Diamond Resolution

Chapter 30

Towards Home

April, 1865

We were far enough west that we could walk up the Valley to Winchester and then home. Andrew, Hiram and I had been this way before, and I wondered if some of the people we had met then would still be there, if they were alive. With war, I could not tell, but knew we would be able to find out as we passed through each town.

Adolphus walked beside me for a while. “I know you have been this way before, and I am eager to meet the people and see the places you have spoken of.”

“Yes, we will do that, but seeing those we met might not be possible, war being what it is.”

“I will pray that they are still there and doing well.”

“Are you used to so much walking?”

“That is an odd question to ask a soldier. In the past four years I have walked more than I have in my life before the war. So, yes, going this far will not be difficult for me at all.”

“I am pleased to hear that.”

We walked in silence for a while, and then Adolphus asked, “Have you thought more about the school we talked about?”

“Yes, and I have my mind set on it. We shall have to let Laurel know our plans, of course, but I know her well enough to be sure that she will be all in favor of it and even an enthusiastic support of what we plan to do.”

“You know her best.”

“I suppose I do, and I am most eager to see her again. Is there anyone you would wish to communicate with?”

“As I told you, there is no one, but our group has become my family, so I feel little pain at my loss.”

So, gathered together, we set off for the west, knowing that soon we would turn north to follow the Valley. We were not that far from Lynchburg, and so we made our way there, thinking that we could buy what we needed from the same story that I had gone to with Hiram, Andrew, Laurel and little Caleb.

We came to the city and followed the street that should have led to the store, but when we go there, we saw that the store had been burned, by who knows who. An old man was sitting on a log in front of what had been the store.

“Howdy,” he said as we walked up.

“Hello,” I answered. “What happened to the store?”

“Can’t you see? It got all burnt up.”

“I meant, who did it?”

“That isn’t what you asked.”

“I just did.”

“It was some local vigilantes. Said they didn’t want it to fall into Yankee hands.” He chuckled. “They got fooled.”

“Do you know a place where we can resupply?”

“Not for 30 miles. You go up the Valley to a little town. You’ll know it when you get there. There ain’t nothing else around it for miles.”

“Thank you for that information.”

“You needed it and I gave it to you. It’s as simple as that. Say, why’d you boys quit? Why didn’t you get into the woods and continue the battle from there?”

“General Lee asked us not to.”

The old man spat on the ground. “Lee! He’s the reason we lost this war!”

“How can you say that? He was a fine general.”

“If he was so fine, why are you here and not off fighting some place?”

“In any case, he’s a fine man. Losing can’t take that away from him.”

“Maybe so, but a different general could have done better.”

I didn’t want to argue any more with him, so I tipped my cap and said, “Thank you for the information. How do you sustain yourself?”

“Oh, I have my ways.” He said this in such a way that I didn’t want to know any more about the subject. And so we pressed on.

Adolphus walked beside me. “Pleasant character, wasn’t he?”

“Oh, he didn’t bother me. He’s been through a lot and it looked like he didn’t have a lot of people he could talk to, if any. It’s remarkable he can still get along by himself.”

“That’s true. I hope he’ll be all right.”

“So do I.”

We walked along in silence for a while, and then Adolphus said, “How will we get supplied?”

“The old man said there’s a store about thirty miles away. We have provisions enough to tide us over until we can get there.”

“Yes. We should be there early tomorrow. I hope it’s still standing and that there’s something left.”

“Yes, but didn’t Jackson ravage the Valley?”

“He did, but that was years ago. They should have had time to recover.”

“I will pray that they have.”

We walked on in silence. I am praying for the same thing, I thought. May it all be so.

 

 

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Diamond Resolution

Chapter 29

Down a Long Slope

April, 1865

And so the war continued, with daily carnage displayed against a bright and beautiful landscape. There were times I thought I could not stand the difference any longer and should leave, but I realized that leaving fewer of us behind would be dangerous . And so, I stayed with my comrades. As I have said before, I was fighting for them more than for a cause or principle. I would add to this that I also fought for my family. As Adolphus would say, that much was axiomatic.

Finally we were beaten back nearly to Appomattox Court House. Both armies stopped to rest near there, and both considered what to do next. There were rumors of a large meeting with Lee and his generals present, and word was they were discussing a surrender. Some men wept at these stories while others cheered, but all of us considered that what we were hearing were rumors only, and possibly not near the truth. All we could do was wait and see what happened next.

A day I shall remember for as long as I lived dawned bright and clear. I was standing on the ramparts so I observed this celestial phenomenon first hand. Adolphus joined me. “The captain’s being called to a big meeting of all officers his grade and above. I think this might be it.”

“I certainly hope so. I take it we’ll find out when he gets back?”

“Yes. That would be the ticket.”

We stood there silently in the quiet. “One thing for sure, the Federals aren’t making any noise.”

“That’s another good sign.”

We were out for about an hour when we heard a murmur from behind our lines. We could not leave our posts, but Andrew came along to join us. “It’s official,” he said. “The captain said Lee will surrender this afternoon, and that’s straight from his mouth. The man don’t lie.”

For some reason, Adolphus and I took off our hats, as if we were standing on the street when a funeral came by. In a sense, we had just heard about the death of the Confederacy, so what we did seemed entirely appropriate. Much later on, we learned there were some at the meeting who wanted to fade into the woods to the west of us and conduct guerrilla operations for as long as they could, but Lee would have none of that. I for one, and many others, were glad for his words.

Our relief came along an hour later, although I do not know why. With the news, we knew there would be no attacks, but old habits die hard, I suppose. We camp back to our camp and sat on our blankets. Andrew came along again and said, “Come on and hurry you! Lee’s going to go by not too far from here.”

We went about a quarter mile back and found the rest of the army lining the dirt road leading to the court house. We waited half an hour and then Lee came along. Men pressed up to him, touching his horse and calling out to him, “We’ll never forget you, General. We’re beat but not defeated.”

I don’t know what that meant, but as he went by, Lee looked right at me and touched the brim of his hat. His face was clouded with sorrow, but he kept control of his emotions. How he did so I do not know. I gave him my best salute and watched as he continued to ride along the road, swarmed by troops. At last he went around a curve and so was lost to our sight.

Adolphus, Andrew, Hiram (who had joined us) and I stood still for a moment and then, with sighs, turned back to our camp. “Well, that’s that,” I said. “What now?”

“We wait to hear the terms of surrender. I pray that Grant will be generous.”

“As do I.”

We walked back to our campsite and lay down to try to sleep, but it proved elusive under the circumstances. After about an hour, the captain came by and wearily climbed off his horse. We all gathered round. “It’s official,” he said. “We’re beat. We’re constrained to surrender our arms, return home, and agree not to take up arms against the United States again. Grant’s allowing of us who own our own horses to keep them so that we can tend our farms and plant our crops.” He smiled. “I don’t think most of you own horses, so that provision won’t apply, but you can go home. You do so with my thanks for your service and admiration of your courage. As you go, I pray that God will watch over you, both now and evermore.”

At these words, some of us wept while others simply stared at the captain. Finally, Adolphus roused himself and shouted, “Three cheers for the captain! Hip, hip!”

“Hooray!” we responded.

“Hip, hip!”

“Hooray! from the collective voices.

“Hip, hip!”

“Hooray!”

And with that it was really, finally over. All around me I saw troops shaking hands and putting their arms around each other’s shoulders. Along with Adolphus, Hiram and Andrew, I gathered my supplies, and we set out on our long walk home. This time we needed no permission, and we walked without fear of arrest. This had been a long time coming, and I found it hard to believe it.

 

 

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Diamond Resolution

Chapter 28

More’s the Matter

April, 1865

“Tell me again what Lee said.” Adolphus leaned back in the chair he had gotten from somewhere while I was gone. I would have to find out how he came about it.

“In so many words, he believes that the war will not last much longer, but he is troubled by what might happen afterwards.”

Adolphus nodded. “He could be tried for treason and, if found guilty, would be hanged, along with some others.”

“That seems extreme,” I offered.

“It is, but it is what the law requires. We should pray that his life be spared.

“That we can do. Do you think Lincoln might offer him a pardon if he is sentenced?”

Adolphus thought for a moment. “It is difficult to say. Lincoln has seen contention with the members of his own part, and there are those who are thirsty for the enemy’s blood, even symbolically.”

“I suppose we shall see what happens.”

“Yes, with this and many other things.”

We each withdrew into our own thoughts for a few minutes and then I said, “Was there any action while I was away?”

Adolphus shook his head. “No, none, and that worries me in a different way. I fear they are planning something much like the tunneling campaign. But, as we have said so many times, we shall see.”

“Yes, we will.”

That afternoon I stood guard duty and heard nothing the whole time I was there. I came back, had something to eat (and found myself wishing I had some of the water Lee had given me) and then sat around the fire, looking into its depths. I found myself wondering if Laurel was doing the same thing at this time. It would have been cold enough to have had a fire where she was, and I wondered further if she were thinking of me. She said so in her letters though, so it must be so. Every day I thanked God for a beautiful and faithful wife. Sometimes during my service I had been there when other poor soldiers opened letters from their wives saying that they could no longer be married to them and that they were leaving. The poor wretches were so broken and upset I feared for their sanity if not their lives, and no one could console them. Indeed, some of them did take their own lives, and that was harder to bear than their being killed on the battlefield.

I sat for a while enjoying the fire and distressed at times by other thoughts. Adolphus came up and sat with me for a while. I noticed he did not have his chair.

“What happened to your chair?”

“A sergeant took it. Said the captain needed it, but I know our captain, and if he knew the origin of the furniture, he would have it returned to me. So I imagine there is a sergeant who sits comfortably tonight.”

“Yes. It is unfortunate we have such men, but he is not the worst.”

“Well I know. I do not see how such men live with themselves.”

We sat a while longer, and then Adolphus said, “I observe on your face a pensive look. Is anything the matter?”

I shook my head. “No, I was musing on what a good and faithful wife I have and how she is not like others who abandon their husbands by means of a letter. I think that is one of the cruelest acts known to man, but I thank God I do not have to endure it.”

Adolphus nodded. “You are indeed fortunate. Laurel reminds me of the woman in the Bible, of whom it is said in the Book of Proverbs, ‘Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil. She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.’  It says much more, but you see the matter in it. Do you know that passage?”

“I have not your learning in such matters, so I regret that I do not, save for what you have just told me.”

“We shall have to work on that.”

“I would be in favor of such a move.”

“What would you think of starting a school when all this is over?”

“I think you could. I have not the education.”

“Laurel and I could teach you. You learn quickly, so it will take no time to learn what you need to know.”

“Hmmm. I believe I can do that.”

“It’s settled then. We’ll make it our first order of business.”

“But how will that work? You would have to leave your home and stay with us to fulfill our plans.”

“I don’t consider Richmond my home any more. There is too much destruction, and probably my home is gone, and I have such distant relatives left that they are not like relatives to me. So, upon your invitation, I will join you at your home.”

“What you have said is a foregone conclusion. By the grace of God, we will both make our way north when this war ends.”

“Amen,” said Adolphus. “May it be so.”

We sat and talked a while more until dusk settled on the landscape. “We’d best to bed,” Adolphus told me. “We both have early guard duty.”

“Indeed we do. I’m with you.”

We lay down on our blankets and soon were settling toward sleep. This has been quite a day, I thought. It’s not often that a corporal gets to be the commander of his army. With those thoughts, I became lost in sleep.

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Diamond Resolution

Chapter 27

A Fortuitous Meeting

April, 1865

We arose with the dawn, and hearing nothing from the other side, set about readying ourselves for the coming day. We had eaten breakfast and just about finished our preparations when I saw our captain riding toward us. We saluted and he returned it. “Any of you men had any experience riding a horse?”

“No, sir,” replied Alphonso. “We mostly used carriages.”

“We were too poor to have a horse,” Andrew said.

“I’ve never ridden a horse,” I said, “but my parents had a mule, and I rode that sometimes, but never very far. The stubborn thing would stop after about half and mile and refuse to go any further.”

The captain rolled his eyes. “I’m fresh out of orderlies who are about other duties and need someone to take a message to headquarters.”

“I thought you were at headquarters.” Andrew looked puzzled.

“Saints deliver us,” the captain moaned. “Not our headquarters—big headquarters where the generals are. I need the dispatch given to General Lee, and, Dillard, since you have at least some experience with an equine, you’re elected. Here—” he handed me an envelope. Give this personally to the General. He doesn’t need to reply. The information you give him will be all he needs.

He looked serious. “It goes without saying the you will not open or otherwise tamper with the message. The contents are for General Lee’s eyes only. If, God forbid, you are captured, you will eat the message, including the envelope. If the enemy sees this message, our bad situation will get much, much worse. Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good. Take my horse. I’ll find another one somehow. And good luck, solider. Report back to me when you return. I’ll be waiting for you.”

“Yes, sir,” I said again. I too the envelope and, when our captain had dismounted, I climbed into the saddle.

“Being up there befits you,” Adolphus said. “Do you know how to steer?”

“Well, with the mule, I kicked it in the side I wanted to go.”

“Don’t try that with this animal or you’ll end up on the ground.”

“Get going!” the captain shouted, leaving the question about how I was to control the horse up in the air.

I took a guess and pushed on its sides with my feet. The animal sprang forward, and, guessing again, I pulled on one of the reins and the horse turned in that direction. So far, so good, I thought, but I had a ways to go.

Headquarters was about three miles in the rear, so I urged the horse to a trot. I had forgotten to ask his name, but that didn’t seem to make any difference. The day was warm and fair, and I have to confess that I had thoughts of making a right-hand turn and going all the way home where I would stay with Laurel and little Caleb forever. Of course, I did no such thing, but only entertained myself with thoughts of escape and loved ones.

I reached my destination quickly and easily found the tent where General Lee had to be. It was the largest one there, and I made my way up to it. Two sentries stood at the entrance. “Halt!” one cried. “Dismount and state your business!” They both had their rifles trained on me, and I guess that they couldn’t be too careful.“Corporal Caleb Dillard with the Eighth Virginia with an important message for General Lee.” I held up the envelope.

The larger sentry came toward me. “Give it to me. I’ll see that he gets it.”

I shook my head. “I am under strict orders to deliver it into General Lee’s hands personally.”

“Give it to me,” the man insisted.

“Not a chance.”

“We can take it from you.”

“You’ll have to.”

As we stood there glaring at each other, I heard a soft voice. “What seems to be the difficulty here, gentlemen?”

I turned to see that General Lee had come out and was standing behind us. He looked smaller than I thought he would, and very, very tired.

“General Lee, I am under orders to deliver this envelope to you personally.”

He smiled. “And I would wager my sentries don’t want you to do that. They were just doing what I told them to, but won’t you join me inside the tent for a moment?”

I couldn’t speak for a moment but I did nod once. The sentries stood back, giving me an ugly look. I tried not to smile so as not to antagonize them.

The General held the fly open and motioned for me to go in. This is something, I thought. A general showing me in.

I went in and saw about ten ranking officers standing around. They eyed me curiously, but General Lee escorted me to a large table where he indicated that I should sit in a chair near the head. I took my seat, as did he. “Would you like something to drink?” he asked. “All I have to offer is water.”

“Water would be fine, General,” I said. “Thank you.”

An orderly heard what the General had said and brought over a pitcher of water and two glasses on a tray. He poured both glasses full. As I took it from him, I thought, I bet this is spring water. My first taste told me it was.

After I drank, I offered the envelope to the General. He took it and bowed slightly. “Thank you. I have been waiting for this.”

“You are welcome, sir. And thank you for the water. It’s much better than what we have to drink.”

Lee opened the envelope and read quickly down the page. He frowned when he had finished and indicated that one of the colonels should come over. He conferred with the officer for a moment, and then the colonel took the letter and went off.

“I’m sure you understand why I cannot share the contents of the letter with you.”

“Certainly, sir.”

He sat back in his chair. “How are you and your comrades getting along?”

“In truth, sir, we are growing weary of retreating and having to build new earthworks. And it seems to us that the end of the war is drawing near with bad consequences for us.”

He put on a melancholy look. “That is what I believe, although I have told no one, although I think that will become clear to everyone shortly. I am of the opinion that we cannot last much longer than a couple of weeks. Then we shall have to see what happens.”

He stood up, as did I. “Thank you again for delivering the message. And my God protect you and all the troops. I must be off on some business related to the letter.”

“You are welcome, sir.” I stood at attention and saluted. He did the same thing, even though he didn’t have to.

I went out of the tent, reclaimed my horse and rode off, headed for the front line. I took my time, enjoying the day and not being in anybody’s line of fire. The flowering trees and flowers seemed to welcome me as I went along, and I thought how I would share my little mission with my fellows. Surely they would be interested that Lee felt the war would not last much longer, and that would make them glad.

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Diamond Resolution

Chapter 26

A Letter to Laurel

April, 1865

April1, 1865

My dearest love and my wife,

I am writing this sitting in a ditch that we dug to better protect ourselves. I am well, as are Adolphus, Andrew and Hiram. They continue the same as we await another attack. It is inevitable, as, so it seems, our ultimate defeat. That is just a matter of time, and I will be glad to not have to fight any more and to return to you, my beloved, and to our son. I miss you both dearly, and long to be with you.

My plan is to hide this letter on my person when I have finished it.That way, if they worse happens and I am killed, I pray that someone will discover these thoughts and make sure that they are sent to you. Be assured that if I die, my last thoughts will be of the both of you. I assuredly will see you in Heaven, not out of any merit that I possess, but only through the suffering and death of our Savior Jesus Christ.

I had a vision in which I saw Heaven and the angels and our Lord himself. There was no fear in this, but rather a calm assurance that it is so. I was told that it was not my time to die yet and that I had many other things to do before that final sleep. I take this to mean that perhaps I will see you again, but no one knows the hours of his death. Such knowledge is vouchsafed to the Father , who lives and reigns forever.

I know that you believe and understand all this far better than I do, but I want to assure you of my belief, world without end, amen.

I know that you have the garden in, and pray there will be sufficient rain and that the sun will not bake the soil. I have a feeling that I will be there to help you with the harvest. This I join you in praying for most devoutly.

I suppose it is time now for me to rest so that I may assume my guard duty in a couple of hours. I think of you often and have a love for you so deep and strong I can scarcely believe it is mine. Be well, my dearest Laurel, and know that I am yours in live and in death.

I love you.

Your Caleb

I finished the letter and read it over once, finding that tears welled from my eyes as I looked over my tender thoughts. I wiped my eyes with my bandanna. Adolphus observed my actions and asked, “Have you written to Laurel?”

“Yes, indeed. How did you know?”

“There’s no mistaking the deep emotion that you were feeling. I trust that you commended all of us to her.”

“That I did, and right gladly, but now I believe I will lie down so as to be well-rested for my guard duty.”

“I will join you in that.”

We both lay down, but I found little sleep. Thoughts filled my head of all I had experienced in the past four years, of the people I had met and the places I had been. All these were numerous, and I thanked God, in the words of the favorite hymn of Laurel and me, that he had “brought me safe thus far.” And it will be by his grace that He will lead me home.

The time of my rest passed too quickly, and I found myself peering across the field beyond which lay our enemy. There had been no shooting the whole day, and I prayed that would continue, although I knew it could start at any time.

Almost as if someone had read my thoughts, firing started up to our right, and soon spread to the whole area in front of us. “Here they come!” I yelled. “Up! Up and to arms!”

All along the line, my fellow soldiers positioned themselves and started firing at an enemy they could not see for the woods spread before us. After a short while, soldiers in blue burst through the trees, firing as they came. We felled some of them, but more and more kept coming until we had no choice but to retreat again. We tried to fire as we did so, but to little effect.

As I ran, I saw that soldiers were also on both sides of us. They tightened the trap, and about 20 of us were captured. I have had captivity much too often, I thought, but that did not stop me from being taken again.

The bulk of the soldiers continued to press on, leaving ten or so to guard us. They marched us at rifle point to a meadow we had just passed through. There, they out us to work felling trees, which we then trimmed into poles. Some of us dug holes for what would become a palisade, while others took the poles and rammed them into the ground. We finished in short order and then we herded into the place of captivity we had just made. I thought having to do so was was adding insult to injury, but no one asked my opinion.

I soon found Adolphus and Andrew. “Here we all are again,” I said.

“Yes,” Adolphus. “This is all too familiar.”

“Do you think we might be able to escape?”

Adolphus looked around furtively to make sure no one could hear what he had to say. “I managed to hide one of the shovels in a shallow trench by yonder wall. If our captors are none too diligent in their manner, we can tunnel under the stockade and so make our way to freedom.”

“Do we not run the risk of being re-captured?” Andrew looked doubtful.

“We run a risk of all sorts of things just by being here. This risk is well worth the venture since we stand to gain so much.”

“I’m still not sure,” Andrew said.

“You don’t have to come with us,” I said. “We will leave you here and only hope we will see you again. So much could happen to you.”

“I will have to think on it.” Andrew looked down.

“Do so, and you will come to the correct conclusion.” Adolphus spoke with confidence.

We then found a place to sit along one of the walls, near to the hidden shovel. “This way we can keep an eye on it,” Adolphus explained. “And distract anyone who comes near.”

Sure enough, not ten minutes had elapsed when one of the guards decided to take a tour of the interior walls of the palisade. He poked his bayonet into the dirt at several places and, finding nothing, continued his progress. As he came toward us and our secret treasure, Adolphus whispered, “Andrew, I believe you will soon have another manifestation of a terrible intestinal disorder inside your body. Give it your best dramatic effort.”

“Should I act as if I have another tapeworm?”

Adolphus shook his head. “That maybe subject to proof. Your malady should have an unknown cause, incapable here of proof.”

Andrew nodded slightly and then suddenly fell to the ground and writhed in the dirt, moaning all the while. The guard looked at him. “What’s the matter here?”

Adolphus stepped up. “We don’t know, but some of our fellows manifested the same symptoms last night before the attack, and some among us said that it was highly contagious. I would stay away if I were you.”

I saw fear in the guard’s eyes. “I will stay away, but I’ll have to send for someone to remove him, and that won’t be until tomorrow morning.”

Tomorrow morning we’ll be gone if all goes well, I thought. Until then, we’ll have to bide our times and hope another guard, one who is more perceptive, doesn’t discover our shoulder.

We were given hardtack and brackish water for our evening meal. One fellow next to us said, “Don’t you have anything else? This had worms in it and the water is undrinkable.”

The soldier dealing out the food straightened up. “I’m so sorry that the banquet we had ordered for you has been delayed. Perhaps it will be here tomorrow.”

The soldier who made the complaint said something to the server that I couldn’t hear, but the Yankee took the pot that the hardtack was in and hit the complainer in the head. He fell over, insensate.

“You didn’t have to do that,” Adolphus.

“You didn’t hear what he said to me.”

“Whatever it was, it didn’t warrant striking him with such force.”

The soldier came over to us. “I’ll strike all of you as hard as I can if you don’t be quiet.”

We said nothing more to him, and he went along his way.

“When do we make our attempt?” Andrew whispered when no one was near.

“There’s a new moon tonight which will give little light, so we should start digging with that appears. I have noted that our guards remain outside unless they come in for a purpose, and I do not think they will have much occasion to do so all night. That should give us plenty of time to accomplish our deed.”

Our guards did come in and pass out blankets. The one who struck our fellow came by. “See how well we treat you. Of course, if I had my way, I shoot everyone of you disloyal, reprehensible, traitorous vermin.”

“It is well that you have neither the sense not the aptitude to make those decisions, else we should have a hard time of it.” Adolphus favored the man with a defiant look. He came over and clipped Adolphus in the head and my friend fell over onto the grass.

I went over to him. “Have you no other way of controlling us?” I cried. We are enemies, yes, but once we were countrymen and will be again soon.”

“Animals are not my countrymen,” spat out the soldier, and went his way.

I raised Adolphus’ head. “Would you like a drink of water?”

He shook his head. “I would rather die of thirst than drink that foul stuff again.”

“Tomorrow, after our escape, we can drink the dew from the grass.” Andrew looked hopeful.

“That is a long time to wait,” I mused.

“Nonetheless, it is our best hope.”

A few minutes later, the guards came back in. “We require that you be quiet during the night. Whether you sleep or not is your business. Anyone attempting to escape will be shot without warning. If you do escape, you will be surrounded by our troops, so don’t try anything.”

We received these words in silence, and then for our part made as if we were preparing for sleep. The guards left us alone and, according to their own offices, would not disturb us as long as we kept quiet. We remained lying down for what must have an hour but which seemed an eternity as we listened for the sounds of anyone coming in. No one did, and Adolphus raised himself up on one elbow.

“I believe it is time to begin digging.”

“I agree,” I said, and the three of us crawled over to where our shovel lay buried. Fortunately, our fellow prisoners slept soundly and so took no notice of our activity. We excavated the shovel and, choosing a less populated section of the fence, began digging, as quietly as possible. Fortunately, the dirt was loose from the excavation done by the Federals, so they helped us in spite of themselves.

“We won’t need much,” Adolphus whispered as Andrew dug. “Just enough for us to squeeze out.”

“Indeed,” I replied. “For once I am glad that we eat so poorly. If we had eaten copious amounts of rich food, we would never be able to excavate a hole big enough in the time we have.”

We spoke no more until Andrew had dug a hole sufficiently large for us, and then he squeezed through. “It’s fine,” he whispered. “Come on out.”

Adolphus and I followed him, and found ourselves not ten yards from some dense woods.

“This will provide excellent cover,” Adolphus noted, and we slithered on our stomachs to the first of the trees. Once there, we stood up and, stepping carefully, made progress more deeply into the copse. We went in about thirty yards, and Adolphus said, “Let’s run!” So it was that we went as fast as coursers through the dim moonlight.

We ran hard until we had to pause to catch our breath and then, figuring we were far enough from the enclosure, stopped and rested with our hands on our knees.

“I believe we have gotten cleanly away,” Andrew said. “I hear no alarms or other noise.”

“I hear nothing myself,” Adolphus added. After a short rest, we resumed running.

After a short while, Adolphus called us to a halt. “If I remember correctly, we are about to approach our lines. We must proceed carefully because of the risk of being shot if we come upon them in haste.”

We made our way carefully through the underbrush until we came upon an area that had been trampled and that still had the smell of gunpowder in the air.

“I believe we are nearly there. Slowly, now.”

We inched along until Andrew called softly, “Stop. I hear voices.” Although he was only several years younger than I, his hearing was much better than mine.

We stopped, and Adolphus said, “If we are at the lines, we’d best hold up our hands as we walk forward. They’ll know someone is surrendering, and when we get close enough, they’ll see we’re on the same side. But we have to be careful.”

As Adolphus advised, we raised ours hands and walked slowly forward. We had gone about a hundred yards when a voice came: “Halt! What unit are you with?”

“The Eighth Virginia. We were captured last night and put in a stockade, but we escaped.”

“Advance and be recognized. And if you’re not who you say you are, I’ll blow your head off.”

We came forward slowly when another command came. “Halt. Let me get a look at you.” A few seconds elapsed, and then the speaker said, “What is the name of General Lee’s horse?”

“It’s Traveller,” Adolphus answered.

“Everyone knows that. What kind is horse is he?”

“He’s a grey American Saddlebred, about 16 hands tall.”

“Come forward. My offer to separate you from your head is still good.”

We crept forward until the voice came again. “Stop there. Let me look at you.” I could see the glint of moonlight off binoculars.” There was a few seconds’ wait, and then, “All right. You look all right to me. Come ahead and welcome.”

We went weak with relief but managed to walk the rest of the way to the ramparts and climb over it. There a rough-looking sergeant shook our hands. “It’s good to see you boys! You know we need every man we can get. And sorry I put you through all that—we just can’t be too careful.”

“We understand,” Adolphus said. “We’re glad to be here.”

“How’d you boys escape?”

“We found a shovel inside the stockade the Yankees built that had been left during construction. We buried it to hide it, and when the time was right, we dug a hole under the fence and went out that way.”

“And no one heard you?”

“We wouldn’t be standing here if they did.”

“Yes, excuse me. That was an ingenious way to get out.”

Adolphus shrugged. “We just made use of the tool we found and the opportunity that we had. Say, can we get something to eat? They didn’t feed us very well.”

“We have salt pork. You can have some of that.”

“Thank you. What about something to drink?”

“One of the boys discovered a spring, and we filled our canteens. You’re welcome to some of that.”

Spring water! I thought. That will taste like wine compared to the slop we had to drink last night. Then I smiled at myself for comparing the water to wine. I had never had a drop of alcohol, not even wine, so I had no idea what it tasted like. But I’ve heard from those who do imbibe that it is wonderful.

We went over and helped ourselves to the pork and water. “Even the pork tastes good,” Adolphus said.

“Adolphus, something is wrong with your taste mechanism,” I said. “It is the same as always. The water, though, is like the drink of the gods.”

“I was going to say it tasted like the finest wine to me.”

“I cannot contest you on that, for I take no alcohol.”

“You must try some sometime.”

“No need of that. I have the water.”

The sergeant came back to us. “Come with me. I’ll show you where you can get a little sleep.”

We followed him to an area in the back of the palisade. We lay down, and I do not know about the others, but I fell asleep and slept until the sun came up into my eyes. We were lucky again to have escaped, I think, but I wondered what lay ahead.

 

 

 

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Diamond Resolution

Chapter 25

Return and Return

March, 1865

The attack came a few minutes later, and I was busy doing what I could to repel it, along with my fellows. We fired like madmen for about ten minutes when it became clear that we would have to fall back again, and so we did, dodging behind trees, reloading and firing in the frenzy. And yet they came on and still we retreated. It looked like it was going to be the same old story, and it was.

We went through the day, falling back and doing our best to resist. All we could do, though, was retreat, and as the sun set, we were a mile or more behind our previous position. As the firing drew to a scattered close, we flopped down on the ground to rest.

“Adolphus,” I said, “I am heartily sick of working so hard and having less than nothing to show for it.”

“Cheer up, lad. You’re still alive in spite of their best efforts.”

“Sometimes I wish I weren’t so I would have to go through this again.”

We had our usual dinner, and then, under a kind of informal and understood truce, gathered our wounded and dead. Orderlies appeared to take the wounded away, while the dead were buried by those they fought beside only hours and minutes ago. The scene was tragic and sobering, not only because of our dead, but for all those on the field who drew breath no more.

Darkness fell, and when I went up on the ramparts to have a look, I saw multiple camp fires as far as I could see. I went back down to tell Adolphus. “There are more camp fires than I could count. Grant must have brought up more troops. I think he’s manufacturing them somewhere.”

“We certainly know they are aware of how to do that. Were you going to tell me about your dream?”

“I don’t know if I said this, but it wasn’t like a dream. It was as if there were a greater, more superior reality than what we experience here. I think it was a vision of the anteroom to heaven. When my experience began, I felt as if I were floating above a grassy surface going up a slight hill. When I came near the top, I saw a large neo-classical building of a marble that was white beyond white, but it did not hurt my eyes to look at it. There were twelve beings of light on a platform who were surrounded by creatures that seemed to me to be purity and light. Then, as I watch, something I can only describe as a kaleidoscope of colors such as I have never seen, have no names for and which gave off a sense of peace, love and joy. I took this emanation as the person of Christ, since it appeared outside the building. I assume God was somewhere within, but I did not see. The single being gave me to understand that my time had not come, that I had to return since I had many things to accomplish. I would have gladly stayed, but I felt myself drawn back down the way I had come. And it was then I woke up.”

Adolphus uncharacteristically asked me nothing as I talked. Even then, he sat silently for several minutes before he spoke. “I have heard similar accounts when I was in seminary. A number of my fellows rejected any kind of divine nature to these accounts, saying they were the product of an over active imagination or suggested by many accounts through out the history of literature and religion. Myself, I had an open mind and was not persuaded to one side or the other until this you have told me. Knowing who you are and the honesty you hold so dear, I am persuaded that you did indeed visit the anteroom of Heaven, and experienced the beings as you have told me.”

“I am right pleased that you believe me. Anything less would have caused my to doubt myself. The question for me is, what do I have left to accomplish so that I may attain the heavenly realm? How shall I treat others so that I might have Heaven’s favor? I have so many questions I cannot give speech them all!”

Adolphus put a hand on my shoulder. “Do as you have done, and you will have your reward. I believe this most earnestly.”

“Thou art kind.”

He smiled. “I am truthful, and a fair judge of men’s characters.”

We rested for a while, and then prepared our defensive position as best we could. I felt it was inevitable that we would have to do so again and again and again until the war was over, but until then we needed to protect ourselves as best we could. We worked silently and, after not too long a time, had our trenches dug and lookouts posted. Andrew took the first period, and I would follow him two hours later.

I lay down and rested as best I could. I thought I should write Laurel a letter, even if there were no mail coming or going. I would secret my letter on my person, so that if something happened to me, someone else could discover it and see that she received it. It was macabre on my part to even think of this, but I thought I owed it to her to have my last thoughts intended for my lovely bride.

It was while thinking such thoughts that I fell asleep and dreamed, not of Heaven, but of her. And in truth the two were one and the same.

 

 

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Diamond Resolution

Chapter 24

I Dreamed I Dwelt in Marble Halls

March, 1865

The dream I spoke of to you earlier was like none that I have experienced. I thought I was moving up a long green hill, and the season seemed to be spring. Around me were trees of all kinds, including some of the flowering variety. I felt comforted and strengthened by the display, for to me it was a reminder of the power of God, and I wonderful if my vision was one of heaven.

I seemed to float above what I took to be grass, although there was a different quality to it. I had the idea that it would never wither or turn brown, but stay fresh eternally.

As I neared the crest of the slope, I saw a large building in the style of classical Greek architecture, made of beautiful white marble. I passed through an opening in the building to find that it was not such a habitation as I had thought, but rather an arena such as might be used for sports or other gatherings. Arrayed on stone seats were all sorts of beings and creatures, indescribable except to say that they were alive and well-disposed to be with me. I floated over to some sort of stage-like area where stood a dozen shining beings, who welcomed me silently to that space. There was an air of expectation in the arena, and I wondered what would happen next.

Some curtains at the rear of the stage parted, and what I can only describe as a kaleidoscope of colors unlike any I had ever seen emerged. There were colors that don’t exist in this life, and others that are impossible to describe. As the colors rotated and shone, I was overcome by a feeling of reverence and peace. This must be God, I thought, and I am dead.

The divine being came toward me and moved into my body. I saw all I had done in my life, and felt no judgement from the being for my mistakes. Then the being came out of me, and I was made to understand that my time was not yet, and I should go back and practice acts of peace and mercy while on this earth. I would return to this state, but not any time soon.

I floated back the way I came, and when I reached the point where I entered the scene, I woke up to find that the dawn was breaking. Adolphus was already up. “Hurry up! Get ready! We’re expecting an attack!”

“Adolphus, I had such a dream.”

“No time for dreams! We need to move!”

“But this was different from any I’ve ever had. And it was more real than reality.”

“I’ll listen when we have time! Move!”

I saw it was no use to argue with him, so I readied myself and took my place behind the ramparts. Maybe this will be the day I re-join the beings, and I would have no regret about that save for leaving my family.

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