Every now and then an idea comes to you and while you aren't quite sure at the time where it fits in, you can't let go of it and you hang on to it to wait for the perfect timing. I wrote this after a visit to a museum in July of 2019 and now, I know exactly where it will go. Even though it is still a work in progress, this will be the beginning of book eight. I hope you enjoy it.
Crossroads At The Exchange
By Tempie W. Wade
June 11, 1863
Gordonsville Receiving Hospital, Virginia
“Excuse me!” said Richard Walton. “Can you tell me when the trail will depart for Lynchburg?”
“Take this man inside right away,” said Dr. Lebby to the two men carrying a stretcher. “His leg is going to have to come off as soon as possible. Have the chloroform ready.”
“Damn it! This one is already gone,” called Dr. Hunter as he waved for some of the volunteers to take the poor soul away. “Where are they coming in from this time, Brewerton?”
“Near Brandy Station,” he replied, as he looked another man over. “I heard some of the men say that General Pleasonton’s men attacked General Stuart’s men in camp before dawn. They never saw it coming.”
“I will be damn glad when this war is over and I can go back to treating gout and piles!” grumbled Dr. Hunter.
Dr. Lebby chuckled as he started toward the building. “You and me both, Charles. I never thought I would see the day when I would actually look forward to looking at another man’s ass.”
Men ran to and from the train, taking patients inside and putting some on the ground until the car was cleared.
“Why won’t anyone answer me?” shouted Richard, as he threw his hands up in the air in disgust.
“Oh, they are just quite busy,” said a voice from behind him.
He turned around quickly to see a beautiful young woman with long, dark flowing hair hanging loose all the way to her waist smiling back at him.
“Oh, ma’am, I did not see you there,” he said, his eyes downcast, a little embarrassed for his sudden outburst.
She strolled over to him, careful to step around the few men who were still on the ground waiting to be carried inside.
“My head hurts, miss. Am I going to die?” whispered one with a bandaged head as he reached up and tugged on the hem of her dress. She stopped to kneel down and touch his arm.
“You are going to be just fine, soldier,” she replied. “Rest up for a bit until they take you inside.”
“Yes, ma’am!” he said as he closed his eyes. “Thank you, ma’am!”
The woman straightened up and came over to Richard. “Is there something I can help you with?” she asked.
“I was just wondering when the train would be leaving for Lynchburg. That doctor inside said that I could finally go home and rest.”
“It will be along soon,” she said. “I will be happy to wait with you and keep you company if you’d like.”
Richard looked down, shyly. “I wouldn’t want to trouble you.”
“It’s no trouble at all if you don’t mind spending time with me,” she said with a gleam in her eye.
“I would like that a great deal, ma’am.”
“Wonderful! Let’s sit down,” she said as she waved him towards a bench. “You have a pretty bad limp there, soldier.”
He hobbled over to take a seat. “I took a spill on my horse and he crushed my leg. I am looking forward to recovering in my own bed back home with my mama feeding me some of her wonderful chicken stew.”
“I am sure you are,” she said as she sat down next to him. “My name is Morgan MacGregor by the way.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Miss MacGregor,” he said with a tip of the head, “My name is Richard Walton, but you can call me Ritchie; everyone else does.”
“Well, it is nice to meet you, Ritchie,” she smiled. They watched as the few men left on the lawn were taken inside. “I heard some of your fellow soldiers talking,” she said, “and they said that you saved their lives when your camp was attacked.”
“I didn’t do anything none of the rest of them wouldn’t have done.” His eyes suddenly seemed to glaze over, as if he were lost in a painful memory as he recalled what happened. “The day before this attack, General Stuart had ordered a grand review, the second one this week because General Lee wasn’t able to attend the first, so our proud leader insisted we do it all over again. It wore all of us out, including the horses, and we were just trying to get some sleep.” He stopped to look at the ground. “Sleep helps you to forget when your stomach is growling because supplies are always running a little shorter than they should be. Anyway, it was just before dawn when the ruckus from the attack woke me up. I was on the edge of camp closest to it and I knew with all the men we had there, they wouldn’t know what was happening until it was too late, so I gathered myself as best I could and rode as quickly as I could throughout the encampment to sound the alarm and warn them before joining the fight myself. I don’t know how many hours we charged and countercharged those damn Yankees before my horse took a spill and came down on top of me. I remember feeling a crushing pain in my whole body; I could hardly breathe and then a burning sensation shot through my chest. I woke up here with the doctor standing over me saying it was time to go home and rest.” He looked down at his shirt, confused when he noticed a red stain on the front. Did he take a bullet or was it someone else’s blood?
“That was very courageous of you,” said Morgan, breaking his concentration. “I know for a fact that you saved many lives that day and those men are extremely grateful for what you did.”
“I don’t think I was very courageous,” he replied, sheepishly, “but if my reward is getting to go home, I sure won’t turn it down,” he smiled. His gaze fell to an old oak tree not far from where they sat. It reminded him of the one he used to climb when he was a kid; the same one he fell out of more than once. “Do you live here in Gordonsville?” he asked.
“No. I live in Williamsburg with my family. I just came out for a short visit.”
“What’s it like? I have never been there before.”
“It’s a very quiet little town. There isn’t much to do. What about Lynchburg? Tell me about your family while we wait.”
“There’s not much to tell. We live on a farm and my father raised tobacco among other things when I was growing up. That’s one thing that I have missed, you know; the smell of it after it’s been dried out in the barn. There’s nothing quite like that aroma and every time I catch a whiff of it, I think about home. I never thought that would be something that brought back good memories, especially after all those days I spent in a tobacco field. I remember a time when I wished I would never see another leaf of it. It’s funny that it’s the little things that you miss.”
Morgan inched closer to him. “What else have you missed?”
“The simple things like eating way too much of my mama’s fried chicken on Sunday and being too miserable to move afterward. I can’t tell you how many times I have wished for some of her cooking since I left. I have also missed having a warm, dry bed to sleep in after sleeping on the cold, hard ground for far too many nights and putting on clean clothes after a bath. I hated baths as a child and now I can’t seem to get and stay clean enough. I have even missed the sounds of my three little sisters running through the house screaming their heads off, even though I fussed at them about it each and every time. After hearing so many screams of men dying on the battlefield, I will gladly take the sound of laughing children any day.”
“Do you have a girl back home?” she asked.
“No, I don’t,” he replied as he looked over at her. “Although, I have received a few very special letters from the one who lives on the farm next door since I left and she seems to have expressed a little bit of interest in me. Her name is Sally. What about you, Miss MacGregor? Do you have a sweetheart?”
“I do and I thank my lucky stars for him each and every day for I could not live this life without him. He brings me a peace that I cannot find anywhere or with anyone else.”
“He is a lucky man.” Ritchie cleared his throat and looked straight ahead. “Maybe I will see about courting Sally when I get back. She would make a good wife for me and she is quite a lovely woman. We could build a little house, raise some tobacco of our own and live a quiet life when this war business is over and done.”
“That sounds lovely,” she said, softly.
“It’s nothing like I thought it would be, you know?” he said suddenly. “Being a soldier, I mean. When I joined up, all the young men that I grew up with did as well. We were proud, excited even, and we couldn’t wait to whip those Yankees. We’d show them that they would never take away our way of life and we would make short work of it too. None of us had any idea what we were getting into. We were fools to think that taking men’s lives would solve anything. I had two best friends growing up, Jack and Sammie. We were always into some sort of mischief together, stirring up some kind of trouble. One night, we decided we wanted to do something different, so we saddled our horses, took some of my father’s good whiskey and rode into town to the cemetery around midnight. We walked around with a lantern, reading off tombstones and making up ridiculous stories about how that person died and what jobs they might have in Heaven or Hell, none of us feeling any pain from the libations we had consumed when a loud scream from the side nearest the church entrance scared us half to death. We were convinced that one of those dead souls that we were poking fun at had come back to exact their revenge; the alcohol probably not helping matters any. We got on our horses and rode full gallop until we were back at my house. We rushed upstairs and stayed in the same bed under the covers shaking that entire night because we were unable to sleep, terrified of what sort of hell we had brought down upon ourselves. Two days later, my father came home from town laughing so hard he could barely speak, telling my mother the story of how the town drunk, who had found himself the night before unable to make it home from the tavern after an overindulgence, stopped at the churchyard to rest when he heard three spirits in the graveyard talking amongst themselves about the ways that people left this world and what their jobs in the afterlife were now. He was so terrified by their stories that he ran to the church doors and banged on them, begging to be let in so that he could confess and repent for all his sins before his time came to leave this life.”
Morgan raised her hand to cover her mouth and laughed. “Seems you have been saving souls for a while.”
He chuckled. “I guess that’s one plus in my column on Judgement Day anyway.”
“What of your sins? What do you have to confess before your time to leave this world? What are you most sorry for?” she asked.
Ritchie scratched his chin. “That might be a lengthy list.”
“We have some time and confession is good for the soul,” she said. “I promise I won’t judge.”
He blew out a deep breath. “I am sorry that I convinced Jack and Sammie to join up with me for one. It cost Sammie his left leg two months in and Jack his life about six months ago.”
Morgan looked at him sympathetically. “I’m sorry for your loss.”
He wiped away a tear that had leaked from his eye. “So am I.”
He brushed his face against the shoulder of his coat as he composed himself. “I am sorry that I quarreled with my father before I left. He did not want me to leave the farm because he said that he needed my help, but I insisted that it was my duty to go. He told me that nothing good ever came from war and perhaps he was right. Maybe if I had stayed, he wouldn’t have worked himself into an early grave and left my mother to raise a family by herself. I am sorry for telling a girl in northern Virginia that I loved her and wanted to marry her just so I could lay with her. All I wanted was to take some comfort for myself for a little while, but I was being selfish and I ended up breaking her heart instead. I hope one day she might forgive me for that even though there is no excuse for being a cad. I am sorry for the men’s lives that I have taken during this conflict and there have been far too many of them. Have you ever looked into a man’s eyes as he is dying?”
Morgan nodded. “More often than I care to admit, I’m afraid.”
“It is not an easy thing to do and when you know that you are the one responsible for taking that life, well, that is a weight that I sometimes think will never lift from my shoulders. They were just men like me, fighting for what they thought was a just cause in this world, but there is no glory in that cause when the price is so high.”
They both looked towards the building as they heard a man scream out in pain. “I wonder what the casualties numbers look like from this one battle alone?” he whispered.
“Out of over 20,000 men, on both sides combined, 132 were killed, 653 were wounded, and 514 are captured or missing,” she replied, sadly.
“How do you know that?” he asked, curiously.
Morgan shrugged. “I make it my business to keep up with these things.”
“What makes me so special that I get to go home while others lie dead and rotting on a battlefield?” he asked.
“When it’s your time, there isn’t anything you can do to change it. You just have to trust that the next world will be your reward for what you have done in this one.”
Ritchie’s shoulders slumped and he hung his head. “In that case, I suppose I don’t have much to look forward to. I wonder what my job in Hell will be.”
“I don’t think you are so bad,” she said, reassuringly. “Surely, you have done a few good things in this world. We know you have sent at least one soul to his salvation.”
“I don’t think that will outweigh all that I have done wrong in this world.”
“I am sure that is not true. How many men get to move forward in this life because you warned them in the last battle? That has to be several hundred men that owe their lives to you.”
“But, what of the lives I have taken?” he asked, remorsefully.
Morgan thought for a moment before speaking. “Sometimes, bad things have to happen to clear the way for good things to come along. For instance, the war that General Washington fought not that long ago. Many lives were lost and this country was scarred by the devastation, but look what rose up in place of it. We did not become America without experiencing some growing pains. It is the same with this war. From the ashes of this scorched Earth, a great nation will rise once again and that will be in part to men like you who had the courage to fight for what they believed in. History will remember that.”
Ritchie frowned. “You seem very wise for such a young woman.”
She grinned. “I am a little bit older than I look.”
They looked on as the now empty train that had unloaded its cargo of wounded to the hospital pulled out, the sound of it pulling out drowning out everything else.
“How long do you think I will have to wait for the train to Lynchburg?” he asked, once it moved out of sight.
“It won’t be much longer,” she replied.
A woman with her dress apron covered in blood came out of the building with Dr. Lebby carrying a small box. “These items belong to Richard Walton,” she said. Dr. Lebby stopped to take a ladle full of water from a nearby bucket and drank before wiping his forehead with a handkerchief.
“Those are mine. You can just leave them there and I will get them when I leave,” called Ritchie. The woman did not respond to him, simply set the box down and turned to go back inside with Dr. Lebby following close behind.
“What’s in the box?” asked Morgan.
He stretched out his injured leg. “Feel free to look. My life is an open book.”
Morgan got up, took the box in hand, brought it over and set it between them. She started taking things out and holding them up, one by one.
“A pocket watch?” she asked.
“That belonged to my great-grandfather and I was so proud when my father gave it to me when I was 13. He fought in the war with Washington and from what I understand, they were great friends.”
She grinned and took out the next thing. “One stack of letters.”
“Everyone I have received since I have been in the army.”
“They look pretty well-loved,” winked Morgan. “Especially the ones from Sally,” she said with a raised eyebrow.
Ritchie blushed. “She does have a way with words and she did seem to take pity on a man away at war. Some nights those letters were the only thing that kept me warm.”
“Must be some letters,” teased Morgan.
“Especially the one that she included a nude drawing of herself,” he muttered under his breath. “She is a very talented artist.”
Morgan fanned herself with the stack. “Naughty Sally!”
She laid them down and took out the last item; a small Bible.
“That has brought me more comfort than you will ever know,” he said. “My mother gave it to me before I left.”
“Comfort is important for a man away at war.” She carefully placed the items back in the box. “It sounds like your family loves you very much.”
“Not as much as I love them.”
Morgan looked up at the sky, a sense of trepidation coming over her as a dark cloud starting to form on the horizon.
“Do you believe in God, Ritchie?” she asked, suddenly.
“Of course I do,” he frowned.
“Do you believe he forgives us for our sins and grants salvation?”
He hesitated. “I would like to believe that,” he whispered.
“God helps those who help themselves,” she said. “The same goes for forgiveness. If you forgive yourself, he will welcome you home with open arms when it is your time. If you do not, the darkness that overtakes your mind will overtake your soul and you will be left in a hellish limbo that no one deserves to endure. I want you to forgive yourself, Ritchie, and understand that your time in this world is just a small part in a bigger production and that you played your part well, as was intended in the grander scheme of things. Everyone has a purpose and a reason for being here, but some of those reasons are a little harder to understand and accept than others. You just have to have faith that you did the best you could do in the circumstances that fate handed you.”
“You think it is that simple, do you?”
“I know it is. Just forgive yourself in your heart and ask Him to do the same. He will listen.”
The sound of a train whistle sounded off in the background.
“I think that is your ride,” said Morgan, as she set the box on the ground and stood up. “What’s it going to be?” she asked as she noticed the dark cloud forming a funnel out of the corner of her eye and beginning to head in their general direction. The train appeared in sight at the same exact time, both coming at them at precisely the same speed. “You are at a crossroads, Ritchie Walton and it’s time to make a decision. Do you choose to forgive yourself and let the light in or will you be absorbed by the coming darkness.”
Ritchie blew out a long breath as he looked up at her, his face filled with torment and his eyes showing signs of the storminess that churned inside his very being. The train and the storm had moved much closer and were less than ten yards from them at this point. Morgan was starting to have serious concerns about which one would reach them first and in what direction this man’s soul would go. Ritchie finally closed his eyes, dropped his head and mumbled a few words that she did not hear. The sound of the train and the rumble of the storm completely filled the air as a large gust of wind blew across the yard, knocking down tree limbs and everything else that wasn’t secured over. Morgan closed her own eyes and hoped for the best. After what seemed like an eternity, she opened them once again. The storm was gone and a wonderful, warm sunset filled the sky. She looked around, took in a deep breath and smiled. “I think you made a good choice.”
She walked with him to the train. “I don’t know why, but I feel the need to thank you,” he said. “For the company, if nothing else.”
“Ritchie, it has been my pleasure,” she said as they reached the car and were greeted by an older man in the doorway of the train. “I would like you to meet an old friend of mine. This is Dod Walton and he will escort you the rest of the way home.”
Dod tipped his hat. “I am very pleased to meet you.”
“Walton?” asked Ritchie, “I wonder if we are related?”
“I am willing to bet we are,” said Dod, with a sly smirk on his face.
“Why don’t you come with us for a short visit?” Ritchie asked Morgan. “You would like Lynchburg and I would love to introduce you to Sally. My mama’s fried chicken is worth the trip if for nothing else.”
Morgan bit her lip. “As lovely as that sounds, it looks like I am going to be needed in Gettysburg very shortly, but I do wish you well on your journey, Ritchie Walton.”
Ritchie nodded and climbed the steps as Dod pointed out an empty seat to him. When he started down the aisle, Dod turned around. “Thank you, Morgan, for seeing my great-grandson over safely to this side. I am in your debt.”
“It was my pleasure, Dod. I figured I owe you one,” she smiled. “Take care of him and the two of you rest in peace. Enjoy eternity.”
As the train started to pull away, Ritchie waved out of the window. “Goodbye, Morgan.”
“Goodbye, Ritchie and thank you for your service to your country. Enjoy your rest because you have earned it.”
Morgan watched the train pull away and she felt a presence behind her.
“Cutting it a little close, weren’t you?” the man asked dryly.
She turned and took him by the arm. “I was starting to get a little concerned myself, Uncle Gabe, but what’s life without a little excitement?”
“Long and boring,” he quipped. “Come on! We don’t have much time before Gettysburg and I understand we are going to be very busy when the battle begins. They will be a great many soldiers who need escorting. Are you up for it?”
“That’s my job,” she said with a smile and the two strolled arm in arm towards the glorious sunset for a bit before vanishing into thin air.
"Crossroads at the Exchange"
by Tempie W. Wade
© by Tempie W. Wade
All Rights Reserved
In my books, I do my best to stay as close to historically accurate facts as possible. I believe mixing a touch of fantasy, with real people and events, gives the reader something to ponder and hopefully inspires a genuine curiosity for history. In A Timely Revolution, I used many tidbits that the reader may not recognize as real, so I have listed a few below.
Real-life people in Williamsburg in 1765:
*Catherine Blaikley- The town midwife for 30 years, having delivered over 3,000 children.
*William Holt-Shopkeeper, as well as serving in the offices of Mayor, Quartermaster of the Militia, Peace Commissioner and Justice among other things. Also, father of triplets as announced in the Virginia Gazette.
*John and James Carter-John was a merchant and shopkeep that shared a building with his brother James, a surgeon and apothecary that operated the Unicorn’s Horn.
*Peyton Randolph-Attorney (among many other things) that occupied one of the currently most haunted places in Colonial Williamsburg.
*The Raleigh Tavern was a place well-known for its food, entertainment, and rum punch. Many sales and other forms of business were conducted on its steps.
*Dinner was actual the mid-day meal, served over several courses and taking a great amount of time. Breakfast and supper mainly consisted of leftovers, although supper parties that lasted well into the night did occur on special occasions.
Philadelphia and surrounding areas:
*Major Benjamin Tallmadge, the leader of the Culper Spy Ring was a Yale graduate and served as the superintendent of Wethersfield High School before joining the war. In his memoirs, he spoke of a lady that brought information back and forth from Philadelphia, using the excuse of gathering eggs to travel between lines. He also wrote of an incident where there were spotted at the Rising Sun Tavern exchanging information and how he pulled her onto the back of his horse and she courageously rode as they were being fired upon to a nearby town, where she slipped off into the crowd and disappeared before he returned to camp. He was appointed the head of Washington’s spy ring while in Winter Quarters at Valley Forge(winter 1777-1778).
*John André was a captain(not appointed AG-Major until 1779) while stationed in Philadelphia where he was sent after being held a prisoner of war for a time. It was there he met Peggy Shippen, the future wife of Benedict Arnold. He was a well-known ladies man and very well-liked by everyone he met. At that time, he served under General Howe and was the one that planned his going away party that lasted several days, the Mischianza before Howe returned to England and General Clinton took his place. In spring of 1779, he was appointed the chief of intelligence by Clinton.
*December 21, 2018