J.D.R. Hawkins

One bullet can make a man a hero… or a casualty.

Archive for the tag “War”

It’s That Time of Year

In exactly two weeks, it will be Christmas! It’s my favorite holiday. Here is an excerpt from my novel, A Beautiful Glittering Lie, the first book in the Renegade Series. This glance into the past shows what a war-torn country was like in December, 1861.

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The day of Callie’s Christmas party arrived. Rena and Josie had primped for a week, repeatedly trying on the five dresses they owned between them, until they finally came to a decision. David didn’t give it much thought, since Callie’s charms had worn off with time, but he did carve a beautiful broach for her.

They reached the Copeland’s as dusk was setting in. It was an unseasonably warm evening, and Caroline remarked about how the weather seemed to be cooperating with the party. Pulling into the yard, they saw several other carriages and wagons parked outside. David directed Joe Boy to an open area. He jumped down, tied the draft horse to a shrub, greeted Percy, who was tending the horses, and after assisting his mother and sisters down from the wagon, he escorted them up the steps to the house. The stylings of festive violin music floated through the air. Caroline tapped on the door. Momentarily, Mr. Copeland answered, dressed in a waistcoat with matching black trousers.

“Why, there y’all are!” he greeted them happily. “Please do come in!”

Extending his hand to David, the two shook and followed the ladies into the parlor, which was aglow with glittering lights. Candles flickered on brass candlesticks, reflecting off blown-glass decorations that adorned an enormous pine Christmas tree regally standing in a corner. The women were attired in festive, colorful dresses, and the men wore fine suits. David thought the entire sparkling room was enchanting.

Josie and Rena saw some friends, so they went off to mingle. Mr. Copeland took Caroline’s arm and led her over to his wife, leaving David awkwardly alone. He gazed around for a familiar face, and finally found one. Jake ambled across the room in his direction, with Callie on his arm. She was radiant in a shimmering, bronze-colored, hooped gown. Her golden hair was drawn up and confined within a snood that matched the hue of her dress. Jake appeared similarly attractive in his best suit.

“Glad to see you could make it!” he exclaimed, giving his friend a playful punch on the arm.

“Y’all knew we couldn’t miss this.”

“Well, I should certainly hope not!” exclaimed Callie. “Everyone knows mine is the most extravagant party in the county this season. And we have cause for celebration, this bein’ the first yuletide since the start of the war.” Releasing Jake, she clamped onto David. “Jake, would you be a darlin’ and go fetch me some punch?”

“It would be my pleasure, Miss Callie,” he said with a smile. Giving David a wink, he strolled off into the crowd.

“Now, Mr. Summers, if you please, I would like you to come with me,” she said, giving his arm a tug, so he obediently followed along like a puppy.

The violinist, joined by a pianist, delved into a tender rendition of “Silent Night.” Callie stopped momentarily to listen, so David took his opportunity.

“Miss Callie, I made you a token,” he bashfully admitted. Withdrawing a small wrapped package from his pocket, he handed it to her.

“Well, I do declare! David, darlin’, you shouldn’t have!” She tore open the wrapping and pried open the box, revealing the broach he had painstakingly carved for her. “Why, it’s absolutely breathtakin’.” She pinned it onto the front of her gown. “I shall wear it always.”

Taking his hand, she leaned over to give him a gentle kiss on the cheek, barely missing his mouth.

He shied away, embarrassed. Clearing his throat while his face flushed, he muttered, “What did you want to show me, Miss Callie?”

“I would like to present you to some friends who are out back.”

He followed her to the garden, but immediately wished he hadn’t, for as soon as they were outside, he saw several faces he recognized.

“David, you know Owen Ridgeway, and his brother, Lemuel.”

“Hey, Summers,” said Lemuel in a friendly manner, but his older brother only glared.

“Hey, y’all,” David responded genially, for Callie’s sake.

Jake arrived, and handed Callie a glass filled with sparkling red fluid. Seeing the tension, he said, “Zeke, go on in and git yourself some punch.”

“Don’t mind if I do,” he said, taking his chance to escape the scene. He knew Callie was unaware of the conflict, but he was riled, and he didn’t wish to spoil her party, so he went inside to the food table.

The spread temporarily distracted him from a possible confrontation. Ham, turkey, stuffing, cornbread, pickles, garden vegetables, bread pudding, and assorted pies were displayed on gold leaf china. His mouth watered as he absorbed the sight.

Rena appeared beside him. “Are you enjoyin’ yourself?” she asked, taking a plate.

“I was, till Callie took me outside. That scoundrel Owen Ridgeway is here.”

“He is?”

“Yeah, and so is his brother. I don’t have a quarrel with him, though.”

“Jist avoid him, David,” she advised.

He looked over to see the seriousness in her gaze. “I’ll be on my best behavior for Ma’s sake, but if he tries to make a fuss, well …”

“Jist don’t.” Rena glared insistently at him before moving on.

Once he had filled his plate, he walked across the kitchen, sat at the table, and began eating. Soon, several guests joined him, and struck up a conversation about his father. Isabelle scurried about to accommodate the partygoers, as did the Copeland’s five slaves, and a few others the neighbors had brought along to help support them.

After lingering for half an hour, David excused himself. He walked into the parlor, where he saw Jake and Callie talking to Alice Walker, so he joined them.

“Oh, David, Miss Alice has jist informed us of the most dreadful news!” Callie leaned against Jake for support.

“What is it, Miss Alice?” he asked.

“We’re movin’ to California,” she announced. A broad smile spread across her young porcelain-like face.

“Californee is a right far piece away!” Jake exclaimed with a chuckle.

She nodded. “My pa has an uncle out that way who struck it rich, so we’re fixin’ to go next year sometime. Perhaps after spring thaw.”

David smirked through a flash of jealousy. “I wish I could go out to Californee and strike it rich,” he muttered.

Callie smiled at him. “Perhaps we can all go out for a visit later on,” she suggested hopefully. Turning toward the wall, she decided to change the subject. “David, have you seen the paintin’ my ma jist acquired?”

“No.” He drew closer to have a look.

“Pa bought it for her for Christmas. Ain’t it magnificent?”

“It surely is.” He gazed at the landscape, noticing how the bluish-purple colors of twilight were accurately represented.

“My ma says that it’s right fittin’ and all. She says that this paintin’, Twilight, symbolizes the transitions we’ve all been goin’ through—the new Confederacy and two new presidents, talk of freein’ the slaves, and the country splittin’ in two. It’s like the dawnin’ of a new day.”

David stared at the painting, reading her description into the swirls left by the artist’s brushstrokes, and reckoned she was right.

Mrs. Copeland’s high-pitched voice cut through the din. “May I have your attention, please?”

Callie’s father tapped on a crystal champagne glass with a piece of silverware, causing it to ring out. The participants grew quiet.

“We would like for all of our guests to please assemble out back in the garden!” she exclaimed, and motioned invitingly, so the partygoers followed her.

As David walked outside, he noticed the entire backyard had been redecorated. Paper lanterns strung across the length of the yard illuminated the setting, and musicians were gathered on a platform near the back. The violinist had transformed himself into a fiddle player. He was joined by a banjo player and a percussionist, who sat poised atop a stool with spoons in his hand.

“For our first song,” the banjo player announced, “we’re playin’ a fine tune by Stephen Foster, called ‘O Lemuel.’”

Owen guffawed at the reference, jabbing his little brother with his elbow. The music started, and the crowd coupled up. Walking out into the center of the straw-covered yard, they began swirling to the music. The chill in the air seemed to dissipate as the dancers moved in synchronized harmony across the makeshift dance floor.

David watched while a schoolmate, Thomas Halsey, escorted Rena. Jake and Callie took to the floor, as did their parents, even though Mr. Kimball’s injured leg prevented him from dancing with much elegance. Like he usually did at gatherings such as these, David partnered with his mother and younger sister, dancing to the lively melodies of “The Yellow Rose of Texas” and “Jim along Josie.” He danced with Alice, and once, timidly, with Callie, who complimented him on his stylish grace. When the music changed to a waltz, she stated that she thought he would easily fit into high society with his fancy footwork.

After the musicians took a break, he strolled into the house for refreshment. Owen followed, confronting him in the kitchen.

“Think you’re quite the rooster, don’t you? Dancin’ with every gal at the party.” He stared provokingly with penetrating green eyes, his blond hair tussled atop his head.

David whirled around to face him. Owen had always been a showoff, and was constantly teasing him because he was left-handed, and trying to outdo him at every opportunity. 

“That ain’t none of your concern. Savvy?”

Owen snorted. “You’re worthless. You ain’t nothin’ but a weasel. All you can do is hide behind them skirts!”

Rena entered to see her brother bristle at his adversary. “David …” she warned.

“Not now, Rena,” he growled back.

“Recall what we discussed.” She could see from across the room that her brother’s eyes were darkening from hazel to brown, which to her was a bad indication.

“I want to have a word with you out on the veranda, Ridgeway,” David stated.

He tromped off through the house. Owen grinned, traipsing behind. David heard his mother’s voice as she entered the kitchen. 

“What’s goin’ on in here?” she asked.

“Dere’s ‘bout to be trouble out front, Miss Caroline,” Isabelle explained as she gathered a trayful of dirty dishes.

“It’s Owen Ridgeway again, Ma,” added Josie.

Caroline growled, “I’ll put a stop to this.” 

“No, Mrs. Summers,” Jake intercepted. “Allow me.” He sauntered through the house as voices outside escalated, and went outside to see David and Owen glaring intensely while throwing verbal spears at each other.

“I know it was you who killed my dog last winter!” David roared. “You did it jist to spite me, because you were jealous!”

“Why would I be jealous of you?” Owen mocked a laugh.

“Because I’m smarter than you, and you know it.”

“You cheated on those school exams so you could graduate! You lied about your pa fightin’ at Manassas, too! You’re spoiled and soft!”

“I’ll have you take that back!”

“Now, boys,” Jake interrupted, “there ain’t no need for—”

Suddenly, Owen lurched at David, who threw a punch into his attacker’s face. They were immediately wrestling on the veranda, tumbling over each other while grunting, cursing, and yelling. Members of the party dashed outside, alarmed by the commotion. Jake managed to break the two apart, and held his friend’s arms behind his back. Lemuel seized his brother in the same manner. The two opponents snorted like bulls, their faces red with vehemence. A trail of scarlet blood trickled from Owen’s nose.

“Take it easy!” Jake hollered.

Mr. Copeland stepped in. “What is the meaning of this?! I will not have you two behave this way at my gatherin’!” He stomped over to Owen and took him by the ear. “I’m throwin’ you out, young man! You’re no longer welcome here!” Leading Owen to the steps, he thrust him toward the yard. Lemuel meekly scurried after his brother. “Off with you now, and don’t come back!”

The brothers staggered toward their wagon, climbed in, and rode off down the lane.

Turning toward David, who was panting to catch his breath, Mr. Copeland sighed. “David, I thought better of you than this.” He walked past him and went inside.

The words stung more than any expulsion could. Frowning, he looked at his startled family, at Jake, who simpered at him, and at Callie, who scowled at him. He knew what he had done, although it was unintentional, and he felt deeply ashamed. He had ruined Callie’s Christmas party.

Soon, the family decided it was best to leave. Barely speaking to each other, they returned home and retired to their bedchambers. The next morning, on their way back from church, Josie broke the silence.

“How come Owen Ridgeway don’t like you?” she asked straightforwardly.

David shrugged. “He never has, and I don’t cotton to him, neither.”

She chuckled faintly. “I reckon you would if he was nice to you.”

He shrugged again. It was a situation he assumed he would likely never know.

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Horses in Gray Receives Another Five-Star Review

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My nonfiction book, Horses in Gray, received another five-star review! This is so exciting and such a great honor. Thank you “Jerry G!” Here is the review:

August 6, 2018

This book is a must read for equine scholars as well as those who want to learn more about the Civil War era. I was a skeptic that this book would hold my interest but am now a believer. Hawkins details the relationships of Civil War Soldiers to their beloved horses which she describes so aptly as, “…his horses are the second self of the active soldier.” I particularly found it educational and entertaining as she explains the color of the horse signified their ” rank or role” in the war such as the “grays” because they were easily identified by the officers who wanted to issue a call to battle.

The Destruction of History

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It has been brought to my attention that a group in Montgomery, Alabama, calling itself the Southern Poverty Law Center, is in the process of mapping out all Confederate monuments and statues in the United States. Their intention, I’ve been told, is to eradicate these markers and monuments, and thus do away with any reminders of the Confederacy. The S.P.L.C. is not a government agency, and therefore, does not have any legal right to do what they are doing.

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I find it alarming that such behavior is being allowed. Talk about discrimination! If they were targeting any other group in America, I’m sure everyone would be up in arms. But since they are attacking Confederate monuments, suddenly everyone thinks that those monuments and statues are “racist.” This is purely ignorant, to say the least. Confederate veterans were declared American war veterans, and a law was passed to establish this in 1958. Desecrating their graves and markers is a federal offense, and should be dealt with accordingly.

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Hate groups such as the S.P.L.C. and the N.A.A.C.P. are trying to take away Southern heritage, and to me, that’s just plain wrong. They claim that the Confederate battle flag is racist, but that is merely an excuse to accomplish their hidden agenda, which is to take away heritage reminders. By doing this, history can be erased and new symbolism can be put in its place. There has been more racial unrest in the past year and a half than there has been in fifty years since the 1960’s. It’s shameful that our illustrious president has nothing to say on the matter. It’s almost as if he wants to stir up social unrest by remaining silent. The groups that are crying racism need to take a serious look in the mirror. They are the biggest bigots.

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The South has every right to retain its own rich, unique, and diverse history. Our politicians need to stop backing down and start standing up for these rights. One person eloquently referred to it this way, and I agree. What’s taking place in America is a modern day witch hunt.

Tragedy on the Mississippi

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One hundred and fifty years ago today, the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history took place. This little known event happened on the Mississippi River, not long after the Civil War ended. The name of the vessel was the Sultana.

At the close of the war, Union prisoners were released from Southern POW camps. Some of the parolees were transported to Vicksburg, Mississippi, where they awaited their release. Riverboats traveling along the Mississippi River vied for the lucrative opportunity to transport newly released prisoners to their homes in the north, and were paid handsomely by the Federal government. One such vessel, the Sultana, was chosen to transport Andersonville and Alabama prisoners, who were crowded onto the boat, surpassing the 376 person limit.

The boat made its way upriver to Helena, Arkansas, where the above photo was taken. It docked in Memphis, and shortly before 2 a.m., set off for Cairo, Illinois. However, seven miles north of Memphis, the boat suddenly exploded, sending burning prisoners to their deaths or into the icy cold river, which was flooded and swollen with spring thaw. Those who weren’t burned to death or drowned managed to make their way to the riverbanks, and waited for rescue while they watched the unmanned boat spin helplessly in the water, aflame in the night sky. After being rescued, the surviving Union soldiers were taken to hospitals in Memphis. Many succumbed to their wounds, or to their weakened state as POW’s, but some survived. Approximately 1,800 of the 2,427 passengers perished.

Controversy still surrounds the tragedy, including a conspiracy theory that Confederates sabotaged the boat, but this was never proven. It is believed that a faulty boiler actually caused the explosion. Although the riverboat was overloaded, and some people were rumored to have taken bribes, no one was ever held accountable.

Today, there are monuments signifying the event. One is located in Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis. The disaster was overshadowed by President Lincoln’s assassination, as well as the manhunt for his killer, John Wilkes Booth, who was killed the day before in Virginia. The Sultana tragedy was barely reported in newspapers. Americans were tired of war and death, so the horrific event was essentially ignored. It was a terrible ending to a terrible war.

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