In the hellish years of the Civil War, the Kent family faces its greatest trials yet. Louis, the devious son of the late Amanda Kent, is in control of the dynasty—and of its seemingly inevitable collapse. His cousin Jephtha Kent, meanwhile, backs the abolitionist cause, while his sons remain devoted Southerners. As the country fractures around the Kents, John Jakes introduces characters that include some of the most famous Americans of this defining era. Spanning the full breadth of the Civil War—from the brutal frontlines in the South to the political tangle in Washington—The Titans chronicles two struggles for identity: the country’s and the Kents’. This ebook features an illustrated biography of John Jakes including rare images from the author’s personal collection.
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The Kent Family Chronicles (Book Five)
By John Jakes
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1976 John Jakes and Lyle Kenyon Engel
All rights reserved.
"An Oath Registered in Heaven"
When jephtha kent started across the morass of Pennsylvania Avenue that Monday morning, he wondered if he was the only person in the whole town who was out of step. Washington City was behaving as if a holiday had been declared.
He didn't feel at all like joining the Northerners or the Southerners who were celebrating. He was, in fact, upset. He believed it was likely that the interview young Mr. Nicolay had scheduled over three weeks ago would be canceled in view of the calamitous news from Sumter. If it was, he could look forward to trouble. Early that morning he'd received a terse telegraph message from New York. Theo Payne wanted copy on the situation in the nation's capital. Exclusive copy. And, as always, he wanted it at once.
Halfway across the avenue, Jephtha waited until a horse-drawn omnibus bound for Georgetown passed. He dodged back as the hoofs of the horses shot out splatters of mud. The wheels of the omnibus bumped over half-buried cobbles that had long ago broken apart and sunk into the slime.
Aboard the car half a dozen passengers were bellowing a discordant version of "Hail, Columbia!" Jephtha's scowl deepened.
After the omnibus went by, he started on toward the iron fence bordering the south side of the street. His passage was again impeded, this time by a platoon of the Washington Rifles marching at quickstep. He darted around the rear of the column, avoided a couple of shabbily dressed blacks bound on some errand, then jumped out of the way of a barrow-pusher alternately blowing a battered horn and shrieking his offer of fresh oysters.
Jephtha hurried through the gate into President's Park. Two run-down brick buildings stood on his right—the War and Navy Departments. They faced two more on his left—State and Treasury. The buildings flanked the northern end of the tree-covered lawn on which several of Washington's unpenned hogs were wandering, ignored by the clerks and functionaries hurrying back and forth along the walks.
The walks all converged on the Executive Mansion further down in the park. Jephtha angled toward the bronze statue of Jefferson in front of the mansion's north portico. The statue was occasionally criticized because some people believed the sculptor had given the former president a Negroid look.
Jephtha noted that the outbreak of hostilities hadn't resulted in the presence of any additional guards. Just the usual two stood outside the doors, despite the fact that the man who lived inside had been violently hated—and threatened—ever since his election.
Prior to the inauguration, the President had been forced to sneak into Washington disguised in an army cloak and a cap of Scotch plaid, guarded by railroad detectives because of a rumored assassination plot. Jephtha had heard a description of the pathetic disguise from an elderly Negro porter who had seen it. In hopes of getting a story, he had been at the depot shortly after the special train arrived with its mysterious passenger.
And he'd stood in the raw March wind while Lincoln spoke to the crowd present for the inaugural. Spoke outdoors, as Army sharpshooters lined the rooftops of the city's main thoroughfare in case of a murder attempt.
With that kind of atmosphere pervading the capital even before the news from Sumter, what the hell was there to celebrate now?
A familiar smell tainted the air of the park on this Monday in April, 1861. The warm spring weather always brought with it the stench of the garbage and human waste floating in the old city canal running by the far south end of the park. Jephtha paused a moment, glancing in that direction. On the other side of the canal he glimpsed the base of the obelisk dedicated to the memory of the country's first President. But work on it had been abandoned when the subscriptions to pay for it had lagged.
The uncompleted monument, the smell of sewage pervading the Potomac flats, and the rude, graceless outlines of the mansion with its straggle of greenhouses and outbuildings all confirmed the opinion Jephtha had heard often from foreign visitors: As a national capital, Washington City was a disgrace. It lacked identity, it had a distinct feeling of impermanence, and it was filthy to boot.
Of course, it might not continue to be the capital for long.
Major Anderson, in command of the garrison at Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor, had heard General Beauregard's guns open fire at four-thirty in the morning last Friday, April 12. Thirty-four hours later, Anderson and his men surrendered. The long-anticipated clash of arms had come, precipitated by the question of whether the newly formed Confederacy was entitled to take possession of Federal military installations within its boundaries.
Both Northern and Southern factions in Washington had exploded with a macabre enthusiasm when the first telegraphic reports of the surrender had been posted late Saturday evening on the bulletin board of the Evening Star, where Jephtha kept a desk. In his opinion, the Northerners particularly had no reason for joy. The city lay directly across the Potomac from one avowedly Southern state, and was hemmed in by another in which Southern sympathy ran high. How long could Washington survive if the rebels decided to attempt to seize it? In view of that question, the city's euphoric mood struck him as insane.
Or am I the only lunatic in the whole town?
He felt no sense of relief because Sumter had been fired on. He was convinced the President's proclamation, made public that morning, was foolishly optimistic; he had a copy of it in his pocket. The man Jephtha was going to attempt to see had declared an "insurrection" existed. To suppress it he'd only called out seventy-five thousand state militiamen—and those only for a period of three months. Jephtha recalled the fervor of the people he had known, generally respected, and tried to serve in Virginia. He doubted ninety days would see the Southern rebellion to its end.
He walked up the steps of the mansion. Both sentries recognized him. One waved him on. Pushing through the glass doors, he tried not to think of the three sons he hadn't seen in several years. He didn't even know their whereabouts. That worried him most of all.
At the foot of the main staircase, a family that included four children gawked at the elaborate chandeliers. Farm people, to judge from their look. Jephtha caught bits of excited conversation in German as he climbed the stairs two at a time. Sightseers came and went at will in the President's home.
On the second floor he proceeded to the office of John Nicolay, one of the Chief Executive's two personal secretaries. The red-haired, freckled young man was engaged in conversation with a frock-coated gentleman Jephtha recognized as a low-ranking official who worked for Secretary of State Seward. Nicolay, at least, wasn't smiling or capering like some of the imbeciles in the streets:
"—General Scott will be here at eleven for the meeting. Please send messengers to inform the cabinet members."
The visitor nodded and brushed past Jephtha, who stood waiting in the doorway, unnoticed by Nicolay.
Jephtha Kent was a tall, stern-looking man of forty-one. His gray-blue eyes contrasted sharply with the dark, straight hair he tended to forget about combing. His cheap suit of black broadcloth was equally unkempt. His shirt had a distinctly gray cast.
Jephtha's nose was prominent; blade-like. Like his dark hair, it was a trait he'd gotten from his Indian mother, a Shoshoni squaw named Grass Singing. His father had married her during his days as a mountain man in the far western part of the continent. Jephtha's pale, intense eyes were his only physical inheritance from his Virginia forebears. His grandmother on his father's side had come from the Tidewater country. Jephtha often drew stares; at first glance, he looked more Indian than white.
Nicolay was busy sorting papers on his desk. Jephtha cleared his throat.
"Good morning, John."
"Oh—!" Starting, Nicolay glanced up. "Jephtha. Good morning. One minute—I'm trying to find a note the President gave me right after breakfast."
The secretary located it, then uttered a long sigh. "I'm sorry. I completely forgot you were on the calendar."
"I'm not surprised. It's been a hectic weekend, I imagine."
"It's been hell."
"Any further word from Sumter?"
"Nothing beyond what we heard last night."
"Anderson and all his men got aboard the relief vessels?"
"No more casualties reported?"
"Only the one—Anderson's man who got killed when a cannon blew up. General Beauregard was damned civil about the whole business. Allowed Anderson to salute his flag before he and his troops left the fort."
"You'll find that typical of Southern people, I think," Jephtha said. "I hope it doesn't mislead anyone into believing Southerners won't fight. They're hard fighters."
"I realize. We've a lot of 'em in the army, you know. West Point men. Senior officers. I don't doubt a good many will hand in their resignations."
Jephtha nodded. "Emulating Beauregard's example." The commander at Charleston had withdrawn from the superintendency at West Point to return to his native South. "What about news from Richmond?"
"None. But I expect we'll hear by midweek."
"And they'll follow the first seven states out of the Union."
"That's what the President anticipates," Nicolay agreed with a glum expression.
"How many more does he expect to go?"
"North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas look almost certain. Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri could fall either way."
"I suppose all this turmoil means Mr. Lincoln won't see me this morning."
"Oh, I think he'll see you. He knows the New York Union stumped hard for him while Seward's men were still whining about their licking at the Wigwam."
Nicolay slipped into the hall. "Come along and let's find out. I wouldn't expect more than five or ten minutes, though. Or any specific information. Matters are just too uncertain."
Jephtha followed the secretary to the other end of the building. There, a carpeted corridor led from the Lincoln family's living quarters in the southwest corner to the President's office on the southeast. A crowd of job-seekers, contractors and ordinary citizens wanting favors packed the chairs and benches along the corridor. Such crowds always jammed the mansion's upper halls on business days, waiting to pluck the President's arm and dog his steps whenever he appeared.
Cigar fumes and the smell of sweat fouled the air. Jephtha heard some of the petitioners discussing Major Anderson's safe removal from the Charleston fort. He listened to a couple of obscene comments about the character of Jefferson Davis, the former military officer, legislator, and Secretary of War who was now president of the seven-state Confederacy down in Montgomery. Jephtha had been in the Senate gallery in January when Jefferson Davis had submitted his resignation during a sad, moving speech prompted by Mississippi's following South Carolina out of the Union. The Senator had long held out against secession and its inherent promise of violence. But circumstances and principle had finally forced him to a reluctant decision. While he bid his Senatorial colleagues farewell, many of them wept.
Nicolay left Jephtha beside another blue-clad sentry, Lincoln's sole protector. The secretary knocked and disappeared behind the rosewood door. In less than a minute, he returned.
"You may go in for a few minutes. He's almost finished with his other visitor."
"Who is it?"
Nicolay smiled. "The only person in Washington who can come into the office whenever he wants."
"Ah," Jephtha said, understanding.
The secretary started to push the door open, apologetic:
"As I suspected, the President won't give you any specific answers about government policy or our response to the developments at Sumter."
Understandable, Jephtha thought as he thanked Nicolay and stepped inside, struck again by a feeling of pessimism. Who except perhaps the abolitionists and the Southern fire-eaters had ever expected it would come to this? A country less than a hundred years old at war with itself—?
He doubted Mr. Lincoln—or anyone else in the nation—really knew how to find answers for the problems posed by the unprecedented calamity.
A great deal of sport had been made of Abraham Lincoln's peculiar physique: his great height—six feet four inches—coupled with his lankiness; his stooping posture; his huge hands and feet and ears. This morning the President looked even more like a great skinny ogre—though a genial one—hunched as he was in a fragile chair in front of the small desk by the windows. Southeast through those windows the iron base of the uncompleted dome of the Capitol caught the leaden glare of sun trying to break through clouds. A train whistle shrieked twice. The Baltimore and Ohio from the North—
Another train occupied Lincoln's attention. Of wood, and gaudily painted, the toy had evidently developed some problem with one of its yellow driver wheels. The President was trying to repair the difficulty by pressuring the end of an axle nail with his thumb.
Standing next to him and shifting from foot to foot was the visitor whose identity Jephtha had already guessed. Lincoln's son Thomas, who was eight or so. He and his elevenyear-old brother Willie lived at the mansion. Lincoln's eldest son, Robert, was away, doing university work.
Satisfied, Lincoln put the locomotive on the desk. He ran it back and forth a few inches.
"There, Tadpole. I reckon she's ready to go to Chicago now." His eyes showed affection as he handed the toy to his grinning son.
"Thank you, Papa dear," Tad exclaimed, hugging his father around the neck. Because of the boy's cleft palate, the words Papa dear had a thick, distorted sound—more like puppy day. It was Tad's affliction, Jephtha had heard Nicolay comment, that made Lincoln love the boy with a special intensity.
Clutching the repaired locomotive, Tad bounded for the door. "Hello, sir. See my engine? Papa fixed it!"
"Looks like a good job, too," Jephtha smiled. "You're a lucky young fellow—it's not every boy who can persuade the President of the United States to "repair his train."
The hall door closed. Lincoln chuckled. He removed his spectacles and stood up—a movement resembling that of an ungainly water bird rising on long legs.
"Mr. Kent, good morning to you." Lincoln extended his immense hand and enfolded Jephtha's fingers. "Sorry you were delayed by the breakdown on Tad's railroad. I also regret we're together on such an unfortunate day."
Despite the words, Lincoln's wide, somewhat slack mouth curled at the corners in that country grin Jephtha found so likable. Lincoln dressed like an undertaker—all in black— much as Jephtha did. His coat and his thin string necktie of silk matched the color of his unruly hair and chin whiskers. He looked older than fifty-two. His skin was much more sallow than it had been when Jephtha had seen him last—at a private dinner given by the family for several reporters early in March.
The President's gray eyes appeared unusually sunken. They were odd, arresting eyes; eyes that looked at the world with a touch of sorrow even when Lincoln laughed, as he did often. Perhaps the change had come over him during the weekend, after the Government's refusal to yield Sumter had led to the cannonading by Beauregard and the surrender by Anderson.
Lincoln gestured his guest to a long oak table covered with green baize. The table dominated the large office. In less than an hour, fat, gouty Winfield Scott would be seated at it with members of the cabinet.
Excerpted from The Titans by John Jakes. Copyright © 1976 John Jakes and Lyle Kenyon Engel. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsPrologue THE NIGHT OF THE RAILSPLITTER,
Book One BLACK APRIL,
Chapter I "AN OATH REGISTERED IN HEAVEN",
Chapter II COLONEL LEE,
Chapter III MOLLY'S HOPE,
Chapter IV FAN'S FEAR,
Chapter V THE RIOT,
Chapter VI THE DETECTIVES,
Chapter VII O ABSALOM!,
Chapter VIII THE BAIT,
Chapter IX BLOODY BALTIMORE,
Chapter X ACCUSATION,
Chapter XI BEHOLD THE DARKNESS,
Interlude THE GIRL I LEFT BEHIND ME,
Book Two RED JULY,
Chapter I CITY AT THE EDGE OF WAR,
Chapter II THE AMATEUR CAVALIER,
Chapter III THE TIGERS,
Chapter IV LOST LOVE,
Chapter V WITH JEB STUART,
Chapter VI "THE BALL IS OPEN",
Chapter VII RIDE TO GLORY,
Chapter VIII THE WATERS OF WRATH,
Chapter IX THE WOUNDED,
Chapter X THE MURDERER,
Chapter XI "AND IF A HOUSE BE DIVIDED—",
Chapter XII THE BETTER ANGELS,
A KENT FAMILY TREE,
Preview: The Warriors,
A Biography of John Jakes,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I enjoyed this book as I have the entire series. I did have a hard time with the descriptions of the battles. This being the civil war it was hard for me to keep track of which of the historical characters were with the North and which were with the South.
The fifth in the Kent Family Chronicles reissue follows Jephtha Kent, now a reporter for the family newspaper, and his son Gideon Kent through the early days of the Civil War. Like the other volumes in this series, it brings American history to life by showing how it affects the members of one family.
Good read, but very very slow compared to previously read in this series (The Kent Family sagas). Same plot would be much better at half the pages.
One of the best series I have ever read.