Editor's Note: This is an ongoing series which runs each Thursday morning titled the Richland Chronicles Volume 5, by author Paul Lintern. It is set in the 1860s and tells the story of Richland County through the eyes of young people. This is the fifth in a series. Volume I was Amelia Changes Her Tune. Volume II was Isaac and Wolf Paw Find Their Home. Volume III was Autumn Keeps Her Secret. Volume IV was Mr. Gamble Starts a School.
Jacob knew his brothers and father were working hard every day, but did not realize how hard because he would only see them at dinner several nights a week, when his mother brought the best meals she could muster for her men.
Because it was mid-November, the days were quickly shortening and the weather was noticeably chillier with each day, or so it seemed.
Their suppers were shorter because families were to leave the camp by sundown. Jacob's days were spent in school, at home for chores and games, to the camp for supper and back home by dark, to ﬁnish by candlelight the schoolwork he had told his mother he had completed, or to get to bed, even though he wanted to stay up and, well, stay up.
Nighttime would have been a good time to chat with Grandpappy, but he was asleep by the time the family came home.
On Sundays, he would make his way to worship at the Lutheran Church, then to camp for Sunday dinner in the mid-afternoon, whenever Mama could get it ready. On those days, Jacob hooked up Maggie to the wagon and the family rode to church and camp.
Usually, it was Mama at the reins with Grandpappy beside her. The twins sat in back, on wooden boxes Nathaniel had fastened behind the buckboard before he went to camp.
Two Sundays a month, the Zimmer-men were free to walk up Walnut Street to the Lutheran Church at First Street, then go home with the family until almost dark.
With each week, Jacob's brothers had seemed less brotherly and more soldierly. Jacob didn't know how, exactly, but it just seemed they were more oﬃcial acting. He would ask them about what they did in training, but they didn't seem too interested in telling him.
They just said, “Everything is ﬁne," or "It's a lot of work but we are coming along."
He noticed they were that way with Mama, too, who seemed more nervous about them leaving and tried harder with each visit to make every moment count.
He remembered Phillip saying to her, "Everything is just ﬁne, Mother. We will look after each other, I promise. And all three of us will look after Father. Nothing will happen to him or us. Don't worry."
But he could see that Mama was not reassured.
He knew that Mr. Day's newspaper was running stories almost every day about skirmishes and casualties in places little and big. Places he could not even ﬁnd on a map. And the big battle last summer, at a place called Manassas or Bull Run -- he didn't really know which -- had caused many deaths, and the Union Army clearly was defeated.
That scared Jacob because it seemed everyone was thinking the war would last a long time.
Maybe I will be old enough to enlist before the war is over, he thought.
Then he looked at his mother.
I hope it's over long before that.
He found Cassie crying in the loft of the carriage house one Sunday evening.
"What's wrong, Sis?"
She seemed surprised to see him and suddenly quieted down.
"Oh, it's nothing," she said, wiping her eyes with a handkerchief.
Jacob just sat down. He had already learned enough about women to just sit and not badger. If he was patient, it would come out.
They sat in silence, then a moment later, Cassie's eyes teared up again and she started sobbing. She put her arms around Jacob's neck and held him, something she had not done in a long time, except to tease.
"Jacob, I heard Mama talking to Papa. Mama was so scared about the boys leaving. About Papa going, too. She said it was more than she could bear to see them all leave, knowing that with four, it was very possible that one of them would not return, and even perhaps more or all would not return.
"I've never heard her say anything like that. She's always acted like it's no inconvenience for everyone to go oﬀ to war. I even thought it was just a big adventure for them.
"I never really considered what would happen if Levi, or Phillip, or Nathaniel never came back.
She continued to sob.
Jacob had not really thought about it, either.
I've been thinking about doing without them here for a year or so, Jacob thought. What if it is forever? And what if one does have to get killed? Which one would I want it to be?
Jacob almost got sick thinking that last thought. He was so mad that he would ever pick one brother over the other.
"I, uh, don't guess we have any say in that," he said weakly.
Cassie sniﬄed, held the side of her ﬁnger over her nostrils, and paused.
"No, no we don't. Mama doesn't either. Only God, I guess," she said.
"Then I suppose we better be talking to Him," Jacob answered.
"Sure wish Phillip were here," she said. "He's a lot better at that."
The two sat quietly a couple more minutes, then heard their father calling for them, telling them it's time for him to go back. They quickly wiped their faces, took deep breathes and climbed down from "Levi's Loft."
They both ran up to Papa and hugged him hard, which was typical for Cassie, not so much for Jacob.
"Whoa, horses. That's quite a grip you've got there. What's the story?" Father asked, but he didn't seem to need an answer.
He just hugged them a few moments and quietly spoke to them, as if it were a secret.
"We are all in God's hands, from the day we are born until the day we die, and only He knows when that is. But even at that time, we are in God's hands, forever."
And he hugged them a moment longer, turned to kiss his wife, and walked with Levi, Phillip and Nathaniel down the hill and back to camp.