July 21st, 1861
"Mother!" Thomas comes crashing up the stairs into the bedroom. "Mother, it's started!"
"Thomas!" she exclaims, turning sharply from helping me adjust my corset. "Please!"
But he will not be swayed, my young brother. He all but leaps about in excitement, attempting to form a coherent sentence. "Outside Manassas– the Rebs– it's started!" At last we dragged the story out of him. The Union had massed for a fight near Bull Run Creek and would be met by the Rebel troops.
I let a grin cross my face. Surely this will be the end of this senseless nonsense that began less than a year ago. Surely the blackhearted Rebels will learn they are no match for the purpose of the United States and give up! Let peace return. I am sick of so much conflict already.
Yes, even though we do live in Virginia, a state which has supposedly left our country, my father is a staunch supporter of the North, and a united America. Naturally, much of the immediate family follows his example. Even Mother, who is the daughter of a plantation owner, agrees with him. However, some of my cousins and their families, as well as many of our friends, have all but disowned us for our thoughts.
I remember running through the orchard in my younger days in a game with my cousins William and John, all of us so young, so carefree. So unburdened by what was yet to come.
How things have changed. Not long ago, we received word that all but one of my cousins have enlisted in the rebel infantry units being raised. My heart twisted with pain at hearing this, and for a moment, I lost my breath. Should one of them fall in a battle, I do not think I could bear it.
My smile falls as I remember this. I breathe a prayer for their safety, should they be on that field today, as I am certain they are.
"We must go there!" The words are out of my mouth before I can stop them and Mother and Thomas look at me in surprise. But even though I am as shocked as they are, I continue, quickly inventing an excuse. "We must go and see this battle, and the victory that will surely result, for the United States!"
Father enters then, an unfinished letter in his hand. He must have been called away from his study by the commotion in here. "Go where, Bess?" he asks me. Quickly Thomas jumps in to explain again, with a few interruptions by Father to tell him to slow down. After my brother finishes, Father tugs at his beard, looking thoughtful, his gaze inward. I can tell he is thinking of our kin as I am. At last he looks up. "Very well. We'll go over and see what we can."
Mother nods. "I'll arrange to bring a picnic lunch, of course." I bite my lip, thinking how shallow it is of her to do so when men may be dying, but we do need to eat. I nod as well, and Father and Thomas leave, letting Mother finish lacing me into my corset and helping me with the heavy, hot layers of blue silk in my dress. Blue like the uniforms of the Union Army, I remember.
I place a bonnet on, tying it under my chin as she goes to the kitchens to instruct Stella, our Negro housekeeper and cook to prepare some food for us.
At last, things are done, and we step out to the carriage, which old Pompey, our driver, has brought out from the carriage house. I gently pet one of the horses, Nick, and am rewarded with an inquisitive sniffing, a silent question of whether I have apples or sugar lumps hidden in the folds of my skirt.
Pompey laughs, giving Nick a gentle swat on the rump with an aged, brown hand. His graying mane of hair is hidden by a wide-brimmed hat. Father helps Mother and myself into the carriage and Pompey climbs atop the driver's seat. With a click to the horses and a flick of the reins, the carriage is off, rattling over the stony roads.
Again, as we travel, I am lost in my own thoughts. Pompey has belonged to my family since before I was born, and Stella was a wedding gift to Mother from my grandfather. I have never asked them what their thoughts are on this conflict – and they have never said. But still –
"Elizabeth, darling?" I jump as Mother calls my name, then looks curiously at me. "Are you alright, dear? You seemed lost."
"I was only thinking, Mother… About… what this battle may mean." Heaven help me, I am too good at lying. However, Mother accepts my words. "Of course, dear, we all are…" She continues, but I am deaf to her words, having sunk back into my fog of confusion.
Finally, the carriage stops. As we open the door, the ground seems to shake and a deep rumble is heard close by. I grasp the edge of the seat in sudden fear. "What is–"
"Cannon fire," Father answers, his expression growing grim. "It has begun, then. Lord help us now."
I wrote this a few years ago; it's still in-progress as of now, but I decided to post this first part anyway. :)