William carefully unfolded the parchment thin paper which rested as a bookmark in his leather bound bible. “Dear William,” it read, “We trust you are well and reading this letter for we haven’t heard from or about you since you left for Tupelo. You probably knew that mama died in the winter and Buster left with those Connell boys and joined a group in Illinois. Papa tried to stop him, but he left anyways and took the gelding. Now papa and me gather eggs and we have one hog, but not much else. Follow the Lord always and if you meet up with Buster, don’t shoot him. Love, Edna.”
William carefully refolded the letter and returned it to his Bible. He tucked the tiny Bible into his backpack; then leaned back on a stump. Seconds later his hat slipped over his eyes and sleep gently overcame him.
“Hey William, you be sleep’n or loaf’n?” Sam Nelson, William’s friend and confidant kicked a rock toward William’s backpack.
William jumped. “Think’n” He pulled himself up on the stump.
“Think’n git you all sorts a trouble.”
“We got trouble, a little more won’t hurt.”
“Oh, ya means them eight thousand blue boys tip toed through da mud?” Sam snickered.
William tipped his hat back, yeah, something like that.”
Sam put the butt of his rifle on the stump where William sat. “I heard that General Forest is gonna let'm walk through the skiters and swamp, and once they are here we are gonna’ blister’m.”
“Sam, don’t you ever get tired of all this?”
“Naw, I figures it what they deserve for burn’n us out. My pa didn’t do noth’n, they just burned our farm to the ground.” Sam re-shouldered his weapon. "Why you here?”
My pa sent me. I don’t know why, some of the political talk about state’s rights and Missouri not be’n a State no more.”
“Well, one reasons as good as the next, I suppose, course shoot’n those blue coats is not so bad either.”
William sat up on the stump. “Bothers me a bit, theys just men from families come to shoot men from our families. I think it’s pretty dumb.”
Sam pulled a tobacco plug out of his pocket. “Well if one of them shoots you, I’ll tell him you thought it was dumb.”
“If one of them shoots at me,” William laughed, “You won’t have to, cause I’m shoot’m back.”
William shouldered his weapon and he and his companion meandered down the trail to a group gathering by a white tent.
“Men,” a man in a black coat stepped into the group. “Tomorrow we will have our enemy in our sights. Our God and Savior has brought us to this place for this reason; His Will shall prevail. Before you are sent forth into battle there’s two things I want you to do. The first is to write a letter to your loved ones. Those of you who cannot write, come to me and I will write it for you. Then, bring your letter to my tent and I will have it sent on the next post runner. The second thing is, I want you all to pray like you have never prayed before, This is a war of human souls, God save us all. Amen.
The group of men all whispered “amen.” And, the crowd began to breakup.
I found this brief description amid a box of papers, diaries, books, and bonds I discovered when cleaning out my grandparent's old shed on the family farm. Why this box survived I will never know because so much was destroyed during and after the war. Among the books was a small leather bound bible. When I opened the testament a thin piece of paper floated out. It read: “June 1, 1864. Dear William, We trust you are well and reading this letter for we haven’t heard from you or about you since you left for Tupelo. You probably heard that mama died in the winter and Buster left with those Connell boys and joined a group in Illinois. Papa tried to stop him, but he left anyway and took the gelding. Now papa and I gather eggs and we have one hog, but not much else. Follow the Lord always and if you meet up with Buster, don’t shoot him. Love, Edna.”
I don’t know if my great great grandfather wrote the return letter, but we have preserved in our bank box, my great great grandfather sister’s letter.
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