The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Years Before
Chapter 21 - Return to Gettysburg
Written by Michelle Palmer
November was a cold, wet month. Abe said the moisture was good for the wheat they had planted, so nobody complained too much. School was in session most of the month. One day in late November, Julie and Abe were sitting at the table, enjoying the quiet after the last child was in bed. Abe had brought home the newspaper that day, and was happy to finally be able to read it in peace. Julie quietly read in her Bible as he read the paper. “What???” Abe suddenly sputtered as he sat straight up in his chair.
Abe looked up at Julie. “Listen to this.”
Thanksgiving is now an Official Holiday
President Abraham Lincoln has declared Thanksgiving to be held the fourth Thursday of November starting this year. Most communities in the United States celebrate Thanksgiving, but the day varies. Many have chosen a Thursday to celebrate it, but these days are scattered throughout the month. In making one day the official Holiday, it will permit all government offices, and most businesses, to be closed so families can reflect on giving God thanks.
“Hm…” Julie smiled. “Well…like the paper says, it’s official.”
“Humph!” Abe declared. “We’ll start next year!”
Julie raised her eyebrows. “Oh. Well, we can’t disappoint the President! If he declares that the fourth Thursday of the month should be Thanksgiving then…”
“And go through all that work again? No way!”
“WHO goes through all that work???” Julie teased back.
Abe shook his head and went back to reading the paper.  He flipped through the paper some more. Suddenly, he let out a loud gasp. “Well, I’ll be!”
“Now what?”
“Honey, listen to this!”
Abraham Lincoln to speak at Gettysburg for the dedication of the national cemetery.
President Abraham Lincoln is expected to speak on Wednesday, November 18.
The Pennsylvania Governor, Andrew Curtin permitted 32 year old David Wills to purchase 17 acres of land for almost $2,500.00. Wills purchased it so the citizens of Gettysburg could bury the bodies of fallen soldiers who died during the biggest battle of the war that occurred in early July, leaving thousands of men on both sides dead. Wills was concerned that the citizens would make the families of the fallen soldiers pay for the ‘proper’ burial of their loved ones, and he did not want them to have to deal with that.
Families of the fallen soldiers, as well as soldiers that fought during the battle have been invited to attend this event.
Abe looked up at Julie. “I wonder if Luke will get to go?”
Julie frowned. “Abe…do you think that would be such a good idea? I mean, after all…”
Abe heard the worry in her voice. “Maybe it’s just what he needs…perhaps it would put some sort of closure on what happened there.”
“Don’t you think there’s already closure, Abe?” Abe walked up behind her and put his arms around her waist. “Gettysburg affected him so badly and…”
“But he’ll get to meet the President of the United States!” Abe declared as he kissed her neck softly. “THAT alone would be cause for his desire to go! I just wonder if he’ll get to.”
Captain Tom Benton watched Lucas from a distance. His language was crude as he spoke to his men. There was hardly any gentleness left in his voice these days. He was as rough and tough to his men as any officer Benton had ever seen. Johnny Drako came to stand beside Benton as Lucas yelled at one of his privates. “He sure has changed,” Johnny stated.
“Yes.” Captain Benton nodded. “I’ve seen quite a change in him since he returned. He’s so tough. When you three first came here, I never imagined McCain would turn out this way. He was so gentle and innocent.”
“That death came hard to him,” Johnny pointed out. “Something inside him has grown, and I don’t know if I like it or not.” Johnny gave a short laugh. “I mean, I’m no pussy cat and I’ve killed my share of men but…”
“I know.” Captain Benton sighed. “And now I have to deliver Lucas a piece of news. I’m almost afraid to do it.” Johnny turned and looked at his Captain. “I have to tell him we’re going back to Gettysburg for a spell. We’ve been invited to a dedication.”
Johnny raised his eyebrow as he watched the Private slowly walk away. He looked like he was about to cry. “Little rough on him, aren’t you?” Johnny mumbled.
Lucas shot his head around and glared at his friend. “I’m tired of his arguing, Sergeant!”
Johnny held up his hands and smiled. “I come in peace.”
Lucas closed his eyes and smiled. “I’m sorry. I just want this damn war over so I can go home! I’m sick and tired of men shooting at me!”
“Yeah?” Captain Benton grinned. “I don’t like it myself. But then…You know, Lieutenant, we could use some good training officers after the war’s over. I…”
“Oh no!” Lucas held up his hand. “I want to be a rancher – not a life-long soldier! No siree….After this war is over, I’m going home, marrying my gal, and settling down.”
“You think it’s going to be that easy, huh?” Johnny asked. “I mean, you think you’ll going to be able to go from THIS…” Johnny waved his hand out across the camp. “To riding the range tending your cattle and…coming home to a pretty face every night?”
“She’s more than a pretty face, Sergeant!” Lucas grunted as he planted his fists on his hips. “And I expect you to talk respectfully less I deck you!” Lucas bent down and poured a cup of coffee from the pot. “It’s been a few days since we’ve had any gunplay, Captain. You think the Rebels are planning another big attack?”
“I think they’ve moved further East for the moment,” Benton declared. “We’ll have another battle before it’s all said and done. You’ll get to show off the men you’ve trained, I’m sure.”
“I think I’ll drill them on marching some more tomorrow. Maybe send some out on some scouting parties.”
“No.” Captain Benton took a sip of his coffee as he controlled his voice to speak the next words. “We’ll be moving out first thing in the morning,”
Lucas jerked the cup from his lips. “Moving out?” Captain Benton nodded silently. “To where?”
“Uh…Back to Pennsylvania. Just for a spell.” Lucas narrowed his eyes. “There’s a…dedication to the fallen soldiers at Gettysburg.” The Captain said this cautiously, expecting Lucas to explode.
And he wasn’t disappointed. “Then you’ll have to go without me, SIR! I NEVER want to go there again! I think you know that.”
“I didn’t ASK if you wanted to go, Lieutenant!” Captain Benton’s voice rose as he firmly spoke to Lucas. “I’m ordering you to go!”
“I can’t!” The roughness in Lucas’ voice had died. What was left was like a little boy begging his father not to make him bend over and take the shot the doctor was offering.
“I’m afraid you have no choice.” Lucas looked away from the Captain. He worked his jaw as he tried to control his emotions. Captain Benton’s voice softened. “Oh, it won’t be like it was last time, Lieutenant McCain. It’ll be different. They’ll be so many people there…well…maybe if I tell you who will be there.”
“Who?” Lucas lifted his eyebrow.
Captain Benton grinned. “President Abraham Lincoln.”
Lucas and Johnny both let out a gasp. “The President of the United States???” Captain Benton nodded. “President Lincoln is like a hero to me! I’ve always wanted to…” Lucas closed his eyes. “Oh, but I’ve pushed what happened there way back in my memory. I wanted it to stay there forever and never resurface. What if…”
“There will be so many people there that you won’t even think about it. You won’t even realize you’re at Gettysburg. Besides, this just may be a good way to put all this behind you once and for all.”
Lucas nodded, but still held reservation in his voice. “Alright. We’ll ride first light tomorrow.” Lucas turned and walked into the camp where the Privates were sitting around. “ALL YOU MEN ON YOUR FEET!”
Johnny lifted his eyebrow as he turned and looked at the Captain. “Maybe it’s me who’s the problem.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well…Lucas has obviously been affected by the death and destruction of the war. I, on the other hand…I can kill a man and not give it a second thought.” Johnny motioned for the Captain to sit down. “You remember the last day of the battle at Gettysburg? You told Lucas that it’s important not to ever forget the face of the first man he killed?” Captain Benton nodded. “Well…I don’t even remember what he looked like. I’ve killed several men and never felt overly emotional about it…”
“Sergeant…The fact that you’re worried about that shows that you do care.”
“Not enough.” Johnny shook his head. “If a man needed killing, I wouldn’t hesitate in doing it…I know that.” Johnny nodded toward Lucas. “I don’t think Lucas would be the same.”
“I don’t know.” Captain Benton shook his head. “A year ago, I would have agreed with you. But now…”
“Well…at least he has a woman back home waiting for him.” Johnny took out a cigar and lit it. “I’m a bit worried that I haven’t seen him in his tent reading her letters and writing like he used to. Nor does he have his Bible with him anymore.”
“Like I said…he’s pretty tough now.” Captain Benton stood up. “I’ve got work to do.”
It was an hour later that Captain Benton made his announcement. Lucas stood quietly beside him, keeping his eyes diverted from everyone. Captain Benton cleared his throat. “Due to the great number of causalities of both Rebel soldiers and Union soldiers, there will be a dedication held at Gettysburg for all the fallen soldiers on both sides. They are dedicating part of the land where we fought that horrific battle as a National Cemetery where both Union and Confederate soldiers have been laid to rest.” The men looked at each other, unsure how they felt about this. Captain Benton cleared his throat. “I received word yesterday that we are one of very few regiments who have been invited to attend.”
Captain Benton paused as grumbling erupted from some of the men. He turned and looked at Lucas who merely looked away. Captain Benton knew he wouldn’t get much help from his Lieutenant. “I accepted the invitation on behalf of all of us. I think it’s an honor to go.”
More grumbling erupted. “Captain, will Rebels be there?”
Captain Benton turned and looked at Lucas, who, for the first time looked at him. He waited for the answer like everyone else. “It’s quite possible.”
“Then we don’t want to go!” One of the Privates who had fought at Gettysburg declared. “It was a blood bath the first time! This could be a trick.”
“It’s not a trick!” Captain Benton declared. “We received a telegram from Washington.”
“From Washington…” Lucas grumbled.
“Lieutenant, I request your silence in this matter.”
“Yes sir.”
“Now look…I know how you all feel about the Rebs, and I know how you feel about Gettysburg. We ALL have memories of those days we spent there fighting for our lives. But this will be different. We go in peace, and we’ll leave in peace!”
“How do you know that?” A new recruit called from the back of the group. He slowly made his way forward. “Captain Benton, my fellow soldiers have told me what it was like there. They spoke of bloodshed and death. They spoke of the tears they all shed…the smells and sights that will always haunt them. Yet now, you are telling us to go right back there?”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t catch your name, Private.”
“Jackson. Reef Jackson.” He took another step forward and focused on Lucas. “I came up from Oklahoma.”
Lucas’ head shot up. “Oklahoma? I didn’t know you came from there.” Lucas cocked his head to one side. “Whereabouts in Oklahoma?”
“Just West of Oklahoma City. My family was moving closer to the boarder of Arkansas when I left.”
“I see…” Lucas cleared his throat, suddenly forcing himself to speak for his Captain. “Look men…if anyone has reservations on going back to that hell, it’s me. Those of you who were here remember what happened to me there. But I’m recovered now, and I think that if you just stay patient and listen to all Captain Benton has to say, maybe you’ll change your minds.” More grumbling erupted. “LOOK!” Lucas’ voice grew sharp. “If you just listen! Our regiment…out of all the Union regiments that fought at Gettysburg…has been chosen to go to the dedication. We’ll get to listen to President Abraham Lincoln! I for one don’t want to miss that.”
Captain Benton stared at Lucas. He turned and gave his final orders to the men, then waited for the men to leave. Johnny Drako came to stand beside Lucas. “Why did you change your mind?”
“Look, Captain, I’m still not completely sold on the idea of going. But I respect you and will stand behind you no matter what you decide. A man…can’t ask for a finer Captain then you.”
Captain Benton turned and looked at Johnny. Johnny merely shrugged and smiled. “Like you said…he’s changed a lot, Captain. But down below that rough exterior of his, the old Lucas still lives.”
“Baaaaaa!” Lucas declared as he turned and walked away.
The next morning, breakfast of cornmeal mixed with water was eaten in silence. Some men held grim expressions at the prospect of returning to the battleground they had lost so many of their fellow soldiers on. Lucas forced himself to keep a positive air about the whole situation. He would do this proudly and with dignity, even if it killed him. And even though the Captain assured him this trip was a peaceable one, the fact that the Civil War was raging all around them left Lucas with thoughts that this trip may very well kill him. He walked off a ways from the other men and removed the picture of Margaret from his pocket. Leaning against a tree, he stared at the smile. Unconsciously, he lifted a finger and touched the lips of his intended, remembering how they felt against his as she pressed them firmly and kissed him long and passionately just before he left her that last time. He could still feel his heart beating inside his chest as she leaned into him and laid a hand softly on her cheek. Her skin was so soft and she smelled like lilacs. She…
“Lieutenant.” Lucas turned to see Private Jackson standing there. “I was wondering what part of Oklahoma you were from.”
Lucas stuffed the picture back in his pocket. “Uh…Enid.”
“Oh! My family was settling just outside Enid.” Jackson smiled. “It’s a small world.”
“Yes. It is.” Lucas folded his arms. “Why is your family moving?”
“There was a drought. A bad one. My father didn’t want to start over on that land anymore. We decided to go a bit further East…Settle again and start over.”
“Oh.” Lucas folded his arms as he leaned against the tree. “We had a bad locust infestation there last summer. I was there to see the aftermath and it wasn’t pretty. Everything was brown…dead…lots of families left there. My…” Lucas cleared his throat. “A girl I know, one of her best friends left with her family. She’d lived there her whole life.”
“Well…” Reef tipped his hat back on his head and stood straight up. He and Lucas were almost the same height. They resembled each other in several ways. And now they discovered they lived close to each other. “I reckon my folks just want to stay close by.”
“Is it just you and your folks?”
“No.” Jackson looked Lucas up and down. “I have a brother. He’s younger than me.”
“Lieutenant, we’re ready!” Lucas nodded as they made their way back down the hill.
The men who had horses mounted their horses while the rest followed in a march. Their rifles stood straight up against their shoulders and the bugler played. “Forward March!” Captain Benton ordered as he held his hand up in the air. The men began singing in their march as they started across the land to travel to Pennsylvania.
I left my love, my love I left a sleepin' in her bed.
I turned my back on my true love when fightin' Johnny Reb.
I left my love a letter in the hollar of a tree.
I told her she would find me, in the US Cavalry.

Hi-Yo! Down they go, there's so such word as can't.
We're riding down to hell and back for Ulysses Simpson Grant.

Hi-Yo! Down they go, there's so such word as can't.
We're riding down to hell and back for Ulysses Simpson Grant.

I left my love, my love I left a sleepin' in her bed.
I turned my back on my true love when fightin' Johnny Reb.
I left my love a letter in the hollar of a tree.
I told her she would find me, in the US Cavalry, in the US Cavalry.

Hi-Yo! Down they go, there's so such word as can't.
We're riding down to hell and back for Ulysses Simpson Grant.
Starting out, most men tried to stay in good spirits. But as they traveled closer to Pennsylvania, the men became nervous. Even those who had never been to Gettysburg had heard stories about the horrid days the soldiers had spent there at the beginning of July. They all knew this was an event nobody wanted to relive, yet they were being forced to return to the one place in America where so much blood had been shed.
On November 17, the 13th Indiana Calvary arrived in Pennsylvania. They paused just outside Gettysburg and stared at the large gathering of people. Many were camping out in anticipation to the event. Captain Benton ordered his officers to corral the men and gather them into the camp just outside Gettysburg. He didn’t want any unnecessary fighting starting if a Private met up with a rebel soldier or someone who was against the Union. They ordered the men to stay in camp. Captain Benton clearly drew out the boundary where they could and couldn’t go.
That evening, the men stared at the fire as it burned. They had again eaten a small meal and grumbled that they hadn’t been allowed to go into town for a decent meal. But they were still at war, and emotions ran high. Captain Benton didn’t want any trouble and threatened Court Marshal on any man who chose to defile his orders. Even the Lieutenants had to stay in their camps that night.
Before they retired to their own tents, duty assignments were doled out for the evening. Lucas and Johnny once again found themselves sitting side by side as they stared silently into the fire. “How are you?” Johnny finally asked quietly as he continued watching the flames jump around in the cold wind that howled.
“I’ve been better,” Lucas answered quietly. His voice was reserved and held much emotion. Lucas lifted his head and looked around. “We made camp in this very spot before Gettysburg.”
Johnny lifted his head and looked around. “Are you sure?”
“Yes.” Lucas turned and pointed to a tree. “That tree has my mark on it. I sat under it that morning before we rode into Gettysburg and wrote Margaret a letter. Her initials are still there.”
“Oh.” Johnny sighed. “I killed men there myself, yet I don’t quite remember it.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.” Lucas stood up abruptly. “I just want to sleep.” Johnny watched Lucas leave.
First thing Wednesday morning, every soldier went down to the creek nearby and washed. For some, it had been weeks since they touched a bar of soap to parts of their skin. Yet by noon, every solder smelled like fresh soap and had put on their clean uniforms. Captain Benton ordered his men to get into formation by class. He walked before them, inspecting each soldier to make sure he was clean and neat.
Captain Benton yelled at a couple of the soldiers who had decided not to follow his strict orders and sent them back to camp. They would not be allowed to meet the President.
“Alright men, ready arms!” the Captain shouted. He walked among the men again to make sure each of them was in perfect formation and their rifles were at the perfect angle. He corrected a couple positions, then folded his arms behind his back and nodded. “Now men, we want the President to see us as a first-rate regiment! When you are in Gettysburg, I want you all on your best behavior! If even one of you gets out of line, I will see that you are severely punished!” Captain Benton got into the face of a Private who had a smirk on his face. “AND WIPE THAT OFF YOUR FACE RIGHT NOW!” The Private allowed a grim expression to appear and pressed his lips together. Captain Benton walked up to the front of the formation. “Alright, men! Forward March!”
The men marched proudly as they sang the one song they knew to bolster they were in the right.. The bugler and drummer played as the soldiers marched onward...
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.
I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps:
His day is marching on.
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
His day is marching on.
I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
"As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal;
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,
Since God is marching on."
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Since God is marching on.
He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat:
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Our God is marching on.
Lucas felt sweat come across his face as he held his head high. The memories tried to break through the armor his brothers had covered him in, but Lucas held strong and forced the memories back to their rightful place.
Lucas finally joined in as their unit crested a hill to see a sea of people standing, pointing, watching, listening….
In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
While God is marching on.
He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave,
He is Wisdom to the mighty, He is Succour to the brave,
So the world shall be His footstool, and the soul of Time His slave,
Our God is marching on.
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
Our God is marching on.
Captain Benton led the men to the place reserved for them. He felt the stares from the people in the crowd as they wondered how many of them had been on this very field to fight. He saw some men with missing limbs and bandaged heads. Some had distorted faces, faces once full of life and hope that had been forever changed by the causalities of war.
Some of those injured men glared as the soldiers took their places. Lucas felt more sweat break out on his forehead. His mouth was dry and his heart beat faster. How many of those men had he injured? How many…
No! He told himself he wouldn’t dwell on that. It only brought heartache. Lucas turned away, refusing to look upon those faces again. He licked his lips. “Halt!” Captain Benton shouted then. Lucas watched as the Captain himself walked to stand beside the First Lieutenant and stood at attention with his men.
Lucas was grateful that the place he had performed his last act of the battle was blocked from view by the platform reserved for the President. Because if he had seen that place, he wasn’t sure his armor would have stopped the sword from piercing his gut.
From the crowed, a tall man with a tall black hat stood up. Two men walked close beside him. Lucas’ heart began pumping hard. He wanted to shout out…to jump up and down with excitement like a little kid that President Abraham Lincoln was coming towards him, yet he knew he had to remain at attention like a good Lieutenant would. Lucas watched as the President came closer and closer. His mouth got dry and he began to shiver with excitement. “Gentlemen, at ease!” President Lincoln declared as a slow, easy smile crossed his face.
The mere sound of his voice made Lucas want to spring forward and give him a hand shake. “Captain, are these some of the men who fought at Gettysburg?”
“Yes sir, Mr. President.” Lucas smiled. He heard the pride in his Captain’s shaky voice. “Some of them are, sir. We lost many and have many new recruits.”
“I see.” President Lincoln came to stand in front of the Captain. He folded his hands behind his back and narrowed his eyes at the First Lieutenant. But he allowed his eyes to focus on Lucas. Lucas swallowed hard, completely nervous that Abraham Lincoln was standing in front of him. “Were you there, Lieutenant?”
Lucas could feel his heart beating through his chest. He was afraid the President could hear it too. Lucas closed his eyes for only a second to regain composure and control of his voice. “I was, sir,” Lucas answered. “I was only a Sergeant then.”
“I’m sure you were a brave soldier.” President Lincoln held out his hand. “Allow me to shake your hand, Lieutenant.”
Lucas slowly held out his hand. President Lincoln placed his hand in Lucas’. The handshake was firm and sincere. Lucas swallowed the lump in his throat and stared into the President’s eyes. Just as quickly as he had come to stand before Lucas, the President moved on down the line shaking various hands and asking them questions.
“You should have told him your name, stupid!” Johnny Drako whispered in his ear as the President walked away.
“Oh…” Lucas shook his head and smiled. “I didn’t even think about it.”
“Well now…this is a story to tell our children!” Johnny Drako declared as the President disappeared into the crowd.
Music played and a man delivered a two-hour sermon. Lucas listened with a little interest as his legs grew tired of standing. Then, as music played again, President Lincoln stood up. The soldiers walked forward as President Lincoln stepped up onto the platform. Lucas listened intently as the President said his speech. The words he spoke rang true to Lucas, and he would NEVER forget them…not EVER!
As President Lincoln started the speech, the soldiers took off their hats and lowered their heads as they remembered the horrid event that caused so much destruction. But as Lucas listened to the President’s words, he found himself smiling proudly. The President’s words sent chills up and down his body. As he listened, his eyes filled with tears and his heart swelled with pride that he…Lucas McCain, a poor farmer’s son from Enid, Oklahoma, was being honored with the rest of the soldiers by the President of the United States.
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
A hush remained over the crowd as President Lincoln’s voice slowly died away. His aids came forward and slowly helped him down from the platform. Lucas watched the black hat make its way through the crowd. A choir stepped forward and sung for several minutes. The remainder of the time was rather dull for Lucas. In Lucas’ mind, there was nothing that could top the speech President Abraham Lincoln had delivered.
Finally, those who were lucky enough to sit in chairs were asked to stand as the flag of the United States of America was brought in. Soldiers came forward as the crowd was asked to salute the flag. Lucas stood straight and put his hand to his forehead.  With a proud smile on his face, he spoke the words to the Pledge of Allegiance. A band came forward one last time and led the crowd in singing the National Anthem. Lucas couldn’t carry a note, but that day, he proudly sang those words out loud.
The President’s hat could be seen as men escorted him to the waiting carriage. Lucas, forgetting his duty as a Lieutenant, hurried forward and watched the carriage slowly ride away. He was mesmerized. “You think we’ll ever meet him again?” Johnny asked from beside Lucas.
“I don’t know.” Lucas swallowed hard. “But I’ll tell you one thing…I’ll never forget this day as long as I live!”
The carriage rode out of sight. Lucas felt a sinking in his heart as he remembered the events of the day. Captain Benton walked up to Lucas. “We should get back to camp, McCain. We have to travel back to Virginia tomorrow.”
Lucas nodded. “Yes sir.” Captain Benton turned to walk away, but Lucas stopped him. “Captain…Thank you for bringing us here it…it meant a lot to me. You’ll never know…” Lucas stopped, unable to go on.
Captain Benton nodded as he patted Lucas on the back. “I understand, Luke.” Then he walked away.
Lucas was in his tent a few nights later. As he lay on his cot, he looked upwards as he slowly puffed on a cigar in his mouth. Then slowly, he took out the picture that was quickly becoming well-worn in his pocket. He allowed his finger to once again trace the lips of the beautiful woman in the photo. Then with a nod of his head, he took out the paper he had hardly used since his return to the war. He dipped his pen in the ink well, then slowly wrote the words he so desperately wanted to say.
My Dearest Margaret,
I suppose I haven’t written too much since I returned, and I could lie and tell you I’ve just been busy. But the truth is…I just miss you so much that it hurts to even think about you these days. But rest assured that I love you and I think of you quite often.
Margaret, I’m sure you’ve heard me talk about President Lincoln. . A few days ago, I got to shake hands with President Abraham Lincoln. It was like something out of a story book. He made a powerful speech at Gettysburg, and our regiment was one that got to go to the dedication of the National Cemetery. Oh, you can’t imagine how good it felt to meet the President himself. Margaret, he’s so tall! But I think it’s more than physical tall. He holds himself up so straight. He has such confidence and a smile that you would adore.
But at the dedication, he walked right up to me and asked to shake my hand for fighting bravely at Gettysburg. Did you read that, Margaret? HE asked to shake MY HAND! I felt sort of like John the Baptist when he came face-to-face with Jesus and Jesus asked him to baptize him – except I’m sure that was much more powerful! But I could hardly even talk! I had thought of a thousand things to say to him once I met him, yet when he stood before me, all I could do was stare! My heart was beating so hard, I thought it was going to come right through my skin!
My only regret is that you weren’t there to witness the occasion. Margaret, I got to HEAR him speak the words at the dedication as he addressed us. I’m telling you, this speech was so powerful that I guarantee you it will be in the history books someday! Maybe our children will memorize it in school!
We’ve fought in a few small battles, but nothing really major. Yet, when there’s a loss of life, it’s always major in my book. The South’s power seems to be fading fast. I’m…hoping…that the war will be over before long. It can’t last that much longer.
Margaret, I can’t wait to hold you in my arms again…to kiss you and…tell you just how much I love you.
Not a dry eye was in the church that Sunday morning as the preacher read the President’s words from the pulpit. Abe put an arm around his wife and drew her close to him as they listened to the powerful speech. Jeremiah did the same with his wife as she held their sleeping daughter.
Behind the McCain’s, Margaret pressed her lips together as tears flowed down her cheeks. She had always admired the President. Now, she imagined he was talking to Lucas and the sacrifice he had made there. Margaret felt Amanda take her hand on one side, and Beth on the other. She smiled through her tears as a chill covered her entire body.
There was hardly a dry eye in the church. Nobody left there without feeling better about the efforts the soldiers were doing. As the family slowly walked out of the church, snow began falling again. Laura was quiet as they stood in the church yard. The McCain’s and Gibbs just stood huddled together reflecting on the speech. “Papa Abe?” Laura finally spoke.
Abe kneeled down in front of his charge and lifted his eyebrows. “That speech the President made…he’s proud of Luke.” Abe nodded. “Do ya think Luke got to listen to him? Do ya think Luke got to shake his hand?”
“I don’t know, Rosebud. Maybe.” Abe stood and picked Charlie up.
Margaret smiled as she watched the families make their way down the street for a celebration at the hotel. But at that moment, Margaret announced, she had something important to do. Margaret ran home as quickly as she could. She hurried to her room and opened her journal. After reading the words of the speech that were recorded in the newspaper that very morning, Margaret dipped her pen in the ink well, then wrote:
Today I heard a speech President Lincoln made to all gathered at the Gettysburg National Cemetery, and I cannot help but to be proud. Lucas fought at that battle, and though he experienced a terrible loss, I can’t help but to think that he returned to that very spot and stood proudly as he listened to the President’s words. I hold President Lincoln high in respect. There’s not many men who can speak as elegantly as he.
Oh, I pray this war is almost over so Lucas can return home. I’m thankful for such a wonderful President and the words he spoke. I pray that someday my children will learn these very words, and understand just what they meant to all who lived through the war.
I treasure all these things in my heart forever.
Margaret then transcribed the speech from the paper into her diary. It was such an important speech, and definitely one she wanted to remember forever. As she closed her diary, she closed her eyes and pictured Lucas standing there listening to the speech. She knew that if he were able to attend that grand event, he would soon write her and tell her all about it.
And Margaret wasn’t disappointed. Only a few days later, she received the letter he had written. Margaret sat in the parlor and read it. Then she grasped the letter against her chest and sighed. She treasured all these words in her heart and couldn’t wait to hear them again when Lucas McCain returned…to marry her.

The Years Before — Bible

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman

Here are some other great stories.  Enjoy!

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