Title: To Live and Die for Dixie
Genre: Historical Fiction– Drama
Setting: The Civil War, 1861-1865: Richmond, Virginia; Charleston, South Carolina; and Vicksburg, Mississippi
Plot: As civil war engulfs the United States, sixteen-year-old Christian Baxter finds himself torn between his mother, a proud Southern aristocrat, and his father, a Yankee mill owner, and between family and his burgeoning love for his brother's fiancée, all as the Union army comes charging to destroy everything he once knew.
Author's Note 1: This novel is divided into five "books" which are not separated novels, but just inner-book divisions of this same novel. Each book will have a certain date range, as well as a general location. Book 1 will take place in Richmond, Book 2 in Charleston, Book 3 in Richmond, Book 4 in Vicksburg, and Book 5 again in Richmond. Each of the five books will be told from the first-person perspective of Christian Huntington Baxter, except for a few received letters, written by other characters.
Author's Note 2: All current chapters will be greatly revised. As of 2/3/05, Book I, Chapter 1-11 have been redone extensively, with the remainder of chapters to follow.
To Live and Die for Dixie
Book One: June 1861 to September 1861
Chapter One: "Huntington Green"
It is seldom that I buy things, but when I saw this journal at the bookstore in Richmond, I knew I had to have it, even if it cost three greenbacks. It turned out to be an ill-fated purchase; for two years, it sat unopened on my bookshelf, wedged between my dusty old copies of the Bible and Madame Bovary, which I had brought up from Grandfather's library downstairs. It was two days ago that I decided to reread Madame Bovary, to improve my French, when I stumbled upon this brown leather-bound book again–for the next two days, I had this horrible feeling of stinginess, that I had spent three greenbacks on something I had not once used. So starting today, I will justify my purchase, and will record everything incident that happens here–every incident that is worth telling.It is only now that I realize how seldom anything exciting occurs at our plantation. That's not to say, of course, that I don't love my home wholeheartedly, because I do; I would die defending it, if the need arose. But–at times–there isn't a more boring place in the world. I had always wondered what it would be like if I had been raised in a city, like Richmond, New Orleans, or Charleston; I would have constant entertainment, no doubt, and I would have been raised with air of elegance that only city dwellers tend to possess. Though I suppose this is contradictory once more, I don't mean to insinuate that we aren't cultured here at Huntington Green, because my family is perhaps the most elegant family in the entire sovereign Commonwealth of Virginia; I only mean to say that we lack that certain city elegance, that smoothness, that urban ease and demeanor. My maternal uncle Nicholas–that's Nicholas Huntington, the famous senator and statesman from Mississippi–lives in Vicksburg when the Confederate Congress is not in session, and Richmond when it is, and he tells me that he yearns for country life again; he says that everything is simpler at Huntington Green. That may be true, but I don't want simplicity–I want complications. I like complications. What is life if we don't have complications?
Finally, something to stop my infantile prattle; my mother has entered the room.
Mother never makes a quiet entrance; she is known all over the South for her poise, her beauty, her radiance, her hospitable disposition, and, of course, her fierce independence, her mischievousness, and her scathing tongue. But she was never known for her inconspicuousness; she would announce her entrance with an army of trumpeters, if it would be acceptable to do so. She always stayed within the limits of societal manners, though; she would never announce that she had entered but would make herself noticed through subtle means.
She was what any self-respecting planter in the South would recognize as a true Huntington–she was, perhaps, the quintessential Huntington. The Huntington family, which was one of the few to survive Jamestown in the seventeenth century, was a family of moderate prestige in England; they were lesser nobility–is the common understanding, but still were titled; the eldest Huntington male held the title Lord of Winslow. It was the penniless second son of Lord James Earl Huntington III, named Aston Earl Huntington who, back during those horrible Laws of Primogeniture, came with his spoiled young wife, Gaines, and their ten-year-old son, Blake, to seek fortune in the upstart Virginia colony. Like everyone in Jamestown, he sought gold and found little, but unlike the rest, contended to make his family survive through the winter. While thousands died over the years, including poor Gaines Huntington, Aston and Blake survived many cold, disastrous winters under Smith, Rolfe, and De La Warr. Blake was fortunate enough to possess his father's independent and rebellious nature; Blake became, as he grew older, a rather colorful man who detested Cromwell's Puritanism, probably not because of conflict with Blake's own lukewarm support of Anglicanism, but rather because he loved to drink, womanize, and celebrate, affairs all looked down upon by Cromwell. Blake did everything imaginable; he petitioned the House of Burgesses to send a letter condemning Cromwell to London, attempting, unsuccessfully, to brand Virginia as a monarchial Stuart-supporting entity. While the local townsfolk, as well as the English Protectorate, viewed him as an immoral, senseless drunkard, which I suppose he might have been, his antics were enough to enter into the newly restored King Charles II Stuart's favor, and the king loyally gifted Blake a large grant of land in central Virginia, just a few miles west of present-day Richmond. Blake devotedly named his plantation Huntington Green, after the Huntington family's estate in England. Blake would never see the cultivation of his fields or the completion of the Big House, as our manor is so lovingly called; he would die just months later, leaving his wife, Emma, with three nearly-grown children. It was their son, James Earl Huntington IV, who took over the house and plantation, and with his strong business acumen, established the Huntingtons as the first family of Virginia and, later, one of the first families of the South; we even had a representative at the Constitutional Convention, even if he had been strongly against the rewriting of the Articles of Confederation.
Every Huntington man, as well as my mother, since the time of old Blake, have become known as stubborn, independent, brash, outspoken, rebellious, quick tongued, and proud, but are known also as refined, sincere, hardworking, hospitable, fervently loyal, affectionate, and trusting; it is known all over the South that if you have a Huntingtons confidence and fondness, you have it for life. Huntingtons are also known for our striking good looks; we have fair hair, which falls down in ringlets, though mine is cut short as to avoid them, and as thick and smooth as the mane of a foal. They all have the same ashen skin, a warm, alluring smile, and eyes of iridescent blue, as bright as the Virginian sky on a summer day. Father always said, about Mother, that one could get lost in the eyes of a Huntington. I'm half Huntington, and I sure as hell look like a Huntington, but I don't always feel like one; I'm a loyal, trustworthy gentleman, I suppose, but I never have felt quite as brash or outspoken as Mother, Uncle Nicholas, and Grandfather are.
"Christian," Mother sang, gliding into the room; my mother never walked, never sauntered, never strode, but rather glided; she thought it was entirely more elegant. "Christian Huntington Baxter, put down that journal of yours, and look here."
I closed this journal slowly, and glanced up at her; she was standing in front of the bay window, looking out at rolling green lawn and, beyond that, the slaves working in our cotton fields. She did that often; I would always wonder what she thought she would find out there on the flat horizon in the distance.
"Is there anything interesting out there?" I asked. There didn't seem to be; all I could see, from where I sat, was the soundless fields of snowy cotton, melting from view into the faraway horizon.
She wheeled around, giving me a bit of a sly half-smile lighting up her dazzling face. "No, no. I was just watching them tend the cotton fields."
"The slaves," she answered.
"Why would you be watching them?" I asked her, rising from the armchair where I had comfortably been writing. "They can't possibly be doing anything interesting."
"Just working with the cotton gin," she answered. "That is a rather creative device, isn't it? I suppose we can thank Mr. Whitney for our fiscal success."
"I don't suppose I'd like tending the fields all day, in the hot sun."
"No, I shouldn't think you would. No person would."
We continued to stare for another minute, not saying a word to each other, just watching the Negroes toil; one of them, a tall, lanky older one, probably in his fifties, was in the foreground, working the cotton right at the edge of our pristine lawn. He was wearing rags and a straw sun hat, and was pulling the cotton gin through the cotton plant rather lazily, like Mother brushed her hair in the evening for dinner, very slowly, very carefully, very lazily, placidly humming to himself. He had a pleasurably twisted half-grin on his face, and he almost seemed to be swaying, dancing to the beat of his song, as he plucked more and more cotton from the plants, and gracefully placed it in his basket.
Torvald is one of our slave drivers; he is a short, squat man, who emigrated from Norway back in 1856, with two major goals; to earn enough money to buy his own plot of land in eastern Virginia, and to buy transatlantic passage for his wife and children, whom he financially supported from afar, to join him in America; they were still living with his wife's parents in Kristiania. He is, as of now, still unsuccessful in either of his quests, which is rather regrettable. Torvald is quite a rather atypical Norwegian; he is full of knowledge, despite his utter lack of a formal education, and is unnaturally serious; I don't think I've ever seen a smile remotely come onto his face. But, of course, if I had his job, I don't suppose I'd smile either; he is one of the men employed by us to patrol, on the back of his silver-gray colt, through the cotton fields, checking to make sure all of the slaves were working. And if they weren't, he carried a long leather whip to remind them why it is in their best interests to continue bolstering our family's wealth. He would carry out his job with a listless, indifferent grimace on his face, never meeting the eyes of the slave he was beating. His job is a part of gruesome reality, but as much as it disgusted us, it is necessary to continue our plantation. Machiavelli stated, after all, that it is better to be feared than loved; if we were loved, they would remember us with quite fond memories, as they took their families and fled to the disgracefully anti-slavery Northern states, but if they fear us, they will have that thought lingering in their small heads as they pick the cotton, knowing they could never get too far away from the mighty Huntington grasp.
When we saw his colt in the distance, and we saw the slow-moving old slave, humming and picking, unaware of the impending doom, both Mother and I took a quick step back. We knew that the slave's gruesome reality had to take place, and we both knew perfectly well that he should be disciplined for his languor, but neither of us wanted to bear witness to his unpleasant reprimand. Mother, quite calmly, reached for the curtains, and wrenched them shut, plunging the entire parlor into innocent darkness.
Before she could even gather a candle, the door swung open, and we were doused with fresh light from the corridor. I could once again see the soft yellow wallpaper that covered the walls, patterned with little baskets of flowers, the elegant French sofa, where I had been sitting, and the Oriental rug that carpeted the shiny chestnut parquet.
My father stood in the doorway, a frown on his young tan face. He was never quite as miserable as he was then–he really is never much of anything. He is simply there to take up space; if God granted each married couple a certain amount of emotion and expression, Mother got the lion's share, and Father received nothing. He was listless, he was as limp as a piece of fabric, but we all loved him; beneath his lethargic persona, there was a man that genuinely cared about his family. He is deeply religious, my father is; he had a room in our manor converted into a chapel for his daily prayers, and insisted that we all, at least once during the day, pay our respects to God. I did, always–my mother did not ever. It hurts Father, I think, that Mother doesn't share his passion for religion; Mother made it quite clear that she cared primarily about this life, and little about the next one. "If I am going to Hell, I'm going anyway," Mother once had said, "so I'll make the most of the good times while they last." Father was never amused by this behavior, as well as Mother's constant breaking of the Holy Day and refusal to attend services except on Christmas and Easter. His greatest fear is one of losing what he refers to as "God's presence." It would shatter him if I told him that Mother was leaning towards atheism herself, a fact she had confided in me several years ago–so we kept it a secret from him, for his own sake. I should put, as a side note, that Father was the one who gave me the name Christian, perhaps as a way to spark a Great Awakening inside Mother–I failed that purpose miserably.
"Felicity," he rasped at Mother, "what is the meaning of this?"
He was looking quite angry, his brown eyes narrowed. His hand shook, as he raised a small folded card. I recognized it at once; it was the invitation for the famous Huntington Midsummer Ball that Mother had ordered from the printer in Richmond. They were very elegant, with beautiful gold cursive writing, announcing that the recipient was among the most elite in the entire South, and had managed to secure an invitation to the highlighting social event of the summer, but Mother, of course, made it sound much more humble than that. But the essence was the same; everyone who was anyone from New Orleans to Savannah to Richmond attended the marvelous Huntington Midsummer Ball.
Then I remembered what would upset him about those invitations; the cover of the invitation featured a rather pretentious Confederate Southern Cross.
It should be mentioned, of course, that Father is a Northerner, born in Boston. His father, Burton Baxter, was a Congregational minister there, giving what I can only imagine hellfire speeches akin to Jonathan Edwards–before a rich uncle left him a textile mill in Pittsburgh. My paternal grandfather gave up preaching, and began worshipping the dollar instead; he became a greedy old bastard before he died; I can imagine Father's horror. Father holds no loyalty to any individual states; he believes that the nation can only be strong, can only uphold its moral decency, if it stays united, much to Mother's irritation. Father hates the plantation; he views it as everything wrong with Southern society; it was big, isolated, and rich, with all of its money coming from the several hundred slaves we keep; Huntington Green is one of the largest plantations in Virginia. That is why Burton Baxter had been so keen on marrying Father to Mother; he would automatically inherit a certain stature, being part of one of the First Families of Virginia, as well as a huge amount of wealth. Likewise, my maternal grandfather was very concerned with the future of his cotton plantation, and plotted shrewdly to marry into a textile family, so that Huntington Green would never again have to give that irritating small percentage of its annual profits to a third party cotton buyer. Upon my father's death, we had planned that my eighteen-year-old brother Julian, who cared little for life here on our plantation, would inherit the factory, while I, upon my mother's death, as the plantation is in her name, would inherit Huntington Green. I received the slightly more lucrative of the two; the Pittsburgh factory is large, but doesn't compare to the plantation. Julian cared little; he wanted to be rid of the plantation as quickly as he could, though I don't know why. Neither of our parents knew, of course, that we were already cutting up their assets while they were young; Father's only forty-two, and Mother's hardly a day over thirty-six, though they both look as if they could pass for twenty-five.
"The meaning of what, darling?" Mother asked, her voice dripping with pure, unadulterated sarcasm. Father knew it, too, but chose to ignore her maliciousness; Mother had picked a fight too many times with her mocking tone.
He turned the invitation around, so she could see the colored banner. "This."
"It's an invitation," she answered. "To request the presence of guests at the Midsummer Ball–"
"What is the meaning of putting this piece of–" He stopped to search for the right word, but couldn't find it; he picked a new sentence instead. "This is everything wrong with the country, Felicity."
"The flag is the country, dear Joseph, and everything we stand for; all thirteen stars, even the ones that haven't joined us yet."
"By sending these cards, you're only making the situation worse; there is still hope for a peaceful reunification. But, oh–Felicity, each of these stars represents slavery."
"To a certain extent, perhaps, but I fail to see the wrong in that."
Father looked mad enough to hit her right there; he was an ardent abolitionist; he had even voted for Lincoln. He did have common sense; he knew the death of slavery would ruin him, me, Mother, and Julian financially, and wished for it to stay in Virginia, but wanted deeply for it to be abolished in all territories west of Texas.
"May I see you in the foyer, Felicity?"
"Why, yes, Joseph," she answered, her voice still ringing with that same malicious sweetness.
They exited, and Father slammed the doors behind them, plunging the parlor, once again, into an utterly daunting darkness. I reached out, overstretched, like a blind man, for the curtains, prayed that Torvald had left, and then ripped them open.
The cotton fields lay quiet in the hot morning sun; not even a gust of wind disturbed them. No slave was within sight, nothing but an expanse of that shimmering white cotton, stretching deep into the far off abyss, looking as it did every other day of the year, a silent witness to the atrocity committed between the long rows of silvery white foliage. Like always, there was never a sign of them hosting the violent scene I knew had just finished; there was no sign of a silver colt, no sign of a discontented Norwegian, and no old slave, humming lightheartedly as he worked. It was as if the incident had never even occurred, as if it was just a figment of my imagination.
But as I looked closer, I could see a discreet pink tinge on the cotton in the foreground, an overturned brown straw basket, spilling its cotton crop into the dirt, and, sitting atop the pile, a weathered straw hat, all illuminated by that midmorning Virginia sun.