Louis Blain tossed a rug over his horse. The mare had done enough and the sweaty animal needed a break. He leaned against its side, just for a moment and soaked up some of its heat. It’d been another long, grueling day of training, both for her as a new mount, and for him, as a newly enlisted Private of the Union Army. At least the recruiter had promised to pay him well should he complete his tour.
He closed his eyes and sent his prayers windward for the safety and health of his lovely wife, Mary, the safety of his two strapping boys–Alexander and Noel, and his three lovely daughters. He held each face, so precious, in his memory and close to his heart. They were why he was here–the money would give them a future free of the grinding poverty that haunted their every decision.
A snap from nearby interrupted his reverie. The words that came next sent shivers of alarm down his spine.
Louis raised his head and stared at his eldest son, standing but two feet away and wearing the Union Jack. Louis A. Blair, Jr.–Alexander–and didn’t he have a cocky grin?
“You did not expect to see me?” Alexander said.
His words stirred Louis to action. “I did not expect to see a soldier’s uniform.” He adjusted the rug on the horse as if the movement would bring distraction from this sudden rush of dread. What a brutal surprise…
“I’m twenty-nine. You signed up, would it not make sense for me to do the same?”
Louis cursed silently and patted the rump of the grazing horse. He paused a moment, lost in the heaviness of worry and fear. Then he closed the gap to his son. They didn’t hug, neither were overly affectionate men, it was just so damn startling, seeing his child, this grown man, dressed for war. “When did you enlist?”
“But a few days ago.”
Louis shook his head, still too stunned for words. At 49, he’d signed up as an old man. His life, as such, was nearly over. But his son, this glorious dark-haired young man- his life was only just beginning. Louis had a new bride, a sweet woman, who would take care of her throughout the years of pain and sorrow that were to come?
“Noel enlisted yesterday,” Alexander whispered as if knowing the words would cut.
“Bloody hell.” Louis struggled through a jolt of alarm. “Your mother, she must be devastated.”
“I won’t lie to you, Papa, won’t say that she didn’t beg for us to stay. But the call has gone out and we must obey, just as you have.”
Louis didn’t answer, he didn’t need to. They weren’t citizens, but they understood the destruction facing their temporary home. They simply could not return to Canada, to a failing farm, knowing they may never be able to return to New England should the war end badly for the north.
Alexander searched the darkening sky. “I leave soon – my company’s mustering in Rochester. I have a few day’s travel ahead.”
“That’s a fine thing.” Louis met his son’s gaze. “But you must know before you leave, that I love you. I’m very proud.”
“And you are very angry.”
He spoke truthfully. Bitterness and regret mixed with dread and twisted Louis’s gut. If only he’d been able to provide better for his family, his sons wouldn’t be risking their lives. Louis straightened. “You must come back alive and unharmed, understand? I will not bury one of my sons.”
Louis straightened. “You must come back alive and unharmed, understand? I will not bury one of my sons.”
They hugged then, a brief, heartfelt embrace. Both understood this might be the last time should one of them fall to a Confederate bullet. Alexander stepped back, gave a smart salute and ambled off into the dusk.
And Louis watched his son disappear into the gloom, swallowing the horrid taste of fear.
Louis A. Blair served in the heavy artillery unit of the 146th Division, Company F. He was declared missing in action and assumed dead. He left a wife and no children.