Tuesday, July 12, 2011

This is Not The End

Journal Entry; near the house of Mr. Wilmer McLean in the village of Appomattox Courthouse; 3pm, April 9, 1865

Soon, there will be a flurry of couriers riding under white flags of truce; a pale flag, the colors not yet dyed in the new fabric of this union. The bloodstains will not wash away in one day. What we have lost has been large, but what we have learned could bring this union closer to what our forefathers and mothers intended. Union; there is no separation. Each in all, all in each.

My last duty as courier will be to deliver the news to my brothers of the 9th Virginia Cavalry. I rode this morning with the entourage of General Robert E. Lee to meet General Grant. They have been inside the McLean family’s home for some time discussing terms of surrender. Many men are outside, waiting; all eyes are on the quiet house. I turn my attention to a mockingbird in a mulberry tree; a tree more grand than mine back in the Wilderness, if indeed a mulberry might be given such status.

I had such grand ideas about this journey; the places I would visit, the people I would meet, the culture I would carry back, the progress of men and machines across the miles I would travel. Like Lewis and Clark, or Lewis Carroll, all travelers to Wonderlands; that would be me.

What I learned was that the greatest joy was not in grand places, but in the smallest moments of quiet; the seemingly insignificant sounds and scenes. Mockingbird, in his grey, plain jacket, does not need the rooster’s red cockscomb; we do not watch him prance; we listen to his beauty hidden in the trees. He finds every song worth singing. Mockingbird absorbs every song he’s heard and shares them with everyone; I should absorb the voices of the boys that no longer speak. I am all of them; I should speak for them, so their melancholy songs are not hidden in the trees, lost to the times. With war’s end, there will be much talk of grand battles, and massive volumes of war history, but these journals are the voice of the boys in the grey, plain jackets. Those are the voices of this union.

Journal Entry; 5pm, April 9, 1865

Today, while an army surrenders, war will not end. I am finished with this war, but I fear this war is not finished with me. This is not the end.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Black Butterflies

Journal Entry; south of Cumberland Church, Virginia; the evening of April 7, 1865

Another fierce day of fight and run; the 9th Cavalry still triumphs, but the walking, weary foot soldiers fall, starving, exhausted, in the road, no longer able to outdistance the blue storm approaching from all points.

We ride all night, so I write in the saddle, savoring even a weak west evening breeze; a flight of black butterflies flutter far above our heads. One lands on my shoulder; no, not tiny wings at all; the air is filled with floating ashes. High Bridge burning; our last bridge burned behind us, Federals surrounding in every direction. The butterflies flit and fall, settling on the soil, dissolving with the dew. We are an army of black butterflies, about to dissolve back into the soil; there is nowhere else to go. We are ashes.