In this stunning holiday story, a cache of Civil War-era letters and diaries sweeps the ladies of Covington up into a dramatic and heartwarming historical saga that inspires them to plan an unforgettable Christmas for two families forever changed by war.
When a rusty old tin box is unearthed at the Covington Homestead, longtime housemates Grace, Amelia, and Hannah discover that it contains letters and diaries written by two Civil War soldiers, one Union and one Confederate.
The friends are captivated by the drama revealed. The soldiers were found dying on a nearby battlefi eld by an old woman. She nursed them back to health, hiding them from bounty hunters seeking deserters. At the end of the war the men chose to stay in Covington, caring for their rescuer as she grew frail. But while their lives were rich, they still felt homesick and guilty for never contacting the families they'd left behind.
Christmas is coming, and the letters inspire Amelia with a generous impulse. What if she and her friends were to fi nd the two soldiers' descendants and invite them to Covington to meet? What better holiday gift could there be than the truth about these two heroic men and their dramatic shared fate? With little time left, the ladies spring into action to track down the men's families in Connecticut and the Carolinas, and to make preparations in Covington for their most memorable, most historic Christmas yet.
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November 09, 2009
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Excerpt from A Blue and Gray Christmas by Joan Medlicott
The Battered Box
The fall day had turned chilly; a brisk wind blew from the west. In the ladies' farmhouse, flames danced behind faux logs in the fireplace, casting a golden glow across the pale yellow walls of the living room. Grace Singleton and her housemates, Hannah Parrish Maxwell and Amelia Declose, had pulled chairs into a circle around a low table. Upon it sat a battered tin box the size of two large shoeboxes.
Earlier that day, Hannah's husband, Max, had strode into the house, his overalls streaked with dirt and grime from carrying the box, which was discovered while a foundation was dug for one of his historic restorations.
"Lord only knows how long it's been buried," he'd said. "The fellow on the backhoe said it looked like an old fishing box he inherited from his grandfather, who had it from his father. We broke the lock and opened it. Just a bunch of letters and a couple of small books inside, but I thought you ladies might like to check them out."
Intrigued, Grace had taken the box to the kitchen, scraped away layers of red clay dirt, and scrubbed it as clean as she could get it. One side looked as if it had been struck by a hammer, but the box had survived intact with no apparent damage to its contents: several small leather-bound diaries and bundled letters addressed in faded ink to folks in South Carolina and Connecticut. Dark and dented, the box sat now on their coffee table.
"Open it, Grace. Open it." Amelia's blue eyes gleamed with excitement. "Maybe it's a buried treasure."
"Books and letters, treasure?" Hannah's eyebrows shot up. "We'll be lucky if they don't crumble when we touch them."
Rusty hinges creaked as Grace lifted the lid and eased it back. Inside lay six packets, one of which had been untied. The remainder were bound with twine, frayed and crumbling in places.
A thrill of excitement raced through her and she eased the untied bundle of letters out as gently as she would lift a newborn babe from its cradle. The top envelope opened easily and Grace extracted two sheets of paper, which she spread on the table beside the box.
"It's to a Marianne Mueller, Little River Bend Community, Walhalla, South Carolina." Surprised, Grace looked from Hannah to Amelia. "We know where Walhalla is. We've eaten at The Steak House there. It's near Lake Jocassee, remember?"
Amelia nodded. "Can you make out the writing?" Her fair skin was pink with excitement, and she could hardly sit still.
"I'll try." Grace squinted at the faded words, then read aloud:
I write to you, this bein' the year 1864 and the war ain't ended yet. Bein' so much alone, at times my mind plays tricks on me, specially when it's quiet like it was after my last battle, no guns roarin' or men screamin'. Sometimes, layin' in bed, safe now and far from war, I think back to that time when I was layin' in that rock-hard ditch, thinkin' I'm gonna die. Weren't nothin' but gray fog, hard mean pain, and my leg twisted, hurtin' bad. Them Yanks come at us out of nowhere, the blue coats yellin' and shootin' a cannon right atop us. The noise like to bust my head open. Cannon blast mustta sent me flyin', mustta dumped me in that there ditch. All's I could do was keep breathin' and stay alive. 'Twas the worst I was ever scared.
Fellow layin' next me in that ditch was a-wearin' a blue uniform stained with blood, and he raised up his hand, fingers bloody and clawin' the air. His face all mussed with dirt and gunpowder and filthy from war. That there Yank's alive, I thought. Let the bastard die. Then I thought, he's jus' a man like me, scared and sufferin' in this stinkin' hell.
They mustta give us up for dead. Guess we fooled 'em, I thought, and the pain gripped me so bad I thought, this here's my last breath. But the pain eased, and I lay there pantin', tryin' to gather my wits and strength to help myself and maybe the Yankee layin' next to me.
I'd mended plenty of animals on the farm at home and the broken parts of men in the war, 'cause there was never 'nough medics to carry the wounded from the field to the hospital wagon, and I'd carried many a man and helped in their care. The Yank aside me was bleedin' bad. I tore my shirt and turned, even with the pain it brung me, and tied off the Yank's wounds to stop the bleedin' and bandaged the gash on his head, all the time wonderin' why I was tendin' the enemy.
I laid back, then, and worried how I was gonna splint my broke leg, 'cause there weren't no wood about. If I could splint my leg, I could crawl outta this here ditch. Aside me, the fellow groaned, and I figured he'd never make it out.
My rifle was next to me, and I laid it next to my leg and tied it straight, though I wondered why, since I was gonna die anyways. Then I thought, damn well better die with the Yank than dyin' alone.
Then the pain came over me real bad again, and my mind went away again. When I came to, I muttered somethin' about bein' lost and a-headin' east.
The Yank groaned like he was awake then, and told me they was lost, too, their maps gone, officers dead of dysentery. They was scared, he tells me, and didn't know what to do. Someone loaded their cannon and sent a shot flying. He went flying. That's all he remembered.
Then he turned hisself over best he could and said his name, John Foster, and I said mine, Tom Mueller, and somethin' passed between us -- and to hell with the war, I knew I weren't gonna crawl outta that ditch and leave him to die alone.
Grace looked up. "I can't make out the rest. It's too water stained." As she carefully folded the brittle paper and slid it back into the envelope, the ladies sat deep in their own thoughts.
Then Hannah said softly, "Amazing. That letter's more than a hundred years old. The war began in 1861, if I remember correctly, and ended with Lee's surrender to Grant at Appomattox in April, 1865. Here we have two soldiers from opposing sides left to die in a ditch on a battlefield in 1864, and Frank Hays's backhoe dug up that rusty, old box in our field."
"You know your history," Grace said, turning to Hannah. "I'm impressed."
Amelia dabbed at her eyes with her handkerchief. "How terrible, to be injured and left to die like that." Then her face brightened. "But they didn't die; they wrote those letters and diaries. How did they survive? How did they get to Covington?"
"Hopefully the other letters are in better condition." Hannah cleared her throat. "I'm sure we'd all like to know more about this Tom Mueller and the Yankee he helped."
Amelia nodded and looked at Grace. "Go through the packets, please, and see if you can find one of John's letters."