New Friends and Kindred Spirits

Yesterday I had the privilege of presenting Volunteer for Glory to a wonderful group of people at Tanner Springs Assisted Living. Admittedly, I was nervous as I’d only given readings, and being without a script was a challenge. Once there, however, I felt an amazing warmth and kinship with these remarkable individuals.

How do you describe such an atmosphere without resorting to clichés? You can mention the smiles and gentle responses from each person you greeted. You can refer to their polite attention. And you can report their participation, especially when I asked them to share thoughts, opinions, or memories.

One lady had spent time in the South where the Civil War still lives in a collective memory of carpetbaggers and hard times. That brought on a discussion of the bitter aftermath of Reconstruction following Lincoln’s assassination. The South had lost their greatest friend, for Lincoln’s desire had been to “bind up the nation’s wounds.” Then she told us that only about 5 percent of Confederate soldiers were slave owners. The majority of Rebel soldiers were poor farmers without an economic stake in the fortunes of the big plantations. Another resident remarked that some wives followed their men to wash, sew, and cook.

When I mentioned how different life was in the days before computers, cell phones and iPods, a woman seated in the back row shared a childhood memory from the Depression.  “My father farmed using horses,” she said,  “as we couldn’t afford a tractor. But when he’d come in after a day of plowing, I’d run to meet him.  We had two mares, and he would pick me up and set me on the back of the gentlest, the one named Ruth. I was so proud to ride into the barn on that big horse.” I could see her in my mind’s eye; a sweet mite of a girl running to greet her daddy at day’s end. I could also imagine the man in his cotton shirt and overalls, setting his little girl on the massive draft horse to ride like a queen across the barnyard.

A dress and sunbonnet, part of the Civil War era fashions kindly lent by Roxie Matthews, sparked another story. A wonderful lady told of wearing a sunbonnet to work in the fields, day after day, enduring hot sun and backbreaking labor. Scratching out a living in the ’30s required that everyone pull his or her weight.

Several hands rose when I asked if any had seen husbands or brothers go off to World War II. They nodded, knowing what it was like to be left behind while loved ones marched into danger with no assurance of return.

As a bonus, I’ve been invited back to present Wrenn, Egypt House, and the soon-to-be published, Scattered Pieces. One lady has already spoken for a copy of Scattered Pieces as she can relate to the 1940s. But the sweetness of this afternoon was not in the selling and signing of books. It was in meeting extraordinary people and discovering the riches of friendship and wisdom they offer.  I can’t wait to go back!

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Countdown to the Civil War: April 15, 1861

President Lincoln declares a state of insurrection and calls for 75,000 volunteers. Patriotic speeches and music are heard in public gatherings, and newspaper editors dip their pens in flaming prose.

Rachel Norcross’s Diary, April 15, 1861:

I do not know what to do with myself now that war has been declared.  Stuart is sure to leave in the very near future, and the matter of spring plowing now seems of little moment. Every thought is subject to comparison against the fact of his leaving. I am ashamed to only consider my own situation when so many others will suffer the same fate, with possibly much worse to come.

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Countdown to the Civil War: April 14, 1861

Fort Sumter officially surrenders in a ceremony accompanied by Confederate flags and drums. Unfortunately one Union soldier is killed due to an accidental explosion and five others are wounded, one fatally. As the news of the evacuation spreads, a kind of relief floods the country. The south is jubilant, and the north, with war now a certainty, prepares for action.

Rachel Norcross’s Diary,  April 14, 1861:

When Stuart came home yesterday, he was full of elation while I was equally downcast.  It appears Fort Sumter has all but surrendered, and if so, war is upon us.  Adding to my fears, the hot heads in town have prevailed upon Stuart to become the captain of a cavalry troop, and he is full of pride and excitement.

Today we will likely hear the very latest news.  Stuart says the church will be used as a public forum to galvanize the war effort. Afterward he plans to attend an impromptu drill at Jansen’s.

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Countdown to the Civil War: April 13, 1861

After 34 hours of Confederate bombardment, Fort Sumter surrenders. The faint hope exists that federal ships will complete their rescue mission is dashed when the heat of the continuing battle prevents them from entering the harbor. Washington receives no conformation of shots fired, leaving Lincoln uninformed of the true situation.

Rachel Norcross’s Diary,  April 13, 1861:

Stuart has abandoned his attempt at plowing.  Horse and plow are in the barn, and he is on his way to town.  And yet, I can’t blame him too much, for the ground is heavy and wet.  I must occupy myself with mending until he returns.

Published in: on April 13, 2011 at 12:00 pm  Comments (4)  
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Countdown to the Civil War: April 12, 1861

Again the Confederates demand surrender of the Fort and again Anderson refuses.  However, should supplies or further orders not be received, Anderson said he would stand down on the 15th.. Opposing forces, however, are cognizant that waiting only increases the probability that reinforcing federal ships will intervene.  At 4:30 a.m. the first Confederate battery at Fort Johnson opens fire, bringing Charleston residents from their beds as noise of the assault rings through the city.

Rachel Norcross’s Diary, April 12, 1861 :

I am still not through with the wretched business of cleaning the chicken coop.  Who would have thought a dozen hens and one, no two, roosters, could make such a mess!  Of course, it is months’ worth.  My back aches from lifting that bucket and staggering to the garden spot.  My little mounds of fertilizer look very poor indeed.  Stuart tries to placate me now, saying he will begin plowing tomorrow.  This despite the fact that close examination shows the ground really is too wet to turn easily.

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Countdown to the Civil War: April 11, 1861

General Beauregard arrives at Fort Sumter under a white flag where he demands full surrender and evacuation. Robert Anderson refuses, though he mentions that barring fresh supplies, they will soon be starved out. Privy to this information, the Confederate Secretary of War, advises Beauregard not to begin bombardment of the fort, but to wait for its inevitable surrender.

Rachel Norcross’s Diary, April 11, 1861:

Stuart is off to town, saying that until the soil has dried out, there is nothing more he can do.  I find this very irritating because even if he can’t begin plowing, he could spend a little time making sure the harnesses are oiled and the plow sharpened.  And he should see to cleaning the chicken coop.  I guess I can begin that chore and carry the droppings to what will be my kitchen garden.  I had hoped he might express concern about such unaccustomed work in my condition, but he only smiled and told me to let it wait. That, when he knows me well enough to be certain I am past waiting! I worry that I have become a nag, but cannot seem to control my tongue.

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Countdown to the Civil War: April 9, 1861

Wall Street appears to be in crisis.  Traders view an almost deserted market.  Confidence seems at an all time low as investors focus their attention on the future of the nation.

In Washington, President Lincoln is besieged with telegrams, begging him to not surrender Fort Sumter.

Rachel’s Diary:  April 9, 1861:

Though I am but five months gone with child, I wonder if he (I am certain it is a boy) will ever know his father. I will not, for one moment, let Stuart believe I will release him from his promise, but I must face the likelihood he will be not be present for the birth. When Elsa is fully recovered, I will ask her advice on what I must do to prepare myself. She has spoken of a midwife, but I believe I would prefer to have Dr. Bennett attend me.

Published in: on April 9, 2011 at 6:00 am  Comments (5)  
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Countdown to the Civil War: April 8, 1861

News on this date is that the state of Georgia has seized the United States Mint located in Dahionega. President Lincoln’s message to the governor of South Carolina stating his intention to peacefully supply provisions to Fort Sumter was delivered. Having received an erroneous report that the war had started, Confederate troops were ordered to their stations in Charleston.

Rachel Norcross’s diary, April 8, 1861:

Another day of watching the weather and dreading a return of showers, for that will delay putting in a crop.  And if Stuart leaves before that is done, it will be the worse for me.  I have counted my small cache of money to assure myself that the baby and I will survive, even if this wretched war takes my husband away.

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Countdown to the Civil War: April 7, 1861

General P.G.T. Beauregard, commanding southern troops in South Carolina, issued an order prohibiting federal access to Fort Sumter.  By doing so, he placed the Fort under siege for the occupants were desperate for fresh supplies.  Additionally, he informed Captain Anderson who was in charge at the Fort, communications between the Fort and the city of Charleston would not longer be permitted.

Rachel’s Norcross’s Diary, April 7, 1861

Stuart tells me that he saw Jared Westbrook pacing off a field near the road.  The farm is still in quarantine although no one else has taken ill.  Jared, Stuart tells me, sends me his regards and wishes to report that Elsa is holding her own, having successfully survived the fever crisis.

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Countdown to the Civil War: April 6, 1861

Lincoln notifies the Governor of South Carolina that an attempt will be made to deliver only necessary provisions to Fort Sumter.  On this same day the president learned that orders to land reinforcements at Fort Pickens, Florida had not been carried out. Conferences were held with several governors as well with Virginia loyalists.

Rachel Norcross’s diary, April 6, 1861:

I should probably not record this, but last night I dreamed of being back in Boston.  I was at a ball, wearing a dress far prettier than any I have yet owned, and most startling of all, I was waltzing with Jared Westbrook who looked uncommonly handsome!

Published in: on April 6, 2011 at 6:00 am  Comments (5)  
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