Sorry I haven't updated in over a week, I had a lot of editing to do on this chapter and I wasn't very excited about doing it, so I kept putting it off.
“Dulce bellum inexpertis”—Pindar
It was early April, 1861. We were preparing for my twenty first birthday ball. Aunt Helen had made a long list of young, eligible men to be invited. I hated how she was trying to marry me off, but I understood why she was doing it and decided I would look very hard and try to find at least one that suited me. Jeff had returned from England with grades that pleased even Uncle Andrew. And then, on April 12th, just three days before my birthday the news dropped on us. Fort Sumter had been attacked. Our country had gone to war with our country. In years to come, they would call it the War Between the States. Every nation has a civil war I suppose, and we couldn’t go without one either. I had not known how serious things were between the North and the South, and even though the talk of war had always been present in political conversations between the men, I never thought such things possible. And now, all of a sudden, we were at war. I didn’t know it then, but a dark shadow was cast over our home, a shadow that would never really go away. Needless to say, my birthday was quite forgotten. From now on it was only talk of war and nothing else.
The start of the war was the first great shock; the second and even greater one came from Jeff.
“Uncle Andrew,” Jeff stated as he marched into the dining room where we were just settling down for lunch. “I want to enlist.”
“Enlist?” A cloud passed over my uncle’s face as he turned towards Jeff.
“Yes, enlist. The Confederacy is calling for volunteers. The Union is marching towards us and we must put a stop to them once and for all.”
Aunt Helen gave a gasp and her hand went to her throat. “Jeff, no.” Her voice was a whisper.
“I can’t sit by and watch the other boys go to war. Henry said he’s going off and Albert is thinking about it. I am fit and able bodied, I know they would take me. Come Uncle, surely you want us to free ourselves from the Union, to be our own nation, our own country.”
My uncle’s eyes grew dim, it seemed to me that in those few short moments he had suddenly aged a great deal. “If all you need is my permission, Jeff, then you have it.”
“What about Priscilla? What about the wedding?” Aunt Helen asked.
“That can wait.” Jeff impatiently replied. “This is far more important. Thank you, uncle!” He grasped Uncle Andrew’s hand and then dashed off. I sat speechless at the table, not even hearing my aunt and uncle discussing what had just happened. Jeff! Jeff was going off to war? Certainly not, such a thing was impossible. I put my hand to my head, my elbow resting on the table. Was this really happening, or was it a dream? It must be a dream, stuff like this only happens in dreams!
Unfortunately, it was the cold reality.
Jeff was so eager, too eager. War is sweet to those who have no experience of it the Latin proverb tells us ,and I believe it to be true. Jeff didn’t know what he was getting into, only that it was something of an adventure to him. If Jeff loved anything, he loved an adventure. As a child he had always played with soldiers, and now he had the opportunity to be one. This was the chance he had been waiting for to get away from the plantation and Uncle Andrew, who was constantly burdening him with all sorts of responsibilities he didn’t want. He saw this war as a way of escape, as a means to freedom from the burdens and cares of home.
Prissy had turned pale when she heard the news. Jeff was going to the war, the ball and wedding was to be put off till he came back. The two of them talked together for a long time, as he explained to her his reasons for leaving.
“After all,” he summed it up, “you don’t want a coward for a husband do you? I’ll come back a hero, with medals of honor and bravery, and everyone will be proud of me and congratulate you on having such a husband!”
“But we can have the engagement ball!” Prissy asked.
“I suppose we can, why not! We’ll have the ball, celebrate our engagement, then I’ll go off to the war and when I return we’ll get married.”
This idea pleased Prissy and she ended up taking the new a lot better than Aunt Helen or me. But then, Jeff had really used the right words with Prissy. Everyone will congratulate her, he will be a hero, she would be more popular than before; vanity was a weakness in poor Prissy and Jeff knew how to feed it.
We prepared for the engagement ball with little zeal. I was dreading the day it would come. I mean, I had been dreading it for a long time, but now it was different. Jeff had already left for training. He would return when his training was finished, we would celebrate the engagement and then Jeff would leave to join his regiment, and for all I knew, he would never return.
The day of the ball arrived; there were fewer guests than expected, the war had put everyone and everything out of order. Mr. Browne was not there, but Albert was and was particularly attentive to me during the entire ball, which made me nervous and uncomfortable. He had been quite distant after my refusal of him, but now he was behaving much like he had when he had first started courting me.
The next day we bid goodbye to Jeff. Aunt Helen was in tears; Uncle Andrew was grave and solemn. I tried to keep a brave face and be strong.
“Take care of Uncle and Aunt for me, Sarah,” Jeff said as he embraced me. “And keep an eye out for my fiancé as well. I will of course write you, and you must promise to keep me informed about all that is happening here. You know how to write good letters so I am counting on you. Make sure Aunt Helen doesn’t cry too much. I’ll be back before the summer is up. Just wait, this war will be over before it has even begun.”
I looked into his boyish eyes, his eager grin, and his excited face, how could he be so enthusiastic about the idea of him going off to kill other people?
He was embracing Aunt Helen and shaking Uncle Andrew’s hand. He kissed Prissy right in front of us, causing her to blush and look down and be all nervous and embarrassed. At last he mounted his horse and with a parting wink at me, rode off.
I watched the dust his horse was kicking up. “Will I ever see you again, Jeff?” I softly asked. “And if I do, will you be the same?”
Disclaimer: The War Between the States is riddled with controversy. I'm not taking any sides with this war. There were good and bad people on both sides. I'm not writing about who was right and who was wrong. This is a story about people caught up in a time of turmoil, not about which side was to blame.
I've done a lot of research on the war; I've read so much I'm going a little insane from all the information loaded up in my brain. I'm going to do my best to be historically accurate, but I may take some license every now and then. I apologize ahead of time :)