(My photograph. Part of the Gettysburg battlefield. I just couldn't put up the old photos of the dead on the battlefield. Too grizzly, even in black and white.)
The Civil War is a complex, nuanced period in the history of the United States. And, while it is tempting to boil it down to the simple statement, “North=good, South=bad,” that is not a helpful stance to take.
One of the things I have attempted with the Saint Maggie series is to point out the many facets of the war and what fed the nation’s divide. I have tried to resist easy assumptions. The books where the war is most clearly the backdrop to the story are Walk by Faith and A Time to Heal.
That is why I thought it might be appropriate to interview Lydia Blaine Lape and Frankie Blaine, Maggie’s two daughters, about an incident that takes place in A Time to Heal.
In the novel, we are introduced to Lt. Caleb O’Connor when, after the battle of Gettysburg, Chester Carson, Lydia, and Frankie go onto the battlefield to search for wounded soldiers, despite the fact that they already have wounded lodging in their house.
Here is the first part of my interview with Maggie’s daughters. [Note: Lydia and Frankie are interviewed as they were in September of 1863. Lydia is 21 years of age, and Frankie is 17.]
Janet: Good morning, ladies. It’s good to see you.
Lydia: I am happy to see you, too!
Frankie: We seldom see you, but we always know you’re there. Kind of like God.
Lydia: Frances! Don’t be blasphemous.
Frankie [giggles]: Well, Miss Stafford is going to ask us questions that she already knows the answers to. She’s doing it because an essay would be quite boring if she were to write it all from her own point of view. We’re much more interesting!
Lydia [exasperated]: I’m sorry, Miss Stafford. My sister is being improper.
Janet: It’s all right. I know her well. And, actually, she’s correct.
Lydia: Yes, but she needs to develop some tact.
Frankie: May we go on with the interview? Papa would enjoy this so much! He used to own a newspaper, you know.
Janet: I do. So… what made you two go out into the battlefield that day?
Lydia: It was Frankie’s idea. Actually, I was content to stay at home and care for the soldiers we already had. But Frankie suggested that we go out and look for more injured men.
Frankie: During the battle, I had been staying outside town at Beate Schultz’s farm. She’s the aunt of my friend Gus Schultz.
Lydia: She was staying there because Frankie had done a very foolish thing. She and Gus decided to watch the beginning of the battle and ended up running ahead of the Union Army’s retreat. We didn’t see her again until after the battle was over. Mama was worried half to death.
Frankie: I wasn’t being foolish! It was exciting, and we had no idea that the fighting would come into our town. Anyway, you went off to deliver someone's baby that morning. So Mama had two of us to worry about!
Lydia: Yes, but I managed to return to our house, and it’s a good thing. too. I came upon our first wounded men on the way home. [to Janet] Like many other people in Gettysburg, our house became a hospital.
Frankie: My beau Patrick found me after the battle and brought me back home. On the way home, I saw so many men were lying in the fields. Some were dead, but there were others who had been wounded and needed help.
Janet: When did this happen?
Frankie: July fifth. It was the second day after the battle had ended.
Lydia: When Frankie proposed that we go into the fields, I thought she was mad.
Frankie: Men were suffering, Liddy. We couldn’t just leave them there to die all alone. I never would have been able to sleep at night.
Janet: Were these men Union or Confederate?
Frankie: Didn’t matter. Mama always emphasizes Jesus’ commands to “love God” and “love neighbor.” Of course, during our time in Gettysburg that was hard for me to do. At first.
Janet: How long were you in Gettysburg?
Lydia: We arrived in early March of this year.
Lydia: Yes. This year.
Frankie: Our house in New Jersey was burned down.
Lydia: The town's sheriff thought we'd be safer if we moved away for a while.
Frankie: Apparently, some folks in Blaineton didn't like us because we're abolitionists. They also didn't like our friendship with Nate and Emily Johnson because they're colored.
Lydia: And, of course, there were rumors about us having a stop on the Underground Railroad.
Janet: Did you?
Frankie: Of course! Nate and Emily started it years ago, and then invited Mama and Papa to help.
Lydia: So now we are in Gettysburg. It has been a long sojourn, which I fear, would be a tiresome story for your readers.
Janet: Don’t be so sure about that.
Frankie: It’s September already. We've been in Pennsylvania for six months! Can you believe it, Liddy?
Lydia: Blaineton seems so far away now, like a dream.
Frankie; I wish I were living in Gettysburg now.
Janet: That's right. You moved, didn't you?
Frankie: Not because I wanted to. Mama and Papa made me do it. Now I live with them seven miles north of in Middletown. They said I couldn't stay in Gettysburg unchaperoned. [Mutters] Even though Mr. Carson and Grandpa are living there and would make fine chaperones…
Lydia: You still have things to learn from Mama before you strike out on your own. [to Janet] Shall we move along?
Janet: By all means. Frankie, you have a big heart. I noticed that you said it didn't matter whether wounded soldiers belonged to the Union or Confederate army.
Frankie: It didn't the day I suggested we go into the fields. But it wasn't always like that. As the Confederate army got closer the weeks before the battle, I wasn't very good at loving God and loving my neighbor. I think if I really had loved God, I would have seen that all of us are God's children, regardless of which side we were on. But I was angry about slavery. Still am. Slavery is what's evil. I thought, if men are fighting for the side that embraces slavery, and slavery is evil, then they must be evil, too.
Janet: What made you change your mind?
Frankie: I was working in a field hospital during the battle because I couldn’t get home and I wanted to be useful. I did my best to treat the Confederate soldiers the same as I treated our boys. But it wasn’t really the same, because my heart wasn’t in my actions. I felt kind of guilty about that, so, I started thinking about a Bible verse as I worked. The one about when we give aid and care to others then we are doing the same for Jesus. After keeping that in my mind, I looked down at a man – he was wearing a butternut uniform – he was my enemy. And suddenly, I didn’t see him. I saw Jesus in him.
Janet: Wow. That was a profound experience.
Frankie: It was. I can’t forget it.
Lydia: Even though I share the same beliefs, thanks to our mother, I still was hesitant to leave those in our house and look for more injured soldiers. I was only thinking about what was convenient and helpful for us. So, I had forgotten the command to love others, too.
Frankie: I told her I had heard that some people were going out and finding injured men.
Lydia: And that made me think about the men lying out in the fields who needed our help. My husband, Edgar, had been killed in May during the Chancellorsville campaign. I realized how glad I was that someone had found him and moved him to a field hospital, where he could be cared for in his final moments. Papa and Patrick were there as he passed on, too. Was it luck? Or was it something else? I don't know. But I thought: if women like us don't do this kind work, who will?
Frankie: Most of the people living in the town and taking care of the wounded were women.
Lydia: So, we went into the battlefield. Mr. Carson, our good friend, insisted on driving the wagon for us.
Frankie: He didn’t want us to go out alone. He’s like an uncle to us.
Janet: And that’s how you met Caleb.
Lydia: Yes. He was among the wounded, pinned under two other dead men.
Janet: But after you brought the men back to your house, you still continued to go above and beyond for Caleb.
Lydia: We did.
Janet: And it led to some big problems for you.
Frankie [whistles]: And how!
Lydia [rolls her eyes]: Frances… please behave...
Come back Wednesday to hear more of my interview with Frankie and Lydia as we unpack how compassion and compassionate actions can fly in the face of social convention but, more importantly, the law.