Author's Note: I'm not sure how accurate this is. I wanted to capture the thoughts of a eleven year old girl during Sherman's March to the Sea. Events are actual events that happened. The Kings and Mr. Roch were real people. For those of you who don't know this takes place in Roswell, Georgia in 1864.

Darkest Hour

~A Story of Sherman's March to the Sea~

Lydia exited her family's Roswell plantation. This could not be happing, not to her, not to her family. She looked out at the field at the hands. Did they know what was coming?

She sat down on the porch and buried her face into her dress. How dare they do this! How could they destroy the homes of innocent, hard-working Southern people? She was fighting tears as she thought this.

Her older brother, Daniel, knelt down next to her. "What's the matter, sweetie?"

She pulled her face up to face him. "How long were you going to hide it from me?"

Daniel looked at her. "Hide what?"

"The Yankees are coming."

Daniel took a deep breath. Lydia knew that he had not been expecting that. "How did you find out?"

"I heard you and Father talking in the library."

"Of course you did."

Lydia looked up at her brother. "Are you mad?"

Daniel shook his head. "No. It is probably better that you know. I don't like keeping people in the dark."

"I don't like being in the dark."

Daniel nodded.

Lydia sits up straight. "What will happen to the plantation?"

Daniel's eyes clouded over. "To be honest, I don't know, sweetie, I don't know."

"Will they burn it?"

Daniel did not answer.

Lydia fought the urge to cry. Why, why, why? The Confederates never, ever would destroy the North or harm innocent people. The Union did not seem to have the same idea. Burn the South, who cares about the innocents? She knew that General Lee would never to this to a Yankee girl, but Sherman would do it to a Rebel girl. Didn't they know that children weren't responsible for this war?

She looked her brother in the eye. "Daniel, tell me the truth. Will they burn our home?"

Daniel looked away from her. When he finally did face her, his face was covered with a mask of grief. She had not seen the mask in a long time. The last time she had seen it was when their mother passed away almost four years ago. "If they get the chance, they will."

"Will they get the chance?"

"They'll have to go through Father and me."

Lydia frowned. She could not imagine that Father and Daniel would actually kill someone. However, she knew that they would do whatever it took to protect the family.

Even if it came to that...

Oh, she hoped that it would not.

She prayed to God that it would not.

"Will they come?"

Daniel looked seriously at her. "We are the first plantation into Roswell. They will not miss us."

Lydia did not know what to say. When Daniel said something like this, it was usually going to happen.

Her home was going to burn.

In her heart, she knew that people were going to get hurt.

The next day, Lydia made her way to the mill. Daniel had sent her to pick up some fabric that the servants were going to make into a tablecloth for the dining room table. There was not a place in Roswell that sold a big enough already made tablecloth for the grand table, so they had to resort to the old-fashioned way.

She entered the town square and heard people talking. Normally, she paid no mind to other people's conversations. She was always taught that it was rude to "listen in" as Daniel called it. However, lately she found it hard to be polite.

"Yes, that's what I heard," a man was saying to another.

"General Order #6," the other said.

"Was it right from Sherman?"

"Who else could it be?"

Another man joined them. "What has the devil done now?"

"He's closed down the railroads to civilians!" the first man exclaimed.

"What?" the new man bellowed.

The first folded his hands over his chest. "Just heard the news from Tom King."

"Is there anything he can do?" the second asked.

The first shook his head. "No, not a thing."

"Shame, damn shame," the new man said as he shook his head. He looked up and saw her. He looked embarrassed about his language. "Sorry, miss."

She smiled weakly at him. "Don't worry, sir, I've heard worse."

She made my way to the mill.

James King and Theophile Roch were in the front room talking in hushed whispers. James King was the brother of Thomas King. The brothers along with Mr. Roch owned the mill. They stopped talking when they saw Lydia enter.

"Excuse me," Mr. Roch said as he ducked into another room. Oh, how she wished that he would stay. She loved to hear his French accent.

Mr. King looked sadly at Lydia. "What can I do for you Lydia?"

She handed him Daniel's order.

He read it and nodded. "Wait here." He disappeared into the back.

She waited and thought. If the railroad was closed, then they could not go visit Grandmother in Richmond like the one they did every summer. She sighed. Maybe the railroads would be back open by then. After all, if was only April 6.

Mr. King came back out with Daniel's order in a bag. "Here you go, miss." He handed it to Lydia. "Anything else?"

She shook her head. "No, sir."

Mr. King nodded. "Good day, then, miss."

"Good day to you, sir." She left.

She wondered why people were still wishing each other good days. There had not been a good day since the start of this awful war. Maybe, they were just trying to hold on to life before.

Word had reached Lydia's home that Mr. Roch had had the French flag planted on top of the mill in attempts to save it from the Yankees.

When Daniel received the word, he stormed outside.

Father entered the room just as Daniel left. "So, what happened?"

Lydia looked wearily at her father. "The French flag is hanging from the mill."

Father's eyes filled with sadness. "Then, it is done. They're coming."

Then, he stormed out to join Daniel. Only he slammed the door a heck of a lot harder than Daniel had.

Lydia finished her breakfast alone and in worry. Like Daniel and Father she too was wondering when the darkest hour would come. It would be the hour when her family lost it all.

Lydia's family did not have to wait long. On July 5, General Gerrard, with orders from Sherman, seized the mill. The burnings had not started yet, but it was only a matter of time.

The French flag met nothing to then.

Daniel and Father wondered around the plantation worried. Father was more worried about what would happen to Daniel if Yankee soldiers came knocking. Daniel was a Brigadier General in the Confederate army and had served under Pickett until the previous year. Daniel was very lucky to be alive. He took a bullet in the stomach during Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg. His best friend, Nick, who happened to be a doctor, cut it out of him within minutes. Nick pulled him to safety and later back to their lines. Nick for unknown reasons had decided to become a solider rather than a doctor, but in the end, it was worth the trade.

At least in the minds of Lydia's family.

However, what would the Yankees do if they knew that Daniel was a high-ranking Confederate officer? True, his military career was over, but it still had them worried.

On July 7, word reached the family that General Sherman made this remark "I have ordered General Gerrard to arrest for treason all owners and employees, foreign and native, and send them under guard to Marietta, whence I will send them North...The women can find employment in Indiana."

When Daniel and Father heard this, they stormed outside again. This time, Lydia followed them. When reached the outside, she wished that she had not followed them. However, she did learn a colorful new vocabulary and would have learned more if Daniel had not noticed her and stopped.

"Are they really going to do that?"

Daniel bit his lip.

"Yes," Father said.

"Can't Mr. King do something?"

"I believe that he's done everything he can," Daniel said.

Lydia sat down. She wanted to say some of her new vocabulary words, but did not dare. "How many?"

"Around four hundred," Father said.

Lydia shook her head. "It's not right."

Daniel knelt down next to her. "No, but we are at war. Things are not fair with war."

Lydia looked at her brother. He should know. He had been in the Confederate army from two and half years and United States Army before that.

"War changes people," Daniel continued. "It makes them cold."

With that, he stormed back into the house.

Lydia and Father were speechless. Never once had Daniel talked about war. Even though, he had not said much, he had said enough.

The family did not go to see the mill workers leave. They were being taken to Marietta. They did not want to see that sad sight, especially Daniel. Lydia figured it was because he had seen enough of war.

Later she learned another reason: Daniel was in love with one of the mill workers.

Twenty-four hours later, the Yankees arrived at the plantation with torches. They freed all of the servants, many of whom did not want to leave and were forced to. They did this before going the plantation house.

Lydia and her family had just settled down for their evening meal when one of the newly freed servants came rushing into the room.

"SIRS THEY'RE HER AND HAVE FREED EVERYONE! DO NOT MAKE US LEAVE!" the servant cried.

Daniel and Father dropped what they were eating and rushed to get their guns.

"STAY HERE!" Father ordered Lydia.

Daniel smiled at her. "Do as he says."

Daniel and Father rushed out onto the porch. Lydia remained seated until the servant rushed her into the kitchen.

She looked out a window and saw that the fields were already in flames.

"Miss, we've got to go," the servant urged.

"But, they said to stay, Lizzy!" Lydia objected.

Lizzy pulled Lydia out of the house. "Never mind them! We've got to get to safety."

Lydia allowed Lizzy to drag her away. Her home was in flames. She dared a glance behind her shoulder. Her home, her beautiful home was on fire. She swallowed hard.

"What about Daniel and Father?"

"They're be fine." Lizzy pulled harder. "We've got to go."

"How will they find us?"

"I'm taking you to a place we agreed to meet at."

Lydia pulled away from Lizzy's grip. "You knew?"

"Of course, child, did you think that your father and brother would let anything back happen to you?"

Lydia bit her lip. Of course, they had a plan!

She allowed Lizzy to lead her away. As they went up over a hill, two gunshots rang through the air. She prayed that it was Father and Daniel firing as Lizzy picked up the pace.

They reached the safe spot which was a small cave.

Lizzy and Lydia settled to wait with the other servants.

They waited.

And waited.

And waited.

They waited for two long days. That was how long they were supposed to wait.

But Daniel and Father never came.

Sources:

The Roswell Women by Tommie Phillips LavCavera
Leigh Ann's Civil War by Ann Rinaldi

The Civil War by Bruce Catton

Life in the South During the Civil War by James P. Reger

Wikipedia