“Confederates fire on Fort Sumter, read all about it!” yelled a paperboy as he held up a copy of the Boston Daily Advertiser.
“That is horrible,” said Molly, passing the boy and his titanic pile of papers.
“Yes, it is horrible it had to come to this,” Sam agreed somberly, “and to think that out of all the states, it had to be South Carolina that started it.”
Over a year had passed since the two of them had conducted their first underground railroad route. Since then, much had been going on, and not all of it was good. South Carolina had seceded, soon followed by: Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. President Lincoln was trying his best to keep the Union together, but now it had gone too far and war was starting to seem like one of the few options.
“I just wish there was something I could do about it,” said Molly.
“We all do Molly,” replied her brother lugubriously.
They turned onto Charleston Street and went a few more blocks to the public gardens. It was a mild April afternoon, and also the first day in weeks that the sun had come out, everybody was out walking around. Though, because of the dreary news of Fort Sumter everything was still more on the somber side.
As they walked down the paths and crossed the bridge across the pond in the gardens, they came to a light post. On the post was a recruiting poster, Molly had seen many of them before and not had a second thought about them, but something was different this time.
Sam looked quizzically at his sister, then, seeing the look on her face said, “Oh, Molly, no that would never work!”
“I can disguise myself as a boy, no one would recognize me, I can make it work.”
“You and your conspiratorial plotting, I’ll never see the end of it,” he said jokingly, trying to keep his argument light-hearted. Then, realizing that that would not work he said, “but what about the underground railroad route we are supposed to conduct?” trying not to sound desperate.
“Sam, there is no route, I can tell when you’re lying to protect me. And though I think it is admirable that you wish me to be safe, I also find it obnoxious, you thought I was able enough to make my own decisions about leaving home. That turned out to be a good idea.”
“That was much different.”
“Perhaps,” and with that she spun on her heel and began to continue walking, but not so fast that her handicapped brother could not catch up to her.
Since she had invited them the day before, that night Molly and Sam went to Diana’s inherited penthouse for dinner. As the casserole was being passed out, Molly told Diana of her idea.
“What do you think?” asked Molly.
“Well, I know you are not one to be going around making hasty decisions.”
“Sure she isn’t,” said Sam, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
“I mean,” continued Diana, “you’re a say-what-you-mean mean-what-you-say type of person, even if what you mean isn’t what other people want you mean,” she glanced over at Sam. “But,” she added, “it would be extremely risky. I wouldn’t do it, but if I were I’d take time for preparations.”
“You sound as though you plan to help her!” Sam exclaimed.
“I never said that.”
“What do you mean?” said Molly, disappointed.
“I mean that I don’t want you in some war before we know were it is headed.”
“But,” she started, then realizing as of now that her case was hopeless, she said, “Fine I’ll wait to see where the war is headed before I make any ‘hasty’ decisions.”
As it turned out, it was very hard to tell which way the war was headed. Many thought it would just be a few months, but it had now been two years since the firing on Fort Sumter, and still the war dragged on. During this time, Molly had brought up the subject of her enlisting many times, but each time Sam and Diana had a new excuse for her. She knew that they wanted her to keep waiting to go in until the war was over and she had no reason to and drop the subject entirely. After much thought and contemplation, she decided that if her words were not being listened to, her actions would.
Rain was pouring, the droplets of water came tumbling over the awnings of the many shops outside. Molly sat at the breakfast table, waiting for her brother. She had with her, a pair of scissors. Her brother came, still wiping the sleep from his eyes. He sat down and took up the newspaper Molly had brought him.
“What are the scissors for?” he yawned.
“My hair,” she answered simply.
“Oh, your hair,” Sam said drowsily, then realizing what she was saying, “What! Your hair?”
“That is correct.”
“How many soldiers do you know have long hair? Excuse me for answering a question with a question.”
“Oh come off it Molly!”
“Fine then, I guess I will just be the fashion disaster of the month then,” Molly took the scissors and a clump of hair in her hands, and was about to cut it when Sam finally gave in.
“Wait, fine I will help you, don’t you cut your hair yet. I guess there is no point of me trying to talk you out of it?”
“What have you been trying to do for the past two years.”
“I know, well, here let me help you out.”
After Sam had cut her hair down so that it looked like a boy’s, he took her to his wardrobe and selected some men’s clothes for her to wear. The siblings were roughly the same height, so the clothing fit Molly fine. They then went over to Diana’s, were they told her that Molly was going to go into the army.
“I figured we would not be able to persuade you to stay here forever,” Diana sighed, “I suppose he tried to talk you out of it one last time?”
“Surprisingly, no actually.”
“Well,” Diana’s eyes were starting to fill with tears, “promise to write.”
“Oh, and take this,” Diana held up a pendant of a four leafed clover on a piece of twine she had around her neck. “It was my grandfather’s good luck charm, he wore it when he came over from the old country.”
“ My goodness! this is beautiful, thank you so much Diana!” said Molly, placing it around her own neck.
“You are welcome, now what are you going to call yourself, you need a boy’s name.”
“I was thinking about Roger.”
“Terrific, God be with you, Roger,” at that moment the tears spilled over Diana’s cheeks, and she embraced her friend.
With that Roger went with her brother to sign up to fight for the Union in the Civil War. She had never seen Samuel cry before, but she swore that she saw him wipe a tear from his eyes as she left with the other new recruits. Though it could have just been the rain.
12th Massachusetts Outside Lewiston
I am taking my pen in hand to tell you that the army wasn’t everything I expected it to be. Ever since I received my uniform, we have been drilling day in and day out. Though drilling is in some ways good, seeing as I have challenge enough fitting in with everybody, and this puts everyone on a level playing field. I have been assigned to the 12th Massachusetts regiment.
I would like you to tell Diana that the lucky charm had already worked some magic! Despite my challenges, I have met and befriended a man named Tristen, who lived on a farm outside of Boston. He and I have a lot in common, and he was quite enthusiastic when I told him about our work on the underground railroad. I am sure that he would very much like to meet you when the war is over and we are relieved from our duties.
As always, your loving sister, Molly.
Two days after Molly sent her letter to Sam, she was sent to her first battle. Her regiment was sent down near a town called Gettysburg, and were positioned on a place named Oak Ridge.
“It is exciting is it not?” asked Tristen, as he and Roger sat under a tree. Chewing absent-mindedly on some hardtack.
“Finally being able to do something for the war! Actually fighting! Not just drilling and giving our friends and family the right to boast and say “Oh Tristen is in the army. Oh Roger is in the army.”
“Oh yes it is exciting,” said Molly, clearing her throat. Ever since she had been in the army she had found it difficult to keep her voice sounding boyish, but Tristen seemed none the wiser.
“You have been suffering from quite the cold Roger, what is it three weeks now? You had better get your voice back to normal or else everyone will start to think you’re a girl!” Tristen punched Molly on her shoulder playfully.
She threw her hardtack at him jokingly, but took the unintentional advice quite seriously.
“Ouch!,” he squawked upon impact, “that stuff really hurts.”
“You’d better toughen up Tristen,” warned Roger, “if a bullet hits you, you will be dead from the pain before you even lose one drop of blood if you let a piece of hardtack throw you off.
Suddenly, there was a bellow from a nearby officer, “soldiers prepare for battle, on the double-quick!”
Molly and Tristen stood up and ran to the place where the rest of the regiment was congregating into formation.
“It’s the Rebs!” one man cried.
Molly could feel her heart pounding inside her chest. She could see the Confederates gathering and preparing to exchange fire with her army; she was in the second row, with Tristen to her left. The order was given.
In battle, everything was chaos. Time seemed to slow down, and everything was in much more detail, like an unusually vivid dream. Molly had no knowing if five minutes had past, or five hours. After firing, she ran to the back of her line, shoving the ramrod down her gun. Her hands were trembling like aspen leaves in a particularly brisk wind. Within no time, she was parched for water, each time she bit into a packet containing her ammunition and bullet, the minuscule amount of gunpowder that got into her mouth sucked up her spit like a sponge does water.
Sweat was dripping down her brow and into her eyes when the retreat was ordered. They fell back, making their way to Cemetery Ridge. All of the smoke made it impossible to see anything clearly except the people in front of her, so Molly followed them. She looked back, and could barely see make out the silhouettes of the brave soldiers who gave their lives for the war, their bodies strewn on the field. Tears filled Molly’s eyes as she went on the double-quick with the rest of her colleagues on their fall back to Cemetery Ridge, meeting up with some ignonble skedaddlers on the way.
When she reached Cemetery Ridge she was relieved to find that Tristen was alive with barely a scratch on him. He offered her some water from a canteen, and she realized that she had never been so thankful for water in her entire life. Molly had half a mind to throw her arms around Tristen in gratitude, but then she realized that that probably was not something that Roger would do, so she just thanked him and said how happy she was that he was alive.
The next two days were far from uneventful. The next day, Molly found herself fighting again against another southern regiment. With all the adrenaline rushing through her veins from the day prior, she had barely gotten any sleep, but now was no time to be tired.
Time dragged by and the guns fired,all Molly heard was the rhythm of metallic ramrod and bursting fire in a hostile symphony, infused with the cries of the wounded. Each time she faced the shooting line, Molly felt as though she would faint. Each time she stood their in the front line firing, her life would flash before her eyes, yet no bullet touched her.
I never wanted to be in battle if I knew this is what it would be like. Thought Molly.
When the guns finally ceased to fire, there was a meal of bacon and peaches (courtesy of a family farm several miles away).
The battle lasted for a third day, and the 12th Massachusetts was sent down to join another group of regiments to fight against some Rebs, who in a desperate last act, sent many, many men in a charge. ‘Picket’s Charge’, it would later be known as, that is where they were at last defeated. Not to say that they did not admit defeat without a good fight though. It seemed like a miracle to Molly that the only injuries she suffered were a twisted ankle, and a scrap on her cheek where a bullet had grazed it.
When it was finally over, and the Union had claimed victory, Molly collapsed to her knees, the past few days exhaustion catching up to her. And when Tristen found his friend, Roger, sitting on the grass, he went to join him. After a silence Roger said, “maybe drilling isn’t so bad after all.”