Summer 1861 No 5


In the summer of 1861, Johanna Cardiff was becoming a young woman; her country was preparing for war.  This is her journal; these are her journeys.


Dear Brothers,

The Army has returned to Elmira.

I should be more accurate, I guess, as the Army never really left our fair town but it has instead grown larger.  Due to the location of the canals and railroads, someone with great wisdom, I am sure, as decided to turn Camp Rathburn into a muster point and training camp.

Now, at every awful hour of the day, a bugle sounds or a tattoo is beat on drums.  Orders are yelled at the top of men’s voices and if the soldiers don’t step to quick enough, a stream of curses and blasphemy erupts that is so vile the sky itself seems to blush.  Our new minister is in route, I am told, so in some ways, our town is without spiritual leadership.  I thought of asking mother to seek a meeting with the commander, but I fear she is not strong enough to assume that responsibility.  I prayed for guidance and felt the responsibility to rectify this situation fall on my shoulders.

I requested and was granted a meeting with the camp commander, a gruff old man named Col Maddox.  I waited outside his office for the longest time but eventually he welcomed me in.

He offered me tea, which I accepted, a chair, and I sat, and then asked why I was there.  I explained about the beauty of our little town and how he had arrived there when we were not at our best.  Not only had our minister gone to his reward, but most of our young men had already left in support of Mister Lincoln.  I explained to him that our continence was troubled and our spirits were low.

He appeared sympathetic to my cause and asked what, exactly, could he do to help.

I explained to him that the language his men used were to coarse for our ears and I wished him to forbid the men cursing, profaning, and misusing the Lord’s name.

He looked at me as if I had asked him to sprout feathers and fly.

“Young lady,” he barked at me, “in case you have forgotten, a few hundred miles south of here, men are killing each other.  My job is to prepare those boys out there to not only participate in this challenging endeavor, but to also win it.  My job is to train these boys to save the union.  If harsh and hard language will help me do that, and possibly save a few lives in the bargain, I’ll damn sure use hard language and so will my cadre.”

He did, he used that word in front of me and didn’t even ask his pardon.  I swear, I must have turned as red as a beet and I stood, refusing to accept such boorish behavior.  I told him that my brothers and the young men of Elmira had already left to join the effort to save the union and not a one of them spoke in front of ladies the way he just had.

He studied me, then he smiled, and then he laughed.  He said I was very pretty when I got my feathers ruffled and if I were a few years older, he would ask me to the officers’ ball.  My mouth dropped open, but no words came out.  I huffed at him, turned with my skirts swirling and stomped from the room.

Our meeting happened some ten days ago and we have crossed paths twice since that time.  On both occasions, he has exaggerated his bow and the doffing of his hat in my direction.  He smiles as he does this and I must admit, he does have a nice smile.

In return, I scowl at him, turn away, and use my fan to lower the blush on my cheeks.

Please be safe dear brothers.

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