L i f e S t
o r i e s o f C i v i
l W a r H e r o e s
Just outside of Tennessee
I am sorry it has been a few months since I last wrote. I
am well, but mostly weary these days. Even though I
haven't written, I think of you often and pray that you
are keeping safe.
I have some news: I am now promoted to 1st Sgt. in our
company. Our numbers have become fewer, and some of us
have been moved up to fill the gaps. Captain Dawes is now
a Major, and Sgt. McHenry is now a Lt. My faithful
companion, Dan Morris is still beside me, but remains a
Cpl. We have been riding all over this country for some
time, but now find ourselves at the same place we were a
year ago. Do you recall the camp floating in a lake of
mud where I wrote you last March? We have returned there.
This time, however, I cannot complain of the weather. The
sunlight is bright and steady, and the mud we swam in
last year is now baked to hard-packed clay. It is a
pleasant rest from our normal rigors. A funny thing
happened to me a day or two ago, and I thought you might
enjoy hearing about it.
I had been at this place but a few days when the
paymaster caught up with us. I eagerly received my money,
and just as eagerly sought a way to spend it, thus
sparing me from the added encumbrance of its weight. In
the nearby town, there is a widow that has a thriving
business established: she bakes. The smell and taste of
her bread, cakes and pies bring every soldier a reminder
of home where his sweetheart, wife or dear mother
lovingly toiled to provide him these same poignant and
delicious symbols of comfort and love.
Now my messmates and I had eaten nothing sweeter than a
bitter dried green apple for weeks, and our diet had not
ventured far outside the dreary confines of rancid pork
and coarsely ground cornmeal. So we were looking for a
change of menu. It was my intention to visit this woman,
and expend my pay, my entire pay, if necessary, to
procure the most magnificent item in her inventory, and
bring it to my companions for consumption.
Knowing the general location of this good woman's home, I
only had to follow my nose to her doorway once I had
entered the proper neighborhood. She had created a rather
convenient arrangement by placing a large table near the
window in her kitchen, and the aroma of her good work
floated through the street, beckoning even the most
particular appetite. Riding up on horseback, it was easy
to see the diversity of her wares by peering through the
open window. Laid out on the sturdy table were rows of
pies, cakes and loaves of bread. Issuing forth from the
window was a fierce blast of hot air from the tireless
oven that must have been stoked all day and night,
judging by the number of its prolific products on the
broad table. The warm air carried with it an aroma that
would make any army countermarch in an instant to seek
As I sat on my mount and looked in the window, my eye was
instantly drawn to the largest item on the table: a cake
as big as a hatbox. Its sides rose in an impressive
display of cylindrical symmetry, and its color was the
deep golden brown of a ripened acorn. The lacy-white
trails of the sugary icing collected in great puddles
atop the magnificent cake, and streaked down the sides in
swift and sweet races to reach the plate on which the
cake rested. I stared, I dreamt, I sighed, and fell in
love. I resolved that I must have that cake.
The woman stood over a bowl stirring some ingredients, wearing on her forehead and cheeks the powdery white war
paint made of flour that is displayed by all great bakers.
Noticing my impolite stare, she asked me what I wanted. I
could only point at the cake and murmur, "How
much?" Without hesitation she named a number that
expressed a much higher percentage of my humble pay than
I expected, but equally without any hesitation of my own
I shouted, "Sold!"
A moment later, her young son appeared in the yard with
the cake in one hand and his other hand extended to
receive my hard earned pay. We did not speak, but only
made the exchange in silence, as I began to wonder how I
could transport this heavenly creation back to camp in
one piece. I gently and lovingly cradled it in the crook
of one arm, while holding the reins with the other. Oh,
so slowly did I walk that horse and cake back to camp.
As you can imagine, my arrival caused quite a stir, and
the boys crowded all around with outstretched fingers,
hovering to scoop out a sample of my treasure. I swatted
them away with my quirt-I wouldn't allow it. A gift such
as this had to be presented in grand fashion by me, and
then solemnly devoured by all with due appreciation.
I ordered an armed squad to escort me to a small supply
tent at the edge of camp. In the canvas-filtered light, I
carefully placed the cake atop a wooden box and stepped
out of the tent. Two sentries were posted at the entrance
to the tent, and ordered to shoot, without question,
anyone who approached within ten paces without giving the
watchword. The watchword was only known by me. I did not
impart the watchword even to the guards, to ensure no one
could touch the cake, and also obligating one guard to
shoot the other should he invade the sanctity of the
Although we had been promised an afternoon with no
dismounted drill, the Major had suddenly decided that the
ground surrounding our camp, though hard and dry, had not
been trampled enough in the preceding week. We were
called out for a hot session of marching, wheeling and
turning, all the time with intoxicating visions of
heavenly cake swimming in front of us, drifting on the
shimmering heat waves that rose from the ground.
As I wearily trudged back to camp, there suddenly came a
clamorous shout and alarm from up ahead. "Enemy, the
enemy!" they shouted. "The enemy has OVERRUN
OUR CAMP!" My dragging steps turned to an urgent run
as I raced to our camp, carbine in hand, ready to repulse
Once there, I came upon a horrible sight that made my
blood run cold in my veins. The enemy's attack had been
planned with cunning precision and timing. They had
cowardly attacked in force while we were away. With great
stealth, they had slipped past the guards that had been
left behind, and had immediately taken every salient and
strong point, and captured every crossing. They swarmed
in numbers too large to estimate, their streaming lines
moving endlessly and swiftly with ever growing numbers.
Even as they spread across our front, overran our flanks,
and threatened to envelop our rear, there was a sinister
logic to their frenzied assault: they were all converging
relentlessly on one point. Their desperate objective was
clear to us now, and only a few of us stood between them
and certain victory. The base of their target had been
surrounded en masse, and they were now charging up the
sides to claim the peak. Some already swarmed about the
crest, beckoning the legions below to join them.
We immediately plunged into the fray, unheeding our
own safety. Grabbing any weapon we could find, we tried
to sweep them away. No matter how many we killed or
wounded, a hundred more came to take the place of each
fallen foe. Again and again, we were beaten back, but
pressed on, finally reaching the steep hillsides where
their forces still continued making their way to the top.
Pursuing them relentlessly, we ultimately arrived on the
wide plateau where they were assembling. This is where
the fighting became especially desperate, and horrible to
behold. Having nothing left with which to fight them, we
were forced to fix bayonets and dispatch them one by one.
The enemy found themselves trapped and mired in sticky
morasses that captured and held them fast. They squirmed
and struggled, but it was no use; they were immobilized
and had no choice but to flail helplessly in terror
awaiting the point of our cold steel as we methodically
confronted them one by one, impaled them, and flipped
their still-writhing bodies to the depths below. None
were spared; no prisoners were taken.
Although it seemed like hours, the battle was over in a
matter of twenty minutes. We were tired, but victorious.
Our honor had remained unstained. We could rest easy
tonight, safe and proud in the knowledge that we had
saved our cake from the vicious and savage invading ants
that had tried to capture it!
That evening, we again ate pork that was all fat and no
meat. We again ate cornmeal that contained more cob than
corn, but we had our cake. We carved away great slices
with our knives and filled our mouths and stomachs with
the heavenly manna. It was well that we were eating in
darkness, because who could tell how many of the enemy
still remained in the hidden crevices and caves of that
tasty terrain? But we did not care. We had fought hard
and well to claim our prize, and we were determined to
enjoy every crumb.
I hope you enjoyed my story, and I hope you are able to
write me soon. Take care and give my love to all.
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