Letters Put Away

April 29, 2011
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January 29, 1864
Dear Sarah,

I dreamt about you last night. I just can’t seem to get you off my mind; this time you were telling me that I was going to meet you soon. I wish that were true. I can’t wait to see you in person and finally get out of this war once and for all. There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t think about you. The snow has been bad here at Medley, and the temperature is beyond cold. Luckily, I get one of the rooms in the only house near the train station. Unfortunately, the soldiers have to camp out in tents and rely on campfires to stay warm. I, on the other hand, have a warm fireplace, so there is no worry involved in my freezing to death. Our orders are to secure a cargo train coming in tomorrow. There isn’t really any risk involved, other than the cold, and I have men under my command to protect the cargo. This is going to be easy, so don’t worry about me.
Your Loving Husband,
Lieutenant-Colonel Quirk

Quirk folded up the letter to his wife and put it into a blank envelope. He then put the envelope into a decorative box filled with unsent letters to his wife. He stood there for a moment thinking about the day he and his wife met. He was only ten and it was a sunny summer day without a cloud in the sky. He snuck away from his parents and ran into the apple orchard outside of town. There he saw the most beautiful girl, Sarah McConnell, a ten year old girl who would eventually become his loving wife. His thoughts were interrupted when one of his officers opened the door to his room. It was his best friend Henry Martin.
“Hey Quirk, soup is being served in the mess hall tent outside. Best you get there while it’s hot.”
“Thank you Henry, I’ll be there in a short while,” responded Quirk with a groggy voice.

Henry nodded and walked away, shutting the door behind him. Quirk walked over to the closet where his cloths were hung up. He put his uniform on over his sleepwear so that he would be a little warmer when he was outside in the cold. On his way out, he grabbed his revolver and his sword.

Outside was very cold. There was snow on the ground, but it wasn’t snowing. Quirk took a quick glance around before starting to walk towards the mess hall tent. There were soldiers scattered all around the place. Most of them were near fires, but some were inside tents trying to stay out of the cold air. Most of the soldiers didn’t have coats, like Quirk, and sickness was at an all time high for the 23rd Illinois Infantry.

When Quirk got inside the mess hall tent, he looked around and saw his friend Henry at a table waving him over. Quirk walked over to Henry, who had a bowl of soup for him, and sat down with him and a few of the other officers. Henry gestured towards Quirk’s bowl of soup.
“Got it for you, the hot batch of soup was going out fast.”

“Thanks, I would have hated to have one cold.”

Henry smiled, “So that train is coming in tomorrow right?”

Quirk started to eat his soup, “Yes, with a detachment of soldiers guarding it under the command of Colonel Snider.”

“Snider, who’s he?”

“A good leader.”

“What makes you say that?”

“He lead his men through Antietam and Fredericksburg, having his horse killed under him and being severely wounded.”

“Oh, so he’s another war nut.”

“Looks that way,” Quirk continued to eat his soup. “So Henry, how’s your wife doing?”

“She’s doing fine, but it’s a little bit hard for her to do everything on her own.”

“Is that because you’re not there?”

“Yes and also because she’s five months pregnant.”

Quirk stopped eating to smile and congratulate his friend. Henry never told him his wife was pregnant. “Wow Henry how come you never told me?”

“Well you never asked and it’s hard to talk about.”

“Having a child is always important. She must really want you there with her.”

“She does want me with her, and I want to be with her too.”

Quirk went back to eating. “My wife wants me with her too.”

Henry, and one of the officers at the table that knew Quirk, exchanged concerned glances. Quirk finished eating and got up from the table with his bowl. “I’m going back to my room to read; come get me if anything goes on.” Quirk returned the bowl to the kitchen area of the tent and left to go back to his room to read. Once in his room, he started a fire and grabbed his book from his nightstand. He lay down onto his bed and began to read away the day. Eventually, he grew tired of reading and started thinking about his wife. She was out standing on the front porch waiting for him to come home. She brushed her hand through her brown hair and blinked her sparkling brown eyes. Quirk then started thinking about their wedding. What he remembered the most was his twin brother being a goof and flirting with the other women that came to the wedding. A tear came to Quirk’s eye. The next thing he remembered was his brother’s funeral. He was killed in action, and the last time he ever spoke to his brother was in an argument.

Quirk threw the book onto the ground and laid there on his side, trying to get his mind off bad thoughts. He thought about his wife again. He remembered the crazy things they used to do together as kids. She was his best friend growing up. What he remembered the most was when she played the piano for him. She played a song that she made up on her own. She called it Life is a Breeze in the Sky. He remembered how it went and decided to get out of bed to go play it on the piano in the other room.

Quirk got up off the bed and walked out into the hallway. He walked past Henry’s room and went into the room with the piano. It was a very dull room. No bright colors and no furniture, except the piano and the piano bench. Quirk walked over to the piano and sat down on the piano bench. He placed his hands on the keys and started to play his wife’s song. It was his favorite song, not just because of the ups and downs of the rhythm, but because his wife wrote it. Quirk sat there for a while playing the song over and over again.

Henry was in his room swinging his sword around when he heard somebody walk by. He stopped playing around and put the sword away. When he was sure the person was gone he picked up his sword again and continued to fool with it. Moments later soft and sweet piano tunes started flowing through the house. Henry figured that it was just Quirk playing on the piano again, but this time the song was different. This one was very soft and peaceful. Henry liked the music, so he decided to go to the room the song was coming from and listen to it firsthand. He walked out of his room and down the hall to the piano room. The door was open. Henry looked in to see Quirk playing the piano with his eyes shut. Henry didn’t want to bother Quirk, so he leaned up against the door frame and listened to it for a while.
Quirk finally stopped playing the piano after a half hour and rested his arms on his legs. Henry, leaning against the door frame with his arms crossed, decided to speak up.
“Wow Quirk I’ve never heard you play the piano like that.”
Quirk was startled by Henry’s voice. “It’s my wife’s song, she calls it Life is a Breeze in the Sky.”
“I can tell that you really love that song.”
Quirk smiled, “It’s my favorite.”
Henry looked at Quirk for a moment trying to feel Quirk’s sadness. He felt sorry for his friend and only could hope the same thing doesn’t happen to him.
Quirk spoke up, “I just really want to see my wife again Henry, more than anything in the world.”
Henry responded only feeling sorry for his friend, “Me too Quirk, me too.”
Quirk smiled again before returning to playing his wife’s song on the piano. Henry stood there for a moment looking at his friend before leaving. Quirk played the song a few more times before growing tired and returning to his room. He shut the door behind him, put his sword and gun away, hung up his uniform, and crawled under the covers of his bed. He laid there looking at the ceiling; he didn’t want tomorrow to come. It only took a few minutes before he fell asleep. He started dreaming about his brother. They were kids again and he and his brother were skipping another day of work. They were at their old hideout in what they called dead man’s cave. They decided to have a contest of who could run to Sarah’s house the fastest. Quirk remembers that he ran faster that day than any other day in his life.
Quirk woke up in the middle of the night. He was freezing cold. He got out of bed and went over to the fireplace to start another fire. When the fire started, he stood in front of it for a while to get warm and returned to bed. He was dreaming about another memory. It was January 30, 1863. Quirk walked up to the front door of his house and paused before opening the door. He walked inside the house. He had two fires lit in the house to keep it warm. He walked through the living room and into the bedroom where his wife was lying sick in bed. She was pale white. Quirk walked up to his wife and went down onto his knees so that his face would be right above hers. Sarah opened her eyes and smiled at Quirk. He looked into her brown eyes that still twinkled and smiled back.

“John, I’m very tired,” she said with a very soft and weak voice.

Jonathan Quirk responded softly, “I know, the doctor said you should be getting as much rest as possible.”

Sarah continued to smile very lightly. She reached out her hand to John and said with a very soft voice, “Hold me.”

John grabbed her hand and held it in both of his. Her skin was ice cold. Sarah continued to smile and look into his eyes. She said very softly, “I love you. I love you more than the world.”

John fought to hold back the tears, “I love you too Sarah, more than life itself.” Sarah smiled back into his eyes until she could no longer keep hers open. Her grasp loosened in John’s hands, but his grasp tightened. He sat there for a second until tears over flowed his eyes. Sarah was dead.
John woke from his nightmare with tears in his eyes. It was morning. He threw his legs out of bed and sat up. He started to cry and put his hands through his hair. The wall in which the window was on suddenly exploded open, sending fragments of wood and rubble threw the air. John didn’t even have time to react. He was thrown off his bed and flew across the room. He slammed into the wall closest to the door and hit the ground with fragments of wood in the left side of his body. He screamed in pain as he got up up with his left arm. He looked out through the huge hole in the wall to see Union soldiers with fire arms shooting in all directions. He kept looking for a few more seconds to see that there were cannons firing upon their campsite not even five-hundred yards away. Dirt was being launched up from the ground everywhere, occasionally with a Union soldier.
John was frozen in shock, until suddenly the world caught up with him. He blinked and shook his head realizing what was happening. They were being attacked. He quickly grabbed his revolver and sword and ran outside into the mayhem. Everything was so loud. Explosions were shooting up from the ground everywhere, and Union soldiers were scattered around firing their weapons at Confederate soldiers that had encircled their camp. John fastened his sword to his waist and pulled the hammer back on his revolver. He had to organize his men into a good defensive position. He didn’t even walk two steps before a cannon shot exploded ten feet in front of him. He flew backwards and onto his back with a searing pain in his left arm. A loud ringing noise filled John’s ears and his breath was knocked out of him. His vision was blurred and he had a very massive but short headache. He slowly turned to his left to look at his arm. The sleeve of his white shirt was colored red. He quickly ripped open his sleeve to check if his arm was still attached to his shoulder. It was, but shrapnel was dug into his arm all over the place. He hoped it was nothing serious and got back up pushing off with his right hand. He looked around, dazed and confused until he spotted Henry firing a Springfield musket out at the Confederates moving in on the west flank.
John, with his revolver firm in his hand, ran over to Henry and got behind the cover with him.
John talked in a very loud voice so Henry could hear him over the gunfire. “What the h*ll’s going on!”
Henry started to reload his rifle. “The Rebels moved in during the night. They encircled us and are now trying to break through our lines.”
“Why would they do that, we’re just an outpost in the middle of nowhere?”
John looked around at his men fighting. “We need to get the men to form defensive positions. I’ll start positions on the west and south, you gather the men into defensive positions on the east and north.”
Henry finished reloading his weapon and pulled the hammer back on his rifle. “Okay.”
John got up from the cover to start rallying up the troops on the west and south. Henry reached out and grabbed him by the arm, “Quirk, meet me back here in a few minutes.”
John nodded and ran towards the nearest Union soldiers to start organizing them into positions. Henry watched his friend run off. He turned and looked at the open road that he would have to cross to get to the east side of camp. He swallowed hard and got up to run. He hesitated a second before going to look at the cannons firing in the distance. Henry then focused on a few Union soldiers in a group firing at the Confederates together. He then sprinted towards them, focusing only on trying to make it across the road. A cannon shot exploded only ten yards away from Henry. He felt a hot burning piece of shrapnel cut across his forehead, and he stumbled a little from the shockwave of the explosion. He didn’t stop running though, and he made it to the Union soldiers across the open road. He told them to form up along the brick wall that stretched through one of the isles of the tent campground. They nodded and moved into position. Henry then went from one Union soldier to the next telling them the same thing. In about five minutes he had at least thirty soldiers behind that brick wall keeping the Confederates away. Henry breathed in a sigh of relief; he had the east position set up. He then ran to the north side of the encampment, which was probably the most important because that was where the train stop was. When he got there, he saw people already in a formation behind some tents trying to keep the Confederates away from the train stop. They were still scattered around though, so he had to get them into a strong defensive formation. He started running up to each of the men individually telling them to form up into a defensive line across the tents. When he reached another officer, he started to tell him him to round up as many soldiers as he could find. But before the officer could move a mini ball flew into the side of his head. Blood sprayed across Henry’s face. Henry blinked to try to get the blood out of his eyes. He stood there frozen in shock for a moment, but quickly remembered what he had to do. He started to form up and gather men himself when an ongoing amount of cannon balls started to bombard the area. The men he had put into defensive positions were flying threw the air with limbs missing. He disobeyed Quirk’s orders by yelling, “Fall back! Fall back!” Henry knew that they were going to get nowhere by trying to hold the northern defense. He decided to put the men into positions still guarding the north, but further back, hoping that the cannons wouldn’t bombard the men again. Henry then turned and started heading back for him and Quirk’s meeting place.
John finished putting the men in the western and southern positions when he heard a loud continuous noise of what sounded like hoofs coming from the south. He turned to face the southern defense to see a charge of horses come flying through the defensive wall he just organized. Two horses were coming right for him, and fast. The riders had their swords out. John quickly drew his revolver and fired his last three shots in the chamber at one of the horsemen. He collapsed off the horse dead. The other horse was practically right in front of him charging full speed. John dropped his gun and quickly started to draw his sword. The horse was right in front of him and the horseman swung his sword at him with as much force as he could. John had his sword drawn just enough to have the horseman’s sword collide with his. The force was so strong that the sword flew out of John’s hands and he collapsed to the ground. The horse ran only a few steps further before coming back a round full speed. John quickly looked for his sword and saw that it was just a few feet away. He reached for it, but it wasn’t good enough. The horse was just feet away from John. John rolled over to try to get out of the horse’s way when a loud gunshot was fired. The horse passed John, barely missing him. He looked up to see if the horse was coming back around, but there was no rider. He then turned his head to see that the rider was lying dead next to him.
Henry lowered his rifle, happy to know that he just saved his best friend’s life. John looked up to see Henry jogging over to help him up. “D*mn good shot Henry.”
“Thank me later, we have bigger problems.” Henry started to help his friend up, “The north side is too difficult to hold, we need those reinforcements coming in with the train.”
John nodded in agreement while picking up his revolver and sword. “Indeed. We could send out some runners to deliver an emergency message to the train.” John started to reload his revolver while getting in cover with Henry at the western defense.
Henry began to reload his rifle, “Quirk are you mad! They’ll never make it.”
“With enough concentrated fire and enough curriers, they’ll make it!”
Henry shook his head in disagreement, “They won’t make it on foot.”
John looked over at the horses the Confederates charged in on. Henry sighed, “Okay we’ll do it. I’ll get some horses.” Henry finished reloading and slung his gun up on his back. He then took a deep breath and sprinted for the nearest horses. He grabbed three and led them back to where John was.
John grabbed three soldiers that were out of ammunition and told them to, “Follow the tracks toward the train. When you get there ask for Colonel Snider. Tell him that we are surrounded and desperately need assistance.” The three soldiers nodded and jumped onto the horses. One of them kissed a necklace with the holy cross on it. John yelled, “Go when I say!” A few moments passed until John thought that then was the best time to go. “Okay go now!” The horses flew forward and out into the open. John screamed, “Covering fire!” Everybody started firing at what they thought was a Confederate soldier.
Henry took aim at a rebel behind a rock waiting for the perfect shot. When the man came out to shoot at one of the riders, Henry fired his rifle. The man threw his arms up into the air and fell backwards. The horses were going fast, but that didn’t stop the fact that one of the riders was shot off his horse. The rider got back up, holding his gut. He was jogging back to the western defensive position. John yelled, “Cover that man.” It didn’t matter how much cover fire he had; two more mini balls flew into the rider’s chest. He collapsed dead onto the ground.
The other two riders were far away now but not out of danger. The Confederates knew What John was doing and wanted those horsemen dead. Cannon fire started exploding all around the horsemen. Shrapnel flew into the horses sides, but they kept galloping. Another rider was taken down by a direct hit from a cannon. The damage was so bad that you couldn’t tell the difference between horse and man. The last horseman pulled out his necklace again and kissed it once more, praying for the best.
John smiled happily, one of the horses got away, that meant hope could be coming. John turned to Henry and said, “I’m going to reorganize the southern position, you stay safe.”
Henry nodded and John ran off. John’s arm truly was just starting to hurt. The continuous stabbing pain irritated him. He reached the southern position and saw that there were men everywhere, not just Union men, but Confederate men too. The battle was so close quarters. Not five feet away was a Confederate soldier with his bayonet in a Union soldier. John lifted his pistol and shot the rebel in the side of the head. Just then the Confederates yelled “Charge” and came rushing in full speed. John went wide eyed and fired three more rounds at a Confederate soldier charging at him. He looked around and saw Union soldiers running back to the other defensive lines. John decided to do the same thing and turned to run towards Henry at the western position. John was sprinting back towards Henry when he felt a mini ball go rocketing into his lower back. He screamed in pain and stumbled until falling onto the ground.
Henry turned to see his friend on the ground. A Confederate soldier was above him aiming his bayonet at his back. Henry reacted quickly by aiming his gun at the soldier and firing. The soldier fell backwards onto the ground. Henry quickly slung his gun onto his back again and ran over to Quirk. Confederate soldiers were everywhere, shooting stabbing, and killing Union soldiers. Henry grabbed Quirk and pulled him up.
John tried to steady his feet but he couldn’t. His hand was covering up his gut. He removed it to see blood and a hole in the front of his body. The mini ball passed right through him.
Henry struggled to keep Quirk moving. “Come on Quirk, I can’t do this without your help.”
Quirk gave his friend a smile and found his feet. He started walking with Henry’s assistance. “Henry, I do believe this is the second time you’ve saved my life today.”
Henry smiled back, “That’s what best friends are for.” Henry got Quirk over to the western position and placed him against the side of one of the tents. “Well, Quirk what’s your orders?”
John winced in pain before saying, “Retreat, we cannot hold this position, retreat.”
Henry nodded and stood up. He yelled as loud as he could, “Retreat! Retreat! Retreat!” The other soldiers started passing the word around when a loud train’s whistle rang out in the not so far distance. Henry looked over to see a large force of men and the train.
John didn’t hear anything. He lost a lot of blood and was temporarily oblivious to everything around him. His eyes were barely open, but open enough to see his wife walking towards him. She was very bright, almost blinding, John had to squint just to see her face. She walked over towards him and kneeled in front of him so her face would be level to his. John smiled very slightly, for it was all he could do. He was very tired and wanted to sleep.
Sarah gazed into John’s eyes, “John, I know you’re tired, but you have to do just one last thing.” John smiled lightly and said very softly, “And what’s that?”
Henry was looking at the train and the reinforcements coming in with it. He was overjoyed; he might just make it out of here alive. He looked back at the other soldiers still fighting and dying for this cargo train. They need those reinforcements.
Colonel Snider was looking at the massive battle that was occurring at this train stop. He described what was happening as the Union “… falling back before the advance of the enemy.” His soldiers quickly started fighting their way through the Confederates lines to get to the 23rd Illinois infantry.
Henry was cheering along with the other soldiers. Snider was here, and they were finally going to get out of there. Henry suddenly heard furious screaming behind him and turned to see a confederate soldier charging him with his bayonet pointed forward. Henry started to reach for his gun but he knew there wasn’t enough time. In a split second he thought about his life and his regrets, and how he wouldn’t be able to see his wife again, or the birth of his child.
The Confederate soldier’s bayonet was only inches away from Henry’s stomach when suddenly the side of his head exploded onto Henry’s face. He collapsed to the side almost in an instant. Henry was shocked. He turned to see His best friend, who was bleeding out and close to death, holding a revolver with the barrel smoking.
John smiled and said, “This time, I save your life.” The revolver fell out of his hand and onto the ground. He turned back to his wife who was looking at him face to face.
“Thank you John,” said Sarah right before she kissed him on the lips. John kissed her back until his final breath left him.
Henry stood there watching his friend lay lifeless. Moments later the Colonel’s men were surrounding the place fighting off the Confederates. After a short battle the Confederates started to burn the train and salvage the goods. Snider decided the battle was lost and called a retreat.
Henry’s wife was inside the house on edge. She has been expecting Henry home for a while now. She wasn’t sure if he was even alive. Somebody started knocking on the door. She got really nervous and walked towards the door slowly. She reached the door and opened it very slowly. It was just the newsman.
“Papers for a Henry McConnell.”
“No, he’s not here, but I’ll take them,” responded Mrs. McConnell. She grabbed the papers and returned to inside the house. It was just the daily news. She looked outside at the nice and beautiful summer landscape and decided that she had nothing better to do. She untied the paper and started to read when somebody knocked on the door. She got really uneasy again. She walked over to the door and slowly opened it. It was just the newsman again.
“You forgot to pay.”
“Oh yes, sorry.” She reached into her pockets and pulled out the money for the man. He left and she shut the door behind him; she didn’t even make it back to her chair when the door started knocking again. She quickly walked over to the door and opened it. She gasped and nearly lost her breath.
Henry was standing in the doorway looking at his wife. She gasped and hugged him. He hugged her back and lifted her up into the air. He spun her around and placed her back down. They looked into each other’s eyes for a moment before kissing. Henry withdrew from the kiss after a few moments to see his four year old son standing in one of the doorways. He started to cry and let go of his wife. He went onto his knees and held his arms out with a smile. The boy smiled and ran into his arms laughing happily. Henry picked up his son and hugged him for a long joyful moment. Finally he had found his peace.

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