The Writer's Corner
Chapter 13 - Leaving Gettysburg Behind
Written by Michelle Palmer
Pennsylvania, June 31, 1863
“Private Andrews…Private Saunders, you’ve got night watch!”
Lucas announced to two of the men under his command, sitting at
the camp fire. He watched them leave then sat down by the fire
and pulled a cigar from his pocket. Some of the other soldiers
sat around staring into the fire wondering when they would be
able to go home. They hadn’t been involved in any fighting since
Chancellorsville, and Lucas had to admit he was happy about
that. The battle had been an unsettling event on their emotions.
They’d watched some fellow soldiers die while other soldiers
lost an arm or a leg. The loss had been great and costly. Most
importantly, they’d lost the battle.
Johnny Drako looked up as he took a long puff off his cigar. He
and Lucas locked eyes. It took Johnny only a second to figure
out what his friend’s thoughts were about. “You’re thinking
about it again.”
“About what?” Lucas asked as he looked down into the fire.
“Chancellorsville. You’re remembering back. Captain Benton told
us to look forward – not back.”
Lucas gave a slight nod. “I know.” He quietly took another long
puff off his cigar as silence settled around them. All the men
stood and went to their tents to settle for the night. Only
Johnny and Lucas remained. “I was thinking about Andy and…A few
years ago at school…We decided to play hooky one day. You
remember? We went fishing all day instead…just needed a break
from the ‘real world.’”
Johnny chuckled. “I remember Margaret being angry with you. The
next day at school, she put those hands of hers on her hips and
declared that Andy told her all about our adventures the day
before. Seems to me that gal gave you quite the tongue lashing!”
“Yeah. Her father overheard and told my father.” Lucas rubbed
his backside. “I still remember that whipping.” Lucas sobered as
he looked back into the fire. “Have you ever wanted to escape
from reality? Just once? Don’t you wish you could just stand up
and…walk off into those woods – go home for a few days and
pretend life was normal?”
“We can’t, Luke.” Johnny took a long puff off his cigar.
“Thinking on it will only make you crazy.”
“I know,” Lucas said with a nod. “But…” Lucas sighed. “Oh, I
don’t know…I think about Andy and all the other soldiers who
have died for…I’ve been here so long that I’ve forgotten what
we’re fighting for. Why are we doing this?”
“For freedom, Luke. We’re fighting for freedom. We want the
slaves to be free – to live like human beings instead of like
animals. We want the country our fathers built so long ago to be
reunited. We want America back as one…not as a divided nation.”
“Yeah…seems I remember wanting those things at one time
but…Sometimes I wonder if…” He felt guilty just thinking about
it. Lucas threw his cigar in the fire as his mind focused on
something else. For some reason he felt so unsettled that night
and his mind raced to figure out just what made him feel this
way. “Johnny…can I ask you a question? Just between the two of
us?” Johnny nodded silently. “Have you ever….killed a man? I
mean killed a man and know you’ve killed a man?”
“I saved your life, remember?” Johnny raised his eyebrows and
pointed to the scar on Lucas’ cheek. “But there was another time
before that…a time I never told you about.”
“Oh?” Lucas lifted his head and saw Johnny lower his. “Tell me
“My father and I rode to Oklahoma City one day when I was 16.
Remember that? Well…there was this man…a gunfighter...He saw me
wearing guns and knew I was just a kid, but for some…they don’t
care. If you’re old enough to wear guns, you’re old enough
to…Well, he decided to have some fun with me. I didn’t like it –
but he didn’t give me much choice. He drew first but…all those
shooting contests us boys had engaged in over the years paid off
and I was faster. He died.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Lucas asked quietly.
“I don’t know…I wasn’t sure what you’d think of me…killing a man
at 16.” Johnny grew quiet. He watched Lucas stare into the fire,
deep in thought. “Have you?”
“Have I what?”
“Killed a man? Have you killed a man and knew with certainty you
had done it?”
“I don’t know.” Lucas looked up and stared at Johnny. “I’ve
fired toward the enemy many, many times. I’ve watched men fall,
but…I don’t know if I actually…” Lucas closed his eyes. “How
does it feel? To kill a man…To take a man’s life and know you
were solely responsible for it?”
“Luke…” Johnny threw his cigar into the fire. “Don’t. Just…don’t
think about it. I’ll admit that this conversation is scaring me
because I remember a similar conversation around the camp fire.
I don’t want you to end up like Andy. I want you to live, man.”
“Yeah.” Lucas stood up.
“Where are you going?” Johnny suddenly asked.
“To bed.” Lucas patted Johnny on the shoulder. “My heart feels
very heavy tonight. I need to read something.”
Lucas saw the First Lieutenant and saluted him as the Lieutenant
made his way to the Captain’s tent. He had no idea at the time,
but they were discussing a very important matter. It was a
matter of life and death.
As he lay down on his cot, he pulled out the Bible Margaret had
sent him. He reread the passages she had underlined with a
pencil. He had many of the lines memorized and knew she was
praying for him. She felt so close tonight. He knew she was
praying. When he felt a bit of peace fall over him, he closed
his Bible and lay quietly on the cot.
After a few minutes of silence, praying to God, Lucas slowly
pulled the unopened envelope from his pocket. He ran a finger
over the fancy handwriting on the envelope. The curves and
swirls in each letter reminded him of all the times he would
watch Margaret write in school. She held such intense
concentration as she carefully wrote out each letter. He could
picture her sitting at her desk, the lamp light turned low,
carefully writing each letter as she thought of him. It brought
a warm feeling to his heart.
Then slowly, he opened the letter and started reading.
My Dear Lucas,
This is a hard summer indeed. Not only did Julie lose her baby;
but we also had to watch every blade of grass, every leaf on the
tree, and every precious crop as it slowly disappeared by the
gnawing of the locusts that came to visit us one day. The mere
sight of it was more than I could bear. I remembered the last
bout with Locusts we had. It almost killed Enid, and now it’s
happening again. Families are moving away. My good friend,
Claire Wheatley, announced today that her folks were leaving.
She has no choice but to go.
Ann and Hal were to be married, but Hal can no longer provide a
home for Ann. Ann’s heartbroken that Hal won’t marry her right
now. He told her that until he could provide for his family, he
cannot possibly marry her. He is heartsick that he can no longer
join the army since he lost his toes in the blizzard. He’s going
away for a time to find work. He promised Ann they’d marry upon
Julie is recovering. She smiles when she’s around Em and
Tiffany, but I can’t miss seeing the pain in her eyes. Oh, I
know it’s hard for her to watch…especially Em since Em conceived
the same time Julie did. Julie watches Em carefully, and I know
the weeks will be painful. But she’s strong. I’m still helping
out at her house every afternoon. Abraham was planning on
building additional rooms for his sons, but now he says he’ll
have to wait until things get better. Your brother certainly is
Your family almost lost everything the last time, but this time
Abraham said you should be able to keep your head above water.
Your father set some money aside for such an emergency.
And…well, things will be tough, but…
As for my family…well, we haven’t seen Pa since the beginning of
June. The hoppers did quite a job on our crops as well, but our
cattle fared out of it. We’ll have to deplete some of our funds
to buy food for the cattle until the grass grows, and it has
been a moist year so it shouldn’t be too long. But the emotional
turmoil on top of everything else is almost unbearable.
Lucas, I’m feeling unsettled again. I worry about you and the
war. I can’t help but to feel that…Oh, never mind, Dear, just…be
careful. Please remember you’re in my every thought.
I best close for now. I must help Beth and Mother with the
chores before I go to town.
Take care, my love.
Lucas read the letter three or four times, still trying to let
the words sink in. His family needed him right now. Oh, if only
he could get away and go home to be with his family! They needed
him so bad right now. Lucas lay back on his pillow and closed
his eyes, happy they at least had his army pay to help them
through these hard times.
He had only slept for a couple hours when he woke with a start.
Something didn’t feel right. He couldn’t put his finger on it,
but his heart laid a burden on him. As he sat up on the side of
his cot, he knew he had to write Margaret a letter.
He lit the candle in his tent and got out paper and a pencil.
Then he wrote the letter.
My Sweet Margaret,
The last thing I ever want to do, honey, is cause you any more
worry or pain but…My heart is heavy tonight. I can sense
something in the air. Perhaps it’s a feeling or maybe they are
out there watching us somewhere…just waiting to attack. There’s
something I must tell you.
Margaret, I know I’ve told you I loved you but…I don’t think I
ever told you just how much. Someday I want to marry you. I
can’t ask you right now, it wouldn’t be fair to you. I can’t
guarantee you I’ll ever come home from this war. I’m sorry, but
the longer I’m here, the more I believe. If I do come home, I
want to marry you. I want to make you my wife.
My Darling, my heart is so unsettled. It’s one in the morning
and I’m sitting here in my tent writing you a letter instead of
sleeping. I just feel something…something so powerful inside me.
I don’t know what it is. But I know one thing for sure: I had to
tell you just how much I love you!
Margaret, when I get home, the first thing I want to do is take
you in my arms and kiss you. I long to taste the sweetness your
lips possess…Oh, listen to me! The more I’m away, the more I
start sounding like a love-sick girl! Just know, Margaret, that
when I look into your eyes, they’ll be a kiss waiting for you.
I’m not talking about a friendship kiss, either. No…I’m talking
about a long, slow kiss…the kind that maybe I’ll get slapped
for, and rightly so…but at least let me get the kiss before you
No, honestly Margaret, I’ll try to be a gentleman! Well, I must
go to sleep now. Take care.
I love you very much. My life seems so…empty without you here.
July 1, 1863
They were eating breakfast the next morning. The soldiers were
all unnecessarily quiet as they gathered around the table.
Conversation was light, but there was something in the air that
made Lucas shudder. “Something’s happening,” Lucas mumbled in
Johnny’s ear. “I can feel it.” He wasn’t sure what it was, but
when he looked at the Captain, he knew something was wrong…very
wrong. He saw the Captain nod his head. Then the bugler made the
battle cry. “The Cavalry’s attacking! Let’s go!” Captain Benton
Every man dropped their plates and ran to their mounted horses.
Those who had horses jumped in the saddle and got in line as
they rode out. The other men ran alongside the horses, holding
their guns and shouting the battle cry. Wagons holding cannons
rolled along as well. There was a strong feeling of dread in the
air. Lucas knew this was big – very big! He felt dread slowly
sink deep into his gut.
The Cavalry soldier in the front held up the United States flag
as the bugler played the battle song. All the way to the
battlefield, Lucas’s heart pumped hard. He rode beside his men
and encouraged them as they rode. Sounds of gunfire could be
heard in the distance.
Then they were there.
Lucas grabbed his rifle. He didn’t have time to think or pray.
He just had time to duck as a bullet whizzed past his head.
They fought that whole day. There was so much fire and smoke
that Lucas could hardly see. He assisted the men with the
cannons at times, loading the gunpowder then standing back as
the cannon took aim and fired. Through the smoke he could see
men fall, but they were like toy soldiers on tin cans being
knocked over. It seemed surreal.
At other times, Lucas fired shots while shouting orders to his
men. He watched several men fall. Among them were the two
solders he had sent out as watchmen the night before. When he
saw them fall, he bent over to check them. He closed his eyes in
weariness when he realized they were dead. “God have mercy on
your souls,” he breathed.
Chancellorsville was bad, but this was turning out to be worse.
As nightfall came and the gunfire died down for the night, Lucas
knew that as soon as the sun came up, the shooting would begin
again. There was no rest for the men as they heavily stood guard
over the battlefield.
Day two found more of the same. Lucas watched more of his men
fall. How much more could he bear? How much more did he have to
take before they killed him?
Day three found him exhausted. The men were slowing down. So
many bodies lay on the battlefield. It looked more like a
graveyard of unburied corpses than like a battlefield, but the
firing went on. The General in charge ordered the Union Soldiers
to get into a line and start pushing forward. It was time, he
said, for this battle to end. They were not to stop until the
battle was over.
Lucas was terrified. He felt sweat break across his face as he
held his rifle bayonet ready – ready to use if the opportunity
arose. The solders marched toward the Rebels. Lucas was sick
with fear as he looked at the men who stood across from him.
Cannons sounded all around them yet they marched slowly. The
closer he got to the enemy line, the more afraid he became.
“Just stay calm,” Lucas heard Johnny speak closely beside him.
“We can live through this. It’ll be over soon.”
Suddenly, shouts rang out. The line broke and chaos erupted.
Sounds of screams as men were stabbed with bayonets and shot
with rifles all around him sounded. Men from both sides were
falling. Lucas found himself tripping over downed soldiers –
some alive, some dead. Shouts and cries sounded as Lucas crawled
his way toward the enemy. A fear like he’d never felt before
made his entire body shake. He gasped breaths of air wondering
if it would hurt to die.
Lucas saw one of the Rebels running toward a ravine. He stood
and took off after him. The Rebel ran into the woods. Lucas’s
heart beat hard as he came to the realization that he and this
rebel were now isolated. It was just the two of them running.
The man was running deeper…deeper into the woods as Lucas chased
after him desperately.
Johnny paused in shooting his rifle to reload when he saw Lucas
hurry away after the man. “Lucas!” Johnny called. But Lucas
chased the man until he could take good aim.
They found themselves in a canyon. Just the two of them were
there. The young man turned around. His eyes grew wide when he
came face-to-face with Lucas. They both hesitated. They both
clinched their rifles in their hands, but their eyes locked on
each other. The look Lucas saw in the young man’s eyes was
haunting. In that moment of hesitation, Lucas saw a young man
just like him. He watched as the young man slowly lifted his
rifle. Lucas slowly lifted his own. Terror went all through him.
The young man hesitated. He’d had time to lunge at Lucas, but he
But Lucas did. He lifted the bayonet and lunged forward. The
soldier screamed in pain as the bayonet ripped through his
middle. The scream did something to Lucas deep inside. He felt
the pain of the bayonet himself and wanted the pain to go away.
He lunged again.
The soldier screamed and fell to the ground.
In mere seconds, Lucas was looking down at the young man as he
lay dying. The young man, with blood trickling from the corner
of his mouth, lifted his hand up as he lay on his stomach. He
gurgled, choking on his own blood. His head lifted from the
ground and he tried to say something. But he died.
Lucas’s eyes grew wide as he allowed a gasp to escape his
throat. He had watched a man die painfully. He’d heard the man’s
screams. He’d felt the man’s pain. The look in the man’s eyes
had been one similar to another pair of eyes he’d seen.
“Cease fire!” he heard General Meade shout. Lucas heard silence.
But around him, a fury of activity was happening. The remaining
Rebel soldiers hurried back to their side of the line. General
Meade shouted out orders to the Captains. The Captains shouted
out orders to the Lieutenants. The trumpeter began playing taps
as he walked among the dead.
But for Lucas, there was only silence.
Lucas stared at the young Rebel soldier now dead at his feet –
dead because of the fear and cowardness that had overcome him –
dead because Lucas McCain had stabbed him in the gut: not once,
but twice. Lucas felt his hand suddenly weaken, and his rifle
slipped from his hand and dropped to the ground. Then Lucas
slowly lifted his shaking hands in front of his face and stared
at them. Reality was marred with imagination and pure horror of
what he had done, and he saw red. Tears filled his eyes as he
dropped to his knees. In his mind, he saw blood on his hands.
Lucas heaved. He felt sick to his stomach at the sight he had
caused. Never had he ever imagined he was capable of doing such
a thing – not even in war. He began shaking harder as he
continued heaving until he could heave no more. His sides ached
“Oh God…” Lucas wept as he stared at the body in front of him.
“What have I done?” Lucas’ shaking hands covered his face as he
sobbed uncontrollably. “What have I done?”
“Lucas!” Johnny hurried up to him. He fell to his knees beside
Lucas, afraid his friend had been injured. “Are you okay? Are
you…” Johnny relaxed when he realized Lucas wasn’t hurt. “It’s
over! The Battle’s over. We won.”
But it wasn’t over for Lucas. For him, the worst part of the
battle had just begun. Lucas lifted his head and turned to stare
at Johnny. The image that met Johnny’s eyes made him suck in his
breath. Johnny had seen Lucas cry before when they were
children, and when Andy had died; but never…ever like this! He
wasn’t just crying. He was…broken. “Luke…Lucas!”
“I did it…” Lucas swallowed hard, choking on his words. “I
killed a man…I…” He turned and stared down at the body of the
young man he had just killed.
“Lucas, come on, you’ve got to count your men and report to the
Lucas shook his head and held his hand up. He stared at them as
if they weren’t his own. “I…” Lucas swallowed hard. “I can’t…”
He bent down and turned the rebel soldier over. He looked down
into the man’s face. His eyes stared blankly at Lucas. There was
no life in them, but the look of death was unmistakable. “He was
just a kid like me…So young…” Lucas continued to stare at the
man’s face. He finally allowed his eyes to travel down the man’s
body. But his eyes suddenly froze on the Rebel’s left hand. “A
wedding ring…” His finger shook as he pointed at it. “Oh GOD
help me…I just killed someone’s husband!”
“Lucas!” Johnny grabbed him by the shoulders and tried to pull
him out of the despair and back to reality, but Lucas shook his
hands off. “Come on, Luke! Don’t do this! You’ve got to walk
away from this now!”
Lucas shot his head around and glared at Johnny. “Why? Because
that’s what you did? Because you could just shoot a man and walk
away without giving it another thought?”
“That’s not fair, Luke!” Johnny shouted. “This is war! You
killed him because that’s what you do in war! You think you got
your stripes by playing nice? No! You got your stripes because
you’ve killed before! You’ve killed to save yourself…just like I
did that day, and it hurts! It hurts like hell, but you had to
“No…” Lucas whispered as he shook his head. “No. I didn’t have
to do it.” Lucas swallowed as tears fell freely down his face.
He stared into the dead man’s face again. “I didn’t have to…”
He’s not sure what made him do it…why he didn’t just get up and
walk away…But Lucas searched the Rebel’s pockets and paused when
he felt something. He turned and looked at Johnny as Johnny
shook his head. Lucas slowly pulled the contents from the pocket
of the downed soldier. He found a letter, some papers with
writing on them, and a photograph. His hands froze as he turned
and looked at Johnny. Johnny stared at the contents in his
hands. “Don’t, Luke. Don’t.” Johnny’s voice was quiet, but his
words were loud and clear.
Lucas slowly lifted his hands to look at the picture. Johnny
reached out to grab Lucas’ hands. “Luke, you do this and you’ll
never be able to walk away from this. Don’t do this…please!”
“Let go of me!” Lucas demanded through clinched teeth. “Let go
of me NOW!”
Johnny saw something in Luke’s eyes that he’d never seen before.
He slowly released Luke’s hands. “Lucas…I won’t fight you, but
I’m telling you…you get personally involved with this and you
will never be the same again! This will torment you. You will
have to live every day the rest of your life with what you think
you have done. DON’T…DO…THIS…”
Lucas slowly turned over the photograph. He allowed his eyes to
focus on what he held in his hand. The truth hit him like a
thousand bullets striking his chest. “Oh God…” he breathed a
prayer as he stared at the picture. “Oh no…oh no…” For what he
was staring at was worse than he imagined. Because that day, he
had chosen to not only kill a soldier and a husband, he’d also
chosen to kill a father.
“Sergeant McCain!” Captain Benton suddenly shouted from behind
him. “I need a count of your men! NOW!” He bent over and grabbed
Lucas by the arm, jerking him up onto his feet. “I’ve given you
Lucas stared down at the picture and letter. Then he turned and
looked at the dead soldier. “Why, Captain?” Lucas suddenly
asked. “Why are we being forced to kill husbands and fathers…men
who are mere boys like me…every man we kill has a family, and
that family has to grieve for their loss. And who is responsible
for this? Who? You…me…every soldier – a husband, a father, a
Some of the roughness left Captain Benton’s eyes. “You shouldn’t
have done this, Sergeant. You should have walked away.”
“I just KILLED a man!” Lucas turned and looked at Johnny.
“I…killed a man and all you can do is stand there and tell me
that I shouldn’t…” Lucas stopped speaking. He shook his head. “I
don’t believe this. Don’t get personal? Don’t get involved? I
killed a man and all you can think about is that he’s one less
rebel we have to deal with.” Lucas jabbed the photo in the
Captain’s face. “This, Captain Benton…THIS is what I killed!
Take a good look. Aren’t you glad there’s one less of HIM in the
world?” He bent over, picked up his bloodied rifle, and walked
Johnny watched Lucas walk away. He slowly shook his head. “I
tried to warn him not to do it, Captain.”
“He’s a good soldier, Drako…a real good soldier…but he’s young
and he cares. He has a big heart.” Captain Benton turned and
looked down at the solder now laying dead. “You never get the
image of the first man you killed out of your head. If you
do…God help you.”
Johnny watched the Captain walk away. He looked down at the
solder Lucas had killed in the last moments of the battle. He
couldn’t remember what the first man he killed looked like…he
couldn’t remember the second or third either…what did that make
him? What would he become?
“Sergeant McCain!” Lieutenant Scott was stooped over the fire.
He slowly stood and looked up at Lucas. “I’ve been waiting for
“Yes sir!” Lucas saluted him. “I’ve come with my report on my
“Mm hm…” Lieutenant Scott nodded. “First Lieutenant is dead. You
were supposed to have your numbers into Sergeant Montgomery
fifteen minutes ago.” Lucas said nothing. Lieutenant Scott put
his hands on his hips. “Is there something wrong with your
“No.” Lucas lowered his eyes and looked into Lieutenant Scott’s.
“But I don’t appreciate your speaking to me that way, sir. I’ve
“You busted your…” Lieutenant straightened up. He was several
inches shorter than the 6’5” tall Lucas McCain. “Are you
forgetting your rank…SERGEANT?”
“I arrived here with 21 men, sir. Seven are dead. Two wounded.”
Lucas averted his eyes from the Lieutenant.
“Mm hm.” Lieutenant Scott nodded. “And do you have the names of
the men you lost?”
“I do, sir,” Lucas answered, still not looking at the
“May I ask, McCain, why it took you so long to get these number
Lucas cleared his throat. “I’d rather not discuss it, sir.”
“You’d rather not…” Lieutenant Scott shoved a finger in Lucas’s
face. “Now, you listen to me, you…”
“Lieutenant!” Captain Benton walked up to the two. He glared at
the Lieutenant then turned to glare at Lucas. “I’ll handle
this.” He waited for Lieutenant Scott to walk away, then he
turned toward Lucas. “Why’d you do it, McCain? WHY?”
“I don’t know,” Lucas mumbled. He averted his eyes from the
Captain as he thought about it. Suddenly, he turned and looked
Captain Benton in the eye. “He’s the first man I killed, sir. He
was afraid…he hesitated. I looked him in the eye. I saw death in
his eye. I knew he couldn’t kill me, but I killed him!” Lucas
felt his eyes moisten just thinking about it. “What kind of a
Captain Benton shook his head. “You aren’t a monster. You are a
soldier in the army. You are fighting the Civil War. He was a
Rebel – the enemy.”
“He was a man!” Lucas shouted angrily.
“No! He was a rebel! He was fighting against us in the battle.
He was just a rebel!”
Lucas again held up the picture he’d taken off the dead soldier.
“No sir.” He pointed to the man in the picture. “He was a
husband…a father! He had the life I want! His name was…”
“McCain, don’t!” Captain Benton warned.
Lucas ignored him and looked at the envelope. “…Simon Lee.”
“Luke…” Captain Benton breathed out. “Luke…you…”
“Permission to be dismissed, sir.”
“We should talk about this. Come to my quarters.”
Lucas closed his eyes and clinched his jaw. “PERMISSION TO
LEAVE, SIR!” Lucas said a bit more forceful.
Captain Benton nodded. “Permission granted. Sergeant, men are on
burial detail. I think you should join them.”
Lucas had turned to go to his tent. His shoulders straightened.
“Must I?” The last thing he wanted to do was go back to that
place where he’d turned from a young man to a beast.
“It’s your job, Sergeant, so yes..you must.” Captain Benton
looked down at the paper in his hands. “And we’ll be marching
out in two days. Back to Virginia.” Lucas watched Captain Benton
turn from him. The death and destruction was really getting to
him. With a weary heart, Lucas went to obey his Captain.
Lucas was very weary when he crawled into his tent that night.
The dead had to be buried before disease spread. There were
simply too many bodies there. The men had all worked together
going from body to body to determine who each soldier was. They
would mark the graves so they’d know, but unfortunately, a
little more than that could be done. There was no time for a
Now, it was way past midnight. Lucas took off his jacket and
threw it on the ground of his tent. Then he lay down on his cot.
The silence was eerie. In his mind, he pictured the man holding
his little boy as he kissed his tearful wife goodbye. He drifted
off into a fitful sleep.
“Please…please don’t leave me!” A woman’s voice echoed through
the darkness. The man…Simon…held his baby in his arms and kissed
him lightly on the cheek.
“I have to fight for what I believe in. It’s a matter of
principle!” Simon’s voice echoed. The tearful Mrs. Lee stood on
the porch as she took the baby from her husband’s arms. “I’ll be
“I’ll be back…I’ll be back…I’ll be back…” Those words echoed
over and over.
Sweat broke out on Lucas’s face. He waved his head back and
forth. “No! No! Don’t go!” he shouted as he held out his hand.
Suddenly, his eyes opened and he sat straight up in bed.
It was dark. There were no voices. There was no gunfire. Only
silence answered his panicked cries. He ran a hand through his
hair and took deep breaths to calm his racing heart. But when he
closed his eyes, he heard the man’s scream as Lucas jabbed the
bayonet into the young soldier’s gut. He saw that man…that
father of a little boy with blood trickling from his mouth and
that horrid look in his eyes as he died. And his death was all
because Lucas feared for his own life.
Greater is no man than this: that he lay down his life for his
friend. How many times had Lucas sat in church and heard that
verse? How many times had his mother and father quoted that
verse to him? Who was his friend? When did a man living in
Pennsylvania suddenly become his enemy? How did things get so
out of control?
Lucas felt around in the dark for a match and lit the candle. He
picked up his jacket and pulled out the picture and letter. As
he stared at the picture, he imagined how that woman would react
when she got the telegram declaring that her husband was dead.
He imagined how she would feel knowing her son would grow up
without a father.
He pulled out the first letter he’d found on Simon’s body. It
was a letter written by Nancy Lee, his wife. He knew he
shouldn’t read the personal words she had written to her
husband…it was none of his business…but maybe…just maybe her
words to Simon Lee would somehow bring him comfort.
Lucas opened the letter and read her final words to her husband:
My heart longs for you to come home. I see no reason to fight in
this ugly war. Your son has started walking. He said his first
word the other day and, oh how I wish you could have heard it.
Most babies, I’ve been told, say “Mama…” But not your baby. Oh
my love, your son said “Papa.” That’s because I tell him all
about you every day. I want him to know who you are when you
Simon, my heart aches to see you. Oh, it’s so lonely here at
night just me and the boy. I’m fearful those soldiers will come
in here and take my world from me. I wouldn’t mind them taking
the worldly possessions, no…but my son or you – I couldn’t bare
that. I’m not sure if I could even…If they come, I’ll be moving.
I can’t bear to stay here without you.
The memories we share get me through the lonely nights of late.
It takes so long for me to fall asleep, then when I do I
remember how you got down on one knee and proposed to me in
front of the whole church. Oh, I remember our wedding day. I
remember the day I told you I was with-child. Oh Simon, never
had I seen you more pleased! I’m glad I was able to have our son
before you left for war only…can you come home soon? Oh…I long
to see you…to hold you…to kiss you.
Take care, my love.
Lucas allowed the tears to freely fall down his cheeks as he
stared at the words of the letter. She really loved him. She
really wanted him to come home. But he knew the truth – a truth
she probably wouldn’t know for days…not until the telegram was
sent. And then…the memories of their courtship, engagement,
marriage, and becoming a parent would be all she had to cling
What would that little boy have to cling to? What kind of hope
did he have? He would grow up without a father unless his mother
married again. Lucas thought about Julie and Abraham. He
remembered sweet little Charlie and wondered if Abraham died…how
would Julie feel? She’d be devastated. She and Abraham were in
love – as in love as he ever wanted to be someday.
Lucas wiped at his tears and took a big gasp of fresh air. Then
he looked at the other letter – the one Simon Lee was writing to
her but hadn’t mailed yet. Slowly, he opened it. His heart began
breaking as he read the last words Simon said to his wife before
Lucas McCain had killed him as the bayonet had fatally wounded
My Dearest Nancy,
I am so nervous right now. My hands are shaking so bad I can
barely write these words, but I have to. Last night, the Captain
of our regiment told us that we would be attacking the Union in
the morning. He didn’t say when, so when that trumpet sounds we
have to go. But…I wanted to write these words down really fast.
I don’t know if I’ll ever have the chance to mail this letter to
you or not. If you receive it, I suppose it means I survived my
Last night, as I lay on my bedroll by the fire I started
remembering the day I married you. You were so beautiful and I
loved you so very much. I still can’t believe our baby was
conceived that night. When you told me weeks later, I fainted
dead away – do you remember that? But you must have been really
special if God chose to make our wedding night such a lasting
event. I can’t wait to get home…to hold you in my arms and
Lucas gasped. That must have been when the bugle announced they
would attack. He never got the chance to finish the letter.
Lucas slowly sat the letters down. He sat on the side of his cot
and put his head in his hands as he began weeping. “Oh God,
forgive me! Oh God, please…please forgive me!” Lucas cried.
He felt such brokenness…such despair. When he closed his eyes he
saw Simon lying on the ground with that look of death in his
eyes. He remembered the fear that captured him – the fear that
caused him to lunge at the man. The visions that plagued him
tortured him over and over.
The bugle cried a lonesome tune, announcing it was time for the
men to get up and start the day. Lucas ignored the call as he
continued to sit on the side of his cot and weep. He didn’t hear
someone enter his tent. But he suddenly jerked with a start when
a hand landed on his shoulder. He lifted his head to find his
friend Johnny there. “What do you want?” Lucas grumbled,
embarrassed he’d been caught again in such a state.
“Did you get any sleep last night?” Lucas could tell by the
sound of Johnny’s voice that it was one of those questions that
didn’t require an answer.
Lucas stared down at his hands. “None to speak of.” He picked up
the letters and held them in his shaky hands. “I read these.
One’s from her and he was in the process of writing one when…”
“Why, Luke?” Johnny interrupted him as he lowered his head.
“Why did you take those letters? Why did you look at the
picture? Why did you READ the letters?”
“Because I killed her husband!”
Johnny stood up with a gasp as he flung his hands in the air.
“No, Luke! You killed a Rebel soldier who was going to kill
“You don’t know that!” Lucas exclaimed suddenly. “You don’t know
he was trying to kill me!”
“Of course he was trying to kill you!”
“You don’t know!” Lucas argued loudly. “You weren’t there! You
didn’t see the look on his face. He was terrified of me! He was
afraid I was going to kill him!”
Johnny nodded. “And you weren’t terrified? You weren’t giving
him the same look he was giving you?”
Lucas turned away. There was silence for several moments.
“Luke…” Johnny stopped and stared in amazement at his friend.
“Lucas…” Johnny came to stand in front of him. “This is war!
During war, your enemies kill you!”
“He’s not an enemy!” Lucas choked out. “He’s a fellow American!”
“Oh Damn it, man!” Johnny shouted suddenly. “He had a gun and he
wasn’t on our side! American or not, he was an enemy!”
“To you…Even after you look in his face, you can stand in front
of me and tell me he was the enemy? You can’t tell he was a
husband? A son? A father? He had a little boy who would never…”
“You can’t make this personal! You have a job to do – to kill
the enemy before he kills you!”
Lucas looked down at the letters. “Do you…” he swallowed. “…know
why I killed him?” Lucas looked up at Johnny. He slowly stood
up. “I killed this young man…this…BOY…because I was afraid for
my life! I was shaking with fear, Johnny. Do you understand what
I’m saying? This battle was getting to me, and when I finally
came face-to-face with a man from the other side I froze! We
just…stared into each other’s eyes. I saw such a fear inside
him. I saw such a…” Lucas swallowed. “Neither of us wanted to
kill the other. Yet…as we stood there, we knew that one of us
was going to die. When I looked in his eyes, I saw DEATH there –
even before I lunged. It was like…like…he knew he wasn’t going
to be able to kill me. He knew that…” Lucas stopped and turned
from Johnny. “Then I lunged. I jabbed that bayonet into him as
if I were a murdering savage. As I looked down at him
afterwards, the death in his eyes was…”
“McCain!” Lucas and Johnny turned. “You both should be out for
“Yes sir!” Johnny declared as he saluted the Lieutenant. But
Lucas stood there.
“Sergeant McCain! I said…”
“I heard you!” Lucas shouted.
“Excuse me?” Lieutenant Scott placed his hands on his hips and
circled Lucas. “You address me with a sir!”
“Yes sir…” Lucas grumbled out.
The Lieutenant turned and glared at him. His eyes narrowed as he
came face-to-face with Lucas. “I would punish you for that
right now…but…the Captain wants to see you in his quarters.
Lucas glared at the Lieutenant. He bent over and picked up his
jacket but didn’t say another word as he walked out of his tent
and headed toward the Captain’s quarters. He walked into the
tent. The Captain was sitting in a chair writing something.
“Have a seat, Sergeant. I’ll be with you shortly.” Lucas
continued standing. “That’s an order, McCain!”
Lucas slowly sat down. He took his hat off and held it in his
hands. His mind tried to focus on what was going on now, but he
couldn’t help continuing to look back to yesterday out on the
battlefield. He had a chance to do the right thing yet…
Captain Benton stood up as he sat down his pen. “I wanted to
talk to you about a few things, McCain.” He pulled a chair up
beside Lucas and sat down. “You are a soldier in the United
States Army. You are fighting in a war, and as long as this war
is happening you will continue to fight.” Lucas stayed quiet as
he listened. “Some of the men watched what you did yesterday.
They told me you were brave as you crawled and kicked your way
through enemies. They watched you down several men as you broke
through that line. I…”
“I didn’t kill several men!” Lucas shouted suddenly. “I killed
Captain Benton’s face turned angry. “Don’t you speak to me that
way, Sergeant! And NEVER interrupt me when I’m talking to you!”
“Yes sir.” Lucas swallowed. “I’m sorry, sir.”
“Now, the soldiers were telling me yesterday that you were
brave. You even shielded some of them, willing to take the
bullet for them if you had to. You worked hard to break through
the line. You and a handful of other soldiers stayed in the
front and fought your way through. You, McCain, showed
extraordinary courage and bravery.”
Lucas slowly lifted his head and looked at the Captain. “I am
writing to see about promoting you, Lucas McCain, to Lieutenant
for what you’ve done.”
Lucas swallowed as his eyes again filled with tears. He wasn’t
brave. He wasn’t deserving of this honor. He had killed a man.
“Well…most men in your position would feel very honored,
Sergeant. Why do you look like I just announced your best friend
Lucas’s head suddenly shot up. He clinched his fists to his
side. “Captain, I think I’ll go join the burial detail now. I’m
anxious to get the work done so we can move on.”
“We are talking, Sergeant!” Captain Benton declared. “You
“I appreciate the honor, but I have to decline.” Lucas stood and
hovered over his Captain. “What I did on that battlefield the
last three days was out of fear and cowardness. I killed a man,
Captain. I made a woman a widow and caused a son to lose his
father. I murdered that man.”
Captain Benton slowly stood up. “McCain…what you did yesterday
was corner a Rebel and kill the enemy just like you’ve been
trained to do. We’ve all killed a great number of fathers,
husbands, and sons.”
Lucas averted his eyes and looked straight ahead. “Permission to
be dismissed, sir.”
“McCain, I want you to be Lieutenant. But you MUST put this
behind you. Stop making it personal!”
“Permission to be dismissed…” Lucas swallowed hard. “…SIR!”
Captain Benton looked down at the paper in his hand. He closed
his eyes and nodded. “Permission granted, McCain.” Lucas started
from the tent. “McCain!” Lucas paused and turned to look at the
Captain. “If what you said is true…if you murdered that boy
yesterday then…Andy Gibbs was also murdered. So what are you
going to do? Are you going to allow his murderer to walk free?
To kill again?”
Lucas sucked in his breath. His eyes narrowed as he looked the
Captain up and down. Without a word, he walked away.
“Private Richards!” Captain Benton called to the private that
stood just outside his tent. Private Richards walked inside and
saluted the Captain. “Get Drako for me. Tell him to get here on
the double.” Captain Benton sighed. “I’m afraid we have a
problem…a big problem.”
July 4, 1873
The rain started pouring down on the soldiers as they walked
back to the battlefield. Today there was no song of victory or
cheerful talking. Today was one of great sadness because they
knew that again they would spend the day burying fellow soldier
When they arrived, they stared down at the destruction their
three days of fighting had caused. Regardless of the fact that
they were burying body after body yesterday after the battle
ended, there were still dead bodies of soldiers laying
everywhere. Some sill had rifles in the hands. Some still had
the look of horror or pain on their faces when they fell. Yet
others…well, they had gone unnoticed in the worst part of the
war and had died slowly and painfully, scribbling out last words
before they died. As Lucas walked beside his fellow soldiers,
his tears mixed with the rain at the destruction of it all.
So much destruction. So much needless suffering. So much pain.
The Union soldiers all lined up close to the battle line and
stared across the way at the Rebels, who stood on the other side
of the battle line. Bodies lay all around them as well. Bodies,
Lucas thought, with the same terrified looks on their faces and
bodies with rifles in hand as they fought for their lives. The
rain poured down on the soldiers even harder as the soldiers
stood in their spots and stared through the rain across the
field at the Rebels.
Lucas moved his eyes from one end of the field to the other. The
men all held their rifles at their sides as they stood with
corpses all around them. Their faces were withdrawn, showing
signs of sadness and fatigue. They felt such loss. “Look at
them…” Johnny mumbled beside Lucas as the men just stared at
each other. “What makes them stay?”
“They want to bury their dead…same as us,” Lucas answered. He
turned and looked at Johnny. “Is this what it’s come to? Look at
them. The soldiers lying on the other side died uselessly, same
as us. They died for no reason same as ours. Why? Why, why, why?
Why do they stay?”
“They are soldiers fighting against us…against the United States
Army…against the President of the United States.” Johnny’s eyes
moved over the men. “If given the order, they’d immediately
begin firing on us. They wouldn’t hesitate to do so and you know
it.” Johnny nodded slightly. “That’s what they want – to kill
Lucas clinched his jaw as he again moved his eyes across the
field to scan the Rebels. So many had died. “No, Johnny. I think
they want it to be over same as we do. We don’t want to lose and
neither do they. We’re fighting for what we believe in and…”
Lucas sighed with a nod. “So are they.”
“Let’s get to work!”
Lucas turned and picked up the shovel. But he paused as he
turned his head in the direction where his killing had taken
place the night before. He again saw the face of the man as they
stared into each other’s eyes. He heard the man’s scream as
Lucas lunged at him. Lucas pressed a hand to his forehead and
closed his eyes. “Lucas…” Johnny started. “Lucas, are you
“Hm?” Lucas suddenly turned and looked at Johnny. He turned back
and shoved his shovel in the mud and nodded his head. “I’m
fine.” But the tone of voice he used told a different story.
Every time he drove the shovel into the ground he saw those
eyes, as if Simon was standing in front of him. As he punched
his foot on the shovel, he felt the rifle as its sword pierced
Simon. Each time he brought up a shovel of mud he heard the
The rain continued to pour as he saw, felt, and heard over and
over. Tears mixed with the rain and he began grunting as he dug
grave after grave. He couldn’t get the vision out of his head.
Each time he helped lift a body into the grave he saw Simon
Lee’s face – those eyes forever looking with the sign of death.
Never would he be able to get those eyes out of his mind. Never
would Simon’s face look any other way – it was frozen with the
look of horror forever.
“Sergeant McCain!” Lucas turned to see one of the privates
calling him. He turned back around and continued digging. “Sir,
I said there are no more bodies.”
“There is…” Lucas grunted as he continued digging a grave.
“There is another body.”
“Luke!” Johnny hurried up to him. “It’s time to go!”
“No, Drako!” Lucas shouted. “This is something I have to do! I
have to dig his grave!”
“But there’s no one to put in it!” Johnny shouted. “There’s no
one to…” He stopped, realizing Lucas wasn’t listening. The men
slowly walked away. They stood in the distance and watched Lucas
continue digging. When he was done, he stood in the rain as it
poured down on him. He stared down into the hole.
The men wondered what he was going to do. He stood still for the
longest time, then suddenly he lifted the shovel over his head.
He slammed it down on the pile of mud over and over. He began
shouting unintelligible things and shouted as he continued to
slam the shovel on the ground. Finally, he kneeled down and put
a hand to his face. Then he stood, turned, and walked toward the
As the men walked back to camp they started singing their
victory song to the beat of their march.
Mine eyes have seen the glory
Of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage
Where the grapes of wrath are stor'd;
He hath loos'd the fateful lightning
Of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.
Johnny stopped singing and turned to look at Lucas. Lucas stared
straight ahead, a blank stare on his face. He wasn’t singing.
His hand clutched his rifle over his shoulder so hard his
knuckles were white.
Glory, Glory Hallelujah!
Glory, Glory Hallelujah!
Glory, Glory Hallelujah!
His Truth is marching on!
Johnny slowed his pace, and Lucas immediately followed suit.
Lucas continued staring straight ahead, blocking out the words
of a victory song because Lucas could see no victory in this
battle. Right now, all he could see was that he had murdered
somebody. “God’s truth…” Lucas mumbled.
Johnny’s head jerked up. He decided to speak. “The Captain
called me into his quarters this morning.”
“Oh?” For the first time since they left the battlefield, Lucas
turned and looked at his friend.
Johnny nodded. “He told me about the promotion he’s offered
you.” Lucas stayed silent as they continued walking back to
camp. The men continued to sing their victory song up ahead, but
Lucas and Johnny quietly talked. “He also told me you said no.”
“Yep,” Lucas answered shortly.
“Luke, it’s an honor to make Lieutenant. Your family would be so
“Proud? What if I told them I had to kill a husband and father
to get those bars? What if I told them…”
“Luke, you care too much!” Johnny suddenly declared.
“Oh?” Lucas stopped walking and put his hands on his hips.
“Maybe you don’t care enough, Drako!” Johnny clinched his fists
to his side. “Maybe you enjoy killing those Rebels! Maybe…”
Suddenly, Lucas found himself on the ground in the mud after
Johnny punched him hard.
Lucas grew angry. He got to his feet and gave Johnny a hard
shove. Johnny fell backwards and Lucas jumped on top of him.
They delivered some hard punches at each other as they began
rolling in the mud.
Suddenly, someone grabbed Lucas and lifted him up to his feet.
Johnny was lifted up as well. “What’s this all about?”
Lieutenant Scott shouted.
Captain Benton hurried forward. “What is this? McCain, are you
allowing what happened yesterday to cause the two of you to turn
against each other? Am I going to have to stop a duel right
Captain Benton glared at Johnny, then at Lucas. “Alright. Luke,
since you can’t seem to keep out of trouble and obey orders
today, pack your gear and put it on your back. Then you can
march until the trumpet calls time for bed.” Lucas glared at
Johnny as he clinched his jaw and wiped the blood from his face.
He was caked in mud and soaked to the bone.
“That’s fine with me!” Lucas shouted as he glared at Johnny.
Captain Benton took some deep breaths to tame his anger. “GO!”
Captain Benton shouted.
Captain Benton watched Lucas go. Johnny wiped blood from his
cheek. “I threw the first punch, Captain.”
Captain Benton turned and looked at Johnny and nodded. “McCain’s
a good soldier, Sergeant Drako. He’ll make a good Lieutenant but
right now…” Captain Benton took off his hat and ran his hand
through his hair. “Oh…” He slapped his hat on his thigh. “I’m
about to come to a decision. It may be the only thing to help
him at this point.”
Johnny Drako shook his head as he watched Captain Benton slowly
walk away. He allowed himself to think on Lucas’s words and the
reason they had angered him so much. There was a lot of truth in
what Lucas had said. He didn’t particularly want to see men die,
but there was some sort of joy he got in watching the enemy
fall. And that scared him more than facing any Rebel could ever
Johnny sighed, then turned and walked away.
July 5, 1886
Tiffany sighed as she pressed a hand to her swelling belly and
sat the pancakes on the table. “Laura!” she called again.
“Breakfast!” She turned back to look at her husband who had just
picked up the newspaper. “Honey, you may have to go drag your
sister out here.”
“Mm…” Peter mumbled as he put the cup of coffee to his lips and
opened the newspaper he had been meaning to read for the last
Tiffany sighed as she took the newspaper from Peter’s hand.
“Peter, your sister!” They had been married for only 8 months,
yet already Peter was learning that when she used that tone of
voice with him, he had to obey…or else!
“Emily, it’s time to eat! Get in here!” Peter shouted.
Tiffany shook her head and put her hands on her hips. “Peter
Emily sat the maple syrup on the table and glared at her
brother. “It’s the OTHER sister!” She turned and looked at
Tiffany. “Tif, I wish you’d talk to your husband. I’m getting
really tired of hearing that same joke every morning!”
“Hm…” Tiffany folded her arms across her chest. “I may just have
to give him a trip to the barn…” Tiffany declared as she looked
down at her husband.
Peter stood up and smiled. “Well my dear…you just MAY have to!”
He grinned mischievously as he kissed her before starting for
the bedroom to deal with his little sister.
Tiffany raised her eyebrows and looked at Emily. “I’ve put up
with four of them for 18 years!” Emily declared. “And I’m still
trying to learn how they work.”
Peter turned from the girls’ bedroom and smiled. “Keep working
at it, little sis…but you’ll never figure us out!”
Emily and Tiffany sat down to wait for brother and sister to
join them. Ruth, who had been feeling a bit under the weather of
late, was still in bed. Emily planned to bring her a tray later.
The family had just sat down for breakfast when the door opened.
Johnny Gibbs, breathless, held a telegram in his hand. “Scott
told me to get this to you right away. There was another
battle.” He declared through gasps of breath.
Peter quickly stood and went to take the telegram from the
fourteen year old Gibbs. He read it, then frowned and lifted his
head. “Should be coming out in tomorrow’s paper,” he commented
as he looked at his family. “It was in Gettysburg.”
“That’s in Pennsylvania, isn’t it?” Tiffany asked as she slowly
stood from the table. She rested a hand on her belly. “Would
your brother be there?”
“Most definitely.” Peter handed Johnny the telegram back. “You
go on to the next farm. I’ll tell my brothers.” Tiffany and
Emily eyed Peter closely as Johnny left. They sensed something
“What did the telegram say?” Emily asked. “Was it bad?”
Peter grabbed his hat and strapped on his holster. “It’s the
deadliest battle of the war. It’s suspected thousands of men
Emily grasped the chair in front of her as Tiffany clutched her
middle. “The…” Tiffany swallowed as she stared at her husband.
“But that’s what they said about…Chancellorsville!”
“I know.” The ladies watched as Peter rushed out the door.
Emily turned to see Laura staring at the door. “Well…” she
smiled as she slowly sat back down. “Seems Luke’s been quite
busy, Laura Rose.” Laura shifted her eyes toward Emily. Emily
forced a reassuring smile. “Just makes the time go faster for
Emily shook her head. “Now, don’t you go worrying about our
brother! He’s fine. Don’t borrow trouble!” Laura looked down at
her plate. “Now…finish your supper so you can clean the dishes.”
Laura did as she was told. When the women were alone, Tiffany
turned and studied Emily’s face that now held worry on it. “You
worry about your brother a lot, don’t you?”
Emily nodded as tears formed in her eyes. “It’s nerve-racking.
Every time we hear about another battle, we sit and wait for
word. We never know if the news will be good or…” Emily
swallowed. “The news about Andy at Thanksgiving was bad enough.
Tiffany immediately put a hand on Emily’s arm. “No! Don’t think
The door to Ruth’s room opened and Ruth stepped out into the
living quarters. “Good morning.” The way she spoke made both
women turn and take notice. Emily sucked in her breath at the
way her mother looked. Her face was very pale and she could
Emily stood to go to her mother. But before she could get to her
side, Ruth collapsed and fell to the floor. Tiffany jumped up
from the table. Emily dropped to her mother’s side. “Mama!” She
put a hand to her mother’s cheek. “Oh, Mama!” Emily shouted as
tears filled her eyes. She looked up at Tiffany.
“Laura!” Emily jumped up and ran to the kitchen. “Mama’s
fainted! Go get the brothers!” Laura’s eyes grew wide with
concern. She tried to look past Emily into the other room, but
Emily shook her head. “Go! Now!”
Laura dropped the plate she was cleaning and ran out the back
door. Emily hurried back into the room. “Help me get her back to
bed!” Emily shouted tearfully.
“No. This isn’t good,” Abraham mumbled as Peter told him the
news Johnny Gibbs had brought by earlier. Abraham scratched his
beard and went to look out the window. “This isn’t good at all.
I’m afraid that…” His voice died as he focused on something
outside. Then he gasped. “Laura!”
Abraham rushed to the front door of his house and hurried
towards Laura. Laura was sobbing as she ran up to Abraham and
jumped in his outstretched arms as he dropped to his knees on
the ground. “What is it, Rosebud?” Abraham asked as she cried
hysterically. “Is there trouble?”
“It’s Mama!” Laura cried. “Emily said she…she…she fainted!”
Laura clung to Abraham. She was so scared.
“Mama!” Abraham rushed inside. “Peter, Ma’s fainted!” Peter
rushed out the door and started running down the hill. “You stay
here with Julie.” Abraham ordered as he sat her on the floor.
“No! I want to see Mama!” Laura cried.
“I’ll come back for you soon!” Abraham promised her as he kissed
her cheek. Julie reached out to put her arms around Laura.
Abraham looked up at Julie. He saw the fear and worry in her
eyes. They had a bad feeling about this. But he didn’t say a
word as he hurried out the door.
Laura tried to run after him, but Julie kept her arms firmly
around Laura. “Shhhh….” Julie said as she bent down behind Laura
and pressed the girl’s head into her chest. “Abe will be back
for you as soon as he can.”
Laura struggled in Julie’s arms. She wanted to go to her mother.
Julie grasped the child tighter. “You have to stay here so they
can take care of Ma.” But Julie’s voice broke.
Laura gasped as her sobs became louder and she clung to Julie.
Abraham and Peter both got into the yard at the same time. They
rushed inside and to the bedroom. “What happened?” Abraham asked
as he hurried to the bed and laid the back of his hand on his
“She’s so pale, Abe!” Emily declared. “She’s…so…” Emily threw
her hands to her face. “Oh Mama!” She sobbed.
“I’ll go for the doctor!” Peter shouted from the doorway. Then
he turned and headed out the door.
“Mama…” Abraham laid his hands against her cheeks. “Hold on,
Mama…” His eyes filled up with tears. She looked so terribly
bad. He knew the situation was desperate. “Please…just hold on.”
“Owwwwwww!” Tiffany suddenly clutched her middle and let out a
Emily turned and looked at Tiffany. Tiffany doubled over as
another horrible pain came over her. “Owwwwwwwww!” She screamed
even louder this time.
She was about to collapse herself as her face turned white from
the pain. Abraham stood and hurried over to her. He picked her
up and carried her to her bedroom. After laying her gently on
the bed, he said, “Stay with her, Emily. She needs a woman right
“But Abe…she still has a month!” Emily cried.
Abraham paused and turned in the doorway. They locked eyes, both
pairs held worry. Abraham started toward his Mother’s door.
“Dear God…help me!” he cried out. “Help my family!”
It was a good hour before Peter returned with the doctor. Dr.
Stevens hadn’t been in the office, so Peter had to hunt him
down. As he rode his horse into the yard with Dr. Stevens
pulling up in the buggy, he heard screams of pain coming from
the house. His eyes grew wide. “That sound like my wife!” He
jumped off the horse and rushed inside. “Tiffany?”
The door to his bedroom opened and Emily rushed out, quickly
closing the door behind her. Peter hurried toward the door, but
Emily put a restraining hand on him. “Peter…it’s bad!
Something’s wrong! Something’s terribly wrong!” Emily shouted
“Doc…” Peter swallowed. “The baby’s not due for another month
Dr. Stevens looked toward Ruth’s bedroom door, trying to decide
what to deal with first. “Alright. Emily, just stay with her.
I’ll be there in a minute.”
“Emily!” Tiffany screamed. “Emily!” Peter and Emily looked at
each other than hurried inside.
Peter’s eyes filled with tears when he saw Tiffany flinging
herself from side-to-side on the bed. “Honey!” He hurried over
and sat down on the bed, cradling her head in his lap as she
screamed with pain. “I’m here, baby…” Peter kissed her forehead.
“I’m here…” Peter lifted his head and stared into the fearful
eyes of Emily. They both knew this wasn’t good.
Dr. Stevens rushed into Ruth’s bedroom. Abraham stood. “What
“My sister said she just collapsed. She came out of the bedroom
with a pale face and…”
Dr. Stevens shook his head. A deep sigh escaped him. “I’m afraid
it’s coming over her a lot faster than I thought it would.”
“What, doctor?” Abraham asked, quite surprised at his comment.
Dr. Stevens slowly lifted his head up toward Abraham. “Abe…you
know she’s been sick…” His voice died as he came to a stunning
“A bit under the weather, but she told us it was because of all
the excitement that’s been going on…” Abraham stopped, suddenly
realizing it was much worse than Ruth let on.
“That didn’t help any, but she was sick before your father died.
There’s something inside her eating her alive, Abe. I’m afraid…”
Dr. Stevens put a hand on Abraham’s shoulder. “…your mother’s
The words didn’t sink in at first. Abraham just stared at the
doctor. Slowly, the words penetrated his thinking. He swallowed
hard as his eyes filled with tears. “D…dying, doc?” Dr. Stevens
nodded. Abraham turned and stared down at his mother. “Mama…” he
slowly sat down on the bed. “Oh…Mama…” Abraham began sobbing as
he laid his head on her chest.
“I told her months ago. It’s…cancer.”
Abraham slowly lifted his head when he heard that word. He’d
heard that word before. His grandmother had died from that same
disease, and he didn’t understand it any better now than he did
then. “Cancer…” he breathed quietly and closed his eyes, trying
to gain control of his emotions. “How…how long?”
“I don’t know. It could be days or…weeks…” He sighed. “I’m
sorry. I warned her she should tell you months ago. I just
Shouting suddenly pierced the house. Abraham turned his head
toward the door. “You should go to Tiffany. Save her…” Abraham
turned and looked up at Dr. Stevens as tears ran down his
cheeks. “Don’t take her from us too.”
Dr. Stevens hesitated, wishing there was more he could say. But
the truth was – death was death. There was no way to sugar-coat
that. It was something the family would have to come to terms
with in their own way.
But right now, he had another patient to look after. He shook
his head, then hurried out the door and into Peter and Tiffany’s
bedroom. Tiffany was clinching the bed frame. Her face was
baptized in extreme pain. Her body was drenched in sweat as she
continued to fling herself from side-to-side. “Dr…” Emily rushed
over to him. “There’s something wrong…something terribly wrong!”
Dr. Stevens hurried over to the bed and examined her. “The
baby’s breached!” he announced over Tiffany’s screams. He looked
at Peter. “I’m sorry, son. I may be able to save both of
them…or…” He was unable to finish his sentence.
Peter swallowed as he held his wife’s head in his lap. “Save
them, Doc! You must save them both!” His voice was broken and
desperate. His tear-filled eyes pleaded for the life of his wife
“If we have to choose…” Dr. Stevens started. “Which one…”
Peter’s eyes grew wide. He shook his head. “No!” he cried. “I
need them both! I can’t choose! You HAVE to save them both!!!”
“I’m going to try to turn the baby.” Dr. Stevens rolled up his
sleeves as he went to the foot of the bed and climbed up on it.
He positioned himself so he’d be able to do this. “Hold her
“Oh God…” Peter cried out suddenly as he grabbed a firm hold of
his wife’s hand. Emily grabbed the other hand and held her as
tightly as she could. “…God…Please save them…Please…If you save
them I’ll do ANYTHING…ANYTHING…you ask!!! PLEASE DON’T TAKE THEM
FROM ME BECAUSE OF MY STUPIDITY!!! PLEASE!!!”
Abraham laid his head on his mother’s chest and sobbed. “Mama…Oh
Mama…What are we going to do now?”
He felt a hand slowly move to rest on his head. He lifted his
head and stared into his mother’s face. She had a weak smile on
her face. “Abe…there’s something I have to…”
Abraham shook his head. “The doctor told me about the cancer.
Mama…why didn’t you tell me? Why?”
“I’m sorry. I…”
Her words were lost as a loud scream pierced the air. It was
immediately followed by silence…Nothing but silence.
Peter cried as he lowered his head to his wife’s face. “Help
her, God…Please help her!” Her face was white. Her eyes lay
closed but he continued to hold her. “God…God…God…” Peter
whispered as he sobbed into her neck. “Oh why God? Why?”
There was no answer. After that final scream, her eyes had
closed and her head had fallen back against him. There was no
cry from the baby either. Peter continued sobbing. It felt as if
he was losing his whole world.
Emily wiped her eyes and turned away. She couldn’t stand to
watch what was happening. She hurried over to the doctor who was
working on the baby. He gave the baby another hard smack and
rubbed his chest hard. “Come on…breathe! Breathe!” The doctor
Tears streamed down Emily’s cheeks as she watched the baby’s
blue face lay so still. There was no movement – none at all.
“Please…please…” Emily whispered quietly as she watched the
doctor continue to massage the baby’s chest.
Suddenly, the baby coughed and let out a loud, long cry.
“Oh…thank God!” Emily shouted as she threw her hands to her
face. She fell to her knees. “Thank you, Jesus! Oh, thank you!”
“Take over here,” Dr. Stevens said quietly as he turned toward
the bed. “I must see about the mother.”
Peter continued sobbing. “Oh God…please forgive me for what I
did! I’m sorry…so very sorry!”
“Peter…” Dr. Stevens lay a gentle hand against the new father’s
Peter slowly lifted his head and stared at the doctor. Dr.
Stevens realized what Peter was thinking. The look on his face
said everything. The doctor slowly shook his head. “She’s not
gone, son. She just passed out from the pain.”
Peter stared at the doctor as he realized his wife was not dead.
His face relaxed as he lowered his eyes to his wife, whose head
still lay on his lap in the bed. “You mean…”
Dr. Stevens went to examine her. “I’ll have to do some
stitching, but she’s going to be okay.” Peter closed his eyes
and gasped deep breaths of air. “But I don’t know if she’ll be
able to have any more children…I’m just warning you,
son…Sometimes a birth like that damages a woman’s insides and…”
Peter nodded as he wiped his tears. “That’s okay. I don’t care
if we have any more children! I just thank you for saving my
Dr. Stevens lost part of his smile as he looked toward the door.
“Well…” he turned back and looked at Peter. “Do you want to hold
“My…daughter?” Peter whispered as Emily turned with a baby
wrapped in a blanket. She smiled as she slowly walked over to
the bed. He stared down at the bundle in Emily’s arms. “Oh, but
she’s so…so little!”
“Now, you’ll have to keep her inside for the next month. And I
don’t want a lot of people around her. You, Emily, and Tiffany
but nobody else! She’s a month early and can pick up sickness
“But…” Peter swallowed as he stared at his daughter’s small
face. “…she’ll be okay? I mean she…”
Dr. Stevens smiled. “Both wife and daughter will be fine. I’m
glad I was able to save them.” He sighed. “I wish I could save
“Well…” Emily smiled. “You want to hold her Pa?”
Peter shook his head. “I’m afraid I’ll break her!” he declared.
Emily chuckled. “Get up from there and come sit down in this
Peter looked down at his wife. “Oh…don’t you worry about her. I
gave her something to help her sleep. She’ll be asleep for quite
awhile. I’m afraid she’ll be in pain for awhile.” Dr. Stevens
picked up his bag. “I’ll be out as soon as I can with some
special milk for her.”
Peter slowly stood up. He gently kissed his wife’s sweaty cheek
then sat down in the chair. Emily giggled as she told him how to
hold his arms. Then she laid the baby in his arms. Peter smiled
down at her. “Oh…She’s so…Why, she can’t weigh but a few
“I’d say about five is right,” Dr. Stevens nodded. “Now, you
make sure your hands are clean anytime you touch her. I’ll bring
out some bottles later, but you must keep the tops clean.”
“The bottles?” Emily stood up slowly and turned to look at
“In a few days. Her body wasn’t prepared for the event. Probably
the shock of your mother…”
Emily suddenly gasped. “Mother…” She turned and looked down at
Peter. “I’ll be back.” Emily made her way out of the room,
firmly closing the door behind her. When she opened the door to
her mother’s room, she saw Abraham crying as her mother softly
spoke to him. “Mother?”
Ruth held out a hand to her daughter. “Tiffany…” she swallowed.
“…How is she?”
“She and her daughter are wonderful, Mother,” Emily smiled. “How
Ruth looked up at Abraham. Abraham slowly stood from the bed and
walked toward the door. He put his hand on the doorknob then
slowly turned around. “Emily…we should get the family together.
There’s something we need to discuss.”
Abraham slowly walked across the field to his home. The news he
had received weighed on him like a ton of bricks. Just when he
thought things were getting better…
He paused before he entered the yard. There was a little girl in
there who would be very confused and shaken. She was about to
lose her mother, and there wasn’t a darn thing Abraham could do
to stop it. He sighed and slowly shook his head. Then, forcing a
smile on his face, he opened the door and walked inside.
Laura jumped up from the table where she was helping Julie make
cookies. “Abe!” She hurried over and jumped into his arms.
Abraham kissed her and slowly lowered her to the floor as his
eyes filled with tears. “I…” He stopped and took a deep breath.
“We need to gather the family up and get everyone to the main
house. There’s something we have to discuss.”
Julie’s face saddened when she heard the deep despair in her
husband’s voice. She wiped her hands on her apron and started
forward. “Abe, what is it? What’s happened?”
Abraham locked eyes with Julie and slightly shook his head. Then
he forced a smile on his face. “Well…for one thing, Tiffany and
Peter have a daughter.”
“What?” Julie cocked her head to one side. “How?”
“She gave birth just a little bit ago. Fortunately, the doctor
arrived soon after her pains started. It was a fast delivery.”
Julie nodded. “I’d say! You’ve only been gone three hours.”
“Well…” Abraham reached over and took David out of the high
chair. “Let’s go.” He took Samuel in his other arm.
They made their way down the hill to the main farm. Jeremiah and
Em had been summoned by Emily who had been unable to hide her
distraught emotions. They were already sitting at the table when
Abraham got there with his family and Laura. After everyone was
settled, Abraham cleared his throat. “I’m afraid…” His voice
broke and he lowered his head with a sigh. He cleared his throat
and tried to speak again. “I’m afraid I have some bad news…”
“About Mama?” Laura asked from her seat at the table.
Abraham turned and took Laura onto his lap. He protectively put
his arms around her and kissed the top of her head. “Yes. About
Mama, Laura Rose.” He cleared his throat again. This was one of
the hardest things he’d ever had to do. “Um…as you know, Mama
collapsed earlier today.”
“Collapsed?” Laura questioned.
“Fainted.” He closed his eyes. “She’s not well. She woke up and
spoke to me for a few minutes while ago, but she’s very weak and
in a great deal of pain.”
Concern and worry shone on Emily’s face. She leaned forward and
touched Abraham’s shoulder. “Abe…what is it?”
“It’s uh…” Abraham closed his eyes as he breathed the word.
“Oh dear GOD, NO!” Jeremiah breathed upon hearing this word.
“Oh Ma…” Julie breathed as she put a hand to her shaking lips.
“What’s…cancer?” Laura asked in a shaky voice.
“It’s something really bad, Laura Rose.” Abraham tried to speak
softly as he smoothed her hair. “There’s something inside her
eating her insides. She’s…she’s….” Abraham stood and sat Laura
on the chair. He turned and hurried toward the window as he put
a hand to his mouth and burst into tears.
“She’ll be joining Pa very soon…” Julie swallowed. “Won’t she,
Abe?” Abe nodded.
Peter and Jeremiah both slowly stood up. “Abe…what are you
saying?” Peter asked as he walked over to him.
Abraham turned as Jeremiah lifted his sister from her seat. He
comfortingly put his arms around her as he stood in front of his
brother. Abe closed his eyes to gain strength. “I’m afraid she
Abraham felt Laura’s gasp more than he heard it. His eyes filled
up with tears, as did the eyes of all the other adults in the
room. “Mama…no…” Laura cried out suddenly. She jumped from
Jeremiah’s arms and ran toward her mother’s bedroom. Jeremiah
grabbed her before she could get there. “No! Don’t you leave me
too!” Laura cried out.
Jeremiah stroked his baby sister’s hair as she began sobbing.
“Oh my darling,” Julie cried as she kneeled in front of Laura.
“She doesn’t want to! She wants to stay here and watch you grow
“Then why?” Laura asked as she lifted her head. “Why is she
gonna leave me?”
Julie pressed her lips together as tears slipped from her eyes.
“Oh honey! It’s not her will…Her body’s hurting and tired.
There’s something inside that’s eating it.”
“Then tell the doctor to fix it!” Laura shouted. “That’s what
he’s for! He needs to fix it!”
“He can’t, honey!” Julie cried. “He’s tried, but he can’t!”
“No!” Laura shouted again. “No!” She ran out the door.
Julie turned and looked at everyone. The three brothers were
clinging to each other crying. Emily and Em clung to each other
sobbing hysterically. Her children played quietly on the floor.
“Laura! Wait!” Julie cried as she hurried out the door.
Emily suddenly fell to the floor. Her knees hit the floor hard
as she pressed her hands to the floorboards and cried. “Oh
God…why?” Emily cried. She lifted her head. “Abe…how long have
Abe turned and wiped at his tears. “The doctor told me today.
She’s been sick for a long time but didn’t tell anyone. She…”
Abraham swallowed. “She’s near the end.”
“Laura! Come back!” Julie hurried after the little girl. She
could hear Laura sobbing up ahead. By the time Julie caught up
with her, Laura was sitting out on a ledge overlooking the
valley below. Julie stopped. She had an incredible fear of
heights. “Laura…” Julie swallowed as she stood behind Laura.
“Honey…please…come to me!”
“No! Go away! You want to take Mama from me!” Laura cried as she
drew her legs to her chest and stared out over the valley.
“No, Sweetie” Julie swallowed hard when she saw how far down the
valley was. “I don’t want your Ma to die. I…” Julie took a step
forward. She took a deep breath as fear began capturing her.
“Honey, c…can you please come to me so we can talk?”
“No!” Laura screamed. “I hate you! I hate Abe! I hate God! I
don’t wanta talk! Go away!”
Julie closed her eyes. Laura’s words hurt her, but she knew she
hated death, not them. “Honey…I love you! Oh, I love you so
much!” Julie stretched out her arm. “Laura, did you know that
I’m afraid of heights?” Laura shook her head. “Well I am…”
Julie swallowed hard as she took another step forward. “I think
you’re afraid of death. That’s okay to be afraid. It’s normal.”
“I hate God! Why does He have to take Mama?”
Laura longed to reach out and touch Laura – to take the girl in
her arms and try to explain things to her, but her fear was
overtaking her. “D…don’t say that, honey. I….” Julie breathed as
she forced herself to take another step forward. She slowly sat
down. “Laura…I’ve met you half way. Please..come to me.”
Laura turned and looked at Julie. Her face was wet with tears,
as was Julie’s. Laura slowly stood and walked back to where
Julie was sitting. “If you’re so scared, why’d you come out
“Because you were here…” Julie slowly turned toward Laura.
“Honey…your Mother…and God…they both love you very, very much. I
know you are afraid. I know you are confused, and that’s okay. I
don’t understand either but Laura…God’s not taking your mother
by giving her cancer. God didn’t give your mother cancer…Cancer
is BAD, and God is good…so…good. He wants to take your mother
“NO!” Laura cried out again. “I don’t want Him to take her!”
“Laura Rose…” Julie sighed, trying to find a way to explain it
to her. “You remember when your Pa got really sick? You remember
how much pain he was in?”
Laura nodded. “It was cause his heart was bad. Papa said it was
just running out ‘cause of how hard he had to work.”
Julie nodded. “Mm hm. And he was in a whole lot of pain, wasn’t
he?” Laura nodded as she wiped at her eyes. “And we knew that Pa
was ready to go home. He was so very sick and he said it was a
blessing that God was calling him to heaven.” Laura nodded
again, but stayed quiet. “Well…” Julie sighed. “Laura, this is
the same kind of thing. Your mother’s body has something bad
inside and if she goes to heaven, her pain will end. We don’t
want her to be in pain.”
“No…” Laura started sobbing. “But I want Mama!” She leaned
against Julie. “I want her!”
“Julie?” Julie turned to see Abraham behind them. He bent down
to sit behind his wife and sister.
Julie turned back to look down at Laura. “Honey, I KNOW that you
want your Ma and it’s not fair that you have to grow up without
her…It’s not fair at all! But…I want you to know something…”
Julie took Laura’s face in her hands. “I’m going to be
here…right here with you. If I have to sit out on a ledge with
you, I WILL! If I have to swim across the deep ocean to help
you, I will. We will hurt together! And you can cry as much as
you want. I’ll hold you while you cry.” Laura clung to Julie and
Abraham patted Julie’s back. “And I’ll be here to hold you both
while we cry.” Abraham paused. “Well…if you want me.”
Julie forced a small smile on her face as she looked down at
Laura Rose. “Well? What do you think? Do we want Abe?” Laura
nodded. Then the three of them hugged together.
“Abe…” Laura swallowed. “Can…can I see Mama?”
“I’ll let you look in on her before you go to bed. Okay?” Laura
nodded. Abraham stood and picked Laura up in his arms. But Julie
stayed stark still. “What’s wrong?”
Julie closed her eyes. “Abe…There’s something I haven’t told you
about myself…” Julie’s heart started pumping harder. “When I was
six years old…I got too close to a ledge and slipped. I had to
be rescued so…” Julie swallowed. “I don’t cotton much to
“Oh.” Abraham turned and wiped some tears from Laura’s cheek.
“Well, you are awfully high right now…And you are awfully close
to the edge.”
“Abraham McCain…” Julie swallowed. “Help me!”
“Why did you come out here in the first place?”
“Because…” Julie turned and looked up at Laura. “Laura was out
here. I came out here for her.”
“Oh…” Abraham, happy for the distraction from the news he’d
received earlier, kneeled down beside Julie and gave her a small
smile. “So it looks like you and Laura Rose will need my
assistance after all.”
“You just…” Julie swallowed as she shakingly accepted Abraham’s
hand. “…tell your sister that next time she runs off, to
please…please find someplace else to run to!”
After she was back on safe ground, Julie looked up at Laura.
“Honey, I don’t know how much longer your mother has, but I
promise you that I will be there right beside you through this
“And so will Emily and the rest of the family. We’ll all be
together through this…however long we have!” Abraham declared as
they walked back home.
Julie closed the door to the girls’ bedroom where all five
children were sleeping soundly. She had to sit with Laura for
quite some time before Laura fell to sleep. As she sat at the
table, Abraham handed her a cup of coffee then sat down beside
her. “Thank you for helping her,” Emily mumbled as she stared
blankly into her coffee cup. “The news was quite…shocking…”
Emily swallowed. “Abe…how long?”
“I don’t know.” Abraham looked toward his mother’s bedroom. He
rubbed his forehead in despair. “If we had known maybe…”
“Abe…don’t.” Julie laid a hand on top of his. “It’s done. We
have to concentrate on what is – not what could have been.”
“We’ve been discussing something, Julie. This is going to be
rough. Tiffany’s not going to be much help around here until she
recovers, which will be for quite awhile. Peter’s
responsibilities around the farm are quite heavy. And Emily….”
Emily cried softly. “I want to take care of Mother, Abe…We’ve
always been so close. She’s done so much…I want to do this.”
“I know. I’ll see if Margaret can help you care for her.”
“Abe…” Emily swallowed. The adults could tell that what Emily
had to say next was very difficult. “Abe…I can’t…” She put a
hand to her face and shook her head.
“What, Sis?” Abraham reached out and took her hand. “What is
“Laura…” Emily looked from brother to brother to brother. “She’s
such a handful and I don’t think I can…Oh Abe…I just can’t
handle her right now! God forgive me for even thinking it! I…”
“Hush…” Peter said softly. “Nobody’s going to blame you for what
you’re thinking. Laura IS a handful. She’s a McCain.”
“I want her here close to Mama, but…I’m afraid caring for her
and Mama both is going to be so…”
“She can move in with us,” Julie stated immediately. “I think
“Oh…I didn’t mean to…”
Abraham held up a hand. “Laura was here and watched Pa die. It
was so hard on her. Watching Ma die like this is going to be
incredibility painful. Emily, you have a big burden on your
shoulders – caring for Ma; and it’s a burden you will not be
carrying by yourself. We will ALL be here to help but…” Abraham
took a sip of his coffee. “I just think it would be best…for all
concerned if Laura wasn’t underfoot here. Julie and I can help
her understand and adjust.”
“I’m sorry. I feel so terrible…” Emily whispered. “I love Laura
with all my heart.”
“Honey.” Julie laid a hand on Emily’s hand. “You are only 18
years old. If you hadn’t brought it up, I would have because you
are very correct in saying that Laura IS indeed a handful. You
need to concentrate on taking care of Ma. Peter needs to take
care of Tiffany and the baby…and this farm. Laura loves to help
take care of the boys. It’s good for her. I don’t want her to
stay here and dwell on death all day. Besides…” Julie looked up
at Abraham. “…She needs to start letting go, and that will be
easier to do if she’s staying with us.”
“Thank you.” Emily shook her head. “It happened…so fast…”
“We’ll see that Laura comes to see Ma every day if she can. I
think it’s important, but we have to be careful not to let her
stay too long.”
“Abe…” Peter looked up at his brother. “What about Lucas?”
“Luke…” Abraham paused as he took another sip of his coffee.
“I’ll send a wire to the army in the morning. Luke told me they
can contact him in emergencies if they are near a town. I’ll
send it in the morning.”
“Abe…they won’t release him to come home…would they?”
“After so many men died in Gettysburg? I doubt it. They’ll need
ever available man.”
Peter helped Abraham set up cots in the main room for Julie and
Abe to sleep on then saw Jeremiah and Em to their wagon. His
heart was so heavy as he slowly walked into his bedroom. He made
his way over to the cradle at the end of the bed and kneeled
down beside it. Softly, he touched his daughter’s cheek. Emily
had just fed the baby and put her down. She promised Peter she
should sleep for the next few hours. “Oh…baby girl…” Peter
sighed. “My heart is so heavy tonight!” Peter allowed a tear to
slip from his eye and roll down his cheek. “Ruth Ellen McCain.
That’s what we’ll call you. You came into the world early
because somehow God knew we needed you. Ma’s leaving us Ruthie…”
He heard Tiffany moan from the bed. Peter wiped his eyes and
forced the tears back. Then he stood and walked over to the bed.
Tiffany groaned in pain and turned to look at her husband as he
lit a lantern. “Hi.” Peter forced a smile as he looked down at
“Peter…” Tiffany moaned as she drew a hand to her middle.
Peter nodded as he lay a hand on her cheek. “Your daughter, Mrs.
McCain, is lying fast asleep at the end of our bed. She’s okay.”
“I’m sorry I was so much trouble…I’m sure your family thinks
I’ve gone loco…carrying on the way I did.”
“No, Baby,” Peter shook his head as his eyes filled with tears.
“The truth is…we almost lost you. I thought we had there for a
minute and do you know what I discovered?” Tiffany shook her
head. “I discovered that I couldn’t live without you.”
“Really?” Tiffany smiled through her pain. “You…really love me
“Mm hm…” Peter slowly stroked her cheek. Then he lowered his
head and kissed her softly on the lips.
“What’s wrong?” Tiffany suddenly asked. Peter suddenly turned
away. He stood up and walked toward the door. “I’ll go get you
some medicine for the pain. The doctor left…”
“Peter, come back!” Tiffany suddenly ordered as she held out her
hand. Peter turned at her cry and hurried back to her. “Please…”
she swallowed. “If there’s something wrong…I want to know.”
Peter hesitated. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned over these
past eight months, it’s that this family doesn’t keep things
from each other. It’s a rule.”
“Yes. One my Mother chose to break…” Peter’s eyes filled with
tears. “Oh…Tiffany…” Tears fell from his eyes. “My mother’s
“What?” Tiffany reached out and grabbed his hand.
“She’s very sick. She has…c…c…cancer!”
“Oh Peter! Oh!” Tiffany forced herself to sit up painfully and
took her husband in her arms. “I’m so sorry, Peter…” Tiffany
cried as she remembered how Ruth had taken her aside that very
first day and laid down the law. She knew Ruth was something
special that day. “I’m so sorry, Peter!” Tiffany cried as Peter
sobbed in her arms. “I’m so very sorry!”
In time, Peter lay down beside Tiffany, putting his head on her
chest as he continued crying softly. “The baby…” Peter started
as he laced his fingers through hers. “…she came at a time we
needed her. My mother’s dying, but she’ll live on through…”
Peter swallowed as he slowly lifted his head and looked into his
wife’s eyes. “…Ruth Ellen.” Peter lifted his eyebrows,
hoping…praying she’d approve. He needed this so badly.
“Ruthie…” Tiffany smiled as she lifted a hand to wipe her
husband’s tears. She nodded. “I think it’s beautiful. Our little
Ruthie will bring us joy through our heartache. Peter…” Tiffany
smiled as she looked into her husband’s eyes. “Our God
July 6, 186
Abraham walked into the telegraph office and picked up a piece
of paper. “I need you to send this wire immediately, Amos.”
To Sergeant Lucas McCain, U.S. Army
13th Indiana Calvary
Mother is very sick. Does not have long to live. I am sorry to
tell you this way, but I thought you should know as soon as
possible. Please pray for us. Abraham
Amos took the telegram. He read it and his eyes grew wide. “Are
you serious?” He lifted his head and stared at Abraham. “Your
mother is dying?”
“Amos, just send the telegram!” Abraham ordered roughly.
“How? Why?” Amos suddenly asked. “Abe, I…”
Abraham didn’t want to talk about it. He leaned over the
counter. “Amos…just send the damn telegram!!!” He slapped the
money on the counter, turned and hurried out.
July 6, 1863
Near Gettysburg, PA
Lucas stared down at his hands as he again remembered that
night. He was exhausted from lack of sleep. He hadn’t eaten
hardly anything since it happened. The lack of sleep was due to
“Luke…” Johnny spoke softly from the opening of the tent. “The
Captain…wants to see you.”
Lucas nodded. “Alright.” He slowly forced himself to stand from
the cot. He would have to go to the Captain rather he wanted to
or not. He knew they were heading out today to go back to
Virginia. Lucas felt the stares and heard the whispers as he
slowly made his way toward the Captain’s quarters. He knew the
men thought he had gone loco, and maybe he had. But he couldn’t
let the images, the sounds, or the feelings go. He had caused
quite a scene yesterday.
At the door, the private announced he was there.
“Sit down, Luke.” Lucas was a bit taken aback by the Captain’s
informal words. But he sat down without question. Captain Benton
slowly stood up. “Lucas…I remember the first man I killed. It
was out of anger because he had killed my best friend. It was
before the war started. The killing was justifiable, but it was
unforgivable. I went a long time without forgiving myself. It
ate at me until I was raw, then I started behaving irrationally.
I knew I had to come to terms with this.” Captain Benton sighed
as he sat down in front of Lucas. “Now…what happened out on the
battlefield that day was a lot more justifiable than what I did.
But…I see why a man like you would feel so guilt-stricken over
“I think you would make a good Lieutenant. I think you have the
makings of a fine officer, McCain, but…Right now you are broken.
I’m afraid that putting you on the battle lines right now would
only mean sure death to you. So, yesterday I sent a telegram to
my superiors and they granted you a short leave for one month.”
Lucas slowly lifted his head and stared at the Captain. “There’s
really no need for a second Lieutenant right now, and it could
be awhile before we get enough men for you. I…hope that this
month off will help you come to terms with some things. I hope
that upon your return, you will be willing to take the
Lucas slowly stood up. He pressed his lips together. “Sir…your
giving me a month’s leave? To do what?”
Captain Benton stood up and went to his make-shift desk. He
slowly lifted a piece of paper from it and stared down at it.
“To go home to your family. Seems they need you.”
“This morning, I received this telegram. If more time’s needed,
I’m sure we can arrange to extend the month. It’s your mother.”
Captain Benton lifted his head. “She’s dying.”
July 6, 1863
Laura shifted her food back and forth on her plate but didn’t
really eat. She had awaken in the middle of the night crying.
Emily had gone to her, but there was little that could be said
to console her. Laura would have to come to terms with this in
her own way.
Nobody forced her to eat. They all knew how terrible of an
ordeal this was going to be for her.
The door to Ruth’s bedroom opened and Julie came out with the
tray. Abraham looked up from feeding David. “How is she?”
Julie sighed as she sat the tray on the counter. “She can’t eat.
She…she’s too weak.”
Abraham shifted his eyes from his wife to his sister. Laura
closed her eyes as tears slipped from them again. “Honey, after
you eat I’ll let you peak in on your mother.” Laura didn’t move.
“Laura Rose…” Laura lifted her head to look at Abraham.
“Uh…after you went to bed last night, we came to a decision.
Honey, we all think it’s best if you stay with us.”
Laura’s eyes grew wide. “NO!” She shook her head. “I want to
stay here…to help take care of Mama!”
“No.” Abraham knew his words were causing her upset. “Laura,
Emily has her hands full taking care of Ma, and she doesn’t
“Uh…” Julie hurried in and stooped down in front of Laura. “What
your brother is trying to say is that…” Julie grasped Laura’s
hands and smiled up into her eyes. “Laura, we’re going to see if
Margaret can help Emily. Emily will need a friend during this
time, and she and Margaret have always been good friends, you
Laura lowered her head. “Laura Rose?” Laura lifted her head
again to look at Julie. Julie licked her lips. “Do you remember
when you were getting better after you almost died in that
cave?” Laura nodded. “Well, we were all here for you…but who was
it that made you happiest when you were really sad about being
in that bed?”
“Jessie,” Laura answered.
“That’s right, honey.” Julie lifted a hand to stroke Laura’s
hair. “And just like Jessie was there for you when you really
needed her; Emily needs Margaret here really bad.” Laura nodded.
“Which means…that I’m going to need you really, really bad!”
“Why?” Laura asked suspiciously. “Is this a trick?”
Julie chuckled. “No, Laura…you know I would NEVER try to trick
you! Honey, the truth is…we DO want you away from here. It’s not
good for a little girl to dwell on what has to come, and it’s
good to stay busy. Now, I’ll need your help with the triplets
and Charlie. Charlie’s getting to be more and more underfoot and
I need somebody I can trust to keep track of him when he’s
outside. And the triplets…they are starting to walk!”
Abraham kneeled down beside Julie. “And I thought that you could
help me build a fence.”
Abraham nodded. “I have a lot of fencing boards in the barn from
when we were fencing the garden to keep the cows out, remember?”
Laura nodded. “I want to work on putting a fence up in our yard
so the boys can play outside without running off. I’ll need your
“Abe…” Julie turned and looked at her husband. “Laura’s a young
“Oh, now who are you fooling?” Abraham asked as he pecked his
wife on the cheek. “She’s a Tom boy, and you know it! There’s
nothing wrong with her helping me!”
“I can honestly help ya?” Laura asked. “Honest?” Abraham nodded.
“Yes.” Julie smiled. “And Abe’s also got a couple bedrooms to
build VERY soon! Five children in one bedroom isn’t going to cut
it. I think Laura needs her own bedroom!” Julie turned and
looked at Laura. “What do you think?”
“My own…” Laura looked from Abraham to Julie. “You mean I’ll be
living with you for…forever?”
Abraham smiled. He loved this woman he had married. “Would you
want it to be forever?”
Laura turned and looked at Emily. “Well…”
“I think it’s wonderful!” Emily declared. “I’m so happy!” She
reached out and took Laura’s hand. “How about if you and I go to
pack your things?” Laura nodded.
She followed Emily into the bedroom. “Only…I don’t wanta leave
you, Emily! You’re my big sister!”
“I know.” Emily took the carpet bag from the closet and started
folding Laura’s clothes. “I don’t want you to go. I’ve been
teaching you how to be a big sister now for eight years. It’s
time you started being a big sister to your nephews. They’ll
need somebody to teach them the McCain ways.” Emily kept her
tears at bay. “Besides…you can come here as much as you want!”
“You know something?” Abraham asked as he kissed Julie. They
were still kneeled on the floor in front of the empty chair.
“You are the most…” Abraham kissed her again. “…amazing…” he
kissed her left cheek. “…intelligent…” he kissed her right
cheek. “…creative…” He kissed her lips. “Woman in the whole
“I know.” Julie smiled. “You were about to send that girl back
to that ledge. I didn’t much feel like going through that
“What?” Abraham shrugged. “I was going to tell her the same
“Yeah.” Julie nodded. “From a rough and tough brother
perspective. Laura needed it in a creative way that she could
“Oh.” Abraham stood and pulled her to stand up beside him. “So
uh…she’s going to live with us…permanently?”
“Are you upset?”
“No.” Abraham shook his head. “I was going to try and find a way
to break it to her subtly.”
“Oh.” Julie turned and looked toward the door. “Laura’s scared,
Abe. She needs to understand that even though Ma’s dying…she’s
still important and we still care. Her knowing she’s going to
have a good home…”
“But THIS…” Abraham pointed…”This IS a good home!”
“Abe…” Julie shook her head and folded her arms. “Peter and
Tiffany are just starting out. They’ve only discovered they are
in love with each other and now have a new baby to care for.
Emily…she’s young…eighteen, and she’ll be getting married
someday. She doesn’t need the added burden of a hand-full like
your baby sister! We have been married for quite some time and
have four children already. I really COULD use her help.”
Abraham shook his head. “Like I said, you ARE amazing!”
Julie kissed him. “I know. That’s why God made women!”
The door opened and Laura walked out. “Can I come back tonight
and help you with Ma?” Laura asked.
“Well…” Emily looked up at Abraham. “I’d say that’s up to your
“We’ll come back tonight and look in on Ma,” Abraham promised.
“Let’s…” he looked up at Julie. “Let’s get our other children
Emily watched the family walk up the hill toward Abraham’s
house. She allowed her tears to fall as she waved goodbye. It
hurt something awful to think that Laura would no longer be
living with her, but Emily knew that this was for the best. Her
heart would adjust and she would lean more on Tiffany to help
her through the hard times.
Near Gettysburg, PA
Lucas wiped his eyes as he folded his tent and packed it with
the rest of the gear. “Luke?” Lucas turned to see Johnny
standing behind him. “I just heard.” He folded his arms and
raised his eyebrows at his friend. “Look…I’m sorry I punched
“Yeah. Thanks.” Lucas tied his pack together and stood up.
“Oh…this is where you tell me you’re sorry for the things you
said to me.”
“Oh.” Lucas quickly wiped a tear that escaped his eye and
started to brush past Johnny.
Johnny grabbed his arm. “Luke…look…I’m a man and I’m not too
good with mushy stuff. You know that but…Your folks have always
been nice. They’ve put up with me all these years and all
and…well…” Johnny sighed. “I’m very sorry about your mother.”
“I hope that during your month off…you can reflect on what’s
happened and come to terms with it somehow. Like the Captain
said, you’re a good soldier. You really are. You have a big
heart, though and I don’t want to see it harden over this.”
“Right.” Lucas turned to leave. But he felt guilty for the way
he’d treated his friend. He quickly turned around. “Uh…I’m sorry
for…you know…I shouldn’t have said it…even if it’s true.” Lucas
walked to the Cavalry horse and loaded his gear on it. He was
indeed sorry about all the trouble he had seemed to cause, but
right now he felt so broken. Normally, he would care if someone
offered to give him a month off.
But today, he didn’t give a damn.
He turned and nodded to his fellow enlisted men. Johnny had lost
several of his men too and would be taking charge of Lucas’s
until he returned. Then if he accepted the Lieutenant’s job, a
fellow Corporal would step up to be his replacement. Lucas
saluted the Lieutenant who only stared at him with a scowl on
his face. Then he turned toward the Captain.
“I must ask you one thing before I go, sir.”
“McCain…Your leave officially started five minutes ago so just
call me Tom.” He smiled at Lucas.
Lucas nodded, but didn’t smile. His heart was aching too badly
to smile. “Tom…how’d you ever get to be Captain?”
“How do you mean?” Tom asked.
“I mean…the Lieutenant over there…He never smiles and is pretty
mean. He’s the sort of man who would make Captain. You’re too…”
Tom smiled. “Nice?” Lucas nodded. “Well…let’s just say I’m a lot
like you, McCain. I care for my men. They like me…all of them.”
Lucas nodded. “Thanks…for everything.”
“You’re a strong man, McCain. You let that woman of yours heal
Margaret’s face popped into his mind. Lucas nodded as the
slightest smile played at his lips. He knew that if anyone could
help him through this it was Margaret. Lucas nodded as he looked
around. “Well, I’ll catch up with you in Virginia…or wherever.”
Tom nodded. “Ride easy, McCain. God speed and…I’m sorry about
Lucas nodded. Without saying another word he mounted his horse
and rode for home.
The Years Before — The Fight
This is a story based on the TV series
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!
around The McCain Ranch