Tag Archives: United States

Visiting Shiloh National Battlefield

Scattered throughout Shiloh National Cemetery are plaques with portions of the poem:  Bivouac of the Dead by Theodore O’Hara.  Here is the opening stanza:

The muffled drum’s sad roll has beat
The soldier’s last Tattoo;
No more on life’s parade shall meet
That brave and fallen few.
On Fame’s eternal camping ground
Their silent tents are spread,
And glory guards, with solemn round
The bivouac of the dead.

It is a most appropriate ode to not only the cemetery at Shiloh, but the entire battlefield.  I spent last weekend visiting Shiloh and going over the battlefield.  Over the next month I will be posting video clips from my visit there, but the first clip is at the cemetery:

The battle of Shiloh is the climactic scene of Duty, Honor, Country a Novel of West Point & the Civil War.  In fact, somewhere in the land that became the cemetery, on the first night of the battle, Ulysses S. Grant sat under an oak tree in the rain, contemplating whether to withdraw after horrendous losses that day, or fight on the next day.  Also, somewhere on that land, was a wood cabin where surgeons plied their bloody trade and a scene in that cabin changes the course of history.

At its conclusion, Shiloh produced more casualties in two days than all previous American Wars combined.  Walking over this hallowed ground was humbling.  I walked the entire length of the Sunken Road (which really isn’t sunken) that as the front edge of the Hornet’s Nest, where Union troops repelled eleven Confederate assaults.  Until 62 cannon were lined hub to hub, producing the greatest artillery barrage ever seen on the continent and the Union line was broken.

I walked around tiny Bloody Pond, just behind the sunken road, where casualties from both sides crawled, desperate for water on a hot April day.  I stood at the spot where General Albert Sidney Johnston was shot, still the highest ranking American officer ever to be killed in combat.

All of this is quite strange for a place called Shiloh, which means ‘place of peace’.

Nathan Bedford Forrest on the Mississippi

From Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War

“We agree for once,” Skull said.  “What we need—“ she paused as three men approached.  One was a big man, two inches over six feet, with broad shoulders.  He had a dark beard and, in the dim lights from the boat, his black eyes glittered with intelligence and danger.  He had a curved cavalry saber dangling from his waist, an incongruous image on the riverboat.  The second man was not quite as tall but also big, in the way of one who enjoyed his food, his belly bulging, his face swollen from drink.  The man between them was much smaller and looked like a river rat cornered and trapped.

“You must be Skull,” the tall man said, sticking out a powerful hand.

Skull took the handshake, feeling the squeeze and returning it as hard as she could with her callused hand.  “Forrest.”  She recognized the fat man.  “Father Declan.  It’s been a while.”

“Ah, now lass, I’m no longer with the church,” Declan said.  “I found my faith lagging and thought it best to move on with me life.  Whatever happened to the pretty young thing that was with you in Banquete?”

“Why you asking?”

“Ah, she was quite the blossoming flower—“ Declan began but Forrest waved a hand, cutting him off as he turned to the man between them.  He gripped the back of the man’s neck.  The man gasped as Forrest lifted him to his toes.

“Found out this piece of horseshit has been stealing from me,” Forrest said.  “Running a loose table in the gambling parlor and skimming the take.”

The man started to protest but Forrest silenced him by smacking him in the face with his other hand, drawing blood from a split lip.

“I’m a fair man,” Forrest said, his focus on St. George and Skull.  “But I’m not a man to be crossed.”  He tossed the thief to the deck.  “Fair means you get a chance to fight.  That’s the law of the river.”  He gestured at Declan.  “Give him your knife.”

Declan pulled a foot long knife from his belt and tossed it to the man.  Forrest reached to his own waist and drew the heavy cavalry saber.  It was unusual, sharpened on both sides, so he could slash in either direction with equal effect.

“That aint fair!” the man protested.

“It’s as fair as a thief gets,” Forrest said.  He raised the saber and the man scrambled to his feet, the knife held with trembling hand.

“Please, Mister Forrest, I swear on my mother I aint ever again going to—“ he didn’t get a chance to finish as Forrest swung the heavy saber.  The razor sharp edge caught the man in the neck and passed through skin, muscle and bone easily, separating head from body.

The momentum of the strike threw the head out into the darkness, to splash into the dark waters of the Mississippi.  The body fell to its knees, blood spurting from a still beating heart, then crumpled onto the deck.

“You think maybe his eyes still seeing?” Forrest mused as he wiped the saber off on the man’s coat.  “Maybe his head’s drowning while his body’s still bleeding?”  He stepped over the body and grabbed a crate.  He slid the saber back in its scabbard and took a seat.  Declan joined them.

“Mister Forrest, this here St. George Dyer,” Skull said.

Forrest shook St. George’s hand.  “Y’all know what the fools in charge got planned for the cotton?”

“Do now,” St. George replied.

Forrest grabbed the bottle without asking.  “So what do you have planned?” he asked Skull.

“New Orleans will soon be out,” Skull said.  “So we run cotton north and south overland through Mexico.”

Forrest seemed bemused.  “North?  To the Yankees?  We’re at war.”

Skull shrugged.  “There’s plenty who don’t care about the war except how they can make some money.”

“Like you,” Forrest said.

“Like me,” Skull agreed.

“You don’t support the cause?” Forrest asked, arcing one thick eyebrow in query.

“The cause will need money,” Skull said.

“True,” Forrest said.  “And guns and medicine and a lot of other gear those smart boys in the capitol haven’t thought about yet while they’re busy waving the flag and pounding each other on the back about how honorable they be.”

Colonel Grant’s Marching Orders to the 21st Illinois

From Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War

18 June 1861

Springfield, MO

21st Illinois Regiment

The undersigned, having been duly appointed Colonel of the 7th Congressional District Regt of Illinois Volunteers by order of Govr. Richard Yates, hereby assumes command.

In accepting this command, your Commander will require the cooperation of all the commissioned and non-commissioned Officers in instructing the command, and in maintaining discipline, and hopes to receive also the hearty support of every enlisted man.

Colonel Ulysses S. Grant, Commanding 21st Illinois

 12 July 1861

Quincy, MO

21st Illinois Regiment

The Colonel commanding this Regiment deems it his duty at this period in the march to return his thanks to the Officers and Men composing the command on their general Obedience and Military discipline.  Having for a period of years been accustomed to strict military duties and discipline he deems it not inappropriate at this time to make a most favorable comparison of this command with that of veteran troops in point of Soldierly bearing, general good order, and cheerful execution of commands.

Colonel Ulysses S. Grant, Commanding 21st Illinois

These two orders sum up Grant’s leadership style.



Abraham Lincoln in Command

From Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War

“General Delafield,” Lincoln said.  “It was good of you to hold the reins at the Academy after that fool Beauregard displayed his southern tendencies.”

“I am always glad to serve my country, sir,” Delafield said.

“Would that all military men felt the same way,” Lincoln murmured, more to himself than the others.

“Sir,” Delafield said, “if I might introduce—“

“Sergeant Major Rumble,” Lincoln said.  Surprisingly, Lincoln stood and leaned over the desk, extending his hand.  Rumble scrambled to his feet and met the President’s firm hand.

Lincoln held the grip for a second.  “I can always tell a lot about a man from his shake.”

Then the President sat back down, put his feet up on the desk while leaning so far back in his chair, that even Stanton started, expecting to see the President fall over backwards.  Their concern was for naught as Lincoln laced his fingers behind his head and began speaking, as if to the ceiling.

“I was in the military for a little while during the Black Hawk War,” Lincoln said.  “One of the proudest moments of my life was when the men in my company elected me captain.  Of course, they did not do so out of any sense that I had the genius of a Mars.  I could wrestle well, which they somehow seemed to believe lent itself to leadership.”

Lincoln was gazing at some spot on the ceiling.  Rumble was tempted to look up, but he kept his eyes on the President as he continued.

“One time we were on the march and we came upon a split rail fence.  There was a narrow gate in the fence, but I fear I could not remember the proper commands to go from the march formation to the appropriate movement to get us through the gate in a military manner.  So I simply called a halt, ordered the men to fall out for a few minutes and reform on the other side of the fence in formation.  It worked.”  Lincoln dropped his feet off the desk with a heavy thud and sat up straight.  “However, no one was firing at us at the time.  I suppose that would have made my maneuver disastrous.”

Lincoln sighed and for a moment he looked old, very old, the lines in his face falling into each other and the dark pockets under his eyes telling of restless nights.

“General McDowell will move on Richmond soon.  And many say that hopefully this war will be over soon.  Are you a hopeful man, Sergeant Major Rumble?”

“In this instance, I am not, sir,” Rumble replied.

“Really?  A rarity in this city.”  Lincoln looked past Stanton, out the window.  “They stopped building Washington’s monument in ’54 when the pockets of the people donating were empty.  Congress was going to appropriate the money to finish it, but then the states got to haggling.  Alabama wanted the monument to have stone from every state and once that can of worms was opened Washington’s tower was doomed to gather dust.” Lincoln fell silent for a moment.  “And then there’s the capitol dome.  Also incomplete.  I can finish one or the other, but not both, which seems to be the theme of this war.”

Sam Houston on the Civil War

From Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War

8 June 1861, Mississippi River

“He killed the Matlock brothers with a two shot derringer,” St. George said.

“So he’s a good shot and don’t waste bullets,” Sally Skull acknowledged.

The steamer fought against the Mississippi, paddle wheels churning muddy water.  To the right, the lights of Vicksburg glittered on a bluff overlooking a sharp bend in the mighty river.  Skull and St. George sat on crates up top of the boat, just behind the pilot house, left alone by the rest of the passengers out of tacit acceptance this was the boat owner’s private area.

“He more than that,” St. George said.  “He—“

“I know who Nathan Bedford Forrest is,” Skull cut him off.  “You think I was born yesterday?  He one of the biggest men on the river and worth over a million Yankee dollars.  I know he’s mean as a rattlesnake and cold as a blizzard.  I know he owns this boat we riding on.  I wouldn’t be here for this meeting if I didn’t know who I be meeting.”  She took a swig from the whiskey bottle on the shipping crate that served as a table between them.  “The thing you got to remember, St. George, is that he smart.  Wicked smart.  He started with nothing, now he one of the richest men on the river.  And he didn’t get it cause his pappy gave it to him.”

St. George bristled.  “What you saying?”

“Just what I’m saying,” Skull said, earning a confused furrow in the middle of St. George’s forehead.  She handed the bottle to the overseer.  “Listen.  This war that’s here now.  It aint gonna be short, it aint gonna be easy, and your people, they aint gonna win.”

“What do you mean my ‘people’?”

“The south” Skull said.  “I was down in San Anton when Texas voted to secede.  I—“

“Why was you there?” St. George interrupted.

“Always deals to be made,” Skull said.  “Especially to armies.  Some Confederate big-wigs went to the old Alamo and got the Federal commander to surrender the arsenal, hand over ten thousand rifled muskets.”

“That’s good,” St. George said, eyes always on the immediate.

“Let me finish,” Skull said.  “There was another Fed officer there, Robert Lee, a Virginian.  I heard of him from the Mex War and he the one that trapped old John Brown.  And I could tell he was surprised things was happening so fast.  Heard him talking to another officer, saying the secces was fools.  When they paroled him, he went back to Virginia, back to the Union.  Struck me as a sensible man.  And Sam Houston, the governor, let me tell you, he fought a lot of battles and he a smart man too and he was against seceding.”

“Why?” St. George asked.

In response, Skull reached into one of the many pockets on her dress and retrieved a folded newspaper article.  “Here what Ole Sam said and the damn fools still out-voted him to secede:  ‘Let me tell you what is coming.  After the sacrifice of countless millions of treasure and hundreds of thousands of lives you may win southern independence, but I doubt it.  The north is determined to preserve this union.  They are not a fiery impulsive people as you are for they live in colder climates.  But when they begin to move in a given direction, they move with the steady momentum and perseverance of a mighty avalanche and what I fear is that they will overwhelm the South with ignoble defeat.’

“’Ignoble’?”  St. George spit.  “I don’t know what that mean, but it sound bad and he damn wrong.  Any southerner worth ten Yankees.”

“Houston’s right,” Skull said.  “And that’s why I’m here.  Your tit at Palatine is going to run dry.”

“We can grow cotton forever,” St. George argued.

The steamer rounded the bend and Vicksburg was behind them.  The sound of revelry from whiskey, gambling and other dark arts echoed up from the main deck.

Ulysses S. Grant on Traitors & Patriots

From Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War

Galena, IL

April 21st 1861

To Jesse Root Grant from U.S. Grant

Dear Father,

We are now in the midst of trying times when every one must be for or against his country, and show his colors too, by his very act.  Having been educated for such an emergency, at the expense of the Government, I feel that it has upon me superior claims, such claims as no ordinary motives of self-interest can surmount.  I do not wish to act hastily or unadvisedly in the matter, and, as there are more than enough to respond to the first call of the President, I have not yet offered myself.  I have promised and am giving all the assistance I can in organizing the Company whose services have been accepted from this place.  I have promised further to go with them to the state Capital and if I can be of service to the Governor in organizing his state troops, to do so.

Whatever may have been my political opinions before, I have but one sentiment now.  That is we have a Government, and laws and a flag and they must all be sustained.  There are but two parties now, Traitor & Patriots and I want hereafter to be ranked with the latter and, I trust, the stronger party.

Write soon.

Yours Truly

U.S. Grant

The Battle of First Bull Run is Joined

From Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War

Rumble experienced a growing sense of dread as he re-read the orders McDowell had issued the previous night.  It didn’t seem to occur to General McDowell that General Beauregard, whom he faced across Bull Run Creek in Northern Virginia, had sat in the same tactics classes at West Point for four years, taught by the same instructors.

He was alone in the staff tent behind Wilmer McLean’s farmhouse, which McDowell had chosen as his headquarters.  It was five in the morning and according to these orders, some units were already in movement.  The sum of the orders comprised a complicated turning movement for the assault this morning.

While several divisions would attack the Confederate left flank for the turning movement, another element would block reinforcements coming from the Shenandoah Valley, while another element would be a diversion, and another element would protect the rear.

These were not orders for a volunteer army, roughly trained, entering combat for the first time.  These were orders that Napoleon’s Imperial Guard might have a chance to pull off.  And they were orders Napoleon himself might have given, considering that Napoleonic tactics had been the military bible preached at West Point.

In the flickering candlelight, Rumble put the orders down and examined the Henry repeating rifle.  Napoleon had not had such a weapon.  Napoleon had been moldering in a grave for over forty years.  In fact, during the Mexican War, the soldiers had not been armed with rifled muskets as they were now, yet the tactics had not grown with the weaponry.  Rumble consoled himself by figuring Beauregard was issuing a similar set of complicated orders on the other side of Bull Run.  And that Ben was heading west, to join a unit out there with Grant.

The flap on the tent twitched open and an excited young officer with a dispatch case over one shoulder rushed in.  A cascade of golden locks flowed over the newly commissioned officer’s shoulders.  He headed right for a pile of gear, but paused upon seeing Rumble.

“Master of the Horse,” George Armstrong Custer said.  “What brings you here?”

“Lieutenant Custer,” Rumble said.  “I’m on a special assignment.”  Lincoln’s letter was in Rumble’s breast pocket, right next to Lidia and Ben’s etching.

Custer didn’t seem too interested.  “I’m riding dispatches from General Scott to General McDowell.  Just delivered a batch.”  He pulled a stirrup out of the pile.  “Lost mine crossing a river.”

A sharp crack in the distance split the air.  Rumble had heard it before.  A cannon firing. It was followed by a volley from a battery.

“Was that—“ Custer began, but Rumble heard another familiar sound and dove for the dirt.  “Get down!”

A solid shell ripped through the farmhouse, passed through the tent’s canvas, and bounded onto the ground on the far side, its energy finally expended.  Rumble got to his feet, dusting off the dirt.

Custer also got up, a crazed grin on his face.  “Battle!”

The Routine of Beast Barracks at West Point: 1860

From Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War

Like cattle to the slaughter, the small herd of new cadets was escorted with many a scream and promise of a dire future to a tent on the edge of the encampment.  They were hustled into line, and sent in, one by one.

Ben was third.  The adjutant seemed bored with the ritual, seated behind a field desk in the tent and looking at a piece of paper.  Ben came to a halt three paces in front of the desk and waited.

“Name, new cadet?”

“Ben Agrippa Rumble.”

The adjutant responded automatically.  “That’s New Cadet Rumble, got it?”

“Yes, sir.”

The adjutant finally looked up.  “We all know you and we know about you, Mister Rumble.  Most of us have, shall we say, shared some libation with you at Benny Havens.  We all know your father.  But none of that matters now.  Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good.  Then.”  The adjutant got to his feet and began issuing orders.  “Come to attention when addressing an upperclassman.  Heels together.  Toes out.  Hands by your side, palms out fingers closed, little fingers on the seams of your trousers, head up, chin in, shoulders thrown back, chest out, belly in, eyes straight ahead.  Stay like that and don’t move.”

The instructions came like bullets, Ben contorting his body to comply.

The adjutant looked past Rumble as another upperclassman entered.  On cue the side flaps on the tent were loosened and dropped, darkening the interior.  The only light came from a single candle flickering on the field desk.  The adjutant left, leaving Rumble alone with the unidentified cadet behind him.

“We have a problem with you, Mister Rumble,” the newcomer said.  “You’ve seen most of us imbibing in your grandfather’s tavern.  Which means you’ve seen most of us violating quite a few regulations.  Once you sign in to the Corps, you will be bound by the honor code.  Do you see the problem?”

“No, sir.”

“Duty requires you tell the truth about what you’ve seen.  You will be bound to that.  If you do not tell the truth, then you are dishonorable.  However, if you tell the truth, then many a fine cadet might have their futures destroyed.  We can’t allow that to happen.”

“It won’t, sir.”

“We can’t take that chance.  I think the sooner you leave the Corps, the better,” the anonymous cadet said.  “You can’t stay.  You’re a threat to too many.  And if you don’t tell the truth, the Vigilance Committee will come for you.  I very strongly suggest you do not sign the roll, and go back down to your grandfather’s tavern.  We are gentlemen here.”

Ben said nothing, feeling a line of sweat course its way down his back in the now-stuffy tent.  The seconds passed.

“Think hard on it,” the upperclassman advised.

When Rumble still said nothing, the upperclassman came so close, Rumble could feel his breath on his neck.  “Don’t push this.  It’s more than just about the tavern and the honor code.  This is a place for gentlemen.  We don’t want your kind here.  The lack of honor is in your blood.”

Ben wheeled.  “And what kind is that?  What do you mean by lack of honor?”

“Watch you tongue!”

“Watch yours!” Ben stepped closer, chest thumping against the upperclassman’s.  “Are you a man?  Willing to face me?”

The upperclassman laughed, even as he backed up.  “You can fight as many of us as you want.  It won’t change a thing.  It won’t change your blood.”

Then with a rustle of canvas he was gone.

The adjutant returned and took his place behind the desk.

“Well, Mister Rumble?”

Ben’s jaw was tight, his muscles vibrating.  “Yes, sir.”

“Do you wish to say something?”

“No, sir.”

The adjutant sighed and pointed at a piece of paper.  “Sign here, indicating you are on the active roster of cadets.”

Ben went to the table, quickly signed, and resumed the position.

“You will go to the quartermasters and be measured for uniform, the barber, the surgeon for exam, the armory to draw a weapon, and you will do all this within the next hour and report back here.”  The adjutant made a great show of checking his pocket watch and making a notation in the log.  “Is that clear?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You will do all this at the double.  Is that clear?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You know the four answers you are allowed, don’t you New Cadet Rumble?”

“Yes, sir, no, sir, no excuse, sir and sir, I do not understand.”

“Use the last one sparingly. Go!”

Ben ran from the tent, almost crashing into an upperclass cadet who halted him and berated him for his unmilitary appearance for almost ten minutes, eating into his hour allotment and clearly trying to provoke him into action he would not be able to take back.  With every fiber of his being, Ben bore the insults and hazing.

The days passed in a blur for Ben.  Within a week he learned how to march, carry his musket and some basic maneuvers.  It seemed as if the drum rattled out the marching cadence all day long at the encampment.  The days were long with reveille at 5:00 am.  Then there was roll call to account for everyone.  Then ‘policing’ the tent city, removing anything that wasn’t supposed to there, and it seemed as if the upperclass went out of their way to place disgusting objects in the strangest places for the plebes to find.  And woe unto them if they did not find the objects.  Then drill from 5:30-6:30.  Then arrange their bedding, raise the walls of their tents so it was open to the air, and inspection, and prepare for morning parade.  They marched to the mess hall for breakfast.  Ben had eaten in the mess before so he was prepared for the terrible repast that awaited.

Right after breakfast, which was wolfed down as there was never enough time allowed to properly eat, the guard was mounted.  Then artillery drill from 9:00 to 10:00.  Then back to the tents to clean and polish gear, a never-ending task.  No matter how shiny a cadet made his brass, an upperclassman could always find fault with it.  The march to lunch at 1:00.  Then dancing from 3:00 to 4:00, because every cadet would be an officer and an officer was a gentleman, and a gentleman knew how to dance.  Then another police call.  Then Infantry drill from 5:30 to 6:45 followed by evening parade and inspection.  Then dinner.  Followed by final roll call at 9:30 and lights out at 9:45.

Besides making soldiers, the strict regime forged a class of men that grew tight and developed bonds that would last a lifetime.  Cooperate and graduate was a maxim beat into each plebe from the first day at the Academy, but, strangely, Ben felt his classmates separating from him as each day passed, rather than bonding, no matter how hard he tried to be one of them.

Civil War Comes To West Point

From Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War

“Cadets!” Master of the Horse Rumble snapped as he took the familiar spot on the floor of the riding hall.  “Assemble, in-line, one rank.”

The cadets of the class of 1862 scrambled out of the stands and fell in to the left and right of Rumble.

When all were in place, Rumble issued his second order. “Cadet George Armstrong Custer, front and center.”

With a self-confident grin, Custer stepped out of the ranks and double-timed to a spot just in front of Rumble. Custer was just shy of six feet, broad shouldered and athletic.  He had blue eyes and golden hair that lay on his head in a tumble of curling locks.  The word circulating in Benny Havens was that Custer was quite the lady’s man off-post.  The word circulating in the Academy was that Custer was not quite the academic man, the Immortal in every section, overall ranking last in his class and lingering very close to being boarded out.  In some ways, Custer reminded Rumble of Cord, but there was a dark edge to Custer that disturbed Rumble.

“Double-time to the stables, Mister Custer, and bridle your horse.” Rumble made a show of looking at his pocket watch.  “You have three minutes.”

Custer dashed off.

“Cadets, at ease,” Rumble ordered.

An instant buzz of excited conversation filled the riding hall. War was in the air.  And not just war, but Civil War.  Many southern cadets had already left the Academy, the first as early as the previous November, when a South Carolinian had departed, in anticipation of his state’s secession.  He was followed by all the rest of the cadets from South Carolina, three Mississippians and two Alabamians.

The divide touched the highest ranks of the Academy as the Superintendent appointed back in January, G. T. Beauregard, had lasted only five days before being relieved for his southern sympathies after advising a southern cadet who sought consul on whether to resign: “Watch me; and when I jump, you jump.  What’s the use of jumping too soon?”  With his departure, old Delafield resumed the post for several months before a permanent replacement was appointed.  Delafield was still on post, awaiting his next assignment.

The overwhelming feeling in the press was that most of the Academy was pro-slavery. But that was only to those outside of the gray walls.  Rumble knew the cadets better than they knew themselves and it was more the fact that the southerners who remained were the loudest and most outspoken, airing their opinions freely and to anyone who would listen.  The northern cadets had some sympathy for the plight of their southern brethren, but that sympathy had not been put to the test.  There was a sullenness and brooding among the Northerners that few could interpret.

Behind Rumble, seated in the corner of the stands, writing in a leather journal, was Ben, now a young man of twenty. He’d grown with a spurt when he was sixteen, and was now two inches shy of six feet, but as slender as Grant had been as a cadet and Rumble feared his son would never fill out.  Ben had his mother’s face, soft, freckled and open.  His most distinguishing feature was his bright red hair.  He could be recognized all the way across the Plain from that alone.

This was his first trip back to West Point since Rumble had maneuvered his son’s dismissal from the Corps and his entry into college in Maine. The few days had not been enough to thaw the chill between the two and Rumble had little idea where his son’s feelings lay or what his thoughts were.  But he had kept his promise to Lidia and saved his son from four years of hell and that was enough for now.

Custer came galloping back into the riding hall with a flourish.  He urged the large horse toward the far end of the hall. Despite it’s size, the horse was no York, at least a hand smaller than the long-deceased legend of the riding hall,

“Cadets,” Rumble cried out.  “Attention!”

The line snapped to.  Rumble called out the names of two cadets to take the center position. He noticed out of the corner of his eye that Delafield, his hair whiter than ever, had entered the hall.

“Gentlemen, hold in place, wings forward to observe,” Rumble commanded.

Using the two cadets as anchor, the lines on either side moved forward until all could see the two men in the center.

Custer reached the far end of the hall and waited.

Rumble turned to the line of cadets and raked his gaze left and right.  He remembered Matamoros and the Mexican line, the steel glinting in the sunlight.  He shivered and focused, once more grateful Ben did not wear the cadet gray.  “Mister Custer, you may—“

A plebe came running into the riding hall, uniform collar unbuttoned, face flush with excitement.  “It’s war!  Fort Sumter has been fired upon!”

Discipline vanished as the remaining southern cadets broke into cheers.

12 April: Confederates fire on Fort Sumter WAR!

From Duty, Honor, Country, a Novel of West Point & the Civil War

King was taken aback by his first glimpse of the general whom President Jeff Davis had sent to take command of the South Carolina forces.  Another West Pointer, ‘Little Napoleon’, as King had heard him called in whispers, was newly arrived.  Previous to that, he’d been forced out of the position as Superintendent of West Point when Louisiana seceded.  The rumor circulating the city was that Beauregard had had the audacity to file a mileage reimbursement to the United States government for travel from West Point back to his home in New Orleans, before being ordered by Davis to South Carolina.

It had not been paid.

Beauregard did not look like Robert E. Lee, that was for certain. His skin was olive and smooth.  His eyes had a droopy, sleepy appearance, as if he were either preparing to arise before dawn or retire after a late evening.  His hair was an un-natural black, and if King had been better schooled in the ways of narcissism, he might have realized that Beauregard dyed his hair to match his goatee and thick mustache.  Even here, on the eve of battle there were several ladies of Charleston in attendance on his every word and gesture.

“General?” Chesnut called out.

“Yes, Colonel?” Beauregard turned, uncrossing his arms and placing his left hand on the hilt of his sheathed saber as he slipped his right inside his dress coat, where a button was conveniently unfastened.  King saw the circle of newspapermen writing down every movement the general made and every word he uttered as if it were coming down from the mountain.

“Major Anderson gave me a list of conditions for surrender,” Chesnut said.

“’Conditions’?” Beauregard shook his head. “The major is being unreasonable.  He is in no position to give conditions.”

King stepped forward. “Sir, Major Anderson is delaying.  I believe the Yankee navy is preparing a sortie.  This very night.  My reconnaissance cutter spotted a Federal ship making way to the fort.”

Beauregard frowned.  “Captain . . .?”

“King, sir.  The Yankees are preparing to relieve the fort. They drew off when my cutter discovered them, but I fear they will come again in force this very night.  We must act swiftly.”

Beauregard twisted one end of his mustache. “There is much zeal and energy here, but little professional expertise and knowledge in the art of war.  It is not such an easy matter to take a fortified position.”

Memories of Captain McKenzie and the debacle on the Somers whispered like shadows in King’s brain. “General, we can take Sumter now, easily, or face a pitched battle once the United States Navy moves in.  I taught at the Naval Academy at Annapolis.  With all due respect, sir, while you are certainly a master of land warfare, I know battle on the sea.”

Beauregard looked out at the southern belles, the reporters, the militia, and puffed out his chest to make an announcement. “Negotiations have failed.  I must take action.  I will give Major Anderson notification via the mouth of a cannon.”

Exuberant, wild cheers rose from the crowd. Women threw their arms around the nearest man.  Militia and cadets hurried to prepare their cannon.

King didn’t note the few people who stood forlorn, some with tears in their eyes as the implications struck them differently, including his mother, in the shadow of the house overlooking the Battery that used to be her home. Without realizing it, King took up a vantage point underneath the tree from which his father had hung himself.

4:30 am.  Dawn was not far off.

A single mortar shell from Fort Johnson arced overhead and exploded directly above Fort Sumter. There was an eerie pause, as if the ocean was waiting for what came next.

Forty-three cannon and batteries of mortars from Fort Moultrie, Fort Johnson, the Battery, and Cummings Point let loose in a barrage worthy of the start of a war.

As the first shells smashed into the brick walls of Fort Sumter, the faint sound of cheering floated across the water from the surrounding land as an undertone to the sharper crack of cannon firing.

King stood underneath the magnificent oak tree and watched the opening of the inevitable war.