Welcome to Fifth Minnesota Fiction!
Update 1-26-15: Ladies and gentlemen, the show is coming to an end. For all of you who have read, supported, and encouraged this blog and my writing--thank you. While many of these stories have already been previously published in book form, I am about to join the 21st century and publish in electronic reader format. As such, this blog will vanish into the ether March 1st. Thank you all, I hope you have enjoyed my meager offerings.
This is a blog dedicated to the essence of what my experience doing Civil War living history is all about--telling a good story. In the case of the Co. A, Fifth Minnesota, we strive to tell the stories of history--everyday lives caught up in the turmoils of strife and change. Our purpose, is to give room for some of those stories to grow, and find an end for themselves. The process of good Living History is much the same as that used to write a story, the difference is that with the written word it is the reader that acts it out in their head. With Living History, the participants take those great narratives and give them life themselves in action and word.
Here those stories we have begun can go on. I hope you will enjoy them as much as I do writing them! A word of warning though--be patient with me. Posts may be spread out a bit (I write these whenever real life allows) but something new is almost always cooking; it simply may take time to get them served up at the table.
A. Wade Jones
Sunday, October 10, 2010
Looking up as he crossed the wide, muddy street of late April, Daniel Dills felt a part of him relax which had been screwed up in knots for days. Not that anyone around him really would have known this, since he had never been much for sharing his inner thoughts. Age had afforded Daniel little inspiration to part from this course of habit, but had rather had afforded improved abilities for camouflaging the turmoil within himself. But he thought, I can find peace amongst those who understood without any explanation. He could spend an hour amongst them, knowing that these men knew what he still sometimes saw when his dreams became demons which robbed him of sleep. They knew because many of them had seen as he had. Many had experience equal or worse than his own had been. It was the unspoken wound; one that could not be seen or understood in the same way that the loss of a leg or eye could be. He stepped up upon the wooden walk as a large farm wagon rattled past, eyeing the well painted sign over the door--” ‘Robson’ Post 5, G.A.R.”--and smiled to himself. He winced briefly with a painful stillness in his legs and decided that getting older was often exasperating. If only he felt old, he thought. He opened the creaky front door and was greeted by several of those older men clustered around one of the tables in the room. Pipe smoke drifted thickly out the door passed him, and like some kind of fountain of youth--Daniel Dills felt the weight of his troubles evaporate from his body. Shuffling over the threshold, he closed the door and slipped his hat over one of the pegs on the wall.
“Dan, you looking a little stiff there today.” said the mustached younger man who was tending the plain, but well stocked bar.
Dills smiled and shook his head as he stepped over and tapped his calloused palm upon the rosewood bar top. “Just taking my time coming in for your overpriced, watered down drinks Roger.”
Roger smiled gap-toothed, and brushed his mustache with a chuckle. “Now you’re hurting my feelings, Dan.”
“You never had any feeling Roger,” Daniel laughed and smiled crookedly, “how are you today?”
Roger considered a glass he had taken from below the counter and poured dark liquor into it before placing it before the old man at his counter.
“I’m good today Dan. But you remember our deal! If the Doc comes around and sees you with that--I DID NOT give it to you, YOU HELPED YOURSELF when I wasn’t looking.”
“Yes, I remember.”
“Cause I don’t want another one of those lectures of his, like the last time!”
Dills nodded emphatically and patted Rogers hand with his own. “Yes, yes my boy, I know. Doctor Blackmer means well, but he always was long winded even in the old days.” Roger nodded, and resumed some work he had counting bottles and checking inventory. Dills, taking the glass before him in his hand, sipped the dark liquor and sighed with pleasure. “Good--all the more so for being so illicit. Between the Doctor and my Rebecca, this drink here is down right sinful!”
Roger smiled and wagged his finger. “I figure you’ve earned it, which is why I gave it to you, but just you remember if anyone catches you…”
“Yes, I helped myself--I do recall.” Interrupted Dills with a wink, as he took another sip. Looking up, Daniel noted again the broadside for the upcoming encampment hosted by the G.A.R.--the Grand Army of the Republic--an organization of chapters set up for the veterans of the war by those men who had often longed for the company of their brother soldiers after the conflict had ended. For many members, the G.A.R. was mostly a social institution; while for others it assured the collective grievances of the wounded and maimed from the war did not fall on deaf ears. For some, it was a place where one could find men who understood the difficulties of going from the army and a war, to the oddities of civilian life. For Daniel Dills, this was where he can to find his center again; and escape his well meaning but sometimes nagging wife. At regular intervals, the G.A.R. would host encampments and even ‘sham battles’ for those members who wanted to relieve the “glory days”. Dills had yet to attend one of these, and had always suspected that those members most excited about the battles in particular had likely seen little real combat during the actual war.
“So, you thinking of going to this one? They say it could be a good sized one, especially since it’s in the capital and all.” asked Roger, breaking Dills from his thoughts.
“I’m sorry, what?”
“The encampment, in St. Paul this year. I thought perhaps you were thinking about going this year.”
Dills stared at Roger briefly, and shrugged. “We’ll see. I think I may be too old for the cold ground anymore.”
“I know Charlie is talking about going, so I thought maybe you might too.”
Dills sat up. “My son? Whatever is he thinking of? That boy has always had too much fire to his blood for his own good.”
Roger smiled and resumed his work, whilst Dills quietly berated his son in absentia. Charles H. Dills had been the one who had initiated the whole affair to begin with. It was 1862, and without warning, 17 year old Charles H. Dills had enlisted as a soldier after he had run across Tim Sheehan and Francis Hall whilst they were recruiting for company C. When the news was broken, Daniel had been encouraged strongly by his wife Rebecca that it was his duty to join up as well to look after “their patriotically impetuous” son. Charles, Daniels younger brother had decided to go along as well--and so they had ended up as soldiers in company C of the 5th Minnesota, off to fight the rebels and secession. Now his son was thinking about trekking all the way out to St. Paul for some grab for the old days, when his wife Jessie needed him at home on the farm with his two young children. He would have to knock some sense into that boy, and remind him of his responsibilities. Dills looked into his glass, still half full, and noted the aged reflection staring back at him.
Was that really the reason he was angry that Charles Henry might go to the G.A.R. encampment, or was it his own trouble with his memories of those days? His own inability to so far attend a single event, for fear of the feelings it might dredge into the light of day? It had been 15 years since he had been mustered out of the army for medical issues--chronic dehydration and diarrhea during the start of that horrible siege outside the town of Vicksburg--and still he had rarely spoken of his experiences. He wondered why Charles Henry seemed to be so uninhibited about the war, especially given that he had served through to the end and undoubtedly had seen equal horrors. The door opened behind him, and Dills turned to see his brother’s son, Irving, scamper over and grab a hold of his sleeve. His nephew was 10 years old, and the spitting image his father. Dills started to explain that he was just holding the drink in his hand for a friend, when he realized Irving wasn’t paying any attention. His eyes were serious and wet.
“Uncle Daniel! Pa wants you quick, Mama is not doing well!” said the boy, on the edge of panic. Daniel knew that Irving’s mother Maria (who happened to also be the sister of his own wife Rebecca) had been in poor health, but this seemed much more serious than he expected. He followed the boy out as fast as he could, asking questions as they went.
“Did you fetch your Aunt?”
“Yes Sir, Pa went looking for you and Aunt Rebecca at the house first. He took her over and sent me along to collect you up!”
Daniel patted Irving on the shoulder, trying to reassure the boy as best as he could that everything would be fine. Daniel felt his attempts come to naught later that night, when Maria died quietly in the throes of a fever. He comforted his wife for the loss of his sister, holding her close as she sobbed loudly into his chest. Irving looked back at his uncle Daniel once, before turning back to keep vigil over the body of his mother.
They buried Maria shortly after, and for two weeks following Irving and his 21 year old sister Adel stayed with Daniel and his wife on their farm. His brother Charles felt he needed a period of solitude on the farm he had built in Bancroft with his wife, and it seemed a reasonable request. Rebecca seemed determined to ensure every need was met for his sister’s children, to the point that Irving began to seek escape by hiding in the outbuildings. So it was that one day, as Daniel was working in the granary, he was startled by the youthful voice of his nephew from the loft above.
“Hey Uncle Daniel.”
“You took me by surprise Irving!” responded Dills as he moved so he could peer up to where the boy was situated. He was snuggled amongst some grain sacks, only the top of his light brown hair visible. “What are you doing up there then?”
“Oh, I see. You look like you are doing a fine job of it. What are you hiding from then?”
“Aunt Rebecca was pestering me. I know she means well, but--I just wanted to hide for awhile.”
Daniel Dills nodded as he looked up at the tuft of hair her could just glimpse. “I understand Irving; sometimes a fellow needs to be alone. I find myself hiding from your Aunt out here myself sometimes.”
There was silence for a few moments before Irving said quietly, “Don’t tell her you saw me, okay Uncle Daniel?”
Daniel Dills nodded and raised his hand in the approximation of a solemn oath.
“I promise I won’t.”
Resuming his inspection of his hay forks for cracks and splits in the wooden handles, Daniel Dills had almost forgotten the boy when he spoke again.
“You and my Pa are brothers, right?”
Daniel nodded to himself as he resumed his inspection. “We are, Irving, brothers, like it or not.”
There was a pregnant pause before the boy spoke again.
“Being his brother and all, you must know all about him then.”
Daniel stopped his work, and shuffled over to where he could see that tuft of hair again in the loft above before he responded.
“Irving, climb up here where I can see you proper.” He said, waiting as the boy’s ruddy face popped into view over the edge of the loft.
“Why”, asked Daniel curiously, “are you asking what I know about your Pa?”
The boy looked sheepish a moment, a flash of sorrow behind the eyes that tore to the heart of Daniels soul and made him sorry he asked. But the boy answered, and though his voice was quiet it did not break with emotion.
“With Mama and all--it’s just, I don’t know much about Pa--is why I asked.” The boy looked away, as though he were reluctant to explain himself further. Daniel understood though, and his heart went out to the boy. Irving was only 10 after all; his closest sibling in age was his 21 year old sister Adel, and after that his brother Clark, 29 years old. Irving, now bereft of his mother, was trying to feel closer to his father. He probably didn’t quite know where he fit into the scheme of things with his 57 year old father.
“Have you ever asked your Pa about any of this?” asked Daniel, trying to gauge his brother’s relationship with his young son.
Irving shook his head, and rested his chin on folded arms. “Yes Sir, but Pa was always so busy with the chores and such. I think he was troubled for Mama‘s bad health of late too.”
Daniel Dills had been many things throughout his life, but the older he got the softer his way seemed to become for children. Perhaps it was due to the turmoil of his own youth, or advancing senility and the infirmities of age. Whatever the answer, Daniel sighed, smiled crookedly and took a seat with a grunt of stiff joints upon a nearby barrel.
“What is it you want to know about your Father?”
Irving smiled brightly and sat up, looking happier than he recalled seeing in some time. It was then that Daniel saw a flicker of Charles Henry in the face of the boy above him, just a momentary glimpse of another moment in this same building some years before.
“Charles Henry Dills! Where are you boy! God help me, where are you?” shouted 44 year old Daniel Dills, as he stormed into the granary and kicked a coating of snow from his boots in frustration.
“Up here Pa, look up.” said his 17 year old son from above in the loft. He appeared over the edge with a wary smile, and that look of wild determination Daniel knew only too well.
“What have you done? Do you realize it is illegal for you to join the army at 17?”
“They let me sign up Pa, they put this paper in my shoe and--”
“Don’t you realize this isn’t some game? This is a war, boy! A WAR! Serious as anything and twice as lethal! Do you want to get shot dead?”
“Oh Pa, with my luck it’ll be over before I even get a chance to shoot a rebel!”
Daniel growled his frustration, pacing back and forth below his son as the February wind howled outside in the yard.
“I don’t want you to do this Charlie.” said Daniel at last, staring hard at his son. But as he knew from the look on the young man’s face from the start, Charles Henry had made up his mind.
“I respect you Pa, and I know you abide love for me as a father ought. But, I’m going to fight the rebels because I believe it is my duty.”
It was useless arguing, and Daniel knew it. He had his mothers steel will, and so there was nothing for it.
“Well, your mother won’t let you go without someone to look after you--so if you insist on doing this mad thing I shall be coming with you.” responded Daniel at last shaking his head and turning for the door to the yard. As he walked with a crunch onto the frosty ground, he heard Charles Henry call out to him in response.
“Go with me? But Pa, you’re so old!”
Irving had climbed down, and the two of them sat astride a pair of barrels situated in the corner of the granary. The boy smiled quietly as his uncle finished relating a story of when his father had been a little boy and made himself sick on blackberries.
“Pa still doesn’t care for them much.” added Irving with a nod.
“So, what else would you like to know about your father?” said Daniel, feeling a spot of warmth within him for making his nephew brighter than he had found him. He should have expected it, but the question caught him off guard.
“What was it like when you and Pa were in the war?” asked the boy, blinking those great brown eyes with innocent of the impact of such a question to his uncle.
Daniel sat upright, feeling torn between a desire to answer a simple question by a child and the rising sense of unease some of those memories dragged up.
“I, I don’t much talk about those days Irving. I prefer to leave them in the past.”
“My father wont talk about it either, but I can tell when he’s worried about it because that’s when he drinks all night.” said Irving matter-of-factly, revealing something Daniel hadn’t known of his own brother.
“How often does that happen?” he asked of the boy, suddenly curious.
“More often since Mama was sick. She used to try to get him to talk about it too, but he wouldn’t.” Irving was quiet a moment before he added, “some nights I would hear him tell her he didn’t know how to tell her things, and I think he would cry. I never used to believe it, until Adel told me she saw father crying in mothers lap.”
They were quiet for a long time, before Daniel Dills spoke.
“Your father was a very good soldier, Irving. He and your cousin Charles Henry were very brave, as a great many of the boys in our regiment were in the war.”
Irving looked confused a moment, but elated that at last someone was answering his questions. “Why does it make him so sad Uncle? Wasn’t it exciting to fight in the war?”
Daniel smiled sadly and shook his head, feeling himself torn apart inside with memories that seemed to be determined to escape. “War is not very exciting Irving; to be honest it’s boring a lot of the time--and then terrifying. It‘s nothing like when you may play at war with your chums in the school yard. I remember we thought it would be exciting at first too, but we learned quickly how very wrong we were.” The boy nodded quietly, leaning closer to his uncle.
The sky overhead was pale blue, and the stubby clouds which drifted overhead seemed out of place in a world so fully out of control. They had all thought when they heard that the Dakota had risen up and slaughtered some settlers, that though the Indians might be fierce against un-armed farmers and their families it would be a different matter against them. Even when they had run into the first fleeing refugees who had actually witnessed attacks, their resolve remained firm. Of course, this did not mean that it did not affect them. The misery was alarming, sparking anger and rage amongst many of the men--often thinking of their own wives and children. “Don’t go on!“ the refugees often would shout up to the Lieutenant as he rode in one of the commandeered wagons they had taken from a farmer outside New Alban. “They’re all dead! If you go that way, you’ll only join them! “
“We are for Fort Ridgely” Sheehan would reply, “No Indian will keep me from my duty! “. The terror amongst these fleeing people set them all on edge, creating a sensation of anxious fear mixed with a true desire to tangle with the enemy and destroy them. The pomposity of their officer helped many of the men, Dills included, to feel immunity to the dangers before them. This was eroded slightly when they had come across refugees who were wounded, some of them grievously.
One woman, still clutching a dead child of 2 or 3 years of age, had been too much for some of them. Every one of them had seen death; it was part of the reality of life. They had seen blood and gore as well, given that a great many of them were farmers by profession and had slaughtered stock. But this was different entirely. Their eyes could not look away from the battered woman as she passed them; singing to herself in a stupor of what Daniel Dills supposed was madness. Her dress was tattered, her ankles torn by brambles in her flight. Her child lay motionless in her arms, its skull crushed and hardly recognizable in shape--but she did not seem to notice.
“Sergeant! Have some one see to that woman best you can, and then rejoin the company!” shouted Lieutenant Sheehan from his seat in the wagon. Sergeant Blackmer nodded and tapped Daniel Dills and his brother Charles and leaned in close to them as they marched behind the wagons.
“You two see what you can do for her--but don’t waste time. Off you go.” the sergeant said with a jerk of his thumb, indicating his desire for speed. The brothers nodded, and trotted away from the column towards the woman. Daniel stopped once and looked back towards the wagon with slight hesitation. They had been ordered to deposit their muskets in the wagon, to aid in their speed in marching to Fort Ridgely and reduce the fatigue of the company. The feeling was that there was little real danger from the Dakota here, but now with the presence of the fleeing people that seemed a less and less accurate assessment.
“Come on, you heard the sergeant!” said Charles with urgency. He turned and followed his brother and they made their way to the woman.
“Pardon me Ma’Am.” said Charles as they approached the woman, but she did not appear to hear. Charles looked back at his brother. So close, they could see now that she was an attractive young woman. They could see too that the remains of the child she held with such determination appeared to have been a young boy; its little body was stiff now having been dead for at least a day. Daniel shrugged and stepped closer to the woman, reaching out a hand to touch her arm as he did.
“Ma’am, can we offer you any--” he started, but as he touched her she suddenly seemed to come alive and began to shriek at the top of her lungs. The woman started in apparent terror from them, and spun away from his touch. She ran as fast as the tall brambles here would allow, and she succeeded in tearing new strips from her soiled dress. Startled for a moment, the brothers stood dumbfounded and horrified. As the bruised young woman ran she stumbled, but was up again like a frightened animal pursued by a predator. Neither of them had ever heard some make sounds like she was--a mixture of utmost terror and anguish mixed into a wail which made the hair stand on end. Daniel felt he almost wanted to cover his ears against the sound, when another voice broke the spell.
“By God sergeant! I said aid that woman, not make her call every savage with ears down upon us!” came the shout of the Lieutenant from the wagon. The Dills brothers watched a moment before turning and rejoining the column at a run. Suddenly they did not feel themselves invulnerable or the enemy so far away.
Irving looked hard at his uncle, and then reached over and took his calloused hand in his own. Daniel Dills, who realized with a shock that he had grown quiet in a moment of memory, smiled at the child.
“Sometimes when I get scared, I used to sit with Mama and talk to her.” the boy said suddenly, seeming to see right through his uncle with clarity beyond his years. Daniel swallowed hard, and sighed.
“Some things are hard to talk about, even when we grow older.”
Irving nodded with a sage look in his small face which made Daniel smile despite himself. “Cousin Charlie must be the bravest soldier ever then Uncle Daniel; on account he will tell you anything you want to know about the war.”
Daniel Dills nodded, feeling a funny mix of shame and pride for his son Charles Henry. “He always was fearless, and I suppose some men are made of harder stuff which lets them walk through fire without much hurt.” Suddenly Irving gripped his uncle’s arm.
“I didn’t mean that you and Pa weren’t brave or strong Uncle Daniel!” the boy said with obvious alarm at realizing how his words could be taken. Daniel put an arm around his nephews shoulder and squeezed. He had a sudden thought of how different he was from how his own father had been in showing his thoughts and feelings to his young nephew. Or was it just that age had mellowed him?
“No no Irving, I understood what you meant. You are an honest boy, and you speak your mind. I respect that about you. Besides, I think you are correct--your cousin Charles Henry was one of the bravest soldiers I ever saw.”
The sky was grey towards evening, and many of the men felt they would have rain. Daniel Dills shifted his position again, trying to work a bit of stone where he could remove it from torturing him--no luck.
“Where are those bastards?” asked the impatient voice of Dennis Porter from further down the barricade line. His impatience was forgiven, as he was feeling a bit aggrieved after having taken buckshot in his chest and leg earlier in the day. Some suggested to him that he might want to have them removed, but old Porter had never been one to shirk or turn from a fight, so he stayed at his place. Daniel Dills wondered if he ought to worry that his own son, Charles Henry was becoming a fast companion of such a rough and ready type--but given the situation decided that it would be best to worry that relation later. They had been under assault by at least some 500 Dakota for better part of a full day, in a fort without walls. Luckily there had been enough barrels, wagons and cracker boxes handy that an improvised defense had been constructed at the corners of the posts buildings--further shored up with the batteries of the able sergeant Jones and his crews drawn from the lads of company B. Fort Ridgely was holding, but they faced serious issues. There were only about 150 of them to defend the fort, and they had no idea when they might be relieved. They had no proper ammunition stores for their muskets and had been forced in some places to use cut square nails as projectiles. In addition, there were a great number of refugee women and children in the fort, who were both terrified and seemingly determined to prove a nuisance. The tall grasses and stands of trees around the plateau upon which the fort stood provided the cunning Dakota amble ability to play their cat and mouse style of warfare to the hilt.
“Is that one?” asked someone on the barricade.
“No--wait--maybe. Watch that clump of grasses James, no to the right.” came his son’s voice. Another young man, James Honan answered him.
“Could be, and if it is--I’m about to get myself an Indian by God!”
“Careful, don’t waste your shots! We may need ‘em before long with dark coming!” said a slightly panicked voice Dills didn’t recognize.
“Aint a waste if I kill one of ‘em is it?” responded Honan defiantly. Honan’s musket discharged, a funny buzzing sound declaring that he had been loaded with one of the improvised cut nails followed by a sharp cry from the grass beyond. The echoing sound of the shot was drowned out by a cheer from their barricade, as it seemed indeed that Honan had shot an enemy. William Road, one of the men from company B stationed at the nearest barricade to theirs, trotted over at a slight crouch to see what the excitement was. He had hardly opened his mouth to ask after the celebration when concealed Dakota warriors suddenly opened fire upon them. Buckshot and round-ball sang through the air like hornets, crashing into barrels and spraying splinters. Private Road grunted loudly as a ball struck him dead center in the forehead, and he dropped hard to the ground. Charles Henry jumped up, and grabbing Road like he had many times bales of straw on the farm, started off under fire to the infirmary.
“Charles Henry!” shouted his father once, but it was of no use. His son seemed unaware of the target he had made himself, and Daniel Dills found that each time he tried to get up to follow an aimed shot would crash so close he dared not move. With his heart beating a furious cadence, he watched his son weave untouched across the open parade ground and arrive safely at the infirmary.
“He sure his one lucky bugger!” said one of the men, turning from watching Charles Henry.
“Let’s hope we all are!” responded Porter.
“Did Cousin Charlie really do that?” asked an impressed 10 year old boy, leaning close.
Daniel nodded and smiled with a feeling of pride. “He did Irving. Your cousin was a very good soldier, and had a knack for being very lucky. Don’t tell your aunt I told you this--she’ll think I’m teaching you wrong on gambling--but your cousin was so lucky he even got a nickname from the boys, Full House.”
Irving, clearly innocent in the terms of such card games as poker, looked confused.
“It’s a very good hand in a gambling card game. He got that nickname because he was lucky so often, the boys wouldn’t even play against him in cards after awhile. They used to say ‘if Charlie Dills draws a hand in this game, he’ll just get a full house right off’.”
As some level of understanding dawned, the boy smiled and nodded with appreciation. “Did that man cousin Charlie carried away die, uncle?”
Dills shook his head. “Surprisingly to everyone, he didn’t. Now from where he was hit, I would not have bet against that we would be stone dead, but somehow the ounce ball that struck him bounced. Will Road always was a hard headed man though, so I suppose it figured.”
They both laughed, and Daniel Dills was suddenly aware that this felt good. He turned and looked at his nephew with a sudden and intense appreciation to this child who had somehow found his way into a place which had been locked up against exploration for some time.
“What about the others? The man who shot the Indian in the grass--and the brave man who kept fighting even after he’d been peppered with buckshot?” asked Irving with excitement.
Daniel felt a slight prick of unease, but proceeded on. “James Honan is still as brash as ever he was; he even came to our place once on furlough before the end of the war. As for Dennis Porter--I was in hospital by the time it happened, but I understand that he was captured on picket duty during the Vicksburg siege--they murdered him.”
Irving frowned, and laid a hand on his uncles own. “I’m sorry Uncle Daniel.”
Daniel Dills nodded, and patted the child’s hand. “I used to feel sadder about it, but I think maybe talking to you has made me feel a bit better.”
At that moment, there came a rap at the door of the granary, and Irving’s sister Adel shuffled in with an annoyed look on her face.
“There you are! Look, I understand Auntie Rebecca might be driving you crazy Irving--but I really need to keep studying for my exam, and without you about Auntie won’t leave me be!” Daniel nodded. Adel was a studious young woman, and was preparing to take the state exam for work as a school mistress. He took Irving by the hand, and stood up.
“It’s time we all got back to the house. Come on Irving, if you’re ready we ought to think about some supper. How’s that sound?”
“Sounds wonderful Uncle Daniel! What did you have for supper in the army days? “Irving beamed and led the way out.
“Well, it depended upon where we were at the time you understand--” responded his uncle as he went out the door. Adel, left in the wake frowned and shook her head before following them.
He had practiced to himself over and over what he would say during his trip to Bancroft. The mules had listened politely, which Daniel Dills had appreciated greatly. Of course, now as he came in sight of his brother’s farm he felt that he had no idea how to say what he realized needed to be said. The previous day’s time with his young son Irving had been an awakening for him, and he realized he must seize on this feeling. Not that he had changed overnight in anyway, but some kind of healing had begun. He found Charles Dills sitting on a splitting stump in the rear yard behind the house, slumped over asleep with an empty bottle at his feet. As he approached, Charles opened his eyes only just and grunted.
“You’ve been doing this a lot, from what I hear.” said Daniel, without reproach in his voice.
Charles Dills looked up at his brother with a scowl. “I’ll make you. I don’t need you here.”
“I think you’ve needed me before now, and I am sorry I came so late.”
Charles Dills grunted in anger, and stood up. But instead of going at his brother, he stalked away unsteady towards the back door of the house. Before he got there though, he staggered and fell to his knees weeping loudly. “Why Daniel!? Why must a life be so full of pain, and loss? My Maria, My God…” he trailed off and wept. Daniel moved forward, putting a hand on his brother’s shoulder and kneeling with a sigh of the effort it took his aging body to move. He was suddenly moved to tears himself, remembering a moment just like this. Then it had been he that had broken down, and his brother Charles that had comforted him. That morning when the relief troops had arrived, and the siege of fort Ridgely had ended.
“Charles, come back with me tonight to the farm. Adel and Irving need you.”
They sat like that for a long while, as each wept for loss and sorrow. The emotion of the moment an overwhelming and freeing sensation at the same time.
His wife shouted with joy when she saw their son Charles Henry arrive in their wagon with his wife Jessie and their two little children, Lille and John C. Rebecca scooped up Lillie and held her tight, before hugging Jessie and little baby John C. in one. It was late August, but the day was going to prove humid if the feeling in Daniel Dills joints were any real indication. He stepped out the front door and clapped the broad shoulder of his son, who smiled broadly.
“Good to see you father, is Uncle Charles here?” he asked looking around.
“He should be along soon; Adel wanted to first go by the post to see if she had any word on her exam.” Daniel answered with a smile and a chuckle. Adel had, in short, driven everyone in the family mad with her worrying and fussing while she waited to hear how she had done on her exam for the state teaching certificate. Charles Henry chuckled and they wandered over for Daniel to greet his grandchildren and daughter-in-law. He pretended to steal little 4 year old Lillie’s nose, which garnered a squeal of delight before she rushed off with grandma to see what delights awaited them for dinner. Daniel stayed with Charles Henry and helped him to unload those things they had brought to add to the repast from the wagon.
“Oh, has Jessie made her delicious--yes she has!” smiled Daniel as he peeked into a bundle and discovered his daughter-in-laws delicious apple pie.
“She made it for you, Pa.” came Charles Henry’s response.
“How was the encampment at St. Paul?” asked Daniel suddenly as they started towards the house. His son stopped dead and looked sharply at his father. The G.A.R. event had come and gone almost a month before.
“It was good--Pa, but I didn’t think you approved of such things?”
“I think your uncle Charles and I will go with you to the next one--I think it’s time.”
Charles Henry looked dumbfounded and shrugged. “Okay--I know I’d love to have you there. Lord knows a lot of the boys will be overjoyed; they ask after you both every time I have gone. But, Pa--what brought this on all of a sudden?”
Daniel smiled and shook his head. “Just the right time son; hard as it might be for your uncle and me yet. But it‘s time. Some wounds run deep; but no wound heals without tending.” Just then they heard a shout, and turned to see a jubilant crowd waving at them from a wagon heading down the road towards them. Charles was driving along at a good clip, throwing dust into the air as he went. Irving was holding on to his father but waving when he dared to let go for a moment. The most extraordinary sight though was Adel--hair flying and standing up in the back while shouting wildly--”I passed! I passed my exam!”