Friday, September 13, 2013

War Correspondents: The Beginning

Author's Note:  This is the first in a new series inspired by Ken Burns' The Civil War series.  It is simply a series of letters between Lou and Kid during the war.  This is a personal challenge as the format severely limits what I can say and how while still getting the story told.  I hope you enjoy.

March 15, 1862
Near Manassas, Virginia
My dearest Lou Louise Lou,
I miss you. I miss you so much at times I feel like vomiting.  You know I’ve never been good with words, but there’s the truth of things.  I knew leaving you would be the hardest thing I would ever do, but actually doing it was even worse.  Every night on the way here, I would close my eyes and see your face, tears streaming down your cheeks as you waved goodbye to me.  You have no idea how close I came to turning back.  I may be back in Virginia now, but my heart remains in Nebraska with you and our child.
I pray you are doing well.  I am sure Teaspoon and Rachel are taking good care of you, if you’re letting them.  Please, darling, let them.  For my sake, if not yours.
While I continually found myself looking for you on the trip here I am eternally grateful you didn’t come.  I won’t go into details about the trials of the journey.  It’s nothing you aren’t familiar with yourself, except for the number of brigands afflicting the country right now.  It seems like every man with an ax to grind between Nebraska and the Atlantic Ocean is taking advantage of these hostilities to carve out a little piece of the pie for himself.  I almost lost my horse three times.  And that was just in Missouri!  Thank God I left Katy with you. 
          Ever since I arrived in Virginia last week, I’ve continually found myself looking for you at my side, wanting to share some new sight from my childhood with you.  You have no idea how exciting it is to be back home again.  The sights, the smells, the sounds… the feel of the air itself.  I had no idea I’d missed it so much.  No matter how I try I simply cannot put it into words to describe it all to someone who’s never been here, never felt it.
          I returned to my hometown, near Manassas, but there was no one left I wanted to visit.  The town itself is practically deserted.  All the men are off to fight the War and the women and children have mostly left to stay with friends or family farther away from the fighting.  It’s been so close I can hear the cannons booming in the distance sometimes.
          The old homestead is still there, as deserted as the rest of the town.  I spent the night sleeping on the floor of the room I used to share with Jed.  It wasn’t the same.  Too much has changed since we were children.  I cherish my memories of our childhood, but I guess it’s official.  I’ve grown up and I can never forget what Jed did, what he was willing to do.
          Talk of the War is everywhere.  The papers all say the War should be finished within the year, especially if Lincoln continues to put idiots like McClellan in charge.  That man couldn’t find his own shadow without the help of a hundred other shadows. 
I haven’t joined up yet.  I’m not sure why not.  I had the chance.  Just a few days ago I passed a cavalry regiment leaving the area.  They were heading out to intercept the Federals, one of them told me.  But, for some reason, I’m just not ready yet. 
          So much here is familiar, is safe, is home.  Yet, so much is not.  I just need some time to get comfortable with those changes first, I guess.  I always thought you were the one who struggled the most with change, but look at me.
          I’m moving on to Richmond, now, closer to where the fighting is headed.  I hear tell the Federals are landing near the Rappahannock River, east of Richmond.  I figure it’ll give me more time to reacquaint myself with my Virginia and the changes she’s undergone since I left.  Then I’ll join up down there, I guess.
          Speaking of changes, I cannot begin to wonder how you are changing, my darling.  Already you were rounder and glowing when I left.  But it’s been two months.  I imagine the child is making her presence well known by now.  I hope and pray it’s a girl, with big, brown eyes like her mother.  I’ll have to fight the boys off in a few years, so it’s best I get some practice in now.
          All my love to you.  I hope to hear from you soon.  You can write me in care of my Aunt Tallulah in Richmond. 
          I pray this War will end soon and I will be home before our child is born. 
          With all my love,
                     your husband, Kid

April 3, 1862
Rock Creek, Nebraska Territory
Dearest Kid,
            I was overjoyed to get your letter.  I cannot believe how long it took to get here!  Nothing like when we used to deliver the mail.  Was it really so long ago?  It seems like yesterday, yet like another lifetime at the same time.  What other disruptions is this war going to cause before it’s over?
            I’m sorry. I don’t mean to complain, but I miss you horribly.  I know we agreed I should stay behind because of the baby.  But it gets harder every day.  Have you heard what happened at the Battle of Shiloh in Tennesse?  It’s in all the newspapers here.  Over 20,000 dead and wounded between the two sides, another nearly 4,000 missing.  In one battle.  I just can’t comprehend that.  And that’s what you’ve ridden into, my love.  Please, be careful!
            I continually find myself turning to share something with you, a sunrise, a beautiful flower, Katy and Lightning’s latest antics, our child’s first movements.  But you’re never there and I burst into tears.   I feel like I’m constantly crying, and usually over nothing at all.  Rachel says it’s the baby.  I’m not so sure. 
            Rachel says I should write you happy stuff, not depress you with my troubles here.  So, what’s going on here you ask?  Well, let me tell you.
            Tompkins has started courting the owner of the new bakery in town.  She’s half his height and twice as big around.  But she makes him smile, a rare sight indeed.  We’re hoping they make a match of it.  This town could use more smiling Tompkins and less of the grouch he can be.
            They’re not alone.  Rachel’s friend, that detective fellow who worked for the Express and caused her so much trouble with his drinking?  He’s back in town, sober as a preacher, and trying his damndest to court Rachel. She’s not sure she trusts him, though.  So she’s holding him off for now.  I don’t think that’ll last for too long, however.  She has a true hankering for him, I think.
            Teaspoon and Polly are settling in real nice together.  He spends most days over at her saloon now, instead of napping the day away at his office.  Just as well, seeing as how things around here are getting rougher every day.
            With all the Army units getting pulled back East for the war, there’s few left to enforce the law out here.  A lot of ruffians have been coming into town, and their first stop is usually the saloon.  It’s almost more than Teaspoon can handle on his own, or even with Barnett’s so-called help.  Many’s the night Buck’s had to come in and help them round-up the troublemakers. 
            Buck’s new livery is going great.  He’s almost got more business than he can handle.  I’m so glad for him.  And Rachel’s still teaching.  She loves that job. I think that’s part of why she’s so reluctant to let Mr. Staulder court her.  She could lose her job if she even looks like she’s thinking about marrying, or, worse so far as the town’s concerned, not marrying him.
            I got a job at the new telegraph office they were building when you left.  They didn’t really want to hire a woman, particularly one with child, but no one else could read and write so well as me, except maybe Teaspoon and he wasn’t exactly interested.  The code was easy to learn and the pay’s decent, though not as much as they were going to offer a man.  I swear, Kid, if it weren’t for this belly I’m growing right now, I’d have cut my hair and put my trousers back on just to spite them!
            But that means if you ever need anything, you just have to find the nearest telegraph office and I’ll be the first to get your message!
            Speaking of our baby, I know you said you want a girl, but I’m sure it’s a boy.  He’s just like his Pa, won’t let me sleep a wink at night and wants nothing but for me to shovel food down his throat all day.  What I wouldn’t give to have you ‘bothering’ me like that right now, Kid.  I do miss you so.
            Since you gave me a specific place to send things, Rachel and I are including a care package, cookies, a fruitcake, some of her blackberry jam and biscuits.  Don’t worry, she supervised anything I had a hand in cooking so it’s all edible.
            I’m glad you’re enjoying seeing your childhood home again, Kid.  But please, don’t forget you’ve got a home here in the Territories now, too. and are well missed.
            I love you.

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