The True Story of the Civil War

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic
This was a short story written in response to a prompt as our reader discovers just who was behind the Civil War.

Submitted: March 16, 2020

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Submitted: March 16, 2020

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" A deceased relative appears in your home and holds out a thick antique book for you. You look at the relative, stunned, then glance down at the book with a fresh pang of shock......"

 

Suffering from writer’s block, I paced the room, wishing something would come to me. Suddenly, a specter appeared before me. It was not a scary ghost and I stifled a scream as I recognized the gentleman who was not really standing there. I wasn’t quite sure how my great-grandfather stood before me and I am not sure that I wanted to know. It was beautiful to meet a man that I had only seen in pictures and heard stories about. He was everything they said he was, dashing, debonair and he had an aura of authority about him, as if he was completely in control of appearing to me in his ghostly form. He was tall and genteel, dressed in the style of a true southern gentleman. He looked at me with an unabashed love in his eyes, as though he had been watching over generations of our family from his heavenly resting place. He wordlessly handed me a book and if I thought this was some sort of strange dream before, I now knew it wasn’t. I held the book in my hands, inhaling the scent of old leather. It reminded me of when I was a child and I would climb up to the top of the closet to get down my father’s chess set, I loved to look at all of the pretty ivory pieces and smell it’s musty scent. The book was leather bound, and I caressed it gently. There was nothing more I loved then to read, except possibly, writing.  I looked up at the apparition in my room, a thousand questions on my mind, but before I could utter a one, he had disappeared.

 

I took the book over to the big overstuffed red chair near the fireplace. It was my favorite place to read. The fire was warm, taking away the chill from the winter weather outside. Gingerly, I opened the cover, and stared at the aged paper inside. The book was handwritten and marked with the occasional inkblots. It began as follows,

 

“The year was 1828. My name was May and I was a Southern Belle from Louisiana. The boys all said I was pretty, though I never thought very highly of my own reflection. I remember the year well. I was fifteen and enjoying the heart of the social season. My friends and I would flutter from party to party, dressed in our ball gowns so large that we almost insisted the doorways be widened to fit the mutton sleeves and full skirts. My papa was so archaic. He was insisting that I stop flitting around like a bee near a hive of honey and settle down the way my momma and he had done. “You’re wasting your life away,” he would say, “You should be settling down and marrying some young man.”  Whenever he would harp, I would stomp my tiny slippered foot and tell him that he was so old-fashioned. Honestly, you would think this was the 1700’s the way he went on. We were modern girls and we could wait until we were at least seventeen, maybe even eighteen before we were old maids. I had plenty of time. Sure, some of my friends were married already but our liberated group of girls insisted, we were going to marry for love and not position or societal conformity.

 

I remember going to one ball in particular. I had dressed carefully that night, wearing a new light green dress, adorned with pink rosebuds. It was the color of the first leaves of spring. My slippers were fawn colored and I wore satin kid gloves of the same color as my gown. My long red hair, my crown and glory and the one vanity that I would allow myself, was swept back away from my face in a French twist. My mother was horrified that my friends and I went out of the house without hats in the evening. No matter how many times, I futilely explained that bonnets and hats kept the sun off of our faces during the day and had no point at night, she still called us “shameless gadabouts.”  The ball that I was attending that evening was in honor of a Jeff, an acquaintance of a dear friend of mine. He was celebrating his victory over the strict and accomplished West Point Military School. He would soon head off on his travels for the military but first he wanted to enjoy his graduation honors. I came into the ball, announced on the arm of my cousin Fred, for as modern as we were, no girl would go to a ball unaccompanied. Fred and I were thick as thieves having grown up together at the knees of our mammas as they shared stories in the kitchen of the comings and goings of the townsfolk.  Fred and I walked down the stairs and we were laughing together as he told me how proud he was to have me on his arm and how lovely I looked. 

 

The party was exquisite. I watched the revelers dancing waltzes whirling around in circles, meeting their partners in perfect times to reels. A young gentleman approached me; his eyes were kind and gentle, filled with wisdom beyond his years. “May I have this dance, Miss May?” he asked as he bowed elegantly.  “But of course, sir, however I am afraid you have me at a disadvantage. I do not know your name.” “The name is Jeff, ma’am.”  “Would you be the guest of honor then?” “I would ma’am.”  “I am honored sir.”  We danced, one dance after another. Jeff was a charming companion. After the third reel, we decided to go and get some punch. Jeff talked about West Point and how excited he was to take on his next job at Fort Crawford. He was interested in my point of view of the country, which was a rare thing for that time. Most men felt their women should be seen and not heard. It wasn’t long into our conversation that Jeff was drawn aside by some well-wishers. I waited by the punch bowl for a while but when he didn’t return, I set off to find Fred, thinking he might be lonely.

 

 I need not have worried, Fred was off charming one lady after the next, so I sat on a bench to watch the dancers and give my feet a rest. Suddenly, a very tall gentleman approached me. He bowed elegantly and asked if the seat was taken and would I mind if he joined me. I nodded my acceptance. My tall friend introduced himself to me, “My friends call me Abe,” he said in a voice that resonated with conviction and power. “I am May,” I replied. Abe and I sat and talked for a while, first about the party and then about our lives. I learned that he was leaving soon for a trip down to New Orleans. He sounded very excited about his upcoming adventure. After a while, Abe asked me to dance and despite his height, he was quite graceful on the dance floor. As we danced, he told me the most wonderful stories and I would have to admit, he was captivating. 

 

During one of our dances, Jeff asked Abe if he would mind if he cut in. Abe, being a gentleman, bowed his acquiescence and Jeff and I reeled to the music. Throughout the night, my card was filled with one gentleman or the other. While I would dance with Abe, Jeff would converse with others but he never seemed to take his watchful eyes off of us and the same with Abe, who was usually telling a story during his down time, surrounded by an audience enthralled with his words. It was amazing to see the two work through a room, so different and yet each commanded a presence. However, as young men sometimes do, they began posturing, each one trying to best the other, unbelievably to me, it seemed as though they were vying for my affection. Though I found them both delightful company, neither had won my heart and so I let them bluster all they wanted. It wasn’t long before their bravado got the best of them and an argument ensued. Thankfully it was near the end of the evening. Jeff, who was about one foot shorter than Abe, asked him if he would like to take the argument outside. I stepped in to tell them they were both acting like children. I found Fred and asked him to take me home and he reluctantly left his belles to escort me. We laughed about the insanity of the two men I had met that evening.

 

I didn’t exactly keep tabs on them over the years, but I heard shortly after I finally settled down with the man I chose, they had both wound up in Illinois and they continued to have an intense dislike for one another.  Years later, it was hard not to know where they were as their names were on the lips of every person across the country. Now I know, that slavery and a whole host of other political agendas were the main causes of the Civil War, but I can’t help thinking if Jeff Davis and Abraham Lincoln thought at all of the young belle that started their feud.”

 

I finished the first story of that leather-bound book very quickly. I was so enthralled with the story. May was my great-great grandmother. The next story was not written by May, but by Maggie, who was my great grandmother. I decided to read one story a night, to enjoy the book the book to its fullest. I couldn’t wait to see what event in history Maggie had witnessed or like May, been responsible for.


© Copyright 2020 Sionna. All rights reserved.

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