Cousins and best friends Aaron and Joel Haskins share the same birthday and interests as they grow up on neighboring farms near Sharpsburg, Maryland. But in April of 1861, as Virginia leaves the Union and Civil War conflicts brew, twenty-year-old Aaron and Joel hear the call for volunteers. Now they both must decide whether the impending threat is worth the risk of losing everything they have ever known.
Aaron, who fears Lincoln will take away his right to own slaves, is determined to join the Rebel army and defend his way of life. Joel, who has been married only a few weeks, is less than enthusiastic to leave his new bride and join the fight. After Joel chooses not to go to war, he sees his cousin off with a dose of naïve optimism-even as he is taunted for his lack of courage. As Aaron performs his duties among the atrocities of war, he has no idea the battle has reached his home-leading Joel to join the Union army and become his enemy.
In this compelling historical tale, two cousins battling on opposite sides of a brutal war must decide whether love or hatred will prevail in an uncertain world.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.53(d)|
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COUSINS AT WAR
A CIVIL WAR NOVEL
By RALPH BEEBE
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2013 Ralph Beebe
All rights reserved.
Sharpsburg, Maryland, April 20, 1861
Aaron Haskins raced the mile and a half from Sharpsburg to his home on Antietam Creek. He rushed into the living room and gasped to his parents, "We're going to war. It's true. It's true. Lincoln's invading us. Virginia's going out. We'll be next."
Still puffing, he thrust a newspaper at his father. "I saw Johnny Williams in Sharpsburg, and he said they're going to form a Maryland regiment." He took another quick breath. "They're calling for volunteers—men who can come right away."
Sucking in air, he barked, "Joel and I are gonna go! We'll leave when the Maryland regiment forms at Harpers Ferry." Joel was Aaron's cousin; the boys shared the exact same birthday and had been almost like twins—twin cousins—all their lives.
As his father scanned the newspaper, Aaron's grin widened. "It looks like there will be fighting soon."
His mother gasped.
Abigail looked into her son's face. Her eyes swam with emotion, but Aaron could not decipher all that dwelt in that look. He knew she feared war, but he didn't comprehend the depth of her pain. He could see shock and anguish mounting inside her, expanding with each shallow breath.
"Are you sure, Aaron? Shouldn't you leave the fighting to older men?"
Aaron drew back his shoulders and gave her his most charming smile. This was a battle he must not lose. He slid onto the worn couch next to her and squeezed her cold hand. "Ma, we're almost twenty-one. I know you're worried about the danger, but I'll look out for myself. No Yankee can catch me—you know that. We'll get it over and be home for harvest."
Aaron looked back to his father, who was examining the article closely. Robert lifted his head, and their eyes met. Aaron felt reassured that his father understood and was proud of his son. Aaron looked again to his mother, who remained silent beside him. He had to make her understand too.
"Ma, I can't just sit here and let Lincoln take away our freedom and destroy our way of life."
His brow furrowed with concentration. Perching on the settee's edge, he left one hand in his mother's, while the other gripped the wooden armrest.
"Pa, you know that Joel and I are doing the right thing, don't you? Somebody has to stand up against evil."
Abigail released his hand and fisted her own deeply into the folds of her apron.
Aaron's hopes sank as Robert said, "I'm not sure, Son. The harvest may be early this year. I don't know if we can afford to let you boys go."
Abigail responded quickly. "Yes, yes, you two have to stay for the harvest. By then the problem will be settled." She picked up her crocheting and changed the subject. "Aaron, would you run upstairs and get my blue ball of yarn? I'm about out. How do you like this sweater I'm making for you?"
"But, Ma, don't you see? What if the war is over before we get into it? I don't want to miss the action. It'll be the greatest adventure of my life."
Aaron paused for a moment and then continued. "Ma, you just don't understand what it's like to be a man. Men stand up for right. My great-grandfather was a hero in the American Revolution. I want to be a hero too."
Abigail wasn't done. "Aaron, my father fought too. He told me what it was like. You think that just because men do the fighting, they know more than women. You're wrong. Think what it was like when mothers lost their sons, and wives lost their husbands. War is hard on women too."
"Yes, of course," Aaron said. "But what if we don't fight? What if Lincoln takes away our slaves?"
They all were silent for a moment. Aaron's last words hung heavily in the air. He felt sweat trickling down the small of his back, and his heart was beating wildly. He found it hard to breathe in the heavy, humid air of early spring. He saw his father's expression change as though he had made up his mind.
"Abigail, our boy might be right. It's a good cause, and we can be proud to have our boy defend it. Let's let him have his moment."
Aaron's face lit up with excitement as his father continued. "We can find a way to make do without you boys for a while. We've always been proud of you, Son, and when you fight for freedom, we couldn't be prouder."
Robert removed his spectacles and then added with certainty, "I remember what my grandfather said about the war for independence from England. He said that freedom isn't free. Right now, Lincoln wants to take away our freedom to own slaves, and somebody has to pay the price; somebody has to do the fighting. I'm proud of our son, just like I'm proud of my grandpa, who fought for freedom in 1776."
The words were barely out of Robert's mouth when Aaron shot forward to grab his father and pull him into a strong hug.
"Thank you, Pa. Lincoln will find out we mean business, and in a couple of months, the whole thing'll be over and our new nation will be free. Great-Grandpa was right. Freedom isn't free. If I have to, I'll give the whole summer to make it happen."
"Grandpa would be proud of you," Robert said, releasing his hold.
Aaron moved to his mother and bent to kiss her pale cheek. "I'm going to tell Joel right now." He snatched the newspaper from his father's hand and was out the door before his mother's tears soaked the sleeve she held before her eyes.
She listened to his pounding feet as he ran for his cousin's cabin across the stone bridge on Antietam Creek, and then she looked painfully at her husband. Robert sat gently beside her. With a small sigh, she buried her face against his shoulder, clinging to him in her fear and sorrow. He rocked her gently, as he had done with their babes. With time, she regained some control and moved away from him, retreating into herself. He kissed her forehead and then went out to do his evening chores.
Abigail walked to the door and closed it softly behind him. She glanced down at the doily still clutched in her hand and noticed it had begun to unravel.
* * *
Aaron sped across the stone bridge and soon stood at the open doorway of his twin cousin, who had been married to Amy for a month. The run had been less than two hundred yards, but the excitement had left him panting.
Amy greeted her husband's cousin with "What do you have there?"
"It's something I want to show Joel. Where is he?"
Aaron had barely finished speaking, when Joel came up the back steps, carrying an armful of firewood. His blond hair was askew, and sweat dampened the plaid cotton shirt that hung loosely on his lanky frame. Everybody said the two looked alike, right down to their pale blue eyes and fair complexions.
"I'm right here," Joel said. "What's going on? Is something wrong?"
"No! It's right! Read this. Virginia has left the Union!" Aaron shoved the crumpled paper into Joel's hands and faced his cousin with a wildly beating heart.
A frown crossed Joel's face as he scanned the words on the page. "But just a few weeks ago, they voted not to secede. I guess Lincoln's call for volunteer troops spooked 'em enough to reconsider."
Aaron moved about the room with excitement. "That's just what the Gazette says—Lincoln called for seventy-five thousand troops to invade the South and force the seven seceded states back into the Union, but it worked just the opposite. Virginia joined the Rebels and became the eighth state to secede. See, it says the Virginians have already taken over the US arsenal at Harpers Ferry."
With trembling fingers, Aaron pointed to the paper. "Johnny Williams told me they're forming a regiment in Maryland to help Virginia defend the arsenal and keep it from going back to the federal government. Johnny and Lawrence Williams are going. We can join! It's going to be great, Joel!"
"Now, wait just one minute," Amy protested. "We've only been married a month." She glared at the bearer of unwelcome news as she moved to stand between her husband and the enemy. "I need him here." She wrapped her arms possessively around Joel's waist and pressed her cheek against his heart. Joel closed his arms around his pretty wife's shoulders; he looked warily at Aaron while gently stroking Amy's curls.
Aaron couldn't contain himself; his eyes blazed with frustration as he gazed at Amy. She was no better than a cat with her fur up. It was Joel's job to soothe her; he was the husband. All Aaron had to do was keep away from her claws.
"A lot of wives will have to let their men go for a few weeks. Sometimes you have to sacrifice for what's right. When a monster is at your door, you defend yourself!" His voice rose, and he looked toward Joel. He hadn't come prepared for this kind of opposition. He could depend on the men, but the women were bewilderingly difficult.
Yet Aaron knew this wasn't the real Amy. She would understand later why her husband needed to be gone for a bit. "We'll be back before she knows you're gone, Joel. You have to do this with me. This is the most important thing we'll ever do. We may never get a chance like this again."
Aaron wondered why Joel was even hesitating. This was going to be a war as great as any they had read about in school. Of course Joel wouldn't choose to miss it.
Still, Aaron realized Joel had been caught unprepared and had no answer for cousin or wife. "Amy and I need to discuss this, Aaron. You gotta understand that. I have to think about her too. It's a little sudden, and we'll just have to think it over."
Aaron gritted his teeth. He wasn't sure he could control his anger and disappointment, so he turned on his heel and headed for the door. "Come find me when you've convinced her, then," he barked over his shoulder. He lunged for the wooden door and pulled it shut behind him with such force that it rattled on its hinges.
As the door banged shut, Amy's hands tightened on Joel's shirt. He held her closer. There was no way he could leave Amy—yet, as Aaron had said, thousands of husbands were leaving their wives. Every soldier who goes to war has to leave his family. Maybe Aaron is right—maybe the cause of Southern freedom is worth it. Maybe ...
He was still holding his wife close when the scent of burned dough drifted across the room. Amy shrieked and rushed to rescue the blackened biscuits. Joel watched her wave at the smoke with a towel. Chuckling, he went to wash for dinner.
He paused and stared at his reflection in the mirror. Growing up, he and Aaron had always complemented each other. Their looks and temperaments worked together to create a perfect match. He laid his hands against the counter and lowered his head. In all this time, he couldn't remember failing to support Aaron. Aaron always supported him too.
"Joel, supper's ready."
He felt a headache forming and grimaced. "Coming. Smells good," he joked.
Amy nodded but kept her back turned as she ladled the soup.
Later, Joel lowered himself slowly onto their bed, his neck aching with the tension Aaron had brought. The ropes beneath the feather mattress creaked, and Joel reminded himself vaguely that he needed to tighten them in the morning. As he searched for a way to resolve the unfamiliar strain with his bride, his fingers traced patterns of blue and green on the new quilt Amy and their mothers had pieced together before the wedding.
As Amy braided her hair, Joel noticed that her mirrored eyes reflected the fear she felt. With a sigh, he sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. Their eyes locked in the mirror.
"Amy, I hope I don't have to leave you. Aaron just naturally expected me to go with him. You know how we've always done everything together." He paused and then added, "I love you more than the whole world, but lots of men protect their wives in wartime. I just don't know what I should do."
He laid his head against her bare shoulder and softly rubbed her neck, pressing his thumbs into the knots of tension. He stroked her softly.
"I'm so glad I have you." His hand trailed down her cheek and onto her lovely brown hair with its captivating curls.
"I'm so glad I have you too," Amy whispered. She slowly brought her arms up around his waist and moved with him onto their bed, where the dark shadow of war was hidden and the cares of life melted into the joy of togetherness.
Afterward, the newlyweds clung to each other. The spell of their love hung in the air, leaving a flush on their cheeks. Neither spoke of the decision ahead, but it slept between them. That night brought little rest as they both reviewed their young lives—their childhoods growing up near Antietam Creek, the joy of their mutual attraction, their wedding, and the glory of two being one, body and soul. In her fitful sleep, Amy's hand sought Joel's. Finally, they slept peacefully until the morning sun awakened them to life's harsh reality.
Sharpsburg, April 21, 1861
In the early morning light, Joel took a short walk along the creek. The dew was still heavy on the grass, and it looked to be a pleasant day, but his thoughts were a tumult of troubles. His feet led him of their own accord to his parents' kitchen door. Unlike the original house where Robert and Abigail lived, this one had no summer kitchen—only an extension of the house itself. No matter how long he lived, that warm kitchen drew him like a divining rod to a source of refreshment and love.
He entered to the smell of breakfast coffee and bacon. Nattie, the family's slave, bustled around the kitchen in a brown cotton dress that had once belonged to Fannie, Joel's mother. Nattie had embellished it with a white ruffle from some fabric scraps. Joel watched her turn from the stove.
"Lan' sakes, Massa Joel! You liked to scare me to death!" She clutched at her well-starched white collar in a melodramatic gesture of fear, although he had no doubt she'd known he was there. He chuckled at her joke. He had long been thankful for the close relationship his mother had with their slaves. Joel shared the friendship Fannie had created with Nattie—a relationship that, to an extent, seemed to eclipse the difference in color and rank.
Nattie smiled. "Did your pretty little wife feed you good this morning?"
"Yeah, she made her buttery biscuits, eggs and bacon, and a stack of pancakes so high I couldn't see her sitting across from me."
"Well then, all you'll be getting from me is coffee—and maybe one of these cinnamon rolls." Nattie turned and poured the brew into a mug. As she passed it to him, he noticed again the shades of brown in the rich brew and in Nattie's hand. He watched the colors swirl in the cup as he leaned back, content for now to simply be in his mother's kitchen with the sound of Nattie softly humming "Run, Mourner, Run" as she worked. Joel had once asked her about the song she hummed so often, and Nattie had said it meant he should always run from evil. He wondered if the song had a hidden meaning.
As he was finishing the cinnamon roll, his mother entered. On seeing her son, she smiled, but Joel noticed dark circles rimming her eyes. Something had stolen her sleep too. He watched as she poured herself a cup of coffee and sat beside him.
Joel moved quickly to the purpose of his visit. "Aaron is joining the Rebel army. He expects me to go with him. I guess a lot of Sharpsburg men are going."
"Are you going to go with Aaron?" Fannie asked, her breath seeming to catch and hang suspended in her lungs.
"I don't know. I kept hoping I wouldn't have to decide."
"I hoped so too." The words fell from her lips, and it was as if all the air in her body left with them.
Fannie slumped, holding her fingers over closed lips as though that would keep her opinions behind them. Joel reached for her hand and held it. She never said much about her peace-loving Quaker convictions, but they were an ever-present thread that had mended many problems in the everyday life of the family. What he suggested went against that thread. He knew she could not bear to see her son aiming a weapon at another man and feared another man's weapon aimed at her son.
"I feel like I'm betraying our state if I stay behind—and, maybe even worse, that I'm betraying Aaron. Since Virginia seceded, Maryland will follow." He paused a moment, clasping his hands on the scarred table. "But most important is Amy. I don't want to leave her alone, Mama. I love her with everything I am. I just couldn't bear to leave her."
Fannie squeezed her son's hand. "Of course you don't want to, Son. You love her. I know that. She knows it too. But you have to decide what Jesus wants, not what Aaron—or even Amy—wants."
"It's hard to tell what Jesus wants."
Excerpted from COUSINS AT WAR by RALPH BEEBE. Copyright © 2013 Ralph Beebe. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc..
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