28. June 2023 · Comments Off on Minnie’s New Mission – Another Excerpt From the Current W-I-P · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book

It was a strained summer, those hectic months after the surrender of Fort Sumter; there was feeling in the air as if a powerful thunderstorm was building, lending the very air a sullen greenish cast, while the skies hazed with heavy grey clouds. The sounds of marching feet filled the streets, as militia companies drilled on the Common, and newly recruited volunteers assembled and marched away, clad in civilian motley, but proudly led by the banner of their company.

To Sophie’s barely concealed horror, in mid-summer of that restless, unsettling year, Richard was offered a commission as captain, for a Massachusetts regiment composed entirely of Irishmen, recruited in Boston and vicinity, a commission which he accepted with lively interest, since he had done as he said he would – volunteer in response to President Lincoln’s call after settling all his business obligations and tendering his resignation to his partners in the practice of law.

“The company will be interesting, the music delightful and the need for calm and resourceful leadership for these poor working fellows is most necessary, if we are to win this war,” he repeated, on the day when he appeared in a blue uniform, shining brass buttons marching in a double row across his chest. Minnie and Sophie had spent several days sewing fine gold fringe to a scarlet silk sash, for him to wear under his sword belt. “Oh, my … really, Aunt Minnie? I cannot imagine a more useless bit of chivalric flummery, but I thank you in any case. The fellows will expect that I make a show … it’s a bit like being an actor, I suppose. Like Edwin Booth, the Fiery Star … striding the boards and declaiming to the footlights…” Sophie burst into tears and Richard took her into his arms and kissed her soundly, several times. “My darling Sophie, do not disfigure your face with tears. I am going no farther than Cambridge and Camp Day for the nonce. We may celebrate Christmas at home, I assure you. The chaps in the regiment will not be cleared for active service until they have been thoroughly trained – and most of them are no more soldiers than I am, being laborers, farmers or ordinary working men, so I may assure you that we will be months about training them to be proper soldiers.”

This did not comfort Sophie in the least, while Minnie regarded Richard with a pang of mixed pride and dread. While the men of the Irish regiment might not be the stuff of which soldiers were made, at least, not at first – Richard himself looked every inch a handsome and heroic martial figure.Restless, and unsettled, Minnie confided her feelings to Lolly Bard, over tea in the front parlor. The summer breeze teased the light muslin curtains in the window overlooking the Common and brought to them the faint sound of marching feet – a sound which had become all too familiar for them both.

“I hardly have any interest now, in continuing my lecture tours,” Minnie lamented. “Since now the whole of the North is ablaze with zeal to preserve the Union and freedom for all those enslaved, there seems not to be any real purpose in it. I feel useless, useless – Lolly, when I have been a crusader for so many years. And now that Jerusalem has been conquered, then what is there for me to do now? Lay down my weapons and … what?”

Lolly nodded, looking as wise as one of the goddess Minerva’s owls. “Dear Mr. Bard used to say ‘What was the future for a soldier after the war is won? Or for a worker, once the track is laid and completed,’ – he was so very wise, my husband. I suppose that once a campaign is done, one should search around for another, to engage one’s sense of purpose … had I told you, dear Minnie – that I have been accepted as one of the Boston agents for the Sanitary Commission? To see to the needs and welfare of our soldiers. There are so many of them now, I am told that the Army Department is quite overwhelmed.”

“As they would be,” Minnie replied, crisply. “For our own federal Army was very small, and so many of them departed service to take up arms for their states, when those states withdrew…”

“But the reality remains,” Lolly blinked apologetically, “How are we to care for our soldiers, when they are wounded, sick or hungry. I believe that we must do our part for them, Minnie. Our sons and brothers …”

“You mean, that we organize bazaars to sell needlecrafts and similar flummery to the patriotic public!” Minnie snorted in disgust. She looked at the tea tray; the fragile China-import porcelain cups and the silver Paul Revere-fashioned service all laid out so lovingly by Mrs. Norris. This very week, Jeremiah Daley had served his notice to Minnie, saying that he was volunteering to be a soldier, although he was not young. He was patriotic to a fault, and still quite fit, through having been a man of active work. His wife, and her sister and mother had seen him away with the other volunteers, with a bag packed full of comforts.

“You are quite right, Minnie dear,” Lolly replied. “As it concerns yourself. Indeed, you have no patience with tedious details, and I confess that many of our lady acquaintances are exasperating … it is not their fault, of course – it all lies in how most of us were raised with limited expectations as to our role in life.”

“Oh, that I were born a man,” Minnie quoted, “For I would eat his heart – that is, the traitor Jeff Davis’ – in the marketplace!”

“Indeed,” Lolly’s sweet, pretty face, framed in those fair and girlish curls which had been the fashion of two decades previous, took on a thoughtful expression. “I do believe that you could … tho’ it would be a teeny bit barbaric, considering … I think, dear – that some means of participating in the Great Cause will come to you. An opportunity, a new means of being of use to the Cause. You will know it when you see it, Minnie Dear.

”Minnie snorted again, but just as Lolly had said – the opportunity presented itself within the week through the medium of a letter from her old school-fellow intimate, Mary Ashton Rice. Mary Rice had married a minister among the Congregationalists named Livermore and moved with him to take up a congregation in the western city of Chicago.

My dear Minnie, Mary Livermore wrote, I have a very dear friend here in Galesburg, Illinois, a respectable widow who has supported her family with a practice in botanic medicine since the death of her husband a year or two ago. Mrs. Bickerdyke is a most noble and public-spirited woman, who has undertaken to convey a sizable quantity of donations from this congregation and others to the aid of a field hospital established at Cairo on the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. She writes to me in much agitation, as the hospital is ill-organized, and the deprivation and suffering of those poor soldiers there is unspeakable. She asks for aid and assistance in this most holy of missions. My heart is torn, but I cannot leave my family, my duties here to the congregation and to the Sanitary Commission, and my dearest Mr. Livermore. Mrs. Bickerdyke is a most determined and forceful woman, a tower of strength amongst our sex. But she is in dire need of assistance in her quest to bring comfort to the sick and wounded, and I fear that many might find fault with her blunt manner of address. She is not known outside the small circle of her friends in Galesburg, and it occurs to me that you, with your long experience of nursing your father and brothers, your fame outside of a small circle, and your notable powers of earnest persuasion – that you may be perfectly situated to be of assistance to her in this time of dreadful need …” 

Minnie sent a telegram in reply. “On my way to Cairo. Fond regards to Mrs. Bickerdyce and yourself.”  

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