Close-up and Personal—
Drawing Inspiration from the Harsh Reality of the Civil War
If we compare our nation to those in the eastern hemisphere, we might say we are lucky to have had only one war fought within our borders. But the Civil War claimed more American lives than WWI & II, the Korean War, and Vietnam combined. This war between our states has probably been studied and reenacted by history enthusiasts more than any other conflict. A million intriguing stories and other fascinating tidbits can be found with a simple internet search. Yet, when we look through a close-up lens, we discover the reality during the conflict and in the aftermath is much less intriguing. It’s downright tragic.
The Southern states endured the most suffering, with women being left behind to raise the children and run the farms when their men were drafted into the fighting. The North cut off supply routes, and passing armies often took what little livestock or crops they had to sustain themselves, resulting in widespread hunger.
We don’t see the details of these stories in the history books. We must turn to personal accounts to get a view from the inside. In “A Woman’s Civil War”, for example, Cornelia Peake McDonald, a Confederate widow from Virginia, kept a diary from the time her husband left for battle until after the end of the war. She describes in detail the reality of rearing nine children on her own, having to stand in line to get a little bread to feed them, Union soldiers confiscating their home, and the death of her baby girl.
From the soldiers’ point of view, those who were lucky enough to make it home had a good chance of returning with a missing limb and a morphine addiction, and to decimated farms and dead loved ones. We can imagine the burden these veterans carried throughout the rest of their lives. How do you rebuild and provide for your family when you are disabled and have no money, materials, and very little help?
It is these personal stories of desperation and loss that I’m drawing from to write “A Time for Everything”. There’s Portia McAllister, a Confederate widow who lost her husband and only child, and Beau Stanford, a Union veteran who came home to find his wife dead and his horse farm on the verge of collapse. How will they find the strength and heart to love again when the world they knew has been turned upside down and the battle of Reconstruction has just begun?
I hope you’ll enjoy this excerpt from my work-in-progress, and I hope you will see it in its entirety within the next year. In this passage, Beau is recovering from an injury he received while saving Portia and his son from an accident. While she sits at his bedside, they share some of the horrors they faced during the war:
[Portia said,] “….During the war, men from both sides found their way to my door, asking for help from me and Ellen. Some had minor wounds that needed stitching. Others were starving. I did what I could, but…”
She fiddled with the handkerchief on her lap. “There’s always a cost.”
“Tell me. What happened?”
“Typhoid.” Fresh tears dripped from her eyes as she twisted the handkerchief into a tight rope. “A Rebel soldier came to the house sick. That’s how Abby took ill. I should have turned him away. She’d still be here. My baby would still be here.”
She buried her face in her hands. Wracking sobs shook her body. Beau pushed himself up, steadying himself as the room wobbled. Reaching out, he took her in his arms and let her cry it out. He stroked her half-fallen hair and rocked gently back and forth. Things like money and marriage seemed trivial now; his heart ached for Po. On one level, he understood her pain. He’d lost Claire, but to lose Jonny too? He’d have probably put a bullet in his head.
“Shh. It’s not your fault. It’s nobody’s fault. You did what you could, like any good woman would. And you put yourself in harm’s way for my son. I can’t thank you enough for that.”
After a little while, her crying subsided and her body relaxed, but she remained in his arms and rested her head on his shoulder. Beau closed his eyes, glad that she felt comfort in his embrace.
“Beau,” she said, her voice muffled against his bare skin. “What was it like? The fighting, I mean. What was it like out there?”
His jaw tightened, as did his hold on Portia. “I don’t think you need to hear about all that now.”
“What are a few more tears in the sea I’ve already shed?”
Elbows resting on his knees, he hung his aching head. He’d never spoken about the specifics to anyone, not even Harry, though they’d lived through the same hell together.
“I want to know,” she said, though her voice quaked. “I heard the cannons and gunfire, and I heard stories from the men who sought our help. But, Jake never talked about it in his letters, and I never got the chance to ask him face to face. My mind sculpts images of what he must have seen and felt, but I can’t sort truth from fiction. It haunts me, not knowing, and I fear I may lose the courage to ask about it again.”
An inner war raged inside him, but courage won the battle. Po’s husband fought and died out there, so she deserved to know the truth of how things really were. Or at least part of it. He swallowed hard and forced himself to speak.
He scratched the stubble on his jaw, focusing on the rug and her little feet. “At first, we didn’t think the war would amount to much. We enlisted and went through training, learned about formation, how to use cover fire, things like that. It was all orders and marching, forming columns and dressing the line. We got to know each other, and we learned to hate the enemy.”
Portia let out a soft groan. He looked up to see if he’d said too much. Her fingers curled around the ends of the armrests with white-knuckled tension, and she averted her eyes. But, she wasn’t leaving, and she wasn’t asking him to stop, so he continued.
“Once the real fighting began, everything changed. One minute you’re cuttin’ up with your friends, and the next minute, you’re watching them get blown apart. And you forget all the strategy, you forget the reasons you’re there in the first place. All you want to do is stay alive. You want to get back home. Nobody’s your enemy—not in the smoke and blood and sweat. It’s life or death, shoot and don’t think. Just get back home.”
She turned to him again, with tears budding from the corners of her eyes. Without a word, she reached for his hand and took it in both of hers. When she nodded for him to continue, his muscles relaxed; her strength gave him the courage to keep talking.
“And when it’s all over, if you’re not dead or wounded, you have to bury the bodies. You have to bury your friends. And God…some of them were just boys, Po. Little boys who would never get back home.”
Can't wait to read Mysti's newest book when it is released. Until then check out her Tallenmere series, A Ranger's Tale, Serenya's Song and Hearts in Exile. You can buy them here: