Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Secret Panels

Journal Entry: November 18, 1862

   This week, we rode through Brandy Station and back into the Wilderness; everyone at home was thankful to see me and I am thankful to be seen, thankful to be alive. Our recent rations have been slim, but retreating Rhode Island troopers supplied us with new saddles, pistols, and sabers, so we appear prosperous. We spent this evening at the Wilderness Tavern and were treated like returning heroes from the northern battles. I asked many questions about kith and kin, in order not to speak about myself, or my madness. Even with candle light and lanterns, the tavern is dark and, thankfully, keeps me in shadow, so my soldier’s heart does not show in the haunted eyes hidden by my hat.
   Most of my uncles and brothers ride with me in the 9th Cavalry, but Uncle James makes flour for the army; he does not join us in battle, though his life is equally dangerous. He has built a secret panel beneath the staircase and behind it in a small space, he stays when the enemy, or the Home Guard, is near. He and Uncle Isaac also built a secret room in the blacksmith shop to hide his horses. Isaac told me that he tied cloth around the horse’s hooves and when the Federals came, looking to loot, they heard the muffled sound of the horse hooves, thought it was Confederate cannons in the distance and quickly fled. How is it that he still has his sense of humor? Federal soldiers have carried off every chicken we owned and turned over the smoke house for spite, yet my uncle still has his humor.

   My Marianna has gone to Fredericksburg to help as she can at the hospitals near the Army Supply Depot south of town. I hope to find her when we move into Fredericksburg tomorrow to make winter camp, but the great Federal Army is moving in that direction as well. If it happens that there is a battle there in the city I love, near the girl I adore, my madness will be complete.

   I know complete madness for I have seen it. My grandmother, Polly, lost her twins when they were just nine years old. My grandfather stored rat poison out in the barn and the twins ate it. This tragedy drove my grandmother mad; for the remainder of her life, she would wear white every day and thought she was a waiting bride. She died as she sat, waiting, beneath that huge old oak tree in 1856.

   I am but 21, and have already seen too much horror and too little humor to suit me. I long to disappear behind a secret panel beneath the sky, just me and my Marianna. My love may be my last saving grace, and she is fifteen miles east. At dawn’s first light, I will ride ahead of the regiment on the Plank Road east into town; let no picket attempt to stop me, for they shall know the wrath of the weary where no quarter will be given.

James Jones (1828-1902) ran a mill from 1857 to 1869 and produced flour for the Confederate Army. He was the great-great-grandfather of Michael Douglas Jones.
Polly Johnson Jones was the great-great-great-grandmother of Michael Douglas Jones. These stories of Polly, James, and Isaac are true.

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