The Civil War is still alive—at least in this girl’s heart. I grew up in the rolling farmland of upstate New York, far from the sultry southern battlefields and legendary haunts of Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. And yet, places like the Shenandoah Valley, Charleston, and Natchez beckon to me. Spanish Moss swinging from the spreading branches of live oaks, camellias growing off the veranda of a plantation, and the triple beat of a Confederate cavalier’s charge, all stirs my heart.
How did this come to be, so far removed as I am from all of that romance and history? Well, I have a little secret. It is buried here. Quite literally. Elmira, New York, where I live, is the resting place of over 2000 Confederate Prisoners of War. They came here on prisoner transports via the Baltimore, Williamsport and Elmira Railroad, and died in Camp Chemung, which boasted the worst conditions on either side of the war. Some say Elmira was a purposeful political retaliation for the notorious Southern prison, Andersonville. Some say it was ill-equipped to handle the sheer numbers of POW’s after Lincoln’s Secretary of War Cameron put an end to prison exchange. But the fact remains that a full 24% of the ten thousand Southerners imprisoned here perished—of disease, starvation, freezing temperatures, and putrid wells.
I’m not one to believe in ghosts. But there is something about the cry of injustice, rather like a curse, that swells up from history like this. It cries for retelling. It cries for the redemption only God—who is not bound by space or time—can bring. So I tell the stories of the men and women who lived, bled, fought and died in the war. The starry-eyed lovers, the brave soldiers, the stoic nurses, the idealistic crusaders. They take shape in my imagination, and I pay homage to those who lie beneath Elmira’s cold turf at Woodlawn National Cemetery. And I bid their final resting place be a peaceful one.
Kathleen L. Maher is represented by Terry Burns of Hartline Literary. She blogs about Upstate NY history at http://kathleenlmaher.blogspot.com/ and incorporates her love for all things antique and romantic in her stories. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers since 2008, Kathleen won their Genesis contest in 2012. Her Civil War novella Bachelor Buttons released in May 2013 and is available on Amazon, B&N and Kobo.
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