Shaara / A CHAIN OF THUNDER
APRIL 16, 1863
The ball was a glorious affair, the Confederate officers in their finest gray, adorned with plumed hats and sashes at their waists. There was dancing and a feast of every kind of local fare, even the wine flowing with no one's disapproval. By ten o'clock, most of the older citizens had retired, the senior officers gone as well, offering the reasonable excuse that there were duties to perform, an early morning that would come too soon. Those who remained were the young and the unmarried, no one among them objecting to that. The music continued, more lively now, the quartet of violinists respecting the youth in the room, waltzes that brought the officers closer to the young women, hands extended, those girls who had caught the eye, whose furtive glances spoke of flirtation, the daring willingness to accept the invitation of a young man who had the courage or the skills to lead a dance.
As the night wore on, and the matrons drifted away, Lucy had allowed herself a single dance, had caught a beaming smile from a young lieutenant, one of the Louisiana regiments. She knew nothing of a soldier's life, what authority he carried, but the face was handsome, a firm jaw and bright blue eyes, clean-shaven, the young man's hand extended toward her with smiling optimism, hinting of hope. She knew he had been watching her for most of the evening, and she had smiled at him once, was immediately embarrassed by that, quick glances to be certain that none of the others noticed. But now, as the energy of the ball rose with the youthfulness of those who remained, so too did her courage. And, apparently, his.
The waltz they danced to had been familiar, the violins doing admirable service with a pleasing rhythm that seemed to intoxicate her, the young officer admirably graceful. The couple was one of a half dozen who moved with elegance across the floor, but it ended too soon. With visible regret, the lieutenant had done what was required, had properly escorted her back to one side of the room, where the ladies sat, the officers returning to their own station, closer to where the wine flowed.
She sat, maneuvering the wide hoops of her finest gown, still glancing at the other girls, the rivalry they all observed. Such occasions were rare now. The welcome invitation had come from Major Watt, the officer spreading word that a gala was well deserved. But many stayed away, a gloomy acceptance that perhaps this kind of frivolity was not yet appropriate, not with the Yankees so close. For months now, the citizens had endured shellfire, Federal gunboats with the audacity to throw their projectiles into the city itself. Most of those boats were anchored far upriver, and the officers in the town boasted of that, that Federal sailors knew they could not match the enormous power of the guns dug into the hillsides across the riverfront. But still the shells came, and many of the civilians had heeded the advice of the army's senior commanders, had begun to move out of their homes, digging themselves into caves and caverns, most dug by the labor of Negroes.
The first serious violence had come close to Christmas, and the customary Christmas ball had been rudely preempted by one of the first great assaults, what so many of the townspeople described as the bar- barity of the Yankees, their utter disregard for simple courtesy, for the sacred observance of Christmas ritual. Major Watt seemed to recognize that as well, and with the warmer weather came the army's gift to the town, driven by the kindness of this one major, who seemed to...