Gotta luv Monty Python and The Holy Grail but the departed ones I write about didn’t die from a pestilence in the Dark Ages…
For years, I’ve been drawn to the American Civil War. As a historian, I see the war’s framework was established as the colonies were forming. Even before the Industrial Revolution, the colonies of the North leaned towards mercantile and commerce – shipping, fishing, lumber and craftsmanship – where the Southern remained agriculturally based in tobacco then cotton as the main exports. Both crops needing mass cultivation and labor, tedious and hard under the bright hot sun. The type of work that no one would do for a pittance offered, thus slavery came into being and flourished. Differing cultures, differing commerce lead to economic upheavals resulting in the War of the Rebellion (the official name of the war by the US government).
1861-1865 turned into the bloodiest conflict in America’s history. Not even a century old, this land fought with Western Europe watching, many of its leaders, monarchies still, retained some hope we’d fail thus demonstrating how the concept of a “republic” could not work. After years of upheaval, mired in blood and destruction, we survived. And the men who fought over democracy, over the right for Southern Independence or for the Union (a harder sell in 19th century way of thought – an intangible objective for many who never left their home city and/or state but an idea Lincoln pushed, knowing the international attention the South drew) are heros through and through. The land they marched on, they fought on, they died for – this is Hallow Ground.
Last weekend, I joined my compatriots at the Civil War Trust to see, walk on and discuss these Hallow Grounds at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania Courthouse. To stand on this land is to marvel and admire these men. The goal of this group is simple – save every acre we can before another Walmart, etc. steals it. Amazing to see expensive home built over lands our patriots bled for, or asphalt sealing it for roads or parking lots. With those sort of “monuments” to our soldiers, what will future generations have? What will we have?
For this War, the one that defined the US, made us stronger, I try to do more and bring it alive in my upcoming novel, The Wicked North, and its sequels, Unconditional Surrender and TBN.
A taste of what is to come, I salute both the Confederate and Union soldiers for their honor and courage. From Unconditional Surrender –
Jack Fontaine has a visit from an old friend.
Louisiana, summer 1863 –
“Massa Jack, yuv got a lady here for ya.”
He glanced up at Tilly’s announcement. The slave still looked timid in his presence, even after all this time. He shook his head, trying to clear it. “Who, Tilly?”
The slave opened her mouth but a swath of blue silk washed past her.
“Why Jack Fontaine, since when do I need such protocol?” The sweet Southern drawl of the woman in blue asked as she pushed past the slave.
“Sarah Lawrence, what a surprise to see you,” he stated, standing to greet her.
She smiled in reply.
Sarah Lawrence, of Rienzi, Mississippi, was a sight for his poor eyes. The petite lady dressed in the latest of fashions, blue watered silk, white cuffs and collar, matching her blue and white bonnet so radically so much more than the women he’d seen lately. Two years into the war, in the blockaded South, led many to improvise their wardrobe. But he knew this fawn haired seductress had her own means, and it rubbed him wrong. Inhaling, he steeled himself for what he knew to be inevitable.
She gave her widest smile as she held her hand out for him to kiss. Her bare hand. Forward as always, he thought. Not the ways of a proper Southern belle but more along the lines of a former lover. He refused her. As she lowered her hand, her blue eyes sparkled and her smile never faded.
“Still angry, I do declare, Jack. I’d thought after all these years, you might be pleased to see me.”
He grunted and walked over to the sideboard, tilting his head in question as he picked up the wine decanter. Her smile was all he needed and he poured her a glass. He handed it to her and said, “Sarah, I’m married now.”
“Oh, tweedle tee dee, so I’ve heard, up and down the river.” She sipped her drink and closed her eyes. “Fontaine’s still keep the best.”
He said nothing but sat behind the desk, eyeing her carefully. Trusting her ended years ago. “There’s a war going on and I know this isn’t a social call. What do you want?”
“Is there no kindness for kin?” She fluttered her incredibly long, curled brown eyelashes at him, trying to look innocent. Too bad it was a hoax.
“Nice Southern accent, darlin’.”
Her lips drew a straight line. “I am a Southern girl.”
He laughed. “A lifetime ago…”
“Yes, sur, just as your sweet Lou’s’ana drawl returned to you.”
He glared at her. “Why are you here? In my house?”
She bent her head, her hands fidgeting with the gloves in her lap. “Perhaps I’m here to see Francois.”
“What a crock of piss and vinegar! Francis? You swore you’d never return here because of him.”
“Jacques,” she drawled the French pronunciation of his name out. “Maybe that wasn’t due to him but to you.”
This time, the laughter rolling from his lips was sincere. “Oh, dear, darlin’ Sarah, you didn’t run from me.”
She tilted her nose, giving him a look of superiority. “Truth be told, my dear sweet Jack, I’m here at the request of General Grant.”
The chair he had tipped back in slammed to all four legs on the floor. Damn! He downed the rest of the wine down, its bitter taste burning his throat but he refused to react to it. Instead, his gaze pinned hers. “Whatever would a busy general want with me?”
She pursed her lips, a smug expression in her face. “He wants to know when to expect your return to the fight. The “elephant awaits you,” I believe was his message.”
Jack sighed. He stood and walked to the window. “I can’t return to Union lines. Not now. Not for at least another,” he paused, counting. “Four or five months, considering.”
“Four or five months?”
He heard her questioning tone. And her southern drawl gone. “Why whatever for?”