“What’s the latest Colonel?” the General asked as soon as the officer made his way into the dimly lit study.
“I received word from Staff Sergeant Clark that there is a Union brigade closing in on the Northeast side of town.”
“Do they appear to be readying for attack?”
“No sir. They seem to be only setting up camp at the moment.”
“Let’s monitor the situation for now. Inform me immediately if there seems to be any change. In the meantime, I will inform General Bragg of the situation. I will let you know if he wants to do anything different.”
“General.” The officer finished with a nod.
From her crouched position on the staircase, Ana could see him headed their way and closing fast.
“Hurry Lucy, he’s going to catch us,” she whispered as she tried to get her little sister to move. The retreat wasn’t quick enough however, for as he turned the corner he witnessed their attempt to escape.
“In the kitchen…now!”
Ana Grace and her little sister stood and trudged their way to the kitchen followed by the furious Colonel James Lawson. Although she wasn’t able to see his face, she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it had gone blood red, as it always did when he got angry. As soon as they were inside the kitchen and out of earshot, he made his case.
“How many times do I have to tell you not to eavesdrop? Do you want to get me into trouble,” he growled out in a half whispered voice.
“No sir,” Ana and Lucy said in unison, all the while keeping their heads low.
Ana’s tears began to sting her eyes. Since her father wasn’t impressed with tears, she swallowed hard in an attempt to keep them at bay.
“It was my idea, Papa. Don’t be mad at Lucy, she wasn’t even listening.”
At six, Lucy only followed her big sister’s lead. Therefore Ana felt the need to defend her, even though she was sure her Papa already knew whose idea it had been. Being sixteen, she knew better than to be listening in on someone else’s conversations, but she couldn’t help it.
There had been so much activity in their home in the past weeks and she found herself drawn to it all. There were always soldiers coming and going and meetings after meetings. Every day held something new so for the life of her, she was unable to control her curiosity. The real problem was, the more Ana heard, the more she wanted to hear.
“The things being discussed in this house of late are very serious and secretive. The war seems to be getting closer to our town and we have to be careful of letting our armies plans make it to the enemy. Our home serves as a convenient headquarters for the Army, so while they’re here, there will be no more disobeying me. Understand?”
“Yes sir,” Ana bowed her head and wiped at an escaped tear. “Papa? Before you go…”
“I…I know that the fighting is getting closer to us. I’m scared, that’s all. That’s why I eavesdrop.”
He rushed back, wrapped both daughters in a tight hug.
“I know you’re scared. I promise that I will update you each night before bed on the events of the day, in exchange for no more snooping, but you have to promise me that what I tell you will never leave this house.”
“Yes, sir, I promise.”
“Me too, Papa,” Lucy added.
With a kiss on the cheek for both, he then left the room.
“Told you, youz gonna git yo’sef in some troubles wid all dat nosey business,” said their nanny as she made her way from the pantry.
“Liza, you scared the living daylights out of us,” scolded Ana.
“You scared me, Liza.” Lucy pouted. “That wasn’t nice.”
Liza gave one of her teasing chuckles and headed their way. It was mid-morning and she was carrying a sack of meal, no doubt getting ready to start the noon-time meal. She sat the bag on the counter and then turned back to look at Lucy.
“Maybe it’s yo conscience bothern ya,” she teased as she looked in Lucy’s still frightened eyes. “You betta shrink dem eyes down a bit or dey gonna fall right out yo noggin!”
“They won’t fall out of my head, silly Liza! They’re stuck in there.”
“Ya nev’a knows,” she said as she patted her tiny charge on the head. “Now, you two git on down to’da cella’ and bring me in some a dem’ snap peas we canned this summa’.”
The girls made their way out the back door and around to the cellar. Ana stopped midway down and lit the lantern as Lucy stomped down the earthen stairs behind her.
“Ana, how old was I when Liza came to us?”
“You already know this story, Lucy.”
“I know, but tell me again.”
“Well, first of all…” Ana began as she finished her decent into the deep, dark storage room. “She came here when I was a baby, not you.”
“I always get that wrong.” Lucy admitted. “Daddy hired her to help Mama take care of you, didn’t he?”
“Yes and the house.”
“I’m glad he did. I wouldn’t like if she was still a slave and not here with us.”
“I feel the same way, Lucy. I don’t know what we would have done without her, since Mama passed.”
“I wish I could remember Mama,” Lucy said, kicking a pebble into the darkness of the far corner. Ana reached to smooth the hair from her sister’s face, took a deep breath and turned to continue the search.
It always broke her heart to know that Lucy didn’t really have any memories of their mother. She was far too young when they lost her. What hurt even worse was the older Ana got, the more she herself was forgetting. It seemed the harder she tried to remember the faster the little details were slipping away. It was a struggle everyday trying to remember the sound of her mother’s voice or the smell of her perfume. She vowed never to give up the effort though.
“Here are the peas, Ana,” Lucy said grabbing for a couple of jars.
“Oh…thank you, Lucy.”
Ana dusted off the blue glass jars and they made their way out of the cellar and back to the kitchen. As they helped to finish cooking the meal, Ana let her mind wonder from her mother to more of Liza’s story. She marveled how she made her way from slavery to one of the most important members of the Lawson family.
Liza’s master gave his slaves a lot of freedoms other slave owners found unacceptable. He caused quite a stir when after his plantation burned to the ground he freed all of his slaves. Rumor was that one of the other plantation owners started the fire as a warning, but no one ever found out for sure.
The majority of the slaves on the plantation stayed to help rebuild, her remaining family among them. She, however, wanted to see more of the world and headed north with a few others, ending up in Chattanooga. Not long after arriving, she ended up as nanny to Ana and Lucy.
August 20, 1863
“Ana, I need to speak to you and your sister,” their father, James announced as he entered the girls room to tuck them in for the night.
Liza began to move for the door.
“You too, Liza, come…sit here with the girls.”
The three moved to sit on the edge of the bed.
“What’s going on Papa? You look troubled.” Ana pointed out.
“The Union troops are getting closer to the city and I feel it is in your best interest for you to leave town for awhile.”
“Don’t argue...I have thought a lot about this and see no other way.”
“You said that the troops were only camping out there. They will move on eventually.”
“No honey. They will want to take Chattanooga, so they can have control of the river and the best supply routes. It’s clear an attack is coming, and soon.” He went on. “I have contacted your Aunt Josie in Texas and she wants you out there.”
“Texas! Surely, you can’t mean that…it’s forever away!”
“It will only be for a short time my dear, I promise. Only until I know we have full control of the city and there is no chance of another attack. I can’t lose my girls! I’m doing the only thing I can think of to keep that from happening.”
Ana spoke, overcome with a new wave of panic. “What about Liza, Papa? We can’t leave her behind.”
“I have paid for her to go as well,” he announced. Turning to address the woman in question, he continued.
“I hope you will agree to this. I trust no one but you to take care of the girls.”
Liza took a deep breath, lifted her chin in the air and said with all the bravery she could muster.
“Yes’sa, I will protect’em wid my life.”
“I know you will,” he replied with confidence. “You all will be on the morning train on the twenty-second.”
“That’s day after tomorrow!” Ana began to cry, forgetting all about her father’s aversion to tears.
Lucy began to cry too as she began to see the picture being painted before her. Hoping to avoid her customary wailing, Ana reached to put her arm around her and pulled her close.
“I know. I have asked permission to have the day off tomorrow, so we can spend it together. We will head into town and I will treat you to lunch at the hotel,” he explained with faked excitement, his attempt at changing Lucy’s mood. “While we are doing that, Liza will be here packing all of you.”
“I don’t want to go, Papa!” Lucy protested through her tears.
“This will be a great time to get to know your Aunt Josie. Her and your mother used to be close and I know your mother would be pleased that you are going to get to visit her. For now though, you need to get some sleep. We have a big day ahead of us tomorrow!”
He helped them both under the covers, gave them both a quick tuck and ended the nightly ritual with a kiss to their foreheads. Straightening his frame, he gave a forced smile and exited the room. Liza sat on the edge of the bed and reached with the hem of her apron, to dry the tears that were rolling from their eyes.
“Now, now li’l ones, things gonna be alright. You gonna see dat. Try thinkin’ of it dis way. You two’s gonna getta’ have a grand adventcha, and I’s gonna git ta go wid’ga! Girls…we gonna have da time of our lives!”
She bent down over them to add her own kiss to the girl’s foreheads and then blew out the lamp before making her way out of the room. Lucy went to sleep soon afterward, but Ana laid there for hours replaying the whole thing through her mind. She had never been so scared in all of her life.
Ana had never met Aunt Josie either. Her mother told stories about her before she died and then her father has talked about her over the years, but she didn’t know this lady. Surely her father wasn’t going to make them go to live with a complete stranger.
So what if she was her mother’s older sister. That didn’t mean she wanted to go all the way across country and live with her. School was about to start and she would miss her friends. It wasn’t fair! She lay there, stewing, arms crossed, staring at the ceiling until sleep finally took over.
Meanwhile, in the study below…
“Are you sure we can get them out of here safely?” Colonel Lawson asked his superior.
“Yes, I have no doubts. I informed General Bragg of the situation and he requested two of his best men to come and see to the task.”
“General Bragg, sir? He isn’t known for his generosity.”
“You are correct,” Stone said, smirking. “Apparently it was a good day.”
“It is appreciated greatly, I assure you.”
“No problem, Colonel. Have a good day tomorrow with your girls and know that I wish them a safe journey. Also, thank that Liza for me. Her good cooking is going to be missed around here,” the portly gentleman teased as he patted his bulging middle.
“I’ll tell her, sir. Thank you.”