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Alfred fidgeted with his collar, tugging ineffectively in an attempt to get some relief from the oppressive August heat. The muddy creek they'd passed earlier that day was sounding better by the minute.
"How long d'you figure we're going to stand here?" Boyd muttered.
Alfred merely shrugged. "D'you even know where we are?" he replied, effortlessly mimicking Boyd's Virginia accent.
"Somewhere around Cedar Mountain or thereabouts, I think."
Nodding despite having no idea where that was, Alfred resumed mopped his face with his hat, which was almost as bad at keeping the sun off his face as his uniform was at keeping his body temperature reasonable.
Boyd glanced sideways at him. "Y'know, the way you sweat, somebody'd think you'd never lived a summer in Virginia, son," he quipped, grinning crookedly.
Alfred gave a weak smile. "I just think that wearing layers of dark wool in the summer isn't the best plan our military's ever had."
"You can say that again." Boyd paused, standing on tiptoe in an attempt to see over the soldiers surrounding them, in a formation so close you could touch your neighbors without even straightening an arm. "So, are we just gonna stand here and wait for someone to attack us?"
"Looks like it."
"Damn. You know anything about our strategy?"
"I don't think we've got one."
"Damn," he repeated. "So, we're just gonna march up in lines and get shot?"
Alfred's brow wrinkled. "How d'you mean?"
The older-looking man shifted his rifle to his other shoulder and continued, his eyes looking fixedly at a point in space to Alfred's left. "I mean, we're standing here, close enough to square dance, and walking straight at a bunch'a fellas more than willing to blow us to bits! Don't that seem a bit stupid to you?"
Brow furrowing further, Alfred countered, "But that's how it's always been done. Only the Peop— Injuns fought by sneaking around. Our generals always considered that uncivilized, I think."
Boyd shrugged, shoulders slumping a bit. "If you say so. Guess we shouldn't question the fellas with the fancy degrees, right?"
"No, I agree with you, it's all a bit stupid. It might've worked back when rifles couldn't shoot the broad side of a barn, but they've improved. How 'bout we move closer to the back?"
"And get mistaken for deserters and shot? That ain't smart either!"
"Then we'll just… hang back a bit when everyone starts moving, 'kay? 'Cause I'd rather leave in one piece."
Boyd hesitated for a moment, before conceding, "Yeah. I'd like to see my sister again, after all. She runs our Pa's hotel now, did I tell you? That's my little sis."
As the other man continued to speak, Alfred's hand slipped into his pocket, fingers brushing lightly against the scrap of paper and envelope crumpled within to reassure himself that they were still there. It was too late to convey strategy, but the results of this battle and any future plans could still be communicated. It was all a matter of finding the right mail train.
Mary Todd Lincoln held the President's latest correspondence in her gloved hand, contemplating mail theft for exactly the third time in her life. Despite the handwriting on the outside of the envelopes changed every time, she knew from the lack of a postmark that this was from that charming Alfred Jones, a young man who'd worked with her husband on his Senatorial campaign.
He'd just recently returned to their employ (albeit rather mysteriously), persistently lost weight despite her continued offerings to get the kitchen staff to make him extra food, and disappeared again under equally odd circumstances. It was during her second-ever contemplation of mail theft that she discovered that her husband had sent the poor boy off to the South as a spy, and a more foolish decision she'd never heard.
One of the aides appeared around the corner, an older man whose name Mary never remembered, and she hastily slid the envelope into her sleeve. He smiled and nodded with a perfunctory, "Good day, ma'am. How are you faring?"
She would never remember what response she gave, but the aide didn't seem to care as he took the corner at a fast clip. She could clearly hear him knocking on the great Presidential office doors from where she stood.
"Mr. President? There are two young men outside to see you."
Her husband's reply was muffled, but from the speed at which the aide returned Mary could guess it was positive. Minutes later the aide returned again, this time followed by two, indeed, very young men.
One held himself stiffly, chin up and gait as crisp as the suit he wore. His companion, Mrs. Lincoln noted with some shock, bore a striking resemblance to Alfred, but with longer hair and darker eyes. He was distinctly more relaxed, but he kept glancing about at the walls of the White House with an oddly sheepish expression.
The aide stopped before her. Gesturing, he said, "May I present the First Lady, Mrs. Mary Todd Lincoln. Are you in need of something, ma'am?"
"Oh, not at all. I was simply curious about our guests," she replied. Addressing the two men, she continued, "One does not often receive visitors during times like these."
It was the more formal of the two who spoke, his English accent giving Mary pause. "We are here on diplomatic duties, as I'm sure you could guess. Arthur Kirkland, at your service, ma'am." Acting the perfect gentleman, he gave a slight bow and kissed her proffered hand.
"I am delighted to make your acquaintance, Mr. Kirkland. If you should need anything while in Washington, please don't hesitate to ask."
The aide hustled their little group along with a, "best not keep the President waiting," and the second companion smiled briefly at Mrs. Lincoln before following.
She heard the office doors open again, and the men's voices were clear as they introduced themselves. Diplomats, from England and Canada respectively. "We have news concerning the national security of the United States," Mr. Kirkland spoke gravely, "Perhaps a more private arrangement…?"
The office doors shut with a resounding finality, and as the aide's footsteps faded down the hallway, Mary Lincoln strained her ears but heard no more.
Curious, but unwilling to eavesdrop (terribly impolite as it was), Mary resolved to ask her husband about the guests at supper that evening, and walked away with the letter still tucked in her sleeve.
Alfred methodically went through the motions of cleaning his boots for the third time that day. They wouldn't come clean.
Maybe they'll never come clean, he mused, a bit darkly. Just like this filthy hospital tent. He swatted absently at a fly buzzing about his head.
Alfred jolted upright as the sound of Boyd's voice finally pierced his thoughts. "Wha—yes?"
Boyd looked at him suspiciously. "I was gonna ask you to get me some water, but… you sure you're okay, Jones?"
Alfred smiled. "It's the heat, don't worry."
Boyd grinned back. "You and your heat, Jones. I ain't never heard of a Southern fella who couldn't deal with heat!"
"Well, now you have." Alfred paused a moment, before asking, "You sure you're all right? You're the one with the bullet wound." He gestured at Boyd's leg, still bandaged, propped up on a stool.
"Ah, it's only a flesh wound. Not that you'd know, you healed faster than anyone I ever did see before!"
Alfred smiled placidly again, ignoring the phantom twinge in his side that came with the mention of the bullet wound he'd received at what had become known as the Second Battle of Bull Run.
They'd moved to the back, just like Alfred had suggested, but he'd soon lost Boyd amidst the smoke of the guns anyway. Their ranks were quickly devolving into chaos as men shouted, charging forward, leaping over others, who lay fallen and bloody on the tight-packed dirt.
Through the smoke, Alfred could see the Confederate flag, oddly similar to the United States' with its red and white horizontal stripes and the circle of stars in the corner, flying despite its fraying edges. Before he fully realized what he was doing, he was charging forward, seized by a sudden urge to fight for the pride of the South and beat those Northern bastards.
He raised his gun, firing forward into the crowded mass of blue-uniformed soldiers ahead, and it was just like fighting the British, fighting for freedom and the right for states to do as they pleased, poorly stacked odds be damned—
And then there was a sharp pain in his side and he was tumbling downwards, landing in a heap next to another man in a grey uniform, whose eyes were open and staring glassily ahead, his grey hat askew and his hand curled limply around the gun at his side. Its barrel was bent, its stock snapped, and there was a blossoming cherry-red stain across the man's chest.
Alfred shook, scrambling away from the dead man, and wondered what on earth had just happened.
He'd written to Lincoln just a week before, immediately following the battle, explaining what had happened to the best of his abilities even as he and the rest of the injured men were moved east to a hospital camp near Front Royal. Boyd had been the most excited injured man there, exclaiming over his "red badge" even as he limped back to his hometown.
All Alfred could think about was the fact that he wasn't supposed to be fighting his own side, but for some reason the option was actually rather appealing.
Maybe I'm going native, he thought, even as he made his way towards the spring where the hospital camp got its water. Too much time spent around Confederates. That must be it. He needed time away from the Army, some shore leave equivalent, but unfortunately that was called desertion and most who attempted that were shot, no questions asked.
He returned to Boyd's bed in the tent, only to find him engaged in conversation with a superior officer. Alfred attempted to make himself scarce, but Boyd caught sight of him and waved him over.
"Guess what, Jones! We're visiting my sister!"
Alfred glanced between Boyd and the superior officer, who didn't look like he was disagreeing. "Visiting your sister? What for?"
The officer was the one who spoke. "We've received word that Miss Belle Boyd was set free in a prisoner exchange at Fort Monroe. We need to see if she has gained any further useful information while being held by the Union."
"And we'll surely do that, sir, you can count on us!" Boyd interjected. The officer nodded and marched off, and Alfred turned to Boyd.
"I thought you said your sister ran an inn in Front Royal?"
Boyd straightened proudly. "She did, but in May she overheard information from Union troops and braved Union soldiers and bullets to report it before and during the Battle of Front Royal. Apparently, she got herself a Southern Cross of Honor or some sort from Stonewall Jackson himself!"
"So she's a spy?"
"You bet your britches she is!"
"And I get to meet her too?"
"Yep, I got you and me together on their recon-ai-ssance team. We finally get to leave this hospital dump and do something important!"
Alfred smiled wanly. "Great. Just what I always wanted."
Mary Todd Lincoln had opened the letter the evening she had liberated it from the pile of her husband's mail, and had yet to mention its worrying contents. But when supper that day had come along, he had looked so pale and drawn that she decided to wait for just a little longer.
"Who were those young gentlemen who came calling earlier? I did not recognize them," she began, trying to find a light conversation topic, but the President didn't respond, if possible paling further.
Mary pressed on. "I heard they were diplomats, from England and Canada. Has that young Mr. Adams been improving our relations in Europe?"
"Mr. Adams is doing just fine," Lincoln replied faintly.
"I take it they were here thanks to him then," Mary continued. "Potatoes?"
Her husband ate, but with a mechanical stiffness that Mary noticed almost immediately. We certainly aren't married for nothing, she reminded herself.
"Abraham," she said, as sternly as she could, her use of his name catching his attention, "what is the matter?"
He glanced at her, then looked away, bushy brows furrowing. "We are in a war, Mary—"
"No, it's something else. I have seen you straining for months under the burden of this war, but your expression now is something new." She waited a moment, but he didn't reply. "It has something to do with those visitors, does it not? But what could they have done? Are Canada and England changing their stance on this war?"
"No, no, nothing like that," Lincoln denied, vehement in his refute. He then sighed, setting his fork down. "Actually, it's about young Mr. Jones."
"Mr. Jones? The young assistant of yours?"
"Yes… you see, I sent him to be a spy for our side, in Southern ranks."
Mary gasped, feigning surprise at the news. "You did not! Mr. Jones is not possibly qualified for such a sensitive position!"
"That is what I said as well, but he was rather insistent."
"He's not been captured, has he?" Mary asked quickly, though she didn't know how news could have traveled that fast.
"No, he's not been captured… but those men today were here about him."
Mary's own brow furrowed in confusion, before she forced her expression flat again. A lady, especially the First Lady, could not be seen with a wrinkled forehead. "How are they connected with young Mr. Jones?"
"They fear he may be… unavoidably compromised."
"How? And how do they know such a thing?"
Lincoln sighed again, massaging his temples. "Mr. Jones came to me before we left for Washington, and told me something rather astonishing. I did not truly believe him at the time, but many things made sense once I had time to think it over."
"Are you going to tell me, or continue to beat about the bush?"
Lincoln paused, finally making eye contact with his wife. "Mr. Jones claims that he can sense, sometimes feel physically, everything that happens in this country."
It was Mary who was now the speechless one, but her mind immediately circled back to the letter currently hidden in her top left dresser-drawer, and everything seemed to click in place.
"And those young men…?" Mary asked numbly.
"Are the same, save for the fact that they represent England and Canada. Though the English one, Mr. Kirkland, kept stumbling over Mr. William's—the other one's— title, always calling him 'North America'. It seems that they only recently became aware of Mr. Jones's existence, and they still weren't certain."
Incredulous, Mary asked, "How do you miss a… what do they call themselves?"
"Apparently, Nations, in the formal. Or by the names of their respective countries."
"And Mr. Jones would therefore be America?"
Lincoln had nodded gravely. "All of America, including the South."
This time, Mary's shock was genuine, the implications of a civil war hitting full force. "My God—!"
"You understand now," Lincoln continued, "that we must get this information to him as soon as possible. To his knowledge… he is unique in his condition. And it appears he understated its severity when telling me of it."
"But we cannot contact him without risking revealing him, and we don't know where he is for sure," Mary finished. Lincoln just nodded, and Mary let out a breath. "The poor young man."
"Yes," Lincoln had agreed, "but not so very young after all, is he?"
Mary remembered his words that evening with crystal clarity, as astonishing as that conversation was, and has been brooding over them since then. And she had continued brooding over the letter's contents, one line in particular lodging itself at the forefront of her mind, no matter how she tried to bury it.
I don't know how much longer I can maintain a healthy enough mentality to write truthfully to you. I am afraid that I might fail you, Mr. Lincoln.
Those young diplomats too had been a common train of thought, and now she found herself sitting in the blue reception room, drinking tea across from one of them. He seemed a bit on edge, his posture stiff as his green eyes took inventory of the room.
"We, that is to say our forbears, attempted to return this room to its original state after the great fire in 1814. Of course I cannot judge, but I believe it to be a near enough replica."
The young man didn't say anything immediately, though Mary could have sworn she saw him wince. "The art is quite lovely," he finally replied evenly, and several moments passed in quiet.
"I do appreciate your visit, Mr. Kirkland," Mary continued, "but my husband won't be returning for a while yet. Is your request something I can help with?"
"Oh, it's just a small thing. I'd rather not bother you, madam."
"I'm sure I can accommodate any small thing you should ask for, Mr. Kirkland."
The young man gave a small smile, more of a quirk of his lips and rather large eyebrows. "I was just wondering if you had any pictures, photographs or otherwise, of a Mr. Alfred Jones? I believe he works—or worked—for the President."
Thinking quickly, Mary stood. "I am not aware of any pictures of Mr. Jones himself, but there's a man in one of our paintings who bears a striking resemblance. Would you care to see that?"
Mary led the Englishman out of the blue room and up a flight of stairs to one of the lesser-used corridors, where a painting her husband had shown her the night of their fateful dinner conversation hung. It was older, a good fifty years, and had apparently been donated to the White House around the time that Thomas Jefferson had given his personal library to the rebuilt Library of Congress. A gift from the former President himself, apparently, but unlike his other portraits (usually just of his face), this one had him sitting in a red chair.
Mary pointed to the shadowed figure standing just behind Jefferson, careful not to touch the canvas. "He's not very clear, but you can get a sense for his features. Of course, our Mr. Jones wears spectacles, but the likeness is uncanny."
She stood, admiring the painting for a few moments, before turning to the Englishman. To her surprise, he had turned a chalky white.
"Are you quite all right, Mr. Kirkland?"
Her voice seemed to jolt him from some deep stupor, as he practically jumped, eyes darting between her and the painting.
"Ah—yes, madam, perfectly all right. I just—I have seen someone very much like this man before. Barely different at all…" he trailed off. More to himself, he muttered, "Was that young lad's name Alfred? When was that anyway…?"
Mary strained her ears, but couldn't make out much more of his murmurings than "seagulls" and "Boston," leaving her rather confused.
"Mr. Kirkland?" she asked again.
He glanced between her and the painting once more, than fixed his face into a charming smile. "Thank you very much for your time, madam. I believe I have what I came here for, you've been most helpful."
Mary smiled in return. "If that's all, I'm glad I could be of some assistance. Shall I see you to the door?"
Front Royal was a small town, comprising of one dusty main street surrounded by farmland. The scars of the Battle of Front Royal were visible on the landscape in the form of large dead patches and bullet-furrowed trees just as it was visible in the slightly wary way the scarce few townspeople carried themselves. Sure, they were open and hospitable enough to the pair of Confederate soldiers, but only if they could give them directions out of town.
Alfred couldn't feel quite the usual connection between himself and these people; slight uncertainty seemed to have replaced unwavering confidence. He found himself feeling jealous of Boyd, because those who knew him would exclaim in recognition, and Boyd in turn was in his element.
"Well I'll be darned, if it ain't Belle's brother!"
"Good t'see ya again, son. The army treatin' you all right?"
"Whatchoo doin' here, boy? Ain't you supposed to be fightin' off them Union bastards somewheres else?"
One old man had squinted at the pair of them, and said, "I didn' know them Boyd's gone an' had themselves another son. I'd be sick of so many kids, 's why I never married."
Boyd had just smiled and waved. "Hello there to you too, Mr. Caldwell!"
They arrived outside a small inn, more of a bed-and-breakfast sort of place than anything, but Boyd was grinning quite happily as he knocked. "Nothing like home sweet home, right Jones?"
Boyd cuffed his arm in a friendly, stop being so dour kind of way as they waited. With an audible rustle of fabric through the door, it burst open in their faces, revealing a dark-haired woman in her early twenties who probably could have hidden several small children under her hoop skirt. She smiled, but almost instantly suppressed it.
"Benjamin Reed Boyd, you can't just show up on a lady's doorstep without due notice!"
Boyd, who also had been smiling, immediately dropped his grin. "Well, you shouldn't be getting yourself locked up in prison without me there either!" Boyd retorted.
Belle Boyd puffed up proudly. "I was doing my country a service."
"You need to tell me all about it!"
"Did you for once consider that I would withhold information about my daring deeds?"
"No, but that's my job, to get you to tell me. Me and Jones here," he nodded sideways at Alfred, "are here to ask you if you heard anything in Yankee camp."
"Mercy, I barely even noticed you!" Belle exclaimed. "Come inside, won't you? Have a taste of some proper Southern hospitality."
The lemons in Alfred's drink were sinking again on his fifth iced tea before Boyd actually got around to asking his sister what they'd come to know.
"Well, this career in espionage came about by total chance," Belle said, waving one hand about as airily as the folding fan she held in the other. "Some of the Yankee soldiers apparently heard I had hung a Confederate flag in one of the rooms here (and of course I had, why wouldn't I?) so they arrived and hung one of their flags in the front yard, which was downright irritating, but then they insulted Mother and I couldn't take it!"
"What'd you do?" Alfred asked.
"Shot him dead," Belle replied matter-of-factly. "Right over there in the hall."
Alfred swallowed. "I see."
"Anyway, I was exonerated for my forced act of violence, but they posted guards outside the house. One of them was quite taken with me though, a… Captain Keily, if I remember correctly, or was it Kelly? Regardless, I am indebted to him for some very remarkable effusions, some withered flowers, and a great deal of important information. I then had Eliza carry the information in a watch case to the Confederate officers, because who would be suspicious of a slave girl out to market?"
Alfred glanced toward the kitchen, where the sounds of Eliza washing dishes could be heard. She would probably come out in another few minutes with more iced tea at Belle's bidding, but she was a quiet woman, a bit older than Belle and rather reserved. He couldn't imagine her sneaking around with secret information.
Belle was still talking, regaling an enraptured Boyd with further stories. "…and when I learned that the forces at Fort Royal were being reduced, I rode through enemy lines with false papers to bluff my way past the sentries to deliver this information personally to one of the Confederate scouts. And in May when Stonewall Jackson lead his men's advance on my information, I ran to and from the Confederate lines and got bullet holes, bullet holes, in one of my favorite skirts! I still have the letter Jackson himself wrote me, and the Southern Cross of Honor, both more than you can say."
"How's it that you got captured then?" Boyd quipped. "Too many of them guards take a fancy to you?"
"No, my lover at the time gave me up." Boyd looked like he was about to ask something more, but she continued, "Not the Mr. Butler whom you are familiar with, another one," effectively cutting him off.
Despite the long introduction, she turned out to have no knowledge of Union troop movements. Apparently, they'd kept her under close watch at Fort Monroe, and were under strict orders not to let her go. "I don't rightly know where those orders were muddled," she mused. "I'd like to thank the man who muddled them."
Alfred sighed faintly in relief. It seemed here would be nothing of importance to write to Lincoln of this encounter.
Boyd excused himself to go do a quick visit to some of the others in the town he wanted to see. "And before you say so, I'll be back before mid-afternoon. I know we got to get back to camp by evening, Jones, I ain't stupid." That left Alfred to stare at the wooden beams of the ceiling and hoping that maybe he wouldn't say anything stupid that Belle would pick up that would give him away, and maybe he'd make it out of Virginia alive (whose idea was coming here anyway?), and maybe Josiah Wetherby could just show up so he didn't fail Peter like he'd failed everyone else.
"What's on your mind, Mr. Jones?"
Alfred blinked, realized that Belle was addressing him, and quickly returned his gaze to the ceiling.
"Oh, honestly dear. Do you expect me to believe that?"
He turned his brightest grin at her, hoping he could distract her, because no matter what he'd told Lincoln, he really didn't like lying. "Yeah, I just was wondering… when I'll get back to active duty. Injuries are really rotten."
Belle seemed to relax, shifting back in her seat (how she sat at all in that skirt of hers Alfred would never know). "I can understand that. Did I tell you that I was nearly shot running to and from Confederate lines?"
"You did, actually."
"Mercy, I've already forgotten!" Belle tittered. "I do hope Benjamin isn't much of a problem for you; he's got a lot on his shoulders as the eldest son, and sometimes can overdo things, I think."
Alfred frowned a bit, perplexed. "I thought one of the men we passed in town mentioned your family having many children."
"We did," Belle replied somberly, "but they all perished far too young. If you're talking about Mr. Caldwell, his memory hasn't been the best as of late, and he never remembers that my other siblings all passed."
"Ah." Silence ate up the space in between them, Belle managing to remain composed and attentive while Alfred fiddled more with his glass of iced tea.
"Have you ever thought about, I dunno… going professional with that story of yours?"
"How do you mean?"
Alfred elaborated, "Telling it to others. You're certainly animated enough to be an actress, or a public speaker. I'm sure others would be interested to hear about your exploits."
"And when we win, I can tell the world about how Belle Boyd, Confederate spy, assisted in our glorious victory!" Belle finished, eyes bright. "And then maybe I can follow my dream of moving to England, seeing Europe! Wouldn't that be lovely, Mr. Jones?"
Alfred smiled back, and it felt almost like how it always used to when he said, "I think that would be just fantastic, Miss Boyd."
After Antietam in mid-September, the field hospital had its biggest influxes of patients yet. The battle had been almost equally costly on both sides, but was considered a "strategic Union victory."
Alfred supposed he should be happy, but with more soldiers limping into the field hospital every hour, it certainly didn't feel like one.
They quickly ran out of beds, and stripped the mattresses to create makeshift ones out of dirty sheets. The hospital was short on provisions as it was; the naval blockade kept exportable goods in the South, making outside profits nearly nonexistent. Everything else was going to the war effort, but "everything else" turned out to be not much at all with the Union's recent territorial gains on the railroads.
Union territorial gains were also supposed to be good, but the South was gaining too; Antietam was the first major battle they'd had across Union lines, and the fact that Alfred found himself just has happy about that was scaring him. Even though he'd healed quickly as usual, the hospital had seemed safe. He couldn't do any harm here, and he still heard warfront news via the coherent soldiers who came in.
But nothing seemed coherent now, because the soldiers just kept coming, limbs blown to smithereens by artillery, heads wrapped in stained bandages, carrying the worst-off as they dragged themselves forward, pleading for someone to help please help.
And Alfred, feeling mostly useless and a bit guilty, sought out the one woman nurse he knew who actually helped with medical treatment. He caught sight of her at the other side of the tent, skirt billowing about her in the stifling, blood-scented air as she ran to tend to incoming soldiers.
He was pretty sure that helping wounded enemy soldiers with medical treatment was crossing a line somewhere, but he couldn't bring himself to care, because these men were off the battlefield and dying, and nothing about that qualified them as enemies at all.
He quickly derailed that train of thought before it could continue, because thinking of the Confederates as not the enemy was one step closer to a destination he didn't like the idea of reaching.
"Ms. Bacot!" he called, running towards her, not caring that he was supposed to be injured still. "Ms. Bacot!"
She turned, and the premature lines on her young face deepened as she frowned. "Mr. Jones, you shouldn't be overworking yourself. And I've patients to attend to, so unless you need something more desperately than them…?"
"No, nothing like that," Alfred replied hurriedly, "I was wondering if you needed help."
She looked like she was about to protest, but glanced outside again at the latest wave of wounded and sighed. "Help carry them. Find any spare space and try to stop the bleeding, and wait for a doctor."
Alfred nodded and hurried out, immediately hefting one man whose leg was bent at an impossibly ugly angle off another man's back, carrying his dead weight like it was nothing while letting the other lean on his shoulder.
"It'll be fine," he told them both. "You'll be fine." He found them an empty space, adjusted the first man's leg as best he could and sat with them until a doctor came, then ran back outside for more, leading soldier after soldier to the hopeful safety that was the hospital.
Some were delirious, some were on the verge of death, and some had fairly minor injuries that the doctors couldn't do much about; Alfred told all of them it'll be fine, don't worry, it'll be fine.
One man whose entire side was covered in red, blinked feverishly as Alfred set him down. As he made to walk away, the man grabbed his arm in a surprisingly strong grip.
"There were so many of them," he whispered hoarsely. "We were starving. There were so many."
"It'll be fine," Alfred answered mechanically, as the man's hand dropped to his side, and he wasn't sure who he was talking to anymore.
Arthur sat at his desk, safely back in Canada (hospitality courtesy of Matthew) and away from the bloody mess that was America, and wondered how he could have missed it. He'd had his suspicions when Matthew said the lad looked like him, but seeing that picture had brought back those memories of a Boston pier nearly a century before.
"What do you want to be?"
"I don't really know… but someone who can protect people, or make people happy. I think I'd like that."
He buried his head in his hands. How could he have missed it? He'd stood right next to the boy, right next to him, and wasn't able to realize that the odd feeling of being drawn to a Yankee coffee shop busboy meant Nation.
"We'd have avoided this mess altogether," he muttered to himself. Lincoln had told them that Alfred Jones was off in the South on a spying mission, and a stupider thing Arthur couldn't imagine. Didn't the lad know what a Civil War would do to him? He should be at his President's side, like they always were, helping out from behind the scenes because interacting too much with ordinary humans was just asking for trouble.
Then again, he didn't know any better. Because you never told him, Arthur thought disparagingly.
"No matter," Arthur said to himself, sitting up. "You might've started this with your stupidity, but that just means you've got to be the one to end it." He nodded sharply at a point in space in front of him. Once this bloody Civil War he's got going on is over, you're going to do what you should've done in 1776.
So, that's that. Longer than usual for a chapter, because I'm sorry. Probably one, maybe two more chapters of Civil War to cover.
Confederate uniforms were dark gray, while the Union wore blue; both were made of material that would make you sweat bullets in the summer, especially in the South.
Wartime tactics were still the antiquated march-in-lines deal, which was okay in the Revolutionary War because muskets had really, really poor aim. By the Civil War, guns were loads better and the first heavy artillery was coming into use, which made the Civil War "the bloodiest in American history" because people still marched in lines against said better weaponry. The death toll (on both sides) was so high because battles were mostly suicidal, and because sanitation in hospitals and camps was extraordinarily poor, plus most of the fighting was done in oppressive Southern heat.
The Confederate flag actually went through several incarnations, none of which are the crisscross stars-and-bars flag known to us as the generic Confederate flag (that was the flag of Lee's branch of the Confederate army). The one used in 1862 looked an awful lot like the American flag, with stars in the corner and red and white stripes. They changed it the year after to be a mini-flag in the corner on a white background, but that made it look like they were surrendering, so they changed it again to add a vertical red stripe on the white, and then they lost the war. Oh well.
Belle Boyd was an actual Confederate spy, and the details of her story are accurate in this chapter. Her slave was named Eliza, she did run through enemy fire, and did receive a Southern Cross of Honor from Stonewall Jackson. Her prisoner exchange mentioned here though actually entailed her being recaptured immediately after, rather than set free. She did eventually go to England to pursue a career as an actress.
Antietam was the first major battle fought in Union territory, and the South was vastly outnumbered (around 75,000 men to 38,000). The result was a strategic Union victory, despite the Union death toll of around 12,000 (the Southern was around 10,000).
One of the Union's greatest tactical moves was to immediately enlarge its Navy and blockade trade out of all Southern ports, taking away their main source of income. The South had also counted on "King Cotton" to get the British and other Europeans on their side; without being able to export anything, Europe's support went to the North instead.
Ava Bacot was a young plantation-owning widow who believed firmly in the rightness of slavery and the plantation system. She left the plantation in care of a neighbor and, despite the advice of everyone around her, went to the front lines as a nurse. Normally, women weren't allowed to do any actual caring of the soldiers, and instead were relegated to tasks like cooking and washing; Ava Bacot was one of the few who actually got to practice medicine, and was a nurse from 1860 to 1863.
Phew! Now that I'll hopefully be back to somewhat-regular updates, please tell me what you think of the story thus far! Any questions, comments, or general thoughts are appreciated if you take the time to review!
Hope you enjoyed, and see you next time!