Faithful Sons

Veterans Day, November 2009.

In honor of my great-great grandfather, T.G. Clark and his sons, Jonathan and Albert Henry, who died at Gettysburg. In this chapter, Jonathan has just buried his father and Henry in a shallow grave on the wheat field and two days later fights in Pickett's Charge.

To his dear friend and brother in combat, he gathers his wits and calmly asks, "Andrew, what do you dream about?"

"I dream about the river behind my house. About naked trees in the winter. About my Mama when she was young and I was a boy. And I dream about walking to meetinghouse on Sundays in the spring."

"You don't dream about blood or cannons or dead family members in the cut?"

Andrew looked away, tears filling his eyes.

Jonathan wiped the tears and sweat from his own face and continued. "I wish I could dream about riding to work with Pa and Henry, talking and laughing. About fishing down on Big Creek. Frogs croaking on a hollow log. An eagle in flight. And Benjamin."

Andrew swallowed hard. "I know, man. Is there anything I can do for you, my friend?"

"No, Andrew, I'm afraid not. Life as I've always known it—the good life—is over. No more dreams for me. From the time we left Mother and the boys and Cassie in December of 1861, life was good, because I still had Pa and Henry. For almost two years we slept in the same tent or on the same oil cloth under the stars; we took our meals from the same tin plate many times, bathed in the same cold stream, warmed by the same campfire. My father practically brought me back to life when I was dying of the fever. Henry has been my soul's best friend. No, there's nothing you can do. There's nothing anyone can do. The war has seen to that. This war has taken the dearest to me. It has taken my dreams and left me nightmares in return.

"The naked trees behind the ridge and on the river are gone. I don't get to walk home from meetinghouse like that any more. Whatever you find delicious in your mouth is bitter in mine. Whatever is fine to you and better than fine—then take this into your heart—those things are gone from me. They don't belong to my anymore."

Jonathan's shoulders shook and tears streamed down his face.

From Chapter 32, Faithful Sons
The Mississippi Boys


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