“Off to War”
Troop movement outside the thin fabric walls of the tent awakened Elizabeth. They would have risen before dawn in order to practice maneuvers. If she strained her ears, she could hear the artillery unit doing the same thing, loading cannons to prepare for battle. Would it be today? Would the men head to the front lines today?
Making slow movements, she sat up and stretched. Looking over, she saw that Melanie still slumbered. Elizabeth was not so blessed to be such a deep sleeper. Sarah and Lily, of course, were already gone, their mats made up.
Elizabeth begrudgingly moved out of the tent and toward the women’s common area. How she longed for those cozy mornings when her vanity was but a few steps away from her warm bed and she could freshen up in the privacy of her own bedchambers! But she had become accustomed to this new level of modesty, walking about in her nightshift, nodding to the women she passed on the way to the common area.
Once she arrived, she gathered some water to pour into the simple bowl. She splashed some water onto her face, hoping to liven her features and waken her senses. Rinsing her hands as well, she then dumped the water so the bowl would be ready for the next woman who came by.
She was more alert on the trip back to the tent, but not always in better spirits. It was still too early and she was still in naught but her nightclothes. Upon returning to the tent, she made her way over to her bag and pulled out yet another simple frock she had acquired from the maid servant in her parents’ home. Time to get ready for another day.
Home. Ah. Just thinking of her parents’ home brought back memories that seemed thousands of miles away. It had been quite an adjustment for her to be wakened by troops or a bugle blowing. At home, she was roused from sleep by a maid coming into her room to open the curtains and help prepare her for the day. She was then helped into her attire and her hair was done for her. Next it was downstairs to a hot breakfast that was prepared by the family cook. Elizabeth could almost smell the aromas of the numerous pastries and breakfast meats that she could indulge in each and every day. Then her day would be filled with hobbies and the things she wanted to do, not the menial tasks that filled her days here. Yes, she had taken that life for granted. When she had made the decision to leave, she had known she would be leaving all of that behind, but she had neglected to realize what an adjustment it would be.
Once she was dressed and her hair pinned, she shook Melanie.
“Time to rise and shine,” she said in her brightest voice.
A groan was the only response she got.
“See you at breakfast?” Elizabeth said, it was not truly a question.
Melanie waved from under her blanket. That meant ‘yes, but get out of my face or you’ll regret it’. Her new friend was not a morning person.
Elizabeth grabbed her papers and charcoal and stepped out of the tent. She wouldn’t have a lot of time to herself. Breakfast would start soon and then they would be on to the tasks of the day.
Moving a little ways outside of the camp and up the hill to give herself a bird’s-eye view, she found a spot to settle. This little patch of grass was far enough away from the sentry’s post to not give him grief, but far enough up the hill to still have a good view of the camp. So, she plopped down and, without ceremony, began to sketch. She had not the chance to capture these morning maneuvers and now was a prime opportunity.
This had become a favorite spot for her as she could see the whole camp from her vantage point. There were the family tents, the mens’ tents, her tent, the hospital, the place the women did laundry and cooked whenever they had something to cook. On one side of the camp, the soldiers were marching in lines and on the other, the artillery unit worked with the cannons. Though the camp already buzzed with activity, she tried to capture it all on paper.
Elizabeth could never have imagined this place would affect her so, but she had already begun to form relationships with so many of the people she came in contact with. If anything happened to any of them it would devastate her. Yes, Melanie had indeed been right in what she had said. War changed people. This war was already changing this girl who had been born to privilege and never faced any real hardship in her life.
Looking with an artist’s eyes, Elizabeth’s gaze swept over the camp again as she put the finishing touches on her sketch. Two figures walking on the outskirts of the camp caught her attention. They looked in her direction and waved. She responded in kind. Seconds later, she realized it was John and Dr. Smith. And they were headed straight for her!
Searching for some place to hide, she came up short. There was no where to go. And they had already spotted her. Elizabeth swallowed hard. So this was it. John would finally discover her. It would only be seconds now until they were close enough. She braced herself for his reaction as the two men came ever closer. Any moment her features would be clear enough that he would know.
Boom! The sound of cannon fire filled the air. Elizabeth hit the ground, covering her ears. Had the troops set off a cannon by accident? As she sat back up, she saw that John and Dr. Smith were crouched down, looking around, perhaps wondering the same thing. A glance over at the artillery unit told her that they were just as confused.
From her perch on the hillside, she saw a scout flying toward camp from the south. His form appeared out of the forest line moments after the cannon fire. Spotting the scout as well, the two doctors ran toward the camp. Elizabeth followed suit.
The camp was in utter chaos. Elizabeth tried to make her way to her station to get some information from her direct report, but there were too many people moving here and there. The troops were all moving in one direction, like a wave. It was difficult to push against them. At last, she spotted Melanie.
“Mel!” She called out, “Mel!”
Melanie jerked her head in Elizabeth’s direction and grabbed for her hand. Together they pushed through the crowd and found a space next to a tent where they were out of the rush of people.
“What’s going on?” Elizabeth panted with effort.
“It’s the Confederates. They’re here!”
Elizabeth’s heart stopped. What would happen to them all? To John?
“The troops are marching out to meet them,” Melanie continued.
Elizabeth nodded, feeling numb. “What can we do?” Her voice shook.
“Pray. Pray and get to your station!” Melanie squeezed Elizabeth’s hand once more before heading back out into the throngs of people.
Elizabeth was surprised how level-headed Melanie was in the face of crisis. And though Elizabeth was on laundry duty this morning, the last thing anyone would need, she did as Melanie had said and headed for her post.
“Off to War”
The Moore family was seated around their dinner table. From the outside looking in, one might never know this was a family torn apart by the war, a family missing two of its members as they gathered together for this special family time. But Henry Moore knew differently. Their presence was indeed missed by each member present. And their empty chairs served as reminders of their absence. Still, those there reveled in the closeness they shared. And they put on brave faces for the others in their company. It was in the final stretches of the meal when, as Martha Moore watched, her husband produced a letter from his pocket.
“Who’s it from, Father?” Susan asked, wide-eyed.
Martha’s heart stopped and her eyes met her husband’s.
“It’s from Jacob,” he said as he was able to pull himself from his wife’s gaze.
“Please, do read it, Father!” Susan all but jumped up and down in her chair.
“You know how we do things,” he admonished her. “We’ll read it in the parlor once everyone is done with dinner.”
“Let’s go then,” Susan begged, pushing her plate away from herself.
“I’m finished.” Martha laid her napkin on the table.
“Me too!” Susan followed suit, setting her napkin next to her plate. She looked up at her father with wide, expectant eyes, willing him to say he was finished so they might retire to the parlor.
He waited a handful of seconds, eyeing Susan and Martha’s expressions. “Alright, then,” he said at long last, laying his own napkin down, signaling the end of dinner. “To the parlor, then.”
Henry led them to the small family room where they huddled in their spots around the fireplace. He took a seat to the left of the massive structure, Susan took a spot on the floor near his feet, and Martha sat nearby on the sofa, picking at her cross-stitch. Taking the letter back out of his pocket, he opened it and began to read.
“Dear Mother, Father, and Susan, I hope this letter finds you well. I miss you all. We settled in our camp and I’m trying to get the hang of things. I’m learning all kinds of stuff. There are definitely things that Benjamin failed to mention in his letters, but I understand. He just didn’t think it was interesting enough to mention. Like how we get up every day before dawn. That’s boring stuff. But it’s important, I guess, since we do it every day.
“We spend most of our time doing things to keep us from getting fat and lazy. But no one here cooks as well as you, Mother, so I don’t think anyone is going to get fat. Don’t worry, though, I’m eating well enough. I have met some people here and am making friends. I rode the train down here with one of our camp doctors named John. He gave me some good advice about life. My tent mate’s name is Phillip. He’s a couple of years older than me. We get along just fine, but he doesn’t talk much.
“Well, I’d better head out to lunch before it’s all gone. I’ll write again soon. Love, Jacob. P.S. I am eager to hear about Benjamin.”
“Well that was nice that he became acquainted with one of the doctors,” Martha said, working her cross-stitch, moving furiously with her fingers.
And Henry understood. She’d rather not allow her mind to wander to those places every mother’s mind must go to when receiving a letter from the front. Would this be the last letter?
“I wonder what he eats there,” Susan said, looking up at her father.
“It’s not as good as what you get to eat,” Henry said, patting her on the head.
“But is it yucky food or just a bad cook?” Susan’s brow furrowed.
“I think they get rations for the most part,” Henry sighed, looking back over the letter.
“Rations?” Susan tested the word.
Henry nodded, “An allotted amount of food. Crackers, pork, and coffee, stuff like that.”
“Coffee?” she blanched at that. “Jacob doesn’t drink coffee!”
“Chances are he will when he comes back.”
Susan looked at her father, eyebrow quirked.
“Susan, there may be other things that will have changed about Jacob and even Benjamin when they come home.” His voice softened. He’d rather not say more than he already had.
She was so innocent to the goings on of war. Too innocent.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Henry forced himself to continue the conversation with Susan. “It’s just something I want you to know.” He prayed that would be enough for her.
Susan shrugged it off, “Okay, Father. Will you read the letter again?”
“Of course. ‘Dear Mother, Father, and Susan…’”