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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Diamond Hope, Part 23

 

Chapter Twenty-Three
An Unexpected Visitor
January, 1864

The New Year dawned clear, bright and cold and we began to wonder if we would ever be warm again, but four days later we had a winter thaw of sorts, which is to say the temperature rose above freezing. Save for the changing of the year, there was not much different about our lives and daily routine except for Hiram’s presence. He was useful, as always around the shack. I could not talk him out of becoming a drummer, so he went to headquarters and signed up. They made no comment about his small size, but told him they were glad he had decided to join. They would have a uniform for him and a drum in about two weeks. In the meantime, they had him carry messages. He seemed really happy with all of this, so I gave up trying to talk him out of being a drummer. And so day passed into day and we amused ourselves and tried to keep warm when the cold returned, as best we could. I had gone out to the wood pile when I saw a black carriage approaching.
Now, there were many black carriages in the world at that time, so I could not be sure who was in it, but the hair standing up on the back of my neck gave me an idea who it was. The carriage drew closer and rolled to a stop. A door opened, and I knew to climb in and there, as I thought, sat Eleanor. I did not know why she came, but I resolved to never again take part in her schemes, no matter what she threatened me with. I thought I was shut of her, but here she was again.
“Caleb! It is so good to see you,” she announced in a warm and friendly manner. I had not heard her use this tone since the first days we knew each other. Nonetheless, I was wary.
“I’m surprised to see you here. What do you want?”
She shook her head. “You are so blunt. Are you not pleased to see me?”
“No.”
“And why not?”
“I think you know. You took me from my family, forced me to neglect my oaths, and sent me all over the country, to little avail. And you keep coming back again and again. It becomes tiresome after a while.”
“I know,” she soothed, smiling at me, “and that is why I am here.”
“Go ahead.”
“I wanted to apologize for all I put you through. I have come recently to understand that God wants us to treat each other as brothers and sisters and to beg forgiveness of those who we have wronged. I certainly have wronged you, and I most sincerely ask you to forgive me.”
I was stunned into silence. I sat there, trying to determine if she were sincere or not, and she burst into tears.
“You must forgive me,” she wailed. “My immortal soul hangs in the balance. Oh, do say you will forgive me! I cannot bear it if you do not.” She sobbed even harder.
“Why should I believe you?”
“You simply must. I was sitting in my house, staring out the window, when a sure conviction came over me that I just now spoke to you about. I felt it as a palpable feeling. If we were in the days of our Savior’s time on earth, I would say He or an angel had spoken to me.” She could not speak for a moment because she was crying so hard, and it occurred to me that I had never seen her weep. Perhaps she was telling the truth, after all. I would have to see.
“I must leave you now.”
“Please think of what I have asked you. Write me and tell me you forgive me. You must! You must!”
I climbed down from the carriage, still hearing her wails. I must ask Adolphus what to do about this, but I thought even he could dissuade me from my position.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Diamond Hope, Part 22

 

Chapter Twenty-Two
Newer Hope
December, 1863

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.”
“Thank you.”
“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.

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Diamond Hope, Part 21

 

Chapter Twenty-One
Winter Camp
November, 1863

I awoke and I knew something was wrong. In spite of being covered by three thick blankets, I was cold. My teeth were chattering, and I could see my breath.
“Adolphus! Wake up! The fire has gone out.”
“Yes, I thought it awfully cold.” He got up and went over and checked the stove. “Yes, it’s out.”
“Do we have any more wood?” I asked Adolphus. “I certainly hope so.”
“I don’t think we do,” he replied. “If there is any out there, it would be a long walk away, down past the headquarters building.”
“I don’t want to go down there and find out they don’t have any either.We’ll have to find something to burn, or we’ll freeze.”
“We’re not the only ones who would do that..”
I stepped outside our shack, which wasn’t much of a building to begin with, and certain not one to live in with a stove. Even with heat, it was cold, and we wore several layers of clothes. We also lay in our beds during the day, covered with blankets and there we stayed, unless something caused us to have to get up.
I found myself outside in a frigid wasteland devoid of trees, shivering with the cold and wind. I looked up and down the line to see if anyone had brought some wood, or anything that would burn, but saw nothing. There was no one there. They were probably inside, trying to stay warm as we did, and their situation had to be growing more desperate by the moment. I went back inside.
“I’m going to lie down and cover up,” I told Adolphus. “I might be able to keep from freezing to death that way.”
“I’m going to join you. It’s hard to believe that we can’t stand the heat in the summer.”
“I wish we had some of that heat right now. It’s too much of both extremes.”
I lay down on my cot and covered up with my blankets again. In spite of the cold, I fell asleep. I dreamed of huge bonfires and banquets of hot, steaming food. It all felt and tasted so good, I hated it when something woke me up. I sat up in bed and instantly pulled my blankets up around my shoulders.
“Adolphus, did you hear something?”
“What?”
“Did you hear something outside?”
He listened for a moment and then said, “Yes. It sounds like a horse. Like several horses. What would horses be doing up here? The cavalry unit is down by the river.”
We quickly got up and stuck our heads out of our shack. There was nothing we could see to the right, but when we looked to the left, we saw something that I thought must have been a dream or a hallucination induced by the cold, but there, headed toward us, came a team of six horses pulling an enormous wagon loaded with lengths of oak. The teamster pulled back on his reins and called to the horses, “Whoa, there! Stop, I say! Stop, ye beauties!”
The whole assemblage stopped, and I heard the hard breathing of the horses as they stood with steam coming off their bodies. It was nice to hear the driver address his horses in such positive tones. Most drivers were a rough bunch, using curses and the whip to get their teams going. The driver looked at us. “You want to help me unload this?”
“Yes,” I said, “and I know where we can get some more help.” I started down the row of shacks to the left while Adolphus went along those to the right, shaking banging on doors and calling to those inside as we went along. Soon the wagon was mobbed by soldiers, taking four and five pieces of wood in their arms and hurrying with it back to their tents. I estimate that it took ten minutes to unload the wagon, a task that I estimate would have taken several hours had we not had the help of our comrades.
“Who sent this?” I asked the teamster.
He shrugged. “I have no idea. I just do what I’m told, like you do. I hope. Looks like you fellows were pretty eager to have some wood.”
“We sure were. I don’t know where you came from or who sent you, but we would have frozen had you not come along. Thank you.”
He shrugged again. “I didn’t buy the wood and I don’t own this team and wagon—they belong to the army.There’s nothing to thank me for. Just be careful and don’t burn everything down.”
“We’ll do our best,” I said, and waved as he climbed back into his seat. He started to call to his team, but stopped.
“I nearly forgot,” he said. “I have something for you.”
He drew an envelope from his coat and thrust it toward me. “Must be a letter, and it must be from a lady. I can’t read, but I’ve been around women enough to know when it’s a woman’s writing. If you know what I mean.” He winked at me, but I ignored that.
“Thank you,” I said.
“Like I said, just doing what I was told,” he replied, and called to his horses. They responded quickly, as if glad to be rid of their heavy load. “Hope it’s from a lady you like,” he called, just before he went out of earshot.
I turned the letter over, looking for some sign of who sent it, but I couldn’t tell anything. Whoever it was only wrote my name, and that was not enough to go on. As I stood there, Adolphus came over to me and said, “Who could have done this? From what I hear, the whole army is out of wood and is being supplied by other wagons. We’re not the only ones.”
“That’s really something,” I said. “I don’t know who sent all this, but I intend to find out.”
He looked at the envelope I held in my hand. “Well?”
“‘Well’ what?”
“Well, are you going to open that envelope or stand there all day and look at it?”
“Oh. I forget I was holding it. How about if I open it and see what it says?”
“My thoughts exactly.”
I tore open the envelope, and there was a letter inside, all right. I unfolded it quickly and read,
My dear Caleb,
You were probably surprised to receive the wood, and wondered why I sent it. It was not because you did such good work for me. You were either running away or not doing as you promised, but I did not want any of our troops to freeze. I hope they let you have some because, after all, you are a deserter and a traitor to both sides. That is a rare feat, but you accomplished it magnificently and in doing so, disappointed me deeply.
I send my regards. I wish it all could have worked out differently, but I am resigned to the way it did turn out. I shall not soon overcome these feelings, and hope that my little gift will make a difference about how things are between us. I hope they will, but don’t think that will happen.
I am,
Your disappointed would-be friend,
Eleanor
Alphonso waited impatiently while I read, and when I looked up, he asked, “Who’s it from? What does it say?”
I gave him the letter. “It’s from Eleanor, and you can read all of it for yourself, but basically she says that the wood is for the army, and if they want to give me some, that is up to them.”
“Why wouldn’t we want to do that?”
“She calls me a deserter and a traitor to both sides.”
“For heaven’s sake, man, you were forced into it.”
“Maybe so, but that makes no difference to her. I just wonder what she will do next.”
“That kind of person, it’s hard to tell. Come on, let’s stop this speculation and get a fire going before I freeze all the way through.”
“I never thought you’d turn down a chance to speculate on anything.”
“It’s hard to think when I’m frozen. Maybe I will be able to when I thaw out.”
We laughed and picked up a couple of pieces of wood for our fire. And that is how we made it through that crisis. I could not forget what Eleanor said about us being friends, but knew there was absolutely no chance of that. She had done too much to me for too long for me to change, even if I had wanted to, which I didn’t.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Diamond Hope, Part 20

 

 

Chapter Twenty
A Letter from Laurel
November, 1863

Dear Caleb,
I hope this letter finds you well. We are all fine, although Caleb had a cold last week. He is over that now, and I am grateful for there. There is pneumonia going around, and several older people have died of it.
I miss you so much I can hardly stand it. I would give anything to hold you and see your face and know that you are going to be home with me forever. I know Jesus said that marriage in heaven was different from marriage on earth, but God’s merch surely will let us be together for eternity. I believe this earnestly, but for now I would settle for having you here with me on earth.
I have something new to report. Hiram and Clinton have started trapping animals—beaver, raccoon and otters. I showed them how to skin and tan the pelts, and then they take them to the store in town which sells them for the boys. The money they earn helps us out a lot.
And then there’s Clinton. I found out he is a champion whittler, and he makes the nicest figures with it—deer, fox, horse—he can do them all. I am starting to wonder if he might have a career in art. He certainly has the eye for it. He sells his carvings at the store as well, but I told him to keep the money for his education. If he keeps it up, he’ll have a considerable sum. I think it’s wonderful that he can do that.
And what about you? I know you can’t tell me exactly where you are, but I know that Lee’s army is along the Rappahannock, so you must be somewhere close to there. I pray that you are safe, although I know that you are or soon will be in winter camp, when there is less activity on the part of the armies. Please be careful so that you can return to me.
We have had some snow, and I take it upon myself to read when we are snowed in. I read the Bible, of course, and some of my school text books, but most recently I have been reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin. You would get a great deal out of it, so I will save it for you to read when you return.
Writing those words makes me sad because you are not here. I will busy myself to try not to think so much about you, but you are always in a corner of my mind. I remember all we have been through, and I thank God that we are still here, and I thank God that you belong to me.
Do not forget me. I can never withdraw you from my mind.
I am your loving wife,
Laurel

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Diamond Hope, Part Nineteen

 

Chapter Nineteen
On the Other Side
October, 1863

I stood with my rifle, leaning against the earthworks, trying to see across the river through the fog. This time I was on the southern bank of the Rappahannock, with Lee’s army.
“You’re wasting your time,” Adolphus said. “It won’t clear for another hour. At least they can’t see us, either.”
It was great to be with my friend again after all I’d been through. I told him about seeing him across the river and thinking there was no way I could get over there then. But Eleanor let me go and, after a visit home, I joined up with the troops on the south side of the river. I remembered when I first reported to command headquarters. “Corporal Caleb Dillard, reporting for duty, sergeant!”
He looked at me as if he were trying to place me. He gave up and said, “What division are you with?”
“I’m not with any division. I’ve been away for quite a while, and I don’t know if the division I joined still exists.”
He sighed. “If you tell me what division you were with, I can tell you if it still exists.”
“It was the 8th Virginia Infantry Regiment.”
He dug some papers out of a dispatch case and shuffled through them. He pulled one out and read over it. “Dillard was the name?”
“Yes, sergeant.”
“I show you missing from the battlefield. No one knew if you were captured or dead.”
“I’m not dead.”
“I can see that, Dillard, and don’t get smart with me.”
“Sorry, sergeant. Just trying to be helpful.”
“So, you’re obviously not a prisoner and you’re not dead, so what happened to you?”
“It’s a very long story, sergeant, and I’m sure you don’t have the time to listen to it.”
“That’s the first sensible thing you’ve said. And I guess it’s good for you that that 8th Virginia is still intact, although there have been so many replacements and deaths that you won’t know many people.”
“I think one of my friends is still in the unit.”
“How do you know that?”
“I just have a feeling.”
“Now you’re back to not being sensible.” He took another paper and wrote quickly on it. “Take this and give it to the commanding officer, whoever he may be. I haven’t read the dispatch for today yet, so it might be your mother. Carry on.”
I saluted and he returned the salute. I turned and had taken two steps when something occurred to me. “Sergeant?”
He glared at me. “What is it now?”
“How do I get to my unit?”
“Oh. You confused me by flip flopping from being sensible to I don’t know what. Follow this line of tents, and when you come to its end, turn left until you come to a stand of trees with a clear space beyond. Go over the hill, but be careful, because you’ll be in range. You’ll see the earthworks, and your unit is somewhere along them.”
“Thank you, sergeant.”
He waved a hand. “You can thank me by never coming here again.”
“I can do that, sergeant.” I had to smile at the man’s obvious discomfort with me, but he had no doubt been through a lot, as had so many other troops.
I followed his directions and found the earthworks and saw the Rappahannock beyond and, making a guess, followed it downstream. I hadn’t gone too far when I came to a line of tents. A drummer boy was sitting on a stump throwing rocks at squirrels. He screwed up his face when he saw me.
“Hey! Who are you?”
So much for military discipline, I thought, but answered him. “I’m a replacement.”
“That’s good. We’ve had a lot killed or dead.”
“I can only imagine. Where’s the commanding officer?”
“That would be Captain Simmons. He’s in the tent at the end of the row. Do you like squirrel?”
“Sure.”
“I’ll kill you one and we can eat it.”
“That would be great! I’m sure I’ll see you later.”
“Sure thing.” I turned to walk away, thinking the squirrels were safe, when I thought of something.
“Did you ever think about using a sling to kill squirrels?”
“No. What’s a sling?”
“It’s a pouch on a length of cord. You put a rock or something similar into the pouch, twirl it around, let the rock go, and BAM! No more Mr. Squirrel.”
“That sounds like it would work.”
“I know it would I have a friend who killed a man with a sling, so killing a squirrel would be no problem.”
He jumped up from the stump. “I have some cord and material in my tent. We’ll have some good eating!”
“Good luck!”
“Thanks, Mister!”
I had to smile at his enthusiasm, but thought again, so much for military discipline.
The boy ran the opposite way from the one I was going, and disappeared over a small hill. I kept going down a line of tents and came to the last one. I stopped and called, “Permission to enter, sir!”
A voice came. “Hold your horses! You literally caught me with my pants down. A man can’t relieve himself around here unless someone comes calling.”
I hadn’t come at t a good time, I could tell. “Sorry sir. I didn’t know what you were doing.”
“Some enlisted think we don’t have to do this, but we’re like everybody else. I’ll be right with you.”
I smiled and waited a few minutes. A short, stocky captain emerged from the tent. I saluted and said, “Corporal Dillard reporting for duty, sir!”
He halfway returned the salute. “I’m Simmons, as I’m sure that no-count drummer boy told you. He’d rather hunt that do anything else, but he’s no good at it. It would be one thing if he killed a few animals, but that’s not going to happen.”
That’s going to change, I thought, and I didn’t know if it were for the good or not.
He picked up a piece of paper and looked at it. “I see you have experience as an observer in balloons. Fortunately or unfortunately for you, we don’t have any, and if we did, it wouldn’t matter since we’re going into winter camp. No one will do much of anything for months except drink and fight. It’s another kind of war that we have, except it’s with ourselves. I almost would rather not have it, but the troops would hang me.”
“Yessir,” I said.
“‘Yessir’ what? You’d rather have winter camp or you’d like to hang me?”
“Well, no,” I sputtered. “I hardly know you, so I don’t want to hang you.”
“That’s good. There are those who would.”
Now I wonder what than means, I mused.
“All right. You probably talked to the sergeant when you came in, but I’m going to have to send you back to him. He’ll tell you where you’ll be billeted. If you can what we have billets. Any questions for me?”
“No, sir.”
He sighed. “Well, thank God for that, because I don’t have that many answers. You’re dismissed, Corporal.” He snapped off a salute, possibly to make up for his earlier half-hearted effort.
I returned his salute and went back to the sergeant, who told me I would be staying in the twentieth tent down from his. I walked back down there, counting the tents off until I came to the right one.
“New posting,” I called.
“Come on in,” a voice replied, and I thought it familiar. I went into the tent and saw a soldier sitting on a bed with his back to me.
“I’m Corporal Caleb Dillard, and I’m new.”
He turned around and said, “Not to me, you’re not.” It was then I saw it was Adolphus, and a more welcome sight in my life I had not seen, with the exception of Laurel, of course.
I rushed over to him and we embraced like brothers, which in a sense we were.
“I am so glad to see you,” he said. “I thought I never would behold you face again.”
“I’m in a transport of happiness to be with you. But I must tell you, I did see you about a week ago.”
He looked puzzled. “I’m sure you haven’t been here, and I haven’t seen you. How did you see me?”
“By looking across the river.”
“The Rappahannock?”
“Yes. I was with a Northern balloon outfit and saw you through my binoculars when we were aloft.”
“What were you doing in a Northern balloon and how—” he started, but caught himself. “No matter now. We’ll have plenty of time to talk now, my friend.”
And so we would, and that is how I came to be with Adolphus again, some would say by chance and happenstance, but I would disagree with that. It was God who brought us together once again, and if it was His will, we would stay together the whole time we were on this worth, and be with each other eternally after that. If I had to be in a war (which I was), there is no one I would rather be with than my old friend, with whom I had experienced so much.
Our sergeant called from outside the tent. “Corporal Dillard and Corporal Custis!”
“Yes?” we answered together as he came into the tent.
“You have guard duty in half an hour, so be ready! You’ll watch right here, so I’ve made it easy on you! You should be grateful.”
“We are, Sergeant. So very grateful.”
He frowned. “Are you being smart with me?”
I shook my head. “No, Sergeant. We haven’t seen each other in a long time, so being on watch will allow us to talk.”
“Oh. I see. Well, don’t become so involved in your talking that you forget to keep a lookout. Anything happens while you’re out there, I’ll have your hide.”
“Understood, Sergeant,” Adolphus said. “We’ll get ready as soon as you’re finished talking to us.”
“I’m finished. What more did you need to know?”
“Nothing, Sergeant,” we said together.
“That’s what I like to hear. Half an hour, remember?”
“We will, Sergeant,” we chorused together.
“Do the two of you always answer in unison?”
“No—” we started to say, and then we laughed. Adolphus spoke for us.
“Sometimes we do, Sergeant, especially when we haven’t see each other for a while.”
The Sergeant scowled. “That’s just damned odd. I’ve never heard of such,” he said, and walked off, muttering to himself.
We watched him go. “I think we confused him,” I told Adolphus.
“Either that or made him upset with us. It was hard to tell.”
“Yes. Well, let’s get ready for what we have to do.”
We quickly made ready and took up our positions along the line. Either the evening was calm and quiet enough that we could hear the voices of the Union pickets across the way, or they were talking more loudly than we were. I suppose that would be the cause: I had no way to compare how strongly they talked as compared to our volume.
“Say, what do you suppose they’re talking about?” I asked Alphonso.
He thought for a minute and then said, “Judging from the tone and unhurried pace of their conversation, I would judge that they’re talking about the same things we are—their chances in this next battle, their families, when the war will be over, that sort of thing.”
“I think you’re right. I have come to believe that we are more alike than different, which makes this war even more difficult to understand.”
“I think you’re right. It’s almost as if we’re making a start toward a time when the war is over, and that bodes well for us and for the country.”
“I pray that may be so.”
“And I add my prayers to yours.
We kept our watch through our time without seeing or hearing anything until it was our turn to be relieved. This has worked out well, I thought as we came back into the tent. We would need all the sleep we could get for the next day. And then we’ll see what else happens.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Diamond Hope, Part 18

 

Chapter Eighteen
More of the Same
September, 1863

Caleb looked at Abner’s face lit by the camp fire. “You seem awful serious,” he said. “Is anything wrong?”
Abner shook his head. “Just the ordinary. I miss my wife and child, just like you.”
Caleb nodded. “I know what you mean.” He sat silently for a moment, then asked, “When do you think we’ll go into winter camp?”
“I don’t know, but we’re doing about as much right now as we do in winter camp.”
“I guess we’ll have to see. Look. Here comes the captain.”
As the portly soldier neared them, Caleb and Abner started to get to their feet so they could salute, but Osteen motioned to them to stay seated. “At ease, men. I have some news you might like to hear.”
“We’re going home?” Abner guessed.
“You’re funny, lieutenant.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“No, no one is going home until this thing is over. We are going into winter camp early, though. Nothing’s happening on both sides, and nothing’s likely to, so you can stow your balloon after this tomorrow.”
“That’s good news, I guess,” I said.
“What do you mean, ‘I guess’?”
“I mean it’s hard to find something to do, so some fellows gamble and get into fights and others just fight because they’re bored.”
“I don’t know what I can do about it?”
“Let me ask you a question, sir. Have you ever heard of baseball?”
“Yes, I’ve heard of it. It’s a game played with a ball and a stick of some sort, and the players run around after they strike the ball, right?”
“Uh, that’s the basic idea. What would you think of us organizing some games? I know how to play, and I’m sure there are others.”
‘Fine with me. I don’t see much point in such a game, but go ahead and organize it. Just as long as you don’t get into a game and run and keep running. I hear you’re prone to that.”
“Yessir. I had my reasons.”
“I’m sure you did, Dillard. Now, do what you have to to put the balloon away after tomorrow’s ascension.” He walked off.
“Come on, Abner,” I said. You heard the man. He’s such a good officer, he doesn’t realize that we have sergeants to put the balloon away.”
“That would require that he came out of his tent and walk to where the balloons are. That would be too much effort for him, which is why he looks the way he does.” Abner stood up “Let’s go supervise some sergeants. I guess we have to do what we have to do.”
I stood up. “I’m with you. I can watch other people work all day.”
“From the looks of you, you’ve done some work in your time.”
“A little, here and there.”
“I don’t believe that.”
Abner and I talked a while longer, and then went to bed. My last thought before I fell asleep was that the next day might be the last one for balloon duty for a while.
***

The next morning, we climbed back into the basket and motioned to the ground crew to let us rise. The day was clear and sunny, so we could see about as far as we ever could. Once we were at about 10,000 feet, of course we started scanning the area across the river.
After half an hour of this, Abner asked, “You seen anything yet?”
“Nope. Just a bunch of ugly soldiers.”
“Me, too. They’re probably saying the same thing about us.” The Confederates had balloons as well, although fewer in number and not as well made. In fact, they looked downright shabby. I wouldn’t want to go anywhere in one of them.
We were just about to ask to be let down when I looked around one last time and saw a soldier who looked familiar. I couldn’t tell if it were someone I actually knew for sure until he moved, and then I could tell from his gait that it was Adolphus! I hadn’t seen him for so long, and I wished I could cross the river and catch up with him. Of course, I couldn’t, but I knew where he was, and I might somehow have a chance to talk with him. Stranger things had happened to me. I would have to see what happened.
We called to the ground crew to pull us down, and I was happy to think that was the end of balloon duty, at least until next spring when I hoped I might be doing something else. In the meantime, I had a baseball league I needed to organize, and I enjoyed the very thought of that. It had been a long time since I had held a baseball in my hand.
The basket bumped back to earth and we climbed out. “Well, we’re done with that for a while,” I told Abner.
“I certainly hope so. If I had to do it again, I’d fall asleep and go over the side.”
“I wouldn’t let you.”
“How? You’d be asleep yourself!”
We had a good laugh at that and then started back toward our tent. We would have to put together more substantial shelter before the weather turned cold for good, but we had time. Most soldiers built crude shelters which, drafty as they were, afforded more protection from the elements than a tent did. During winter camp, we could relax, read, catch up on our letter writing and spend hours talking to each other. It promised to be a calm and tranquil period. At least it had before.
We were about halfway back to our tent when Abner grabbed my arm. “Look!”
“What is it?”
“Isn’t that the carriage of that woman who has mistreated you so badly?”
I looked. “I’m afraid so. I wonder what she wants this time.”
“Nothing good, I’m sure.”
The carriage bumped over the rough ground toward us, and stopped when it was close enough for us to see Eleanor was inside. The door opened.
“I’ll leave you here,” I told Abner. “If I never see you again, it has been a pleasure.”
“Same here, but I hope we’ll meet again soon.”
I stepped up into the cabin, thinking that Abner was a good man.
Eleanor stared at me for a moment. Her eyes shone with malice or hate or disappointment. It was hard to tell what she was thinking. “We’re going to take a little trip,” she said.
“Really? Where are we going?”
“You’ll find out when you get there.”
“Always have to be a mystery, don’t you?”
“Yes. It is…necessary.”
“I bet.”
We rode in silence for about half and hour, and then she said, “You are a disappointment to me.”
“I’m sure.”
“Yes, you have gathered no military intelligence to speak of, and you have run off several times and I had no idea where you were.”
I shrugged.
“Have you nothing to say?”
I sat for a moment. “If you expect me to apologize, you’re wrong. You have held me in captivity, separated me from my wife and son, and forced me to betray my oath to the Confederacy. I will never apologize to you.”
This seemed to deflate her, for some reason. “Very well,” she said. “I will tell you where we are going.”
“I’m all ears.”
“You’re sarcastic. That is what you are. But it doesn’t matter. We are going to my mansion where we will dine, and then you will be free to do as you wish.”
“What about the spying?”
“As I said, that has been of little to no use to me. And the reason for it has changed. My brother was freed from prison through the efforts of none other than Abraham Lincoln.”
I was taken aback. I knew Elanor was rich and well-connected, but I didn’t know her connections extended to the White House. No wonder she ended up being able to find me, no matter where I had gone.
“Well, I am glad for your brother. I know what it is to be in prison.”
“Have you no word of gratitude for me?”
“No. Absolutely not.”
“Well, you are difficult.”
“Yes, I am.”
We rode in silence, and, exhausted by being in a balloon on a battlefield, I fell asleep and slept for what I judged to be two hours. Eleanor had also drifted off, and sat with her head on my shoulder, whether deliberately or as a result of relaxation I could not tell. I moved her head off as gently as I could, but I awoke her.
“Why did you do that?”
“I am a married man.”
“And your wife is not here.”
“Do you not understand the importance of vows?”
“They may be changed or ignored.”
“Not by me.”
We rode on, and came to Georgetown about eleven at night. The maid fixed a small meal, and we ate in silence. “A room has been prepared for you,” Eleanor said. “There you may rest undisturbed.”
“I am grateful for that.”
“It is good to hear you say so. I was beginning to think there was not an ounce of gratitude in your heart.”
“There is when it is warranted. Good night.”
I went up, changed into a gown that was laid on the bed and, in spite of having had my nap earlier that day, soon fell dead asleep.
I was awakened in the middle of the night by a sense that someone was in the room with me. From the light of the street lights, I saw that it was Eleanor, wearing a sheer gown that revealed far more than I was willing to see. “What are you doing?” I asked her.
She sat on the side of the bed. “This is our last chance to be together. I hope you won’t waste it.” She bent over to kiss me, but I jumped out of bed and stood beside it, looking down at her.
“You will not accept my favors? No one will know.”
“I will. God will.”
She laughed. “So now you are religious.”
“I always have been. You haven’t noticed.”
She turned furious. “Out!” she screamed.
“You want me to leave?”
“Do you speak English?”
“Yes, I do. I was just making sure you want to put me out in the middle of the night without shelter or means of going anywhere.”
“You can walk. You did that every time you left me before.”
Why am I arguing? This is what I want, I thought. Why be with her one moment longer?
“I’m leaving.”
She softened. “Good-bye, Caleb. Perhaps we will meet again.”
“The only way that could happen is if I went to Hell, and I have no intention of doing that. You, however, will be there in the deepest, darkest part.”
Her face turned into a mask of fury again. “Out of my sight!” she stormed, and left the room, from where I could hear her slamming doors. I dressed quickly, and just as quickly went down the steps and into the street.
I was not upset. For the first time in years I was truly free, and my heart rejoiced. I knew I would have to walk a long way to rejoin my regiment, but it occurred to me that I could keep walking and be with the Confederate side, where I had started. I struck off toward the canal, a full moon lighting my way.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized