Dedication Day

Submitted into Contest #80 in response to: Write about a child witnessing a major historical event.... view prompt


Fiction Historical Fiction Teens & Young Adult

The smell of death hangs in the air around the leafless trees as we head out of town with each step. God has seen fit to give us an overcast sky for this somber day. It’s been five months since two great armies met in my town, in this cemetery, on this ground. Our boys in blue approached from the south while the invader in gray encroached from the north. We hid in our basement for three days huddled together for safety and comfort. Men fought and died above us and all around us outside. The day after Johnny Reb left, Ma found a Billy Yank in our garden, propped against a shed, a photo of three girls clutched to his cold breast. The sight of those girls made Ma cry. She knew that poor soul in what was left of our garden wasn’t Pa. First tears I saw her shed since Pa joined the Grand Army of the Potomac.

Ma wanted Pa to stay with us. She thought the war would be over before my little brother was born. It was August ’62 when Pa left to join up to defend this country he loves. Ma brought us to Grandpa and Grandma’s to wait for Pa’s return. Ma has worked hard to keep our spirits up saying we need to be as brave as Pa and do our part while he is away.

The smell of the fresh dirt covering the graves in the new cemetery reminds me of when Grandpa readies the garden for planting. Last Spring, I helped Grandpa with the planting. Maybe next year I can also help with the harvesting if we aren’t invaded again. Johnny Reb took everything edible last July leaving us fewer provisions for the coming year.

These ordered graves appeared over the past couple of weeks. Dead Billy Yanks are dug up from their graves scattered throughout the battlefield and planted here. This cemetery is just for them, a piece of ground to call their own. Here is the final resting place for soldiers not being shipped home to their families along with the soldiers known only to God.

Ma told me to be brave today. It is important we attend and represent Pa. Ma says Pa wants us to be here to help dedicate this final resting place for the Billy Yanks that fought beside Pa. I don’t know if I could be brave if I didn’t know Pa isn’t under one of those graves recently planted. I say a prayer for those here that will never feel another hug or kiss from their kids.

Ma’s happiest the days we get a letter from Pa. He always tells us to be good and to listen to Ma, Grandma, and Grandpa. I must be extra good because I’m older and have learned more lessons than my younger brother. I know there is more, stuff Ma doesn’t share. Things Pa writes that is for Ma alone. Things that give Ma the strength and courage to carry on in the face of a war that may never end. Ma places Pa’s letters in the chest in her room. I snuck in one day to look at Pa’s handwriting though I don’t know my letters yet. Ma caught me before I could open the chest and shooed me out of the room. I then sat through a lecture, so I respect other people’s privacy. That means I’m not to get in stuff that isn’t mine and I don’t have permission to get into.

More people join us. I recognize some from town, others I don’t know. Grandma is back home with my little brother, her legs not being as good as they used to be. Ma says I need to help more so Grandma can rest her legs. Little brother has been fussy since the armies left. He starts crying when he sees a soldier or hears a loud noise.

“People coming from all over for this Luke. This is an important day for this town.” Grandpa said.

“They were blessed to get the Honorable Edward Everett to be the main speaker.” Ma said.

“Goes to show how important this day is, my daughter.”

Grandpa picks me up. “Over there Luke is the speaker’s platform. That’s where the Honorable Everett will be speaking from. That tent is the hospitality tent. Don’t they look nice with Culp’s Hill rising behind them?” I nod. “You stay close to me.” The view disappears as my feet make contact with the ground.

No longer able to see the platform or tent I look through the crowd. I recognize Widow Jones standing on our right. She became Widow Jones after we moved here. She was the first woman about Ma’s age I ever saw in widow weeds. I’ve learned to address anyone wearing widow weeds in soft tones though I’m still learning all the little rituals of kindness I see Ma, Grandpa, and Grandma do.

A hush falls over the crowd. I do my best to focus my mind. The event begins with music played by a band. I like listening to music. Music carries me away; I float along with the tune. Music lets me escape the war and sometimes if it is a tune Pa used to sing, I can hear Pa sing to me.

We bow our heads to pray along with Reverend Stockton. I add my own prayer for God to keep watch over Pa and the Grand Army of the Potomac and if it isn’t asking too much, for this war to end, so Pa can come home. The sun cuts through the clouds as my prayer ends. I take it as a sign God has heard me and the war will end one day. The sun continues to shine as more music is performed.

Then it’s time for Honorable Everett to enthrall us with the story of what happened during the battle last July. He says it will go down in history along with the battle of Marathon, whatever that is. There is so much I don’t understand. I do my best to stand and focus my mind just as Grandpa told me to. I pretend Pa will hear how good I am, and he will tell Ma how proud he is of me in his next letter.

I like the hymn sung after Honorable Everett has finished. I hope it is the end and we can make our way home. A soft murmur travels through the crowd. The President, all the way from Washington, stands to give his speech. My best friend Matthew said the President is gangly and the ugliest person he’s ever seen. I wish I could see Mr. President Lincoln. He has to be pretty ugly.

A clear tenor voice cuts through the afternoon, a nice, clear, kind voice. The voice says this country was founded in liberty and the proposal that all men are created equal. This country is now engaged in a war to see if a country founded on such principles can survive. Our meeting on a portion of this battlefield is fitting but we are unable to dedicate it more than it has already been dedicated by the soldiers who fought, bled, and died here. What we need to do is rededicate ourselves to the fight that these soldiers died for, so their deaths will not have been in vain. The voice stops and it’s quiet. I wonder if there will be more but then I hear scattered applause. I decide anyone with that voice can’t be as ugly as Matthew said.

A dirge is performed. I ruminate on what the President said. After Reverend Baugher delivers the benediction we start for home.

What President Lincoln said reminds me of what Pa said before joining up. Pa believes this country will survive the war. I just pray this war ends before Ma must wear widow’s weeds. 

February 11, 2021 22:51

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