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December 12, 1862
Just outside of Tennessee

Dear D,

I saw the most wonderful and peculiar sight and wanted to write to you about it.

Yesterday morning we were on the march, and towards mid-day moved off the turnpike to a spacious farm that had not yet been touched by the withering hand of war. We were well satisfied when directed to locate our camp inside a large walnut grove. The trees had rough and dark trunks, and their branches twisted skyward where they locked together to form a leafy, dappled canopy overhead that shielded us from the sun. Their fallen fruit created a carpet that snapped and popped as the columns marched over it, crushing the hard hulls. All day the men were seen plucking these nuts off the ground and cracking them open to enjoy the buttery tasting prizes inside.

At sun-down, the campfires were leaping and crackling. Sighs and laughter of men glad to be off their feet echoed through the grove. We enjoyed a hearty meal of pork and potatoes—the first in many days—and found that our appetites were sharpened even more by the crisp touch of the cool autumn air, as the sun sank lower into the surrounding hills. Though anticipating a night of some frivolity—knowing that we would remain in this place for several days—I found myself strangely tired, but nevertheless in a contented and relaxed mood by early evening. After singing songs and speaking of home, I was ready for sleep. I raked aside some walnuts to clear a spot sufficient enough to house my bedroll, then unrolled my blankets and cloak in anticipation of a cool, damp night. I had chosen a spot beneath the spreading arms of a noble, old tree and laid down to rest. The murmur of men at the fires around me, and the snoring of those who had passed on before me, soon lulled me to sleep. The last thing I remember as I lay on my back in the darkness was the bright light of Jupiter hanging low and steady in the sky.

It seemed I had not been asleep for long when I heard 1st Sgt. McHenry awaken Corp. Morris on the ground beside me. "The stars are falling again" he whispered. The camp was silent except for the sergeant's footsteps, the occasional popping of embers, and the soft rustle and flurry of ashes collapsing into the dying fires. McHenry had told us he had seen stars flying through the sky early in the morning for the past couple of days, and each time they had become more numerous, and even brighter.

At two o'clock A.M., I saw a brief but brilliant light streak across the night, low on the horizon, traveling from south to north. In a few minutes, I saw another, then another. All flew along their cold paths in the same precise direction—some high in the sky, others appearing to skirt along the low, black hilltops in the distance. Jupiter now looked brighter and larger than ever, and had taken up his throne in the exact center of the dark hall of the heavens, to sit and rule over this noble display.

The stars began flying by in greater numbers now. Some were quick flashes of light, others moved more slowly. Some were only pinpoints as small as the stars that shone behind them. Others dared to be larger than Jupiter himself, and tore through the dark night, dragging luminous tails that flared and trailed behind them, leaving a plume of glowing stardust that hung in the sky, then faded like mist. I watched them for nearly an hour through the branches of the tree overhead. Warm and at ease in my familiar old blankets, I felt as if the ruler of the heavens had provided this display for my own particular pleasure, and given me the most advantageous seat from which to view it. My heavy eyelids would sometimes close for a few moments, but there was a lazy comfort in knowing that these distant travelers continued flying over my head on their endless and mysterious journey, even as I rested. When I opened my eyes again, they were still there, just as I knew they would be, darting through the branches of the tree, and flying across the horizon in their determined flight.

It occurred to me that I was missing the chance to have enough wishes for a lifetime granted to me, and began to make a wish on each star as it streaked past me. If that tale is true, I will have all that I desire in my lifetime, as I pinned a wish on every star that flew by. It was a most spectacular sight and experience.

Eventually the call of sleep was to0 strong for me to ignore, and I drifted off into the darkness, feeling as if I, too, was traveling through the night with those beautiful stars, on a mysterious journey of my own. When I awoke, the day was dawning and Jupiter had retired along with the shooting stars. But I had seen them, and will always carry the memory of them with me.

So that is the story of the stars. Perhaps you had seen them too? I hope you and your family are well.

Yours truly,

Dutch Hoffmann


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