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,
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.