Editor's Note: This is an ongoing series which runs each Thursday morning titled the Richland Chronicles Volume VI, 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 sixth in a series. Volume I is Amelia Changes Her Tune. Volume II is Isaac and Wolf Paw Find Their Home. Volume III is Autumn Keeps Her Secret. Volume IV is Mr. Gamble Starts a School. Volume V is Jacob Blows his Horn.
May 13, 1863
I am coming home, although not all of me. That which remains of me will desire to bring honor to our family, and will continue to pray and work for the appropriate completion of this noble task.
Your affectionate son, Nate.
“Pay attention, Cassie. Straight line, even stitches. We want the soldiers to see the caring not the sloppiness.”
“Oh, Mama, I just don’t have the knack for sewing blankets. Can’t I go groom the horse or something? Maybe I can cook some muﬃns. How about I plant a tree? I’ll play the piano for you. Just let me stop sewing.”
“Cassie, I will let you stop complaining. This is the task before us, all of us. The ladies of the Lutheran Church have missioned themselves to make 100 blankets to send to the Sherman Brigade. They have been through so much in this horrible war. Don’t you want to do your part?”
“I just wish mine was a diﬀerent part.”
“And it will be dear girl, after this part is complete.”
Several of the ladies nearby chuckled at the conversation, and Cassie looked around.
I’m the youngest one here. All these old ladies have been sewing for decades. They can sew without thinking.
Look at them talking and laughing and humming and they hardly look at what they are doing. And I can’t stand to look at what I’m doing, she thought.
“Yes, Mama,” is all she said, however.
The Sherman Brigade had been formed two years before with men from Richland County, at the request of Senator John Sherman, Mansﬁeld’s most famous citizen and a close friend of President Lincoln.
Cassie’s father and three of her brothers joined up. They had enlisted for only three months, back when everyone thought the war would be over by then. After three months, they reenlisted for three years.
Her daddy, Lt. Levi Zimmerman, had returned to Mansﬁeld last fall. Captain Brinkerhoﬀ thought he would be a good local recruiter.
Her brother Nate was soon to return, missing part of his right leg. The other brothers were somewhere in Georgia or Virginia, she couldn’t keep it straight.
“I received a nice letter from my Teddy,” Mrs. Vonhof was saying. “He is glad they are on the move.”
“To where,” another old lady seamstress asked. “Oh my, Matilda, he can’t tell us. That could give secrets away,” she said.
“My George is over in Maryland, or Pennsylvania, or somewhere,” Mrs. Pittenger was saying.
“By the time we get a letter, they always are in a whole other place.”
“They could be dead before we get their letters.”
Everyone fell quiet. It was Mrs. Avery’s comment. Her husband had died in a battle in Tennessee a year ago. His last letter arrived two weeks later.
“Well, we just have to pray for their safekeeping. And for this wretched war to be over before we can deliver these blankets,” Mrs. Armbrust said.
I can pray for that all right, Cassie thought.
It’s not that the blankets were hard to make. The women were taking bolts of heavy woolen cloth and cutting them to “soldier length,” then stitching all four edges so they would keep from fraying. It was something an experienced seamstress could do with her eyes closed.
Cassie knew she could get better over time. She just didn’t really want to.
Over her 12 years, she had lived in a family of boys — the three older brother soldiers, and her twin brother Jacob. She liked doing things boys liked to do, but as a girl.
She felt it was unfair that Jacob was outside playing rounders and she was stuck inside with the old ladies. Mama even made her get into her Sunday dress to come because all the ladies would talk if she didn’t. She also felt tired of all the bad news that everyone kept throwing in when they were together.
Things sure are diﬀerent around here. All we talk about is who died, who is hurt, who is coming back, who is sick in their camp. Everybody’s got somebody who isn’t here or won’t be coming back. When people do come back, they are diﬀerent. Papa always seems to be minding somewhere else. And Nate, how will he ever walk right? I don’t want everyone to be diﬀerent.
“Mama, may I please go home and ….”
“And do what child?”
“Anything. Anything but this.”
“You are 12 years old. It’s time for you to grow up and do the things that young women do, such as sewing blankets for soldiers,” Mama said.
“Now, Autumn, I seem to remember you at 12 and your mother Peggy had to hunt through the woods anytime she needed you in the kitchen,” Mrs. Pittenger said. “You’d have lived at the swimming hole if there had been regular meals there.”
A couple of other women smiled and nodded their heads. Cassie thought she saw Mama turn red, but she couldn’t tell if she was blushing or seething.
“Well, Cassie, if you really don’t think you can be of help here, I suppose you can be on your way.”
I should say no and just stay, but I really want to go.
“Okay, bye, Mama.” I’m free. Oﬀ Cassie skipped, into the beautiful May day. School would be out in a week and the weather was right for just about anything. It was a quick three blocks down Mulberry to Third and then another couple of blocks west to the Zimmerman home, which was looking bright and welcoming, with all the Azailias in bloom and tulips popping up.
Instinctively, Cassie looked up in the big tree in their front yard, expecting to see Jacob up there somewhere. She referred to it as Jacob’s Ladder. Hmmm. Not there. Must be playing rounders up at their ﬁeld.
She paused, and suddenly heard the sound of a stick hitting a ball and a crowd of boys yelling. Huzzah, the game is on, and oﬀ she headed to the ﬁeld.
Suddenly she stopped. My dress! Her Sunday best. I have to change if I want to play. She paused again. But maybe Sheldon will be playing there. He might notice me in this. She paused again. Rounders or Sheldon or rounders or Sheldon … She started toward ﬁeld, at a more ladylike gait. Sheldon.