Wednesday, July 25, 2007
His life had become embraced by shadows. His shadow that disappeared from the view of his comrades as they marched toward the Wilderness on May 5, 1864. A shadow that walked, ran, fled, in a direction opposite from where the 18th Massachusetts would rendezvous with fate, whether driven by fear or a survival instinct. It’s unknown if he traveled a half-mile, a mile, or two, or perhaps more; vigilant eyes turned to the back of his head, his senses wired, lest his shadow, accompanied by a mind that wandered north, to home, to family, to Massachusetts, where the rattle of musketry and the roar of cannon would fade into nothingness, where men would die for the most part of natural causes, be discovered. His shadow would be headed off by other shadows, gray, menacing, their muskets pointed at his heart. His would disappear into the shadow of the woods with them, where in a clearing he was cast among other blue uniformed shadows. And from there he would disappear into the shadows of a cattle car that would take its cargo of men lost in darkness to Andersonville, where they would become shadows of humanity shadowed from God’s grace. He would walk out of Andersonville and board another train that would take him deeper into the shadows of the Confederacy, to Florence, South Carolina.
All military records, including those of the 18th Massachusetts Infantry, listed John Henry, Company A, as a deserter. There was no record that this 29 year-old Coal Heaver, who emigrated from England, was taken prisoner. A shadow to his Company, a shadow to his Regiment; a shadow of uncertainty hanging over a family in Roxbury that waited for him to appear in the doorway after peace was declared.
There is no grave marker at Florence. Henry is with the unknowns, his death unknown even to the existing records from the Florence Stockade. There is only a reference in a December 20, 1864 New York Times article in which fellow prisoners, in a letter of protest written to Confederate Lt. Gen. William J. Hardee, listed their grievances and the names of the dead at Florence.
As Union prisoners of war, we have had, heretofore, uniformly good reasons to complain of rations short in quantity and very inferior in quality, of an extremely inadequate supply of cooking utensils, and of very long detention of letters, moneys, and boxes from home, but never before we were brought to this prison have had reason to complain that the Confederate authorities had aggravated these standing grievances ten-fold by exposing us, as they have done here, to the inclemency of the weather, in a camp in which not a structure of the humblest kind has been erected for our accommodation.
Henry’s name is the 327th on a list of over 400 men who died prior to November 12, 1864 submitted in the letter, confirming a fate no longer confined to the shadows and to wondering.
Monday, July 09, 2007
This one may seem a bit rambling but hang in there; you will see the payoff in the end if you stick with me.
A little over a month ago my youngest child, Theresa, turned five.
After starting the child raising process with two sons, I thought that another child, even if it was a different sex, would be quite easy. Boy, was I wrong. The things that boys like to do, don’t always mesh with what a young girl likes – so I often have no idea on what to do with her. Luckily, my wife has a much better comprehension of what little girls like/want – and Theresa doesn’t find her life one long mistake by dad after another. My wife tells me I have the same thing going with my sons but I think she is just telling me that to make me feel better.
When we started discussing what we would do for Theresa’s birthday, I knew I should leave this in the hands of the expert. By doing this, my wife came up with a perfect idea. You see, my daughter loves horses – but you can’t call them horses, they are ponies. All ponies have the same names as those of Hasbro’s “My Little Pony”, which of course is designated by the pony’s color. I once asked as we passed a herd of ponies, where the pink, purple and other assorted pastel colored pony’s were (trying to make her think about it) and she replied, “At the merry-go-round.” She gets her smarts from her mother.
To say she is obsessed with ponies would have to be an understatement. There are three main avenues of travel away from our house. Two of them could – depending on the right turns – require you to pass different sets of ponies. Theresa will ask very nicely to pass them as soon as she realizes that we are going “that” way. You would be surprised at how quickly one can get tired of ponies if you are not a small girl named Theresa.
Her room is filled with ponies and pieces of pony houses and play sets, to the point where we bought none for her birthday as I was tired of picking up pieces after the inevitable stepping on them when walking into her room.
My wife came up with a better idea; let’s take her to a stable. It was a simple enough idea, take her there, let her pet the horse, talk to it, feed it some snacks, brush it and if possible ride it for a bit. We figured we would have to pay for the time and willing to do so. My thought was she would get more out of that than any Pizza Party. With a mission in hand, my wife started calling different stables in the area. She was unable to get a hold of any and had to leave messages at the 5 she called. Three didn’t even bother to return the calls, while the other two just told us “No, we don’t do that.”
Not to be deterred, I emailed two co-workers who were big into horses asking if they knew if something like what we were requesting was possible and if yes, where. One replied that until Theresa got older, it was doubtful any place would do it because they would not have the opportunity to make ongoing money from her via lessons. The other said pretty much the same thing but added that we were more than welcome to come visit her horse, Ladyfire.
So without telling Theresa what was going on, we all packed into the car and drove 30 minutes away from the house to the stable. When we got there, she was ecstatic. It was more than she could ever have imagined. She had a blast and we didn’t leave until she was ready. Even my two sons got to ride a bit.
Here we are a month and a half later and she still asks about Ladyfire and reminisces about the day often. It is probably the best day she has ever had and it was one of the least expensive ones too. Of course, now she wants a real pony but I can hold that off for now by asking her to play with our cat.
Now, back to the original question, how much has things changed since the Civil War?
If I had wanted Theresa to meet a horse back then, all I would have to do is walk to the back yard. Horses would have been as plentiful as the dogs and cats on the farm – if not more. That is how much things have changed, a once strong partnership between man and beast has been relegated to the few who can afford it as a luxury item.
Look around you and ask yourself, 150 years from now, what will your descendants be writing about to point how far backwards things were in the early years of the 21st century? What indispensable items will be but a forgotten memory in that time? Will the Civil War even matter anymore or will it have gone the way of the horse?