(This is another special posting by Suzy. I hope you enjoy it.)
He was just of average height and had ropey muscles indicating a vigorous, young man’s strength from years of working on the family farm. His family had come to this valley in western Pennsylvania with some of the first settlers, and different branches of the family had owned land all over the valley. The early morning July sun promised a hot day. Pushing a shock of dirty blond hair off his already damp forehead, his light blue eyes looked out over the field of winter wheat. It’s golden hue and fat heads told him it was ready for harvest. The air was still, and there was a bit of sparkle from the remaining dew. Within the hour the grass and fields would be dry and they could start harvesting.
He and his brother, Will, had just finished the alfalfa last week.. His father was pleased that they had finished before the Independence Day celebration. Mother had spent the week working to prepare the food for the family picnic. The holiday fell on Friday so that those who came from a bit farther stayed over to attend Sabbath Meeting before returning to their homes after dinner Sunday afternoon. Just now the family was mostly women and children and old men. The preacher had spoken about the war and all of the men who were away fighting. Brother Jack is on some island in South Carolina fighting this war. He’s been gone most of a year now. The Sharp cousins had gone earlier. Shortly after Jack left, their father had taken ill. It had seemed to take a long time for him to get his strength back. Jamie and Will were still doing most of the heavy work and everything took longer with fewer hands. Jack kept writing that their father shouldn’t fret about him, but both parent watched for the mail carrier each day hoping for some proof that Jack was still among the living.
Jack had helped put in the winter wheat last August, then joined up with Daniel Leasure and the100th Infantry, Pennsylvania Volunteers. Lawrence County had provided the men for F Company under James Cline. The Round Heads had pledged three years, but nobody thought it would take that long. In his early letters, Jack had written that they expected the war to be over by spring and he would be home by planting. They had gone to Camp Kalorama Heights, near Washington, D.C. for training. Then in the fall, his regiment had gone in a convoy of seven ships to North Carolina where they spent the winter on James Island. Now the fighting wasn’t going as well and Jack saw no end to it.
Jamie stepped off the porch and with an easy stride headed to the barn to get his hook. He knew Will would be along soon. Will was still reading all the details about the war that were in the newspaper Mother had brought home from town. Jamie was looking forward to the rhythm of cutting the wheat, which would leave a lot of time to think, and he had a lot to think about just now. They had gotten a letter from his brother-in-law, A.J., just last week. A.J. said he hoped the drill Jamie had done would be sufficient satisfaction of Military Duty to keep his war fever down. A.J. had come to the conclusion the he would much rather serve this great nation at home by cultivating the soil. He encouraged Jamie to value the production of food to feed the soldiers and those at home. He wrote that he requested Jamie not to go to War, but let somebody else fight to free the Negroes. Jamie didn’t know much about the Negroes, except that many were slaves, mostly in the south. He’d never even seen one. In these parts they rarely even saw an Indian. He had read Governor Curtin’s call for volunteers. Governor Curtin said that Washington was in imminent danger of being over run by the rebels. The regiments he had sent before had been sent to many places and now President Lincoln needed more men to protect Washington. Jamie did want to keep our great Union together. His brother was marching and being fired upon. Word had come back that several of the young men he knew and had grown up with were dead. Every generation of his family before him had fought for this country except his father who had had the disadvantage of being born in 1812, and thus unable to defend his country in the war of that year. When Jamie was eleven there had been the War with Mexico. President Polk had not asked for volunteers to fight there and Jamie didn’t know anyone who had gone. Now, at twenty-seven Jamie was looking forward to buying his own farm, getting married and starting a family. After Sabbath meeting he had been visiting with Sarah. She seemed willing to marry and begin building their life together. If he signed up, would she wait for him to come home to her? Belle, who had been seeing Jack, had already begun visiting with one of the other fellows who had a farm up the road a bit. Would Jack even come home? Would he be maimed or killed in some battlefield whose name none here had ever heard before getting word of a battle? If Jamie went, would he come home? There was always that chance, too. Then, if he didn’t go would Sarah think of him as less of a man? Would he be able to live with himself?
Jamie cut the wheat and Will bundled it into shocks to dry. The weather held and by the end of the week it was time to separate the wheat heads from the straw. Then they baled the hay and stored it in the barn. On Saturday, the 19th, Jamie and Will walked into Harlansburg. Jamie had decided and Will wouldn’t be left behind. If they signed with this new group, the 134th, it would be for only nine months. He would be home by next spring. He would trust in the Great Giver of all good things that he would only miss one fall planting. He signed.
Jamie had a little over two weeks to settle his affairs and to help his father prepare things around the farm so that the old man could handle it until spring.
On Friday, 8 August, Jamie and Will kissed their Mother and shook hands with their father and set off up the road for Harlansburg where they were taken by wagon to New Castle. At 4 P.M. they boarded a boat and started down river for Pittsburgh. They took heart from Jack’s letters about Army life. Now they were on their way to places they had never seen and their lives would be very different. Yet, Jamie was at peace. His decision had been made. He would fight in this war. He would be part of the Grand Army of the Republic and hold this great Union together.
The last word:
This is another story about my Great Grandfather based on his diaries and letters.
Keep your sense of humor.