YOU REALLY CAN GO HOME AGAIN

 

Summer in Michigan — just the thought of it brings a smile to my face. Both my husband and I hail from a small town in southeastern Michigan, and this summer we returned for a whirlwind of a trip that examined our past and our ancestry. Day after day brought new discoveries and old places into focus. By the last days of the journey, my mind swirled, and I yearned for the quiet necessary to examine and absorb all I saw and learned.

The sojourn to our home state contained many elements of serendipity when the Tecumseh District Library in Michigan contacted me about making a presentation on my great grandfather’s Civil War Journal. He enlisted in Adrian, Michigan, on April 20, 1861, just down the road from Tecumseh. I agreed and decided to approach other organizations and ask if they’d be interested in my presentation. Within weeks, I’d booked three over a ten-day period in June.

A month later, a friend of my husband’s contacted us and asked us to save the date for a weekend in June for his fiftieth high school reunion. The weekend fell right in the middle of my presentations. I then made a Facebook page for my classmates asking if anyone would like to get together during my visit home. Twenty-plus people said, “Yes.” I did the same thing with cousins and yet another reunion came together.

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Stockbridge High School – Class of 1973 Forty-four Years Later

My memory was very much put to the test. Many of the folks we saw remained in the area or had parents still in the area. I left Stockbridge when I was eighteen. My husband moved away about the same time. Both of our mothers moved from the area in the 1980s. Except for Facebook, I’ve had very little contact with any of these folks in four decades. I brought name tags, but even then I made mistakes with names.

The kids I’d gone to school with had all gotten older! Of course, I wasn’t looking in the mirror when I made my discovery. Once I identified my former playmates–some of whom I knew from my first memories–I could see those former faces in the eyes and gestures of their current conditions. The years floated away as stories spilled from the fountains of our memories. We still carried a bond born of drinking the same water and attending the same schools. While growing up in a village of 1,200 people always seemed boring to me as a kid, I can see now how our childhoods were really very blessed with simplicity, discipline, and love.

The stories of their lives poured forth. Some brought smiles, and yet others brought tears. The divorces, diseases, and death mark us and bring forth a solid and courageous character that few could have imagined back in Mr. Johnston’s history class the day we drove him to distraction, and he lit a cigarette right in front of us in the classroom. When he’d realized what he’d done, he tossed the offending fag out the window.  We all remembered that day, and amazingly, we all had the same exact memory of it.

One of my former classmates lost a son in the line of duty as a police officer several years ago. Just starting his career, the young man had been in a high-speed chase when he lost control of the vehicle. The pain on my friend’s face when he spoke of the horrific accident while in the line of duty moved me to tears, and we shared a moment of grief for what we both had lost.

We flipped through the pages of our senior yearbook, and I heard one of the women in our class had been murdered by her husband. Another had died from complications with diabetes. And yet another, sat alone in his apartment miles away, afraid to come out and join us because of what he deemed a life of failure.

It might have seemed that the evening was full of tears. Yet, it was not. We shared our stories, we sympathized, and then we laughed about the pranks, the teachers, the silliness, and the fashion of 1973. We parted with promises to meet again next year for our forty-fifth. It had been nineteen years since our last reunion, and I think we all felt the passage of time. When warmth remains after so many years, it’s worth embracing and repeating.

But the reunioning wasn’t yet over. We still had my husband Bob’s fiftieth to attend. And for me, this would be bittersweet. My brother Don, who committed suicide in 2008, was also a member of this class. These were the guys and gals I grew up admiring. They all remembered me as Don’s kid sister, Patti, a little tow-headed nuisance who followed them around whenever they came to our house. Here I was married to one of their own and one of Don’s best friends to boot. I was more emotional during this reunion than my own because it brought back the pain of losing my brother–long before his suicide.

Two of my cousins also graduated that year, and when I saw them standing together, I felt the first inkling of tears. Linda and Judy and Don–they were the family trio the year of their graduation. Their open house was combined and held at our house. During the banquet, roses were placed in a vase for all those who had departed. I teared up again when they read the name, “Don Camburn.” Then the final event was the singing “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?” from Finian’s Rainbow, the musical the class put on their senior year. It was the first musical ever performed at our high school, and Don had a starring role. When the class members stood to sing the song, I saw Don on the stage–all six-foot-six-inch of him–singing, and my eyes began to fill once again. But the rendition was slightly off beat and key. What a relief. It’s hard to cry when you are trying not to laugh.

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Donald Camburn – Top 2nd from left

Two weeks of memories of places and people I haven’t thought about in years. Now they are bombarding my brain. And the more I remember, the more I wonder about those who weren’t there.

Visits to grave sites and former homes, chats with family members and old friends, and rides on the backroads of Michigan showed me that I had nothing to fear from the past that sometimes has appeared as a monstrous apparition over the years. Time and distance have allowed me to soften the dark memories and embellish the good into myths that warm my heart.

We ended the trip with a birthday party for Bob’s mother. She turned ninety-five on Friday, and six of her seven children gathered at her nursing home to pay her tribute. She didn’t say much, but she smiled and gobbled down her cake with gusto.

She deserves it, as we all do. May I still enjoy my cake and eat it, too, at ninety-five.

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ENJOY A LITTLE HOLIDAY CHEER

fbI’m pleased to announce the release of a collection of Christmas short stories, Bright Lights and Candle Glow. You can download this anthology for FREE!

This collection from eight talented authors boasts short stories set during the winter holiday season. These tales encompass sober themes, heartwarming messages, and uplifting endings, appropriate for the winter season or all year long.

Arranged in chronological order, witness winter miracles from the mid-1800s through modern day, running the spectrum from somber to lighthearted.

  • Learn the meaning of the season from a Civil War soldier.
  • Go from rags to riches with a 1920s mobster.
  • Relive a fond holiday activity with a helpful Grinchy neighbor.
  • Create new holiday memories with a 1970s ranching family.
  • Meet a new friend whose advice rekindles the magic of the season.
  • Experience Christmas from a wise, aged perspective.
  • Cross cultures and beliefs to create a new holiday tradition.
  • Celebrate the season with estranged family after a life-changing revelation.

These stories are sure to enhance your experience of the holiday season. It’s a holiday-themed compilation of short stories with heavy messages and uplifting endings sure to warm the heart in the cold winter months.

Click here to download now!

I used my great grandfather’s Civil War Journal of a Union Soldier as my inspiration for writing my short story a Christmas truce. He wrote about the dismal Christmases he spent during the war. And I remembered one story, in particular, he told about encountering a woman aligned with the Confederacy. Through talking, they both reached a truce of sorts after listening to rhetoric, hatred, and lies being told about the Yankees and the Rebels alike. I wanted to write this story as an analogy for what we’ve experienced in this country in the past several months. In some ways, we’ve been embroiled in a type of “civil war.”

Fiction can serve a higher purpose than mere entertainment. It can enlighten and change minds at its very best. Here’s my effort to do a little of all three.

A Christmas Truce

by P.C. Zick

What is Christmas for a soldier such as me? I tried not to think of it. It did no good but remind us of our miserable state of affairs with the winter rains pounding down upon our heads and our huts, hastily built in the mud-covered mess of the Union army.

My family helped me along by not reminding of what I was missing, but some of the soldiers weren’t as lucky as I was. They received letters from home telling them of the holiday preparations—the parties, the decorations, the baking, the gifts—all the things that would be missed sorely by those of us in the sodden misery of Virginia wearing nothing more than the scratchy wool of our winter uniforms. My mother and sisters must have known better than to send letters that would make me ache and yearn for that which could not be. At least not for Christmas of 1862, as my troop from Michigan awaited orders to march.

The winter rains had begun the week before and already roads were rutted and spirits dampened. While we waited for the rain to stop, and the war to begin again, I took little comfort in my crowded and tiny hut with its smoking fireplace, earthen floor, and cloth roof. Without comforts, conveniences, or accessories, I had nothing much to do. I knew at any time, once the rains stopped, and the sun was able to shine down on the muddy roads, all of my energies would be focused on active service.

Too much time to reflect left me wondering what it all meant. Did my family miss me, especially now that Christmas was upon them, and I wasn’t there to help Father cut down the Christmas tree from my grandfather’s farm on the outskirts of the small community from which I hailed? I thought back to previous years in my worst moments and remembered the party that awaited our return from the woods with the perfectly shaped tree. How could I face my rations of hard bread, bacon, and coffee when memories of sugar cookies and roasted turkey filled my senses? All the days passed one like the other in camp with our regular military duties, which amounted to very little while at rest.

After the last round of steady rain for days, we received a few supplies and a newspaper full of condemnations for the idleness of the troops in the field. But no packages from home arrived, which meant any that had been sent would not be there in time for Christmas.

Any attempt to move large bodies of men was inexpedient and to move artillery and supply trains was next to impossible with the wet and soggy conditions. The clamor of newspapers, the quarrels among general officers, and the interference of Congress with artillery movements, discouraged and demoralized our ranks. It was bad enough for some of the youngest to be away from their homes for the first time at Christmas. The men felt they were enduring hardships and sacrificing lives without adequate results and all because of petty jealousies among the leaders. Idleness and discontent go hand in hand with soldiers, and the gloomy outlook of our winter camp was not cheering. The fences had all disappeared for fuel, and green wood for cooking and heating purposes had to be hauled long distances with the mules floundering knee-deep in the mire and the wagons cutting almost to the hubs.

Finally, on Christmas Eve the sun overpowered the clouds, and the incessant patter of drops on canvass stopped. I almost felt light-hearted to step outside of my hut. To break the monotony, a comrade, Jonathan, happened by and asked if I might enjoy a ride. It was the first day of sunshine we’d seen in more than a week. We both had friends in the 4th Michigan who were camped about four miles in our rear, and I decided the change of pace might very well make me miss my family less if I spent time in the company of other young men who missed home in equal measure. Our commanding officer even allowed us to take two of the horses instead of the regular mules we soldiers used for traveling with our packs. Both Jonathan and I had done extra picket duty on the stormiest nights, so we were in good stead with our superiors.

The day was filled with laughter and boasting and sunshine, and we enjoyed our visit very much. One of the soldiers told a story that had a somewhat sobering effect, although there were humorous aspects to it.

The soldier had heard about a lieutenant camped near Fredericksburg who had become enamored of a young woman who lived in an old-fashioned brick house with her mother.

The young lieutenant, whose duties called him to visit them, became acquainted with the young lady, and at her invitation called frequently upon her. He became quite taken with her charms after only a few visits that were social in nature. It wasn’t usual considering both of their ages.

“Was she Confederate or Yankee?” Jonathan asked.

“It seemed he never bothered with that formality,” came the storyteller’s response. “He said later that because of her friendliness, he assumed her to side with us.”

He continued to tell us that the lieutenant proposed marriage, and the young lady accepted with the blessing of her mother.

“Not a long courtship that,” one of the soldiers said. “But then if she was charming, why wait?”

We all laughed, but when we’d settled down, the story continued.

“One evening while calling upon his intended, during a brief lull in the conversation, the heavy atmosphere bore to his ear what he judged to be the click of a telegraphic instrument,” Samuel continued. “Instantly, his interest and loyalty were awakened and a suspicion of treachery aroused. Without betraying that he had heard the sound, he chatted on, his keen ear strained to catch and locate the clicking.”

“How could he ever suspect his beloved?” I sang out in a high-pitched tone.

“It is wartime, gentlemen,” Jonathan said. “Never trust a soul, especially an innocent maiden.”

The rest shushed us and urged for the story to continue.

“At the usual hour he left, convinced that a contraband communication was going on with the enemy,” Samuel said. “The next evening, taking with him a strong guard and leaving them in the yard, he again called upon the young lady.”

We listened attentively to the rest of the story. Receiving him with the warmth of an expected bride, the young woman conducted him to a sofa, where clasped in each other’s arms, they indulged in fond caresses and endearing words until the ominous sounds of the clicking telegraph again greeted his ear. Excusing himself for a moment that he might clear the phlegm from his throat, he opened the door and motioned vigorously to his guard despite the darkness. While the door was still open, the guard pressed in and exhibited an order from General Burnside to search the house.

“That ended the kissing, that is to be sure,” one of the soldiers said. “What happened then?”

“Everything changed in an instance, it did.”

The young lady, so recently the devoted lover, became a tigress. With flushed cheeks and blazing eyes, she let loose a torrent or rage and abuse upon the Union soldiers.

“Yankee brutes, Lincoln hirelings, scum of the North, and cutthroats” were hurled at the men as she let loose her hatred of the Union. Familiar with the favorite expressions of southern ladies, the guard with due deliberation proceeded with the search. Down in the cellar, they unearthed a young man with complete telegraph offices, the wires leading underground to Fredericksburg. They brought the cringing knave up into the habitable world, and he pleaded piteously for his cowardly life. The sight of his abject fear aroused the genuine affection of the young lady, and she begged in tears with the lieutenant to spare the life of her dear husband.

“A married woman!” I said. “And here she thinks we’re brutes?”

It seems that she had played lover to the lieutenant for the sake of the little information she could squeeze out of him for the use of the rebels.

This was only one such story I’d heard since joining the cause very early in the war. There were many instances where southern women served as decoys, and then their men were taken prisoner. Some were even taken to their deaths. They did not hesitate at anything, if they could cripple a Yankee. As a reasonable man, I knew that the same thing might exist on the other side, if given the chance. Neither side was exempt from fighting the battle of war however they might be able to win.

Jonathan and I soon made our good-byes as we knew the light of day would soon be gone. At least we’d found a way to forget about being away from home on Christmas Eve. As we rode away, I felt pleased with my decision to leave camp for a few hours. But dark clouds descended when we were gone not much more than a mile. At first, I thought we’d stayed too late and nightfall descended upon us.

The rain began in great big dollops of water, and then came faster until we were hard pressed to see the rutted road before us. When we met a group of officers on horseback, who were shouting and obviously had enjoyed some Christmas spirits, I struggled to keep my horse steady. They shouted insults to us when we ignored them.

“Too stuck up they are,” one said.

“They couldn’t win this war any better than two pups still sucking on their mother’s teats,” hurled another.

Jonathan and I concentrated on the narrow roadway. I worried that my horse might take a wrong step and end with us both in the ditch. We passed by them without giving any mind to the officers. One of them turned his horse back toward us after we passed.

“Why did you not salute your superior officer?”

“We weren’t aware that we must salute every jackass we meet,” my friend said.

I secretly applauded the rejoinder, but hoped it wouldn’t lead to an altercation. We hadn’t meant any disrespect, but were concentrating on passing without incident with our horses since the road was rutted from the rains of the previous weeks, and there was a precipitous drop off to our right.

In great rage, the officer demanded our names with regiment and company. These we truthfully gave him. He was young and green, and probably quite drunk, or he would not have turned back for such a condescending purpose. It was bound to be a very long war indeed for someone demanding salutes in precarious or even dangerous situations. It made me wonder how we could defeat the Confederacy if we practiced warfare amongst our fellow soldiers.

“I fear the winter rains have returned,” Jonathan shouted to me as he drew abreast.

“If this keeps up, it will be even more impossible to get supplies,” I said. I peered through the rain that had only let up a bit and saw flickering on the other side of the field to the south of us.

“Jonathan, look over there!” I pointed to the light.

“It’s a house. It may be filled with Confederates, but what have we to lose?”

“Just don’t be taken in by any fair maidens.” I led my horse across the field and toward the warming light of Christmas Eve candles and fires.

As we drew closer, I could see that it was a modest farmhouse, but the candles on the Christmas tree blazed from the front window. We tied up our horses to the front porch railing. A small barn stood behind the house, but I could just make out its outline in the cloud-filled gathering dark. A woman opened the front door. She walked out onto the porch, all the while peering at us.

“You’re not the doctor,” she said. “Who are you, and what is your business here?”

“We’re about two miles from our camp,” I began. “It began pouring, and our horses were having trouble on the road.”

“You’re Yankees.” She spoke in a flat voice. We would not be welcomed here.

“We are, but we mean no harm.” Jonathan pulled a white handkerchief out of his pocket and waved it above his head.

“Are you expecting a doctor?” I asked. “You seemed surprised that we weren’t the doctor.”

I wanted desperately to climb the steps to the covered porch, but she was not welcoming.

“My sister is in labor, and we sent for the doctor hours ago.”

“The roads are terrible.” I swept my arm out over the rain that had started to pick up. “How far apart are the pains?”

She pursed her lips. She didn’t want to respond, but then I heard a noise from inside, and she turned her head toward the front door.

“Five minutes, maybe closer together by now.”

“I spent much of my childhood on my grandfather’s farm,” I began. “I don’t know much about humans, but I’ve assisted on plenty of births of our animals. I could perhaps provide some assistance.”

Her face went through a gambit of emotions until worry for her sister seemed to win out.

“I suppose I don’t have any choice. I’ve never seen anything born before in my life.”

“My name is William Bradford, and this is Jonathan Cameron.” I took a couple of steps toward the door, and then considered what might put her most at ease. I pulled my rifle from my shoulder and set it down on the step. Jonathan did the same thing.

“I’m Susanna Wolfson. Please come onto the porch where it’s dry while I warn my sister. She’ll be none too pleased that her help comes in the form of a Yankee soldier.”

We waited in the cover of the porch while our clothes dripped. She soon returned with towels.

“I’ve asked the house maid to rustle up some dry clothes. My father recently passed, and I’m sure there is something in his room that will do for now.”

After I’d changed into some dry, albeit large clothes, Susanna led me into a darkened bedroom at the top of the stairs. I found the sister, Elizabeth, in the throes of a labor pain. A Negress, I assumed a slave, stood fanning her.

“How long since the last one?” I asked her.

“Four minutes gone.”

I nodded and turned to Susanna. “Do you have someone who can start the boiling of water and making us compresses?”

“We have water boiling.”

I asked them to bring me hot towels that could be laid on her swollen belly.

“You’re a Yankee,” Elizabeth muttered from her bed once the pain stopped. “Are you going to cut my baby out of me and leave me to die?”

“Of course not,” I said. Her question left me nonplussed, but I supposed not out of order, when to her mind, I was the enemy.

“There are no gentlemen in the Yankee army,” Elizabeth said through clenched teeth. “You are all villains and cutthroats.”

“I assure you, I was raised to respect all living things,” I said. “It’s this war that has caused us to be enemies on opposite sides of the field. I have no intention of anything other than helping you bring your child into the world.”

“Even if I name him Johnny Reb?”

“Even if you name him Jefferson Davis.”

That brought a smile to both of the sisters. Finally headway.

“From what I know of the birthing process, it will still be some time before your little Johnny makes his way into the world. I’ll leave you for now. Try to rest when you can.”

Susanna and I walked out into the hallway.

“You and your friend must be hungry. We have the remnants of our supper that we can share.”

“That would be surely appreciated.”

Jonathan and I sat at the kitchen table eating the pork and potatoes laid out before us. There was cornbread as well. It was the best meal we’d seen in weeks, and we made it disappear in no time.

“We hate the Yankees, you know.” Susanna poured us steaming cups of coffee. “You may be acting like gentlemen right now, but I have no faith that you won’t rob us blind before you leave.”

“Have you known any Yankees before tonight?” I asked.

“No, but we’ve heard all the stories. Yankees have no regard for the dignity of life. You are scourges upon the earth.”

I saw Jonathan squirm in his seat. I struggled to keep my temper. I even managed to smile at her pronouncement.

“So I take it all the Confederate soldiers are gentlemen?” I asked in as mild a tone as I could muster under the circumstances.

“Yes, every one.”

“Think again. Is there not at least one man in the Confederate army whom you would hesitate to associate with?”

“Well, yes, perhaps one.” Susanna’s response came slowly, but at least there was the opening I wanted.

“Now, really aren’t there many?” I asked

She looked at me with a frown. I thought I might have stepped over a boundary, until she responded.

“Well, I’ll be honest with you. There are many, but most of them are gentlemen.”

“That is exactly the case with the Yankee army.” I had gotten through to her. “The great majority of its numbers are gentlemen, but it is to be regretted that a few are not, and tonight maybe we’ll prove the truth of this statement.”

“He’s right, you know,” Jonathan interjected. “Just tonight we were almost run off the road by a Yankee officer who thought we should have been saluting him instead of keeping our horses from falling into a ravine. We might still be court martialed since he took down our names.”

Susanna stood and began pacing. “It’s so hard when all you hear are the horrible things, and we’re all on edge right now.”

“That’s what war does,” I said. “It’s even harder when we’re fighting our fellow countrymen. Do you know sometimes when we’re out on picket on quiet nights, either one of us or one of the Confederate soldiers will raise a white handkerchief, and then we’ll both come to the line to pass the night away in conversation?”

“That’s hard to believe.” Susanna stopped pacing and sat down at the table.

We heard commotion at the front door and went with Susanna to see what might be happening. Relief flooded through me, when she greeted the man as Dr. Johnson. I wouldn’t have to birth a baby after all. She led him upstairs, but when she came back down, she invited us into the parlor. She went to the piano.

“It always calms me down to play, but I’m afraid I only know Confederate songs.”

“We will take no offense, but will enjoy the entertainment,” I assured her.

She played the Confederate Wagon, the Bonnie Blue Flag and others. Afterwards, she whirled upon the piano stool to face us.

“You have been so kind, I think I will play the Star Spangled Banner for you.”

By the time she had finished, the rain had stopped. Jonathan and I decided we should head back to our camp. All appeared calm in the upper region of the house.

“Thank you, Susanna,” I said as we prepared to leave after donning our damp uniforms. “It has been a pleasure to meet a true southern lady.”

“And I to meet two Yankee gentlemen.” She grasped my hand to shake it. “I shall tell Elizabeth to keep the faith that her husband may be in the hands of men such as you.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“He was taken prisoner of war in Fort Lafayette last month,” she said. “We’ve heard nothing since then.”

“I shall look into this,” I promised. “And send word either in person or through a courier as to his well-being.”

“Then please stay the night until the baby is born so you may send him word that he has a child.”

“Nothing would please us more,” I said.

As we settled on the living room floor for a dry night’s rest, I reflected on our day. I suddenly remembered that in a few hours it would be Christmas.

“Merry Christmas, Jonathan. It may not be home, but we’ve all been given a great gift tonight.”

“What’s that?”

“We’ve all learned that we are much more than this pointless war.”

And as we drifted off to sleep, the strains of a baby’s cries wafted down the stairs. New life pulsed as night settled over us, and I fell asleep with hope for the first time in almost two years.

THE END

Remember to download the whole collection by clicking here.

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WHEN WILL WE LEARN? #VOTE 2016

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The name of this blog is “Living Lightly,” but the topic of this post may veer from my intentions when I first started the blog. However, I must write what’s in my heart even if it means some of you (I hope not) decide to unfollow me.

I’m sickened by the political debacle occurring in my country, the United States. I’m tired of people my age–normally the politically active baby boomers–telling me continually they’ve decided not to vote because they are so disgusted with what is happening.

How did we sink so low?

And how much further can we go?

I’m worried. But yesterday, I discovered my new found concerns really should have bothered me before the crisis in electing a president.

Weekend guests to our home showed me I’ve been living under the falsehood that we are a nation of souls who love one another for our diversity and our individuality. I’ve lived for more than sixty years assuming that if we can simply communicate and love one another, we can solve all our problems no matter who we are, where we come from, how much we weigh, where we worship, what we believe, or how much money we make. It’s all accepted here, except by a few fringe elements.

Back to the guest who opened my eyes and mangled my innocence. She wanted to buy a few of my books before she left. I showed her to my closet stock of novels. She picked out two books, and then I had the bright of idea of gifting her with a copy of my great grandfather’s memoir Civil War Journal of a Union Soldier. I’m very proud to have published this book and believe its historical context to be of supreme importance. It gave me great pride to produce it. I explained it to our guest and attempted to hand her a copy. She stepped back as if bitten.

“My family was in the Confederacy,” she said.

I tried to explain that the journal shows the horrors of war and of brothers fighting brothers.

“My family owned slaves.” She stood in my living room saying words I thought I’d never hear. “My grandmother told me that she worked right along side the slaves, but one day a storm came up. The slaves were sent to the barn while my grandmother stayed in the fields.”

Her grandmother told our guest, “We valued our slaves more than our relatives because we needed them.”

Nervous laughter from everyone listening–except for me. I walked away protectively clutching my precious book.

“I still fly the Confederate flag.” Her words followed me back to my office.

I seethed all afternoon after she left. Then I watched the second Presidential debate last night. How can I possibly believe we can heal the great divide created in this campaign year if there are those still fighting the Civil War? And this comes from a woman my husband has known for more than twenty years. He admires her knowledge in their common field of work. She didn’t just come out from under a rock.

Even though I feel nauseated and hopeless in these waning days of the 2016 Presidential campaign, I won’t let it stop me from going to the polls and voting on November 8 for the candidate who I feel will not turn my beloved country into a totalitarian regime. And I urge every citizen of this great country to do the same no matter how you want to vote. That’s why we’re a great country because we do allow freedom of expression without fear of arrest. At least,that’s the way it stands now.

We always say to remember history lest we forget, but sometimes we might need to forget lest we continue to fight a war that ended more than one hundred and fifty years ago.

And remember propaganda,  which can be used for good or for bad, must be deciphered so we know what is positive and what is evil. Consider the following persuasive techniques to create propaganda:

  1. Take advantage of brewing discontent
  2. Offer the right answers in a time of economic upheaval
  3. Blame a scapegoat for the ills of an entire nation
  4. Place the success of a campaign on the back of one person’s personality
  5. Speak to the largest rallies possible
  6. Use a simple dogma and focus on only one or two points
  7. Repeat the simple dogma
  8. Find slogans to repeat
  9. Speak to emotions and stir them

I pulled these points together from several websites describing how Hitler managed to fool the German people long enough to form the Nazi party.

Think about it before you vote, and then remember this poignant piece from anti-Nazi and Lutheran pastor, Martin Niemoller.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

REMEMBER WHO WE ARE AND VOTE NOVEMBER 8USA map multicultural group of young people integration diversity

 

THE MEANING OF #MEMORIAL DAY

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Decoration Day, which we’ve come to call Memorial Day, began in 1866 as a way to honor those who fought and died in the Civil War (1861-1865). Until 1971, it was celebrated on May 30. Now we celebrate it on the last Monday of May, usually as a way to start the summer season rather than a way of honoring our fallen soldiers. This year the official Memorial Day falls on the original date of May 30.

When I was young, growing up in a small Michigan town, the day began solemnly with the high school band leading a parade from the high school to the cemetery where a 21-gun salute honored all of our fellow citizens who fought in all the wars since the Civil War. The veterans handed out paper poppies which symbolized the original Decoration Days when women would decorate the graves of soldiers with flowers. Then we marched back to the high school where another civic group handed out ice cream bars, and that’s when the official partying began with backyard barbecues and frisbee tossing. By starting the day at the cemetery, we all knew what we were celebrating.

This weekend, I’m celebrating the holiday with a remembrance of my great grandfather who fought in the war as a Union soldier and rendered his account of the horrors of fighting against fellow countrymen in his journal that I published in 2013. The book is available in paperback and audible formats, as well as Kindle. This week, May 28-June 4, the book may be downloaded for only $0.99 on Amazon.

Here’s an excerpt from the journal of Harmon Camburn who I’m proud to call my great grandfather. In this particular section, he details his company’s actions during the Battle of Fair Oaks.

The Battle of Fair Oaks (AKA Seven Pines – May 31-June 1, 1862

May 31 – Orders came for us to report to General Kearney at Seven Pines Tavern. Without delay, we were on the move. Before we reached the stage road, one of those sudden storms peculiar to the south burst upon us without warning. The sky grew dark. Then quickly came sheets of livid flame, followed by deafening crashes of thunder. In another moment, sluices of water began to pour. Darkness became so intense that nothing could be seen except by the blinding, hissing, crackling flashes of lightning. The scene was one of terrific grandeur, but exposed to its fury as we were, it was not pleasant. Some gained the partial shelter of the trees. Others could not make head against the flood and were forced to stand and take it where they were. In half an hour, this cloudburst was a thing of the past. The only evidence that it had been was the distant detonation of thunder and the lake of muddy water in which we stood over our shoe tops.

As soon as the storm swept by, we marched away in pursuit of orders. Then there broke upon our ears rapid explosions of thunder that we knew too well were not from heaven, followed by an unsteady roll that we knew was not the reverberation of thunder along the clouds. To our experienced ears, it was the sound of deadly strife.

Then came fugitives from the front, saying that Casey’s division which was in the advance had been surprised at Fair Oaks station and “All cut to pieces.” As with increased pace and quickened pulse we pushed forward, the number of fugitives increased and all had the same cry. “We’re all cut to pieces.” To say that our little band felt no misgivings in the face of this wild rout would not be true. Thoughts of Bull Run forced themselves upon us, but when did the 2nd Michigan fail to report wherever they were ordered. Straining toward the front, we met the lion-hearted, firm and true General Heintzelman at a point where the swamp and creek came close together within forty rods. This hair-lipped old general demanded, “What are these and where are you going?” Being told that we were two companies of the 2nd Michigan going to report to General Kearney, he ordered, “Deploy across this muck and stop these stragglers or kill them.” Instantly, the movement was begun at double quick and in another moment, we were facing the mob of excited, terrified men, some hatless, from they knew not what, while the spent balls from the enemy was stimulating their speed.

To stay this tide was to us a harder task than to fight the enemy. They were our friends, and we did not want to hurt them. By the sounds from the front, we knew that our men who had not been stampeded were bravely holding the rebels in check. These men must be made to turn and help them. At first, it required rough treatment and some received wounds here that had escaped unscathed at the front, but when the tide was once stayed, a peremptory order to “Fall in,” enforced by the point of the bayonet, backed by a loaded musket was obeyed without resistance. Each had his story to tell, to which we would not listen. Officers and men alike insisted that “We’re all cut to pieces” and “I am the only man left of my regiment.”

Officers and men resorted to various subterfuges and tricks to get past our line. Two men carrying their brave and esteemed captain, with both legs tied up with handkerchiefs, were stopped to examine the captain’s wounds. When the bandages were removed, no wounds were to be found. Men with heads, bodies, legs, and arms tied up were detected in the cheat and put into the ranks. A colonel of a New York regiment with two men carrying him desired to push through. We sent the men to the ranks, but passed the colonel. He was dead-drunk. We dumped his carcass on the ground in the swamp as of no use. One by one, seven color bearers drifted back to us with their colors and the declaration that they alone had escaped with the colors, the others were “all cut to pieces.” The phrase “cut to pieces” became a joke and many an officer in splendid uniform was asked to take off his clothes and show where he was cut. Some officers were indignant that their rank was not respected, and that private soldiers dared to prevent their passing, but a look into the muzzle of a loaded musket with a resolute eye behind it inclined them to waive their rights for this once. By stationing the various regimental colors in different parts of the field, and directing the men to assemble around their own colors, we rallied seven good-sized regiments of live men that were not “cut to pieces.” We kept our line all night, part of the men sleeping at a time. Our duty had been a very unpleasant one, but we were assured that it was very important.

June 1 – Early in the morning we joined our regiment on the battlefield. Seven companies of the regiment were in the thickest of the fight and lost heavily in killed and wounded, and Colonel Poe had his horse shot under him. Richardson’s division was already pushing the enemy, and long before noon, the lost ground was regained. This two-day battle was called by both names – Fair Oaks and Seven Pines, the fighting being done between a railroad station of the former name and a country tavern of the latter. (The aggregate loss to Union and Confederate – killed 3,690, wounded 7,524, prisoners 2,322.)

[Fair Oaks or Seven Pines, May 31-June 1, 1862, with the total killed, wounded, or captured now recorded as 13,736.]

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#AUDIO RELEASE OF CIVIL WAR JOURNAL OF A UNION SOLDIER

AudiACXTo celebrate the release of the audio version of A Civil War Journal of a Union Soldier, the memoir of my great grandfather, I’m offering a chance to win a copy. Please enter the rafflecopter for your chance to win.

Jeffrey A. Hering narrated the book, and I’m extremely pleased with the outcome. Check out a sample, by clicking here.

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#Civil War in April 1861 – #Virginia

FinalCoverI woke this morning of Easter thinking of my great grandfather and where he might have spent Easter during his years as a soldier in the Union Army. He makes no reference to the religious holiday even though he was a deeply religious man. However, I found a passage in his memoir, Civil War Journal of a Union Soldier, from April 4-6, 1861, that tells the tale of springtime during war.

He and Michigan’s 2nd regiment had been encamped near the Black River, five miles from Newport News Point, Virginia, for almost two weeks. They endured two weeks of almost solid rain before receiving the word it was time to march through the mud to their next camp. Here’s his story of those few days in early April, one hundred and fifty-three years ago.

In my great grandfather’s words:

April 4 – The long expected forward movement was begun at last. The clouds that had poured rain upon us so long and continuously had rolled away, and a fiery sun shone down upon

us with all the fierceness of full summer. We crossed Back River and took the road up the peninsula between the York and James rivers.

The roads were heavy with mud, and the soldiers were fain to relieve the tiresome march by reducing the weight of baggage carried upon their backs. Believing summer had come to stay, they began to throw away their overcoats, and some their blankets and soon the roadside was literally covered with these castoff articles. The route step of vigorous, fresh troops soon brought us through a wooded country to Little Bethel. We were some surprised to see nothing but a small church, for General [Benjamin F.] Butler’s movements of last June had given the Bethels a place in history.

[From P.C. Zick:  It’s noted that General Butler was one of the first to employ observation balloons during the Civil War, but his reputation as a terrible tactician was proven on June 10, 1861, at Big Bethel, Virginia, which was the first land battle of the Civil War. Despite outnumbering the Confederates, his men fired on each other, which accounted for one-third of the Union casualties in the defeat.]

Late in the afternoon, we came upon Big Bethel. Here as before, there was a church though a little larger than the other Bethel. Some deserted rebel earthworks stretched away into the woods on each side of the road, but as there were no rebels about there was little of interest to us. Two miles beyond Great Bethel, we bivouacked for the night, sleeping beside our arms, for it was known that we were very close to the enemy.

April 5 – At an early hour, the column was on the move. The men, in high spirits, pushed eagerly forward, the dominant thought being that every step brought us nearer the enemy. The road lay mostly through heavy timber. In the after part of the day, the country became low and swampy and the roads soft, the mud coming often to our knees. The distant booming of artillery freshened our lagging zeal as we came upon higher ground, but a brief delay, during which the sounds of strife at the front became more animated, raised hopes that once more we were to have some practical experience in warfare. As the firing died away, we moved on and soon learned that the enemy had made a feeble attempt to check our advance at Worms Mills.

Late in the day, the occasional discharge of cannon sounded nearer, and as we emerged from the woods onto an open plain, we could see the smoke of the guns rise from a dim line of earthworks on the opposite side. That we were within range of their artillery was evident from the shots that now and then screamed over our heads and clipped the limbs from the trees in our rear. Just at twilight, our brigade was moved to the left and camped between the woods and a pool of water. Beside the pool were Professor Lowe and his balloon. As we approached, he was being pulled down from his lofty place of observation, a thousand feet high. This was one of McClellan’s favorite ways of gaining information of the enemy’s movements.

As we had experienced a long and hard march, the cooks were ordered to serve coffee with dispatch. Being in a strange locality close to the enemy and already dark, the cooks took water for the coffee from the pool. When the coffee was served, each man, as he took some in his mouth, quickly spit it out again. Everyone declared it bit his mouth so they could not swallow it. Investigation showed that they had taken the water from the same spot where the refuse vitriol used in manufacturing gas for the balloon had been emptied. A storm of indignation was raised against the cooks and some curses were hurled at the balloon, but I doubt any of us could have done better under the circumstances.

We were now before Yorktown and on the border of the plain where Cornwallis surrendered his forces in Revolutionary times. Yorktown is a walled town of the old style to which the rebels added a long wing of earthworks that entirely covered the available route up the peninsula.

After eating the remnant of food in our haversacks, we lay down with the thought that on the morrow we should surely assault the enemy and severely punish him.

April 6 – With the dawning of a new day, the encampment was astir, anxious to get a glimpse of the surroundings by daylight. The first object that met my gaze as I crawled from my shelter tent was the forms of General [Hiram G.] Berry and two staff officers stretched upon the bare ground under a tree, without other covering or shelter than its spreading branches while their horses gnawed at neighboring saplings. The baggage train that should have brought the general’s tent and equipage and our rations, had been delayed by the bad roads. The prospect for something to eat was dubious. The majority of the men had eaten the last from their haversacks the night before. Roused by the bustle of the camp, the general and his aides arose and kindled a small fire and put something to cook in a quart cup. Three of us who messed together pooled our rations and found we had six hardtack for the three. We voted to give the general and each of his aides one apiece and have one each for our own breakfast. Upon tendering them to the general with the information that it was half we had, he accepted on condition that we take half of the rice they were cooking which was all they had. It was a great consolation to us that for once the general and his soldiers fared alike.

Notwithstanding our eager expectation, the day passed without any action. The next day and the next passed in inactivity and no rations.

[From P.C. Zick:  Elsewhere in the war, General Ulysses S. Grant’s troops are surprised by a Confederate attack at Shiloh on the Tennessee River. More than 23,000 men are killed or wounded.]

April 8 – The troops were moved back into the woods and picks and shovels came to the front. Our spirits were dampened by the prospect of more shoveling. For many days, camp life was broken only by the regular rotation of picket duty and an occasional turn at shoveling in trenches, which were to form a regular approach by means of parallels to the enemy’s works.

The camp of our brigade in the woods lay between two swamp holes, the waters of which we were compelled to use for washing, cooking, and drinking purposes. Very soon around the entire edges of the ponds was a wide circle of dirty soapsuds where the men had washed their clothes and their persons. Water to drink was procured by walking as far out as possible on a log and dipping up the filthy swamp water, and even there it tasted of soap. We knew of no better water, and if we had perfectly patrolled, that if a man strayed from his own camp, he was sure to go to the trenches to work instead of finding water. Drenching rains fell most of the time, rations were scarce, and the miasma of the swamps sickened the men so that our ranks were depleted faster by disease than they would have been by assault upon the works at Yorktown. At intervals through all these days, the rebels sent shot from their heavy guns over us and around, but nobody was ever hurt by them. Working parties pushed the fortifications day and night under the direction of experienced engineers. By day, the work went on behind the woods and in other places out of rebel observation and by night parallels were dug across the open spaces by the aid of white lines. Each morning, the enemy awoke to find some new piece of Yankee impudence right under their noses.

One dark and rainy day, I was ordered to take out a working party of forty men. The engineer conducted us to a narrow strip of woods that projected into the plain on the same level and in full view of the walls of Yorktown. On the edge of the wood, next to the enemy, was a fine growth of underbrush. Through this as close as possible to the open ground, the engineer ran his line, his own men cutting off the fine brush and standing it up to thicken the screen that concealed us. It was our work to follow and cut out the trench, one spading deep so that a larger

force could throw out the remainder at night without the aid of lights. With a wholesome respect for the frowning guns before us, we did not draw a single shot from the rebel batteries.

As fast as works were completed, men were detailed to man them for twenty-four hours at a time. It was my fortune to be in the same trench several times during the thirty days siege of Yorktown, and I witnessed two or three amusing incidents. It was the custom of the rebels to fire a shot once a half hour over this work, and sometimes it hit the work and at others, it clipped the treetops. Just behind us was a low spot where grew some lofty elms. Through these, one day came a straggling soldier leisurely surveying the surroundings. He paused in a comfortable attitude under one of the elms and seemed to be enjoying himself very much when a shot from the enemy cut a limb as big as his body directly over his head. He did not wait for the limb to fall, but started on the jump for camp and had not slackened his speed nor looked behind when he entered the wood on the opposite side of the plain. At another time, General Phil Kearney and three other generals rode up to this part of the line and stopped to gaze through the thin growth of timber at Yorktown. As they looked, a puff of smoke shot up from the rebel works. Quick as a flash of light, the four generals were off their horses and flat upon the ground. When the deadly missile has passed, they arose and remounted. Kearney remarked with a pleased smile, “I never before saw generals so quickly reduced to the ranks.”

I came on duty once with a captain of the 3rd Michigan. After lookouts had been posted and everything was arranged for the night, the captain and myself wrapped our blankets around us and lay down on the shelf of the trench, feet together, while the other men were disposed conveniently near. In the night, a big shell buried in itself in the breastwork near the point where our feet met, and burst, sending a great amount of dirt into the air. As the earth came down, it buried both under a heavy load. With some exertion, we both released ourselves and met in the darkness, he being sure it had torn him to pieces. Investigation showed that no one was hurt, and we returned to our slumbers to be disturbed no more that night.

Time brings all things to an end and at last the earthworks were completed, the cannon and mortars mounted, and it was currently rumored that the bombardment would take place in a day or two. Our sharpshooters were so close to the walls of Yorktown that they could pick off the gunners whenever they attempted to serve their guns, and their keen eyes were always strained to detect an animated mark for their aim.

Civil War Journal of a Union Soldier by Harmon Camburn as presented by P.C. Zick is available at the following locations. Click below to purchase.

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#CivilWar Journal – Sale at Smashwords

"Camburn's words paint a rich tapestry often shadowed with the bleak aspects of war." Amazon review

“Camburn’s words paint a rich tapestry often shadowed with the bleak aspects of war.” Amazon review

This week I’m offering the eBook of Civil War Journal of a Union Soldier at a 50% discount off the regular $5.99 price. All you need to do is to click here: Smashwords and click to buy. On the next screen put in this coupon code: EP57P. The price will be adjusted accordingly.

My great grandfather wrote this memoir for his children, one of whom was my grandfather. Publishing the book as both a paperback and eBook represents a labor of love to my ancestors and to those who fight our wars.

In his own words, he offers what he calls his “Excuse:”

At the earnest solicitation of my children for stories of my past life, I promised to write in my leisure moments some incidents for their perusal, as I could not always respond at their desire with an interesting story.

Memory, aided by a brief diary that I kept during my service in the army, are all the sources I have to draw from.

While I shall endeavor to be strictly truthful, I must of necessity speak of things from a personal standpoint, or as I saw them. And the impressions will be those made upon me by passing events.

If what I write meets the eye of others than those for whom they are intended, I have only this to say: It was only written for my children. And if I confer upon them as much pleasure as I shall take in gratifying them, I shall feel amply repaid.

 

Preorders now available for $.99 cents

Preorders now available for $.99 cents