The Heyes family had just sat down to dinner. It would be the last dinner they would eat all together since Alexander Heyes, Junior, would be heading off to fight for the Northern cause.
Hannibal looked down at his meal, but couldn’t touch it.
“Hannibal,” his mother said, “are you not feeling well?”
“I’m fine Ma, just not as hungry as I thought I was,” The second oldest of the Heyes children replied, feeling sick, “may I be excused, I think I need some air.” Mrs. Johanna Heyes nodded, knowing this was a usual occurrence with her youngest son.
“Ma, I can stay behind,” her eldest spoke up.
“No, the Union Army needs you to do your duty for your country; make us proud, son.”
Alexander nodded reluctantly. He picked at the rest of his last home cooked meal in silence. To say he wasn’t scared was an understatement. He was terrified of dying or being sent to a Confederate prison camp. He also wasn’t just leaving his family, but also leaving Liza Wheeler, a girl in town he had been courting for the last year. “Ma, I think I need some air too,” he said at length.
Mrs. Heyes nodded again. “Cornelia, do you also need to be excused?” she asked her only daughter.
“No Ma,” the seven year old girl replied.
Alexander went outside and found his ten year old brother under the maple tree by the lane. “Hannibal, can we talk, man to man?” he asked.
“Wouldn’t Pa be the better choice for a 'man to man' talk?” Hannibal countered.
“Look I know you’re sore over the fact that I’m leaving to go fight, but I think it's the right thing to do; a man shouldn’t be able to own another man just because the color of his skin is different, the Bible says we are all children of God, and all are equal under Him.”
“I know what the Bible says, Alex.”
“Then tell me why you don’t want me to go, Younger Brother.”
“What if you die?” Hannibal asked before he could think.
“I won’t lie, there is a possibility that could happen, but I would have died for a noble cause,” Alexander replied.
“This war is pointless, it won’t solve anything,” Hannibal argued.
“Was our war of Independence also pointless?” Alexander questioned.
“No, we fought for our right to be our own nation then, now we are a nation at war with itself and when it's over, if it ever ends, there won’t be a clear winner, just a lot of men dead.”
“All true Younger Brother, but those who have died believed that they were fighting for a good cause, and I am willing to make that sacrifice if it means helping other human beings have a better life, one that isn’t lived in oppression and chains.”
Hannibal nodded, knowing he couldn’t change his older brother's mind. “I wish I was old enough to go fight with you,” he murmured.
"Ma and Pa need you here, and so does our little sister; she isn't old enough to understand we are living in troubled times, especially here on the Missouri/Kansas border," there was a slight pause from the eighteen year old. "and besides that, you're only ten Hannibal; you have eight more years before you can enlist in the army, on either side; hopefully by then this war will be over."
Hannibal sighed. "Are any of Jed's older brothers going?"
"Patrick and Riley, Aunt Maggie isn't letting Flynn go, said she needs at least one of her three eldest boys to stay and help around the farm," Alexander chuckled.
"How is that funny Alex; you three are going off to wherever to fight only God knows who, maybe one of our neighbors, with a chance you could die yourselves; and you're laughing?"
"Hannibal, can I tell you a secret; you gotta promise me you won't tell another soul, not even Ma."
"Okay, what is it?"
"I'm terrified of going, of dying on some lonely hayfield back east, or of infection if I lose an arm or a leg," Alexander paused for a moment. "I'm scared that Liza will mourn my death the rest of her life rather than move on to have a life with someone else; Hell I'm just glad she gave me, a simple farm boy, a shot."
"Alexander Claudius Heyes, mind your language," their mother called out the kitchen window, having heard every word.
"Yes, Ma..." Alexander muttered.
The next dawned foggy, the sky threatening to spill rain. The Heyes and Curry families sat inside the Lawrence Stage Depot waiting on the stage to come. Alexander, Patrick, and Riley were dressed in their Union uniforms and stood apart from their families.
Jed clung to his mother, begging her not to let his older brothers go.
Hannibal sat on one of the uncomfortable chairs and was looking around. After a few minutes he saw the Peirce family come in. He noted how Mrs. Peirce and Emma both wore black, and Mr. Peirce was dressed in the same navy blue uniform as his brother and older cousins. He tugged at his mother's grey skirt to get her attention.
"Yes Hannibal?" She asked in a hushed tone.
"Can I go talk to Emma?" Hannibal countered.
"I don't suppose that would be a bad thing, I think I may join you and talk to Mrs. Hellen for a while."
Hannibal nodded and got up. He walked over to Emma, who was his age. Mrs. Heyes was behind her son and put a hand on Hellen Peirce's shoulder and led her to a less crowded part of the room.
"Hi," Hannibal said awkwardly.
"Hi Han," Emma replied.
"Why you wearing black?" Hannibal asked.
"Mama said its to honor all who have died for the Union," she said. "Your brother joining the fight?"
Hannibal nodded. " Your Pa going off to fight?”
“It'll be over soon enough,” Hannibal said, though he himself wasn’t convinced.
“I hope so Han; you know the other day I was down at the stream and saw to Rebels watering their horses always down from my fishing spot.”
“They say anything to you?”
“No, they did wave at me though.”
Hannibal nodded. Just a week ago he had been paid a nickel to take a Confederate soldier’s horse to the livery when he had gotten out of school. Granted, he’d spent it on some cinnamon candy at the general store and gave it to Jed. “They seem like okay folks, but my pa says to be careful around them.”
“So does Mama,” Emma said. “I don’t know what the big deal is, they look like us, they may have a slightly different accent and wear a grey uniform, but they’re still people.”
“I know, Emma, but according to my pa, all southerners are guilty as sin for owning slaves, even if it is just the rich folk who own those big plantations.”
The girl nodded, knowing her friend was right to be wary of the growing number of Confederate soldiers coming into Lawrence from across Larson's Creek in Missouri.
The stage pulled up outside and the members of the Heyes, Curry, Peirce families got on and headed off to wherever they were needed. Those left behind didn’t know this was only to be the beginning of a tragic chain of events.
Any and all comments or suggestions are welcome before I post another part to this story. Thanks for taking the time to read.
"The only thing in life you have to earn is love, everything else you can steal." ~Hannibal Heyes