Glory for the Brave

by Georgiann Baldino

There is glory for the brave
Who lead, and nobly save
Herman Melville

Chapter One: Casualty Count

   Charlotte could take refuge in her bed. She wanted to do just that—the bottle of laudanum on her dresser could ease the way. Friends did not expect to see her. The pastor of her church had offered prayers, which faded the moment he finished. The view from her bedroom window confirmed it. Charlotte had no reason to venture out and every reason to withdraw. Ice crystals had formed on the windowpanes overnight and now, mid-morning, freezing drizzle made walking treacherous. People scurried along, battered by a growing storm.

   The paper boy on the corner screamed to make himself heard. "Criminal Neglect of the Wounded! Get your paper here!"

   The few people out rushed toward their destinations without stopping. The boy had no winter coat to shield him from the weather, just a tattered jacket that stopped at his waist, too small for his growing frame, too lightweight to keep him warm.

   Charlotte slipped down the stairs and wrapped up in a cape.

   "Casualties much larger that first reported!" The boy stomped his feet to keep them warm.

   "I'll take a paper." Charlotte handed him a dollar.

   "Lady, it's only three cents. You got no coins?"

   "Keep it," she said, "and go down the block to warm up in church."

   He didn't need to be told twice. The boy stowed the newspapers under his arm and headed for St. John's.

   Charlotte stoked the fire in the hearth and skimmed the news until she found the war news.

   Charlotte wondered where Mound City and Golconda, Illinois were. She knew about Cairo from Dickens' descriptions in Martin Chuzzlewit. Dickens depicted Cairo as a forlorn place at the junction of the two rivers, low, and marshy, a breeding-place of fever and ague. Certainly Mound City could not be far away. Her late husband had a map of the United States, but Charlotte doubted that it showed details of southern Illinois. The location was less important than the people caught up in the events. By giving up her petticoat, Mrs. Holmes aided a suffering solider. The very least he deserved was a clean bandage. Was Mrs. Holmes a widow? The reporter described her as elderly. And benevolent. He left out all other details about the lady. Was she like others who found themselves in the theater of war? Did she just show up without status or authority? Understandable that a lady could not stand by and see boys suffer.

   The casualties at Fort Donelson had shocked the nation. Its capture had been a major victory for General Grant and a catastrophe for the South. Controlling the fort gave the Union a way to advance along the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers. Grant received a promotion to major general for his victory. But the number of casualties staggered imagination. Other sources indicated that more than 2,000 Union soldiers had been killed or wounded, and over 1,400 Confederates stricken. Was Mrs. Holmes among the mourners?

 

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