yes, our sergeant knows exactly what he is doing. He was a drummer in the War of 1812, and that gave him a lot of experience. Playing comes naturally to me for some reason, but some of the other fellows have a time of it. They have had to practice and practice without improving that much. I fear a few of them will not be able to fulfill their duties, for I believe they would become confused about which call we were supposed to play, or if they could play it correctly. Also, I could not trust them to keep their wits about them during a battle, and that could be disastrous.”
“You are a fine player,” I told the little drummer, “and what is perhaps what is more important, you are also a fine judge of character. I suspect this comes from your earlier life, where you have to know what someone was like very quickly in order to survive.”
Hiram pondered this for a moment. “Thanks, Caleb,” he said. Judging character is like my drumming. I simply do what comes easily to me.”
“Well, we certainly enjoyed hearing and seeing you play. I know you will do well in an actual battle.” Adolphus regarded the boy fondly.”
I looked at Hiram. “We’re going over to the headquarters tent to see if we have any mail. Do you want to come?”
Hiram shook his head. “No. I know of no one who would write me.”
The resigned way in which he said this made me sad with the realization that, aside from us and Laurel, he knew no one else in this world who would or could write. I did not think he even had a friendship with one of the other drummers, such being the nature of command, or perhaps it was because he was decidedly not at all like them.
“I’ll be at our shack,” Hiram said, and walked away slowly, carrying his drum to the place where it was stored. It occurred to me that the building for that was better than the hovel (for that is what it was) we lived in. That did not seem right, although I realized that the Army had enough trouble finding wood to burn, much less the kind of wood we could use to build a tightly-built cabin.
Adolphus and I walked away from Hiram. “I am amazed to think what he would have become had he enjoyed the advantages that I had.” Adolphus looked thoughtful. “I have wealth, although I do not know how much is left of it now, I have a highly regarded family, and I had the finest education. I have so much to be thankful, but it makes me wish others such as Hiram were are blessed as I am.”
“That is one of the key problems of our time, or of any time, and that is how do we guarantee that all are given the same opportunities?”
“The North would say that is one of the reasons they are fighting this war.”
“To free the slaves?”
Adolphus nodded. “Indeed, although if they were given their freedom, I have no doubt other problems would arise with other peoples.”
“I fear you are correct.”
“In any case, I agree with you about Hiram. He has done far better than he should have in spite of having no advantages whatsoever. I simply cannot imagine having neither father not mother and having to rely on strangers for everything.”
“I’m not sure that the women who taught him were strangers. If anything, he was all too familiar with them. I am surprised his moral sense was not damaged or obliterated, but he seems to have survived that threat.”
“You point is well taken.”
After this exchange, Adolphus and I walked slowly to headquarters without saying a word, enjoying the warm weather. We went into the building, far nicer than ours, and walked over to the counter where mail that had come in was displayed.
“You know, Caleb, I think this is where all the wood went for our cabin.”
“You are right. What’s the saying? ‘Rank has its privileges’?”
“Indeed it seems to.” I looked through the letters for our unit. “Look, Adolphus! I believe that is a letter from your father!”
“Yes it is,” he said, as he took it up into his hand. He had sorted through another pile of mail, and held up another letter. “And there is one for you from Laurel, judging by her beautiful handwriting.”
“You are correct.” I scooped the envelope from off the counter and saw that it indeed was from my wife.
Neither one of us read our letters as we walked back to our tent, waiting as was our custom to read them when we had some privacy.
“When do you think winter camp will be over?” I asked my friend.
“I suspect when the weather allows us to fight.”
“Should we pray for a long winter?”
“We could, but winter takes its toll as well. Better to let time and the seasons take their courses. That way the end of the war will come.”
Adolphus had such a good way of looking at circumstances and sharing them with me.
We reached the shack and went inside to find Hiram asleep on his cot, snoring lightly. We were amused by this.
“Listen,” Adolphus said. “He sounds like one of my grandmother’s cats.”
“He is about the same size as one,” I answered.
“I will not tell him you said that. He is sensitive about his size.”
“I thank you, and I am aware of how he feels.” We tip toed to our table on the other side of the space and sat down and opened our letters.
February 28, 1864
My dearest loving husband, mine began.
I pray earnestly and often that this finds you well. We have heard that the fighting will begin again soon, and I wish so much that it would end for once and for all. I also pray that that might be so. It has all gone on far too long.
Here at home, you know that Hiram left me to join you. He did so much and I miss him, but I could tell it was what he wanted. I still have Clinton here and, as I told you, he is a wonderful help. And would you believe it—one of my former students, a boy named Jackson, has been helping me, and will be wonderful to have around when I start planting a garden. That is a lot of work, as you know. So I still have two boys to help me.With their help, I hope to plant more crops this year than I did the last. We will not eat all of them, but put some by for you to enjoy. I know you know all this, but I am, in a sense, talking to myself as I write to you. I trust that you do not mind.
Anyhow, Jackson’s mother wants to have little to do with him, and I think sometimes favors his brothers over him and does not give him ample food. So, with his father’s permission, he has come to stay with us to help out. I do not know what his mother thinks of that, and I do not care. I told him he was a gift from God, and you have never seen a fellow blush so. He seems happy to have what has been so far a tranquil time with us, and constantly praises my cooking. The poor fellow has had so little of peace and good food, I am glad that he has both here.
How is Hiram getting along? I told him he was too young to be in the army, and he reminded me that he could be a drummer boy. Has he become one? Is it as risky as being a solider? I hope not. I worry about you and Adolphus and Andrew, so I will add Hiram to my list and pray for him as I do for all of you.
And how is Adolphus? I know you are glad to have so good a friend with you. Do you still have the good talks with him that you told me about? How has he fared in winter camp? And how is his family since his poor mother passed away? I know that has been a difficult thing to bear for him, as it is for all children who lose their mothers.
You must write me and tell me about what you do each day, although I suspect I know since you have been in the army for a while and have told me about it. How are you faring these days, being in winter camp? I would think you would find something to occupy yourself. You could never tolerate being idle. I want to hear all about it from you.
It is time to prepare supper for all of us. We are having venison and some beans that I dried last year.I might also make up some sassafras tea, so I will stop here and see that this gets in the mail tomorrow. I will send Jackson to town for some supplies, and he can take it then. I hope this letter reaches you quickly, and that you can answer me as soon as you can. I will await your letter with something like impatience.
I think of you constantly, my dear, dear, sweet Caleb. You are the love of my life, and hold you in my dreams as I wish I held you in my arms.
Your loving, devoted and longing wife,
Laurel
Her thoughts were so tender and so well-expressed that I wiped a tear from my eye. Adolphus happened to look over and saw this and asked, “I hope all is well at home.”
I smiled weakly. “Yes, it is. I am simply touched by her sentiments and their expression.”
Adolphus nodded. “I was by my mother’s letters. I still miss her. I suspect Laurel’s letter are much like those of my dear sainted mother.” He stared vacantly at the table.
I felt bad that my comment about Laurel’s letters made him remember his mother and put him into a brown study, so I thought for a moment, and then said, “Adolphus, do you mind if I ask you a personal question?”
“Of course not, my boy. My life is an open book to you.”
“Well, then, I have never heard you mention a tie to a woman except for your mother. Why is this so?”
He looked down. “I suppose my mother was such a paragon of virtue and fine exemplar of womanhood that I feared any woman that I might fancy would fall short and I would be disappointed.”
I nodded. “I see. While not every man has to have a woman in his life you are of such a sensibility that you must want for the affection that a good woman of your own age might give you. In my case, I think I would die if something happened to Laurel”
He looked at me. “From what you have said of her, and from her letters, I see that might be the case. You are indeed fortunate to have her as your wife, and I hope you thank God for her every day.”
“That I do, and more.” The thought occurred to me that Adolphus had distracted me from the topic of finding a woman for himself by speaking of Laurel. He knew that I could not resist expressing my emotions toward her. I started to ask him about women in his life again, not exactly sure of the cause of his reluctance when we heard a sound from the other side of the cabin and looked over to see Hiram stretching and yawning. Adolphus turned toward him.
“You have awakened! Did you have a pleasant rest?”
It took Hiram a few seconds to answer as he shook the sleep out of his eyes. “Indeed I did. It was so pleasant that I could take another rest, but I cannot. I must go lead the drummers. As you would say, Adolphus, ‘duty calls.’”
“It calls you again, and so soon?” Adolphus looked concerned. “What has changed?”
“Nothing has. The colonel says repeatedly that with the coming conflict we must be absolutely prepared. I trust his judgment, so I will be off.”
“Well, then, do so I, and God go with you.”
“Thank you, Adolphus. I would like for you to talk to me about God some time, for I was never in a church once during my entire life.”
“I would count it a privilege.”
Hiram turned to me. “I hope your practice will go well,” I told him.
“Thank you, Caleb. I appreciate your thought.”
We watched him go, carrying his drum with him. We didn’t say anything for a while.
“I would say I have been given a golden opportunity,” Adolphus said. “I have no notion of Hiram’s spiritual state, although I should have been able to guess it, knowing what you told me of his lack of a proper upbringing. It’s a wonder he has not become a thief or possibly have even have murdered someone.”
“He has committed small crimes,” I said. “But never, as far as I know, any approaching any you just spoke of. As to his spiritual state, it is impossible for any person to guess the nature of another one’s soul.” I answered. “That only God knows.”
Adolphus nodded. “And isn’t that as it should be? The Pharisees tried to see the spiritual state of others and caused irreparable harm to so many.” He stood up. “I’m going out to get some wood.”
“I’ll joining you, I said, and as we walked to the woodpile, I thought, I have a sense that the matter of Adolphus’s lack of a relationship to women has more to it than he is saying. I will see if he says more, or, lacking that find another way. It is indeed a mystery.
 

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Diamond Hope, Part 25

 

 

 

Chapter Twenty-Five
Bitter News
February, 1863

I had gone to the house serving as a headquarters, which also doubled as a supply depot, to get some provisions when one of the corporals there hailed me. “Dillard, I have something for you.”
“Oh? What is it?”
He handed me two letters. One I could tell was from Laurel; the other I could not say except to tell it was from a man. The characters in the address and return address were less well formed and not as pleasing to the eye, but from some marks on the envelope as to its origin, which I could not understand, I thought the letter came from a military source, a soldier or some such. I determined I would read Laurel’s letter later, when I was alone, but I tore open the other letter and read this,
My dear Corporal Dillard,
I am writing you as Eleanor’s brother with some very sad news. Eleanor fell into a low state of mind after her trip to see you and would not eat or go out, but lay in her bed day after day. What the cause of her affliction is, I do not know, as she did not share the exchange she had with you when she came to see you.
She declined further, and doctors were called, but the matter was beyond their practice, and she passed away on January 20, at about four o’clock in the afternoon. I believe she died of something which gave her great sadness, and we buried her in the graveyard of a little Episcopalian church in Georgetown three days later. Many high ranking officials from government came, as did some of the captains of industry. You know her state and the high esteem in which she was held by people such as these.
And so my sister is gone. She worked hard to free me from prison recently, even appealing to Abraham Lincoln for my release. I will likely never know a woman like her again, and my heart is broken, although I will carry on as best I can.
You should know that one of her last acts before she began her decline was to arrange for the release of the soldier named Andrew from the Old Capitol prison. Somehow, I think she thought this would compensate you for some wrong, real or imagined, that she had done you. I do not know this for certain. It is only a surmise.
I trust you are well. Although we fight on different sides, I feel a curious bond with you, since we both knew my beloved sister and we resemble each other greatly. Perhaps in another life we would have been brothers. Fate and circumstance indeed are mysterious things.
I bid you good health and good fortune.
I am, brokenheartedly, yours,
John Duncan
Lieutenant
71st New York Regiment
I read the letter once, and then read it again, stunned. I never expected Eleanor would, in essence, take her own life, but she did as surely as if she had used pistol or laudanum. John could not know the reason for her falling off, but it seemed clear to me: she felt such guilt about all she had done to me, she could not bear living any longer. And I made it worse by not forgiving her. At the time it seemed in my own mind as if I were justified, but I never intended to bring her life to an end. Our Lord commanded us to forgive, but my pride and anger prohibited that, and I killed a sister of a good man. As difficult as she made my life, in later times, she did shows some acts of kindness and mercy. I believe she was turning toward a true spirituality when she came to see me to ask my forgiveness, but I cut that off, insensitive and hard toward her as I was..
I could only pray that God would forgive me for this violation of one of His commandments. I stood there and prayed, but received neither answer or word from our Father. Sometimes such answers are delayed, I knew, so I determined that I would talk to Adolphus about it in the meantime, as his grasp of theology and such matters was far superior to my own.
I trudged back to our shack with a heavy heart, hoping that Adolphus would be there when I arrived. I opened the door and went in, but only Hiram was there, lounging on his cot. I thought he would be off with the drummers. “I’m surprised to see you here. Why aren’t you with the other drummers?”
“Our sergeant says he is sick, but the kind of sickness he has comes out of a bottle. I’d say he was hung over and could barely walk, much less tell us what to do. I’m amazed that they let such a man lead the drummers, but I believe it is because he is so good at what he does when he is sober. So, yes, I have the day off.”
“Good for you. Do you know where Adolphus is?”
“No. I guess he left before I got here.”
“Well, if he comes back, please tell him to wait for me. I have something important to discuss with him.”
He looked startled. “You’re not going to make me stop being a drummer, are you? I like it so much, so I would be upset if I couldn’t do it.”
I smiled. “No, it’s not that. It’s about a letter I received.”
“Oh. From Laurel?”
“One of them is from Laurel.”
“And the others?”
“There’s only one more and it’s not from Laurel.”
“That’s not much to go on.”
“You see what I am trying to do.”
“Is it from Eleanor again?”
“No.”
“She’s dead, isn’t she?”
“Who’s dead?”
“Eleanor.”
I was amazed. How could he have known? He couldn’t have looked at John’s letter—could he? “How did you know?”
“You don’t get that much mail, and what you do get has been from Laurel and Eleanor. So, if the letter wasn’t from Laurel, and from the look on your face, I could tell you were upset about something, so that I knew it was from Eleanor or someone connected to her.”
“That ‘someone’ was her brother. He wrote that she lost the will to live and died two weeks ago.”
“Why did she give up?”
“I’m sorry. I can’t talk about it anymore. I’m going to look for Adolphus.”
“Go ahead, but if you ever want to talk to me, I’m here.”
“Thank you,” I said, wondering how much good Hiram could be to me. Still, he had surprised me before, so who knew?
I went back out and hesitated, trying to figure out which way to go. I had been at headquarters, which was to the left, and hadn’t seen Adolphus going there or coming back, so I turned right, and soon found myself walking along the river.
I must tell you that my agitated state of mind caused me to do such a dangerous thing. Although we were still in winter camp, that did not mean that the soldiers did not shoot at each other on rare occasion. The previous week, we had a man from a Louisiana shot dead when he came too near the river. That should have told me not to do what I did, but I was not making wise decisions at that point.
I did find that being by the river was soothing, even though I knew somewhere in my mind it was dangerous. I had followed along its cold gray banks with the cold gray water running between them. Such an aspect suited my mood. My mind and soul seemed cold and gray as well, and I wondered if ever spring time would come to them.
I had walked along for about fifteen minutes when I saw Adolphus sitting on a tree root with his back against the trunk and with a faraway look on his face. I hated having to ruin his meditative state, but I felt my need was so urgent and so real that I had to do so. I hadn’t noticed until I saw him that where he was sat beyond the pale of either army, and so the spot was as safe as it could be, under the conditions. That was why Adolphus chose it and while anything could happen in this circumstance, and I prayed for safety for both of us, I felt we would be reasonably safe sitting there..
Adolphus saw me coming and stood up. “Caleb! What are you doing here? Is something wrong? Is it about Hiram or Andrew? Or Laurel? Pray tell me that it isn’t her.” His face showed real concern.
I shook my head. “No, they are well, and I apologize for calling you from your reverie.”
“That is no matter to me. You would not have come here if it were not important and serious.”
“Here it is,” I told him. “The thing that is wrong is my doing.”
He looked puzzled. “How so?” He quickly added, “Please sit down.”
The root had room for both of us, so we sat side by side, looking at the river. I saw why Adolphus had chosen that spot for his reflections. It was tranquil and, even though it was winter, I then saw that it was beautiful in a stark sort of way. I know that does not make a lot of sense, but I hope it allows you to imagine its beauty. Adolphus had a real sensitivity to beauty in all its forms, although he was not moved by the beauty of women. I never asked him why, and could not see into his condition to tell very much about it. And so that part of him remained a opaque and mysterious.
“So, what troubles you? Tell me.”
“You know that Eleanor arranged for wood to be brought to us and to our fellows?”
“Yes, I recall that. A magnanimous and life-saving act.”
“You also probably recall that she said if the other soldiers shared their wood with me, that was up to them and she could not force them to do so in any way?”
“Yes, you told me so. Her heart was hard toward you, but of course we could not let a comrade freeze to death if we had the means of prevention. We gladly shared with you. It was the only decent and humane thing to do.”
“I believe that to be true as well. Were our positions reversed, I would have done the exact same thing. What you do not know is that a month later, she visited me and begged my forgiveness for all she had done to me.”
Adolphus looked surprised. “Where did she do this and What caused such a radical change of heart?”
“She had her carriage driven down here and we sat inside it as she told me what she had to say. It was not too far from our shack. As to her change of heart, by her own account, she said she was visited by what she took to be angel or perhaps our Lord who instructed her to ask forgiveness of me.”
“Well, I have heard of such, but never knew of anyone who actually experienced such a visitation until you told me of this. I cannot judge the reality of the visitation she experienced, but I am certain you forgave her readily, for you are a kind and spiritual man.”
“Adolphus, I did not forgive her.”
“You did not forgive her?” He seemed dumfounded at this. I felt even more guilty for disappointing my friend.
“Yes. My heart was so blackened by anger and sense of injury that there was no room for forgiveness.” Those conditions of my soul crowded out all else.”
Adolphus seemed to be thinking for a while and then said, “Well. I have no words to give you on this.”
This was the first time since I had known him that Adolphus had nothing to say about a spiritual matter. Up until that time, he invariably had good and helpful insights that he shared with all kinds of people. He made differences in their lives.
“There’s more: I received this letter—” I drew John’s letter from my jacket and handed it to him—” from her brother saying that my refusal caused her to become weak, to give up hope, and in short she has passed away, and I am to blame.”
Adolphus read the letter quickly and looked at me, tears in his eyes. “What a terrible thing! I am conflicted at this news. I know you, Caleb, and am distressed that you could not forgive. At the same time, I know the extreme distress that she caused you and your family. I do not know what to say.”
“You have no words of comfort, then?”
“None save the ones I have given you. I simply do not know what to think. I shall have to meditate on what you have told me and pray to God for wisdom.”
“Thank you. I knew I could count on you.”
Adolphus shook his head. “It’s as much as I can do at the present time. I may have further words on this subject.”
We sat there in silence for a while, listening to the sounds of the river.
Finally I asked, “Do you hate me?”
He smiled for the first time since we met. “No, I do not hate you. I am disappointed in you, but I can find it in my heart to forgive your lack of forgiveness.”
“That has irony in it, doesn’t it? Forgiving a lack of forgiveness”
“I suppose so.”
“Adolphus, All this is why you are a finer man than I.”
“No, for I do not know what I would do were I in a similar circumstance. I simply do not know.”
“I will return to our shack and leave you here to think further. I hope something comes to you, and quickly. This thing is gnawing at my heart and I fear it may cause me harm, just as I did ill toward Eleanor. That would only be divine justice, all though I do not wish it on myself. I bid you farewell until we see each other again.”
I walked away in silence from Adolphus, making my long solitary walk back, feeling lonely and sick at heart. I surely hope that Adolphus receives some word from God on this, I thought. I am in dire need of it. I lay on my cot and tried to sleep, but that was impossible. I kept tossing and turning, thinking of my long history with Eleanor, and how she had changed, although I did not credit that change at the time. I was paying the price now, with the impossibility of sleep and a guilty conscience. I prayed that I might soon overcome this state of mind, but at the present time, I could see no way. I fell asleep just before sunrise, which meant I had little sleep, which I so sorely needed.
***
The next morning, Adolphus came to me as I was sitting up. “You look as if you didn’t sleep.”
“I didn’t. My heart was troubled.”
He nodded. “I understand.” Then, with a settled look on his face, he said, “I have thought hard on your situation,” he said, “and have received what I consider a word from God on it.In times of great need, whether mine or those of others, God always has such a word for me.”
My heart leaped. “I am most eager to hear what it is. Please tell me, and quickly.”
“Let’s sit at the table.” We sat across from each other, and he looked into my eyes. “I know you well, Caleb, and I believe that you do not need my forgiveness or that of any other man.”
“I do not?”
“No. I am certain you had asked for forgiveness from God, for that is where we should begin. Since you have done that, you need to forgive yourself for not offering forgiveness. It is that simple—and that difficult.”
I sat for a moment, and then said. “This is a new idea for me. How do I forgive myself?”
Adolphus smiled. “You must search deeply within your own heart to see what your motives were in not forgiving Eleanor. Once you have found those motives, you must see and understands them. Once you have done that, you will find your heart growing lighter.”
I thought about this for a moment. “I shall have to strive mightily to do that. I hope I will be able to do it well, and do it soon.”
He stood and clapped me on the shoulder, smiling down at me like a benevolent father. “I know you will succeed.”
I stood as well. “I pray that I will, and I thank you for your revelation.”
“You are welcome, but the revelation could only have come from God. Thank Him.”
“I make it my practice to do so every day for something. Now I have a great thing to thank Him for.”
“You are a good man, Caleb. Don’t forget that.” We shook hands, and then stood up.
“I shall try,” I said, and thought, you are as well, Adolphus. One of the best. Your star far outshines mine, but I hope to be as bright as you some day.

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Diamond Hope, Part 24

 

Chapter Twenty-Four
Bitter Chill
January, 1863

The winter continued, as did the cold, and a number of soldiers who did not bank their fires correctly were found frozen lying on their cots when their heat gave out. We soon became too accustomed to burials and the ceremonies attending them, which served to dispirit us further.
Hiram did become a drummer, and practiced at all hours until we told him the other troops didn’t want him to play after our evening meal. His enthusiasm, if not his judgement, was commendable. And so day by day went by with little to distinguish them save the weather and the setting and rising of the sun.
One morning, while I was out getting wood (which seemed to be our chief occupation), I saw a tall, thin soldier coming toward me. There was something familiar about him, and when he came close, I saw it was Andrew! I ran to him and embraced him with fervor. “Andrew, my boy! It is so good to see you!”
“It’s good to be here. It would be good to be anywhere save that prison camp I have been kept in, but you know more about that than I do.”
I shook my head. “From what I hear, conditions are much worse than when I was there. I know they don’t play baseball any more.”
“That’s right, and the food is worse than that of any army camp’s, the guards brutal to a man, and few amusements, if you could call them that, save fighting and stealing. We do receive mail, without which we would have been in much worse shape than we are. Than we were. It’s hard to believe I’m out.”
“How did you get out? Exchanges stopped last year.”
He scratched his head. “Would you mind if we talked in your tent? I’ve walked a long way, and I’m just about frozen.”
“Of course! Forgive me for not noticing your condition. Come in, and you can meet my friend Adolphus, and there’s a surprise for you as well.”
“Let’s go in, then!”
Adolphus had his back turned to us when we entered and turned around with a mild expression of surprise. He could tell from Andrew’s face that he had not been eating enough, but of course did not know why.
“Adolphus, I want you to meet Andrew!” I exclaimed.
The two of them shook hands and then stepped back from each other.
“I’ve heard a lot about you from Caleb,” Adolphus said. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Likewise, I’m sure.”
“Caleb told me you were in prison. How did you get out?”
I looked over at Adolphus. “I had just asked Andrew that question right before we came inside, and I am eager to hear his answer as well.”
“I do not know,” said Andrew. Adolphus looked sharply at me, and I could not read his expression.
“What do you signify by saying ‘I do not know’? Are you suffering from amnesia or a wound to the head that would likewise cause you to lose your memory?”
Andrew shook his head. “I beg your pardon for being unclear. I simply meant that no one was being exchanged, and no reason was given me for my release. I did not ask, for fear that any delay would cause my release to be invalidated.”
“Caleb knows of someone who was released through the intervention of Abraham Lincoln. Could you have had such a happy cause?”
Again Andrew shook his head. “If this were so, I am certain they would have told me, it being an unusual occurrence, but they said nothing and, as I told you, I asked them no questions.”
“Well,” said Alphonso, “the important thing is that you are out prison and that you are safe. Welcome to our shack, such as it is.”
“I am right glad to be here.” He looked around the space. “Where is the surprise?”
Alphonso caught my eye and silently pretended to beat on a drum briefly, pointing in the direction of the parade ground, such as it was. By this I took him to mean that Hiram was practicing his playing with the other drummers.
“Ah, the surprise is not here, but you shall see it soon. Are you hungry?” I asked
“Yes. I haven’t had anything to eat since this morning. I should be grateful for anything you might give me.”
“It’s our usual fare.” Alphonso pulled out some items from our larder box below his cot. “I can offer you dried pork and hard tack.”
Andrew looked at the food, and he smiled. “These are like a fine steak to a hungry man. I thank you.” With that, Andrew fell to eating.
The food must truly be terrible in prison if he this this is “fine steak,” I thought.
We watched him eat as Alphonso asked Andrew how he came to know me and what had happened since then, although I had told him all that. It was Alphonso’s way of making Andrew feel welcome. Alphonso made a habit of doing such, and that was the reason he was held in such high regard by his fellows.
We went on like this for about half an hour when the door opened and Hiram came in. Andrew was so surprised he stood up and spilled his coffee. He appeared not to notice as he rapidly crossed the open space between him and Hiram. “Hiram! It is so good to see you! Who would have thought we would have met here?”
They embraced, and Hiram said, “I had the same thought. I am pleased to see you as well.” Alphonso and I watched, smiling at this reunion of friends.
“How did you come to be here?” Andrew asked.
“I was helping Laurel on the farm, and then the blacksmith’s son, Clinton Dailey, came to live with us. I felt a call to be in the army, and thought Laurel did not need me since she had Clinton.”
“What did she say when you told her you were leaving?”
Hiram looked at the floor for a moment, and then raised his head. “I didn’t tell her. I just left, and I wish now that I had told her.”
I said, “I wrote Laurel and told her where Hiram was. I have not yet heard from her.”
Andrew looked thoughtful. “Well. That is something. I know you wish you had told her of you plans, but I suppose that Laurel’s loss is our gain.” Taking note of Hiram’s uniform, he asked, “Are you in the army now? And if so, in what capacity?”
“Indeed I am. I am a drummer boy. I have just come from practice.”
“Well, I never would have thought that. Had you played the drum before?”
“No, never. My sergeant tells me I must have a natural talent. There could be no other explanation for such a thing. I never had a drum, and so did not have a chance to practice it.”
“Aren’t you putting yourself in danger?”
“That’s what I asked him,” I said. “He told me that once the drummers beat their call, they retire to the rear. He said it was safer there. I told him cannon and rifles can shoot a long way, but that seems to make no difference.”
Andrew looked at Hiram. “You must be careful out there.”
“I will be.”
“Will you be armed?”
“They won’t let me carry a gun, but I have my slingshot.”
Alphonso looked puzzled at this, and I said, “Hiram shoots the slingshot like David in Bible times. He saved our lives with it.”
“He has no need of a rifle, then.”
“I would say not.”
We sat and talked into the evening of many things, and I thought the only thing better than having my young friends with us would have been being with Laurel and little Caleb. When we went to bed, it was they I thought of, which gave me many sweet and pleasant dreams all through the night.

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