Monday, May 16, 2011
Collecting the Past
Journal Entry; High Bridge, Virginia; April 6, 1865
Today, the 9th Virginia Cavalry captured 800 Federals, six flags, and a big brass band. Hard to imagine that scene; four years into this hellish parade, we have no shoes, yet the Federals still travel with saxhorns and cornets. Despite our cavalry dashing and daring, our main army is one day closer to starvation and destruction. One company of our regiment has already left; some other boys are riding north tonight, afraid they will be captured and imprisoned. I don’t think so; President Lincoln seems, by all accounts, to wish for a return to union; he understands that most men were fighting for their homes, not a rich man’s system. Some of those leaving are the war hawks that adhere to the cause, whatever they find that to be. They ride west to create a new south. They are full of fever, their hearts are flint, and for them, this war will never be over. They will pass the fever to their sons, and to the sons of their sons; on and on, this war will run. I never did believe in the cause, a high sounding euphemism for slavery, which has no place in such an enlightened country as America. There are those that will not learn; whose eyes are closed to change, so if it took war to change our course, then so be it.
Let the hawks fly west; I stand with the crows that call out to kin. We must collect the living left to us and start with the soil; it is all that remains. We have family, we have hands; we will start fresh to build our future on the greened over graves.
I am writing to Marianna. One of the boys leaving will be riding through Wilderness Corner; I’ve asked him to leave the letter with Will Simms at the Wilderness Tavern. Will knows most everything that moves in the Wilderness, and will see that Marianna receives my letter.
If I am killed in these last days of mayhem, I need to remind her of my letter sent in the summer of ’62, when I started my collections. Throughout this journey, along the roadsides, I have found discarded treasures, small measures of life’s gathering. Books and book bindings, art and artifacts, teaspoons and tableware; pieces of families fleeing from the flames of war; I could not let it all become kindling for campfires, so I picked it up like pennies. See a pin and pick it up and all day long you'll have good luck.
Because a courier must travel light, I hid my journals and penny parcels along the path I traveled, mostly in, or near churches, because those were rarely burned or breached. Each location marked here by an X leading to the next. Sometimes inside, under a staircase; sometimes, outside near a large elm, I would hide or bury a small parcel, a cartridge box time capsule full for the future.
Soon, it will be time to collect the past to remember it, not to build upon it. If we are to craft a settled life, it cannot be rebuilt from peace torn asunder. That lumber is too weak; we must start a new foundation.
Letter Home; April 6, 1865
While most are abed, I am in the saddle patrolling the High Bridge Road. I have ridden for weeks, seeing nothing but destruction and the dying embers of this war. Like my campfire, where the flames die down and then unexpectedly spring up with fire again; the fight dies down and then springs up with fight again. Our army was cornered, cut off from all supplies and any escape, but today our troopers kept High Bridge from burning, so that shall be our route to safety, my path back to you.
If you have it, please reread the letter I wrote you in the summer of ‘62 about the parcels. They are not riches, though they are treasures. Only my brothers and I know the whereabouts. Before I collect them, I am coming home to you; if you will still have me. I must confess; I am more like a hobbled greybeard than the shy swain that rode off to adventure. I have changed considerably; my eyes from the inside do not change, but when I happen upon my reflection it is so different. There is no nimbus around my head, no medals on my chest; war was not at all like anyone imagined.
It has been almost a year since our last evening together, though it stands clear in my memory. The whispers of the wood fire, its glimmer, like a halo, in your hair; there were few words; I said nothing and you said only, “Hold me.”
We stopped time that evening; we stopped war. Words will not heal our wounds; words will not make us forget, but if we can just hold each other long enough to stop time once more, perhaps there is a chance to start a new time; to craft a new life.
I shall make it so.
I remain yours,