It was a few days before Christmas, and the spirits of the troops were low, thinking of those they left behind and what they were doing to celebrate the holidays. The soldiers did the best they could with gifts, often sharing food sent from home or giving each other something they had whittled out of a pine branch, or trying to dress up rations so that it vaguely resembled traditional holiday fare, but it just wasn’t the same, by any means.
Those who could play fiddles or guitars used them to entertain their comrades, and officers organized plays and concerts, but in spite of their best efforts, they would all agree that what they experienced was sorely lacking. I all had the effect of making us sadder, rather than cheering us. It was a sad and somber holiday.
On Christmas morning, I stuck my head out of the shack. “Adolphus! Merry Christmas! Come see what’s outside!”
Adolphus spoke sleepily from his cot. “Merry Christmas, Caleb. I think. Can’t you just tell me what it is?”
“No! You have to see it for yourself! I know you’ll be surprised!”
Adolphus struggled up from his cot, muttering the whole time, which was unusual for him. He simply did not want to get up for any reason, much less an unknown one. Still clad in the long underwear he wore to bed, he walked over to the door of the shack. “This had better be good,” he said, and pushed open the door.
What I did not tell Adolphus was that it had snowed during the night, and the landscape lay transformed under a beautiful blanket of white. The sun sparkled off the trees and fields, and the beauty of it almost made me forget what a miserable time we had of it before it snowed.We had not seen much snow during my time in the army, so it was indeed a special event.
“Oh, my, but that is beautiful!” Adolphus said. “I see why you didn’t want to tell me about—it would be impossible to describe the wonder of this sight.”
It occurred to me that Adolphus hadn’t seen much snow since he lived in Richmond, and certainly never as much as lay on the ground. We had some hard winters near Winchester, but none I recall that was quite as beautiful.
We went back in and busied ourselves building a fire and preparing breakfast. We had hoecakes with some molasses someone had given Adolphus and, of course, dried pork which I tried to doctor up, without much success. We did mind any of it since we were still in such a state of wonder.
Breakfast fixed, we fell to our meals with enthusiasm. “How is it?” I asked him.
“You did well with what you had.”
“I wouldn’t want to have this every year for Christmas, but what you did was…serviceable.”
Adolphus was not one much given to compliments, so I took it that he did enjoy the meal, to an extent. Suddenly he stood, his fork halfway to his mouth.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Did you hear that?”
“No, I didn’t hear a thing. What did it sound like?”
“Someone was calling your name with a young voice. Have you made the acquaintance of any of the drummer boys?”
I shook my head. “I haven’t had the time or the inclination to do so. In fact, I have never met a drummer during my entire term of service.”
“It might be worth your while to see who it is.”
“All right, then. I’ll do it,” although I wasn’t convinced that Adolphus heard anything at all. I didn’t want to leave my meal, and I remembered that the area where we were was judged too dangerous for drummers, although they did wander around from time to time.
I went to the door and stuck my head out.
“Caleb! Caleb Dillard! Where are you?” There was no doubt someone was calling this time, and if the name was right, it was most likely me they were looking for. There was no one else named Caleb in our company.
I looked toward the sound and saw Hiram running toward me, a huge smile on his face. He came up and grabbed me around the legs. “I found you! They told me where you’d be, and here you are! I am SO glad to see you!”
He stepped back and I said, “What in the world are you doing here?”
“I came to help you! Laurel doesn’t need me as much since she found that Clinton do what she needs done. He’s very good at what he does. When I saw what was going on, I took off, although finding you took some doing. No one seemed to notice me at first, but I finally found a sergeant, and after I told him I wanted to join up as a drummer, he told me where you were.”
“You didn’t tell Laurel you were leaving or where you were going?”
He dropped his head. “No, sir, and I guess I should have.” He looked up at me. “Will you write her and tell here I’m here and why I left? I can’t read or write myself.”
I felt sorry for the little fellow, but I asked him “You want to be a drummer?”
“Sure! It’s not hard, and I can be with you.”
“War is dangerous business. And I’m not sure they have a uniform small enough to fit you.”
“I can fix it.”
“You can sew?”
“Yes. The ladies on the wharf taught me how.”
“You never cease to amaze me with what you can do, Hiram. But I don’t want to expose you to that kind of risk.”
“I’ve been in danger before. I know what to do.”
“I don’t know, Hiram. This is a different kind of danger.”
Just then Adolphus came up. “Are you going to invite our guest in, Caleb?”
“Well, well, of course.” I turned to Hiram and said, “I’m sorry. I was so busy trying to persuade you not to be a drummer I forgot my manners. Forgive me.”
“That’s all right, Caleb.” I stepped back and let him in.
Once we were all inside, Adolphus put out his hand. “You must be Hiram. I’m Adolphus, and I’m pleased to meet you.”
Hiram studied Adolphus’s hand for a moment before he took it. “Mr. Adolphus, I’ve heard all about you! You and Caleb have had some great adventures! Pleased to meet you, too!”
Adolphus chuckled. “I wouldn’t say being put in prison several times was an adventure, but we have had some interesting times. Now, come over and have a seat and tell us more about how you got here.”
“Well, I walked in the general direction of where I thought the army was. A week later, here I am!”
“What did you do for food?”
He looked down. “Let’s just say I ‘borrowed’ some chickens and apples and such like that. But I’ll pay them back. Promise.”
Adolphus looked skeptical but said nothing. “That was quite a remarkable feat, walking all that distance, finding us and figuring out how to feed yourself. You are quite an enterprising lad.”
Hiram blushed. “Thank you, sir. I’ve been called a lot of things, but never ‘enterprising.’”
“You’re welcome. And it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Same here, sir.”
They went over and sat on the cots, talking in an animated fashion for quite a while. I stayed by the entrance to the shack, still thinking becoming a drummer was not a good idea for Hiram for so many reasons. Laurel will have my head if anything happens to him, I thought. Maybe I can talk him out of it. This certainly is an unlikely development, I thought. And I wonder how it will all turn out.