August 7, 1860
Fire reflected off the black window. It was two hours before midnight and five children sat near the hearth, cookies in hand but with only a few bites taken. To the right of them, seated in a rocking chair, was their maid. An African woman in her late thirties who, until a few moments ago, had captivated them with stories.
The room adjoining had fallen deathly silent, disconcerting from the previous moaning and screaming they’d heard. In response, they too had ceased their chatter. The eldest, a boy about sixteen, stood and inched toward the door. The floor creaked under him and mud fell off in dry clumps, shattering silently. His eyes darted back toward his siblings and cousins who were huddled in a group. His twelve, nearly thirteen year old sister caught his gaze, bit her lip, and looked at him pleadingly for an answer.
“Are they alright, Josiah?”
Josiah moved closer toward the door and there was a sudden wail. Jubilant exclamations burst from the room along with deep laughter.
“Josiah! Kesia! Lydia- everyone!” The door swung open to the face of their father. A trembling smile played on his face below his sagging, purple-ringed eyes. He brushed a hand across his moist face as the kids looked on wide eyed waiting expectantly for the news.
“Come meet the newest member of our family- Rebecca Rosie Jacobs.”
Squeals filled the room as the group leapt to their feet waving their partially eaten treats. They were quickly shushed and led into the room. Three young women walked about the room, cleaning things up. Kesia, the third eldest child, watched them dump a water basin out the window then looked at the other end of the room toward the bed. Her mother laid on the sheets, nearly as white as the covers. Her father was whispering with the maid about something she couldn’t make out. She approached the side of the bed and put her hand on it. Rebecca Rosie, her skin still unwashed was already wrapped in a blanket and resting on her mother’s chest. The quilt seemed to drown both of them. Kesia wrapped her fingers in Josiah’s sleeve, giving it a tug as she whispered to him.
“Are they going to be alright?”
He put his arm around her and his other hand he placed on the shoulder of his other sister, Lydia, who stood on his left. The both looked up at him waiting for the answer. Fire light made his brown hair look golden and gave his young face a wise glow, but he was really just as clueless as they. Kesia watched his eyes glance toward their dad, now deep in a conversation with the midwives, then down at their mom. Their two cousins, Hiram and Harriet sat on the end of the bed also looking toward Josiah for an answer.
“I don’t know.” He said gently as their dad left the room, walking the midwives out. “But God does. Why don’t we pray?”
Kesia, Lydia, and Harriet nodded solemnly in reply and closed their eyes. Kesia inched her hand forward across the sheets so that it rested on her mother’s shoulder. It was quiet for a few moments as Josiah sorted his thoughts trying to think of what to say. Kesia opened her eyes again and glanced up at him as he blinked tears from his eyes and began, quoting first a scripture from memory.
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven. Thank you for bringing our mother and new sister Rebecca Rosie safely to this moment. We ask that you would continue to carry them safely to strength and healing according to your will. In thy son’s holy name. Amen.”
“And thank you that you helped Josiah get the midwives here on time.” Kesia added, “And please continue to help us all the time and take care of Ma and Rebecca Rosie. Amen.”
The rest of the group echoed the amen including their father who now stood behind Josiah and Kesia. The two turned and looked up at him as he placed a hand on each of their shoulders and gave them a squeeze. A soft smile, now without the tremble, and glassy eyes met them. He gently pushed between them and sat on the edge of the bed placing his hand over Rosie’s head. It rested perfectly in his palm as he slipped his other hand beneath her and cradled her. His wife stirred, reaching out her hand.
“It’s alright, Charlotte. I’m just showing the kids Rebecca.”
He looked up at Josiah, pride radiating from his face and slowly stood. Charlotte opened her eyes and scooched up a little to watch, smiling slightly. He carefully transferred Rebecca into Josiah’s arms. Slowly, a wide grin spread across Josiah’s face, he gazed into his new sister’s face and rubbed one of her hands. Kesia gently ran her hand through Rebecca’s thick, fuzzy, black hair. Josiah looked at Kesia.
“Want to hold her?”
Kesia nodded rapidly and held out her arms. She pressed Rebecca gently to her chest, so as not to drop her. Her heart sped up as the tiny babies breaths pressed against her. She looked at Josiah smiling excitedly, then biting her lip as she bounced slightly on her toes. She glanced at her mother who smiled, then back at the pink face of her sister. A hand came from her right and stroked the baby’s face with the back of two fingers. Kesia glanced to her side to see Hiram standing beside her and looking sheepishly at her.
Her mother’s voice softly asked, “Would you like to hold your cousin, Hiram?”
Kesia held Rebecca a little tighter and glanced at her mom then disapprovingly at her cousin. Hiram put his hands behind his back and ducked slightly as he smiled broadly. Kesia moved a step closer to Josiah.
“Yes’m, Aunt Charlotte.” He said softly.
“Kesia, why don’t you give Hiram a turn?”
Kesia looked at Josiah helplessly, thinking of all the mischief Hiram had played in the past.
“You’ll have plenty of time to hold her in the future.”
Kesia looked at Rebecca again then slowly transferred her to Hiram.
“Be careful.” She said, adjusting Hiram’s arm to support Rebecca’s head. “Don’t drop her.”
“I’m not going to drop her, Kes.” Hiram responded, but without the usual spite. His eyes were wide and his hands shook a little. He sat on the edge of the bed then passed the baby to his uncle.
After Lydia and Harriet both had a chance to hold Rebecca, they all left the room and crept silently into bed. Kesia scribbled in her journal until a pillow tossed by Lydia knocked the pencil from her hand.
November 5, 1860
The windows rattled and howls gave an ominous undertone to the otherwise cheery clapping of rain. Kesia was watching the dark hands of her maid shove towels into the crack under the door with a distant look as she held three month old Rebecca on her lap.
“Esther, do you think they’ll be alright? The storm is awful loud out there.”
Esther sat up and put her hands on her hips. “Miss Kesia- don’ be worryin yer’self about that storm. It’s just a little rain.”
“But they’re on their way to Lancaster! What if something happens on the road?”
“The roads as ever sure as it’s been. Massa Ezra, he been that road many times now- rain or not.”
Kesia sighed and leaned back, looking at Rebecca who smiled up at her. A clap of thunder made Kesia startle, but Rebecca just cooed happily. With a smile Kesia stood and hugged Rebecca, heading back to the parlor.
She paused and looked back at Esther. “Esther, do you mind if I help with dinner tonight? I’ve enjoyed learning to bake, would you teach me to cook too?”
“Of course, Miss Kesia.” Esther smiled and stood, lifting the bucket of sopping rags and drying her hand on her apron.
“Thanks, Esther.” Kesia turned and entered the room, taking a seat on a pile of blankets near Harriet and Lydia who sat near the window working on embroidery. Or rather, as Kesia observed, Harriet was working; Lydia was watching the drops make rivers down the glass with her pink skirt bunched up around her waist and feet up against the chair’s arm-rest. She lit up when Kesia entered and slapped her stocking feet onto the floor.
“Can I hold her?”
Kesia put Rebecca on Lydia’s lap and picked up Lydia’s project.
“What are you supposed to be making?”
“Nothing, I was just trying to put a verse around the edge of my handkerchief but embroidery is so tedious.”
Kesia smiled and turned the Bible so she could see what scripture Lydia was copying. “Psalm 139?”
“Yeah- verse 14.”
“I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.”
“Yeah- it’s one of my favorites.”
Kesia nodded while reading the entirety of the passage. Lydia bounced Rebecca on her lap and read over Kesia’s shoulder. Harriet sighed and put her project down.
“If everyone is going to read something you might as well read it out loud.”
Kesia’s mother had entered the room now and she took a seat.
“Yes, Kesia, why don’t you read it aloud? You carry the Psalms with such a melodic tone, it would be a great past time.”
“Alright.” Kesia stood and began reading from the beginning. “O lord, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways….”
As she read, the rain seemed to patter along with the speed she spoke and the wind was a gentle whistle harmonizing with her voice. Rebecca’s eyes closed and she curled up in Lydia’s arms. The fire crackled and Esther paused her sweeping to listen.
“…Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
January 29, 1861
Kesia’s toes curled as they came in contact with the white powder dusting the ground outside. Her eyes observed the two sets of boot-prints leaving the house as she shivered and brushed cold specs from her blonde curls.
“Lydia, Harriet, Hiram! There’s snow!”
She turned just in time to see her sister and two cousins, still dressed in night clothes, crash together at the door and gawk outside. She smiled and her hazel eyes took on a mischievous look.
“Quick- get dressed!”
There was no need for prompting- all four of them scrambled for their rooms.
“Lydia, have you seen my wool stockings?” Kesia asked, sweeping her hand under her bed.
“No- do you have my hat?”
“It’s in here.” Kesia shoved a box across the floor and checked under her night stand.
“Harriet, have you seen my socks?”
Harriet, pulling on her own stockings, shook her head. “Did they need to be mended?”
Kesia ran out to the parlor and ruffled through the mending basket. “Aha!”
She snatched them out and ran back to the room. “Thanks, Harriet. They still have the tear but that’s alright; I’ll just wear another pair under them.”
Harriet was helping Lydia get her skirt braced and simply nodded. “Do you have some other suspenders? Lydia’s won’t clip.”
Kesia yanked a drawer open and tossed a new pair to Harriet. Lydia caught it and passed it to Harriet. “Thanks.”
Kesia grabbed her lavender dress and pulled it over her underdress. They’d all ignored the stiff crinoline and simply layered on fabric for warmth. With a flourish, Kesia dumped a stack of shawls and gloves on Lydia’s bed then pulled on her boots.
Someone pounded on the door.
“You ready yet!”
“One minute, Hiram!”
The girls heard him groan and they laughed. Each slipped on a pair of gloves, grabbed a shawl, and pulled a hat from the hat box as they made their way to the door.
The front door was flung open and a icy blast of air blew their unbuttoned coats. Lydia gave them a shove from the back.
They tumbled out into the snow; balls of it immediately began to fling across the path as they laughed and screamed.
“Megan, John!” Lydia shouted as she passed by a house. “Come out and join us!”
Two dark faces peeked out the door then it opened wide. “Is it all right with Massa Ezra, Miss Lydia?”
Kesia laughed and tossed a snowball lightly at the door. “He isn’t home, but come on- it’s snow! How could he say no to that?”
Megan grinned and pulled at John’s arm, whispering to him.
“Well I suppose if i’s alright…” John began then he suddenly looked past the girls then down at his feet; Megan moved a bit back behind him. Kesia looked behind her. Hiram was glowering at the door.
“Hiram, come on, it’s snow- you can’t really not want them out here! The more the merrier- we could have an epic battle!”
“My pa would beat us and them both for that.”
“Our pa isn’t like that.” Lydia objected.
“But he don’t allow it either and you know it.”
“He wouldn’t have to know,” Kesia objected. “He won’t be back for a good while. Hiram, they’d just be out here to throw snow with us. Besides, I’m sure Pa would allow it this once. It’s the first good snow this winter!”
Hiram glowered at Kesia then at Megan and John. “Go inside and don’t you be out here bothering us!”
“Yes’r, Massa Hiram.” John replied and pushed Megan indoors.
Lydia crossed her arms and scowled at Hiram while Kesia looked apologetically at Megan and John as the door closed.
Lydia’s kicked a clump of snow at Hiram.
“You mess up all the fun.”
“Oh, grow up, Lydia.” He snapped then took a handful of snow and shoved it down her back. She squealed as he took off running, immediately forgetting their feud.
Later that day after hours of playing in the snow and ambushing Josiah and his dad, they all sat inside, bundled in blankets around the fire. Rebecca entertained them with her attempts to crawl.
Kesia was listening to her father, mother, Josiah, and Hiram talk while Harriet read and Lydia drew pictures with chalk.
“The South has seceded from the States.” She heard her father say.
Hiram scoffed, “About time.”
Josiah scowled at him and looked at his father, “What are they planning on doing?”
“Nothing much I presume. They’ve gone and called themselves the Confederate States but I doubt anything serious will happen. Congress will sort it all out.”
“Sort it out?” Hiram said glowering, “When snow comes in summer! No- it’s about time this happened! With all that abolitionist junk and escaping slaves it’s about time the South stood up and had its say. Whatever happened to the right to pursue happiness, hm? The South will be ruined without slaves. They’ve gone and stated the cause that impels them to separation just like the Declaration of Independence did.”
“That same document you quote, Hiram,” Josiah responded calmly, “also states ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life and Liberty’”
“Exactly!” Hiram exclaimed, “Some people think plantation owners are some cruel monsters because of what all them abolitionist folks say but we’re all created equal and allowed to do what we please with our liberty.”
Josiah slouched in his chair and sighed. “That’s not exactly the point I was trying to make…”
“What then- don’t tell me you’re an abolitionist.”
Josiah didn’t respond and glanced at his father.
“It’s all unfair. We got just the same rights, it’s our property that these people are trying to get the government to take away! And the South has its right to abolish whatever government that tries to tyrannically destroy our well being. Wouldn’t you agree, Uncle?”
Ezra glanced up from the paper in his hand. “Well, that is certainly what some people believe. I don’t know if you understand the implications of war, Hiram. We’re talking about death and disunity in a country the fathers of that document fought so hard to create. I doubt Congress will allow such a thing as war to take place over this little issue.”
Hiram shrugged. “If you say so.”
The room fell silent and everyone watched Rebecca push herself up on her knees and reach forward. She seemed stable for a second then flopped down on her stomach. She let out a wail and rolled over, looking expectantly at the people watching her with her wide blue eyes.
As her mother went and scooped Rebecca up, Kesia scooched closer to Josiah’s chair.
“What does it mean that the South has seceded?”
Josiah slipped off the chair and sat next to her on the floor and began fiddling with some wood and metal.
“Basically it means the South has decided it doesn’t want to be part of the United States.” He bent a wire and wound it into a hole in the rod.
“Well.” Josiah slipped some bells and rings onto the wire. “Because Lincoln was elected with virtually no southern consent, they feel neglected and unrepresented and have therefore declared they will no longer be united with the rest of the States.”
Kesia lied back, balling her blanket into a pillow. “Why don’t they like Lincoln?”
“It has to do with something he promised: keeping slavery out of the territories. This would potentially cause unequal amounts of slave and free states.” He bent the other end of the wire and stuck it through the hole.
“And that is a bad thing?”
“For the south it is.” He wrapped a strip of leather around the rod.
Kesia tilted her head and pointed at the object. “What did you make?”
Josiah grinned. “A rattle.”
He stood and walked over to his mom. He grabbed Rebecca’s hand and put the object in it, giving it a shake. It clanked and rang. She cooed and laughed.
July 24, 1861
The door flung open and hit the wall with a thud.
“There’s been another!”
Everyone looked at Hiram as he announced the news. The front and back of his red shirt were dark with sweat and a black lock was dripping before his wildly excited brown eyes. One suspender had slid off his shoulder and hung at his left elbow as he waved the newspaper.
Josiah and Ezra both stood while Charlotte sighed.
“Hiram, go change your pants and bring me those so I can mend the hole.”
“Here, Uncle.” Hiram tossed the newspaper expertly to Ezra then walked down the hall to change.
Kesia glanced outside to see Lydia still digging in the garden with Harriet reading nearby then walked over to look at the newspaper with her brother and father.
“Another battle in Virginia.” Ezra responded. Brown curls sprung between his fingers as he sighed, thinking.
“This is the fourth real battle right?” Charlotte asked, walking over with Rebecca at her breast.
Ezra nodded. “It’s only been a few. I honestly don’t believe it will go on much longer.”
“But what if it does?” Kesia asked.
Ezra was silent a moment as he gazed at his wife and then at his youngest child. His shoulders slumped. “Well, I may enlist.”
“Ezra!” Charlotte exclaimed.
Ezra put his hand on his wife’s shoulder. “It’s my duty to the unity of this country, Charlotte.”
“You can do your duty without fighting, Ezra, think of your family. Rosie isn’t even a year yet!”
“I know- and I’m not enlisting yet, I simply said it is something I am possibly considering,” he said gently, “And I am thinking of this family. I’m thinking of what could happen if this war goes on. The Virginias aren’t so far from here.”
Charlotte seemed to want to say something but Ezra gently wound one of her stray blonde strips of hair around his finger and stroked her face.
“Alright.” She said. “Alright, we can talk about this later.” She pushed his hand away and smiled at him.
Hiram had returned by now and dropped his torn pants in the mending basket. Charlotte nodded at him then walked to the door to check on the Harriet and Lydia while Ezra took a seat to read the rest of the paper.
“So the war continues.” Hiram said, tilting his head up. “I told you it would. The South isn’t going to be so easy and rightly so.”
Josiah sighed and shot him a look but he didn’t shut up.
“I think it’s right that they fight for what they believe. I bet my father would already be on the front lines with the rest of them if he was alive.”
“But he isn’t,” Josiah snapped. “So drop it.”
Hiram clenched his fists. “Yeah? Well I bet your Pa won’t even join the Union.”
“Well yours was a-”
Ezra rested the paper on his knees. “That will be quite enough.”
Josiah’s face flushed and he hung his head.
“Sorry, Pa. I didn’t mean it…” He turned to walk out and calm down but Hiram hissed in his ear.
Josiah made to hit him but stopped short at his father’s gaze. He dropped his hand and stalked out, ignoring Kesia’s questioning gaze.
November 12, 1861
“You will do no such thing!” Ezra slammed his hand down on the table. Josiah stood pushing his chair back. Charlotte glanced at the girls and waved them toward the door.
“Pa, you know I respect you in every way. But I can not understand why you wish to enlist when you’ve got a whole family to take care of! It would be better I enlist than you- I’ll be of age next July and I want to fight for the freedom of many.”
Kesia grabbed Rebecca’s hand as she wobbled into the hall. Harriet closed the door behind them, but they all crowded against it to listen.
“I need you to take care of the family.”
“Why can’t you stay and care for the family?”
“Because you are part of it!”
“What need of we to even join in the fight?” Charlotte’s voice interceded.
“Lottie, we’ve discussed this.”
“But there are other ways-”
“We are part of the United States and I will fight for unity to remain.”
There was a crash like that of a dish breaking and silence for a moment until Charlotte’s voice spoke softly but strained.
“Even if it means losing your life?”
“Or property?” Hiram added.
“Whether it means giving up every coin and breath I own! Don’t you understand? I couldn’t care less if slaves get their freedom or not. That’s not what I’m fighting for. If this country doesn’t remain united as one we might not have a home and the freedom to call anything property. There are people who won’t have a family to return to if this battle goes on- it could even come to us and I would have the guilt of knowing I did not stand to stop it.”
February 12, 1862
The battle on February eighth had been the deciding marker. Everyone stood outside except Hiram. Kesia looked around for him and caught a glimpse of him peeking out from behind the brown curtain. His eyes were rimmed with red- but he glared with anger. He held his chin up as if to say he didn’t care, but his lip trembled. Kesia looked back at her father who held Rebecca with one arm, tickling her with the other.
Her throat tightened and she felt her eyes begin to burn but she shook her head- she wouldn’t cry until he was gone.
He passed Rebecca back to his wife and hugged them both tightly then looked at his son. He placed both hands on Josiah’s shoulders.
“I can still go instead… it’s only a few more months.” Josiah tried to persuade once more.
“Take care of them. You’re wise and strong, Josiah. I’m more proud of you than I can ever express.” Tears flooded Josiah’s eyes and he hugged his father.
Lydia and Kesia didn’t wait for him to approach them. They both ran to hug him. Lydia jumped up and hugged him around the neck. He squeezed them both tight.
“I love you my beautiful princesses.”
Kesia didn’t try to hold the tears back anymore. “Be careful, Pa.”
“How long will you be gone?” Lydia asked.
“I pray it won’t be long.” He whispered.
“We’ll pray too.”
He smiled and slowly released them; Lydia dropped back to the ground then wrapped her arm around Kesia. He stepped in front of Harriet who was sniffing and staring at the ground.
“Can I have a hug from my neice?”
She sniffed again and her lips twitched up in a slight smile as she nodded and gave him a hug.
“You’re turning into a lovely young lady, Harriet. Your parents would be proud of you. I’m proud of you.”
She let go and wrapped her arms around herself. He gave her a pat on the shoulder then looked toward the window. Hiram snapped the shade shut.
He turned back to his wife and gave her a kiss then pat Josiah once more on the shoulder. The door eased open a crack and Ezra spoke loudly.
“Tell Hiram I’m proud of him, too.”
The door closed again.
Ezra sighed and looked at his family then mounted his horse.
“I love you all.” He said softly, then kicked his horse.
Kesia watched him ride away noting, for a February day, it was unusually warm. When she could no longer see him she looked up at the sky. The sun was bright and high without a single cloud. She gave Lydia, who was still clinging to her side, a squeeze then whispered as she blinked back tears.
“Lord, please bring Pa home. Let this war end soon.”
January 11, 1863
Kesia snapped her hand away from the top of the fabric where the tip of a needle glinted in the light from the window.
Harriet huffed and dropped the shirt she was sewing to her lap. “That’s like the tenth time today, Kesia!”
“Well, sorry if sewing isn’t my expertise!”
Harriet reached over and snatched the fabric that was suppose to become a pair of pants. “Your stitching isn’t even straight and it’s too wide, it’ll come undone to easy.”
“Well at least I’m in here doing it willingly.”
Harriet tossed the fabric back to Kesia and leaned back in her seat. “I’m in here willingly. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be in here at all.”
Lydia smirked. “You were all but bribed, Harriet.”
“Threatened is more like it- wash laundry and hang laundry or sew.”
“Washing and hanging is your only chore.” Kesia said while tying off the short thread. “Rosie, can you get me some more thread?” Rebecca squealed with delight and dropped her doll, running for the sewing basket.
“Yes, but when it’s all but snowing outside? It’s practically a death sentence! Of course I would choose sewing instead.”
Rebecca ran back with the spool of thread, grinning widely, then tripping over the edge of her gown and landing sprawled at Lydia’s feet.
“You’d have bribed Megan to do it anyway.” Lydia responded while helping Rebecca back to her feet and scruffing her blonde hair. Then she held up the shirt she had sewn. “How does it look?”
Rebecca walked the rest of the way to Kesia and handed her the thread.
“Thanks, Rosie.” Kesia said and gave her a piece of a cookie. She snatched it and popped it in her mouth happily while walking away. Kesia watched her walk away grinning then looked up at Lydia’s shirt.
“Left sleeve looks a little short.”
Lydia held it out further. “Really?”
She turned toward her mom. “Is it?”
Charlotte looked up. “Sorry, Lydia, it does look a bit off.”
“I thought I’d measured right… Oh well, I’ll just cut the other sleeve to match I suppose.”
She grabbed the scissors and the measuring rod then knelt on the floor to begin fixing the problem.
“Do you think we will get a letter today?”
Harriet sighed. “It’s been three months since the last letter, Lydia, and you’ve asked that every single day. Why don’t you give up asking? None of us know any better than you.” Her last statement came out spitefully as she jabbed the needle harshly through the fabric.
Lydia sat back on her knees and frowned at Harriet, her eyes a little glassy. “I still think one will come.”
“I’m sure it will, too,” Charlotte said and pat her daughter, “It’s just the mail has been a little slow lately.” She tried to comfort. Kesia though, gazing at her from the other side of the room, could see the redness of her eyes.
“Why don’t we read a Psalm?”
Harriet groaned and slumped in her chair but then sat back up again.
Lydia grabbed the Bible and opened it up to where they’d left off.
“Psalm 121. I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth…”
Charlotte leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes for a moment listening contently. Kesia gazed at her needle thoughtfully and whispered along with Lydia from memory.
“…The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.”
“Amen.” Charlotte said then the door creaked open. Lydia slapped the Bible closed and looked hopefully at Josiah.
He shook his head. “Still no letter.”
They all sighed.
Hiram walked in behind him without saying a word and went straight to his room. His face was drawn tight and he had his hands tucked deep in his pockets.
Harriet stood up and placed the shirt down. “Hiram?” He closed the bedroom door. She bit her lip and sat back down, but didn’t pick her project back up.
“Where’s Rosie?” Josiah asked. “Normally she runs to the door when we get back.”
Everyone sat up suddenly and looked about.
“She was just here!” Kesia exclaimed and draped the shirt over the side of the chair. Lydia put the Bible back on the hearth and dropped to her hands and knees, looking under the chairs and tables to see if Rosie was hiding.
“I’ll go check the bedrooms!” Charlotte said.
Kesia and Harriet both made for the kitchen.
Shouts echoed through the house. Kesia’s heart was pounding as she yanked open cabinets.
“Rebecca Rosie Jacobs- where are you!”
“Kesia- the cellar is open!” Harriet called.
Kesia grabbed a candle and ran over. They both descended the steps and looked around. White powder covered the floor and there were little white handprints across the wall. Harriet and Kesia gave each other knowing looks. To their left they heard a sneeze; Kesia turned and held out the light to see better in the dim corner. Rosie clapped her hands sending a little puff of white into the air and giggled.
“Rosieeee!” Kesia moaned but began laughing.
July 5, 1863
Kesia laid in bed unable to sleep. Her mind was consumed with thoughts and she could hear her mother in the next room tossing and turning, crying. She seemed to do that every night- Kesia wasn’t sure she ever slept anymore.
They hadn’t heard from Pa in over nine months now. No one even asked or looked anymore when Josiah and Hiram came back. Hiram never spoke a word and Josiah would sigh and update them on the day’s work while picking up a shirt and helping mend it or making something from some spare leather he brought home.
They had groups every now and then of ladies who would come and sew- sometimes they’d go to another person’s house. It made it feel less confining to be with others in the same circumstance.
Kesia sighed and rolled to her side, pulling at a string in her quilt.
There had been a battle a few days ago in Pennsylvania. It was hard to sleep knowing they’d only been hours away from a battle. It wasn’t even comforting to know the Union had managed to push them out.
Her eyes started to drift closed as newspaper images of battle grounds flickered through her thoughts, but a scream bolted her upright. Her hands scrambled for the matches next to her bed and she tried to light the candle, shakily.
She heard the door down the hall bang open and footsteps running toward their room. She lit the candle and turned toward Harriet who was sobbing in bed. The door swung open and Hiram was the first through. He rushed to the side of the bed and put his arm around Harriet his face full of concern.
“Don’t go away, Hiram. Please, don’t go away.” She cried and hugged him. He held her tighter and rocked her.
“I’m right here, sis.”
Josiah stood in the doorway with his mom holding a lamp. He walked to the side of Kesia’s bed.
“I don’t know. She must have had a nightmare.”
Lydia moaned and rolled over covering her head with her pillow. After a few minutes spent comforting Harriet, everyone went back to their own beds. Kesia kept the candle burning on the stand and watched its flame flicker in and out. Harriet still cried softly so Kesia began to pray aloud.
“Father in Heaven, we need your comfort so much right now. I’ve barely got a hope to hear from Pa now and I’m so terrified. I hear Ma crying every night and some nights the rest of us do too. Won’t you give us some comfort, some peace? Something more steady than a flickering candle flame? ‘Lord, I cry unto thee: make haste unto me; give ear unto my voice, when I cry unto thee. Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense!’” As she quoted the scripture from Psalms 141 she heard Harriet’s crying ceace. So she continued with another- Psalms 143 beginning at the fourth verse. “‘Therefore is my spirit overwhelmed within me; my heart within me is desolate. I remember the days of old; I meditate on all thy works; I muse on the work of thy hands. I stretch forth my hands unto thee: my soul thirsteth after thee, as a thirsty land. Selah. Hear me speedily, O Lord: my spirit faileth: hide not thy face from me, lest I be like unto them that go down into the pit. Cause me to hear thy lovingkindness in the morning; for in thee do I trust: cause me to know the way wherein I should walk; for I lift up my soul unto thee. Deliver me, O Lord, from mine enemies: I flee unto thee to hide me. Teach me to do thy will; for thou art my God: thy spirit is good; lead me into the land of uprightness. Quicken me, O Lord, for thy name’s sake: for thy righteousness’ sake bring my soul out of trouble. And of thy mercy cut off mine enemies, and destroy all them that afflict my soul: for I am thy servant.’”
Harriets breathing was steady now and Kesia could hardly keep her eyes open. She blew out the candle.
“Thank you that you will be our refuge, Lord. Amen.”
August 8, 1863
“So, are you looking forward to tomorrow?” Charlotte asked, trying to prompt conversation at the dinner table.
Kesia shrugged. “Yay. I turn sixteen.” She chopped her baked potato into pieces and ran them along the rim of her plate.
“We’ve saved sugar. We’ll be making a cake for both you and Rosie, it should be fun. Is there anyone you want to come over?”
Kesia shrugged again. “Josiah, what’s the draft? Someone was talking about it the other day.”
Josiah sighed. “It’s a type of system that chooses people at random to fight in the war.”
Hiram piped up. “Yeah, the Confederates set one up last year. I hear the Union set it up cause they don’t have enough volunteers.”
Josiah nodded. “Yeah.”
Hiram nudged Josiah. “Say, you can be drafted can’t you?”
Josiah nodded again. “I don’t know when Pennsylvania will pick it up but there is a chance.”
“But they can’t!” Lydia exclaimed. “Pa went to the war- they can’t take you as well.”
“If I’m drafted they can, but it’s alright, Lydia, I doubt I’ll be drafted.”
Hiram scoffed, “But don’t you want to fight?”
Josiah glared at him. “Hiram, we aren’t going to talk about this again. Pa went, we both need to stay here to take care of the family.”
“Take care of the family? Isn’t that the reason he left? See what good fighting for the Union has done. The North should have just agreed with the South and we wouldn’t be in this mess!”
“Hiram. We are not going to talk about this here- alright?”
“And why shouldn’t we?” Hiram stood and slapped his hand on the table. “It’s all your fault and all your abolitionist friends and the like that got us in this mess! If they’da just kept their mouths shut and stuck to their own business there woulda never been a divide, never been a war, never been a reason for Uncle Ezra to leave and we’d all be here happily eating and excited about Kesia’s birthday and happy about how Rosie turned three yesterday. He’d be here right now laughing with us, planning the cake and games instead of out there fighting and maybe dead!”
He clenched his fists and glowered at Josiah who gaped and tried to come up with a response.
“For all your speeches on freedom you can’t come up with a simple response. The Confederates are right- the people up North don’t understand. They don’t listen and all they know is what their told. Haven’t you seen the papers about the South? They’re in ruins now cause of this. Prices are crazy, people are starving, and the economy is haywire just cause the North wouldn’t be fair. And they still aren’t! Lincoln’s gone passed a law saying if slaves from the South join the Union they can be free- doesn’t he know how devastating that’ll be? He’s practically given permission to steal.”
“They want the same freedom you seem to think the Confederates need. The freedom to pursue their life, liberty, and happiness. And you seem to forget it was the South that seceded- not the North. Lincoln never even said he’d ban slavery- only that he’d keep it out of the territories! It was the South that started the first battle and it is the South that is choosing not to change their ways.”
“Or maybe it’s the North that won’t accept the South’s.”
Josiah groaned and put his head in his hands. “Hiram. Just stop. You’re acting like a child.”
Everyone in the room held their breath as Hiram’s face flushed and he took a threatening step toward Josiah but Harriet suddenly stood.
“Hiram, don’t! Just drop it.”
He glanced at his sister and straightened, turned on the heel of his boot, and stalked out of the room.
Josiah looked apologetically at everyone left in the room. “I guess I didn’t handle that very well…”
Charlotte walked over and put a hand on his shoulder. “It’s alright, Josiah. He’s got a lot of stress. We all do.”
Rebecca chose that moment to kick the table, everyone startled. Rebecca gave a grin. “Play now?”
They all smiled slightly.
“Sure, Rosie. We can play now.” Josiah said, picking her up. “Who’s up for some dominos?”
Later that night after a great evening of dominoes and card towers, terrorized by Rosie and her rocking horse, everyone went to bed feeling exhausted but cheerful.
Kesia laid on her stomach and sketched in her notebook trying to decide what to write about that evening but her thoughts were suddenly distracted by the door slowly easing open. Harriet slipped out of bed and stepped lightly over, then slipped out of the room. Kesia heard whispers through the door but couldn’t make out the conversation. Shrugging, she went back to drawing, glancing up again when Harriet entered.
She eased the door slowly open, turning quickly to close it, then hurried to her bed with her face down. The candle illuminated a wet line trailing her face.
“What happened?” Kesia asked, rolling onto her side. Harriet curled into her bed and hid under her blankets.
The pillow was pulled under the covers.
Kesia sighed and flopped onto her back, gazing at the ceiling then finally beginning to journal.
I’m so worried. She wrote in her last line before snuffing out the candle. I wish we’d get some news of Pa. Why does everything feel so broken right now?
October 18, 1863
Harriet sat at the window unmoving. A group of about fifteen ladies were in the parlor sewing, chattering, eating snacks, but Harriet was entirely uninterested. Kesia came and sat beside her, two small cakes in her hand. Harriet glanced at them but sighed.
“Bet soldiers don’t even have good bread.” Harriet whispered.
Kesia looked at the cakes a second then put them to the side.
“I’m scared he’ll never come back.”
Harriet nodded. “I can’t lose another person, Kesia. I lost my parents, I’m scared your Pa is gone forever, and now Hiram’s been gone two months. What if he gets hurt out there? What if he starves?”
Kesia gazed out the window with her and put an arm around her shoulder.
“I wish I could have stopped him but he hardly let me say a word. I’m so scared, Kesia.”
“I am too…”
“And now it’s agony waiting for Josiah to return. It’s just one more person to wonder about.”
Kesia nodded. “I know.”
“How much longer do you think it’ll be before he gets back from Lancaster?”
“I pray not too long.”
“I wish I had the strength to pray.”
Kesia simply squeezed her shoulder.
“I feel like He doesn’t listen any more. If He did- wouldn’t this have ended long ago?”
“I wish I knew,” Kesia whispered.
“I guess it can’t get much worse though, can it?”
Kesia didn’t know whether to nod or shake her head. Could it get worse? She didn’t know- that was, until she saw Josiah riding up, his face pasty white.
“Oh, God. Please, no.” She whispered. Harriet paled. Kesia turned and caught the eye of her mother and Lydia, waving them toward the door. They immediately understood and excused themselves, meeting Josiah as he entered.
They didn’t speak a word, simply standing there in silence as Josiah held a piece of paper out.
“Drafted,” was the only word he spoke. His mother started crying while the other three girls stood shocked. The guests wandered over and gave sympathetic looks, patting Charlotte on the back, and hugging Josiah.
“You have our prayers.” They kept saying but Kesia suddenly felt like Harriet.
She ran to her room and closed the door, falling to the floor and crying.
“Why God? Why? Why did you let this happen? What will we do? Wasn’t it enough that this war hasn’t ended? That we still have no news of Pa? That Hiram ran off? What will we do if Pa and Josiah don’t return? Lord, what happened to your thoughts for us that outnumber the sand? Did one of your thoughts include this? What happened to your mercy that endureth forever like it says in Psalms 136?” She curled up on her side, still crying, her dark pink silk dress crinkling around her. Her chest pressed against the corset uncomfortably as her lungs heaved in and out but she simply curled up tighter. “God, please help me have faith. Help me trust you. Protect Josiah, protect Pa if he still lives. Take care of Hiram wherever he is. And help us… Let this war end soon, Lord. Please. I feel like everything- my family, my country, is falling apart. So please help me…let me mean it as I speak your verses from Psalm 9: ‘I will praise thee, O Lord, with my whole heart; I will shew forth all thy marvellous works. I will be glad and rejoice in thee: I will sing praise to thy name, O thou most High. When mine enemies are turned back, they shall fall and perish at thy presence. For thou hast maintained my right and my cause; thou satest in the throne judging right. Thou hast rebuked the heathen, thou hast destroyed the wicked, thou hast put out their name forever and ever. O thou enemy, destructions are come to a perpetual end: and thou hast destroyed cities; their memorial is perished with them. But the Lord shall endure forever: he hath prepared his throne for judgment. And he shall judge the world in righteousness, he shall minister judgment to the people in uprightness. The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. And they that know thy name will put their trust in thee: for thou, Lord, hast not forsaken them that seek thee. Sing praises to the Lord, which dwelleth in Zion: declare among the people his doings. When he maketh inquisition for blood, he remembereth them: he forgetteth not the cry of the humble. Have mercy upon me, O Lord; consider my trouble which I suffer of them that hate me, thou that liftest me up from the gates of death: That I may shew forth all thy praise in the gates of the daughter of Zion: I will rejoice in thy salvation. The heathen are sunk down in the pit that they made: in the net which they hid is their own foot taken. The Lord is known by the judgment which he executeth: the wicked is snared in the work of his own hands. Higgaion. Selah. The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God. For the needy shall not always be forgotten: the expectation of the poor shall not perish for ever. Arise, O Lord; let not man prevail: let the heathen be judged in thy sight. Put them in fear, O Lord: that the nations may know themselves to be but men. Selah.’
Be my praise, Lord, be the judgment… be the refuge, don’t forget our cries. Bring my family home, please. Don’t let us stay broken forever.”
November 30, 1863
There were no more tears to be shed as Josiah left. The crisp autumn wind seemed to drag him away with the leaves, while they all stuck like trees in front of the house. David, Esther, Megan, John, and the few other slaves they owned had also come to see him off, but they didn’t speak a word. It seemed to Kesia as if all emotion had been sucked into a swamp. Rebecca was the only one who made any noise or movement. She ran after Josiah waving, her frizzy blonde hair dancing about her shoulders and music jangling from the worn out rattle he’d made for her.
“Siah! Be safe, Siah!” She called out, waving the instrument. He turned in his saddle and smiled.
“And you be good, Rosie.”
She laughed and nodded, waving vigorously. He waved then turned forward so that she couldn’t see the fear and tears in his eyes.
April 2, 1864
Kesia ran inside waving a crumpled letter.
“Another letter from Josiah!”
Everyone gathered in the parlor for her to read it.
There hasn’t been a battle yet; I’m sure you are glad to hear. Honestly, it’s quite boring here and the food is terrible- but with the stories I hear at least it’s food. I’ve taken to writing stories since all I have is free time. When I finish it I’ll try to see if I can ship it to you. We do have a merry time around the campfire playing music and singing hymns but most everyone here is homesick. There’s sickness going around the camp right now- please be praying for my health. Which reminds me, thank you for the soap you sent in the last care package. It’s been very handy. I can’t believe I forgot to pack that!
Also, Daniel, a friend I’ve made here, was very thankful for the extra outfits you sent me. He hadn’t had a change of clothes in over a year! Your hard work sewing these past few years has truly been appreciated. If you could, I know another boy who needs some new clothes and a deck of cards, books, or some other game would help a lot with the activity crisis here.
I miss you all, and I’ve been asking around about Pa. So far no one has heard about him. I’ve even gone to generals asking if there’s any way that they could find out what happened to him. I hope and pray he’s still alive and pray this war ends soon so I can return.
Josiah Peter Jacobson”
June 30, 1864
Kesia held tightly to the little slip of paper they had received a week ago, watching at the door.
“It said the 30th.” She mumbled under her breath. “Why isn’t he here yet?”
Her mother put a hand on her shoulder. It was thin and rough. Kesia looked up at her mother and felt her heart sink a little. There were dark rings under her mother’s eyes that had been there for what seemed like an eternity. Wrinkles had begun to appear on her face and a gray hair hung loosely.
“It’s been a long time, hasn’t it Ma?” Kesia whispered, turning and giving her a hug.
“It has. But he’ll be here soon.”
“How bad do you think it’ll be?”
Charlotte shook her head and sighed. “I don’t know.”
“Is Rosie in bed?”
Charlotte nodded. “And Lydia and Harriet are making sure Josiah’s room is as perfect as can be. Esther and Megan have prepared a meal fit for a king, John and David are out waiting on the path ready to make sure he arrives safely. Don’t worry, Kesia, he’ll get here safe.”
“You want to go and rest while I wait up? I’ll wake you when I catch sight of them”
Charlotte shook her head. “I can get sleep when I see my baby boy back here in bed resting himself.”
“At least sit.” Kesia pulled two chairs into the hall. They both sat; Kesia held her mother’s hand.
Lydia and Harriet came out and sat on the floor, waiting.
“It can’t have been too horrible or they wouldn’t be transporting him,” Harriet assured, twisting the edge of her petticoat around her fingers.
No one responded, they simply stared pensively at the door.
The clock chimed midnight, everyone’s eyes were heavy but they kept them open.
Suddenly, Harriet began to hum, mumbling the words, “What a friend we have in Jesus.”
Lydia joined in softly. “All our sins and griefs to bear.”
“What a privilege to carry,” Charlotte breathed, “Everything to God in prayer.”
“Oh, what a peace we often forfeit. Oh, what needless pain we bear. All because we do not carry.”
“Everything to God in prayer.” Kessia sang the last line with them in a whisper.
Voices could be heard approaching from outside and the door was flung open.
“Missus Charlotte! He’s a comin’!” John exclaimed, leaning against the door frame and breathing heavily.
All four of them shoved their chairs into the parlor and piled out the door, watching the road.
A wagon rode up slowly, driven by a young man in a disheveled uniform and led by David. Next to the driver was another young man with his arm cradled in his jacket. Blood stained his white shirt which hung open slightly revealing bandages wrapped around the chest, shoulder, and arm.
Charlotte ran to the wagon and climbed on, cradling her son’s face and kissing him on the forehead.
He smiled weakly and hugged her carefully with his uninjured arm. The cart pulled up in front of the door and they clambered out. Kesia, Lydia, and Harriet allowed him to embrace them each carefully. David gave Josiah a light pat on the back.
“Good to see you back, Massa ‘Osiah.”
Josiah smiled. “Good to be back, David.” He turned around and waved at the driver.
“Thanks for bringing me here, Oliver.”
The young man smiled and tipped his hat. “No problem.” He looked at Charlotte.
“Sorry we were so late, Ma’am. The directions they gave me in Lancaster were confusing and Josiah here was out cold most the way.”
She smiled and shook her head. “Thank you for bringing him here safely. You must be exhausted. Come in, have some dinner, and if you like you can spend the night.”
Oliver smiled. “Much obliged, Ma’am.”
He hopped down. David helped him stable the horses and they all went inside.
Esther and Megan brought out the soup and fussed over both the young soldiers while everyone listened rapt as Josiah explained his injury.
“It was during the battle of Petersburg,” he explained. “I got shot the third day in and Oliver here pulled me out. With the permission of the camp doctor, I was discharged and Oliver was given the privilege of taking me to a hospital and being relieved of duty. The bullet’s been removed and I’ve been given instruction on how to care for it. I’m one of the lucky ones- I saw a lot of soldiers die from infected bullet wounds.”
His face suddenly got gloomier and he sighed, “And speaking of infections. Ma… Pa’s dead.”
Charlotte bowed her head but she didn’t cry. They’d all known for some time.
“I pulled some strings and eventually got a medical report matching Pa’s description and bearing his name. It was a bullet to the leg, when amputation didn’t end the infection it was only a matter of time.” He choked. “I never thought I’d find out what happened. But by God’s grace, I did. He was a hero. I met the kid he took the bullet for. Just a young boy- fourteen at the time. He was fighting for the Confederates but got shot and was stuck right in the middle. He stuck with the Union as a nurse after Pa saved him, that’s how I met him. Pa moved him to a safer area with a bullet already in his arm. Then another in his leg. He passed out on the edge of the battle ground, Union medics came and took them both. The boy, his name was Joseph, was there when Pa said his last words: ‘let them know I did it so we can be one.’”
June 10, 1865
Kesia sat outside alone watching a monarch on a flower nearby. She glanced down at her diary where she’d written an entry, reading it again to herself and echoing the first words.
“It’s over, truly over.”
She looked over at the butterfly, and whispered to it. “Its funny, when the war began we thought it would only last a little while but here we are five years later. Whatever happened to being united we use to think. Well…I suppose we still think. We’ve got a long way to go before that.”
She rolled to her back and gazed at the sky, thinking of the last year. It had taken some time to adjust to Josiah’s return. He struggled with memories from the war and they all grieved: for their father, for the pain Josiah was in, for their country that seemed beyond healing. In time, Josiah took up their father’s work, and the home returned to a sort of normality. Kesia and her mother continued to sew for the army. Lydia and Harriet had begun to teach Megan and John to read. Rosie had grown up so much, she jabbered and caused all sorts of mischief which lifted their spirits. Her new favorite thing was to take people’s shoes and hide them.
She sat up, noticing that Harriet had come out and taken a seat on the porch.
Since it had been announced a little over a week ago that the war was over, Harriet had taken to standing on the porch, watching. Though she never said why, Kesia knew it was in hope that Hiram would come home. They’d heard nothing since he left. Grief ached and pulled her to sit next to her cousin in silence. Harriet took her hand as they sat next to each other in silence. In her heart, Kesia prayed.
“Father, unite us again under you and make all the sacrifice worth it, worth the unity Pa fought for and worth the freedom so many wanted. Make it worth the pain and horror so many like Josiah have gone through, the pain of every man, woman, and child affected by this war. I know you’re there because you pulled me through. I’d have never made it through this battle without you. But we’re still so broken down here. Some of us have yet to come home, yet to heal, yet to understand, yet to gain what we desire and we need you so much. But we will not stay broken. One day…one day the lost will return, broken things will be repaired, and this nation and family will unite again. We just need you, Lord. For yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. We have gone through the shadow of death and behold we stand at the end. Be the comfort you promised long ago, my Lord. Shepherd your people into one flock…”
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