A Letter to Laurel
My dearest Laurel,
Thank you for your letter. I was glad to hear from you and to know that the garden is doing so well. You certainly have put in a lot of different crops, and that is good. You’ll enjoy having all those when they come in.
I love receiving letters from you, but I would love being with you even more. I miss you so badly that I hurt, and I pray the God will continue to take care of you and little Caleb and that this war will be over soon so that I might return to you. That is my chief hope and the notion that keeps me going through the hard times, such as now..
Conditions are very difficult here. We have been where we are for three weeks, living like animals in holes in the ground. Neither side is able to move because of this new kind of warfare where we have to rely on artillery to hurt the other troops, and it does that quite well. There will be no more charges of thousands of men across an open field. We found out at Gettysburg when General Pickett tried to lead his men across in the face of a hail of bullets and shells. That simply will not work. And so, because of that, we sit here in the mud with nothing to do. I suppose it is better than fighting, but it’s hard on all of us nonetheless..
I didn’t think it was possible for our rations to be any worse, but they are. Every third meal is rabbit or squirrel, and in such small portions. I believe this poor diet and our miserable living accommodations are the reason so many of us are sick. More die from illnesses these days than from enemy action. That’s so hard to accept.
I am sorry to share such dismal news with you, my dear love, but I thought you would like to know why I am so passionate about seeing you again. Being with you would be so wonderful I cannot begin to describe it, especially when I compare our conditions here with being in our little cabin with everyone gathered around us. We’ve put together a nice family, one by birth and the others by accident, but those are as much our sons as Caleb is. I treasure them all.
It’s time to eat, and although the food is not good, I know that I must eat it so I can stay as strong as I can so I can see you again.
May that day come very soon. I cannot wait for it.
I love you, my love. Kiss little Caleb for me and tell him I will be home as soon as I can.
Your loving husband who longs to see you,,
I finished writing the letter, rummaged around in my pack and found an envelope that I put the letter in. I addressed it and stood up. “Do you have anything for me to mail?” I asked Adolphus and Andrew.
Adolphus put down the book he was reading. “With my father’s death, I don’t have anyone to write, but that you knew anyhow, of course.”
“What about Mrs. Estes? Could you write her?”
“I regret that I do not know her well enough to write anything of any consequence. She came to the house after I left, and I barely saw her before that. And I’m not sure she would want to hear about our lives here. She is a lady of the most delicate sensibilities and would be highly upset if I described how things are at the present with us.”
Andrew had listened intently to our conversation. “Thank you for offering, Caleb,” he said, “but as you know, I am an orphan. You are my family now, and you don’t need to write me, although you may if you wish. You might find it hard to tell anything I do not know already since we are all together here.”
Adolphus and I chuckled. “I don’t know how I could forget your station, Andrew. Please forgive me if my offer caused you pain from such bad memories.”
“I right readily do so. It is done. You need think of it no more.”
“I’m going to mail these, if I can find my way through this maze.” It was first time any of us had left our immediate circumstance. Food had been delivered to us, and we had no reason that any of us could see to strike out on our own.
“If you don’t come back in a week, we’ll know you ran away.” Adolphus smiled.
“Believe me, I am tempted to do that. Again.”
“So are many others.”
“But I have experience doing so. I could accomplish such a thing far more easily than they could.”
“Still, I think it better that you stay here.”
“I agree with you, certainly.”
I wandered aimlessly through the trenches for about half an hour, having no luck with finding headquarters. Several soldiers pointed me in different directions, but they knew as little about where headquarters was as I did. I had no idea this warren would be so extensive, I thought. I finally asked a sergeant, “Can you point me in the direction of headquarters?”
He nodded and pointed. “It’s right down here, about 1000 yards.”
I sighed. “I was so engaged with wondering where I was and what I would find, I must have walked by it twice with my head down. I came so close.”
He took his pipe out of his mouth. “Indeed you did. And now you know what to do.”
I went the way he had indicated and soon came upon the headquarters area, which was above ground since it was far enough away from the front to not be a target. I came upon a private sitting at a table and asked, “Where do I put my letter to be mailed?”
He grinned and held out his hand. “I’m going over there. I’ll be pleased to post it for you.”
“Thank you,” I said.
“Think nothing of it.”
I walked back to our area of the trenches, thinking how tired and thin everyone I saw looked. It’s not wonder, I thought, with the strain and poor food. If this keeps going the way it has, we’ll all starve to death, and the Federals won’t have to raise a finger.
I came back to my tent to find Adolphus sitting on a cot. He looked up. “Did you mail your letter?”
“Yes. Where did the cots come from?” There was one for each of us.
“Andrew went exploring and came upon a supply depot. They had plenty of them, although some were not in the best condition. Andrew picked the best available for us.”
“That was enterprising of him. They’ll make a big difference for us.”
“I know I’ll sleep better on this than wallowing in the mud.” He grew serious and said, “The word is that we’re going to attack the Union lines at dawn tomorrow. The news came from a good source, so I guess it must be true.”
“Why are we attacking?”
“The word didn’t include that.”
“That’s suicide! Have the commanders lost their collective minds?”
“Quite possibly. Anyhow, it’s not official, although my sources are good. I suppose we’ll know for sure at dawn tomorrow.”
“Won’t they notify us officially?”
Adolphus shrugged. “Maybe they will and maybe they won’t. I’ve found you never can tell in these circumstances.”
“That’s not a very good way to run an army.”
“It’s not, but what are we to do about it?”
“Nothing, I suppose. I’m going to lie down and rest. Maybe I won’t wake up and I’ll miss the battle.”
“Now there’s a thought.”
“And an unlikely one.”
I was tired, so I lay on my cot, thinking about all that had happened in the past years—my joining the army, being captured, my time in prison, learning to play baseball, Eleanor coming into my life and coming near to ruining it, my escape from her, my going back and forth between armies at least a couple of times, my flight with my family through several states, finding Andrew, encountering Finn (poor fellow), Laurel’s capture, my pursuit of her, my time in the Navy, my nearly finding, Laurel, pursuing her again, our meeting up with Hiram and then Captain Anderson, our regaining Laurel and Caleb, all of us going on, encountering the burned cabin, having it rebuilt, my “capture” by the Union army, Gettysburg, Spotsylvania, the balloon corps, the Wilderness, Eleanor’s death, Cold Harbor, Hiram joining us, Adolphus being in prison and his release, Clinton’s coming to be with us. And our present state in the mud and mire. At least we had cots so I could lie and remember all that had happened. I was thankful to God that I was still alive and not in prison, although all of that could change the next day.
And so, tired by all this thought and all those remebrances, I fell asleep, unsure myself what the morrow would bring, but trusting God to always be with me, no matter what. Everything was in His hands, and I was thankful for that.