I heard the window by my bed rattling and I could feel cold coming from it. I opened my eyes. I looked at the clock on my dresser and the little hand was closer to the “8” than it was to the “7”. I had to get up. I looked down at the bunk below me and David was already awake and probably in the basement setting up all the toys without me.
I liked to turn on the transistor radio Margie gave me for my birthday in the morning and listen before I got out of bed, and while I got dressed and even took it in the bathroom with me. I listened to two different radio “stations” that were right next to each other when I turned the little “dial” on my radio. It wasn’t like the dial on the TV, which clicked to each station. You had to turn it just right to hear the sounds good.
The one station was between the “7” and the “8” number that I could see in this tiny round window on the front of it. Sometimes someone who sounded like a grownup man would be talking about “news” stuff, like that big jet plane that crashed at that airport in New York City where all the people on it got killed. Other times a guy would be talking about sports, like basketball and hockey, or other things that grownups were doing. Sometimes they’d even play songs like this one…
Moon river, wider than a mile
I’m crossing you in style someday
Oh, dream maker, you heart breaker
Wherever you’re goin’, I’m goin’ your way
Two drifters, off to see the world
There’s such a lot of world to see
We’re after the same rainbow’s end
Waitin’ ’round the bend
My huckleberry friend
Moon river and me
Both mom and dad liked that kind of song a lot, and if they were listening to it on the radio while they worked or did chores they might even start singing it too. The guy singing it sounded like a grownup, and I figured it was a grownup song, because it was slow and sad and the words were wishing for something he didn’t have.
But if I turned the dial of the radio a little bit more so the “8” was in the MIDDLE of the tiny window, there was this other station that also had news sometimes and other talking. But it also sometimes had those “rock and roll” and “Motown” songs that were faster, happier, and sounded like they were sung by older kids like Margie…
Here’s a fella in blue jeans
Dancin’ with a older queen
Who’s dolled up in a diamond rings and
Twistin’ the night away
Man, you oughta see her go
Twistin’ to the rock and roll
Here you find the young and old
Twistin’ the night away
The older kids on the radio sang about dancing, driving neat cars, love stuff with “girls” or “boys”, and having fun. When mom or dad heard those kind of songs they didn’t try to sing them. Sometimes mom would shake her head and laugh through her nose. But I liked them, because it felt like they were our kid songs, and NOT the grownup songs. Not those silly songs some grownups sang to little kids, but OLDER kid songs.
Usually I didn’t want to go to school in the morning, but today I did, even though it was cold and windy outside. My friends and I were still trying to figure out the Civil War. “Studying” was what our teacher called it, even though she was always worried about us doing it. Yesterday I had found these “Civil War Cards” at the toy store and I wanted to show them to all my school friends.
Mom and dad were giving me “allowance” money now, twenty-five cents every Monday. I could either spend it on one five cent candybar after school each day, or five pieces of Bazooka Joe bubble gum. Or I could “save” some of it until the weekend and maybe buy other stuff at the toy store. Well I had found these Civil War cards at the Kiddie Korner toy store that cost five cents a pack like baseball cards. And they had bubblegum too like baseball cards.
When I got to school, our teacher got mad at me because I was showing them to my friends when we were supposed to be watching her showing us on the chalkboard how to write letters in this thing called “cursive”, which was another way to write letters and words that she said was faster, smoother and looked better. She told me I had to wait until free-reading time to show the cards “quietly”, to my friends.
But when we went out to recess, even though it was still cold and windy outside, I showed the cards to Gabe, Herbie, Jake, Theo and Amanda. Mary and Diane came over to look at them too.
I showed them a card called “Battle Death”. It showed one Union soldier and one Confederate soldier stabbing each other in the chest with those “bayonet” sword things on the end of their rifles, and they both had blood coming out from where they got stabbed. You could see the Confederate guy’s face and he looked scared like he knew he was going to be dead soon.
When I had first opened the pack and looked at that card, it made me worried that grownups or even older kids, because we had read that some Civil War soldiers were just older kids, could really do that to each other if they were fighting a war. It worried me so much that it felt good to finally be able to show it to my friends so they had to worry about it too. All my friends stared at the card and didn’t say anything. Even Mary and Diane took a quick look at it.
“That’s disgusting”, said Mary, making a face. After Diane took a look she shivered and shook her head really fast, but didn’t say anything. The two of them walked away from us a few steps but then turned and watched us like we were doing something bad, but they still wanted to watch.
“It IS pretty disgusting”, Amanda said, though she kept looking and didn’t walk away.
On the back of the “Death Battle” card the words said…
Seminary Ridge, Pa. – July 3, 1863
LEE’S ARMY PUSHED BACK TO VIRGINIA
The Southern Army massed all their forces early in the day, planning a brutal attack which they hoped would stun the North beyond repair. But the ambitious hopes of General Lee never came to pass, as a strengthened Northern Army fought gallantly and badly whipped the Confederates. The rebel Army was torn apart and any chance for them to capture Gettysburg was gone. Under the leadership of General Hancock, the Union soldiers beat back every attacking wave that the South launched at them. The inspired Northern fighters were able to push Lee’s Army back into Virginia. The defeat was a crushing one for Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, at a time when it appeared that the North might be on the verge of a total collapse.
There were a bunch of words in it that all of us could kind of say, but none of us could figure out, like “brutal”, “ambitious”, “gallantly”, and “inspired”. But we all knew from reading Civil War books that “General Lee” was in charge of the Confederate army and that “Gettysburg” was the big battle that the Union army won that let them win the whole war.
“So the Confederates had a president too?” Jake asked.
Amanda nodded and said, “But he wasn’t a REAL president. Nobody voted for him.”
“Somebody must have voted for him”, Jake said, “Or he’d be a king instead of a president.” Amanda pushed her lips together and thought about that. We all knew we had to do more reading to figure this stuff out.
There was one card called “Angry Man”, with this picture of a guy with white hair and a big white beard holding a rifle with some other guys behind him with rifles too. On the back of the card were words about the picture…
Harper’s Ferry, Va. – Oct. 16, 1859
JOHN BROWN RAIDS U.S. ARSENAL
A violent raid by a Northern band, led by John Brown, shocked the nation today. Sweeping down from Ohio, the fanatic group tried to seize a United States arsenal. With only a handful of men to support him, John Brown had hoped to acquire sufficient weapons so that he could start a slave rebellion. Failing to obtain the ammunition Brown did succeed in gaining control of an enginehouse. The United States is sending a troop of marines to Harper’s Ferry to capture the renegade band. High officials in the government had hoped to negotiate the serious slavery issue but tension between the north and south reached its highest peak today.
There were lots of words in the writing part that I didn’t know or didn’t make sense, but my friends knew some of them. Gabe said that “violent” meant you hurt or killed people, “ammunition” was stuff like bullets, and “enginehouse” was “a house with an engine in it”, though that didn’t make sense to me, because houses didn’t go anywhere, like cars with engines did. Jake said that “nation” was another word for “country”, “officials” were people that worked in offices, and “government” was the President and all the other guys that got voted for. Theo said a “raid” was when you attacked some place by surprise, and “marines” were soldiers on ships. Herbie said that “Harper’s Ferry” was a place in Virginia, “peak” was the top of a mountain, and “rebellion” was the fighting that “rebels” did. Amanda said that “support” meant “help”, “succeed in gaining” just meant “get”, and “negotiate” was when you talked with your enemies and made a deal. She also said that a “band” could be just a bunch of people, and didn’t mean they had to play instruments.
But nobody knew what “fanatic”, “seize”, “arsenal”, “acquire sufficient”, “slave” or “slavery”, and “tension” meant.
Our teacher walked over to where we were. We all stopped talking and looked at her.
“What are you looking at?” she asked, “Baseball cards?”
Gabe was always the best one to talk to teachers, because he never worried they were grownups. “They’re CIVIL WAR cards”, he said. You could tell that he liked it that he knew something our teacher didn’t know.
“Well”, she said, “I guess that makes sense given all your interest in the Civil War.”
Gabe took that “Angry Man” card from the table and turned it over and looked at all the writing and asked, “But what do ‘fanatic’… ‘seize’… ‘arsenal’… ‘acquire sufficient’… ‘slave’… ‘slavery’… and ‘tension’ mean?” He had trouble saying some of the words since he didn’t know them already.
Our teacher just looked at Gabe for a minute like he had asked her something that she couldn’t figure out. Finally she asked, “May I see what you’re reading?” Gabe gave it to her and she read it, then turned it over and looked at the picture of the guy with the white hair, beard and rifle.
“This man’s supposed to be John Brown”, she said, “He became famous for trying to lead a slave revolt before the war started.”
She laughed through her nose a little bit. “I see you’re not waiting for eighth grade American History”, she said, smiling. Gabe shook his head like he felt good about himself.
“Well”, she said, that word that grownups always said, “To try to answer all your questions, where do I start?” which seemed like a strange question to ask us because Gabe had asked HER to tell US where to start.
But then she finally started. She said, “One of the causes of our country’s Civil War was the continuing practice of slavery in the southern states.” She looked at all of us. “None of you know what slavery is?” All of us shook our heads. Mary and Diane were still watching us.
Gabe did a laugh through his nose like a grownup and said, “None of us are in eighth grade!” That made our teacher smile, look at him and shake her head.
“Touche”, she said, “Slavery was the practice of owning another person, who was called a ‘slave’, who had to do whatever work the owner wanted them to do and they didn’t have to even pay them. Slavery was legal in the southern states of our country until the Civil War was fought in the 1860s.” We all got quiet thinking about that, even Gabe and Amanda, who usually asked the teacher a bunch of questions.
“Did they do slavery in Virginia?” asked Herbie, who was from that place.
Our teacher nodded and said, “They did, until the Civil War made them stop.”
Gabe finally said something. “What if the Confederates won the Civil War?” he asked.
“That’s a GOOD question”, she said, “I have a real interest in history myself, and I’ve read some speculation as to what might have happened if…”
“Speculation?” Amanda asked, making our teacher stop talking.
“Yes”, she said, “You guys probably don’t know that…”
“We’re not all guys”, Amanda said, again making our teacher stop talking.
She pointed her finger at Amanda and said, “You’re right, my…”
A girl in our class whose name I couldn’t remember ran up to our teacher and said, “Mrs Camden, the boys won’t let us have a turn swinging on the swings!”
Our teacher looked at all of us around the picnic table, blew lots of air out of her moutn and said, “I would love to talk about this with all of you, but unfortunately, duty calls.” She made a sad face and walked off with that girl I didn’t know.
“Can you imagine if all of you were my slaves?” Gabe asked.
“I can’t”, said Amanda, shaking her head, “And I don’t even want to.”
“I’d make you do all my spelling and penmanship stuff”, Gabe said, “Then I’d make you carry my books home from school.”
“Not likely”, Amanda said, but I could see her smiling a little bit, “I’d do one of those ‘rebellion’ things.”
A couple days later at recess, Gabe and Jake showed us the Civil War Cards they had got. Jake had spent a whole quarter but could only get four packs because he had to pay “tax”.
“So I bought some extra bubblegum”, he said.
“Which do you like better?” asked Gabe, “Bazooka Joe or card bubblegum?”
Jake thought about that before saying, “Bazooka Joe tastes better, but the card gum you can break in half and share.”
We all stood around the picnic table again, and they put all their cards on the table so we could see all the pictures. They had some of the same ones I had, but most of them were different. All the pictures were really interesting and even scary, with lots of stuff happening like things blowing up and soldiers getting killed, not just already dead, but showing them as they were being stabbed, shot or blown up. Amanda, Theo and Herbie were there too. Mary and Diane came over to see what we were looking at.
Diane looked at all the pictures on the cars and wrinkled her nose and shook her head. “Is that all war is?” she asked, “Just a bunch of soldiers getting dead?”
Amanda, looking at all the cards, shook her head slowly and said, “Pretty much.”
But I really felt like they were wrong so I said so. “It’s more than that. It’s a bunch of goodguy soldiers figuring out how to beat the badguy soldiers so everything won’t get bad if the badguys win. I think that’s pretty interesting.” I could tell Amanda was thinking about that.
“Yeah”, said Gabe, looking mad at Amanda, “Guys don’t fight in wars just to kill people or get killed. They do it because they are fighting for something. For their country.”
“Yeah”, said Jake, “It’s all the smart stuff the general guys in charge think up so their team can win and the other team loses.”
“But General Lee did smart stuff too for the Confederates”, Herbie said, “He was fighting for his Virginia state. He was the best general of them all. His team finally lost, but he won most of the battles he was in charge of, so it wasn’t his fault.”
That made me think. If the Confederates were like a team, or even the Germans in World War Two, there would be some people that wanted them to win. But the Germans were so bad, because of that Hitler guy, why would anyone want THEM to win, even Germans. But why would the German soldiers want to fight if the guy in charge of them was so bad? If some people wanted the Confederates to win, what made them the badguys. Did the people where Herbie was from think they were the goodguys?
“I got the General Lee card”, said Jake, pointing to it on the table, then picking it up so he could turn it over and read the back. “It says that he was a regular general before the war, and Lincoln, he was the President, asked him to be in charge of the U.S. army, that would be the Union side, but he didn’t want to. I’m not sure what ‘secede’ means, but he didn’t want to do that. He ended up being in charge of the OTHER side, the South, the Confederates instead. That is REALLY interesting I think.”
“But General Grant”, said Gabe, “The guy in charge of the Union army was better than Lee because he ended up beating Lee and wrecking the Confederate army, so Lee had to surrender. It’s on the back of this ‘Dynamite Victim’ card I got.”
Mary and Diane were not standing right by the table like Amanda and the rest of us, but they were still listening to what we were saying.
Jake looked at them and said, “So the pictures show all the getting killed stuff, but stories on the back are more interesting.” Mary nodded just a tiny bit but didn’t say anything.
Diane shook her head, pointed her hand and said to Mary, “No one is on the swings. Let’s swing and talk about better stuff.” Mary nodded just a tiny bit again, still didn’t say anything, but walked off with Diane.
I liked to do Civil War battles with my toy soldiers in the basement. I even did some in the backyard, even though it was still cold, because I could make hills out of the dirt in my dirt pile to fight battles like I had read about in the Civil War, like that “Gettysburg” one. I specially liked the battle where the Union “gunboats” had gone down that river and attacked the Confederate fort on an island in the middle of the river. There had been a picture of one of those “gunboats” in a Civil War book from the Bookmobile that I had “checked out” and looked at. The boat had one big cannon that didn’t look like a regular cannon because the shooting tube was really short instead of long, and really really wide like a pot. The book called it a “mortar”, which was interesting because that was the kind of shooting things that dad’s “unit” had in World War Two, though the picture of a mortar dad showed me looked more like a tube instead of a pot.
My Uncle John and Aunt Ruth had gotten me that “Beanbag Buccaneer” game for Christmas, and it had two boats with that kind of “mortar” cannon that shot bean bags. I used chalk to draw a big river on the basement floor with a big island in the middle of it. I even used the side of the blue chalk pieces to draw the water, like I watched mom use her special painting chalk stuff called “pastels” to make a whole place on one of her paintings the same color. I also had green chalk to make the island green, before I made a fort on it with Lincoln Logs and set up all the gray soldiers “defending” it.
The little bean bags that shot out of the “Beanbag Buccaneer” boats were really neat because sometimes they would wreck some of the Lincoln Logs and knock down a few gray soldiers, but sometimes the logs were strong enough to not get knocked down. Since David always liked wrecking things, but I wouldn’t let Godzilla attack the fort, I let him shoot the bean bags. So after he shot the two “mortar” cannons I would go to the fort and pretend what the soldiers there had to do. If guys got knocked down they would have to be taken to the fort hospital and the doctor would have to figure out if they were dead or only wounded. And if parts of the log fort got knocked down, other soldiers would have to talk to each other about what they could fix.
“Oh no, the gunboat mortar knocked down our front tower!”
“Can we fix it?”
“I don’t think so, we’ll just have to use our side and back towers!”
“If they knock down any more towers we’ll be in big trouble!”
Once the boats got to the fort island all the blue soldiers would get off and line up like the Civil War soldiers did in the pictures from the books and shoot at each other. Then maybe the blue soldiers would “charge” and they’d fight with those “bayonet” sword things on the end of their rifles, like in the pictures on the Civil War Cards. I would make up what the soldiers were saying to each other as they tried to stab each other.
One of the Civil War books I had read said that the Confederate soldiers called the Union soldiers “Yankees”, and the Union soldiers called the Confederates “Rebs”, which was short for “Rebels”. Herbie said that his dad and some of his friends in Virginia called the Union guys “Yankees” too. That was strange because Mom’s favorite baseball team was also called the “Yankees”.
“I’m going to stick you, you stupid Yankee!”
“Not if I get you first, you lousy Reb!”
I pretended that with my toy soldiers, but I couldn’t really imagine fighting that way, with the enemy soldier right next to me trying to shoot me or stab me, while I tried to shoot or stab him first. In the Civil War Card picture, the soldiers fighting that way looked really, really fierce. I don’t think I could really be that fierce. I had trouble even pretending to be fierce.
Sometimes I’d have the blue soldiers win and the gray soldiers surrender. But other times I’d make the blue soldiers have to get back on their boats and “retreat”. It was neat that each time it didn’t end up the same, and I would figure out the reason one side won this time, like the bean bag mortar hit the commander room of the fort and killed the gray general, the guy on the horse, inside it.
It was interesting, because in dad’s World War Two, there were lots of tanks and half tracks and trucks that lots of the soldiers drove around in, and also lots of different bigger guns, that “artillery” stuff, that could shoot a long way. But in the Civil War, at least what I saw in the pictures of battles, the soldiers just walked and ran around and then lined up and shot the other guys with rifles. They also had some cannons, which I guess were also called “artillery”, but I don’t think they could shoot very far, and only shoot at enemy guys right in front of them. In dad’s stories, all the Germans were always pretty far away and he had to use those two-telescope things you held up to your eyes to really see them so his guys with the mortars could shoot at them.
So my school friends and I kept reading more books about the Civil War and buying more cards. Gabe got a card, “Submarine Attack”, about a Confederate submarine called the “Hunley”. The back of the card read…
Charleston, Va. – Feb. 17, 1864
SUBMARINE ATTACKS NORTHERN SHIP
The first example of submarine warfare took place today when a Confederate submarine attacked a Northern vessel. This afternoon “The Hunley” launched an attack on several Northern ships near Charleston harbor. With its guns not having much effect on the sea-craft, the officer in charge decided to ram the steel vessel into a ship. A tremendous explosion followed, sending the Union ship to the bottom of the sea. The submarine was damaged because of the impact and it too went to a watery grave destroying a crew of nine. The inventor of the submarine, Horace Hunley, never lived to see his boat in combat. Hunley was killed in a trial run when the submarine had not been perfected.
We didn’t know some of the words when he tried to read the back, but when we all worked together, at least one of us would know one of those words, or we could figure out what it meant by reading the other words around it. Like we figured out that “vessel” word meant “ship”, because the next sentence said “ship” instead. And Amanda said that “not yet perfected”, if you didn’t read the “ed” at the end, was just “not yet perfect”, which made more sense.
The next time dad took me to the library I told him I was looking for a book about that “Hunley” submarine in the Civil War. He showed me this thing there called the “Card Catalog”, which had all these little drawers like the dresser in my room except much much smaller, though they were really long and went really far in. Dad said there were three types, “By Title”, “By Author” and “By Subject”. He said since I didn’t know the “title” of the book I was looking for or the “author” who wrote it, we should go to the “Subject Catalog”. It had a lot of drawers with letters on the front part of each drawer telling you the first letters of the different subjects that were in that drawer. He pulled out the drawer that had “HO-IM” on the front. He said the first two letters in the word “Hunley”, “HU”, were between the “HO” and “IM” “alphabetically”, which meant in alphabet order. But when he opened it and used his fingers to move each card and look at the one behind it, he didn’t find one for “Hunley”. Then he pulled out another drawer with “CE-DA” on the front and did his fingers until he found cards with the “Civil War” words. Then he looked at those with his fingers and found a card that had the words “Civil War – Submarines” at the top.
“HERE it is”, he said, smiling and looking happy, “There’s a book called ‘Civil War Sub’ in the children’s history section, and it’s Dewey Decimal number is 973.3. Let’s see if we can track it down!”
We went to the part of the library with the books for kids where I always went, and Dad found one part of a giant bookcase with the word “History” on the top part of the bookcase. He moved his finger over those side parts of the books all squished next to each other looking at the words and numbers on them. He always liked touching books but he looked worried now while he did.
“Here it is”, he said, finally smiling and looking happy instead of worried. He opened it up and carefully turned the pages with his fingers. “It’s got lots of pictures and the words don’t look too complicated”, he said, “You’re mom or I will be happy to help you with any words you don’t know. He handed me the book and said, “Here ya go!” He had a big smile on his face like he’d done something really good. I checked out the book with my library card.
While he was driving us home he said, “I had no idea they had submarines during the Civil War. I didn’t think they had them until World War One!” That was the “One” war before the “Two” war dad had been in. I remembered that my grandfather had been a sailor on a submarine in that war. On ships and subs they called them “sailors” instead of “soldiers”. On airplanes I think they called them “airmen”.
When dad came in that night to read stories and sing songs, he read a chapter from the “Civil War Sub” book. This guy named Hunley was on the Confederate team and he and some other guys were trying to build a submarine to be able to sneak up on and sink Union ships. The Union had a whole big “Navy” with A LOT of ships, but the Confederates only had a few ships. The Union ships were “blockading” all the Confederate “ports”, so they couldn’t sell their cotton to other countries and buy stuff for the war from other countries.
A “port” was a city by the ocean that had a “harbor” with “docks” where big ships could stop and unload all the stuff they’d brought from another county, or take a bunch of stuff TO another country. Dad said that was called “trade”. A “blockade” was when you surrounded the harbor of a port with your ships and you wouldn’t let the other guy’s ships go in or out. If they tried, you’d shoot at them and try to sink them. That made sense to me, because I had done stuff like that with goodguy ships surrounding a pirate fort on an island so the pirates couldn’t get away.
So this Hunley guy, who was a Confederate, figured they could build these special ship things that went just under the water so regular ships couldn’t see them. Then they could sneak up on the regular Union ships that were doing the blockade and blow them up with torpedos. Then the regular Confederate ships could do trading again.
Hunley and these other Confederate guys built this first Submarine called the “Pioneer” in this big Confederate port called “New Orleans”. But the Union army was going to capture New Orleans so they had to “scuttle” it, which meant sink it on purpose so the Union guys couldn’t get it. Then they built a second submarine called the “American Diver” and they tried to sink a Union ship in this other Confederate port called “Mobile”, but the sub started sinking before they could blow up the ship. That was all we got to read about that night.
For singing, dad said he knew some songs from the Civil War, one that the Confederate soldiers sang, and the other that the Union soldiers sang. First the Confederate song…
I wish I was in the land of cotton
Old times they are not forgotten
Look away, look away, look away, Dixie Land
In Dixie Land where I was born
Early on one frosty morn
Look away, look away, look away, Dixie Land
I wish I was in Dixie, hooray, hooray
In Dixie Land I’ll take my stand to live and die in Dixie
Away, away, away down south in Dixie
Away, away, away down south in Dixie
Then the Union song…
When Johnny comes marching home again, hurrah, hurrah
We’ll give him a hearty welcome then, hurrah, hurrah
The men will cheer, the boys will shout
The ladies, they will all turn out
And we’ll all feel gay when Johnny comes marching home
These songs sounded just like the college “fight” songs and the American World War Two songs dad liked to sing to me. Each team always had their songs that guys would sing to make them extra brave before the fighting because they might get killed. Each team also had their different colored uniforms so you didn’t accidentally shoot guys on your own team. It was interesting that in football it was like pretend war because the people who really liked their football team were always talking about, or singing about, fighting.
I took my “Civil War Sub” book to school four days later, after dad had finished reading it and I had done some extra looking at the pictures and reading again the most interesting parts. When it was free reading time, Gabe, Jake, Herbie, Amanda and I sat at that table in the back room that our teacher said we could sit together at, as long as we were doing reading and talking really quiet. I showed everybody the book. Gabe and Jake showed the rest of us the new Civil War Cards that they’d got at the store.
Gabe REALLY liked the book because he REALLY liked submarines. He was working on “plans” for how to make his own special submarine.
“Did it sink any ships?” he asked, hoping that it had. I nodded.
“But only one”, I said, “And that torpedo thing that it blew up next to the ship also blew it up too and it sank. All the guys in it were killed.”
“Woah”, he said.
“And there was a GUY named Hunley too, that they named the sub after”, I said, “He made the submarine with some other guys and was in charge of making submarines for the Confederates. They made two other ones before they made that one.”
“That’s REALLY neat”, he said, talking a little bit louder, “What did those other submarines do?” I shook my head.
“One sank when they were testing it”, I said, “And the other they sank on purpose so the Union army wouldn’t get it. And that Hunley guy got drowned when they were testing the Hunley submarine, so he never got to do it for real!”
“That’s REALLY REALLY neat”, he said, “I got to read that book when you’re done!”
Our teacher had come over to the table, and when we all looked at her she put her finger up to her lips to tell us without talking to be quiet.
Then Amanda said to Gabe really quietly, “You know Gabriel, if you and Coop take the book back to the Bookmobile, he can check it in and then you can check it out at the same time, if you both have your library cards.”
“Neat”, Gabe said. Looking at me but not at Amanda he said, “We can do that on Friday when the Bookmobile is at Allmendinger Park.”
Amanda looked mad and said, “You’re Welcome”, I guess because she thought he should have said thank you. Gabe never said thank you. I didn’t say it much either unless mom made me do it, or looked at me like I should do it. Maybe with grownups you should say thank you, but other kids were on your same team, so we were supposed to help each other. Maybe Amanda wasn’t sure she was on the same team as us, because she was a girl, and at least at school, most girls seemed to be on a different team. The grownup teachers were like on a third team. I couldn’t figure out how you could play any game with THREE teams instead of just two. Maybe that’s why school made me so worried sometimes.
Jake showed me one of the new cards he had gotten. The picture on the front showed a Union general on a horse and some soldiers around him with those “torch” things in their hands to burn stuff. Behind them were all of these houses and buildings on fire. The words were “City in Flames”. Jake turned it over and read the words.
Atlanta, Ga.- Nov. 15, 1864
SHERMAN WATCHES AS ATLANTA BURNS
One of the finest cities in the South, Atlanta was burned and destroyed by Northern troops, today. General Sherman had ordered the city evacuated of non-military personnel several months ago and since then the flow of the inhabitants from Atlanta has been continual. This afternoon Sherman ordered his men to burn Atlanta. Union soldiers carried huge torches through the city, setting afire the deserted homes and stores. Sherman watched from a hillside on the outskirts of the city as the flames devoured Atlanta. The Northern General hopes to break Georgia’s spirit and will for war by destroying one of her most important cities. The people of the South have been shocked by the destruction of Atlanta.
I was kind of surprised that Jake knew all the words so well, like “non-military personnel” and “inhabitants”, but he said he asked his dad and his dad helped him with them. I would never ask dad that kind of stuff. I didn’t want him knowing all the stuff I was looking at, especially stuff like these Civil War cards, with pictures of all this bad stuff like stabbing or shooting people or blowing people up. I didn’t want him to think I was the kind of kid who liked looking at that kind of stuff, even though I sort of was.
“Can you imagine that General Sherman and his Union soldiers just burned up a whole big Confederate city”, he said, looking worried, “They burned it to make all the Confederate people so sad and so worried that they wouldn’t want to fight anymore. That doesn’t seem fair. The Union were supposed to be the goodguys!”
That was interesting. Because when you were playing a game with teams, you were supposed to try and beat the other team, but you were also supposed to play fair. If you cheated to try to win, that was really bad. That was worse than losing. But fighting a war was different than playing a game like baseball or football against the other team. When I played and my team lost I didn’t “hate” the guys on the other team. They might be on my team the next time we played. We just PRETENDED that we really didn’t like the guys on the other team, because we were pretending we had to really “beat them”.
But I remembered those older kids that time when the Michigan team played their “arch rivals” Ohio State. The kids were driving around with the top part of their bodies out the windows yelling about “hating” Ohio State. Did they really want to hate them or were they just pretending too? Maybe war was different. Maybe doing really really bad stuff to people on the other side, people who weren’t even enemy soldiers, was part of what you were supposed to do, even if you were the goodguys.
I thought about asking dad about World War Two, but I was worried that he might say that doing stuff like burning down the enemy’s cities was part of what you did. I mean the Soviet Union could shoot rockets with those “H Bombs” to blow us all up, even if we weren’t soldiers. If you were a soldier then you knew that the guys on the other side would be trying to kill you and you’d be trying to kill them. But burning down regular people’s houses?
So Gabe, Jake, Herbie and I, and maybe Amanda too, were learning the stories about the Civil War. How the Union finally won and there were no more slaves. How the Confederates were doing better than the Union during the first part of the war, because they had better generals, like General Lee. But the Union had more soldiers and they finally got good generals too, like Grant and Sherman at the end. While Grant’s army was fighting Lee’s army in Virginia, where Herbie was from, Sherman’s Army marched through Tennessee and Georgia and burned down that Atlanta city in Georgia. I wondered if it was still burned down today.
I decided to make my own Civil War cards. I liked drawing things and writing words about them. That was what I did to make stories in dad’s blue books. But most of the time I got bored with it after a few pages and stopped. But doing Civil War cards was different. I could take those “note cards” dad had and make the picture on the blank side and then write the words on the other side with lines and then I’d be done. Just one picture on one side and just a sentence, or two sentences on the other side.
I did pictures from pretend Civil War Stories that David, Paul and I played in our basement or our backyard. Paul lived just down the street and was the same age as me but going to first grade at Bach, because he didn’t “skip” kindergarten, that was the word mom used. But he knew as much about the Civil War as me and my second grade friends did, because he liked all the wars and his older brother told him lots of stuff about those wars. Lots of times he was playing in the basement or the backyard with David when I got home from school.
Like one time when we were playing and the Union ships attacked the Confederate fort, “Fort Terrible”. That name was David’s idea, and he built it in the laundry room on the floor by the furnace. We had the Union ships attack it from around the other side of the furnace, but it had big cannons and wrecked the ships before their cannons could wreck it.
But then “Lieutenant Cord” led a “squad” of men on a dangerous climb to the top part of the furnace above the fort. Cord was my favorite Union soldier who was shooting a pistol in one hand and pointing forward with the other. His squad was able to drop bombs on the fort, but the guys in the fort couldn’t shoot way up there at them. The bombs from above were able to wreck enough of the fort’s cannons that the last Union ships were able to land soldiers to attack the fort and the Confederates finally surrendered.
So later after we were done playing I drew a card with Fort Terrible in the left part of the bottom with all it’s gray Confederate soldiers and those big cannons. I used a regular pencil to draw it, because it made gray lines. Mom called the people I drew “stick figures”, because they were mostly just lines for arms and legs with a little circle for the head. I knew that wasn’t what people really looked like, but it was too hard and took too long to draw them like they really looked, and even when I tried I couldn’t do it. The ship was bigger so I drew it with a brown crayon because it was a wooden ship, not a metal one like that “Monitor” ship and the other “Ironclads”. I used silver or gray crayons for the metal ships. With a black crayon I drew a big black cannon ball hitting the brown ship, and a red crayon to do the fire part of the explosion.
Dad had a blue pencil that I could use to draw Union soldiers. I used it to draw Lieutenant Cord and his squad up on the furnace which I made look more like a square mountain on the card. They had round black bombs. One was falling down towards the fort. Another one had hit a fort cannon and was blowing it up and the gray Confederate guys were being blown up into the air by it. There was a lot of stuff to fit into a small notecard. It was much smaller than a whole piece of regular paper.
When I finished all the drawing, there was a space over the Union ship where I could put the words. I wrote “Death From Above”. That seemed like the kind of words on the real cards, which were usually about being killed or blown up or something else that made you worried when you read it. On the back of the card I tried to write stuff like a real Civil War card. I made up a place by the Ocean in Virginia and did that short way of writing the month and then the year…
Virginia Cove – Nov. 1864
UNION CAPTURES FORT TERRIBLE
The Confederate canons of Fort Terrible were too much for the Union ships attacking it. But Lieutenant Cord and his squad climbed the mountain above the fort and dropped bombs on it to make them surrender.
I looked at the words on some real Civil War cards saying something was “too much”, which meant you couldn’t stop it, so I used those words in my sentence.
I decided to do another card from the pretending with Fort Terrible. I remembered dad telling me about how he got one of those “medal” things he showed me, and how he only had to get wounded to get it. He said that regular medals were for doing something really brave. So I did another card about Lieutenant Cord getting a medal for what he did. I did “stick figure” guys for Cord and for President Lincoln giving him the medal. Cord had his blue soldier cap, but Lincoln had that tall black hat he wore in some of the pictures of him in the cards. The words on the picture side were “Union Soldier Gets Best Medal”. I figured it couldn’t be just a regular medal but had to be the BEST one to make the card neater.
I took the Civil War cards I made to school the next day and showed them to my friends. Gabe and Herbie really liked them. Gabe said he would try to make some cards too, that we could make our own “collection”. Jake just looked at them and nodded, and didn’t say anything like he was thinking.
Finally he asked, “This stuff didn’t really happen, right?” I shook my head.
“My friend Paul, my brother and I just pretended it down in our basement”, I said. He nodded but didn’t say anything else.
Amanda looked at the cards, and when she read the back of the “Death from Above” card she wrinkled her nose and said, “You spelled ‘cannons’ wrong. It’s C A N N O N S.”