Excerpt from Don Miller’s soon to be released historical novel, South From Sutherland’s Station.
As he traveled down the Ohio to the Mississippi, the side-wheeler made stops along the way: Cincinnati, Memphis, Greenville, Vicksburg, Natchez, and finally New Orleans. Over and over, it loaded and unloaded cargo, livestock, and people. Vicksburg, Tennessee, and the flanking Delta, Louisiana, were the worst. Despite having been out of the fight for nearly two years, the people who met them on the wharves still bore scars from the war. Few young men met them, just older men, colored and white, stooped from both age and abuse. Underweight and hollow-eyed children begged and faded Southern Belles twirled their parasols, all dreaming of a time now past. Any joy of being near his home soil was offset by the gloom covering the landscape like the thick fogs off the river.
The easiest way home would be to disembark at Vicksburg, cross the river to Delta and then catch a stage overland the seventy miles to Edwards’ Crossroads. Going on to New Orleans meant having to catch a riverboat traveling back up to the Red River and onto the Ouachita but his promise to Wyatt ate at him worse than a case of the quickstep. Allen Kell knew if he did not make the trip to Wyatt’s mother and sister, his promise would continue to gnaw at him. Maybe he could find some work to get enough money to get home. Anytime offered work to load or unload the side-wheeler, he had volunteered. Despite his efforts, he had less than five dollars of army script in his pocket.
Allen Kell sat on the barge and brooded. He wanted to be happy the war was over. Memories of the killing and disease seemed to sap his resolve. He was empty inside, a shell. Allen Kell knew but refused to admit, he missed the killing. He had been most alive making the charges against Federal lines, looking down barrels of death pointed in his direction. The vicious hand to hand fighting sent adrenaline pulsing through his body, leaving him spent and at peace when it was over. Allen Kell’s ruminations were interrupted as the side-wheeler’s steam whistle went off. Moments later, just around the next bend, the New Orleans’s wharves came into view.
Allen Kell agreed to trade more labor for meals, a piece of deck to sleep on and passage back to Vicksburg later in the week. He would end up with more army script to go with what he had. After spending part of his script on some new clothes-a union suit, one pair of tough canvas pants, two shirts, one flannel for work and a muslin to visit Wyatt’s family in-Allen Kell went to the community baths to bathe and shave. He kept the officer’s slouch hat he had picked up off the battlefield at Gettysburg, the red Garibaldi shirt he had been issued in Baton Rouge, his braces and his boots, and trashed the rest. When he looked at his reflection while shaving, Allen Kell was shocked at the gauntness of his face and realized he had the same hollow-eyed stare he had noticed on the faces of the people of Vicksburg. It had been the first time he had seen his face in over a year.
South From Sutherland’s Station is a novel of the chaotic days following the Civil War and ex-Confederate soldier, Allen Kell Edwards. It will be available for purchase in early December. Until then you may go to Don Miller’s author’s page at http://amazon.com/author/cigarman501