Friday, June 6, 2014

The Civil War Short Story - Part 3 of 4

The Civil War Short Story
Part 3 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 3 of 4:

We did have some of our books in the caves and we did keep up a calendar. So we knew it was on November 10, 1863, when we spotted a small company of Union soldiers on horseback coming through our valley. They made camp in the bend of Oak Creek. GrandPa Henry decided this was the time to make contact with them and find out a little more about the outside world. It had been many weeks since anyone had entered our valley.

There were 18 men, men and horses, camped that night along the Creek. GranPa had me stay back, in cover, and he approached the camp carefully, making himself known without being shot on sight by the pickets that had been set up. He presented himself as a hermit and hunter just passing through the area himself; he was about 62 years old, at the time. He did tell the young Lieutenant in charge that he had known a Colonel Jake Patton who had once lived in this valley, when he had passed through before. He said he believed the Colonel was now in the St. Louis area. He asked the Lieutenant to pass along a note to Colonel Patton that they had seen him. He used his own name.

They told him the war was still going on and they were clearing the area of southern sympathizing guerrillas and outlaws. They questioned him extensively, of course, but he seemed to give them answers they were willing to accept and did not detain him. 

With that encounter, we continued our efforts to make our life as workable as possible for another potentially hard winter. By that time, the harvesting was done from what we had planted but there were still wild elements (nuts, berry, etc.) and the fruit in the orchards that could be collected. We continued to do that along with our regular hunting efforts. Deer and turkey, in particular, continued to be plentiful. We each used bow and arrow quite effectively, along with traps and snares, and occasionally, spears.

We followed the same processes in 1864. It seemed there were fewer raiding parties during the year and only two or three identifiable sets of troops going through. We did not make contact with them, assuming we would get the same response as before.

It was not until May of 1865 when your father, Daniel McDonald, and my brother-in-law (your uncle), Lewis Truesdale, appeared in the valley, coming from the north, on horseback, each leading two pack mules. 

We were very happy to greet them and to receive the news that, officially at least, the war was over. We were sure there would still be some raiders and outlaws, but we would deal with that as needed. It was wonderful to hear news of family. We had been so isolated for so long. We first heard that Lewis and Caroline had married. We heard of you, William, being born in the prior year. Many of our family and friends from the valley had been able to stay close, or in touch, and we enjoyed hearing of each of them.

On the pack mules, they brought some harness and more seed to plant along with other supplies. They also brought a couple of extra rifles and ammunition, which were certainly great to see. 

We wasted little time in locating the old plow and other useful items and identifying the best field to plow and plant first. We had already planted all the seed we had saved from the prior year, so it was important to put our best efforts, so long as weather permitted, to get some good crops in for this year. We hoped and assumed that more family and friends would return yet that year, and certainly the following year. We were a bit optimistic on this, but better that than not to be prepared for them. They said they believed David Baldridge was only a couple of weeks behind them, and hoped to get both the saw mill and the grist mill back in operation by fall, at least at a modest level.

Actually, David Baldridge arrived in about ten days. He was accompanied by Liam Olson and, again, they each also had two mules loaded with supplies. Liam’s parents, Owen and Anna, had been in the valley nearly as long as the four original families. Liam, like his father before him, had learned the blacksmithing trade from his father and Jake Patton and was learning to be a successful farmer, as well. We learned that he had enlisted in the Union army and had served as a farrier, caring for the horses. He was also among the first released when the war ended, because the need for his services diminished quickly. Along with many others, he was anxious to attempt to re-establish his position in the valley so his family could return, as well. He and David knew their skills would be very useful to others as well as themselves in meeting these goals.

By the way, with the end of the war, horses and mules were available at relatively cheap prices, accounting for their numbers among these early arrivals. It didn’t take us very long to get back into the habit of using the animals regularly.

I was, of course, a bit surprised that my father was not among the first to come back. However, after talking to the men, they said he wanted to come but, in order of priorities, 1) he had the best current job, 2) he had the responsibilities of an extended family, and 3) the younger men were better equipped to make the long ride on horseback more quickly. In fact, of course, it turned out that he had successfully established a freight company that was growing and continued to grow during the post war era. My younger sisters and mother were very happy and didn’t really want to return to the rural area, and so they never did, as you know. This was among the reasons the growth of the revived valley was much slower than many of us had expected. It took many years to rebuild, and, to my best understanding, we have not yet, more than ten years later, matched the levels of activity we had achieved prior to the war. 

To be continued... next Friday...

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