By Sarah Elizabeth Lash
Dedicated to youth everywhere that strive to live a life above reproach
Jordan was a typical youth – bright, idealistic, and thoughtful. He lived decades before you – well, in reality, I guess he only lives in the mind of the author. It’s a little odd to think of it that way, you know. But I am sure you will agree that he is a real, living person just like you and me by the time you finish the book. He just lives within these pages, and in the minds of their readers.
But imagine with me – imagine that he lived in the days of Robert E. Lee and President Lincoln. Of black and white photographs and flint-lock muskets, of southern belles and Virginia plantations. We imagine that he lived in a day and age where the Bible sat on every hearth, and the pews were full every Sunday. We imagine that he lived in a day when the view he held at the beginning of this story was not as common as it is today.
Dear reader, you live in a day when the existence of God is questioned and downright denied every day. Your very own school likely teaches you theories that speak directly against the Word of God. Many, many today feel exactly like Jordan did then. They feel God has not been fair, so therefore He doesn’t exist. They look at the evil that’s just as present now as it was then and question why and how. Will you be the one to share with them the good news? Will you be an Ernest and a Charlton for the Jordans of your world? ~Sarah E. Lash
The Call of War
Long strides carried Jordan Henry Richardson, a stalwart youth in his early twenties, across a cornfield in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley. Raven black hair crowned a face that bore rugged, mountainous features and the bronzed suntan of a late 1800’s farmer. His sky blue eyes hinted at a maturity beyond his years, or perhaps even a deep and hidden sorrow. Broad shoulders spoke of years of labor in the fields of the land that he called home.
Jordan strode into the apple orchard and leaned against an ancient, knarled tree with a long sigh. His eyes rested on the beautiful scene before him—Virginia farmland robed in the beauty of vibrant spring. Rolling hills rose to touch the crystal blue sky above them. Birds flitted above his head, warbling with the very joy of life. A beetle crawled lazily over a nearby stone. Beautiful pink blossoms crowned the tree above him in a heavenly canopy.
But Jordan saw none of this. He stared bleakly at his surroundings, and his broad shoulders drooped heavily. He could think of nothing—nothing except the news he had heard in town just that morning.
Wearily, he ran his fingers through his hair. Maybe—just maybe there was a mistake. Surely the draft hadn’t come here—not here to the peaceful Shenandoah Valley. Not now—in the spring of 1862. War was a long ways off, right? General Jackson didn’t need him to fight for Virginia, right?
He shook his head. Mother just could not make it without him. There was no possible way. Since Father’s death eight years before, the farm had been his. The fields, the livestock, the orchard—all rested on his twenty-three year old shoulders.
Besides, the Valley—the beautiful Shenandoah Valley—had always been his home. His eyes feasted on the beauties of the fields before him. Virginia had etched herself deeply on his heart. He wanted to live here—he wanted to die here. How could he leave to fight? He sighed again. His state, his beloved homeland, was at war.
Until now, war had been a whisper in the wind, little more than a rumor that had no effect on the youth’s everyday life. Yes, war existed—but for someone else. Yes, war existed, but not here—not in the Shenandoah. Now the war was a reality—a harsh, brutal reality that jarred his very being and shook the foundations of his life.
Why was war raging between the states? Was it, as some had said, because of state’s rights? Was it because the North had no right to force the southern states to stay within the Union? Why did he, Jordan Henry Richardson, have to risk his life? What was at stake for him? War was ripping the very moorings from his soul.
War was just one of the stains on Jordan’s world. Slavery – slavery was another.
Jordan sat down in the shade of the protecting apple tree and buried his head in his work-worn hands. His mind traveled back to days gone by—and brought him to the days when he was a young boy.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“Eight hundred! Who will give me eight-fifty?” The auctioneer’s voice boomed across the square in New Orleans. Eight-year-old Jordan looked up. On a block in the center of the square was a short, wiry man with a voice that hardly matched his tiny frame. He held a young African boy’s arm up to demonstrate his muscle. “Good help for harvesting your crops, folks. This one’s just waiting to pick your cotton or corn. Who’ll give me eight-fifty?” A man in a suit held up two fingers. “Right there, eight-fifty. Who’ll give me nine?” The auction continued.
Jordan’s lips parted in surprise. “Father!” He tugged at his father’s sleeve urgently. “Father! Why is that man selling people?”
Father looked up for a brief moment from the goods he was examining. “Why son, that’s just the slave auction. Some folks have need of good help in the fields or the house. Never did have use for it myself, but some do, son.”
“But, Father…” Jordan watched as the African boy was led away in chains. He looked at his father, but to Father, the subject was closed.
But the subject was far from closed for young Jordan. As he grew, his hatred for the evils of slavery only increased.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Jordan slowly came back to the present. He turned his gaze to the pasture, where his beloved stallion grazed peacefully. The beautiful gray Saddlebred had been a gift from his father, just months before the hunting accident that snatched his father’s life so suddenly. As a fifteen-year-old, he had named the horse Justice—to remind himself of the lack of justice—not only in New Orleans, or on the blood-stained and pain-scarred battlefield, but also in the beautiful land he called his home.
The world was so evil. So much destruction and suffering. So much pain and sorrow.
Now he was being called to fight—bloodshed, death, destruction. More evil, more pain. The man in town that morning had told Jordan he’d be fighting for Virginia – a noble cause. “Young man,” he had said to Jordan, shaking a bony finger at him, “Fight for your nation. Them Billy Yanks are on their way to take over our Virginia, and you, son, have got to stop ‘em.”
But was it worth the death and destruction? Jordan didn’t know. And he probably wasn’t going to figure it out, not entirely anyway. The world was too messed up for him to figure its problems out. Resolutely, he stood and made his way back to the farmhouse.
“Mother,” Jordan called, letting the door slam behind him. He walked into the kitchen, where his mother was cooking supper. “Oh, Mother, cornbread and chicken! You know how to fill hungry stomachs, don’t you?” Jordan wrapped his arms around his mother’s slender shoulders.
Walking over to the table, he pulled a chair out and sat down. “I talked to Marvin Lewis in town this morning,” he began.
“Yes?” Lucille Richardson’s strong southern accent penetrated the stillness of the kitchen. Her blue eyes and black hair matched that of her tall son. “What did he have to say today?”
Jordan took a deep breath. “Mother, he said General Jackson’s army is coming through the Shenandoah to draft all young men between the ages of eighteen and forty.”
Lucille’s eyes opened wide. “Jordan! No! That means….”
“Yes, Mother, that means me.” Jordan stood and walked to stand by his mother. “I’ll likely be drafted into Jackson’s army—soon. Sooner than I’d like to think. Marvin said they’ve already got his Jesse.”
Lucille buried her head in her oldest son’s shoulder. “Jordan, but Jake can’t care for the farm alone. And you know about Johnny…”
“Yes, Mother.” Johnny, stricken with the fearsome disease polio, suffered quietly day after day. He and his twin, Jake, were fifteen years old, seven years Jordan’s junior. “I know, and it tears me up to leave you. But….”
“I know, son. Maybe it will only be for a short time. We will pray—like we’ve never prayed before. The Lord can spare you. Oh, Jordan—the cruelty of war!”
Later, in the solace of his room, Jordan stared unseeingly out his window, thinking over what his mother had said. For though Lucille was a devout Christian, her son had yet to share her faith. Why would a good God have allowed his father to die when they needed him the most? Why would God have allowed his brother to contract polio? And why would God allow slavery? Jordan didn’t understand. Life was too hard. Life was too complicated. If God existed, He should fix the mess everything was in. No, Mother can’t be right. God can’t exist in such a horrible, evil world. Jordan shook his head bitterly.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Ta-da! Ta-da! The sharp blast of the bugle sent Jordan bolting upright on his cot. He shook his head in the cool early morning stillness. He’d never get used to waking up to such a dreadfully piercing din. Sure, it was only his second day in with Jackson’s troops…but he was a farm boy.
“Almost time for drills,” he grunted almost unintelligibly to no one in particular.
Apparently his tent mate, a husky boy a couple years Jordan’s junior, heard, for he rolled out of his cot. “Jest fell ‘sleep, Jord’n,” he growled good-naturedly. “Who’s a’blowin da bugle?” His Texas drawl contrasted sharply with his Virginia surroundings, and his white teeth flashed in the semi darkness.
Jordan threw a withering look in his companion’s direction as he buttoned his wrinkled uniform. “Best get outta bed before the sergeant comes a’lookin for you. I reckon he won’t be terribly pleased to find you like you are now.”
“Sergeant’s gonna fin’ me right where I s’poseda be, right when I s’poseda be there,” Ernest laughed heartily.
Jordan raised his eyebrows and turned away. Even in the two days they had been together, Ernest – as the boy was called – just rubbed Jordan the wrong way. He guessed it was the whole Texas way. Especially that accent. If it could indeed be called an accent. The boy barely looked old enough to be in the army, though he was twenty-one years old. Oh, and his eternally cheery, upbeat self. Jordan wondered what had landed Ernest so far from home. He shrugged. He’d find out sometime. Now it was time for drills.
Ernest showed up almost late, as usual. Wearing that wide-brimmed hat of his. Probably spent too much time reading that little black book too, whatever it was. Almost looked like Mother’s Bible. In fact, it looked exactly like Mother’s Bible.
Ratta-tat-tat! The drummer boy began the rhythm, and the boys of the Army of Northern Virginia fell into step. Drills had begun for another day.
“So sore!” Jordan stretched wearily, late that night. He ran his fingers through his tousled hair and looked at Ernest. Ernest sat cross-legged on his cot, reading. “Whatcha reading?”
Ernest’s teeth flashed. “This the Bible my Mamma gave me ‘fore I left home in Texas. Tryin’ to read it through for the – oh, I think seventh time. In the book of Micah.” He flipped the page.
“Humph,” Jordan grunted. At’s what I thought. Another one of those. “Whateva. Why’d you leave Texas?”
“Cause my uncle, he needed help here on the farm in Virginia.” Ernest shrugged. “Came here ‘bout five years ago. Then got myself drafted. Neva really thought it’d happen, but it did.”
Ernest got up and set his Bible on his folded uniform. “One thing I really miss ‘bout Texas, ya know…is the services we had. Real tiny church house…my daddy was the pastor.”
Even better. We’ve got ourselves a preacher’s son. Let’s hope he don’t start preaching! “Whateva,” Jordan said again. “I miss Mother’s cookin’.”
“Oh, that too,” Ernest said. “My auntie, she’s a real good cook, but…Mamma’s was best.”
“Humph.” Jordan wanted this subject closed before Ernest asked any questions that he didn’t care to answer. For though Lucille had gone to church faithfully, Jordan did not. The few times he had been in the church house, his cynical look told even a casual onlooker that he was not at home. He had gone as a boy, sure – but once he became of age – well, he was finished.
“Got any siblings?” Jordan asked.
“Yep! Two lil brothers, and a big sister. She sings like ya wouldn’t believe. In church ya could always hear her voice ‘bove everybody else.”
Again! What gets this boy off his eternal talking about church? Guess I just need to go to bed. “Whateva. I’m a’goin to bed.”
“Go right on ahead. I’m fixin’ da do the same.” Ernest flashed another smile.
Jordan blew his candle out and stretched out on his cot. It’s just impossible. There’s too much evil. How could there possibly be a good God when all I see is evil? The world is a disaster. I’m fighting my own countrymen. Father died far too young, from an accident that shouldn’t have happened. People are sold and bought like goods. Johnny has polio. Jake can’t care for the farm, so Mother has to work in the fields. No! It’s not fair, and never, ever will be. How could God be good and at the same time allow so much evil? Ernest is just straight up wrong. Mother – well, Mother is doing the best she can. That’s the way she was raised.
Deep down, Jordan knew both Mother and Ernest possessed a confidence and a joy that he had never known. He wanted it – he really did – but…
Boys in Blue
“So what’s the news?” Charlton, a cavalryman in the army of the Potomac, took another bite of salt pork and washed it down with a gulp of water from his canteen. He looked up at Jack, who sat across from him. “Where we headed?”
“Dunno, Charlie,” Jack drawled back. “General Sheridan’s prolly got somethin’ up his sleeve.”
Charlton straightened his blue jacket and dusted the crumbs from his lap. “Ha, the general’s quite the character.”
“Sure is! With ya on that one. Wish he wouldn’t have such a temper.” Jack shook his head. He jerked his head up. “Did ya hear that the Rebels are already draftin’?”
“Yep. I think they’re drafting through Virginia. You know, I may have a cousin in Lee’s army sooner or later.” Charlton bit off a chunk of hardtack.
“Huh? How so?” Jack looked puzzled. “Didn’t ya say yer whole crew lived in Pennsylvania?”
“Nope. Got a cousin in the Shenandoah. He’s got a coupla brothers, too.”
“Really. Ain’t that somethin’. Got family on both sides of the war, eh?”
“Yep. Name’s Jordan. Don’t really keep up with him much anymore. Last I heard, he was just taking care of his dad’s farm, ‘cause his dad died sometime ago. He’s three years older than me…oh, I’m 20, so that makes him 23. I lived with them for a short time…you know, after my parents died, but before I went to live with my uncle. If the draft went through the Shenandoah, he’s already in the army.”
“Really? So y’all prolly pretty close, eh?”
Charlton swallowed. “Yep. We were.”
Jack raised his eyebrows and lowered his voice confidentially. “So whatcha gonna do if you find yourself at the end of his rifle barrel – or the otha way round?”
“I don’t know, Jack. I sure don’t know.”
Later, Charlton lay on his cot, gazing at the starry sky through the hole in his tent roof. The worst thing about Jordan fighting in the war was that, unless something had changed since they last talked, Jordan was not ready to die. Charlton knew about Jordan’s bitter attitude towards life in general, especially since his father’s death. He knew how that had turned his cousin against God.
Charlton rolled over on his cot, and his mind drifted back over the years.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“No, Charlie. I won’t go. I don’t care what you think. I won’t!” Jordan looked defiantly at his young cousin, who stood almost as tall as he. “I’m eighteen. I don’t have to, no matter what you or anyone else says. I’m finished and done with the stuff!”
“But Jordan…it’s gonna kill Mamma Lucille. You can’t! Plus…Jordan…don’t you wanna go to church with us?” Charlton wiped sweat from his brow, though the evening was cool.
Jordan forked hay through the hay hole at a furious rate. “No, Charlie, no. I can’t and I won’t. Mamma may as well get used to it now as ever. And no, I don’t want to go. I’m tired of hearing about a God that can’t exist. Look at what happened to me. Father died. Johnny has polio. Why, why, would a good God take all the people I love and snatch their lives or cripple them? No. Just no.”
“Jordan, you should talk to the pastor. He could help—“
Jordan whirled around, his eyes flashing. “Charlie! I will not speak to him. I refuse. He’s just gonna tell me that God has better plans, whatever that means. He says the same thing every single time. I don’t know what it means, and probably never will. So, no, I won’t talk to him either. And I’m fixing to be done talking to you too, if you don’t quit real soon.”
Charlton bit his lip. He had seen suffering himself. Plenty of it. Orphaned at the age of seven, he had lived with several different relatives, some of whom treated him well, and some of whom did not. Mature for his fifteen years, he had learned to rely on God for strength, sometimes by the moment, as he watched his parents die, traveled from home to home, and worked for sometimes very unreasonable relatives. He had seen just as much suffering as Jordan—or more—but it had drawn him closer to God rather than away from Him. A tear rolled down Charlton’s cheek, and he quickly brushed it away. How can Jordan do this to us? How can he turn his back on God?
The two youths finished in silence. One was embittered and defiant—and the other saddened and wounded.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Charlton slowly came back to the present. Before that day in the hayloft, Jordan had been more than a cousin to Charlton. He had been a friend—he had been a brother. But that day opened a wound deep in the weavings of that friendship—a wound that remained to this day—a deep, painful wound that tainted the bond the two had once possessed.
Charlton was no longer a child—he was every inch a man. The suffering that he had experienced as a young boy had only drawn him closer to God, and deepened his maturity and reliance on Him. As he grew, the longing to be fully reconciled to his cousin—and to see his cousin come to faith in the God he served—grew from a hesitant flicker to a vibrant flame.
Charlton rolled out of his cot and lit a candle. He couldn’t sleep. He slipped into his coat and stole quietly out of the tent, careful not to wake his tent mate. Like a shadow, he strode silently to the spot where his mare stood peacefully asleep under the moonlit sky. His love for horses had forged a bond between him and his chestnut Arabian, Annie, that little could dissolve. Her peaceful breathing calmed his tumultuous soul.
Annie awoke and nuzzled her young master with her velvety nose. “Annie, you remember Jordan, right, girl? You know. That tall, dark-headed fellow. The one that we used to ride with into town.” Charlton whispered into the darkness, stroking Annie’s mane. Annie only could answer with a soft whinny, nearly inaudible in the stillness of the night, but it helped to calm the turmoil in the young man’s heart.
Annie was Charlton’s most prized possession. As a nine year old boy, he had found her in a deserted field. She was a young filly at the time, weak and exhausted, ready to die. Apparently some traders had left her there to fend for herself. Charlton had half-carried, half-drug her home, and, with the tenderest care, nursed her back to beautiful health. He had made his case well to his uncle, whom he lived with at the time, and Uncle Abram had allowed Charlton to fix a stall in the barn for her. Each time Charlton had moved, he had taken the horse with him, and each time, he had been allowed to keep her. Annie was more than a horse to Charlton—she was his only real family.
Charlton sighed deeply. He had better make his way back to the tent before the guard on duty suspected he was trying to desert. With a last loving pat on his mare’s neck, he turned to make his way back through the darkness to his own tent.
In the flickering candlelight, Charlton dug through the knapsack that contained his special possessions. A smile spread across his face as he pulled out an old, dog eared book. He flipped it open—his journal he had kept as a young boy and teenager. He vaguely remembered something he had written years before.
In barely decipherable script, he had written:
June 15th, 1858. Jordan left us today. As in, he left trying to be a Christian. Mamma Lucille cried much. He’s very insistent upon doing this. But he said something that made me think he might come back someday. He kinda half mumbled something about it not satisfying him. I think he said, “Doesn’t feel as right as I thought it would.” I don’t know. Maybe I misheard.
“I wonder if he still feels the same way,” Charlton whispered to himself. “Or maybe the years have dulled his conscience. I sure hope not.”
“Clara!” Twenty-year-old Sara Elisabeth Alcott called. “Clara May Hunter! Wherever have you been hiding?” She crossed her arms and pasted an expression of mock severity on her face, trying to keep from laughing as she looked at her young second cousin. “We’ve a lot to do in the store here before we have to close, you know,” she went on more mildly. “Your father wanted me to get all of the coffee out of the storeroom.” Coffee was scarce by this time in the war, and Sara had just gotten a precious shipment.
A slender girl with a mischievous grin stood in the door. Her blonde hair hung in long braids past her waist, and her blue eyes sparkled with the joy of youth. “Yes, Miss Alcott,” she drawled playfully. “As you say. At your service.” She curtseyed.
“Oh, please. Will you ever grow up, child? You’re fourteen whole years old now, you know. When are you going to stop all this playing around?” Sara still struggled to keep the smile off her face. She pushed a strand of dark hair out of her eyes. “Grab the broom over there. I’ve seen you make quick work of the floor. Let’s see it happen again, please.”
Clara snatched the broom from the wall and sent the dust flying industriously. Sara breathed a sigh of relief and went back to bagging coffee. The store owner’s young daughter could try her patience at times. Clara was to assist Sara in the store, but often was more trouble than help. Only a little longer, and I’ll be headed home for the night. I’m sure Mother needs help getting the milking done.
The doorbell jingled merrily as it announced the arrival of a customer. Sara looked up expectantly. Young Jake Richardson.
Jake was as lanky as his older brother was broad. He stood a whopping six-foot two, even at sixteen years old, but had yet to fill out. Dusty work pants with a ragged tear at the knee coupled with a linen shirt that had obviously seen better days indicated that Jake had spent the day laboring in the fields. A mop of blond hair that rather resembled a messy haystack sat merrily atop his lean face, adding to the look of a scarecrow.
Jake cleared his throat. “Miz Alcott, need some of yer flour. Think Mamma said five pounds.”
“Sure, Jake. No problem. How’s the family?” Sara smiled up at the sixteen-year-old who towered over her slender five foot, one inch frame.
“Well….you heard ‘bout Jordan, right?” Jake raised an eyebrow.
Sara drew in a sharp breath. “No…what happened?” Her hands froze in midair as she awaited the young boy’s answer.
“Got drafted. Jackson came and got ‘im.” Jake looked down at Sara’s troubled eyes. “A’int nothing we can do ‘bout it.”
For a moment, deathly silence reigned in the country store. Jake watched Sara quizzically.
Finally Sara found her voice. “Are-are you sure?” she stammered, feeling half foolish for asking such a question. “But-how…”
Jake lifted an eyebrow and snorted. “Course I’m sure. Why else would I be taking care of the farm myself an’ havin’ to hire neighbors out? Jordan’s gone. Off with Jackson’s army someplace far away. Why? That make you ‘pset or somethin’?”
“Oh – no – well – I guess not.” Mechanically, Sara finished her young customer’s order, counted the change, and bid him a hurried goodbye. It was only after he left that she realized she had given him two quarters instead of two dimes.
Sara’s hands trembled as she bagged the last of the coffee. Oh, no. Not Jordan. He can’t go into the army….he just can’t! Why, he was just at the store last week! Does Jake even know what he’s talking about? Life is so cruel!
Sara stared out the window, deep in thought. She had reasons, known only to herself, of why she was indeed upset over Jordan’s draft. She had always secretly admired Jordan for taking over after his father’s death. He had provided for his mother and brothers for years, while other young men lived carefree lives. And, she, too, knew the pain of losing a father, as her father had died three years prior. As the youngest child of fourteen, she had cared for her father in his old age, and now was caring for her mother. She felt a certain kinship with Jordan—though he was a mere acquaintance.
But – there was one major problem with Jordan.
Sara, she told herself firmly, he’s not even a Christian. Don’t think about him. Pray for his salvation, and that’s it. Okay? She was half ashamed for even being so concerned about him. She sighed deeply. Maybe someday…maybe someday, if he survives the war, he will come back to the church…but until then, Sara, you’re not to be thinking like that. Sara finished bagging the coffee with another sigh.
Regardless, try as she would, she could not get the tall, dark-haired Jordan out of her thoughts. But darker days were coming for the Shenandoah Valley that would silence her dreams for a while.
-------A year later, in 1864-------
The candlelight flickered eerily on the tent walls, casting dancing shadows around the table. A chill wind howled menacingly around the thin canvas, sending a draft through the tent. Jordan shivered. His fingers toyed with the pen in his hand, but his mind was far away. Jackson’s army had taken him far, far from the land he called home. The tragedy, the suffering, and the death that he had witnessed in the last year was unbelievable. He shook his head. His blue eyes, cold and scarred by the horror of war, turned slowly and looked around the tent. Ernest, the young man from Texas, was painfully absent. The lad took a gunshot wound to the right arm at the Battle of Lookout Mountain…and bore terrible suffering, which culminated in the amputation of his arm. Jordan ran his hand across his sweaty brow. He could still see the agony on his tent mate’s face as he lay on that cold army cot, a bandaged stump hanging painfully where his arm had once been.
Over the ten months that they were together, Ernest had tried numerous times to break through Jordan’s tough shell. He had asked about his church, family, and childhood. Jordan had only answered with a coarse, mocking laugh, until Ernest decided to change the topic. But, unknown to Ernest, Jordan had watched his life carefully. He had noticed that Ernest, even when faced with the terrible horrors of war, was confident, secure, and yes—even joyful. It bothered Jordan that Ernest possessed a peace—a quiet dignified peace—something Jordan had never known.
Now Jordan sat at the rickety table, the letter that he intended to write home forgotten. His clammy fingers ran slowly through his hair.
How could it be possible? But it has to be. It just has to be. Ernest is…there has to be something to that. Ernest was torn from his family, thrown into the horrors of battle, and yet—and yet he’s happy! Happy! I’ve never been happy!
But it can’t be. How could all the suffering, the pain, the turmoil—how could God allow it? How could it be possible? No! No! He slammed his fist onto the letter, spilling the ink from its canister.
Jordan slid the pen violently across the table, and shoved his chair back. It clattered noisily backward, and he kicked it soundly, splintering the leg into shards. He paced back and forth for what seemed like an eternity, clenching his fists again and again. How, how can it be possible? Could Ernest be right—about the existence of—of God?
Because if Ernest was right…then he—Jordan—was not ready to die. And in the thick of a violent, bloody battle—
That was a terrible—horrific—place to be.
Exhausted, Jordan dropped to his knees beside his cot. He knelt there for several minutes, his head buried in his hands. Finally he looked up at the ceiling, tears streaming down his face.
“God!” he choked. He fell silent, the sweat running down his forehead and mingling with his tears. “Oh, God—if You will help my unbelief—I believe!!”
In the Mouth of the Lion
“You know where we’re headed?” Jordan never missed a beat in the rhythmic marching of the division. He turned his head slightly to glance at his fellow soldier.
Jacob spit. “Nah. Orange Turnpike’s up ahead. Think we’re headed thataway. Other than that, sure dunno, Jord’n.”
The two fell silent, watching the boots of the man in front of them follow the steady beat of the drummer boy. Just another day of marching—or so they thought.
“Halt!” The command came sharply, and the boys of Northern Virginia came to a quick stop. Jordan craned his neck to see around the tall man in front of him. “What is…..?”
“Jacob! Look!” Jordan pointed.
Jacob strained his eyes. “Whatcha see, young’n? Us old folks can’t see as well as you.”
“Jacob, it’s Yankee troops! See the smoke? It’s—it’s Grant’s army!”
“Double-quick!” The command came again.
Ratt-att-att-tat-tat-tat!! The drummer boy beat the double time.
As the Army of Northern Virginia approached Orange Turnpike, shots rang out. The boys in blue were ready. Losing no time, the Confederate troops fell to their knees, took aim, and fired round after round.
The once-peaceful pasture quickly became a field of blood. Jordan reloaded again and again. He lost sight of Jacob—was that him, lying several yards away? The smoke was blinding.
Using a fallen comrade as a partial shield, Jordan fired round after round in rapid succession. He lay on his stomach with his elbows propped under him, keeping as low as he could to avoid the bullets buzzing over his head. The lines weren’t moving. It had been nearly an hour, and no ground had been won or lost.
Like a bolt of lightning, a biting pain ripped through Jordan’s chest and sliced unmercifully into his back. His musket jolted involuntarily from his hands, and he rolled onto his back, clutching his right shoulder. Blinding pain engulfed him, and red stars danced before his eyes.
Biting his lip, he looked down at his chest. His torn jacket revealed a gunshot wound, just below his right shoulder. Blood poured from his chest and soaked the ground below him. Dazed, his head sank back into the grass.
For several moments, he lay in dazed confusion on the blood-soaked battlefield. The pain was blinding—just when he thought it couldn’t get any worse—it did.
Then it hit him—this was it. His life was ebbing onto the grass beneath him in a crimson flow. He was—was—dying.
His mother’s face flashed before him, and he flinched involuntarily. Mother, dear mother. I will never get to tell her…until I see her on the other side. She’ll never know her years of prayers were answered. She’ll eventually get the news of my death—and she’ll be heartbroken.
Johnny and Jake. If only I had the chance to be a godly example. I’ve wasted so many years. I wish I could tell them…I’ll see them again.
And…the girl he admired. He had barely admitted even to himself that he thought highly of her. Sara Alcott. She was so…so graceful and beautiful, but….but she would never like someone like me. She knew me when I was a scoffer. I’d never be able to fix that. I don’t think she ever paid any attention to me. And I’m dying now. I won’t see her again until I see her in heaven.
“Lord—“ Jordan stopped to gasp for breath. He grit his teeth in the intensity of the pain racking his body. “Lord—if it’s not against Your will—I’d love to have another chance to live a life of service.”
He gasped again and went on. “But—I think—I’m athinking this is it. So I’m athanking You for callin’ me to Yourself just in time.”
Jordan shifted, and raw pain shot through his chest. So this is what it feels like to die. He had a quiet peace. Thank God He saved my soul…just two days before He called me home. Jordan felt delirious. It won’t be long now! I’ll see my Maker’s face!
Opening his eyes slightly, the battlefield around him was a haze. He couldn’t tell if there were other soldiers still there or not. He felt like he was floating…and then—
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“Sara! Sara!” Clara flew through the door of the shop and dashed through the store. “Sara! Where are you?!” A jar of preserves clattered noisily to the floor and broke into a million shards, scattered across the wooden floor. Clara paid no heed. “Saraaaaaaa!!!!!!”
Sara came out of the storeroom with a frown on her face. “Clara May. Look at what you did. You’d best clean it up now, before some customer comes in and cuts themselves. We can’t be waste—“
“Sara! I don’t care what is broken! It’s about all to be broken anyhow!” Clara’s eyes were bursting with news that was aching to be told. “A rider just came and said that Sherman’s army is on its way! His men are stealing everything they can take. Grant’s orders were to pick the Shenandoah Valley dry! Sara, we are in some major, major trouble!!”
Sara’s face blanched as Clara panted out her story. “But – they’re taking everything? Are you sure, Clara? Positive?”
“Absolutely positive, Sara! They are on their way now. Right now! Like, three hours. Men on horses. Taking. Stealing.” Clara wrung her hands. “Oh, Sara, whatever will we do?”
Sara struggled to think straight. “Where is your father? We need to hide -”
As Sara spoke the words, the tall frame of Edmond Hunter, Sara’s cousin and Clara’s father, darkened the door. “Right here. Sara, come with me.” Calm as always, Edmond motioned out the door, turned, and began striding quickly to the horse stables.
Sara followed nervously. Why were they going to the old horse stables? Edmond did not even keep any horses there. We’re wasting precious time! Three hours!
Swinging the door open wide, Edmond turned to the left and walked to the end of the row of stables. Dropping to his knees, he scraped away a layer of hay and dust from the floor.
“Whatever –“ Sara wondered if her lanky storekeeper cousin had lost his mind.
Quickly, Edmond pulled a knife from his pocket and marked a large square in the floor. Gently, quickly, urgently, he pried up floorboard after floorboard.
Flinging the final board back with a triumphant grin, he revealed an opening, large enough to fit a person, in the floor.
“What? How – how did you do that?” Sara stared down into the opening. As her eyes adjusted, she could see a narrow staircase leading down into the cavernous depths.
Edmond chuckled, apparently enjoying the look of utter confusion on her face. “Go ahead. Go down there.”
“No way! You go down first.” Sara stood back. She trusted her cousin, but definitely not the dark depths of that hole.
“Sure.” Edmond carefully lit a lantern he had brought, and lowered himself into the darkness. Sara held her breath and followed.
At the bottom of the staircase, Sara’s feet touched the dirt floor. She blinked. The lantern threw dancing shadows about a room that was nearly twenty feet square. Sacks of grain, potatoes, corn, and even some salt surrounded her. Ammunition and two hunting rifles stood in one corner. Another corner was claimed by a giant roll of cloth.
“A hiding place!” Sara breathed, wide-eyed.
“Exactly. I discovered this underground room several years ago. When the war began, I started hiding goods in here, for such a time as this.” Edmond smiled in the semi darkness.
“We can – we can hide lots of things in here!” Sara was dumfounded with the possibilities. “We can – “
“Precisely. Let’s go do it. Time is getting away from us.” Edmond leapt up the stairs two at a time, with Sara on his heels.
Back at the store, Rachel, Edmond’s wife, was hurriedly stuffing bags, boxes, and anything semi-valuable into large burlap sacks. Clara and her younger sister were stowing away the precious supply of dried beans, peas, and other vegetables. Edmond stopped and looked at Sara. “You get the coffee. I need to take the horse up the mountain.”
“Up the mountain? Why – “
“No time, Sara, no time,” Edmond interrupted. “They take horses, too, you know. And I’ve only got one.”
Sara’s eyes widened. They’re taking literally everything. It’s a nightmare. She shoved the precious store of coffee into her sack. Then she stopped in her tracks. Mother! The cows!
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Back at her mother’s cottage, Sara dashed through the doorway, nearly running into her aged mother. “Mother, mother,” she panted breathlessly. “We can’t—they’re coming—right now!”
“Child, whatever are you talking about?” Sue Ellen Allcott’s southern accent held a note of surprise. “Whatever is the—“
“Mother, now. The Yankee army. Right now, Mother. They’re coming—we have to get the cows.” Sara’s breath still came in short gasps.
“A Yankee raid? Child, are you sure?”
“Mother, yes. Of course I’m sure. No time to lose now.” Sara snatched the horse’s halter off the hook near the door. “I’m saddling up Chestnut. I’ll herd the cows out to Uncle Dick’s far pasture. Clear out by the woods at the foot of the mountains. They shouldn’t find them there. Go to Edmond’s store and wait for me.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Charlton’s head sank into his hands as the sergeant gave the orders. No….NO! I wanted to avoid a raid. How can I take starving families’ food, even if they are the enemy? Maybe I heard wrong…no, the sergeant just read that Jack and I are to raid the first farm on the right, with the store. Charlton’s division had just gotten word that they were to “pick the Shenandoah Valley dry”.
How am I supposed to raid a storehouse? And not even pay for the damage? And for all I know…it could be Jordan’s relatives! Or maybe Mamma Lucille herself. It could be someone I know…
Charlton reached into his pocket and fingered the bills he had left from his paycheck. Perhaps…
Clip, clop, clip. Charlton and Jack kept a steady clip through the Shenandoah. “First farm on the right, eh?” Jack leaned over the side of his horse and spit. “We get to raid a store!” He laughed coarsely.
Charlton bit his lip. “I’ll let you have the fun, if there’s any to have. I sure won’t be having any.”
“Whatcha mean, Charlie? They’re Johnny Rebs! Deserve every inch of what they getting.”
Charlton ignored him—he wouldn’t understand anyway. The store was coming into view. They turned the last bend and rode in the lane. Dismounting quickly, Charlton took a deep breath and strode in the walk.
“Open up! General Sheridan’s Calvary! Open up!” Charlton pounded on the door.
Suddenly the door swung open. The tall frame of Edmond Hunter filled the door.
“Why hello, gentlemen. What brings you here?”
Jack licked his lips authoritatively and squinted menacingly through his thick glasses at Edmond. “We’re here to let you know that we’re taking all the supplies from your store that we need. Just consider it your duty to your country. You can step outta the way and let us in.”
Charlton bit his lip. Jack could be ridiculously unfeeling. The storekeeper was not going to let them in just like that.
But to Charlton’s surprise, Edmond stepped aside. “Absolutely, gentlemen. Please. Make yourselves at home.”
Charlton stepped in and blinked. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, they grew wide with shock. The shelves were entirely empty!
“As you can see, gentlemen, there’s really nothing to take. It’s actually already been taken.”
Jack huffed. “There’s already been a raid?”
Edmond smiled. “It’s already been taken, as I said.”
“I don’t believe that there’s already been a raid.” He nodded to Charlton. “Search!”
Pounding on walls, opening cupboards, and combing through the attic, the only thing that the two calvarymen found was a jar of stale crackers and a few sacks of wheat.
Muttering under his breath, Jack slashed the countertop one last time with his saber. Every inch of his short, stocky frame trembled with rage. “I know ya got it hidin’ someplace, Reb. Might not have found it this time, but tell you what—“ he leaned in just inches from Edmond’s nose—“we’ll catch ya next time. And you’ll regret it—yes sir!” With a wink and a tip of his crumpled hat, Jack motioned to one sack, and swung the other two up on his shoulders.
Charlton looked miserably at the sack. Quickly he swung it to his back and looked back into the eyes of Edmond Hunter with eyes full of apology. Edmond smiled back. His eyes said what his lips could not.
Swinging open the door, Jack nearly ran into a woman and her son. Charlton looked up.
The woman’s lips parted in surprise. “Cha—Charlie!”
Charlton gasped. The woman had aged—the boy had grown—but there was no mistake—
“Mamma Lucille! And—and Jake!”
The Long Road
He groaned and opened his eyes a slit. What was the matter? Why was he so sore? His back ached miserably, and his head felt like it would explode. He tried lifting his hand to wipe his brow, but he couldn’t even do that. He shifted miserably, and pain like a knife pierced his shoulder unmercifully.
Dazedly, he looked around. Beds, all over the place. His confused mind couldn’t compute. Where am I? He tried vainly to remember the last few days. Everything seemed to swim together. His brain just couldn’t make sense of it all. He groaned again.
A commotion to his right faded into his consciousness. He could vaguely hear a woman’s excited whisper coming closer. Presently a black face leaned over him. “Johnny? Can you hear me?” Her clipped Northern accent took him by surprise.
He opened his mouth, but the thickness of his own tongue surprised even himself. He spoke slowly, barely over a rasping whisper.
“Name’s not Johnny, ma’am. Jordan—Jordan Richardson.”
The woman nodded knowingly at her companion, who had just arrived. “Oh, we knew that wasn’t your name, son.” She chuckled. “You’ve been out for a coupla days. Didn’t think you were gonna make it when you got here. But, you know, that bullet just missed the upper tip of your lung. Went clean out the other side. So you was okay, yes you were.” The woman expertly dressed a smaller wound in Jordan’s upper arm while she spoke. “Apparently something hit you pretty good in the head as well. Not sure what. Maybe,” she chuckled softly “—maybe the end of a Federal musket.”
“You remember getting shot, young man?” The nurse wrapped up the old bandages and collected her tools. Jordan nodded faintly. “Some of these, all they remember is a bang—then they wake up here.”
The nurse went on. “So we didn’t have to dig anything out, really. Just a matter of if you was going to be able to pull through or not. But looks like it, yes sir!”
Jordan was still miserably confused. He felt like he was dreaming. This whole situation was so odd. He assumed he was in a hospital of some sort. But why was there a black nurse? And the northern accent? And……most of all….he looked down at his shirt and gasped.
He cleared his throat weakly. “Ma’am… Ma’am? Can I ask you a question?”
“Yes, sir?” The nurse stopped and looked back.
Jordan looked at his arm, and back up at the nurse. “Is there a reason…that I’m in a…a…Yankee uniform?”
The nurse smiled secretively, and leaned closer. The tiny federal flag stitched onto her starched white dress caught his eye. “There sure is, son. You in a Yankee army hospital!”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Jordan awoke the next day to the light streaming in the patched and torn window above his bed. Slowly he lifted his arm and scratched the stubble accumulating on his chin. Shaving had escaped him since that fateful day on the battlefield. He took a deep breath and smiled. He felt like he was on the mend. He had been in this strange place for quite some time.
Which reminded him. He still hadn’t gotten out of Mary Lou, his mystery nurse, the way he had gotten here. And how she was keeping him, a rebel soldier, here in a Federal hospital. And why she insisted upon him using the name “Johnny”. She constantly was correcting him, especially when there were other nurses or doctors around. His name was Johnny. He shook his head.
It was all so strange. She was very elusive, usually coming to care for him when he was asleep. And whatever she had done with his gray uniform and wherever she had gotten this Yankee one was beyond him.
Jordan looked around himself sleepily. The men were beginning to stir in the beds across the walkway. Lazily he picked at a callous on his finger as he watched his fellow patients. A young man, perhaps in his late teens, picked his way carefully across the hospital. Jordan watched him quizzically.
The man stood out starkly from the men around him, as he was missing the standard uniform of the Union Army. Rather, he wore a black coat that came roughly down to his knees. The high collar hid most of the starched white shirt under the coat. He was holding something small in his hand, but Jordan couldn’t make it out just yet. Perhaps if he came closer…
As the young man made his way across the tent, Jordan sucked in his breath quickly. He’s got to be a chaplain. That’s the only thing he could possibly be. That must be the Union chaplain uniform.
The young man smiled at Jordan as he passed his bed. “Good morning,” he greeted.
Jordan cleared his throat. “Are you-are you a chaplain?”
“Yes, sir, I am,” the young man responded.
Jordan looked the youth over quickly. There’s no way he’s more than twenty-one! He’s the youngest chaplain I have ever seen! “You with the Union army, I suppose?” As the words left Jordan’s mouth, he wished them back. Now he’s going to wonder why you asked that!
“Well, of course.” The man took a seat near Jordan’s bed. “A chaplain with Sherman’s army. And you?”
“I’m—um, I’m—ah—infantry.” Please, please, please!! Don’t ask what commander. Just please. I can’t lie…especially not to a chaplain!!
Apparently the chaplain was satisfied. He nodded his head and leaned back. “The fighting has been fairly intense lately. The President says that the war is nearly over. Especially after the Emancipation Proclamation.” His words were carefully chosen, his voice refined, with just a hint of a New York accent. He was distinctly Irish—short, well-built, blond-haired and blue eyed. He fingered the Bible in his hands thoughtfully. This man, or boy, was obviously very educated, intelligent, and mature.
The young man sighed. “I sincerely hope the President’s right. All this bloodshed…”
“Yes, sir.” Jordan was hoping that the man would just go away, or quit asking questions he couldn’t answer. But—he was terribly curious about one thing.
Jordan ran his hands through his hair. “Hope you don’t mind my asking—but how old are you?”
The young man chuckled. “Younger than you might think. I’m actually nineteen.”
Jordan’s eyes popped. “Nineteen? An ordained minister?”
“Yes, sir. I graduated seminary at eighteen.” His blue eyes held a faraway look.
“Name’s Patrick, by the way. Patrick Elliot.” Patrick turned and looked at Jordan. “And your name—“ he smiled slightly, almost secretively, and leaned closer—“I hear your name is Jordan Richardson. Am I right?”
Jordan drew in a sharp breath. “I—er—yeah. I—I guess so.”
“Not sure what your name is, there?” Patrick looked amused, trying to hide a grin.
Apparently this boy knew more about him than he thought. Jordan took a deep breath and made a plunge. “Whateva. Yeah. Name’s Jordan. I assume you also know that I am actually not with the Federal Army. I am a Confederate soldier, Army of Northern Virginia. I sure dunno know how I got here, but I’d sure be obliged if somebody would be so kind as to let me know.” Jordan was breathing hard now. “I thought I was adyin’ on the field, and next thing I know, I’m awakin’ up in this hospital.” Jordan stopped abruptly. He looked miserably at his hands, as if he were waiting for the death sentence.
Patrick nodded and smiled again. “I’ll let you know how you got here.” He toyed with his worn Bible cover and then looked up. His blue eyes seemed to hold an elusive secret as they met Jordan’s.
“I brought you here.”
TO BE CONTINUED………………………………
This story is historical fiction--however, it contains many real life characters. There are also several characters patterned after real individuals--Ernest is patterned after James Lash, my great grandfather; Patrick Elliot after a good friend of mine; and Clara after my younger sister. Jordan is a charcter of my imagination--however, he represents the lives of countless thousands of youths.