Sharyn McCrumb

MacPherson's Lament

The seventh book in the Elizabeth MacPherson series, 1992

For Joe Blades of Missouri,

now working behind Union lines


There are a number of distinguished and talented members of the legal profession who are no doubt hoping that I will not drag their names into these proceedings, but since no good deed goes unpunished, I would like to thank the following attorneys for conspiring in the plotting of this novel. Any legal errors herein are the result of the author’s ignoring the advice of counsel. Special thanks to Ohio Judge Judith A. Cross, who egged me on in the very beginning, offering inspired-one might almost say “fiendish”-suggestions on how to get a young attorney into serious trouble.

Additional legal advice was generously provided by attorneys Julian Cannell; H. Gregory Campbell, Jr; David Hood; Erik Hildinger; and by Virginia State Senator Madison Marye.

Why were they all going out to war?

He brooded a moment. It wasn’t slavery.

That stale red-herring of Yankee knavery.

Nor even states-rights, at least not solely,

But something so dim that it must be holy.


John Brown’s Body, Book 2



GABRIEL HAWKS RECKONED that his extra pair of socks might dry before sunset on the warm deck of the Virginia, since the day was fine. It had been as good a day as a body could ask for in early spring-the sky like Jamaica water, with just enough wind to tickle the canvas and to bring a smell of flowers and new-plowed ground from the adjoining land. Captain Dunnington had tried to spoil the afternoon by ordering them all ashore to drill and march on the riverbank, but even that was tolerable on as fair a day as this. Better than staying crammed on the ironclad within quarters too narrow to swing a cat in-and nothing to do but think about being hungry on half rations. And listen to the rumble of distant cannons.

Gabe had never figured on being in any navy. In the sixteen years of his life before the war, he’d lived in the shadow of Bear Mountain in Giles County, Virginia, and he’d hardly even seen enough water to float a ship in. When the fighting commenced, he’d joined up with four other fellows from home.

He grew up on a small mountain farm, mostly apple orchards and a few head of cattle in steep pastureland. The Hawkses were hard-pressed to feed even the younguns on what they produced, so they never owned slaves. Never needed any on a small place, and didn’t much approve of that sort of soft life anyhow.

Gabe hadn’t made up his mind about which side he favored in the war when Fort Sumter was fired on. By a margin of two to one the Virginia legislature had voted not to secede, and that was all right with him. But things were different two weeks later when Lincoln called on the states for militia to put down the insurrection: seventy- five thousand men were ordered to invade South Carolina and the other seceding states. Gabe couldn’t hold with that-sending invaders onto a sister state’s land. His mother’s people had come from Carolina, down Salem way. So when Virginia joined the Confederacy, so did Gabriel Hawks.

Of course he hadn’t figured on getting to be an officer. The South had seven military academies full of rich men’s sons, and they were the ones commissioned. Gabe, a small and wiry mountain boy with Bible learning and no family influence to draw on, had been mustered into the infantry at the lowest rank. (And furnish your own clothes and weapons.) Still, he had been proud to be a private in the Stonewall Brigade. The Shenandoah Valley boys had cut such a swath through the Federals’ ranks that they reckoned they could have fought the angels themselves to a standstill. But when General Jackson took a bullet two years back at Chancellorsville, he took the charm with him to the hereafter. Two of the boys from home had died after that, and Gabe had ended up in hospital with a burning fever that left him wasted and looking like a scarecrow. After he was well enough to be released, he’d been given new orders: a transfer to the navy.

At first he had been right glad of the change. If he couldn’t be a hero in Jeb Stuart’s cavalry, then he’d see what life was like at sea. No more marching in worn-out shoes, leaving your blood behind on the snow of the railroad tracks, and damned little chance to get shot, either. Maybe on a ship there’d be something besides hardtack to eat. Maybe they’d just sail right away from the whole war. He’d heard Confederate ships had been to Europe, the Caribbean-even the Pacific Ocean.

But he hadn’t got far. Here he was at the mouth of the James River, within spitting distance of Richmond. The Virginia was an ironclad, the flagship of a fleet of eight, charged with the duty of guarding the capital from invasion by water. The three ironclads were moored across the only available channel in the James, their might bolstered by five wooden gunships and the naval batteries ashore. The crews remained there-cramped, hungry, and landlocked, waiting for it all to end.

Tom Bridgeford, who was standing at the rails looking out over the river, called out, “Come and wave, boys! Flag-of-truce boat coming by!”

Gabriel Hawks looked over the side as the little boat churned its way upriver. It was overflowing with newly released prisoners of war being repatriated to the Confederacy in a prisoner exchange with the Union. The freed soldiers laughed and whooped and let out a mighty yell when they saw the Confederate flag on the Virginia’s mast. Gabe waved to the cheering throng, but he did not smile.

“Damn fools,” he said to Bridgeford. “What do they think we’re going to feed them?”

“I don’t reckon they know how bad it is,” said Bridgeford as he watched them go.

“Then what do they reckon that booming is? A thunderstorm?”

The low rumble of cannon fire had been echoing across the water all afternoon. He’d heard talk of a battle in Petersburg, but that was nothing new. The fighting had been within earshot of Richmond for weeks now, but still the lines held, and spring came and church bells tolled, just like nothing was amiss.

Gabe Hawks grinned at lanky, redheaded Tom Bridgeford. “Why, I figured that rumbling was just my stomach complaining that my throat’s been cut. It’s been so long since I’ve sent any food down there.”

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