<==== Robert L. Perkins ====>
The dusk fell quickly on the rolling countryside, sprouting to life dozens of small campfires, illuminating the darkness like so many giant fireflies on a soft, June evening. But it was April in Virginia, and the night air had a chill about it that drove men to the warmth and comfort of the firesides. The smell of strong coffee boiling and rich tobacco smoldering drifted around and hovered above the small groups clustered tightly around each welcoming glow. It had only been a few short hours since the surrender at the McLean House, but their world had imploded in a fashion that was sudden, irrevocable and complete. The significance was still lost in the pride and the shame of it all, but here and there men and boys were beginning to sense the terminal impact of the tragic end to their “War for Southern Independence”.
“Well, what’s a makin’ that lump in yore pack there, Sam?” asked a tall, lanky twenty-year-old with a soft Georgia drawl. His name was Gordon Hall and he had served in the Army of Northern Virginia for almost four years. Sam Clay replied.
“Aw, it’s them fancy boots Ah pulled off’n that Yankee Lieutenant last week down by the river. It’s a cinch he wouldn’t be needin’ ‘em no more… not with his guts splattered up agin that old, oak stump. Ah kin use ‘em jest fine back home Ah reckon. If’n Ah ever git back there, Lord willin’ that is”.
There were seven of them crouching there – uncertain – passing the falling night in a daze, waiting on some direction and trying to make some sense out of the last few years. Taking everything into account their spirits were pretty good, especially considering the events of the day and their recent surrender to the Army of the Potomac and General Ulysses S. Grant. They were a hodge-podge bunch of defeated soldiers, but they were alive. They had survived the awful slaughter and would live to tell about it. And, after all, they were men, and they knew that life would somehow go on.
“Cap’n Baldwin,” Sam spoke again, “you reckon we’ll get the word tomorrow ‘bout prison, or parole, or what?”
He paused and pulled on his droopy mustache.
“I sure would like to git home in time to git somethin’ in the ground this year."
"Lord. don’t that sound pleasin’ to the ear – puttin’ somethin’ in the ground ‘sides dead men and rottin’ horses. Anyway, Ah’m shore there’s lots to be done and … well, assumin’ there’s anythin’ left at home, Ah guess Ah should say.”
His deep voice cracked ever so slightly and his inflection rose a tone. Seven good friends swallowed hard and felt their jaws draw tight and set. The captain from Alabama inverted his pipe and beat its stem against his flat, open palm, flushing the smoldering embers alive into the cool night air. He spoke.
“We’ll all get home real soon, I’m sure”. There was a level of uncertainty in his voice which made it unclear whom he was attempting to convince. Baldwin paused for several seconds and then spoke again.
“The Good Lord only knows what we’ll find when we get there, but I reckon we’ve learned how to make do, haven’t we boys?”
“Yes Sir, Cap’n, that we have” Sam agreed. The fire continued to burn, occasionally crackling and casting flying embers alive into the chilling night air.
“Hello to the campfire. May I join you?”
The voice was unfamiliar, the accent strange yet friendly.
“Come right on” answered Captain Baldwin.
The stranger was a short, stout man of about fifty with thick, reddish hair and a flushed, round face. He was dressed rather nattily in plaid suit and vest which seemed completely out-of-place in this rag-tag camp of worn-out veterans. His voice was high and shrill. He spoke with a heavy Irish accent.
“Name is O’Brien, Charley O’Brien. I’m a newspaper reporter with the Hartford Daily Herald, come down to follow the war. And now, I’ll be doin’ some follow-up stories on the rebellion, uh war, and I wonder if I might ask you lads a few questions? ...One’s my readers have been askin’ for these four long years.
The seven looked from one to another, unsure of how to take this nocturnal intruder. Finally, the captain answered his request.