|Beautiful Belmont, Part 38 -- My Coming to War.|
by John Salisbury Cochran.
See previous entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 37 -- Oberlin College.
My school days were over forever, though I did not know it then. In common with everyone else at that time, I assumed the war would be over in a few months, and that I could then resume my studies. The long injustice of slavery had laid the groundwork for an enduring conflict in which the best blood of the nation was to be a sacrificial offering for its great crime, and the agonizing cries and sobs of heartbroken women all over the land were to be thrown in to balance the scales of justice.
I can never forget the look in mother's eyes when she found five of her boys had enlisted. The pathetic, helpless appeal on her face expressed her love and worry beyond description. When we parted from her and our dear sisters, throwing our arms around them and kissing them goodbye, we all realized how dear they were to us. Our kind father turned his face aside as he pressed our hands to hide his pain, even as he urged us on to duty. We learned that after we had gone, he walked around for weeks like someone who, half dazed, was looking for something he could not find. Most of us never saw him again, for he lost his life in trying to save that of one of his sons in a Southern hospital.
The last and sixth of the family to enlist was brother Fenimore, then between thirteen and fourteen years of age. When the others enlisted he declared he would go as well, but he was a mere child, and we laughed at him. After we had gone he secured a tenor drum and became quite proficient as a drummer. He was watching closely the formation of a company on the old fairgrounds on Wheeling Island, just above the back-river wooden bridge. One day mother sent him to drive the hogs out of the wheatfield and stop the holes in the fence. He went, but unobserved, took his drum. The company was to move that day to the front. He went to the captain to act as a drummer boy. The captain informed him he could not take him without the written consent of his parents. "Fin," as we called him, said he would bring it within two hours, which he did. He had written the permit himself.
Fin was the last of the brothers to be discharged, his regiment having been among the troops sent to the borders of Mexico to be ready to enforce the demands of this country on France to withdraw her troops from Mexico, which had taken advantage of our nation's problems to found an empire there under Maximilian. When Fin returned he walked into the house, and clasping mother round the neck, said, "Mother, I have driven out the hogs and stopped the holes."
The desolation brought to the farm by the enlistment at about the same time of six of the members of our family was most marked and impressive. Our whole family suffered from the war. Our mother and sister described it to us afterward as almost unbearable. Beside our father, it left no other male member except our brother, Sumner, then a babe in arms. Even the two dogs, "Tip" and "Tyler," seemed to wonder at the dreamy silence, and, upset at the long absence of their young companions, looked with inquisitive muteness into the faces of our sisters. After father's death, there wasn't a man on the farm to take care of it. My mother and sisters, when the snow was twelve inches deep, had to hitch up the team and haul hay and fodder to keep the stock from starving. Some of the gray-haired neighbors (for all others were in the army) came at times and helped them. In the absence of the boys and the death of father, the farm was ultimately swept away by an unpaid mortgage.
When Aunt Tilda found we were going to "de wah," as she termed it, she charged each of us to bring Mose back with us. Of course we all promised her. Her ideas of the nation's size were so limited she imagined we would have no difficulty in running across him. She had become quite an indispensable part of our home. We called her "The Boss." We allowed her to have her way, and it was ordinarily correct. I think there was nothing in the world she would not have done for any of us. We all loved Aunt Tilda. She enjoyed the few days' visit of Lucinda and Sam, but when they left they could not prevail on her to make her future home with them in Cleveland. She promised them a visit, but said she was going to wait for "Poor Mose," as she was sure he would come back to Wheeling as soon as Union forces captured it.
Minerva, my friend Charlie Chandler, and I arrived home from school about the same time. I did not enlist for a few weeks, as father needed some help on the farm. It seems strange to me to this day that Charlie and I did not go to war together. From the attachment that always existed between us, it would have been the most natural thing to expect. I think I enlisted first, however. He preferred the gunboat service, and I went in the infantry. After I enlisted I did not see nor hear from him until after the war. We enjoyed a month together before going, and despite the excitement of war, they were the most pleasant days of our lives. On one of our Sunday walks, he informed me of his engagement to the loving woman who later became his wife -- one of his college classmates.
When I wrote Minerva that I intended leaving college to enlist, she opposed it bitterly, and this was still an unsettled question between us when we met at home. I urged upon her my patriotic duty, but she cited my delicate physical condition, and claimed that there were plenty of able-bodied men to do the fighting and crushing fatigue duties of active military life. She clung to her request to the last, asking it as the only thing she would ever ask of me. When she found I had settled upon it and could not be changed, she gracefully accepted my decision, and tried to make my short stay before enlistment as pleasant as possible. Our meetings and strolls were frequent, and she seemed more attentive toward me than ever before.
More than anything else, I wanted an answer from Minerva regarding my love for her before placing myself in a position where it was quite possible we might never meet again. I had given her my promise not to raise the question again until we had reached adulthood (age 21), however, and was determined that if the matter came up before then, it would be she who would raise it. I was yearning and hoping in my soul she would, of course; once or twice, when the flow of our conversation ran close to our relationship and we were looking into each other's eyes, I was certain she was going to speak of it. If she really contemplated it, though, she let the moment pass, and I was left with an aching void, an ungratified longing.
On one occasion I decided to break my promise, giving as a reason the changed conditions brought on by the war, and my proposed enlistment; but my sense of pride came to my aid, and I refrained from asking for what I so deeply desired. It seemed to me then that it would be such a degree of assuring comfort in the future, no matter what the dangers and hardships of army life might be, to carry Minerva's promise with me. I imagined she knew my thoughts, and this gave me more discomfort that she did not speak. When she did not, the best I could do to pacify my own misgivings was to feel she refrained from a sense of modesty so cautiously observed by some about the most momentous of all questions -- marriage.
One afternoon we strolled to the old Weeks cemetery. As we stood on the summit of that beautiful spot and took in the broad delightful scenery of surrounding happy farm homes, Minerva's eyes seemed to kindle with delight, and as I looked at her it struck me that I had never seen her so lovely. Her two years at the seminary had added a grace and culture which, with her natural beauty, was truly fascinating. She noticed my scrutinizing gaze and blushed. I knew she had read my thoughts.
We came to the grave of a departed friend. I stopped and said, "Minerva, here is a sad, sad story."
"Yes," she replied, "they say she died of a broken heart. What are the facts? Do you know anything about them?"
"Yes, quite well," I said. "My sister and she were close friends and she told my sister everything." I described the story of how a local couple had once loved and become engaged. He went to California in pursuit of wealth in 1848, promising when it was obtained to return so they could be married. Instead, he married a wealthy women in California who subsequently died, leaving him all her wealth. Reducing all his property to money, he came home to his first love to ask her forgiveness and her hand. She had learned of his broken promise, though, and had pined away and died. When he returned, she had been lying in this grave only three days, having died with his name on her lips. I described how, only a few Sundays before, while walking nearby, I had seen the young man sitting by her grave, tears rolling down his cheeks.
Some of the most pleasant hours were spent by Minerva and me at the home of our friends, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Woods, a few hundred yards west of the tavern and tollgate, at what later became known as the John Woods homestead, where they then resided. What a blessed thing it is to young people in the country, where heartfelt hospitality always adorns the latchstring of a neighbor's door. It was so at the Woods home, which was only a short stroll from Minerva's home. The countryside was beautiful, and the cordial greetings with which we were always received by Mr. and Mrs. Woods made us feel we were welcome. The short interval between our return from college and the enlistments of Charlie and myself was spent by us mainly at our own homes and those of the Chandlers and Woods.
On one occasion, a Saturday, Minerva and I decided to take a short walk to Candlers, to spend the evening there. On our way past the tollgate a two-seated spring wagon drove up with three occupants of a neighboring family -- husband, wife, and daughter. The seat beside the daughter was vacant. Each wore a sad face, and they were in tears. They were just returning from Bridgeport, where they had seen their son and brother, a noble, manly fellow, off to the war. They carried the suit of clothes he had worn there, and which had been replaced by his blue military uniform. They seemed heartbroken indeed, and it was mournful in the extreme. That noble boy never returned. His body lies in one of the nameless graves in that indefinable battlefield called the Wilderness.
At Chandler's, Charlie was waiting for us, and we spent as happy an evening as it was possible to do under the circumstances. A sense of ominous foreboding pervaded the hearts of all. We dispelled it to some degree by discussing the exciting war news of the day, followed by some literary reading and discussion. A Miss Adaline Weeks was spending the afternoon and evening with Mrs. Chandler. After the evening was over, Charlie, Miss Weeks, Minerva and I took our usual walk around the road to our homes. I waited at the gate with Minerva until Charlie returned, for he was going to my home to spend Sunday. When we arrived at the little knoll east of the tavern, I said, "Charlie, this is where I always turn to wave my hand goodbye to Minerva. Let us see if she is still there." I turned and waved, and a white flutter at the gate responded. It was a little thing, but to see her do it when Charlie was with me, gave me infinite satisfaction.
"What did I tell you?" said Charlie. "I know she loves you. Has she answered you yet?" "Never!" I replied. "Will you not have her do so before you go?" said Charlie. "I once promised her never to raise the question again until I am of age. I will keep my promise, though conditions have greatly changed. I am not yet nineteen," I said. "Well," said Charlie, after some deliberation, "you can rest assured she loves you, and you need have no fears on that point. I would wager my life on it." We climbed upon the fence by the side of the road on the little hillock on our grandfather's farm, which overlooks our home, and in that soft June evening spoke confidingly of their futures until long after midnight. The rough paths all of our feet have trod since have grayed our hair and furrowed our cheeks, and we have all known sorrow. However, the memory of those blessed days of devout friendship can never be taken away.
I scarcely knew how to describe my sentiments and all the emotions that entered into my enlistment. A young man deeply in love is likely to do either a great or a foolish thing. I felt first a strong sense of patriotic duty was the impelling motive. It was not entirely unmixed with boyish ambition, a strange unrest that seems to motivate most young people at a certain age -- the longing to strike out into the world and do something -- the love of independent action. Just such a spirit had discovered new worlds, peopled continents, and toppled kingdoms and dynasties.
A Lingering Farewell
I had promised Minerva to spend my last evening before joining my regiment with her and her parents. The strange emotions that filled my heart at that meeting and separation were unforgettable. I found her sadder and more reflective than I had ever known her to be. Her looks and actions toward me were more subdued and tender, not to say remorseful.
When the apple trees are in bloom, filling the air with their varied, delicious fragrance, there is no spot on earth more lovely than the Ohio Valley and vicinity. It was this season of the year, and the surroundings never struck me as being more lovely. Minerva's home fronted on the road, and was surrounded by apple and other fruit trees. In the afternoon we took a walk to the knoll by the cemetery, enjoying the surrounding loveliness of landscape, and then walked along the sandy ridge road past our grandfather's to the high point immediately to the east, where we could take a full view of my own dear old farm. A portion of Wheeling could be seen off in the distance. The fine farmlands of the Scotch and Pinch Ridge neighborhoods lay spread out before us in a beautiful panorama of green fields dotted with sheep and cattle. Across the depression formed by Buckeye Run we could dimly see in the distance the window of the bedroom in my old home.
The differing individual affections I felt for my father, mother, brothers, and sisters collected themselves into a deep reflective feeling; even the attachments for the different animals on the farm came into play. I thought again of the different spots on the farm which the fancy of my boyhood had found special. I thought of the little petty differences which sometimes occurred, and then of the many joyous pleasures of family life. When I thought of these and many more, and that perhaps I might never see those dear ones again, how I wished I could withdraw every bitter incident and increase the joys of every pleasurable one. I felt thankful that God had given me the ability to quickly forget sorrow, and long remember and cherish the pleasures of life. How long I remained in this thoughtful oblivion to the outside world I do not know, but I was brought back to a consciousness of my surroundings by the soft touch of Minerva's hand on my arm.
When we arrived at the little knoll east of the tavern, I paused for a moment and said, "Minerva, here is where I always turn to wave you a last goodbye." "Yes," she said. "What a habit it has become with us!" "I trust there is more in it than the result of habit," I replied; "for it is certainly more than that to me." "I am glad to hear you say so," she responded; "I too always look for it -- it is not just a habit to me either."
The tea at the Patterson's was a pleasant one and everyone appeared to take a subdued interest in my departure, and soften as far as possible the prospect of a hard life ahead. I threw off the really sad feelings I had and put on an air of cheeriness I did not feel. This did not escape the critical eye of Minerva, however; she knew me through and through. Mrs. Patterson and her husband were both educated and quite refined people, and it was always a pleasure to have their company. Doctor Patterson and his wife were polite and entertaining. They had the faculty of making a guest feel comfortable and at ease.
After tea we spent an hour with our friends, Mr. and Mrs. Woods, and passed on to Chandler's, where we found Miss Cassie Hogg, who was visiting her sister. This was one of the memorably pleasant short evenings cherished by us both. Miss Hogg was a most pleasant and attractive lady, and I am glad to have kept her and her excellent husband, I.N. Fogle, as longtime friends.
Minerva and I left the Chandler mansion quite early, and strolling back to Minerva's home, seated ourselves on the long rustic seat in the lawn under a friendly apple tree, the blossoms from which had filled the surrounding atmosphere with a delightful perfume. It was a beautiful balmy evening, and all nature, as if arousing from a winter's dream, was full of life and loveliness. In the stillness of the evening we could hear the low beat of the bass drum as it kept tune to the martial tread of armed troops gathering on Wheeling Island. We talked long and earnestly of our past, our school days from early childhood, of our later more mutual associations, and of my ambitious hopes of the future.
It was a memorable night for me, but I could not say it was one of entire pleasure. While Minerva was all kindness and concern, she never answered my request fully, and I thought, despite her promise to do so in the future, and mine to keep silent, under changed conditions the time had arrived for her to break her silence. I felt a reserve had taken possession of both of us, and that each of us desired to unburden to the other a sentiment that was not fully defined in either thoughts, or that neither of us could find words to fully express. I had the belief that Minerva desired to give me the long coveted answer, despite her former resolution, but was restrained by a high degree of womanly modesty.
The large clock in the Doctor Patterson's house was striking the hour of eleven, and I decided to give Minerva one more opportunity to give me her answer. I rose and said that it was time for me to go. I had taken her hand when I arose, and as she drew near me, I stooped over and kissed her lips and with a warm pressure of the hand I was gone. It was the first time our lips had ever met, and I left her with bowed head, under the apple blossoms. At the little hillock I turned and waved my handkerchief, but there was no response. I looked for her at the gate, but there was no form there. The seat under the apple tree was hidden from my view. I waited for a moment, vainly hoping she might come to me, but then turned sadly away and moved out of sight.
See next entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 39 -- The Regiment Crosses into Kentucky.
For the table of contents and first entry in this series, see: Beautiful Belmont, Part 01 -- Table of Contents and Brief Introduction.
This entry is adapted from Bonnie Belmont: A Historical Romance of the Days of Slavery and the Civil War, by John Salisbury Cochran, which was published originally in 1907. The book has been reedited extensively for inclusion in the Pierian Press Fulltext eBooks database, and is included on the Stratton House Inn Web site by special permission. This special edition of Beautiful Belmont is licensed for use ONLY on this Web site. It may not be copied or downloaded, but may be used for educational purposes and personal pleasure under fair-use provisions via this Web site. Please note that this Stratton House Inn iteration of the book does NOT include the subject headings assigned each chapter for use in the Fulltext eBooks database.
CO-AUTHOR: Wall, C. Edward. (Editor)
DATABASE: Fulltext eBooks: Copyright (c) 2000 The Pierian Press, Inc. All Rights Reserved
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