Friday, May 4, 2012

April 9, 1865 Appomattox Court House, Virginia There was a house, not a real fancy house, nor not a very plain house, but a nice house. It was not a small house nor a big house either. It had a front porch for sitting and visiting when the mosquitoes would let you. Word was it belonged to a man named McLean: a man that had moved away from Manassas to this remote village to get his family away from the war after a cannon ball ripped through their kitchen. At any other time in the past four years this would have been a great irony. But, not today, the war stopped here. It was a Sunday in April when the soft woods are starting to bud, the hard woods, the oaks and the walnuts would wait until the days were a little longer before their stolid branches would turn green with leaves. Next to the house the hyacinths were beginning to push their blue tops out of the ground, and it wouldn’t be long before the tulips came in. The house yard was just starting to turn from brown to green; that is where it was not worn down by treading. The eyes of sixty thousand men were watching the house knowing that a momentous event was to take place this Palm Sunday. First came General Lee dressed in his finest uniform, a shining saber at his side. He was astride Traveler who was known to every soldier in the Army of Northern Virginia. He stopped and patted Traveler’s neck saying something that only he and the horse could hear. Dismounting he handed the reins to a young Union soldier then gave a perfunctory salute as he courteously removed his hat at the door. The wait continued: sixty thousand men and only a slight murmur here and there. Then out of the Union side came, “Hey, Johnny we sure licked you at Gettysburg”. The tension broke for a moment with cat calls and whistles then grew quiet again. “You had us bested ‘cause you had so many catch up with you that were still running away from Manassas Junction,” came in retort. Cat calls and whistling again. Then it all stopped; General Grant had just ridden up to the house. He dismounted and all could see that his uniform was not clean and his boots were muddy. He removed his hat and went inside followed by his aides. Inside where the son of an Illinois tanner would meet with the son of one of Virginia’s first families to decide the future of the sixty thousand men as well as the rest of the country. Captain Jonathon Jordan sat his horse so he could see over the heads of the men standing two hundred deep. He could see even at this distance the arrival of General Lee and General Grant. He said nothing; thinking only of what it would mean to be the conquered. Would they have to stay in some prison or would they be paroled? And what would it be like at home with the Yankees in charge. Would it be the same, probably not, but how would it be different. He hadn’t heard from his family in over a year. They knew his brother had fallen at Sharpstown, but he wasn’t able to find his body because the Yankees chased them off. He just hoped that some farmer would bury him and say a few words over him. He had heard how this Yankee general, Sheridan, had moved up the valley running off livestock and burning houses, barns, and crops. “I hear they’re gonna let us keep our horses and maybe a sidearm,” he heard from another soldier nearby. “I don’t think they’ll let us keep a rifle or anything like that though,” came from another direction. “I live in the mountains and have to hunt for our food. How am I to do that with a pistol. Never could hit much with it anyway. Just used it to scare the Yankees,” came from behind him. He picked up his reins from the horses neck and turned him and began to maneuver his way through the horses and men. “Hey whar you goin?” came from one soldier that had to move aside for him, “Just need to go back up in the woods for a bit,” he answered. He was asked this question many other times before he reached the end of the men and the beginning of the woods. He rode though the woods in a running walk looking for just the right spot. Seeing a big oak tree that sort of stood in a bunch of blackberry bushes, neither had leaves yet, he turned around he looked to make sure he was out of sight. Riding up he tied his horse’s reins to a bush and took out his saber. Putting the blade in the fork of the tree he pulled until it broke. Then leaving the point of the blade in the tree he began to use the other end to dig beside the tree. When he felt he had a hole big enough he went to his horse and took down a rolled up piece of Yankee tent. He laid it on the ground and unrolled it to see the almost new Spenser rifle along with two bags of cartridges then placed them in the hole. Taking his pistol from the hostler on his belt he looked at it and asked himself if the Yankees would let him keep this; it was a good Union Navy Colt he had taken off a dead Yankee officer at Spotsylvania Court House. He grimaced as he thought back and saw again that the Yankee blown completely in two. It had all stopped for him right at that moment: the war was over; I will fight no more; it’s time for me to go home. He decided right then and there that he would stay with the troop to Lynchburg, but from there he would go home. He had given three years and a brother to the cause: a cause that was finished. That was enough. He placed the pistol with the rifle and threw in a bag of cartridges, rolled it all up and buried it leaving the broken blade in the tree to mark the spot. On the way back he crossed a small creek that was running with good clear water from the snow melt in the mountains. He stopped reached out and pulled the bridle off his horse and let him water off. The east reaching shadows were getting longer when he returned to the waiting men. The officers on the porch and in the yard were standing in small groups talking. The front door was still closed. He asked the time of those around him and one man had a watch; it was nearly four-thirty. He had just settled back in his saddle to wait when the front door opened and an officer stepped out. It was a pensive moment; the officers on the porch and in the yard gathered around. The sixty thousand men made very little noise. When an officer stepped to the edge of the porch and waved a paper the cacophony erupted. He could see the Union band playing in the street in front of the house but could not hear it over the shouting and guns being fired in the air. The southern boys were cheering but not as loud. It was a sad happiness; they had lost but it was over. The officers began to fan out, grey and blue, to find their commanders so the message could be passed down the line. He just waited and watched his eyes tearing up with emotion. He thought of it all: the blood, the blown off arms and legs, the sight of men dying of disease cramped over in pain, and death the sometimes relief, the life ending of so many young men. He asked himself the question that he had asked over and over again, “what makes men do this to each other. Where does it begin, and where does it end.” He had no answer. “Captain Jordan, please come up.” He heard in the distance. Touching his horse with his spurs he began to move through the crowd of men who were spreading to make a path for him. He saw a group of company commanders gathering around his regimental commander. “Here is the message we need you to take to the troops. We for the Lord’s sake don’t want any incidents. These are the conditions of surrender.” He choked when he said the word surrender and his voice broke. It was a full minute before he could begin again. He took up a paper and began to read “’In accordance with the substance of my letter to you of the 8th inst., I propose to receive the surrender of the Army of N. Va. on the following terms, to wit: Rolls of all the officers and men to be made in duplicate. One copy to be given to an officer designated by me, the other to be retained by such officer or officers as you may designate. The officers to give their individual paroles not to take up arms against the Government of the United States until properly exchanged, and each company or regimental commander sign a like parole for the men of their commands. The arms, artillery and public property to be parked and stacked, and turned over to the officer appointed by me to receive them. This will not embrace the side-arms of the officers, nor their private horses or baggage. This done, each officer and man will be allowed to return to their homes, not to be disturbed by United States authority so long as they observe their paroles and the laws in force where they may reside.’ There will be three days time before this is concluded and for that period we will be considered prisoners of war with all the rights and privileges accorded. The Yankees have agreed to give us rations during that period as is only fitting. Gentlemen, you must relay this to your companies in a manner that it will be understood my each man. Warn them that any offense will be dealt with in the most severe manner. Before you go I wish to thank each and every one of you for your service. We have been together, many of us, for a long time and traveled many a mile. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to be your leader and for the rest of my life I will always remember the bravery and loyalty that you demonstrated. Again, thank you. This will be my last order to you, so go and be with your men.’” Jonathon turned his horse and began moving through the crowd looking for his junior officers. As he saw one he beckoned him to join him and the other officers. As they gathered he began to relay the terms of surrender. They all sat on their horses without talking. “Gather ‘round. Here are the conditions of surrender.” He told them what the cornel had read adding that they should find a way to help the enlisted men keep their horses. “Captain, I got a little money saved up. Not much but a little bit. Do you think it’s any good?” His heart sank; the man looked so down trodden, “I doubt if anyone would take any Confederate money now.” Jonathon watched as the men rode through the men milling around. He felt almost sick inside thinking: four years and all those lives for what? The Confederacy is gone and slavery is gone. Seems like such a great price to pay. He spotted a clear spot beside a tree near the line set up to be the barrier. He stepped down loosened his girth slid the saddle off laying it on the ground beside the tree, He pulled the bridle off and stooped down to place a set of hobbles on the front feet. Looking around he saw that there was no grass to eat. He patted the horse on the neck saying softly, “I’ll try and find you something to eat.” They hadn’t had any horse feed for a couple of days except for some dry corn fodder they found in an old vacant barn when out scouting. Some forage but not much nutrients. The horse stood there; his head down relaxed. He knew to rest when he could. Jonathon was about to doze off when he saw another officer leading his horse coming his way. “Cap’n mind if we share the tree with you?” he asked stopping in front of Jonathon. “Sure, but I ain’t a captain anymore, just a prisoner named Jonathon Jordan. Unsaddle your horse and hobble him over there with mine,” he said without getting up. He motioned with his thumb towards where his horse was standing. “Name’s Virgil Cain. Used to be a lieutenant but now I’m just like you a Yankee prisoner.” He put his saddle against the tree, took off his tunic and folded it to make a cushion. Virgil looked to be a couple years younger than Jonathon. He was light in weight from the war, but you could see that he had long straight hard muscles built up from hard work. His hair was longer than he liked it and his beard, not a beard grown and groomed, but only from not shaving , was choppy and uneven. His uniform looked like everyone else tattered and thread bare, and boots were worm completely leaving holes in the soles and vamps. He wore only one spur. Both men leaned back and sat quietly. Virgil was the first to speak, “I hope they come right along with that food they promised us. I ain’t et since day before yesterday. Then it was only some parched corn then.” “Hope they bring some horse feed too. I ain’t got as far to go as some, but I need Luther to carry me.” Turning to look at Virgil he asked, “how far you got to go? I’m just north and west of Staunton. Folks got a place up there we farm and raise horses; not so many saddle horses but work horses. And, my pa will trade some mules once in a while if they come along.” Jonathon caught out of the corner of his eye a wagon loaded with hay and what appeared to be bags of grain. “Look over yonder,” he pointed, “let’s get over there and get some feed before it’s all gone.” He got up and started walking hurriedly towards the wagon. Virgil was already on his feet making big strides. They both returned with their arms full of hay and their hats full of grain. Jonathon led Luther a bit away from Virgil’s horse and dropped the hay and emptied his hat on the ground. Luther started to move over towards Virgil’s horse to fight him for his feed, but Jonathon smacked him with his hat and gruffly spoke, “Here get back over there and behave yourself. You got feed of your own. Don’t be worrying about anybody else’s.” He turned and followed Virgil back to the wagon for more feed. They returned with arms and hats full again. They dropped the hay along with the other. “Better hold off on giving them oats. They ain’t had none in a long time and they might founder.” They dumped the grain under their saddles and covered it up. The wagons with food had just started to pull up, and one was close to Jonathon and Virgil. They came back with a piece of salt pork clutching some hardtack biscuits in each hand. They each took out their knives and started eating without talking. Jonathon was the first to speak, “Damned if this ain’t the first time in a long time that these biscuits don’t have weevils in them.” Broke off another piece of hard tack and asked with a mouth full, “where you from, Virgil?” “East Tennessee, little town of Greenville. My pa has a farm up in the holler. We didn’t go to town much, ‘bout couple times a year was all. We had neighbors and a little school at somebody’s house and one of the mother’s would teach us. So, we didn’t need much. We didn’t have a preacher, but somebody would read from The Book on Sunday, then we’d have a picnic or something. Nice place to live and raise a family. I got a neighbor girl I benna sparkin’. Just hope she’s still there. You can bet on one thing when I get back there I’m stayin’. Ain’t leavin’ them hills for nobody. How ‘bout you?” “Looka yonder. The Yanks are settin’ up sentries. Guess they don’t want us to run off before they finish with us.” He watched as a sergeant marched a squad of soldiers in blue uniforms along the line leaving one off every fifty yards or so. A soldier was placed near Jonathon and Virgil; they were next to the edge of the clearing. “Virgil, let me ask you something.” Jonathon leaned back against this saddle. “Why did you join up. I mean you could have stayed back in those Tennessee hills and just kept on living”. “We knew about the war from gossip, then one day a rider came through telling us that they were forming a company in town. Me and Nathan, my older brother, saw this as an adventure. We could leave the mountains and fight just like some of the stories in the Bible. Nathan was just rearing to go, and I would follow him to the end of the world. He fell at Shiloh on the first day just about the time we lost General Johnson. I buried him that night as best I could on the side of a hill overlooking the little town. We’d only be in ‘bout three months.” His voice began to break; wiping his nose on his sleeve he went on, “Nathan was always the one for takin’ chances. Even as kids he was always getting us in trouble. I didn’t mind taking the whippings; he was my big brother. I got home for just a little while a year and half ago, and told the folks about Nathan. I would rather be gut shot than see that look on my mama’s face again. I thought about just stayin’, but we had the Home Guard: a bunch of cowards to scared and lazy to help out. If you didn’t go back they said you were a deserter and could be shot. One of them was my cousin. He said he couldn’t go because his back hurt him. That’s the same thing he said when there was work to be done. “After that I just kept goin’. One day they asked if any of us could ride and wanted to be in the cavalry, and I said yes. And here I am three years later.” He stopped speaking and sat silently for a moment. “I’ve seen enough for a hundred lifetimes. I have to tell you something: I was going to run off from this one. I was going home.” “I had a brother, name was Robert, only I was the big brother.” Jonathon began. “I lost him at Sharpsburg. He rode runner for Colonel Ashby in Jackson’s Army. We both rode for Colonel Ashby, one of the finest officers I will ever know. He fell at Port Republic not far from our place. “We knew about the war starting, but didn’t give it much thought until one day a horse buyer came by looking for horses. They were forming a cavalry under General Jackson down near Lexington. He had a string of about twenty-five horses already, and Pa sold him five more. He needed help to get the string to Lexington so Robert and me hired on to help him. We made a couple of more stops along the way and had over fifty head when we got to Lexington. “Before he would accept the horses, General Jackson wanted to see each one of them ridden. So. Robert and me spent the next three days riding horses. Some of them were pretty well broke, some were just green, and some were kind of salty. General Jackson refused to take about ten of them so he and the buyer sat down one whole afternoon bargaining. General Jackson was as tough as a dried out boot. Just about evening they struck a deal, but it included Robert and me staying on breaking horses for the army. I said, ‘Whoa back. We didn’t sign on to join the army’. The buyer stepped in and told us not to worry all we needed to do was stay around a top a few out then go home. He said if we didn’t he wouldn’t be able to give us our money. We knew we were being tricked, but we went along anyway. The next day we started riding horses. Now Robert and me were both good horse hands we had been doing it all our lives, but they started running in some big stout horses off the mountains that were as tough as I ever saw. I got bucked off more that first week than I had been bucked off my whole life. We had been there a couple of days when we met Colonel Ashby. He talked to us about how it was necessary for the South to fight off the Yankee invaders. How if they took over they would take away all we had. He was one of the finest gentlemen I will ever know. He talked us into joining the army and riding with him. “The next day the horse buyer stopped by and gave us half the money he owed us and promised to get the other half to us soon. We never saw our money or the buyer again. He did tell us that he would stop by and tell Pa that we had joined the army; at least he did that. They gave us brand new uniforms, boots and all, and we started cavalry training and breaking horses at the same time. Some times that got pretty exciting. “You asked why we joined. I guess the answer is: we just sort of thought it was the right thing to do. After all we were Virginia boys and she was at war, so it was our job to join in and help. “Sure we had slaves. Had two of them. But they weren’t like real slaves; they were mostly like black family members. Walter and Minnie had been around ever since I can remember. My pa said he bought them from a trader when he was young and just startin’ out. They were man and wife but never had any children of their own. We, Robert, me, and my two sisters, were their kids. Minnie was just as much mother to me as my own mother. And, we knew Walter could take a switch to us just like Pa, and he did too. They had a little house out back that Minnie fixed up real nice, and they ate with the family at the same table. One time Minnie was sick and Ma sat up several nights tending her. From time to time we would have other slaves. Pa would buy and sell a few. I never thought if it was right or wrong. It was just the way it was. “Are we fightin’ to keep our slaves. As far as I am concerned our slaves are free and have been for a long time. I realize that our slaves aren’t like the rest of them, but would I fight so some could keep their slaves? No, I wouldn’t. I don’t think it’s worth the price. And I’m not so sure that some folks should own other folks. It just don’t seem right. I guess the war has made me look at life a little different.” “I never saw a slave before the war.” Virgil said. “We had a black man come through one time looking for work. That’s the only one I ever saw. We didn’t have any work for him, but if we had I’m sure that Pa would have hired him and treated him just like a white man. Ma fixed him a little sack of food. So to ask if I would go to war to keep the blacks in slavery, the answer is no, just like you. Would I give up my brother just so some rich white man can keep his money? No to that too. I might fight to protect my family, but that’s about all I would fight for.” The both just sat quietly each contemplating his own life. Jonathon turned to the guard that was just a few yards away. “Hey, Yank, let me ask you a question.” They both turned to see if the guard would respond. He turned and hesitated then walked to where Jonathon and Virgil were sitting under the tree. “What did you say?” He held his rifle across his chest and leaned forward. “Say it again I can’t hear too well. Too much cannon fire.” “I said Yank let me ask you a question,” Jonathon raised his voice. “First thing I ain’t Yank not anymore at least. My names Harold: Harold Davidson. I don’t want to be a Yankee or a Union or anything anymore. I just want to go somewhere and sit, so maybe I can figure this out.” He put the butt of his rifle on the ground. “Well, I guess we’re all in the same pen. This is Virgil Cain and I’m Jonathon Jordan. My question is: where you from?” he paused then added, “Harold.” “From Ohio. Plumb out on the west edge a little town of Dayton. Not many people, and I guess I’m related to most of them in some way or another. Where you boys from, if you don’t mind my asking?” “I’m from Virginia, a little north and west of here, and Virgil is from Tennessee. We’re both wanting to go home.” Jonathon replied. “Why are you here if you don’t mind me asking?” Virgil looked up and asked. “I mean Ohio’s a long ways off, if my mama’s book is right. Did the war get that far that you had to come here to protect your folks?” “Well I’ll tell you.” He began to relax, and talk like someone who wanted to tell his story. “In ’61 word came out that President Lincoln was calling for men to join up and fight the Rebs. They made a big to-do about it in town. My pa has a farm just north of town. They put up a table in front of the store and put big ribbons on it and started taking names. Man said it would only be for ninety days. Me and my two brothers talked it over and since it would only be for three months we would go. So, just after we helped Pa get his crop in the ground, that was ’62, we got our uniforms. They put us in railroad cars and started us east. It was spring but it was still cold riding in them railroad cars. At the first stop we found us a bucket and picked up some coal and made a fire in the car, but it was so smoky you couldn’t hardly breathe. So it was live with the smoke or get cold. We kind of did one then did the other for a while. We had three days rations and some guys ate theirs up just as soon as they got them, so you always had someone asking for food. We got three days rations every four or five days. We spent fourteen days on that train; had to get off and march one time for two days. It was cold but at least we had some fresh air.” “That Yankee cold would have ‘bout killed some of southern boys. We’re not used to that kind of cold. It gets cold down in the mountains where we live, but not that northern cold. I been told about it.” Virgil said. “When we got to Washington they assigned to a big tall tent with ten other guys. They made us march and drill every day. Made us get up ‘bout day light and march till dinner time then we got a break for a while then drilled the rest of the day. I think I know one thing we could out march you rebs, don’t know if we could’ve out fought you, but I know damned well we could out march you. “Our three months ran out, and we were ready to go home when they came around wantin’ to stay another ninety days. Me and my brothers talked it over and decided to stay on a while. The food wasn’t that bad, and we were getting’ paid regular. We were getting fourteen dollars a month. We saved most of our money except for a couple of times we went to see a sportin’ woman and get something special to eat. We didn’t drink no liquor. The Bible says, ‘Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.’ We stayed in Washington all that summer just drillin’ and training, you know how to use a bayonet and all. A couple of times a week they would march us out by a river, and we would practice shootin’ . Then just ‘bout harvest time back home they put us all together along with a bunch of others, and we started marching north. We marched for four straight days across some pretty country, ‘though it was a bit hilly for my taste.” “Flat where you come from?” Virgil was leaning back almost laying down. “I come from the mountains where there ain’t no flat at’all. We got cows with two legs shorter than the others from grazin’ on the side of the mountain.” He looked over at Harold and smiled. “As I was sayin’. We marched quite a way to the north makin’ camp ever night. Then on the fourth night they came around and handed out ammunition and told us not to make camp but sleep on the ground with our rifles beside us. Me and my brothers we all agreed that we would stick together.” He sat down on his haunches and drew back into himself talking but seemingly not talking to anyone, only himself. His eyes were looking a thousand miles away. “Yeh, that’s what we did we agreed we’d stick together and help each other out. After all we was brothers.” He paused and no one said anything there was just a murmur coming from the rest of the men as they lay around. Some had made fires out of the sticks lying around. The sound of the peepers made a background. “Well, we all agreed to stay together, the three of us. It was just about daybreak when we heard rifle shots and cannons go off. We, all three of us, started to get scared. This was real; it wasn’t just practice. We heard that the Eighth Ohio, was being held in reserve. So we just laid there all morning listen’n to the shootin’ goin’ on over the hill. That’s what we did; we just laid there. Then about dinner time they came and got us and marched us over to the bottom of a hill. We couldn’t see over the top, but we could hear a lot of shootin’. I looked around and Bill and Frank were right there beside me just like we planned. “The captain held up his sword and told us to move forward up the hill. We still couldn’t see. As we got to the top we could see that the rebs were down in a ditch of some kind shootin’ over the edge. We couldn’t shoot at them very well but they were a killin’ us. I started to back down the hill and looked over and saw Frank get hit with a cannon shot. He just turned into a red cloud. Just red stuff floating in the air. I ran over and called “Frank, Frank’ but he didn’t call back. I looked all around for him and couldn’t find him. He was just gone. My mama’s baby boy was just gone.” He stopped and looked at Jonathon with a puzzled look. The timbre of his voice changed to almost a pleading howl, “He was just gone. I ran over and started picking up little pieces and putting them in my cap so I could take them home to mama.” He was no longer talking to Jonathon and Virgil but looking far off into space and talking. “Frank was her baby. I started hollering for Bill to come help me, so we could get all the pieces. But he didn’t hear me; there was too much noise. So I ran over to where I last saw Bill and found him lying on the ground. I shook him to wake him up so he could help me with Frank, but he wouldn’t wake up. I shook him again and then reached up to shake his head awake, and he didn’t have no head. I said ‘Bill, we got to find your head , so’s you can get up and help me with Frank’. I started looking around for Bill’s head, but I couldn’t find it. He was going to need his head if he was going to help me with Frank. I was crawling around on my hands and knees when someone ran by me and grabbed my jacket and pulled down the hill.” He paused and looked down at the ground. Virgil and Jonathon sat quietly listening. “I just sat there on the ground not knowing what to do. Then it got night and the shooting stopped. I walked back up the hill and found Bill and drug him over to Frank and started picking up little pieces. All I got was a cap full. I laid down my cap there beside Bill and told him to stay there I was going over to find his head. But I looked and I looked and couldn’t find it. A man can’t do much without a head. I said to myself, ‘Mama’s not going to like this’; she’ll probably have Pa take a switch to me for getting her boys killed. You see I was the oldest, and it was me that was supposed to look out for the others. But I better go home and get it over with. So I put Frank inside Bill’s coat so I wouldn’t drop him, and picked up Bill and started walking. I walked a long ways. I walked through a soldier camp and went on. Nobody said anything. I even walked through a reb camp. I walked until I came to big river. It was too wide. I sat Bill down and leaned him up against a tree and checked to make sure Frank was okay. It was too wide.” He looked first at Jonathon then at Virgil and tears started down his cheeks, “It was too wide. I couldn’t get across. It was too wide. I wanted to take them home, but it was too wide. I couldn’t swim very much; Bill was always the swimmer, but he couldn’t carry both me and Frank.” He looked pleadingly at Jonathon then at Virgil, “It was too wide. I couldn’t take them home. So I slipped Bill into the river and told him to go on home and make sure Frank got there too. Tell Mama I’m sorry. Tell her I didn’t mean to get you killed. I couldn’t go home without my brothers so I went back to the company. I just hope the Lord understands.” He looked first at Jonathon then at Virgil, “ I never told anybody about me getting Bill and Frank killed before. I was too a shamed. A man should be able to keep his brothers from getting killed. Now the war’s done and I got to go home. That’s right I got to go home.” He got up without saying anymore and walked to his guard post. Virgil and Jonathon sat backed against the tree. Virgil scratched the ground with a twig, and both were quiet. Then, bang, they jolted at the sound of a gunshot; it came from where Harold was standing guard. They both quickly looked and saw Harold on the ground; his legs were twitching. Jumping up they ran to him and saw that the top of his head was nothing more than a bloody mass. His rifle lay beside him; smoke was drifting out of the barrel. “Get your hands up, you God damned rebs!” A soldier in blue was holding a rifle pointing at them. “Just get away from him!” He was young and the bayonet point was shaking. He sounded like the ‘God Damn’ was alien to his mouth. “Hold on! Mister We was just trying to help.” Jonathon said as he and Virgil raised their hands over their heads. “We was just talking to him over there.” He pointed with his hand still in the air. “Helping my foot! You was trying to steal everything he had. I know you rebs.” He was still pointing the rifle and the bayonet was still shaking. “I bet he didn’t have much to steal,” Virgil said quietly. “What did you say, Reb.” He poked the bayonet at Virgil. “I don’t want to hear any of your reb smart talk, so you just get over there where you’re supposed to be.” He poked the bayonet again. “Now, git! The lieutenant will take care of this.” When they got back to the tree Virgil said, “Damn all I been through and to get shot by some kid in a Yankee suit who’s too scared to even think.” They both just sat and watched as several soldiers gathered around the body and the young soldier pointing their direction talking to an officer. When he finished the officer walked toward the tree. He walked like a man with a purpose. His uniform was new and just a little big for him. His boots were new and a saber rattled by his side. His mustache was young man’s: thin and short; he had the look of a nineteen old on his face. “Don’t you men stand and salute a superior officer?” He said standing over Jonathon and Virgil. “Well, Sir,” Virgil said not getting up. “Yesterday we would have, but today we decided we ain’t soldiers no more; we’re just folks. This here is Mr. Jonathon Jordan and I’m Mr. Virgil Cain.” “Well, I don’t know how it is in the reb army, but in the United States army you don’t just quit anytime you want. You must wait until you are properly discharged.” He took a pistol out of the holster on his belt. “Now, I will suffer no insubordination from rebels. So you will stand up and properly salute a superior officer,” Both Jonathon and Virgil slowly stood up and gave a snappy salute. Each with their eyes on that pistol. “I think I better take you two to the captain. So you will walk in front of me with your hands in the air.” He motioned with his pistol. “I think the little son-of-a –bitch would shoot us. I been in about ten battles and go get shot by snot nose kid. That would beat all.” Jonathon whispered as they were walking toward the Yankee camp. The lieutenant kept motioning with his pistol and giving directions until they were in front of a tall round tent. There was a soldier standing by the opening leaning on his rifle. “Soldier you are out of order. Stand up straight and fix your tunic and salute a superior officer when he approaches.” The soldier snapped to attention, reached down an straightened his tunic, then saluted. “That’s better,” the lieutenant returned the salute. “Now go in and tell the captain that Lieutenant Hapsgood is waiting with two prisoners.” The soldier opened the flap of the tent and ducked inside. “What the hell does he expect me to do about it. Hell, I got twenty thousand prisoners, and I don’t disturb his evening,” bellowed from the tent. “The captain would l like to know the nature of your business. He is a very busy man,” the soldier stuck his head out of the flap. There was a strained look on his face of someone who wants to laugh but knew better. “Tell the captain that Lieutenant Hapsgood is here with two prisoners who might be able to tell us something about the man who was shot this evening.” He was not used to waiting and having his conversation filtered by an underling. The lieutenant ushered in the prisoners when the soldier held open the flap. “Yes, lieutenant, just what is it that requires my attention”. Around the tent were boxes some three feet high and a bunk. In the middle of the tent sat a short pile of boxes made into a desk. In the desk were some papers and a jar of clear liquid. A lantern affixed to the center pole cast down a yellow light on the captain, a man of perhaps thirty years, he had the look of a much older man. His tunic lay across a box along the edge, and they could see his boots were muddy and worn. “These two prisoners,” the lieutenant was standing at attention having put his pistol away making sure the cover was buckled, “can give us some information about the man who was killed”. He stopped and waited for an answer, when the captain didn’t speak, he went on, “They can tell us just how the man died and give us some information for our investigation.” He stopped again. “How he died. We know how he died. He committed suicide, that’s how he died. He shot himself. There is no investigation. There is nothing to investigate.” The captain sounded annoyed but restrained. “But, sir, we must determine the cause of death before we make any assumptions as to whether it is suicide or murder.” “Lieutenant. The regimental surgeon investigated the body and found that was an entry hole in the roof of his mount and an exit hole that took off the back of his head. Now, it appears we have two options here: A. He had his head held back with his mouth open gargling salt water when someone shot him in the midst of sixty thousand men and no one saw the shooter. Or B, he shot himself. Now you decide which I should put on my report along with your name as chief investigator.” He looked straight at the lieutenant. “I understand , sir. But what am I to do with these prisoners. They both were disrespectful to me as superior officer by nature of their being prisoners.” His voice was tempered with embarrassment. “Leave the prisoners to me, and return to your command before some other soldier gets frustrated with you and shoots himself.” The lieutenant snapped a salute, and the captain raised his hand to his brow. He spun on his heel and marched from the tent. “That’s what happens when your uncle is a congressman. You boys want a drink of liquor?” he pushed the jar across the desk. “We ran across a still the other day. This ain’t the best I ever had. I think it wanted to set a little longer. Like I said it’s green but drinkable.” Both Jonathon and Virgil winched as they swallowed. “I expect you boys better get back to the area. Sentry!” When the soldier stepped in, “escort these men back to their area”. It was way past moon rise when they settled down beside their tree. They each found a place on the ground where they could sleep pulling their saddle blankets over them to ward off the cool night air. The next day it rained and they had to pull their saddle blankets over their heads to keep the rain off their heads. On the Tuesday it was still raining, and the orders came down that the men were to line up by units to stack their weapons and battle flags. All around there were color bearers revolting by burning the pennants or tearing them apart and giving each man a piece. “By God the damned Yankees never got this a fightin’, and I’ll be damned if they’re going to get it now.” Then it was over. The rifles stacked, the paroles issued, the oaths taken. Men dispersed some walking some riding but all going home. Their uniforms were ragged, but they held their heads high. They were bested but not beat, whipped but not conquered.
“A Trip to the Owl Creek Bridge” A story written by Fred Shira The antecedent to this story is “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” Written by Ambrose Bierce   PREFACE A SYNOPSIS OF AN OCCURANCE AT OWL CREEK BRIDGE The Union army was making a sweep across the south repairing railroad tracks and bridges. A notice was posted stating that anyone caught tampering with the tracks or bridges would be summarily hanged. Peyton Farquhar was a wealthy Alabama planter who for other responsibilities stayed out of the war. Feeling somewhat guilty about this, he wanted to make some sort of contribution to the cause. One day a soldier in butternut grey stopped by the plantation and engaged M. Farquhar in conversation about the state of the war. He tells that the Yankees are repairing the Owl Creek Bridge and how important the railroad bridge is to the Yankee army. He relates to M. Farquhar that the flood waters had left a deposit of drift wood under the bridge. It has lain there long enough to dry and would be just right tinder for firing the bridge. We later learn that this soldier in butternut grey was a Yankee scout. M. Farquhar attempts to burn the bridge, is caught, and sentenced to be hanged without the benefit of a trial or tribunal of any kind. On the day that the sentence is to be carried out the soldiers march him to the center of the bridge. They place him on a board that overhangs the bridge with a soldier holding down the other end. A noose is placed around his neck and at the signal the soldier steps off the board and M. Farquhar is dropped from the bridge. He has his eyes tight shut. On his way down he senses the rope breaking, and he plunges into the water. Freeing himself from his bindings, he begins swimming down the creek avoiding gun shots from the bank and bridge. He reaches the shore and runs through the woods toward his plantation home. As he reaches his home he sees his wife coming down the stairs and she runs to meet him. Just as he reaches out to his wife the rope tightens around his neck. Peyton Farquhar is dead. The fleeing was only in his imagination as he dropped down to his end.   A TRIP TO OWL CREEK BRIDGE By Fred Shira Lieutenant Virgil Cain, of the Fifth Tennessee Rifles, stopped his horse at the gateway. His horse was in poor flesh; his butternut grey tunic was tattered; his hat was floppy and not crisp; his deportment no longer gallant. Like his horse he too was poor in flesh, about fifteen pounds shy of what his frame wanted. His age was just twenty-two years, but his face was creased with lines making a face of a much older man. His bearing was weary and worn. He looked at the stone posts with iron gates that were permanently fixed half open by rust. A sign was affixed to the right post heralding the name of the plantation in faded script letters: Terrebonté. Below the name was written Far har, it was easy to see that it had once been inscribed Farquhar. There was nothing more on the sign. Through the gate a long avenue stretched, lined with tall southern pines straight and smartly spaced along each side. The avenue put forth into the woods; no structures could be seen only pines coming together in the distance. He looked down the lane and nudged his horse forward at a walk recalling the story he had been told about Terrebonté and the Farquhars. When the United States made the Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon there existed several large grants dating back many years before the 1789 revolution. One such grant was to Le Comte de Farquhar. It contained several thousand acres in what was to become northern Alabama. Le Comte and his family were deposed, and the men beheaded by the revolution with the exception of the third son who was able to flee France , with much of the families funds, and travel the west coast of Africa where he purchased a coffle of slaves, hired a ship, and sailed for New Orleans. There he sold a portion of the slaves and with the rest traveled to the family land grant to begin a new life. He was well established when the United States made the purchase and his property rights were recognized by the new government. He worked hard and remained single, satisfying his carnal needs with his black women. When an issue of one of these incongruous relationships was born he would promptly sell it as soon as it reached an age where a reasonable price could be obtained not wanting to have a slave on the plantation who might think it in a higher position by being a part of his get. At the age of forty he felt the pull of connubial obligations in order to produce an heir so the name, Farquar, could live on in immortality. He traveled to New Orleans and with his contacts that he had established over the years was able to procure a suitable French bride. It wasn’t long after they returned to Terrebonté that he was presented with a son, but much to his sorrow his new bride was taken. From that point on until his death his primary purpose in life was to raise his son to become the Master of Terrebonté. Like so many fathers who dedicate their lives to their progeny they fail to realize in an attempt to duplicate themselves they, through their indulgence, produce just the opposite. Peyton Farquhar became the Master of Terrebonté upon the death of his father and fell very short in taking his father’s place. It was the time of the cotton boom, and he was only interested in the short term profits that could be spent in the societies of New Orleans. He purchased a town house, left the management of the plantation to his overseer, and off he went to enjoy the benefits of being planter; but he was a planter in name only. Peyton led the life of a rich prodigal with no sense of propriety. He gambled and won at times, but lost more. He was reckless in his demeanor and had, on several occasions, to defend himself for breaches in honor. By the fact that he had to defend himself several times attests to the fact that he had become a proficient pistol shot, a skill that he practiced with rigor for just such affairs. When in a drunken feral act he rapaciously took the maiden head of one of the daughters of le grande sociétaire, his somewhat blemished reputation became even more blackened. He was promptly challenged by the girl’s father, and on a murky morning along the banks of the great river he, groggy from the nights drinking, stood his ground firing first and missing. When this happened his challenger held his cocked pistol and demanded in order to restore the honor that he had so viciously taken, M. Farquhar would marry the girl without dowry. Should he in the coming years maltreat her in anyway the challenger would exercise his right to fire. Thus, did Peyton Farquhar join the society of married men. Hoping that time would heal his rift with society he chose to take his bride and return to Terrebonté where he could live the life of a country gentleman and repair his reputation. This was just three years before New Orleans succumbed to the Yankee onslaught. When Lieutenant Cain reached the d'une maison de Farquhar he was met by a black woman with a large girth who was cleaning silver while watching two children play in the somewhat unkempt yard. Upon seeing him ride to the house the woman promptly went inside the house and returned with a young woman dressed to be the mistress of the home. The lieutenant doffed his hat, “my name is Lieutenant Virgil Cain and I fear that I bring ill tidings.” He waited to be asked to dismount. A young negro boy appeared and took the reins and the lieutenant was invited to have a seat on the veranda. He could see by the woman’s expression that she anxious. Finding no way to soften the report the lieutenant stated that M. Farquhar had been hanged from the bridge over Owl Creek as a spy and saboteur Mme. Farquhar took the news very strangely. She quickly sat in an awaiting chair just looking forward at something in the distance. Her first response was of relief followed by sobbing and shaking her head making her long curls sway. “What am I to do now? M. Farquhar has taken care of all the business, and I know nothing of it.” She looked woefully at the lieutenant as if she expected him to provide her with an answer. He sat quietly not knowing how to be sympathetic to a woman of her station. She continued, “I have always been treated as a woman whose only purpose was to look pretty and bear children. M. Farquhar demanded nothing more.” She spoke with a strong French accent tempered by the Creole of southern Louisiana. Turning to the black woman and speaking in French told her that the lieutenant must be tired and hungry and for her to show him to a guest room where he could rest. She looked him up and down and instructed that his uniform and boots be cleaned. Turning to the lieutenant she said, “I will instruct the kitchen to bring you some food.” With that she rose and went into the house saying no more. The black woman with the large girth stood holding the door for the lieutenant without speaking. As he entered the house he could see that as the outside was somewhat bereft of care the inside was just the opposite. The anteroom was pristine with highly polished floors and well oiled woodwork and furniture. Overhead from the ceiling two stories high hung a great chandelier of uncountable prisms; its circumference nearly equaled the walls. On either side of the anteroom he could see through the open doors of two parlors. They were both bright and airy with many windows. The one was dressed out in French Provincial furnishings with delicate carvings and silk upholstery. The chairs and tables were many and two couches made a place for conversation in front of a large open fireplace. Around the walls were perfectly placed paintings of pastoral scenes of the French countryside. The other parlor was manly in appearance. Where the wall held no bookshelves there was placed the heads of many beasts. The furniture was heavier and covered with leather. A slight smell of tobacco emitted from the door. The black woman with the large girth stood by the newel post of a large staircase that circled both ways up to the next floor. Saying nothing she waited for the lieutenant to follow her up the stairs. She showed him into a room still without saying anything. It was a spacious room with a large bed backed up against the far wall. The furnishings were somewhat plain. The bed had no canopy. In the center of the room stood a copper bathing tub: empty. No sooner had he walked into the room when a black man dressed in the livery of a footman came in carrying a dressing robe. He handed it to the lieutenant motioning for him to undress. The black woman with the large girth had disappeared without saying word. When he had undressed the servant handed the clothes to a young black boy who had entered the room with a bucket of water which he had poured into the tub. Outside waited two more young boys each with two buckets. When directed they came into the room and filled the tub. Towels were placed on the bed and all left without saying a word, The lieutenant took off the robe and slid down into the tub and euphoria. The water was of the correct temperature and contained an arboreal scent. He laid back on the against the tub and let the vapors eclipse him. The warm water and the soothing aroma weighted his eyelids, and he dozed off. He awoke to the sense of someone moving about the room: the scraping of furniture moving and the smell of hot food. He looked out from the tub to see the same servant setting up a table with more food than he thought the world still contained having lived on nearly nothing for the past three years. As he began to step out of the tub the servant held a towel for him then stood by with the robe. He looked down at the food and became Virgil Cain, civilian, son and brother; something that he had not allowed for almost three years. He sat there looking at the food with a knife in one hand a fork in the other and tears began to roll down his cheeks until he was almost sobbing under a flood of emotion. Here for just a short time he no longer had to be strong; he no longer had to be brave; he no longer had to be callous to the death of men; he no longer had to present the detached stoic image needed to command men in battle. As he ate he let his mind wander back to Tennessee thinking about his family. He had learned not to think of home because it was too hard. It took a while to learn this. He thought about Nathan and how he had fallen at Shiloh Church just before General Johnson fell. They were both privates then green straight out of the Tennessee hills. Nathan had been in such a hurry to get into the fray that he took one too many chances. Virgil swore that he would go back and bring his brother home after the war. That was two years ago, and who knew what it would be like now. His little sisters must be growing up into womanhood. Sara had been twelve and Judith had been fourteen when he left three years ago. He smiled when he thought of himself being there when they had boys come a calling and how he would feel like a big brother and want to run them off. He had seen so many families homeless and starving in the past three years that he hoped against all hope that his family was holding out; they should be what with living back in the holler, but the war had long tentacles. He had eaten his full and wished he could eat more when there was a knock at the door and a voice from the other side asking to enter. It was Mme. Farquar. She stepped into the room and asked, “I just wanted to make sure that you are getting whatever you need. The house servants speak only French.” She looked over the table of food and nodded with approval. “I guess I will have to dress in black now that I am a widow.” She looked around the room as if to inspect it. “Peyton did not like to spend money on things that people didn’t see. He was always so concerned about what people would think of him. He made sure that I wore the latest fashion. That was before the war when …” she paused, “you know what I mean. May I sit down? It’s so rare that I get to talk with anyone outside of the servants. We had neighbors until about a year ago; they moved north to escape the war.” She pulled a chair around to face the lieutenant. She did not wait for his answer. “I want to thank you for all this hospitality. I never expected anything like this. I have been in the war for three years now, and you cannot imagine just what this means.” He felt a little self conscious; he was naked except for the dressing robe. “I feel a responsibility to retrieve M. Faquar’s body to be buried in the family plot.” She said making it almost a question. Her demeanor reflected that she wanted to relax and consider the lieutenant a confidant. “Lieutenant may I ask a very big favor of you?” “Certainly, Mam, I will do whatever you ask if it is in my power”. He sat back and waited to hear. He needed to get back to his company; his orders were to deliver the message and return. “As I said before I need to get my husband’s body back so it can be placed in the cemetery along with the rest of his family. I have no experience with such matters and require some help. I have only the noirs to help me. I would certainly send a communication back to your superiors explaining your absence. How far would you say it is to this Owl Creek Bridge?” “My best guess would be about twenty miles. But you do understand that I can not cross over the Yankee lines? I would be taken prisoner”. “But, you could wear some of M. Faquar’s clothing. Could you not?” she asked. “No, absolutely not. If I were to be discovered I would be immediately executed as a spy. That is just not possible.” He tried to sound emphatic. “What is possible is for me to accompany you and your niggers as far as I can then wait for you to return. You would have to go to the Yankee camp with just you and your niggers.” “That will be most difficult. I have never spoken with a Yankee before.” She was pensive and moved around in the chair. “The alternative would be to erect a marker in the cemetery and say that your husband was buried there”. “Oh, that would be impossible. The Lord would never permit that”. She crossed herself. “No, that would be impossible. I am sure M, Farquar died in sin without having a priest hear his confessions and administer the extrême onction.” She crossed herself again. “M. Farquar was not a man without faults, but he was a man who followed the teachings of the Church. Not to have him spend eternity in unhallowed ground would mean he would have to travel though purgatory with little hope of going into heaven. No, he must be brought home and placed in the hallowed ground of the family cemetery.” “Then we must work out a plan,” he responded. There was a slight knock on the door. “vene en veuillez”. Mme Farquar said. There was certain politeness in her voice: the kind of politeness that showed respect and friendliness. The footman who had assisted before entered the room with the lieutenant’s uniform. It was clean; the tattered places had been repaired; he held a new pair of boots; his hat was stiffened and shaped. The footman nodded and laid them out on the bed then turned and quietly left. The lieutenant looked at the clothes and smiled, “I haven’t had a clean uniform in at least a year”. He looked again. “And underwear. I haven’t had underwear and socks for nearly two years. Such things are such a luxury in the field”. He got up holding the robe close. “The underwear and socks belonged to M. Farquar. They were sewn by my house maid and are quite new, I can assure you, and the boots were his as well. They are new and never worn. He had them made just a while back. You appear to be the same size as he.” She rose to leave. “I will leave you and allow you to dress then if you would meet me downstairs we can complete our plans for retrieving M. Farquar’s body”. He had a spring in his step when he descended the stairs. The footman had returned and shaved him then trimmed his moustaches and hair. The black woman with the large girth stood at the bottom of the stairs pointing to the parlor: the one with the book cases and desk. There was no one there, so he walked around the room. The books on the shelves were of the finest quality with leather covers. As he approached them he could see that they appeared to have never been off the shelf and read. He took one down, Les Trois Mousquetaires, and opened it; the folio pages had never been cut. Placing it back on the shelf and looking around he could see that the room was decorated for show rather than utility. All the furniture looked to be new and of the finest quality like the books. There were several heads on the wall, mostly animals that were not indigenous to Northern Alabama. There was a gun case that contained a rack of rifles and shotguns. He took out one of the shotguns and saw that it was custom made. He had become a good judge of guns. There was wooden box on the front edge of the case. Upon opening it he found a brace of dueling pistols. He picked one up and found that it was of the finest quality and balance. He placed it back in the case. “My husband was well known as a fierce foe on the field of honor. That foul tradition had something to do with our marriage.” Mme Farquar entered the room dressed in black. “Please Lieutenant have a seat behind the desk in case we need a flat surface for our planning,” she pointed to the master’s side of the desk. “As you are a man and the master of our plan, it is only fitting that you sit on the far side of the desk.” She pulled a chair up to the front side and sat down. “I know so little of what we are contemplating. My life has been sheltered with first my father then M. Farquar making all the decisions except those that customarily left for the lady of the house. Even when it came to choosing the furniture and other affectations for the house, M. Farquar insisted that I have his approval before proceeding.” She seemed as if she were pleading for him to take charge. “We patrolled that area about a year ago. The best of my recollection it is about twenty miles to Owl Creek. There is a ford a ways below the bridge where you can cross,” he said pensively. “Forty miles is quite a bit to travel in one day. We would have to relay the horses.” “We have three teams of very fine carriage horses,” she chimed in. “You shouldn’t to take any fine stock around the Yankees. They will keep them. My suggestion would be for us to start first thing in the morning. But, tonight you need to start to place your relay horses. You’ll also need a wagon to bring back the body,” speaking as if formulating his thoughts as he spoke. “Yes, and pulled by mules. The Yankees will probably leave mules alone.” “Please wait one minute. If you don’t mind I would like to call in one of our noirs, it will be he that handles the horses and mules. He speaks a kind of English and is very trustworthy. My husband bought him and his family some years ago; they were from a big farm on some island.” She waited for him to nod then called to the woman with the large girth and said something in French. “Whatever niggers you take should be very trustworthy. The Yankees will tell them that they are free and that they don’t have to come back with you.” He began to sketch out a rough map on a sheet of paper he found on the desktop. “How can that be? It must be some sort of Yankee trick. Our noirs belong to us. We either raised them or paid for them,” she said perplexed. “He had no power to do it, but the Yankee president set all the slaves free in the confederate states. And, the way the war is going he just might have the right,” he explained. “What do you mean when? Do you mean to say that the war is going badly. We get so little news from the outside here that sometimes we are not aware of just how the war is going. I used to write to my family in New Orleans, but the mail stopped some time ago.” They were interrupted by a black man dressed in the livery of a coachman entering the room. He held his hat in his hand and his head down. “Miz Fawkwa, , Sassy say you say fer me to comehuh.” He stood waiting to be told what to do. “Yes, Pascal, I am sure that you have heard that M. Farquar is dead. The Yankees have murdered him. We must bring his body home. This man is going to help us, so you must do just like he says.” She spoke as if she were speaking to a child. “Yazz’m I do zackley he say.” He inched closer still holding his hat in front of him and his head down. With the help of Mme. Farquar, the lieutenant explained just what was needed. Pascal was to give his coachman’s clothes with Bernard, the footman, then, dress as a field slave he was to harness the worst two mules to the wagon. Also, harness the black carriage team to be led behind. He is to take Denis along to help with the horses and leave right away and travel all night until they get to the Woodbine Plantation then wait. “You do remember the way to Mr. Scotts farm?” she asked. She didn’t think he would know it as Woodbine. Pascal nodded and replied, “Yass’m, I be knowin.” “Then tell Sassy to pack you some food and go. Now mind you don’t trifle on the way.” She spoke firmly. “Yass’m we dun be goin”. He backed away from Mme. Farquar then turned and left the room. “This is for my children’s sake. They loved their father and have taken this droll news very hard.” She said firmly standing up, “I’ll tell Sassy what is required and to have everything ready at first light. Now if you will excuse me I have some things I must prepare”. The lieutenant walked around the grounds noticing that they were in poor repair in comparison to the house. As he walked by the quarters he counted forty huts and that most of them were empty and had not been lived in for a while. He began thinking about how there probably had not been a crop for a couple years what with the Yankee barricade. So, M.Farquar must have sold his field hands south. He strolled and sat on the verandah until the black woman with the big girth came out accompanied by a young black carrying a big tray of food. The livery was too big for the boy. As he was eating Mme. Farquar came out onto the verandah holding a glass. She was no longer dressed in black but in a flowery garment that appeared to be some kind of dressing gown, “It is a nice evening,” she said without sitting. “I sometimes like to just walk out here to get a breath of fresh air”. “Yes, mam, it is a nice evening.” He stopped eating out of politeness. “Peyton Farquhar was a good man, very respected in this community and a good father to his children. I shall ask my brother to come live with us and manage the plantation until Mr. Farquhar’s son reaches his majority. My father is in trust of the Terrebonté business in New Orleans, as had my grandfather before him. It was in New Orleans that Mr. Farquhar and I married.” She paused finishing her glass of sherry. “But I must not ramble on so. I don’t wish to spoil your dinner with my prattle”. “Madam, I can truthfully say that your presence is an added pleasure to this fine meal.” She smiled, turned and walked into the house. It was dark when he finished eating; the bugs were surrounding him and the mosquitoes were biting, so he went inside to bed. The sheets had been changed and the new ones were clean and ironed; this was only the second time he had slept with sheets since he left home three years ago. The bed was soft and all that could be heard was the sounds of crickets and peepers. He lay there thinking about how Mme. Farquar did not seem to mourn like a woman who just lost her husband. Or maybe he just didn’t know how a grieving widow was supposed to show her emotions. The moon helped to light the hallway as Cerise Farquar slipped through her door. Moving quietly she stepped towards the guest room and waited outside the door listening. The children’s room was at the other end of the hall; Sassy slept in the room with children while the other servants stayed in the quarters. There was no one else in the house. When she turned the knob, she grimaced at the sound of the latch in the quiet of the night. Closing the door she moved quickly towards the bed. “Who’s there?” came from the bed. The bed covers rustled. “It’s me lieutenant, I have a great favor to ask of you”. No sound came from the bed. “I am so distraught and stressful that being alone is a great burden for me. I realize that is impertinent and disgraceful of me, but may I stay with you tonight. I am a lady and, I make no overture; it is just too difficult to be alone tonight”. She waited for an answer. “Yes, mam, I understand. I realize it is highly unseemly but the circumstance certainly warrants such an irregularity. Here, I will slide over and make more room.” The blankets stirred again. “You do understand that this will be kept strictly in our confidence”, she lay down on the bed pulling the blankets over her. “Lieutenant, I realize this is a very forward and improper thing to ask, but will you hold me, I feel so vulnerable and scared about what the future holds for me. I have never been on my own; I left my father’s house to come here.”The lieutenant moved over next to her and put his arm around her waist. “That’s nice. I think I will be able to sleep now.” They lay in the bed quietly, spooned back to front. When she felt a movement against her buttocks, she took the hem of her night gown and raised it above her waist. Just as she had ordered, the carriage was hitched and waiting as first the lieutenant then a few minutes later Mme. Farquar came out into the morning. He began to untie his horse from the back of the carriage when Mme. Farquar said, “please sir, I would like for you to ride with me in the carriage where we can share breakfast.” She looked inside the carriage to ascertain that the basket was there. The lieutenant tied his horse to the rear of the carriage then helped her get aboard. “Thank you,” she said as she settled into the seat. “Now lieutenant if you will sit over there facing me we can enjoy each other’s company as we share our meal”. Then to the driver, “Pascal and Denis got away as I instructed?” not merely asking but making a statement of fact. The driver turned and nodded saying, “Yaz’m They done been gone,” adding nothing else. “Very well. Drive on. You do know the way to Mr. Scott’s Plantation?” she asked without looking up. The driver turned and nodded saying, “Yaz’m,” adding nothing else. The horses stepped out and Mme. Farquar opened the basket on the seat beside her and looked in. She handed the lieutenant a large biscuit. “Here eat this while it is still warm.” The carriage moved swiftly down the road, and the occupants ate without talking. “Lieutenant ,” Mme. Farquar broke the silence. “I depend on your discretion as a gentleman. I would think it very low of you if you were to mention anything about last night, after all it was an incongruity brought on by the gravity of the circumstances. And should you be in a position whereby young men brag about their conquests, please do not mention my name if you feel you must boast”. “Madam, I can simply say that I am a gentleman and would remove my tongue before ever mentioning it to another living soul. And you should not feel as if you committed a great sin, as the circumstances most certainly justify your need for comfort.” “Thank you lieutenant. I feel in my heart that you are a man of your word.” They rode on making only small talk about the countryside and other things. “I sees Pascal off yonder way,” came from the driver’s seat. When they reached the wagon they found Pascal wrapped in a quilt just waking up. He said sheepishly. “We dun jest lak you say. We be goin all night”. “Edmund you will go behind those bushes and change your clothing. You and Pascal will go with me in the wagon and wear your regular clothes,” turning to the younger black man she said, “and Denis you will stay here with the horses”. “Madam you will remember what I told you about the emancipation of slaves?” the lieutenant asked, “and do you feel safe with these niggers”. “Yes, lieutenant, I do remember. I trust both of them. They have been loyal servants for many years. Both were purchased by Mr. Farquhar’s father when they were young and know no other life, and they have families back at the plantation” She lowered her voice, “I have for my protection a small pistol concealed in my bodice as well as a larger pistol in my bag”. Then in her normal voice she continued, you have been such a help to us, but I should think it is time for us to part. Like you said it would be far too dangerous for you to go further.” She stood by the wagon waiting for someone to help her onto the seat. “Let me help you, madam,” the lieutenant said holding out his arm for her to use for an aid. “I will wait here for your return, then accompany you back to your home before I go back to my regiment. I will be fearful for you until I return you safely to your home.” “Your kindness is well noted”. Then to Pascal,. “let us go so that we may return in time for us to reach home before nightfall.” They were carried along the agreed upon route by the two balking mules. At nearly each step Pascal had to urge them to git-up. At the creek ford it was necessary for Edmund to dismount from the wagon and lead them across by hand. They had traveled just a short distance from the ford before Pascal pointed in the air and said, “yonder be some smoke”. There was a light waif of smoke rising from the opening in the woods just ahead. “That must the Yankee encampment. We must proceed very cautiously from now on,” she was talking aloud to herself. She pulled her bag closer to her opening and making sure the pistol could be reached quickly. Before going much further a soldier in a blue cap and tunic stepped in front of the mules causing them to halt. “May I ask the nature of your business?” He held his rifle across his chest. “I am here to see your commanding officer. So, if you will point out his whereabouts and move, I will be on my way,” she said curtly. “Follow me. I will take you to him,” he turned walking towards a row of tents. At the first tent he ducked inside then returned with a man with the bars of a captain on his shoulders. “I am in command here. How may I help you?” His tunic was open and he wore no hat. “I am Mrs. Peyton Farquhar, and I have come to get the remains of my husband, the man you murdered,” she looked down from the wagon seat. “Madam, we murdered no man. We hanged a spy,” the captain retorted. “Sir, I am on a mission and have not the time nor the inclination to bandy with you. If you will instruct one of your soldiers to bring me my husband’s things and accompany us to his burial site we will bother you no further”. There was a layer of contempt in her voice. “Madam, your husband was buried some ten days ago, and I would not think it would be very pleasant to exhume him. But, if you insist I will have some of my men assist you,” he motioned for a sergeant to go with her. “Sir I will require no Yankee help. I have brought my boys to assist me,” she said bluntly. “Be that as it may,” he said, then turning to the negroes, “you boys know that President Lincoln freed the slaves, and you no longer belong to anyone. You can leave and go anywhere you please”. “Sir, I will not have you fill my boys heads’ with that sort of nonsense. Lincoln has no jurisdiction here in Alabama. These boys know there place. They have a fine home with their families. They will live and work there until President Davis makes such a decree,” she spoke indignantly. “So if you will just point out the way to my husband’s grave we will bother you no more”. The grave was not deep and required little digging. The corpse had begun to putrefy, and Celise had to hold a lace hanky to her nose. She instructed the negroes to go through the pockets to retrieve the watch and whatever else might be there. All they found was a pocket knife. There was no watch. After placing the corpse, wrapped in a quilt, in the wagon, she ordered the negroes to drive her back to the captain’s tent. The captain was just about to mount a horse being held for him by a young soldier. “Sir, we found no watch. That watch was made in Switzerland for my husband’s grandfather. It has been passed down to my husband and will be passed along to his son. Now, if you will just return the watch we will depart”. Madam, I know of no watch. All that was your husband’s was left with his body. Now if you excuse me I have a meeting to attend,” he turned to mount the horse. “Sir, you are a scoundrel and a liar. If I were a man I would call you out for such impertinence. But this is folly of me to think any better of a Yankee. Sir, I wish you to hell, and my one regret is that I cannot send you there myself.” She turned to Pascal, “Let us depart this iniquitous place and return to the land of gentle people.” Pascal pulled the mules around and headed back from whence they came. The captain mounted the horse and set off at a canter down the road into the woods. As he rode along he reached into his pocket and pulled out a gold watch that played a dainty tune when opened. As he admired his bounty a deer struck from the woods spooking his horse. The horse bolted into the woods under a tree with a large low hanging branch. It struck the captain on the forehead knocking him backwards off the horse onto the ground to a mortal fall. The watch lay by the side of the road playing a dainty tune.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Eva Cassidy

You go to Blues Alley, deep in the heart of Washington’s Georgetown, once home to everyone from the Founding Fathers to the hippies of the 60’s and 70’, to have a good meal, a few drinks, and hear some good music while enjoying the company of friends. Most times the singers come on the small stage the place quiets down to a low murmur of conversation. The singer sings and the audience listens with a casual attitude towards the music.
The night that Eva Cassidy sang it was as if, like the words in one of her songs, “… you could hear the angels singing in the cooing of a dove”. And, that dove was a little blond hair girl from Bowie, Maryland just around the beltway. When the announcer tried to quiet the crowd with, “Here’s Eva Cassiday”. They responded with that polite suckin’ on ice cubes applause. Stepping up to the mic making the adjustments, shy, never looking out at the people who were only casually looking at her, she began with an old Fred Astair and Ginger Roger’s show tune, “Cheek to Cheek”. What was this, an old time movie song in this hip, campy nightspot.
Eva Cassidy not only sang it, she owned and sold it shedding her shy self and rearing back and belting it out with all the confidence in the world. You could hear a pin drop in the house, no chewing sound or ice tinkling; then hand hurting clapping. From that song she set them up and laid them down one by one. It takes some real chutzpa to step out in front of a pseudo aficianado music crowd and open yourself by taking on the masters: the eclectic list goes on, Irving Berin, T. Bone Walker, Paul Simon, the great Billie Holiday, the eerie sounds of Buffy St. Marie to the lusty R&B of Al Green, even the toe tapping “Honey Suckle Rose” of Fats Waller. But take she did. Not to imitate, nor, “try to be like,” she made these songs her own. Not wanting to compare but you have to think of the likes of Bonnie Raitt and Janis when she exposes her vulnerabilities as if saying, “This is me and my music, I hope you like it, but if you don’t there is nothing I can do about it. It’s all I have”.
On November 2, 1996 we lost Eva Cassidy, but we still have her music thanks to modern technology. We can sit back and listen to her now, but we will never be able to hear the best she was going to do; she was just beginning.
“ For all sad words of tongue and pen, The saddest are these, 'It might have been'.”

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Shakespeare & Company

We all assign meaning to our special places. It may be associated with some event, some person, some memory. Not so long ago I received an e-mail from my cousin and attached to it was a series of photographs of Paris by night. One of these photos brought up one of my special places. So, come with me, and I’ll show you.
First, we take the Metro to the San Michelle. At Place San Michelle we stop for a few minutes at the little café on the corner. Let’s pretend it’s late November and this year’s Beajolais has just been released, and there is a nip in the air. One of the wonderful things about Paris is that you can sit at a table in a café as long as you like, and nobody will bother you not even the waiters. As we sit and enjoy our glass of wine we watch the people and smell the river which is just across the way, we feel the gentle warmth of the heater.
After we finish, we will walk just a short way to the Rue de la Buchene to Shakespeare and Company, Paris’s foremost English language bookstore. We go across to number thirty seven and are greeted by a young person with either a British or French accent; it doesn’t matter because they will be friendly. The first thing we notice is a fire ring in the floor where at one time a fire must have been built to warm the place or to cook something, or both. Like any other bookstore, except for the sham bookstores in the mall, there are too many books for the space. The walkways between the shelves are narrow and poorly lit. The smell of paper fills the air, and when you move a book the dust tickles your nose. The French do not have music in their shops, so the only thing you hear is the other people moving around and a snip of a conversation here and there.
This is not the original Shakespeare and Company. In 1919, Sylvia Beach, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister from New Jersey, opened up a bookstore that would specialize in English and American books. For the next twenty one years the store became the premier salon for the writers and artists of the Lost Generation. Almost any one of note came to the shop, Hemingway, Juan Gris, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, and many more.
Not only did Sylvia Beach provide a venue for them to meet, she also became somewhat of a patron to some. It was her support that allowed James Joyce to write Ulysses. She provided him with monetary support and published the first edition under her name with her money. As a reward in 1922 Joyce signed with another publisher leaving Sylvia holding the bag. She was able to recoup some of her loss by selling the original plates. If you are lucky you can still find a copy printed with those plates.
In 1940 when the Nazis moved into Paris, Shakespeare and Company disappeared in one night. The shop was closed and the books were hidden in an apartment. Sylvia Beach never reopened the book shop. In 1951 it was opened by another owner.
If ever you are in Paris, you must stop in.

Au Revoir

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Franny and Zooey
A novel (?) by J.D. Salinger

Review by:
Fred Shira

I read all of Salinger’s work, he was not that prolific, back in the 1960’s for a couple of reasons: one, it was the hip thing to do, and two, it was the hip thing to talk about when trying to pick up girls. “Have you read such and such by Salinger; isn’t it just great. How he speaks to our inner being”. Inner beings were a big thing in those days. This was in Washington D.C. where the wide eyed girls from across the country came to find husbands.
I have wondered why Salinger became such a hermit, living a life way out of the public eye. Maybe it was because of his books. The Catcher in the Rye is a good book and should be required reading for all fifteen year olds. Maybe the roar of the literary dollar harkened to him to keep writing and we, little intellects as we are, will keep buying. When ole’ J.D. passed away I thought it might be a good idea to reread some of his work, so I rummaged through the boxes in the attic and found a copy of Franny and Zooey thinking this would be a good place to start, now I think it is also a good place to stop.
Franny and Zooey is a snapshot of two characters looking for a story. It is divided into two sections appropriately named, first Franny and then Zooey. It’s not a long book, a mere 202 pages, and it could probably be pared in half by taking out all the superfluous descriptions and verbiage padding.
The first section finds us at a New England college on the day of the big Yale game. Franny, a spoiled little rich girl, comes to town to meet her boy friend whose main concern is a paper he wrote about Flaubert for an English class and is disappointed that no one wants to read it. The first scene is set with Lane, that’s the boyfriend, sitting on a train platform waiting for Franny to arrive. He is wearing a Burberry raincoat. I have to wonder if Salinger got a coat for the product placement.
After Franny arrives they go to a restaurant where the conversation turns to snails, how they are so above everyone else and chicken sandwiches. Franny relates to Lane that she has read a book about a monk who went around saying the “Jesus Prayer” like a Buddhist mantra. She plans to follow suit to find true enlightenment. Franny then refuses to eat the chicken sandwich which Lane cajoled her into ordering, and then she faints. End of story number one. The one point of tension is when Lane hints that they may have sex if he can find a back way into the Franny’s room.
The second story is Zooey. After Franny comes to she goes home to the home of her parents in upper east-side Manhattan. He we meet the Glass family which dominates Salinger’s later writings, as a matter of fact all his writings, except for Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye. We learn that there were seven Glass kids. They were all contestants on a radio quiz show, “It’s a Wise Child. All gifted. Zooey is a TV actor who criticizes everything and everybody he comes in contact with.
The first half of the story is a dialogue between Zooey and his mother, who he calls Bessie, in the bath room. Poor Zooey has to take his bath hiding himself behind a curtain while his mother sits and smokes. Salinger sets the scene for us like he is being paid by the word. He even goes so far to describe every item in the medicine cabinet. Bess wants Zooey to bring Franny out of her doldrums and make her eat some chicken soup, Jewish penicillin, even though the Glasses are Catholic.
The second half of the story is a very long diatribe where Zooey tries to explain the essence of Eastern mysticism with Franny laying on the couch lamenting the fact that in her four years of college she has only heard the term, “wise man” once, and that was pertaining to some guy who made a lot of money, such a Philistine.
To make an overly long story short; its girl has a spiritual crisis, brother helps her understand, girl gets better. The only real action in the story is that everyone is always lighting cigarettes, except for Zooey who smokes cigars, and moving ashtrays around. Smoking was very chic in the fifties when this story was set.
Perhaps there is more to this story when you look deeper. Does the name Glass signify some sort of transparency? Does Zooey go through some sort of metamorphous when he returns to his room and changes his sweaty shirt? Do the two older brothers, Buddy and Seymour stand for some abstract spiritual power figures? This could all be so, but the book is too droll to think that much about. When it’s finished you just want to put it back in the box in the attic,
Maybe Salinger should have followed the lead of Harper Lee and Margaret Mitchell and wrote one good book then quit.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Review/Essay "A Case for Christ"

The Case for Christ
By Lee Strobel

A review by Fred Shira

“Whatever gets you through the night”

To quote Tennessee Williams from his play, Suddenly Last Summer: he writes in the tragic voice of Catherine, “We are all of us children in a vast kindergarten trying to spell God’s name with the wrong alphabet blocks”.
Lee Strobel makes no attempt to deceive us with his title, The Case for Christ. He sets forth with lawyerlike precision an argument for the existence of Jesus Christ as presented to us in the four gospels of the New Testament. Strobel, a professional journalist with legal training and experience covering criminal cases for the Chicago Tribune, builds his case with a collection of interviews with some of the world’s most highly reputed biblical scholars. But like any good trial lawyer he hand picks his experts to elicit the answers he needs to advance his theory ignoring those that will refute his theme.
There is no mention of the Nag Hammadi Gospels, the scrolls that were discovered in a cave in 1945 that have been authenticated by the most reputed biblical scholars. These document the fact that there were other gospels as well as those included in the New Testament. Even the Bible tells about seventy apostles, not just twelve. During the first few centuries there were several competing sects for what was to the be the true church. Orthodox Christianity became the strongest movement edging out the others, except for a couple that still survive today: the Coptic Christians of Egypt, and some of the branches of the Eastern Church. The Roman Church was further strengthened during the reign of Constantine; the emperor allegedly gave the power of the Empire to the Church in Rome: “The Gift of Constantine”. Although this was later proven false it did put in place the Golden Rule: “He who has the gold, makes the rules”.
Strobel submits his case to us in three sections with fourteen postulates each requiring that you accept the gospel writers as definitive sources of history. He pays little heed to the fact that the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, are self evident with little or no outside confirmation.
In the first section, “Examining the Evidence” Strobel takes down a winding path of assumptions and questionable logic. His first hypothesis is that the Gospels as recorded were handed down to the writers by eye witnesses, and that there were other witnesses to make certain of the accuracy; therefore the stories could not be corrupted by legend. The Gospel of Mark was the first written, and most scholars have concluded that at least six authors made contributions. Mark was written about 70 CE which would have been some forty years after the death of Jesus. Now if you consider that forty years had passed and that the life span was probably around fifty years, or so, the life spans stated in the Bible do not stand-up against biological fact. With fifty years the normal there is little chance that there were many, if any, dependable eye witnesses. In his book, Who Wrote the Gospels, Randel McCraw Helms predicts that there were at least five transitions through the oral phase before they were written down. When you consider the mythology that has grown up around 9/11 in just a few years, it makes any historical approach to the Bible suspect.
Strobel assembles his proposition much like an artist who chooses to fill in the negative space around a painting to reveal the central object. In order to find the clear and truthful picture you need to arrange all the negative space components leaving out none and adding nothing that should not be there. Not only must you have faith in the picture you also must have faith in the artist’s intentions of portraying the truth. Therein lies the quandary: what do you accept at face value and what do you question? Strobel suggests that we use simple logic to determine the truth; however, logic and reason are the two biggest enemies of religion in general, and orthodox Christianity in specific. All religion is a construct, that is, it is an idea without any clear proof of fact. It has no empirical basis in reality; we can only know it by what someone else has told us. We can not smell, nor see, nor hear, nor taste, nor can we have a tactile experience with religious thought. We have no a priori relationship with religion; that is, we are not born with a concept of God. This must be learned. A child only knows, “Jesus loves me, yes I know because the Bible tells me so”. Remove the Bible from the argument and there is no argument.
Throughout the entire book Strobel cites “The Jesus Seminar”, a group of 150 biblical scholars who have worked collectively over the past twenty-five years to explore the life and times of Jesus and place him in an historical context. Of course, their conclusions run counter to those of Strobel; therefore, he denigrates them at every turn. This is much like miscoloring a portion of the negative space.
The two seminal questions in the second section, “Analyzing Jesus”, are: was Jesus the Son of God, and did he know it. How do you answer such questions? Here all we can do refer is to the New Testament. Is the Bible a textual history or an edited amalgam of the pieces and bits gathered to support orthodox Christianity. If, in fact, there are answers to the questions, the starting point for discovery would possibly be in the deep corners of the Vatican library. Strobel quotes a Biblical scholar, Dr Carson, “So part of Christian theology has been concerned with not ‘explaining it all away’ but with trying to take the biblical evidence and, retaining all of it fairly, find ways of synthesis that are rationally coherent, even if they’re not exhaustively explanatory”. Thus like any good prosecuting attorney, set the answer then construct the evidence to reach that conclusion.
The resurrection of Jesus is the foundation of orthodox Christianity. If the resurrection were proven false then the whole of western religious thought would crumble bringing down with it a good deal of western civilization.
First what do we know from actual historical records about the crucifixion of Jesus. We now that a person called Jesus of Nazareth was arrested, tried, beaten, made to carry a heavy wooden cross through the streets to Calvary Hill. There he was nailed to the cross members and raised above the ground then his feet were nailed to the upright member. After six hours Joseph of Arimetheia received permission to remove him from the cross if he were in fact dead. We know that his side had been pierced by a roman spear, to what extent we can only guess. After he was removed to a crypt owned by Joseph of Arimetheia his wounds were dressed and he disappeared sometime in the night. That is what we know. All the rest is faith, believing with no guarantee. Stobel presents us with a story founded in biblical references and logic. Here again it become incumbent on the reader to believe or not believe at his own volition.
The great American thinker and psychologist William James ended his essay, “The Will to Believe” with a quote from Liberty, Equality, Fraternity written by Fitz James Stephens.

“What do you think of yourself? What do you think of the world? … These are questions with which all must deal as it seems good to them. They are riddles of the Sphinx, and in some way or other we must deal with them. … In all important transactions of life we have to take a leap in the dark … If we decide to leave the riddles unanswered, that is a choice; if we waver in our answer, that too is a choice: but whatever choice we make, we make it at our peril. If a man chooses to turn his back altogether on God and future, no one can prevent him; no one can show beyond reasonable doubt that he is mistaken. If a man think otherwise and acts as he thinks, I do not see that any one can prove that he is mistaken. Each must act as he thinks best; and if he is wrong, so much the worse for him. We stand on a mountain pass in the midst of whirling snow and blinding mist, through which we get glimpses now and then of paths which may be deceptive. If we stand still we shall be frozen to death. If we take the wrong road we shall be dashed to pieces. We do not certainly know whether there is any right one. What must we do? ‘Be strong and of good courage.’ Act the best, hope for the best, and take what comes… If death ends all, we cannot meet death better”.

In the final analysis all we can do is find someway of thinking, some method of ontological perception, that helps us get through that long, dark metaphysical night.
To further paraphrase William James, we will not know the answers, if in fact there are answers, until the back cover is closed.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Owain’s Own
By John Corns
Review by
Fred Shira

The Owain referred to in the title Owains’s Own refers to the hero of Welsh folklore, Owain Glyndwr, anglicized by William Shakespeare, Owen Glendower who in the fourteenth century was born into an aristocratic family that lived and owned property along the Welsh and English border. After the death of his father, Owain was sent to London to study law. While in London he witnessed the failed Peasants Revolt of 1381 when they rose up seeking to abolish serfdom. In 1383 he returned to Wales, established himself as a country squire, and started what was to be a large family.
In 1401 Owain broke away from England and, along with his followers, crowned himself Prince of Wales. From 1401 to 1412 he was involved in the popular Welsh Revolt, Glyndwr Rising or the Last War of Independence. With the loss of several battles and the shifting of English politics, he simply disappeared from the history books leaving his later life to the imagination of the historians. But, from this lost rebellion Owain Glyndwr galloped into Welsh mythology and the history books.
There have been roughly 65,000 books written about the Civil War. They have covered every battle from nearly every perspective. There are books on sex during the Civil War and cook books from the Civil War. I sometimes wonder if there is a receipt for cooking corn bread on a rifle ram; this was very common place.
John Corns is a retired Army General with a deal of combat experience during the Viet Nam war. He brings that experience to his story. One of the most interesting things about this story is that it tells us something about a part of the war that has not been over written: the war in the Appalachian Highlands of what was then Virginia. In comparison to the great battles of the war this section of the country witnessed only minor skirmishes; albeit if any battle can be considered minor when brave men fight and die.
Owain’s Own is a chronicle of the life of James M. Corns from his days as a young man in Wales through his experiences in the war to his ultimate end. In the mid-nineteenth century James, call Jamie, lives with his parents on a farm in Wales. The farm was owned by an absentee owner who could simply throw the family off the farm at any given whim.
Here’s an interesting note: In mid-century it became very fashionable for the London gentry to clear their farms and make them into hunting preserves. The Crofters (farmers) of Scotland had been on their farms for generations when they were simply turned out with no where to go. Harriet Beecher Stowe the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin or Life Among the Lowly that heralded the mistreatment of the slaves of the US South wrote how wonderful it was to go to the hunting preserves: a bit of irony here. Many of the Crofters settled in Nova Scotia.
Jamie and his friend, virtual brother, Gareth, left for America leaving behind a cloud of rebellious activity. Upon leaving Jamie’s father counseled him to go to American and own land: land where he could not be expelled simply by caprice. He and Gareth land in Philadelphia where Jamie finds employment in the construction business. He learns the trade of masonry and grows to own a contracting company of his own. He falls in love and marries but at the expense of his friend, Gareth. After some difficulties with his business he moves to Virginia with a short stop over in western Pennsylvania at his wife’s parents.
In Virginia with the help of an uncle he acquires a small farm and begins a new life and expands his family. Things go along fine until Virginia’s secession from the Union and war breaks out. Jamie feels that he should serve to protect his land, and he believes in the Southern Cause. He serves loyally and fights bravely and is promoted to the rank of colonel. It is during the war that he begins to experience problems with him family. He is ambivalent about his duty to his soldiers and his wife and children. His reason for joining becomes clouded with the separation of West Virginia. Is he still protecting his land from the Union when it is now part of the Union? This becomes a very interesting point. In 1861 after a dubious election and a questionable interpretation of the Constitution western Virginia is formed into a separate state: West Virginia. As you can imagine this would have put the men who joined the confederacy into quite a quandary. Just where do they stand. A good question for the historians.
John Corns gives us a very good compelling look at the history and geography of the mountains of West Virginia. He writes a love story like a historian lacking the florid language of a poet, but none-the-less he spins a good tale.