On the small rough-hewn oaken table, the tiny flame flickered effortlessly. The single
glowing light cast disproportionately long dim shadows on the adjacent walls, each swaying to the fanciful whims of the waxy
little sprite. The tiny light barely illuminated the textured leather cover of the treasured family bible that rested
prominently aside the candle near the table’s center. The cool April air that fluttered the candle’s flame slipped under
the slightly opened window and provided an excuse for the chill that the quilted blanket could not allay. Restlessly
shifting his weight, he felt his feet move against the sheets as he tried to find comfort without disturbing his sleeping
young wife. The fresh breeze whose budding spring fragrance eased away the winter’s musty air did little to sooth his fretful
News of the fall of Fort Sumter had come a week past. He and his wife knew that with this dangerous line crossed, fate now
dangled before him an inescapable dilemma, one he had discussed with his family. A practical, well-respected man, his father
spoke earnestly of honor and the obligation to fight for one’s country. As much as he wished to obey this man’s wishes and
remain in the warm light of his father’s pride, he knew of the terrible possibilities that war would hold. His mother felt
likewise. The memory of his mother’s words pulled his thoughts to her beloved brother Stephen. He had fought in the Mexican
War two decades past, yet the scars of glory won still burned at his soul. Stephen strode off to war on two strong legs,
filled with a rousing patriotism and eagerness to prove himself worthy of the old flag. He came home victorious, but lost more
than just the lower half of a formerly sturdy leg.
Shaking those thoughts away, he instead gazed at the flickering light that danced across the cover of the family bible. Just
inside its familiar worn cover, a sturdy tree held the names of family members long since gone with a line drawn just above the
generation who first laid foot on this untamed land. The margins proudly bore several scribbled notations of those who fought
in the Revolution, their actions allowing for the formation of the country he loved; the country now apparently destined to
tear itself apart. He wondered of his debt to them. Because his ancestors faced the horror of war, he and his family could
enjoy the liberties of this young vibrant country. Uncle Stephen’s painful sacrifices purchased for him the chance to raise
a family in this beautiful land.
Although looking away from her, he took reassurance from the gentle breathing that spoke to him of his wife’s presence. He
thought of their recent wedding and the promises made to each other before the altar of God. What did he owe her? She eagerly
anticipated a future filled with many healthy children and spoke with gratified satisfaction of his ambition to provide for
them. He had the chance to take over his father’s business should he continue to prove himself the hard worker his father
raised him to be. They had a bright future ahead of them, or so he had thought. Now, the decision he must make stood ominously
at a fork in the once straight road that had lead directly to their happiness.
A slight anger rose within him as he thought of the brewing conflict. He had no part in creating this. He cared not how the
country answered the Negro question that had widened the now unbridgeable chasm between the Northern and Southern States. He
alone would work for his family’s future. The sweat of his brow and the strength of his back would bring his young family the
security and stability that would allow for the many children his wife wanted and the joyful years he had known awaited them.
Yet now he wondered what manner of country would remain after the bitter smoke of battle cleared. The older men in town thump
their chests and take their turns swearing that we will win what they insist will be a short, decisive war. They boast of the
certain valor of those who, in front of their aging eyes, have grown from playful lads into strong young men. Such men could
never fail to gain success when put to the great tasks of defending their honor and protecting their homes and firesides. They
spoke of their own wishes to once again embrace youth so they too could shoulder arms and gain the soldierly laurels of glorious
But a darker lingering voice taunted him with another reality. His mother had spoken mournfully of Uncle Stephen’s suffering
and his struggles to survive the brutal amputation that severed his shattered left leg below the knee and cost him his sense
of self-worth. His intemperate manner, so much in contrast to the warmth of his younger self, had consumed him. He would have
no man help him support his family, not even those who loved him. Uncle Stephen’s family often went hungry as they ate primarily
from the fruit of the small parcel of land he could till. He drove away many who would have offered help gladly, too proud to
let them see his anguish, his pain, his inextinguishable sorrow.
Again trying to keep such thoughts at bay, his eyes focused on the leather cover on the table. What would God desire of him?
What did He command? Both sides claimed God’s protection and the advantage of His holy sword. He suspected God would remain
distant for a while and, like a wise Father, let the siblings grow tired of the fight to eventually after much acrimony find
their own peace.
Rising slightly and leaning forward, he gave a short puff, allowing sudden darkness to envelop the entire room. The
intermittent April breeze washed silently over their bed. He wished his mind could go blank, as had the now lightless room.
Rolling towards his wife, he searched the darkness for a glimpse of her soft, strong face, wondering where he would find the
courage to fight when it came time. Fighting meant standing his ground, risking never seeing her again, touching her cheek,
or smelling her long, brown hair. Yet, if he did not go, could he ever again gaze without shame into her eyes? Would she look
upon him as she had before? Would she think him a coward if he sought the security of home? Although he could not yet admit as
much, somewhere in his mind, he knew that he would go. He knew he would fight. He knew he would defend his home, his honor,
and his State. Tomorrow, he would speak to her of going into Charleston. Tomorrow, he would become a Rebel.
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