Friday, May 30, 2014

The Civil War Short Story - Part 2 of 4

The Civil War Short Story
Part 2 of 4

The following excerpt is from Part III of the forthcoming Short Story Collection:

“American Centennial at the Homeplace: The Founding (1833-1876)”

The "Civil War Short Story" is considered by the author as the Feature Presentation of the book.

Statue of a Civil War Soldier at Gettysburg
Source: user smithwil

The Civil War Short Story - Part 2 of 4:     [If you haven't read Part I, go here]

McDonald men were not typically physically large and strong like the Truesdale men were. I was even small for a McDonald, and, I was already using reading glasses when I was 12 years old. I loved to read, and strained my eyes a lot. 

Once I remember, during that time, I was 12 or 13, and a bunch of rebels came through on horseback. They were ‘recruiting’ and looking for any boys or men-folk left in the countryside. When they approached me, I convinced them I was ‘blind as a bat’ and would be more nuisance than I was worth. When that worked once, I used it a couple more times, when the occasion arose. I wasn’t really neutral on the war, I just wanted to be left alone on our farm. If I’d gone off with any of them, I knew I would be dead in weeks, if not sooner, so it really shouldn’t have mattered to them. Fortunately, it worked out ok, in the long run.

Colonel Jake Patton was our blacksmith, and his wife, Kate, she ran the General Store over west of the Homeplace. With his political connections up north and over in St. Louis, he got an Army commission and helped raise troops for the Union Army. Kate and their daughter, Victoria Truesdale, held out as long as they could here. But then, a bunch of raiders came through and burned his shop and the General Store building. Escaping with their lives, they immediately left for the north to join Victoria’s husband, Hugh. Hugh had left earlier with his mules and the Patton horses to become a private contractor and consultant for the army.

Here in the valley we began hoarding part of our crops and other valuables up in the caves above Oak Creek. We even hid some of our equipment, like the plow, hoes and such, in one of the caves. GranPa knew where they could be hidden, and I began helping him a lot. He taught me how to stay out of sight and how to keep the entrances to the caves covered and not be noticeable. He also taught me how to do things like they had back in the mid-30s when they had first settled this valley. I was small, but I was wiry and became much stronger as he depended more on me. By the time ma and pa and the girls decided they had to leave, GranPa Henry and I talked them all into letting us stay behind, to ‘look after the property.’ 

Cousin David Baldridge, his family had the mill, stayed on as long as he could, but when another bunch of raiders finally burned the mill, he left too, and signed up with the Union forces. 

So, through the fall of 1862, GranPa Henry and I harvested what we could from the fields that had been planted in the spring and hoarded at lot of if, but left enough out in the open and in the cribs that were left so that raiders thought they were getting ‘everything’ we had left. The raiders were rarely ever the same people, so that helped fool them. Sometimes we would recognize who they were but most of the time, especially later on, we just disappeared and let them take what they wanted. 

We survived the winter of 62-63 living in the caves. All our houses had been burned by then. GranPa Henry and I had learned to hunt and fish in the old ways, and we got by surprisingly well.  

In the spring of 1863, of course, we didn’t know what to expect except that things would probably be much the same. And, they were. We stayed out of sight, pretty much stayed out of the valley where the raiders would pass through if there were any. We hunted mostly in the woods, up on the ridge. As it was time for planting, we had saved seed so we set about locating ‘out-of the way’ places we could plant, that would not likely come to the attention of the raiders. We used the old pioneer method of putting a fish in the hill with the seeds and putting the seeds in easy to dig spots, not putting them in rows. That way, they fit in nicely with their surroundings. We knew where they were. We would be harvesting them, individually, by hand, with no animals or wagons, so it really didn’t make any difference where they were. We also harvested what we could from the orchards around the valley. Looking back, in a way, since we did survive, it was kind of fun.

It had come down to just the two of us, as you can tell. The whole year of 1863 this valley was desolated and slowly returning to nature. Before the war there had been 25 or 30 houses plus a number of barns, cribs and other out buildings. By the fall, if you came through the valley, you would hardly have known any settlement had existed there. In a way, I suppose, we were kind of hoping it was that way. Wildlife continued to be available for hunting, but sign of bear and mountain lion also increased, so we lived the way that GranPa had lived in this place in those first years, about thirty years earlier.

To be continued...  to Part 3 ...

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