Image: “View of Gettysburg from the Northwest,” Library of Congress; https://www.loc.gov/resource/ppmsca.35052/ I know it’s not exactly clear, but the photo was taken in 1863. However, it does give an idea of how the town looked from one angle.
Before we leave Walk by Faith, the second book in the Saint Maggie series, I would like to offer up more two scenes that involve the same characters having a continued conversation.
If you’ve read the series, then you know that Emily Johnson is Maggie’s closest friend, even though Emily’s ancestors came from Africa and Maggie’s came from Europe. They become friends in 1850, when Maggie needs someone to help her with the cooking at the Second Street Boarding House. The women bond when they realize that they both have experienced the heartbreak of miscarriages, and soon find that they have enough in common to become friends who are as close as sisters.
In the scenes below, it is July of 1863 and Gettysburg has been occupied by Confederate forces. Only Maggie, Emily, Lydia, and Frankie have remained behind in the old Smith house, Eli’s family home. Everyone else either is in the army, serving as war correspondents, or safely removed to the home of Eli’s sister about 7 miles north of Gettysburg.
At this point in the story, Lydia (who is a doctor) has been called out in the middle of the night to help with an emergency at the Union School hospital. Earlier in the day Frankie and her friend Gus are “missing in action,” because they had raced out of town ahead of the retreating Union army and now cannot return.
It was not uncommon for soldiers to take up residence in or around a house when they were in control of an area, and Captain Morrison and his men arrive at the Smith house. Afraid that Emily will be taken away and sent South, Maggie tells the captain that Emily is her servant and must stay with her to help care for the house and the wounded soldiers within it, since she (Maggie) is expecting a baby. The two women then cook a meal for the new arrivals.
The scene below takes place in the Smith house kitchen as Maggie, Emily, and Captain Morrison finish their dinner. Their conversation eventually turns into a truth-telling session between the Union ladies and the Confederate captain.
… Maggie and Emily cooked as tasty a supper as they could for both their newest guests and their wounded. The Confederate soldiers dined outside on the porch while Maggie and Emily ate in the kitchen with Captain Morrison.
“I haven’t had this good a meal in ages,” Morrison commented as he sopped up the chicken gravy. “These biscuits are light as a feather.”
“Emily made them.”
“Did she?” Morrison met Emily’s eyes. “I just might trouble you for your family recipe, Emily.” He sat back and thoughtfully dabbed his lips with the napkin. “Interesting custom you have, Mrs. Smith, of letting your help eat at the table with you.”
Maggie checked Emily’s face. It was as if her friend had dropped a curtain over a window so no one could see in. Maggie smiled charmingly at the Captain. “We work so closely together I feel as if Emily is part of my family. In these topsy-turvy times surely no one can begrudge me a little company.”
Morrison smiled. “You are a generous woman, Mrs. Smith.”
Maggie looked down at her plate and pushed a few green beans around with her fork. Then she met Morrison’s eyes once more. “Why are you being so kind? You’re the enemy.”
Captain Morrison was touched by the question, although he thought Maggie a bit naïve and ignorant of politics. “Well, I believe it’s because you all want to tell us what to do.”
“Bunkum,” Maggie replied, borrowing Eli’s slang. “Tell me, Captain, do you have slaves?”
He nodded. “Three. They came to me when my father died two years ago.”
Emily spoke up now. “Do you treat them well?”
He thought. “Well, I don’t know. It just seems the right thing to do, doesn’t it?”
Maggie’s hazel eyes were steady on his. “But why is it the right thing? Is it because it is foolish to ruin your own property? Or is it because they are people?”
The questions surprised him.
“You see our Bible says there is neither slave nor free, that all are one in Christ Jesus. So how do you see them?”
Morrison paused. “The truth?”
He sighed and stared into his teacup. “Ladies, I am a farmer. I’ve worked my own land since I was twenty-one. I am reasonably well-educated and serve my town as a lawyer when there is a need. I have managed to provide for my wife and sons. I didn’t need slaves. My father’s will gave them to me.”
“Why didn’t you let them go free then?” Emily said.
“Manumission in Virginia is a tricky thing. I could free them, but they would have to leave the state within the year or be enslaved once more. Two of them are quite old. Where would they go?”
Emily leaned toward him. “Why don’t you ask them what they want to do?”
“An astute question.” He sipped his tea. “Why don’t I? Well, sad to say, it never occurred to me.” He looked directly into Emily’s eyes. “But perhaps this war will settle things.”
“Perhaps it will,” Emily agreed.
A few days later, Lemuel, a young man from Blaineton, who holds a grudge against Maggie and has joined the Confederate army, comes to the house. When he discovers that the two women are there, he attempts to take Emily away to send her South. Maggie intervenes, only to have an enraged Lemuel drag her into another room, intent on raping her. At this, Emily runs upstairs, finds Grandpa O’Reilly’s pistol, returns downstairs, and uses the gun to stop Lemuel cold. Morrison and his men have been out of the house but soon return to hear a different version of the night’s events. Emily is not mentioned as the one who shot Lemuel. Instead, one of the wounded soldiers, who is Lemuel’s bullied brother, claims that it was he.
Later, when Emily and Morrison are left together in the kitchen, they continue their unusually blunt conversation.
…Morrison leaned back in his chair. “What is your last name, Emily?”
“Mrs. Johnson,” he said softly. “Then so you shall be.” His eyes met hers. “Once again, Mrs. Johnson, I am sorry for Private Lemuel Opdyke’s vulgar behavior. His death was brutal but deserved.”
“I thought you would like to know that Opdyke’s brother will not be charged.” He glanced down at his glass then back up at her again. “One needn’t fear it will be otherwise, no matter who shot him, you see.”
Emily did not know what to think. It seemed as though he suspected the truth, if not knew outright. If that were the case, then he was exhibiting unexpected kindness. She didn’t understand why he would do such a thing, seeing as how he was a Confederate and she was colored. She thought a moment. “Captain.”
“How do you see me, and folk like me?”
“May I be honest?”
“You were always there when I was growing up. You see, where I come from, if you’re white, you just don’t think about colored folks all that much, unless of course something is wrong.” He sat back in his chair. “Does that offend you?”
“Wouldn’t it offend you?”
“It would, indeed. And I apologize, but I figured the truth was in order.”
“Your apology is accepted.”
“If you don’t mind, Mrs. Johnson, I’d like to hear a little about your life here. What you do, what your family is like, what your hopes are, your dreams, your faith.”
Her amber eyes narrowed. “If I do that, then I’d like to hear about your life. I need to know the truth. I’ve always been of the opinion that you folks were devils.”
He laughed heartily. “Oh, Mrs. Johnson, we are not devils.”
“And we are not property, Captain.” Emily smiled wryly. “I just figured the truth was in order.”
Morrison chuckled and held up his glass in a toast. “Mrs. Johnson, I think maybe God put us together this night for a reason.”
“Maybe so,” Emily replied and lifted her own glass.
That’s where their conversation ends. Have they found common ground? Do they understand each other a bit more? Maybe. Maybe not. But two different people from opposing sides somehow have managed to speak to each other bravely (on Emily’s part), candidly, and without rancor.
And that is more than I can say for some of the conversation going around these days.
The next couple of blogs will focus on favorite scenes from book three, A Time to Heal.
In the meantime, practice kindness and have an open mind and open ears.
Janet R. Stafford
https://www.nps.gov/places/salem-church.htm, Image from National Park Service, Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania, Salem Church. The photograph shows a group of veterans visiting the church after the Civil War
The Battle of Salem Church in Fredericksburg, Virginia was fought 3-4 May 1863. It was part of a larger event called the Battle of Chancellorsville. Included in the battle was the 15th New Jersey Volunteer Infantry Regiment, which was attached to the 1st Brigade, 1st Division, of the 6th Army Corps in the Army of the Potomac. In Walk by Faith, the New Jersey 15th is the regiment to which Patrick McCoy (Frankie Blaine’s beau) and Edgar Lape (Lydia Blaine’s husband) are attached. Following the 15th are newspaperman Eli Smith and writer Chester Carson, who are working as war correspondents.
On 3 May, when Union solders advanced upon Salem Church, Confederate sharpshooters fired on them from the upper gallery of the church. As the federals reached the crest of a ridge and approached the church, the Confederates counterattacked, driving them back down onto the plain. A Union soldier described the battle, saying, “A tremendous roar of musketry met us from the unseen enemy, one hundred feet away, posted behind a fence and a ditch. Men tumbled from our ranks dead, and others fell helpless with wounds.”
On 4 May, Sedgwick’s VI Corp retreated across the Rappahannock River. Eli and Carson try to beat the soldiers to the ford, but all is in a state of confusion. With shells and bullets flying around Eli’s news wagon gets stuck in the river’s shallows. Eli hops out and works to push the wagon free, while Carson tries to urge the horse on. However, the horse is spooked by a nearby explosion and takes off with Carson unsuccessfully trying to reign her in. Realizing that getting back to the wagon momentarily is a lost cause, Eli makes his way to the shore. Just as he gets onto dry land, a shell lands nearby, throwing him into the air. When Eli lands, he strikes his head and loses consciousness.
Eli regains consciousness in Salem Church, which has become a field hospital. A contemporary witness described what the field hospital was like:
“Hundreds upon hundreds of wounded were gathered up and brought for surgical attention…. After the house was filled the spacious churchyard was literally covered with wounded and dying. The sight inside the building, for horror, was perhaps, never equaled within so limited a space, every available foot of space was crowded with wounded and bleeding soldiers. The floors, the benches, even the chancel and pulpit were packed almost to suffocation with them. The amputated limbs were piled up in every corner almost as high as a man could reach; blood flowed in streams along the aisles and the open doors.” (https://www.nps.gov/frsp/learn/historyculture/sc.htm)
I cannot say that I love this scene, exactly. Rather, I think that I like it because it is powerful.
The voice was familiar.
His head hurt like hell. His leg didn’t feel terribly well either. Nevertheless, he forced his eyes open. Everything was blurry.
He croaked, “Patrick?”
The young man heaved a relieved sigh. “Thank God! You took a real bang to the head, man.”
Eli swallowed. He was dry as dust. “What happened?”
“You tell me. Someone found you near the ford. Lucky you didn’t land in the water and drown.”
Eli squeezed his eyes shut for a moment. The light from the lamps hurt. When he opened them again everything was still blurry. “I can’t see.” He felt himself begin to panic. “Patrick, I can’t see!”
The younger man smiled easily. “Relax. Your eyeglasses are in your pocket. Don’t know how they managed to stay on your face, let alone not break.”
“It’s ‘cause they hook over my ears.” Eli realized his reply was utterly stupid. “Am I missing any parts?”
“Nah. You’re just bruised. I’m more worried about your head.”
“So are a lot of folks,” Eli joked lamely and tried to sit up.
But Patrick gently pushed him back down. “Listen to me. You’re damn lucky. Got it? Damn lucky. The fact you’re alive and in one piece is a jo-fired miracle. I want you to rest. You’re not going to feel too well, believe me. I’ll see you get some water. Just don’t get up.”
“But I shouldn’t be taking up a soldier’s space.”
“Don’t worry about that. Just get some rest.”
Gradually Eli became aware of the sound of men talking. Others were groaning. And someone somewhere was crying piteously for his mother. He could feel people all around him and smelled blood, urine, feces, and vomit. He wrinkled his nose and tried to ignore the stench.
He was lying on army blankets on the floor. It was dark inside the building, save for the lantern lights. So, he thought, the sun has set. He wondered how long he had been unconscious. After fumbling in his pocket, Eli found his glasses and put them on. To his great relief, his vision was clear again.
Someone new drew near and stood over him. It was someone wearing skirts. “Private McCoy said you needed water.” The woman knelt beside him. She looked to be in her twenties, a pretty young thing with a weary, worn expression on her face. She was holding a tin cup.
Eli propped himself up on an elbow and let her put the cup to his mouth. He drank gratefully and then squinted up at her. “Thanks. I should be out of here soon. I’m sorry to be a bother.”
She smiled sweetly. “You’re no bother, sir. No one is.” Her voice was soft, and her accent said that Virginia was her home. “How on earth did you get here? You’re not a soldier.”
“I’m a reporter. We were trying to get across the ford before the army. Guess I didn’t make it.”
“You surely did not. How do you feel?”
“Not bad. I think I’ll get up.”
“Not quite yet. Private McCoy gave strict orders for you to remain lying down.”
Eli knew Patrick was right. His head was throbbing badly, but he figured many others needed a spot to lie down. It angered him that he was taking up their space. “I’m such a fool,” he muttered. “What am I doing running around a battlefield?”
The woman patted his arm. “Don’t worry.” Then she stood up and left to attend to someone else. As he watched her go, he let out a long self-loathing breath. He had to be mad. He had dragged himself and Carson into the middle of this hell, and for what?
Eli lay there listening to the crying, pleading, and groaning of the men around him. Anger rose up again. This time, he directed it heavenward. Dear God, he thought, have you no mercy? Don’t you hear them? They’re suffering! He felt impotent, useless in the face of it all. He was tilting at windmills, a Don Quixote without so much as a lance.
Despite the noise, the stench, and his pain Eli went to sleep. The next thing he knew Patrick was shaking his arm. “Hey, wake up!”
Pulling himself into a sitting position, Eli realized that his head felt better. “What’s the matter?”
“Something’s happened.” The young man’s voice was grim. He reached down and offered Eli his hand to help him stand up.
“Thought you wanted me to stay down.”
“You need to get up now.”
With Patrick’s assistance, Eli struggled to his feet, but his left leg was tricky and threatened to buckle. He knew it wouldn’t hold him without support. “My cane didn’t come in, did it?”
Patrick shook his head. “Put your arm around my shoulder. I’ll help you.”
As they moved through the dimly lit room, Eli realized he was in a church. The pews were packed with injured soldiers. Every space was covered with men. Some lay on cots, others on the floor. What Eli couldn’t see were piles of amputated limbs lying in the corners of the sanctuary nor could he see the blood creeping down the aisles.
“They brought him in a little while ago,” Patrick was saying.
His chest tightened. “What happened?"
“Belly wound.” Patrick stopped walking and stared grimly into Eli’s face. “He’s not gonna make it.”
“No?” Eli heard himself say.
“No.” The low lights caught the glint of tears in Patrick’s eyes.
The scene goes on much longer, but I need to cut it off here. Edgar does indeed die, something that leads an angry Eli to cuss God out and begins his struggle with what we now know as post-traumatic stress.
Pray for peace, friends. Because the alternative is horrific.
Be kind. Be understanding. Work for peace.
Janet R. Stafford
Image from http://clipart-library.com/clipart/riLo46doT.htm. Poker Cards #2023787 (License: Personal Use)
I have a few favorite scenes in Book 2 of the Saint Maggie series, Walk by Faith. I won't mention them all, but have chosen two. These scenes are illustrate the impact the Civil War had on people and their lives.
Both are long scenes, but worth reading.
Today, we’re looking at a moment between the men. It is 1863 and Eli and Carson (working as war correspondents) and Patrick and Edgar (who are soldiers) have found a quiet time to eat, drink, play poker, and talk.
Some foreshadowing is happening in the scene, which you will see come to fruition in the one I will post next. However, here things are lighter, with the men being open with their feelings, teasing one another, and growing in comradery.
One interesting note! In the early versions of the book, Carson wins the poker game with a full house over Eli’s four of a kind. My friend – and newest beta reader – Roe McBurnett corrected me in an email. It’s the other way around, he told me! And so, I have corrected the mistake here on the Squeaking Blog. The error will be corrected in the novel when I get around to running Walk by Faith through a “tidying up” session.
For now, though, why don't you join the guys in a poker game?
Sixth Corps of the Army of the Potomac Camp, White Oak Church, Virginia
Since the weather was fine and both Patrick and Edgar had managed to get permission to leave camp, they, Eli, and Carson had an evening of supper, poker, and libations. Edgar, who was a rather good cook, had roasted chicken and baked potatoes over the fire by Eli’s wagon. They had feasted well – eating all the chicken and two potatoes each and washing it down with cups of strong, black coffee, smuggled from the Army of the Potomac.
Now they sat on camp chairs around a small, crudely made table as they played five-card stud. Their tin cups had been hastily rinsed out and filled with whiskey. To further enhance their enjoyment Carson had produced cigars. What little betting money they had, in the form of pennies, sat in the middle of the table. They had played in total four games since supper. Edgar had won two while Patrick and Eli one each. Carson, who claimed to be a terrible poker player, did not seem to care about winning but relished the conversation. The sun was starting to go down and they all agreed this would be their last hand.
Eli puffed on his cigar. “Gimme one,” he said around the smoke as he slapped a card onto the table.
Carson dealt him one.
“Think we’ll be able to do this again before the next battle?” Patrick asked. “Three cards, please.”
“Why?” Eli said. “Is there a rumor?”
“I shouldn’t say.”
“Come on,” the newspaperman pressed. “Acknowledge the corn.”
Edgar put two cards on the table. “People are saying Hooker’s got something up his sleeve. Our troops have been sitting on one side of the Rappahannock staring at the Confederates sitting on the other side for months now. Hooker’s anxious to prove himself. But the weather hasn’t been cooperating. It’s obvious we will meet them on the battlefield, but no one knows when.” He organized the cards in his hand. “However, my comments are not for print.”
“I have no intention of printing them,” Eli said.
“You’re right. I do.”
Patrick sighed and laid his hand down. “I’m out.”
“Me, too,” Edgar added.
Face unreadable, Carson blinked. “Call.”
Eli laid his cards down. “Full house,” he announced triumphantly.
At this point, the corners of Carson’s mustache turned up with a smile that let Eli know the news was bad. “Four of a kind!” He spread the winning cards before his victim.
“Shit!” Eli exclaimed as Carson scooped up the pot. “You damn scalawag!”
Patrick laughed. “Mrs. Smith would take a switch to you if she could see you drinking, smoking, playing cards, and cussing!”
“When has Mrs. Smith ever taken a switch to anyone?” Eli picked up his cup. “Anyway, I behave myself at home.”
“Mm,” Edgar noted, “you’re almost exemplary at home, thanks to my very determined mother-in-law.”
“Ha!” Patrick chortled. “Eli’s hen-pecked!”
Taking a sip of the whiskey, Eli savored the smoky flavor and enjoyed the burn as it traveled down his throat. Then he said, “Listen to me, boy. Men need women to keep them in line. I’m a better man for Maggie’s influence. So watch your words, you young pup, or I’ll take a switch to you.”
Carson and Edgar hooted.
Eli stared at the camp across the field. Fires were winking in the descending darkness. “You know, something’s got to break. I need a story for the Times. This miserable war needs to live up to its reputation.” He corrected himself. “I’m sorry I said that. I take it back. Bring on the peace.”
Carson sipped from his cup. “Let us not focus on the war, gentlemen. The night is comfortable, there are stars in the sky, and we have cigars and whiskey. God made a night such as this for enjoyment.”
Edgar tipped his head back to observe the firmament. “Yeah. It’s a pretty sight, isn’t it? My Liddy and I used to love to watch the night sky. We’d lie on the grass, look for shooting stars, and study the constellations.”
“I sure wish Frankie was here.” Patrick sighed, looking like the love-struck young man that he was.
This caused Eli to pause cup halfway to his mouth. “Yeah, well, you’d better be wishing you were holding her hand and that’s all.”
Patrick composed an innocent visage. “Of course.” In actuality, he was thinking of the times he had hugged and kissed his best girl. She was a darned good kisser, too. He missed those kisses.
“Damn,” Eli hissed under his breath because he knew what Patrick was thinking. His stepdaughter was growing into a woman and there was nothing he could do to stop it. He took another sip of whiskey. “I think I’ll get good and drunk tonight.” He missed Maggie terribly.
Carson was lost in his own thoughts. “I remember a time like this along the Rhine – a romantic night of an intensity I’ll never see again. I was so young then…”
The men sat quietly for a moment listening to the peepers and the night bugs.
“You ever think about death?” Edgar suddenly asked.
Patrick yawned. The whiskey was making him sleepy. “All the time, working in a field hospital.”
“No. I mean your own.”
“Every other minute,” Carson announced, “especially when we’re close to the fighting.”
Edgar puffed out a plume of smoke. “The more I’m in a fight the more I think I’m likely to die.”
Eli tossed off the last of his cup and reached for the bottle.
“Don’t talk like that,” Patrick said. “You got as good a chance as any of walking away. And anyway you’ve got to get back to your Lydia.”
“A lot of men have got to get back to their women and it doesn’t always happen. I pray every night I’ll be able to see my darling girl again, but one thing I’ve learned out here is that there are no guarantees.”
“We are in the hands of fate,” Carson opined. “Forces are beyond our control.”
“I just hope there’s a heaven,” Edgar murmured.
“’Course there’s a heaven,” Patrick responded. “When I die, I intend to see my Ma and my sis there.”
Edgar smiled. “My folks, two of my brothers, and a sister are waiting for me.”
“Elysian Fields,” Carson mused. “Paradise… Ah, it sounds lovely!”
Eli stared at the dying embers of their fire. “Maggie saw her first husband when she took sick. And she told me something about hearing Madison’s footsteps in the house and someone knocking on her door when the fire broke out.”
Patrick said, “I heard the footsteps. Even saw someone walk through a wall once.”
“Balderdash,” Carson countered.
“No. It’s true.”
“Well,” Eli said, “I have to admit the feeling around the old Gazette changed at night. It felt dark and pretty eerie in there.” He blew a ring of smoke into the air. “But unlike Maggie, when I was shot, I don’t remember seeing anything or anyone.” He frowned. “Damn! You don’t suppose that’s a sign, do you? D’you think it means I’m going to hell?”
“Yes,” the other three chorused.
“You fellas sure know how to make a body feel good. Damn you all to hell, anyway. I’ll see you there and then we can play poker with the devil.”
Laughing, Edgar puffed on his cigar. “In all truth, Eli, if God is a loving God perhaps everyone gets forgiven and goes to heaven, even an ornery old newspaperman like you.”
“Betcha heaven’s filling up pretty fast these days.” Patrick sighed. “Hope they save some room in case we need it.”
“Bell-fired war.” Eli took a gulp of whiskey. “I’m damned soured on it. To hell with it all, I am getting drunk tonight!”
Edgar said, “Agreed. Pass that antifogmatic.”
Carson handed over the whiskey bottle.
Patrick watched Edgar refill his cup. After some thought, he stiffened his back and lifted his own cup in the air. “Aw, hell! Here’s to tonight! It’s our night. Not Lincoln’s, not Davis’s, not Lee’s, and not Hooker’s. Ours!”
“Here, here!” Carson clicked his cup to Patrick’s.
“To our night!” Edgar touched his cup to theirs.
“To our night!” Eli added his cup to the mix. “Hang everything and everyone else!”
The next morning Eli Smith would wake up with a raging hangover, but he would remember that one fine night in the middle of the war when he and the others managed to carve out a moment that would remain frozen in his mind forever.
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder