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Historical Novel Excerpt - Generations


Excerpt from "GENERATIONS" by JD Cummins

Chapter 1 The First Shot. April 12th, 1861.

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A loud boom rattled the windowpanes, and I sat upright in my chair. Thunder? I looked out the dormer window at the clear dawning sky over Charleston harbor. I jumped up and ran into the hall, not stopping until I had dashed to the stairway leading to the "widow's walk" on the roof, and bounded to the top of the stairs. I threw open the door and charged onto the deck that ran across the top of the roof. I stopped short to avoid crashing into the railing. My heart was pounding from the physical exertion and from the excitement. My host, Robert Mims, was right behind me, puffing from running up the stairs. Mims gasped for breath so he couldn't speak.

Baroom! baroom! baroom! The sound of a second volley came from our left, from the direction of Fort Moultrie on Sullivan's Island. Out in the harbor, flashes of fire, showed where shells exploded on Fort Sumter, the island fortress held by the Yankees.

Mims said, "This is a real bombardment, not just those kids from the Citadel playing soldier. When Fort Johnson and Fort Moultrie start shelling the Yankees in Fort Sumter, they mean business. It's war!"

I said, "I'm afraid so. General Beauregard has committed us to fight." I looked around at the other houses along the waterfront. All the roofs swarmed with men, women and children, looking at this thunderclap of a barrage, signaling war starting here on their very doorsteps.

We watched the shelling continue, but now saw flashes of light from the Fort Sumter ramparts. Mims was exultant. "The federals are returning fire. Those distant flashes across the harbor must be from the batteries on Morris Island. The Yankees are being hit from three sides."

But I felt more a sense of unease than the elation my friend expressed. I saw this as a tragic moment in my country's history.

The firing continued into the dawn, and we went downstairs for a hearty breakfast. Maudy came in with a platter of scrambled eggs, ham, and grits. When she looked at me her brown eyes turned black like her ebony skin. She always acted polite, but never hid her anger. She had become a buxom young woman . . . no longer the young girl I once found sprawled naked on my bed. Her slender breasts had reminded me of the twin steeples on a church building in Charleston.

Mims said, "I guess you're ready to return to your plantation. It might be a little cooler in the Midlands. I'm going to see if I can get into the militia, to help guard my home and rice fields. If the war lasts very long we may be needed."

I said, "Yes, but I need to make preparations so I can leave to help with the war if they need me. My father isn't well, and we have a small child to care for. My mother and my little sister are there, helping my wife, who isn't very strong since she had the fever last winter. There will be difficult times ahead."

"I suppose I should take the time to look into joining the militia before I leave. Now that the shooting has replaced the shouting, we'll have to defend our homes."

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On the last of May, 1861, on my next trip to Charleston, I again visited my friend Robert Mims.

Robert said, "Before you leave, let's go up Meeting Street tonight to see Captain Manigault. He's commander of the North Santee Mounted Rifles now, and served as an aid to General Beauregard during the capture of Fort Sumter. He's organizing a volunteer regiment to defend the coast if the Yankees try to invade. If my plantation at Georgetown is invaded by the Yankees I'll want the Militia to be there."

At the Manigault house that night we were ushered into the spacious dining room. Many men crowded the room. Blue smoke from pipes and cigars enveloped the crowd amid a hubbub of conversation.

Edward Manigault, a brother of the Captain, introduced himself. He said he worked for the ordinance department in Charleston. He introduced us to Steven Lee, who told of his work as a messenger between General Beauregard and the commander of the Union troops holding Fort Sumter. He had watched the start of the bombardment from a boat standing off the island, after the negotiations failed. He stopped talking as voices in the room hushed.

Captain Arthur Manigault strode into the room, still wearing the rumpled uniform he must have put on before dawn that day. All eyes turned toward him and voices fell silent as he strode to the end of the room near the half-circle row of windows. He turned to face the crowd.

"Thank you all for coming. As you know we bombarded Fort Sumter, and wrested it from the grasp of the Yankees, who held it like a dagger at the throat of our fair city. Of course this meant war. And we can expect the Yankees to respond. They may try to invade our coast.

"I have been asked to organize a volunteer regiment to protect the coastal lands between here and North Carolina. I hope you gentlemen will see the need for defending our homes and join me in this effort." He pulled a kerchief from his shirt sleeve and wiped the perspiration from his forehead, then brushed back the hair from his receding hairline.

"I am here to offer you gentlemen an opportunity to serve your state by joining the formation of a new regiment. It will be known as the Tenth South Carolina Volunteers. We will defend the coastal regions north of Charleston. It is essential that our rice fields along the coast be preserved to feed our people during the coming conflict."

"As you know I served on the staff of General Beauregard, but he agreed I should resign my position to raise a new regiment for the good of the state, and the confederation. Forms are available on the table for your signatures, should you wish to participate in this vital enterprise. In any case, thank you for coming here tonight."

Captain Manigault walked to the table and signed his name to the document with a flourish, his goatee quivering with the emotion of the moment. He was immediately followed by others, who formed a line to add their names to the list. I joined the line and wrote my full name, James Goodwin Wallace.

Arthur Middleton Manigault was elected Colonel, and Cornelious Irvine Walker was elected Captain and Adjutant of the new regiment. I went home to prepare the plantation for my absence.

The Southern ports were blockaded, and the newspapers were talking about the "Anaconda Plan" to strangle the states that had seceded. Jefferson Davis approved a Confederate bill declaring war on the Union.

After the Confederate armies won the battle of Manassas, July 22, 1861 (Bull Run), the South celebrated, thinking the war had been decided. That hope was dashed, as the Union blockade tightened, and Northern troops took the western part of Virginia and proclaimed it a separate state.

End