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Short Stories

Mischief, Machinations
& Miscellaneous Memoirs

A brief biography of my early years. 

 

A good girl, 25 cents, a well-thrown baseball, the best of intentions, a heartfelt apology, & my boyish charm: things that’ll go jus’ so far, & no further!  Anyway that’s the way it was back in the fifties when I was a kid.  By way of introduction, my name is Shannon Thomas Casebeer, really! And I was born in the Sierra Nevada foothills of northern California and raised on a little piece of paradise on Reservoir Hill, where my family had lived since the 1850’s.  Idyllic childhoods are mighty few and mighty far between, and I didn’t deserve one, but some of us just get lucky.

 

For what, if anything, it’s worth; my earliest childhood memories are of toilet training. Believe it or not, when I was a kid there was no such thing as disposable diapers and, desperate to reduce her laundry chores, Mom was mighty anxious to acquaint me with the use of a commode!  My Uncle Asa built my first little potty chair.  My little throne was just the right size for a pintsize beginner, and it’s proper employment incorporated the use of a green plastic bowl that was placed beneath the seat to capture and contain the results of my early practice.  The little green bowl served nicely in this role and when not engaged in this purpose, it served equally well as a dandy container for toads and tadpoles.  In this capacity it provided habitat for all varieties of flora and fauna, which I liberated from a marshy area down in the meadow and studied on the windowsill that served as my laboratory.

 

I quickly advanced from my little throne to a wooden seat that Mom called my ducky.  Placed directly on the toilet seat, my ducky provided security, encouragement, and a welcome diversion during long dry spells, by the extension of a carved and painted ducks neck and head that protruded up like a saddle horn in the front, fortuitously producing an essential splashguard.

 

Finally I was provided with a little footstool, which, with practice, allowed me to utilize the adult facilities at will. This advanced method initially represented a bit of a challenge to the novice, and I remember well an unpleasant episode, which resulted when my cousin Reggie, in a fit of independence, took the initiative to acquaint himself with these facilities without adult supervision.

 

Cautiously mounting my footstool and stretching on tiptoe, little Reggie was able to achieve adequate altitude as to allow his little appendage to rest trembling on the cold porcelain rim of the toilet, thus relieving himself like the big boys. Unfortunately, on this lamentable occasion, the lid, being in a state of precarious balance, lunged forward unexpectedly, slamming shut with a resounding smack! 

 

Rubber bumpers mounted beneath the seat afforded some margin of safety, but poor little Reggie was sufficiently endowed that this meager allowance was insufficient to avoid calamity.  As a result, cousin Reggie’s apparatus was horribly concussed, causing it to assume an extraordinary shade of hemorrhoid blue and sulk for several days.  It was several months before I was able to utilize the porcelain perpetrator myself without a good deal of trepidation. 

 

As long as we’ve broached this subject, another tale of toiletry gone terribly wrong took place during the summer of ’56.  At the ripe ol’ age of five, I found myself engaged to be wed.  Lynn, my intended, lived across the street, and was the towheaded little sister of my best friend Gary.  Lynn was remarkably mature, for four, but it was essential that great care be taken so as not to tickle, tantalize or incite her in any way, as the slightest provocation inevitably resulted in extravagant spasms of gut wrenching giggling and excruciating jocularity.  Wet pants invariably ensued!  In those good old days, we youngsters were free to range the neighborhood at will, frequently pursuing our diversions some distance from our residences.  And Lynn’s involuntary wettings invariably necessitated a time out from our current adventure and an inconvenient trip home for fresh garments.

 

The old neighborhood was dissected west to east by Meadow Lane, a pine lined dirt boulevard marking the perimeter of my family’s forty acres, and meandering into the rolling foothills and intermittent orchards of apples and Bartlett pears, before crossing a meadow at the old Skinner place, and descending eventually into a yawning canyon, at the bottom of which ran the renowned south fork of the American River, an enticing landscape of gorges, petered out mines, uninhabited woodlands, and of course the renown waterway itself.

 

A short distance down this lane, straddling a mosquito infested cistern in the crotch of a ravine and shaded by a canopy of oaks, squatted the time ravaged frame house which served for several memorable years as home to my other best friend Stephen. Stephens’ family consisted of his mom and dad, and a bakers’ dozen of siblings, ranging in age from young adults to occasionally diaper clad infants. Stephen’s family was destitute, but by all appearances happily reconciled to their lot in life. The father was disabled and spent a good deal of time at home, and endeared himself to me by his frequent invitations to accompany him bear hunting.  The matriarch of the family also won my young heart, as she was most always elbow deep in food preparation at the family’s wood range and was rarely satisfied until she had enticed me to have a piece of chicken or a biscuit.  They were poor as church mice and hard pressed to feed their own family, but despite their poverty, they were always ready and willing to ply me with groceries.  For a number of years during my youth Stephen and his family were a favorite and blissful haven of adventure.

 

Suffice it to say, their home was very sparsely furnished.  Their only means of heating or cooking was their ancient wood range, and the toilet facilities consisted of a ramshackle old outhouse some distance away from the weathered back porch. The porch itself served as a center for enforced juvenile hygiene, and housed the old galvanized wash tub, where those youngsters who could be corralled were subjected to their semimonthly bathing ritual; often to the tremendous delight of a giggling audience of us juveniles who observed the ceremony with semi stifled exuberance from the cover of a nearby briar patch.

 

Of all the siblings, my favorites were Stephen and his sisters Paula who was around my age, and Lizzy who was older than I.  Lizzy derived tremendous pleasure from scaring the daylights out of the rest of us kids with all variety of imaginative ghost stories guaranteed to raise Goosebumps on a wooden Indian! Additional intrigue arose from the fact that despite my pending nuptials with Lynn, I suffered from a debilitating crush on Paula.

 

On the afternoon in question Stephen, Paula, Lizzy and I, after being plied with chicken and corn on the cob, emerged from the old home, licking our fingers and sleeve grooming our noses.  Blinking as we walked out into the bright sunshine of a brilliant autumn day, we laughed and visited as we sauntered off down the hill in search of an afternoon’s diversion.

 

At the bottom of the ravine is an immense blackberry patch, decorated intermittently with abandoned automobiles from decades past, and an assortment of barrels, bedsprings, can piles and Coke coolers.  The tangled thicket achieved six to eight feet in height and sprawled for sixty feet across the gully and as far as the eye can see up and down the ravine.  A wet weather stream meandered through the middle, and here and there Ponderosa pines pierced the dense canopy of briars, competing for the sunshine and littering the ravine floor with a luxurious carpet of dry needles.  Several of the evergreens sported tree-forts assembled from lumber that we kids had salvaged from the wreckage of an abandoned barn.  A network of paths and tunnels connected the forts with each other and the outer banks. 

 

The balmy fall afternoon was almost summer-like, and between the sounds of children at play, frogs sang from the creek bank and a pair of morning doves cooed a melancholy refrain in the distance.  A well-traveled trail formed several switchbacks during its’ decent down the steep bank and ended abruptly at a small clearing just inside the thicket.

 

From this point on, we four would have to crawl on our hands and knees.  Earlier in the season, our efforts might have been rewarded with a bounty of juicy blackberries.  The berries were long gone, but the sharp thorns remained, camouflaged by the thick purple foliage of an extended Indian summer.  Despite our best efforts, the thorns snatched at our clothes, and periodically resulted in a “youch!” and a grimace, as a determined thorn found it’s mark and pierced somebody’s hide.        

 

As we approached one of the pine trees, a half-dozen of the neighborhood kids paused and observed our approach with, first suspicion, and then delight.  At the ripe ol’ age of ten, Lizzy was a little too old and much too busy to devote much time to child’s play.  The youngsters considered this intrusion of adolescents a real treat and several little ones latched onto Lizzy’s skirt as we entered their hideout.  “Tell us a story Lizzy. Please! Please!”  “Tell us about the ghosts.”  “Not now!” said Lizzy feigning annoyance but obviously pleased by the attention.  The kids continued their clamor, eventually weakening the elder sibling’s resolve.  “Alright! Alright!” Lizzy acquiesced, collapsing into a bed of needles at the base of a towering Spruce. 

 

“Once upon a time there was a spooky ol’ ghost dressed all in black.”  That’s as far as she got!  Several of the youngsters had a question.  “If ghosts are just spirit” one asked musingly, “why do they need clothes at all?”  “Good question” admitted Lizzy contemplatively.  This line of thought peeked the children’s curiosity, resulting in several additional questions.  “If ghosts wear clothes,” asked another, “do they have to warsh ‘em?   Do ghosts get ring around the collar?” This resulted in an outburst of exuberant laughter, exacerbated by youthful enthusiasm.  Stephen perked up and his face shone with recognition of his opportunity to participate.  “I wonder,” he said, grinning with anticipation,  “If ghosts get lint in their belly-buttons.”   “Ghosts don’t have bellybuttons silly!” chimed the twins in unison, and the entire hollow rang with squeals of laughter.

 

In the middle of this jocularity, the briars rustled and in stepped two more youngsters.  Another neighborhood clan had overheard the ruckus from across the hollow and come to investigate the cause of all the merriment.  Gene seemed to sense the jovial mood of the assembly almost immediately.  He sprawled on the ground, rested his chin on his hands, and offered a yarn of his own. “You should have seen what happened at our house!  There’s a big ol’ alligator turtle in our pond. The ol’ Jersey cow was standin’ belly deep, coolin’ off the other day, when that ol’ snapper swum up and bit the end right out o’ one o’ her spickets!” The kids all groaned and grabbed their chests.  The response was spontaneous and only served to encourage the storyteller.  “‘Fore we could get a tourniquet on her,” he continued, “that ol’ cow leaked out three buckets o’ buttermilk!”

 

“Oh, go on!” said Lizzy.  “That’s nothin’!” announced Stephen. “We had a big ol’ wolf trap set at our pond, tryin’ to catch a darned ol’ coon.  One o’ them big snappers got caught by the neck.  ‘Fore we could drag him out and give ‘im what fore, that rascal chewed his head off and got clean away!  A couple o’ days later he come draggin’ up the hill, fit as a fiddle and carryin’ his head in his mouth!”

 

At that moment a distant “Helluuu” echoed from the hill in the direction of the Pettit place. “Skedaddle!” whispered Stephen.  “That’s Ralph.”  Gene’s clan vanished into the thicket as muffled voices became audible at the edge of the hollow. Lizzy and the other youngsters made tracks for higher ground too! Ralph was around ten, and he and a gang of other area roughnecks ran roughshod over the entire neighborhood.  “That’s Ralph and those other ruffians,” said Stephen.  “We don’t want ‘em to see us either.”  “Come on.” Whispered Paula, and she headed up the trail toward home. 

 

We were still a hundred yards from the top of the hill, when we rounded a bend and the trail forked.  “This way” panted Stephen as he took the right fork.  Seconds later the three of us stood humped over and gasping for breath at the door of a ramshackle ol’ outhouse.  At the sound of hurried footsteps close behind, we crowded into the tiny refuge and Stephen bolted the door.  It was pitch black inside, the atmosphere was close and stifling, and the odor was exceedingly unpleasant!  I desperately wanted to hold my breath but we were all breathing too heavily for that.  I stepped up onto the business seat to help ease the crowding, and Stephen braced himself and leaned against the door.

 

As I stood up on the bench my head hit a rafter. The heat was oppressive. I was all but smothered in a veil of cobwebs, and an indignant wasp began buzzing threateningly around my ears.  I started to speak to Paula, but she laid her finger against my lips and said “shhhh!”  Her finger was only against my lips for an instant, but somehow her touch left me warm all over!  

 

As I stood straddling that outhouse seat and crouching to avoid that pesky wasp, my face was just inches from the top of Paula’s head.  I could feel the warmth from her body and smell her long lustrous hair.   I pretended to lose my balance as an excuse to lay my hand on her shoulder.  She glanced up at me very briefly and then ever so gently she laid her hand on mine.  I held my breath; my pulse quickened, and Ralph and the band of ruffians arrived outside the door. There were muffled voices and stifled chuckling, and then in unison they counted “one, two, three,” and leaned heavily into the side of that board and batten john.  Our fragile refuge listed dangerously to starboard. That ornery wasp planted his rapier-like stinger deep into the lobe of my ear, and both my feet, new boots and all, slipped into that big black hole!

 

Seconds later Stephen threw open the outhouse door, Ralph and the ruffians let out with war whoops as they disappeared down the path, and the blinding light of day rushed in on a sad and sorry spectacle.  That dreadful abyss had engulfed me right up to the armpits; my ribcage was stuck tight as a cork in its’ terrible jaws, and a powerful aroma brought evidence I was stuck knee-deep in that holes’ contents.  Abandon hope all ye who enter here! The bowels of the beast made a hideous sucking sound as Stephen and Paula laboriously extricated me from my predicament.  My clenched toes clung desperately to my left boot, and that godless pit claimed the other!

 

Suffice it to say, mother was not pleased when I arrived home!  Speaking of home and Mom, near the top of Reservoir Hill, at the opposite end of my family’s forty acres, on the banks of an irrigation ditch and overlooking the snowcapped Sierras to the north, the coastal range to the west, the Sacramento Valley to the south, and Millers’ orchard of Bartlet pears to the east, were the homes of my mom’s parents and my granddad’s mom, Meda Eliza Camp Daniels. My granddad’s maternal grandpa, Asa Steven Camp, had first arrived in the Sierras with his dad, Clark back in 1850, during the gold rush, and Granddad’s Daniels ancestor had arrived at the Massachusetts Bay Colony From England in 1636.  Ancestors in each of these lines, as well as my fathers’, had served during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.

 

My granddad’s dad, Asa Wilder Daniels, had passed away when my mother was young, but my great grandma Daniels still lived in the old home on Reservoir Hill, across the driveway from my grandparents.  Among the tantalizing treasurers in my great grandma’s home was a gun cabinet full of ancient artillery, beaded buckskin jackets, and Indians artifacts that had been gifts to my granddad’s granddad from our country’s Native Americans back in the 1870s, when Doctor Jared Waldo Daniels was appointed by the President, and assigned responsibility for inspecting all of the Indian agencies west of the Mississippi. Throughout my youth, I was steeped in this rich heritage and my appreciation for that heritage deepened accordingly.

 

I have many fond memories of walking the lane from my home on Mosquito Road, up the hill, past my great grandma’s old home and on to the home of my grandma and granddad.  Passing Great Grandma’s window, I was occasionally flagged down and invited inside to warm myself by the wood range and snack on the candied figs that Great Grandma dried, steamed and coated with sugar.  On a few occasions I recall sitting on her lap, in the rocker, by the stove, and having her read poems to me from the little muslin book that had been my granddads when he was a child. I remember still the rhyme on the little book’s cover: “All my other books are worn, and all the pages badly torn, but my muslin book, I’ve found, is just as good as newly bound.” I still have that little muslin book.

 

Time with Granddad was always a special treat, and rarely did a summer pass without Granddad insisting on a series of camping trips high in the Sierras, where Granddad had camped with his family as a child. All variety of kith & kin joined us on these camping expeditions, including granddad’s brother Asa, his sister Myrle, and, until she was ninety-three, Granddad’s mother, Meda Eliza, who did much of our cooking over a crackling fire. As a little girl, her mom, Laura Ellen Oldfield Camp, had crossed the plains by covered wagon, making the trek from Wisconsin to the goldfields of northern California back in 1854, when the road west consisted of a series of wagon ruts and Native Americans still thrived on vast herds of migrating buffalo.  Camping was in our blood.  We slept on cots in old canvas tents, and a huge block of ice kept our groceries cold in an old oak icebox. Granddad had built red racks for his 1941 Chevy, so the old pickup afforded plenty of space for all the gear, and the bed of the old Chevy doubled as sleeping quarters for my grandparents.

 

I remember well crawling out of my own sleeping bag at first light, in order to join my grandparents in their cozy quarters in the back of the ’41.  I remember Granddad’s big grin and his mass of disheveled, gray hair as he peeked out from under the covers. I remember how warm it seemed crawling under their down filled comforter after kicking off my slippers on the tailgate, the sound of the canvas cover rustling in the wind, and the stars blinking through the silhouetted pines. And I remember how Granddad cherished every minute.

 

Once the morning fire was going, Sis and I would dress quickly and join the rest of the family, warming our backsides at the campfire and anticipating the smell of coffee brewing in the gray graniteware coffeepot and the almost debilitating aroma of frying bacon and golden brown hotcakes that would soon be sizzling on Great Grandma’s griddle.

 

The Stellar blue jays called from the canopy of old growth pines; the sun cascaded down through the evergreen bows; off in the distance Rainbow trout began to take May flies from the still, cobalt blue surface of the mist covered lake, and my mind envisioned my granddad’s granddad, crossing the country by covered wagon, long ago, when Indians roamed these hills.

 

Such were the days of my childhood, when life seemed simple, summer was perennial, and childlike faith assured tomorrows joys.  Treasure your memories, keep them fresh, and never take them for granted; even our memories can fade with the harsh glare of time.

 

Shannon Thomas Casebeer

January 27th, 2008


GRAPE JELLY AND BANANA CREAM

Back in the late ‘50s, I was in elementary school.  Our bus stop was at the intersection of Meadow Lane and Mosquito road, our bus was old number 3, and our bus driver was Mr. Vanalstien.  On the south side of the intersection was a home with a brick and daffodil lined circle drive.  It was a tight circle, and the arriving school bus generally careened around it at a pretty good clip.  We children awaited the bus under a large, spreading oak, and at the base of the oak was our bench.  I’d built the very basic bench myself by sawing two six inch cuts off an eight foot long 1” by 12”, and nailing them to the remaining board about one foot from each end.  In doing so I’d created, quite unintentionally, a state of the art catapult.  On the morning in question, half a dozen of our neighborhood gang were milling around innocently in expectation of the arrival of old #3, which was running uncharacteristically late.  My lunch bag, containing a banana, a peanut butter & jelly sandwich, and some graham crackers, was placed on the far end of the bench for easy retrieval upon the bus’s arrival.  At the sudden sound of squalling tires in the gravel, we kids scrambled to collect our gear and form a line.  Unbeknownst to us, Mr. Vanalstein was ill, and our driver today was a substitute and entirely unfamiliar with our route.  Approaching our circle drive wide and hot, the bus’s front tire unexpectedly clipped the edge of our bench.  My lunch was launched like a rocket, scattering and sifting its contents as its orbit took it up through the oak canopy and well into the hemisphere, before it descended amid the squeals of delighted children, in the form of an aromatic shower of graham cracker crumbs, peanut butter clumps, and a fine spray of grape jelly and banana cream.  The large, flat surface of the 1” by 12” proceeded to smack the side of the bus, at mach speed and with incredible force, resulting in a resounding clap of thunder, much like a full-fledged sonic boom, and ringing the entire school bus like a bell!  As the horror-stricken driver hesitantly opened the door, his eyes were wide as fruit jar lids and I’m confident he’d soiled himself.  The vast majority of the bus’s occupants burst simultaneously into a mixed chorus of inconsolable sobbing and hysterical and convulsive laughter, which continued fitfully until we arrived some fifteen minutes later at our school.  And I’m quite confident that many of those children remember and celebrate that event to this very day, and that others are on the mend and receiving counseling. SC

 




Below is a historically accurate yet ficticious interview Shannon conducted 
with his Great Grandfather, Calvin Casebeer.

Calvin Casebeer, around 1900


Houston, Missouri 1890
 


A quarter century ago a ragged group of tired old soldiers met at the home of Wilmer Mclean near Appomattox courthouse, and Robert E. Lee read and signed a document written in General Grant’s own hand, whereby all agreed that all confederate troops were free to return home “without the taint of treason”.  The Civil War was over, the Union whole, and the nation at last at peace.

 

This year being the twenty-fifth anniversary of that hallowed event, we’ve assembled today at a humble but well kept residence just outside Houston, Missouri for the purpose of visiting a genuine veteran of that horrific conflict.  Around midmorning Mrs. Casebeer accompanied her husband down the front steps of their Ozark Mountain home and into the shade.  Mr. Casebeer is small of stature, uncommonly affable, and solid as seasoned hickory, with sharp, unblinking eyes. I shook his hand and our interview began. “To begin with Mr. Casebeer, why don’t you tell us a little about yourself?” 

 

Mr. Casebeer adjusted his galluses, pushed the brow of his straw hat back from his face, gave a gravelly but pleasant chuckle and began to fill us in.  “Well, my name is Calvin Casebeer, and I was born back in the spring of ’38 in Defiance, Ohio.  Cassie and I were married in ’62, our son Lewis was born in ’63, and over the next twenty years we were blessed with eleven children. We buried two of ‘em back in Ohio, and then in ‘85, soon after laying little Eva to rest, the rest of us pulled up stakes and made tracks for the Ozarks hoping for a fresh start.  The last five years or so I’ve been traveling the hills and hollers of south central Missouri spreading the gospel and relying on the goodness of others.  We’re poor as church mice, and the misses is darn near thin as a rail, but the Lord’s been good to us and all the kids are thriving.” 

 

“I’m certain our readers will be pleased to hear that you’re doing well, Mr. Casebeer.  What else can you tell us about your family history?” “Well sir.” said Calvin, leaning into his walking stick and smoothing his long, gray whiskers, “My great, great, granddad, along with his brother and his folks, arrived on the shores of Pennsylvania back in the autumn of 1724.  My great, great, great granddad Johann Kasebier kept a journal on the voyage over, and word has it that the thing exists to this very day in the castle archives back in Germany.” 

 

“Johann passed away shortly after their arrival in this country, and the family had a mighty hard time of it back in the colonies. My great granddad, John Casebeer, was a soldier in the militia during the Revolutionary war, and served in the Continental Army with Captain Davidson’s division out of Bedford, Pennsylvania.  I’m mighty proud of my family, and I’m mighty proud that when my time come, I did my part to keep this God fearing country whole and free.”

 

“Well Calvin, may I call you Calvin?”  “Yes sir.” “Calvin, What do you remember today about your service to this country during the Civil War?”   “Plenty!” answered Calvin, tucking his shirt in and puffing up just a tad. “I remember ever’ bit of it, just like it was yesterday.” With that, Mr. Casebeer blotted his forehead with a kerchief and began the following yarn. “Following the siege at Fort Sumter, back in ’61, Governor Morton ordered that a camp for volunteers be set up back in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and my brother John and I caught the stage and headed out. I wasn’t but 23 and took the whole grievous adventure for a lark.”

 

“We spent a week or so there at Fort Wayne, bivouacked with other boys from all over the country. They rousted us out at first light on the morning of the 22nd of November and, following a physical exam, we all gathered on the square where Mayor Randall addressed the regiment and presented us with a crisp, new flag.  Once the sermonizing had petered out they swore us all in as members of the Indiana 44th Infantry with these questions: Do you solemnly promise to love this flag? We says yes sir.  Do you promise to honor it? Yes sir!  Do you promise to obey it?  Yes sir! Do you promise to sustain and defend it, even unto death?  Yes sir!  I, then, in this presence and before these witnesses, solemnly join you to the American flag: and what we have now joined together let not Jeff Davis or his minions put asunder. Then they paraded us through town.  Folks was waving and hollering and carrying on something fierce, and we all figured we was mighty fine!”

 

“Then we set off marching, and marching, and marching, and we kep’ on marching till hell wouldn’t have it!  For the first few months we didn’t fight nothin’ but hunger, frostbite, fatigue, and the measles.  It seems like it snowed all through November, December, and January.  Most of us were cold and soaked and sick.  You’ve never seen such misery in your life.  Then, about mid February, we marched through the snow to Fort Donelson, and that’s when all hell broke loose!”

 

“Colonel Reed marched our outfit to the foot of a good-sized hill, infested with Rebs and swarmin’ like a beehive.  We formed ranks at the bottom, the order was given to advance double quick, and we ducked our heads and charged like hell, cheering and shooting into a hail of bullets. Nearing the top of the hill, the confederates dove for cover in their entrenchments, and us right on their heels.  Shells was fallin’, sabers flashin’, and most of us drawing blood for the very first time.  You can’t even imagine, unless you was there yourself! Once the Rebs were dug in good and returning fire in earnest, General Grant himself gave the order to fall back to the brow of the hill.  We dug in there on the hill that night, cold, wet and hungry, retrieving the dead and listening to the cries of the wounded.  Next morning the enemy surrendered and we searched the hill for our fallen comrades.  Two of the 44th were missing, 34 wounded, and 7 found frozen to the ground in their blood-soaked uniforms.”

 

“After that came another world of marching through hell and the battles of Shiloh and Stone River. During the night of June 10th, news reached our encampment of the fall of Vicksburg and of General Lee being routed real bad at Gettysburg.  We figured for certain the war was all but finished. That was one of the few good nights I remember from the whole campaign. By September of 1863, the Rebs had withdrawn all the way back to the northwest corner of Georgia’s confederate heartland.  The confederacy had it’s back against the wall!  Digging in along the west branch of Chickamauga Crick, them tenacious Rebs was bristled like a bulldog with a bone!”

 

“September 19th found us bivouacked at the ol’ Poe place, just northwest of the crick.  The battle had been arduous, and we’d been rode hard and put up wet.  Late that evening, a commotion in the confederate encampment across the crick signaled the arrival of the Rebels long awaited reinforcements. The arrival of Longstreet and his company marked a considerable change in the mix.  Leaders on both sides immediately began rethinking tomorrow’s battle.  For ol’ Bill Rosencrans and Braxton Bragg this was in one sense just your typical garden-variety chess game.  Each of ‘em would engage his men in a time-honored confrontation, attacking, retreating, and maneuvering, in an effort to sweep the board.  But these pawns weren’t inanimate chess pieces; this was flesh and blood, and before noon the next day the Chickamauga was runnin’ red with it!”   

 

“Occasional skirmishes continued through the night as each side exchanged potshots at the muzzle flashes of the other.  Then, around mid-morning of September 20th, the action began in earnest!  For several hours the Federal troops successfully turned back the confederate advances; wave after wave was repelled and driven back to the crick.  Just prior to noon the confederate forces, along with Longstreet’s reinforcements, began a concentrated assault on the Union front. At some point during this conflict, perceiving an imminent threat to Thomas’s forces to the north, ol’ Rosencrans reassigned Woods division to address this threat.  As the reassigned troops pulled back to assist Thomas, the effect was like pulling your finger from a dike! Within moments, the punctured Federal lines busted open like a saturated earthen dam, and the wall of Rebs swept over everything in their path.”  

 

“The battle of Chickamauga was about the bloodiest of the war, and the casualties were overwhelming. The 44th Indiana infantry only had three men killed, but 10 men were unaccounted for and 59 were shot up pretty bad. My brother and I were counted with the wounded.  John had been run over by a runaway wagon, and I’d been shot through the leg.  The field hospitals had performed amputations, patchwork, and temporary fixes, until their medical supplies were exhausted, and then they clenched their teeth and proceeded without ‘em.  The traffic of dead and dying soldiers from the Chickamauga to points north and south was slow and steady, and the pitiful laments of the injured rose from the wagons in a low guttural moan that for many was only answered in the thralls of death. By the afternoon of the 20th, John and I were in the back of a wagon on our way to a field hospital. We slept, best we could, shielding our eyes from the glaring sun and our ears from the sounds of agony and despair.  Even in sleep, the scenes of battle repeated in my mind, and my consciousness reeled from the stench of death and war.  War has always been an enigma to me, an irreconcilable amalgamation of glory and Godlessness.”

 

“Even now after my baptism of fire and a near death experience, I view it with a strange mix of abhorrence and wonder.  It’s as though, despite its revulsion and abomination, war has some redeeming quality. I can tell you this about war; if war possesses any redeeming qualities, they’re not apparent out on the battlefield where gallant young men are killing and being killed.  The redeeming qualities of war are pretty illusive to those who observe its horrid stench first hand. War’s finer facets, in order to be fully appreciated, must be polished, politicized, and refined, by some well bred, manicured, articulate, gentleman back home. Back home the less desirable aspects of war may be overlooked.  One may sip their brandy, smile benevolently, and observe, ‘Ain’t war inspirin’’.”

 

“In the case of the civil war, both sides sought peace.   The north was bound by the patriot’s sense of E PLURIBUS UNUM, and the south was bound by home and hearth and their ancestral way of life.  Few would argue that either was served by war.  Death and destruction may quell revolt, but they rarely result in peace.  Don’t get me wrong.  I realize that freedom requires commitment, commitment requires perseverance, and perseverance requires the will to act.  When freedom and just causes are threatened, honorable men respond.  But surely war is the last resort of those who know its grief.  Surely for reasonable people there’s a better way!  Freedom is every hearts desire and every just government’s goal, but it’s a mighty illusive concept when you’re at war. Freedom is nearly impossible when ya don’t have peace.” 

 

“So what, in your opinion Mr. Casebeer, is our best hope for peace?”  “Well sir,” Calvin responded, briefly removing his hat and running a red bandanna over his wispy, white hair, “ol’ Abraham himself summed it up far better then I ever could.” With this Mr. Casebeer reached into his pocket, produced a tattered remnant of President Lincoln’s second Inaugural Address, and read aloud, “With malice toward none; with charity for all: with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have born the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan – to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.” With that, Mr. Casebeer smiled warmly, parted by offering the unfailingly compassionate hand of true Christian fellowship, and Mrs. Casebeer assisted him back to the house.  And I collected my papers and came away enlightened. 

 
STC
 
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