At one time, the land didn't look so barren. Before the fiery holocaust that was war, the land was solid gold. Wheat fields extended for miles upon miles, as far as the eye could see. Like an onlooker standing on the yellow beaches of Old America looking out at the sapphire waves beyond, a countryside southerner could experience the same feeling gazing at the golden sea of grain. But after the war, the land was brown and the sky overhead was always grey, or at least, that was how Virginia Parker had seen it.
Virginia Parker was a seventeen-year-old girl in May of 1865. Already, the war had been over for a month, the president and his assassin had been dead for a month, and the Confederate States of America had ceased to exist for a month. The war was lost for the South, so it was only a matter of time before the states were readmitted to the Union. Many gallant southern men were lost – including Virginia's brother and father – which left many widows and broken-spirited women.
Virginia was the middle child in her family, being the third of five children born into the Parker family. The firstborn was Virginia's sister, Mary. Mary's love of her religion was what kept her from being considered an "old maid", for she was twenty and dreamed of joining a convent as a nun. After Mary was Rodger, who was killed in 1862 in the war. In 1861, he was only fifteen, but he lied about his age and said he was eighteen so he could fight the Yankees, and unfortunately was killed at the age of sixteen. The youngest child of the Parker family was Magnolia, nicknamed Maggie by her father. She was only four when the war started and was now nine years of age. She, of course, had no idea that her brother and father were not coming home and she did not understand why her mother dressed in black, especially with the Alabama heat so high. Another child had been born after Maggie, but he did not live to see a single day.
During the war, Mary and Virginia had been sent to Atlanta, Georgia to stay with their great aunt, Clara Durnham, who was rather sickly and normally under the care of her grandson. Mary had heard of a chance to nurse at the hospital, and once she told Virginia, they instantly started. The two young women were well liked among the town, even with the town's prostitutes. They were rather fond of the women because they would let them work at the hospital, whilst the others wouldn't have it. Mary's excuse was that the prostitutes, though shameful, were extra helping hands, and as the war extended over the years, any helping hands were needed. They proved helpful in the early days of the siege, when the sisters were called home by their frantic mother after their great aunt was evacuated.
But this story that you are reading isn't about Mary and Virginia's experiences in Atlanta, or about the war at all, really. This story takes place about a month after the war ended, when hundreds of soldiers found shelter in plantation homes that weren't burned by the Yankees while returning to their homes. Virginia had heard many stories of war coming from hundreds of soldiers, such as those who were in General Robert E. Lee's Army of Virginia or those who had enlisted as Union soldiers, deserted and enlisted into the Confederate army. She even met a captured Admiral of the Confederate navy who was freed and returning to his home in the state of Texas.
Virginia Parker had always been a pretty girl, with her long wavy dark brown hair and gentle green eyes from her Celtic ancestors that added a special touch to her serene face. Her sister, Mary, had dark brown hair and vivid blue eyes, and had been chased since girlhood by the county boys. Virginia had never been all that interested in the county boys, but there was this one soldier she met in Atlanta that had caught her interest. A few months after he left, she was informed of his untimely demise due to gangrene, a horrid blood disease that was usually acquired when coming into contact with a bullet.
On a certain May afternoon, Virginia had been helping a man help a young wounded boy limp up to the house when she heard a certain commotion by the entrance of the plantation. She turned to see a Union soldier being chased by a woman from down the road, Mrs. Benson, with a broom. The soldier was carrying a limp soldier over his shoulders, and as he passed Virginia, she decided to take a stand.
"Mrs. Benson! Mrs. Benson!" she cried, running into the road with her hands in the air. "Mrs. Benson, please! Do calm down!" The Union soldier had stopped and was watching her with slight shock.
"That dirty Yankee wants to take refuge at my home! He wants me to nurse his fellow Yankee scum back to health! Why, I'd never! After those dirty, retched things destroyed my crop!" cried Mrs. Benson in anger. Virginia had suddenly become rather angry, and her green eyes flashed with anger as they narrowed at her.
"How dare you, Mrs. Benson? If you're such a good Christian, you should gladly accept these men! We all had different beliefs in this war, and hearing you being so horrible to these men is unacceptable! Now, I'll gladly take these men into my home and give them food off of my table whether you like it or not…" she spat at her, and turned to face the soldier, who was gaping at her in utter shock. "Well, what are you staring at me for? Take him up to the home." The soldier nodded, and up the pathway he went. Mrs Benson glared at her.
"God will punish you for being such a traitor to your nation…" she said in a strait-laced tone.
"God said that all men were created equal, whether they be black or white or Yankee or Confederate. If anything, God will punish you, and I'll see you in Hell for that matter," Virginia replied boldly, and she strode back up to the house, where Mary was waiting with slightly wide eyes.
"Virginia, dearest, why are these Yankee men here at our home?" she asked, her hand at her throat and her eyes wide with worry.
"We're a good Christian family and we'll accept all types of people into our home," Virginia replied, and she went inside. The Union soldier had set the young wounded man on the settee, and Virginia kneeled down to look at him. "What's his name, sir?"
"His name? Er… Thomas Harper Jones," said the Union soldier that was standing.
"And yours?" asked Virginia, not looking at him.
"William Mosby, ma'am," said the soldier.
"Don't call me 'ma'am', Mr. Mosby, I'm only seventeen," said Virginia, taking a wet cloth and wiping the blood and sweat off of Thomas Harper Jones's face.
"I'm sorry, Miss…" said Mosby, not knowing what to call her.
"Parker. Virginia Parker is my name," said Virginia.
"Yes, ma- I mean, Miss Parker," said Mosby.
"My sister, Mary, is out on the front porch. Just ask her if there is anything that she needs done. I'll handle Mr. Jones."
"Yes, Miss Parker." Mosby left for the porch, leaving Virginia alone with Thomas. He was a rather young man who probably wasn't much older than twenty. Virginia stood and called for a former slave, called Ham, to come into the parlor.
"Ham! Ham, could you come here for a moment?" The adult black man came into the room with a basket full of cloths.
"Yes, Miss Virginia?" he asked.
"Set down that basket and help me get Mr. Jones upstairs into the spare bedroom. He's rather ill and needs a bed to rest in," said Virginia.
"Yes'm," said Ham, and he did as he was told.
"Oh, and Ham?" Virginia asked, and Ham turned to face her. "If you could put him into one of Papa's nightshirts, you'd be helping me out a great deal."
"Yes'm," said Ham, and he continued on his way.
Mosby had stood in the doorway watching Mary wash clothes in a basin of water. When she looked up, she jumped and gasped in surprise, then remembered that he was allowed here by Virginia.
"May I help you, sir?" she asked, not looking at him.
"Miss Parker asked me to ask you if there was anything you needed done," said Mosby.
"Oh…" said Mary, and she stood. "Well, there might possibly be something in the fields. We planted potatoes ages ago and there might be some in the dirt still… And maybe some carrots as well."
"Yes, Miss Mary," said Mosby, and he started towards the fields.
"Oh, and sir!" called Mary, and he stopped and turned. "I don't believe that I have caught your name?"
"William Mosby, Miss!" Mosby called, and he continued on his way.
"William Mosby…" Mary muttered to herself. "What a kind man he is, for a Yankee…" Maybe an hour or so after Mosby began to search for potatoes, he heard little footsteps behind him, and he turned to see a young girl of nine or ten years with dark hair and bright blue eyes to match watching him.
"Why, hello there, little girl! Might I ask your name?" asked Mosby.
"Are you a Yankee?" asked the little girl.
"A Yankee? Is that what you rebels call us? Well, I've never heard a truer name. Yes, I guess that I could be considered a Yankee," said Mosby.
"Mother says that you Yankees are bad men," said the little girl in an innocent tone.
"Well, after being stationed in Louisiana and meeting such kind people, I'd have to agree with you, but certainly, not all Yankees are bad men," replied Mosby.
"Oh…" said the little girl. "What is your name, Mr. Yankee?" asked the little girl.
"My name is Mr. William Mosby. And might I ask, you pretty thing, what your name is?" asked Mosby.
"Maggie. It's what my daddy called me before he left for the war. My real name is Magnolia," said the little girl, who must have been Virginia and Mary's younger sister or possibly a daughter of theirs.
"Has your daddy come home yet, Miss Maggie?" asked Mosby, and Maggie looked down at her feet and shook her head.
"No… I miss my daddy. He hasn't written to us in two whole years!" Maggie exclaimed.
"Well, that sure is awful…" said Mosby, knowing exactly what happened to her father. "I haven't seen my daddy since 1848. I was a young lad, maybe three or four years old at the time."
"I'm sorry, Mr. Mosby…" said Maggie. "My mother told me to tell you that dinner will be ready soon."
"All right, you tell your mother that I will be there as soon as possible!" exclaimed Mosby, and Maggie nodded.
"Okay!" she said happily, and then ran off. Mosby sighed as she ran off, wondering how his own wife and daughter were doing back at their home in Illinois. After he watched Maggie disappear, he returned to digging up the potatoes, of which he had found an abundant amount of.