Monday, March 14, 2005

This is as far as I've gotten so far. I have to write about the secession of the South and the beginning of the "War Between the States". George did not enlist until 1862, so 1861 may be a relatively (pun not intended) slow chapter....

A Small Town Boy


It was September and the harvest season was nearly over. George finished saddling his horse and mounted it. He rode down the lane that would lead him past the schoolhouse where he had learned how to read, write and do the arithmetic that his grandmother sometimes needed him to tend to. He would not see the little girl from down the lane who had looked up to him after he had chased the school bully away from her once. She was a bit younger than he was, but George thought she’d be a beauty someday. He was sixteen and had no more time for school though.
He would have to ride pretty fast to get to work on time if he waited to watch the school children arrive at the school his horse trotted by. He would be a few hours late even if he rode a thunderbolt, he thought and urged the horse into a gallop as the school was left behind, dark and shuttered. George urged the horse on, gently and headed toward Fredericksburg and the mill where he was a wool carder.
The mill was starting to hum with activity as he brought his horse to a stop and tied it to a tree. Other horses stood nearby, all chewing slowly on the grass, until they were called on to carry their masters home or to the nearby tavern for meals. The workhorses padded slowly along a path, turning one or two wheels that the stream did not turn well. George sighed and went into the large mill and walked toward his place by the carding machines. He’d carded wool by hand for his grandmother for years, but now he was simply another piece of a machine that did the work faster than his two hands had ever worked.
This mill had been working there ever since he could remember. He’d only been working there a short time, but his work helped his grandmother pay for things they needed around the farm, now that his grandfather had died some eight years ago. Half his lifetime ago, George thought as he put his apron on to protect his clothes. But his grandfather had taught him that honesty made a man’s soul pure and his life worth living.
George thought for a moment about the presidential candidates that year. Granted, he wasn’t old enough to vote, but his uncles were and so were most of the men he worked with at the mill. He thought of the Republican candidate, Abraham Lincoln and of his opponent, Stephen Douglas. He’d heard much about Douglas, who seemed to George like a such a tiny man going for such a big job. From what he heard of Lincoln and the engravings he’d seen in the magazines his uncles brought by, Lincoln seemed like he was a much bigger man and fit what George, at least, thought a president should look like.
The other candidates were simply there for the slave states to vote for, George thought, and wondered why they fought so vehemently to keep the slavery issue going. He was just sixteen, but thought that making others do your work, without paying them anything certainly didn’t seem fair. Then again, he didn’t know that much about what went on down south since the farthest he’d ever been from home was Louisville, Kentucky. That had been a while back and even in Louisville, there weren’t any slaves that he knew of. He’d never really seen a real Negro before, although his grandfather had always said he looked like one when he got dirty.
When he went out to eat his lunch, he overheard the men who could vote talking about Douglas, Lincoln, Breckinridge and Bell. He avoided joining in the conversation, but it seemed that most of the men agreed with the way he thought about the little Douglas and the towering Lincoln. It seemed the consensus that Douglas was a big talker, but that his words might not carry him as far as Lincoln’s stride would. The men all agreed that Lane should be governor and as he was the new Republican Party’s man, it sort of followed that Lincoln would be elected by the votes that went just for the party. Some men just voted for the party’s candidate whether they knew much about him or not. George reckoned that would get a good man into office a good bit of the time and a scalawag in some of the time as well. But it was hard to convince people of the rightness of a politician.
At least the politician he was named after was a decent man. George Mifflin Dallas was minister to Great Britain now. He had been there through two presidents’ administrations. That must mean he did a good job, even if he didn’t agree with the president in charge. He and President James Buchanan had been political enemies, according to his uncle, who followed such things in politics. Dallas had followed Buchanan as minister to Great Britain, both having been named by Franklin Pierce. They still managed to get things accomplished though. President Buchanan had been through some awful times, particularly when he had decided to end the troubles in Kansas by urging the admission of the territory as a slave state. It had stayed a territory, since the Republicans, of which Lincoln was one, voted to maintain it that way, so that slavery would not be officially sanctioned by the federal government. The new president, whoever he was, would have a lot of sectionalism to deal with.
George’s thoughts had drifted through all the political hucksterism he had heard lately and wondered how much of it was true. He had heard many things from his uncles who got the newspapers and had let him read the stories about the Lincoln Douglas debates back when Lincoln was trying to become an Illinois senator. Douglas had beaten him at the polls, but Lincoln had certainly gotten enough positive stories written about his speaking ability and his stands on issues that it seemed would pay off for him now that he was running for president. His running mate was from Maine and seemed like a good man as well. But one never knew what would come of politicians, George mused and went back into the mill.
Once the day was over, George climbed onto his horse and headed for home. He would have a few chores to do once he got home, like every day. His grandmother certainly kept up with the farm, having her sons come home to help out sometimes. George always thought of them as his brothers, since his mother had died some five years ago.
His grandmother had had some hard grief in those years, having Grandfather Roberts die and then Harriett. George had been equally grieved and was now dealing with being the male head of household, even though his grandmother had done most of the farm work herself for the past few years. George’s job at the mill would never bring in the same sort of money that the sale of their corn would, but it helped a lot.
He brought his horse in to the barn out back of the house and unsaddled him. He brushed the chestnut stallion and filled the trough with feed. He glanced down to see that there was water and looked over the other horses before he went in to change and do the feeding of the hogs and other chores before his dinner. As he walked toward the house, he smelled ham that was probably simmering on the stove. His grandmother was always proud that she had a wood stove, rather than having to cook over a fire in a fireplace. It made her feel civilized, even though they were far from a city.
George walked in through the back door and took off his boots. He called out a quick hello to his grandmother and ran up the stairs to his room. He shed his work clothes and pulled on a rough shirt and a pair of overalls. He ran back down the steps, shouted out to his grandmother that he’d be back after he finished the outside errands and dashed out the back door. It seemed like he was always running somewhere.
He hadn’t bothered with putting his boots on and the dirt was warm under his bare feet. He picked up a bucket of scraps to take to the hogs and shouldered a bag of feed to take to the barn. He stopped by the sty first and tossed in the bucketful of scraps. The four hogs ran over to the scraps and dug in quickly. They were never known to be not hungry, George thought and smiled.
The bag of feed went into the barn and a cat came by and rubbed against George’s legs.
“Hi there, Kitty. Keeping the mice at bay out here? Grandma may have a saucer of milk for you after dinner. She might even let you have some of the bread pudding. Though knowing the way I dig into it, maybe not.�
The cat looked at George like he understood every word. Kitty glanced around the barn, checking just to make sure no mice had crept in while he was listening to George. Then he started toward the house, hoping George was right about the milk - and possibly the bread pudding.
George laughed as he followed the cat toward the house. He would have to slip Kitty a bit of bread pudding, if his grandmother didn’t notice. He was sure the cat would remember his mention of it if he didn’t.
He took the broom off the back step and swept the feed that had come out of the bag into a pile and gathered it up into a spare bucket. He took it over to the sty and tossed it in to the hogs who looked up in surprise and gallumphed over to the feed with what seemed to George like glee. He smiled and took the two buckets back to the step and went into the house.
“Grandma, I’m done,� he called out and wiped his feet on a rag rug by the door.
“Well, George, you certainly got those chores done quick. How do the hogs look? Near time to slaughter another for the hams to be smoked and cured for the winter,� Esther told him as she came out to the back of the house.
“They look pretty good to me, Grandma, but you’d better ask Uncle Hiram or somebody knows better than me. I wouldn’t want you to have them slaughtered just on my say so.�
“Well, you better learn pretty soon. Tell your uncle when he comes that you need to know the signs to look for to tell when a hog is ready for slaughtering.�
“Yes, Ma’am.�
“You ready to eat now? I got some boiled ham and some biscuits, along with some bread pudding that your Aunt Hannah brought over. She knows you love it.�
George smiled as he recalled his mention of bread pudding to the cat.
“Yes, ma’am, I’m more than ready to eat!�
After supper, George sneaked a bit of bread pudding into a saucer and stepped out the back door. He looked around and called softly, “Here, Kitty, Kitty.�
The cat scampered up to him and looked at the saucer in his hand. George bent and rubbed the cat’s head as he put the dish down.
“Now hurry, Kitty, so that I can get that dish back to the kitchen before...�“Before what, George Mifflin Dallas?� said his grandmother who stood just behind him.
“What are you doing out here, Grandma?�
“Well, I was about to give our mouser a little cream and some bread pudding, but I see he has another benefactor. I don’t want to give him any more so he loses his taste for mousing,� she said with a smile.
“Well, I thought he deserved a little treat.�
“I did, too. You mustn’t be sneaking Kitty any treats though, George. He’ll lose his taste for mice if we feed him too much. So pick up the saucer and let’s take them back to the kitchen where I can put things away for tomorrow.�
“Yes, ma’am.�
After things were cleaned up in the kitchen and the lamps were extinguished, they made their way to their rooms for a well-deserved rest.

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