Lieutenant Thomas C. Hammond
CARRIED BY ARMY POST
April 13, 1846
My Dearest Mary Ann,
War is upon us. This is a most dreadful time for a man to be a soldier, and yet you, my Sweet Wife, know the truest intent of my heart. The Army is my Mistress, and I long for battle, as do many of those who have seen the atrocities visited upon our brothers by the vile Mexicans. If we, as a nation, do not stand up to this tyranny, then where resides our Country in the grand scheme of the world? We might as well grovel at the foot of avarice and turn our backs on injustice. There are men in power, thank God, who feel this same way.
Now, to other matters. You always want to know of my days when we are apart. You should have seen us in formation the past day. In the morning when I arose, the sun washed the hills with freshness, but by the time we gathered on the field, the skies were gray. There we stood, the entire company upon the cleared meadow. The grasses were just out. (April came early this year, and thankful for that, I am. You know me better than I know myself, my Dearest Wife. I wish to walk upon grass, not wade in Winter’s mud.) Standing upon the parade grounds, the wind turned, and it had to happen. Out of the skies came a splattering of drops, one we hoped would quickly desist. However, and you have my sincerest permission to laugh as you read this, my Dearest, for in an instant, the sky opened up, and it came a mighty drenching torrent. Then, before we could make a dash for the protection of our tents, the rain ended. The clouds broke aside, and the sun shone on our faces. We were all as drowned as rats stranded on a sinking ship, and still there we stood. In the sudden bright glare of the breaking sun, one of the men in the line, one that you do not know, began to laugh. From then on, there was no controlling our behavior.
I fear I have destroyed my breeches altogether. I was not the least in the wrestling that suddenly overtook the parade grounds, and I took down not a few of my fellow men. Within moments of my first attack on another of the Army men, a weakened seam gave its last exhaustive cry of resistance, and with a mighty tearing sound, it split in twain. Forgive me, Mary Ann, for my precise recounting of this tale, but you ought to have been there to see the ensuing events: I, dancing about with my drawers exposed between my legs, and all of us, to the man, covered in the final remnants of last Winter’s mud. If an Indian war party had come swooping down from the hills, they would have thought us one of them and offered us horses and arrows.
I miss your laughter, my Mary Ann! I look forward to seeing you again. Even though I tease about my mistress, Mademoiselle Army, you know you are my only true love. You must be certain of that deep within your heart. Take care of our coming little one, for soon we shall be three, and do not let Sissy falter. She will allow distractions to pull her attentions away, if you are not firm. Remember, also, that the vegetable garden must be tended, if we are to have a Summer harvest. Plant the peppers along the Southern wall. They must have the sun, or they will provide a weak crop, as they did the year previous. Remember also, marigolds. Plant them among the tomatoes, and the insects will leave the seedlings alone. I do miss tomatoes during the depths of the cold season. At the end of the Summer, we must have enough to preserve at least a small portion. I shall be able to survive next Winter, if only I have tomatoes.
My Sincerest Regards to my Most Wonderful Wife, and may our Faith in God bring us together again, soon.
Your Loving Husband,
Lt. Thomas C. Hammond
United States Army
Post Scriptum – I have been horribly lax, for I have failed to substantiate my most vital news, dear Wife. My previously mentioned reference to the possibilities of war (which I must admit I find exceptionally welcome) has come to me through a trusted channel. The source is one which you know well.
You will remember our trip to Springfield during September last. On that warm September evening, we partook of wild turkey and sautéed greens with a family of our close acquaintance. Of course it is Mr. Lincoln and his wife, Mary, of whom I write. You cannot help but be pleasantly reminded. We discussed our brother-in-law’s elder sibling, Gov. Joseph Duncan, Jr. of Illinois, and our host spoke with pride of the “Long Nine” who endeavored to move the Illinois capital from Vandalia to its present-day location, as he was an instigator of this group. Gov. Duncan was still in office at the time and had signed the documents just before leaving his seat of power. We remarked after-ward how surprised we were to learn our supper’s host had served with our brother-in-law in the skirmish against Black Hawk some 14 yrs. past, and that Mr. Lincoln knew of Benjamin’s sextant from his years in the Navy.
It seems Mr. Lincoln has no shortage of opinions on our upcoming conflict with Mexico. Undoubtedly, he believes we must support our President, but it is also Mr. Lincoln’s firm certainty that Texas’ claim to the land between the Nueces and the Rio Grande is tenuous, at best. Still, he sees war looming, and Mr. Lincoln has shown himself to be a visionary in such matters. I value his sentiments. I also trust his predictions will come true. Forgive me, Mary Ann, but I must be sincerely honest with you. I look forward to this war Mr. Lincoln claims to be inevitable.
My Love in All Things to my Treasured Wife until we are Together Again –Thomas.
TABLE ROCK LAKE, MISSOURI
Jon and Mary Ann McCreary
MAY 10, 2009
“Why do you do all this?” Jon McCreary pointed to the overstuffed notebook in his wife’s hands. Twenty years out of college, his blond hair was still full and luxurious. Taut skin gave him an athletic cast, although lines could be seen around his eyes, and he now sported a pair of reading glasses in his shirt pocket. The women who worked under him at McCreary’s Printing and Shipping considered him quite handsome.
“What do you mean?” Mary Ann McCreary, his petite wife, didn’t look up. Her attention was on the papers spread across the bed centered in the anonymous motel room. She absently worked the fingers on one hand through thick, strawberry blonde hair. A smattering of freckles tickled her nose and cheekbones. She could pass for thirty, although she was a decade older. The hints were there in the new shadows that haunted her eyes, ones she’d taken to using makeup to conceal. Some days she felt she looked fifty or more. The past year had done that to her.
“It’s just history you carry around in there. After all, this is 2009, not the 1840s.” He chuckled with forced amusement. He wanted his wife to laugh with him. Once she would have. Now? Since they’d received the news that had torn their world apart, he couldn’t be sure anymore.
The notebook seemed to contain everything. The cover was white with a clear, protective film overlapping the spine. The plastic sleeve wrapped around the front as well as the back of the thick volume. Just visible underneath Mary Ann’s hand was a bright sheet of paper slipped inside the flexible sheath. It had once been straight, lined up with the notebook’s edges, reflecting her organized and thorough mind. All the papers inside had been neatly ordered at one time. Then, their son Matthew Benjamin Duncan McCreary had gone to war to fight an unknown enemy, and nothing had been the same. Their lives had been left changed, and their world would never be as it had been before.
“Mom! Dad!” A familiar voice from two years before called its enthusiasm.
The day was beautiful, the air smelled of summer, and the sun sparkled on the lake. It was a day for picnics, time spent at the shore waterskiing with favorite sons skimming the waves, or when there’s just one, an only child surrounded by friends riding skis with the practiced skill of youth. The point they were on jutted into the water, and the sound of waves slapping against the rocky beach surrounded them on three sides, bringing the flickering white caps right to them no matter which way they looked. Missouri was always beautiful in summer, and that day more than ever. High clouds ghosted the sky, and the grass was green, shimmering brilliantly in the sun. The rain had fallen all spring, and the Show Me State shouted the glory of all she claimed as beautiful. Come and play, she seemed to say, for everything is right with the world.
That day took a different turn, though. Matt, just eighteen, pulled up in his Jeep, flinging the door wide, and leaping to the ground. He had his father’s height with his mother’s slender build and strawberry coloring. A new and unusual excitement painted his face bright, and he had a grin showing even, brilliant teeth. He ran up to them proud, sure of himself, and held out a manila envelope.
“Son,” Jon called to him. “Have you forgotten what day this is? Your Uncle James is on his way with the boat. Did you overlook bringing a pair of trunks?” The boy had on tan chinos and a crisp white polo shirt. He was sharply dressed, but May in Missouri was for swim suits and tees.
Mary Ann frowned, suddenly cold against the heat of the day. The envelope concerned her, its flat, brown paper concealing what was inside, and then there was her son wearing dressy clothing on a watersports day. It didn’t feel right.
“Matt, you do plan to ski today?” She asked her question partly because she loved to watch him ski, and she always had. However, another part of her wished for a distraction from the mysterious information in the brown envelope. It seemed too foreign somehow, too formal to be any good for this day at all.
Matt flashed a warm smile their direction, one that refused to be shunted aside. He had news to share. As his father took the envelope from his hand, he wrapped his arms around his mother. They were good arms, too, Duncan arms from her side of the family, arms that went with military men, wiry farmers, and eighteen-year-old boys who could do anything they wanted. Anything. From inside that brown paper, they learned Matthew had chosen war. He had brought his choice to them in his brown, paper envelope, already done and too late to be undone. He was eighteen already, and the choice was his, he told them, proud of his new independence.
In the motel room, with the air conditioner whirring softly in the background, Mary Ann sat with her cluttered notebook in hand, not noticing its disarray, and touched the letter from Lieutenant Thomas Hammond. The year was 1846, she noted with a certain sense of pride, as she stroked the date with her finger. The letter had been written over a century and a half earlier, and she had the original copy. It was yellowed with age, pulled from her great-grandmother’s attic just before the old farm had been turned into another sea of tract homes. The writing was faded in places, but the tears that had washed its surface hadn’t completely wiped the ancient ink away. The time-eroded closing, an affectionate sentiment scrawled in old-fashioned longhand, was blotched at the end, perhaps a moment of sorrow gone awry, the revelation of emotions by that long-ago Mary Ann from over a century before. They were namesakes and sisters after a fashion. Cousins, really . . . or perhaps more distant than cousins. Married to cousins. Family, for sure. The connection ran in their blood.
Mary Ann Duncan McCreary looked at her husband for a moment. “It’s my family, Jon. For no other reason than that. My family’s what this notebook carries, my dear sweet spouse, and without me, that’s all they’ll ever be. History.” She sent him a bright smile in apology, hoping to placate his inquiry. Then it fell away as she continued, “When I read what I’ve collected here, they’re alive all over again.” Just like when I reread all the e-mails Matt sent, but she didn’t say that. Jon didn’t especially like it when she reread their son’s e-mails. He told her she left him feeling isolated when she became immersed in them. She turned despondent, and that made him sad. She carried them everywhere on her laptop, though. After they settled into their motel room each night, she simply waited until Jon was asleep, and then she pulled Matt’s words from her computer, devouring them once more, and for a time he lived again.
She let herself be drawn to that day at the lake, and it was as if she were there all over again. It had been the start of everything.
“Matthew, why? What makes you want to do this?” Placing her hand on his chest and running her fingers against the fabric of his shirt, the tautness underneath spoke of the man he had become.
“Mom,” and he grinned, as he grabbed her to swing her around, his news bursting within him. “We’re a family that made this country strong. West Point. All those stories you tell me all the time. How can I not want that?” He finally set her down and smiled at her, his arms draped over her shoulders. He grinned and reached into his shirt pocket, pulling out a sheaf of freshly printed business-size cards. Each one was the same. “These have my e-mail address on them. I’m planning to give these to everyone everywhere. Then they can message me to find out everything I’m doing while I’m gone.”
Mary Ann smiled, knowing she should be proud. He would do just as he said. However, she would be equally proud of him for attending a university or raising chickens or marrying too young and having a family. It didn’t take him joining the service for her to feel proud. The idea of Matthew in the military gave her another feeling, one that felt all too much like fear. Or perhaps dread was more it. Everyone in her genealogies died. Hadn’t MattDidn’t Matt ever paid attention to those parts of the stories? Lieutenant Thomas Hammond had died. His brother-in-law Captain Benjamin Moore also died. Boys who joined the army died. That was what the military did for its treasured sons. It put them in harm’s way, and they gave their lives in return. She didn’t say any of that, though. She smiled at him and brushed her hand against the smoothness of his cheek. He barely shaved, and now he was to become a soldier. He was young, still. Too young.
Just then a pair of orange and white trunks hit Matt in the chest, and he turned to his father with a grin. His eyes were bright, and his red hair and freckles caught in the sun. A dimple puckered his cheek, and he reached to pick up the trunks with a laugh.
“An extra pair, Son.” His father winked. “They belong to one or the other of your friends. They’ve been with the ski gear since the last time we were out.”
“Dad!” Matt laughed, holding the trunks to his waist. “These are big for me. I think these are Colin’s. He couldn’t find his the last time we were at his father’s apartment. He had to wear a pair of his dad’s.”
“Put them on. You can wear them home and return them to Colin.” Turning to glance over the lake, Jon tapped the envelope, and an expression passed across his face. Then, almost before it could be seen, it was gone. It was a look that whispered of an uncle killed in Vietnam, and a best friend who never returned from the Gulf. Jon had never spoken much of them, letting Mary Ann’s tales of her family claim the boy’s attentions during his formative years.
A bright yellow boat filled with teenagers roared by. A girl in a red bikini hung tightly to an inner tube as the rubber device skidded across the boat’s wake. The rope ran to a tow bar that looped over the top of the craft. The crowd in the boat hooted and waved exuberantly to those on the shore.
“The skiing’s great! Come on out, Matt!” The words drifted across the water as the yellow boat slowed to head away from land.
Matt and his dad looked to see a tall, slender boy in bright blue trunks holding to the tow bar and calling to them, one hand at his mouth. Then he pointed to the girl on the tube, grinning broadly, just as a spray of water obscured her from view. He waved as the boat shot away, the girl on the tube shrieking with glee.
“You know him?” This was a boy to whom Jon hadn’t yet been introduced.
“From school, Dad. Brandon. He’s a senior next year. Well, he’s a senior now, I guess, since my class has already graduated. You see, though? There’s no place to change.” He made to fold the trunks up, but he looked longingly at the yellow boat that could still be seen flying across the water.
Jon shook his head. “There’s the car, Matt. Everyone’s busy having fun, not watching your wardrobe changes.”
“Right, Dad.” Matt rolled the trunks in his hand. He hadn’t given them back to his father or put them down, and his eyes kept glancing to the lake. A personal watercraft screamed past with a stream of water shooting high into the air. Matt grinned longingly.
Jon grasped the trunks and pulled them from his son’s hands. Shaking them out, he smiled and pushed Matt’s shoulder toward the car. When his son didn’t take the hint, he opened the car door.
“I’ll stand and block the girls’ view, if that helps. You live for the lake, Matt. You need to do this for your mother, too. You’ll be gone soon, and she needs you to be a kid again just for today.” Jon pushed his son inside the car and turned to face the lake.
The boat of teenagers that had skimmed by before came flying across the water, aiming right for the point where Jon and Matt were standing.
“Trunks on yet, Matt?” Jon rapped the hood of the car. “Isn’t that Brittany, the girl you took to the prom?” He turned to see Matt climbing from the car, revealing his slender build in the oversize orange-and-white trunks. The boy had always worked hard to keep his weight up. Now it looked as if he wouldn’t be able to keep his shorts up, either. Jon grinned.
“These are hopeless, Dad. I can’t wear them. I just won’t swim today.” Matt’s eyes were on the approaching boatload of his friends.
“Just yank the cords tighter, son. You need to be out on that boat.”
From just off the dock a new voice floated over the water, one about eighteen and filled with excitement.
“Mrs. McCreary, Brandon said he saw Matt out here with you and your husband. Oh! There he is!”
“Hey, Brittany,” Matt called out with undisguised pleasure. “Sorry about the trunks. They’re Colin’s. I, um, forgot mine.” He laughed, pointing to the trunks.
“Hi, Matt! They look cute on you. I like skinny boyfriends. You can be my clown any day.” She blew him a kiss and laughed, her twinkling eyes finding the humor in the situation. With his slim waist and baggy trunks, he did look endearing.
“Dad,” Matt hissed in an aside. “Do Colin’s trunks really look silly?” He waved weakly at Brittany.
“Just go have a good time, Son. Brittany likes you, not your baggy drawers. I didn’t intend to embarrass you with them, you know. Just have fun today.”
“You didn’t intend to embarrass me? And yet I’m a clown?”
When his father threw an arm around him, patting him roughly on the cheek, Matt stumbled, a self-conscious grin shooting across his face.
“You’re my son, and I love you. Even wearing Colin’s trunks. Just have fun on the lake.”
Matt made a face, pulling one leg of the trunks out to twice the size of his waist. “Okay, Dad. Wearing these is still going to be embarrassing.”
“Good,” Jon chuckled. “Trust me, when you’re on some duty assignment halfway across the world, right now will be the memory that’ll get you back home.”
Years after his Uncle Joey’s funeral, Jon had read the letters his uncle had written to his grandmother. It had been the kooky things he’d written home about, the quirky events that most people find embarrassing. He’d said those memories were the ones that kept coming back to him, and he’d told his company the stories over and over just to keep them all sane. It had worked, too, until the day when a booby trap took his leg, and later, infection took his life.
“Go give your mother a hug, and don’t stay all day.” Jon pushed Matt Mary Ann’s way.
As Matt hugged his mother and turned to run toward the water’s edge, he swept Brittany in his arms, and his youthful legs bypassed the dock to splash his way to the waiting boat, his laughing voice greeting those onboard.
Jon tried valiantly to memorize the scene unfolding before him. For some reason, on that bright day, with sounds of laughter all around, all he could think of was his grandmother’s voice as she placed Uncle Joey’s letters back into the old shoebox where she always kept them: “If I’d only known I’d never see him again, I would have given him one more hug before he went off that final day.”
The boat had been speeding away, though, and there was no opportunity for another hug. Now Jon and Mary Ann were on their way to California to pick up Matt’s things. The news had been delivered. Missing in Action. So many men were missing in action, dead or imprisoned, and Mary Ann had been traumatized. His things were being delivered to Camp Pendleton near Los Angeles, and she insisted on being there to accept delivery herself.
However, when it came to boarding an airplane, all she’d been able to say was that Matt had taken a plane, and he hadn’t come home. She wouldn’t fly to California. Jon was taking some time off, letting his senior manager run things for a time, to allow him and Mary Ann to drive to California. They were in the car a few hours a day, permitting them time to stop at sights along the way. Overall he wasn’t disappointed with the arrangement. He felt the time on the road was good for his wife.
He knew he also needed the opportunity to come to grips with their news. He did have one regret, though. He wished with all his heart that on that summer day when Matt had run for the boat, he’d called him back for one more hug. Now he never could. He knew he shouldn’t blame himself for what had happened to his son, but at times he felt an overwhelming surge of accusation insisting that everything was his fault. Matt would have come home again if Jon had simply made the effort to give his son that final hug.
OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT
James K. Polk
PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Washington, May 11, 1846.
To the Senate and the House of Representatives:
As you are aware, diplomatic intercourse between the United States and Mexico has reached a state of relations in which the long-continued and unredressed wrongs and injuries committed by the Mexican government have forced a suspension of the aforementioned intercourse.
Every measure has been attempted on the part of the United States government to redress these wrongs, including repairing an envoy of the United States to Mexico with full powers to adjust every existing difference. This envoy was lately present on Mexican soil, with the full consideration and agreement of the Mexican government and bearing evidence of the most friendly deliberations, yet his mission was fruitless. The Mexican government refused to see him or listen to his overtures, and after a long-awaited series of threats, has at last set foot on our soil, and shed the blood of our fellow citizens.
It is now my duty to you to state in more detail the series of events that brought about that failure. On the 13th of October, 1845, in the most friendly terms, through our consul in Mexico, an inquiry was made of the Mexican government whether it would receive an envoy with all powers to resolve the dispute between the two governments. The Mexican minister, on the 15th of October, replied in the affirmative, requesting that our naval force at Vera Cruz be withdrawn to relieve the appearance of coercion in the negotiations. This was done immediately, and on the 10th of November, 1845, Mr. John Slidell, of Louisiana, was commissioned by me and entrusted with full powers to adjust both the matter of the boundary of Texas as well as that of the indemnification to our citizens, as the redress of wrongs to our countrymen blends insupportably with the question of boundary.
Mr. Slidell arrived at Vera Cruz on the 30th of November and was received with all courtesies by the government officials of that city. However, the Mexican government, over which General Herrera’s Revolutionary Party presided, was by then instable. Although the government of General Herrera had shown itself sincerely desirous to receive Mr. Slidell, on the 30th of December, General Herrera resigned the presidency, and the supreme power of the Mexican government passed into military hands, yielding the office of president to General Paredes.
Under the date of the 1st of March, Mr. Slidell addressed a note to the Mexican minister of foreign relations asking to be received by General Paredes’ government. The minister, in his reply under the date of the 12th of March, denied the application of Mr. Slidell, leaving our envoy nothing but to demand his passports and return to the United States.
Thus, the Government of Mexico, although in prior agreement to willingly receive our American envoy, has violated that agreement and refused a peaceful resolution to our difficulties. To reemphasize the full import of these events, not only was our envoy on Mexican soil with full powers to adjust every matter of difference, but the Mexican government refused any negotiation at all, and made no proposition of its own to resolve these matters.
Previously I have informed you that the positioning of Mexican forces for a threatened invasion of Texas had forced me to order an efficient military force to take a position between the Nueces and Del Norte. This force has remained at Corpus Christi, as I wished for assurance of the Mexican government’s intentions before calling for their withdrawal. Such a withdrawal will not happen at this time, for you may please be assured, this land is American soil, as I will explain.
By official act on December 19, 1836, the Congress of Texas had declared the Rio del Norte to be the boundary of that Republic. Our own Congress, by the act approved December 31, 1845, included the territory beyond the Nueces as part of our revenue system and appointed a revenue officer to reside therein. That soil was included into the act of annexation to the United States, and is now within one of our Congressional districts. There can be no stronger proof of our ownership of the land.
Now, after repeated posturing, Mexico has passed the aforementioned boundary of the United States and shed blood on what is clearly and unmistakably American soil. By her actions, she has proclaimed that hostilities have commenced, and that our two nations are now at war.
As a State of War in all manners conceivable now exists, and as the Mexican government has cast down every effort of our own government to prevent it, we are called upon by every measure of duty and patriotism to vindicate the honor, rights, and interests of our own United States.
August last, as a precautionary measure, General Taylor was authorized to accept volunteers, not from Texas only, but from the States of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Kentucky. Letters of instruction were drafted to each of the respective governors of those States. With the de facto State of War currently existing, General Taylor has called on the governor of Texas for four regi-ments of State troops, two to be mounted and two to serve on foot, and on the governor of Louisiana for four regiments of infantry.
To further this end, and to bring about a quick return to the peaceful state that once existed between the Country of Mexico and our own, I recommend firstly that the Congress recognize the existence of the war, secondly for measures to be presented with all authority to call into the public service a large body of volunteers, and thirdly that a liberal pro-vision be made for the sustenance of said troops and also for providing the furnishing of supplies and munitions of war.
Be it also known that I wish to bring all matters in this conflict between Mexico and this Government to a speedy resolution, and I shall be prepared to renew negotiations whenever Mexico should notify this Government it is ready to do so.
James K. Polk
PRESIDENT OF THE
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Lieutenant Thomas C. Hammond
CARRIED BY ARMY POST
May 13, 1846
My Dearest Mary Ann,
I have the most wonderful news, although wonderful for whom may be up to some discussion. However, it would be only to satisfy my own penchant for vanity, if I should tell you straightaway. So, I will put my news aside for now, with only a teasing morsel to tempt your appetite. You recall our dearest friend, Mr. Lincoln (although that term of affection may be unused by him with such abandon in regards to ourselves) with whom we dined September last, as he regaled us with stories of his childhood, charming us into bouts of uncontrollable laughter. I see you nod your head, Mary Ann, with an amused twinkle in your eye, for you enjoyed our discussions with Abe, as he insisted on being called. He told us stories of his youth in a log cabin, and of chopping wood for the family’s fires. With his big hands, I have no doubt he was as proficient as he claimed. I remarked on it to you later that evening, as you will recollect.
More importantly, you will remember that I observed afterward, if he can overcome the rumors that he is an infidel, he may well go far. It is even said by some of my connections that he is in the forefront as the Whigs’ choice for nomination for the U.S. House of Representatives. (Such may have already happened. I have not been privy to the results from the 1st of this month.) If so, he will surely win. He has a talent for words, and a charm that can easily con-vince the voting man to turn a blind eye to his opponent. He has been several times in the state legislature, if I am not mistaken, fortifying his chances for a higher office. If he makes Congressman, I fear (and it is a righteous, hopeful fear) that he will be President, someday. Our Country will be better for it.
Mr. Lincoln has sent me firm news. You may be put off when you hear it, but you will understand why it excites me so.
However, for the moment, I will speak of other things. Our brother-in-law, Benjamin, is one whom I look upon as a treasured friend, as you well know. I have had occasion to think of his boy, Mattie, whom I’ve come to treasure as my own. Our nephew was six this May 7 past. I do hope you made a point to see him on his b-day. Little Mattie has asked me about a sharpening stone for the knife I gave him this most recent Christmas. I left one for him in the hall cupboard. It is wrapped in a small scrap of tanned hide. I was remiss and do not think I mentioned it to you before my Company rode out for Maneuvers. Please give it to him, if you have not done so already.
Do not forget Ben’s little Molly, either, my Dear Mary Ann. She also brings my emotions to bear. I am sure she has grown taller. Is she even more the image of your dear sister, Martha? I am filled with confidence that her dimples still shine when she laughs. I can see her even now as she follows Mattie around like a small puppy. I left a small doll for her. You will find it in the cupboard adjoining the stone. I miss them both, and I long for our own child to arrive each time I am reminded of them.
You do remember Benjamin’s references to his elder half-brother, Cpt. Matthew Duncan? Although he is now deceased, you are very good at recalling all the varied details of people’s stories, and I am sure you have not forgotten him. I must admit, that after your sister Martha’s passing, there are those who would say Benjamin’s family is no longer yours. I disagree wholeheartedly. He may be forced to assume the tedious roll of lowly brother-in-law in accord-ance with the law, but in my heart, he is closer than a brother. I have told you this many times, my Mary Ann, and you know I mean it in all sincerity.
I wish to tell you of a new attachment to Col. Kearny’s command. Just this month past, a Maj. Thomas Swords joined the company. I have not chanced to meet him as of yet, but by all reports, he seems most proud of his rank. For that reason, I believe his commission of maj. to be fresh to him. It is of interest to me that Maj. Swords served with Gen. Henry Leavenworth against the Indians, although I know that you, my Mary Ann, will be more interested in other details of my story.
Benjamin’s elder half-brother served with Maj. Swords at Fort Leavenworth slightly more than a decade past, although Swords was merely a lieut. at the time. It seems there arose some ‘Bad Blood’ between them, and they had a severe falling out.
I have not learned the reasons for the ‘Bad Blood,’ but it is most curious to me. To do no disservice to Maj. Swords, I have begun to entertain an earnest consideration that the good maj. may be the sort inclined to carry a grudge. If that should be the case, then both brother-in-law Benjamin, as well as Cpt. Duncan’s son (if he serves in the United States Mounted Rifles as expected during this upcoming incur-sion), may well be ripe for Maj. Swords’ barbs. It is well known within the officers’ circles that Col. Kearny, the man who might lead us all into battle, and Maj. Swords are of the closest military associates. Pray that the col. does not over-look his duty, for we must have good superior officers to quell such atrocities.
Still, I must trust that Maj. Swords will be above the ghosts of his past, for to his credit I hear he can be a man of quick perception and quite dashing when he is with the ladies. I must be optimistic that Maj. Swords’ dashing qual-ities are deeply engrained, so as to allow him to treat our brother-in-law with consideration, especially as Benjamin’s rank of cpt. hardly exceeds that of maj. Otherwise, trouble could brew, as we will be on the advance for quite some time.
Have you come upon my news yet, dear Mary Ann? Without thinking, I have hinted at it numerous times. Now I fear I may as well tell you all. In my letter previous, I hinted at the possibility of war. You must be of good cheer, Mary Ann, when you read my newest words, and remember to plant the Summer squash and tend the peppers you planted along the Southern wall. You did plant them, I trust. You must keep the weeds back, or they will suffer greatly. Minding such tasks will be the curative to keep your thoughts free of distress when you hear my news.
War is here, dear Mary Ann. Such is the news I have directly from Mr. Lincoln. Pres. Polk has already sent a message to the Congress asking that war be declared, as Mexico has already spilt the blood of Americans on Ameri-can soil. You know we must respond, my dear Wife. As a Country we have no choice if we are to retain our proud standing against the tyrants that would bring our Great Land down. If your dear sister, Martha, were still alive, she would tell you so, and she would stand at your side, as she watched Benjamin and myself ride away to war. When that day comes, I shall gallop to battle with pride in my heart, if only I can see your handkerchief waving in the air, as you send your love. Your undying support will bolster my determi-nation to crush the evil that attacks our Freedoms from every location possible.
Mary Ann, I know you have been worried about the nearness of our baby’s birth. Have no fear. My things are packed, and no force under Heaven or on Earth will keep me from being at your side when God Above gifts us with this new life. Give me one short day, and I shall be with you. Meanwhile, insist that Sissy stay at your side day and night from the time you receive this letter, until I once again hold your hand.
As always, my Dear Mary Ann, without you, my life is forfeit. I would that you were at my side each step of my day. If our great Country did not have a dearth of good soldiers, I would throw my Commission to the wind and remain at your side eternally. Alas, my loyalty to my Country and my fellow soldiers will not allow me such a selfish indulgence. You surely understand.
My Sincerest Regards one final time before we meet again, my Most Wonderful Wife, and may our Faith in God bring us together again, soon.
Your Loving Husband,
Lt. Thomas C. Hammond
United States Army
PLATTE CITY, MISSOURI
Home of Judge Matthew Hughes
MAY 14, 1846
“Father?” Mary Ann Hammond leaned against the doorpost holding the letter in her hand, a flush across her cheeks. Her eyes were rimmed in tears. “Sister Martha has been brought to mind, and I find myself in a moment of sorrow.”
The wood was thick and sturdy against her shoulder, and its touch reminded her of the years she had spent growing up in this substantial home. The memories were wrapped in private time spent with her sisters, as well as grand parties, also, great assemblages of soldiers from across the river showing up en masse at the Hughes’ Platte City manse to mingle with the beautiful daughters of the Honorable Judge Hughes.
Today, however, the baby she carried firmly secured in her womb made her tired once again. Even in her weariness, she was quite beautiful, as were all her father’s daughters. Her skin was pale, and her eyes lit her face as if etched with the darkest of umber. Loose today, her hair fell in natural curls past her shoulders, casting her as too youthful to bear the child she obviously supported inside. Full lips that seemed as if they were perpetually ready to smile made everyone love her, especially the army men who traveled across the river to Mrs. Hughes’ flamboyant soirées.
Mary Ann had caught one of those soldiers, just as her elder sister Martha had done a number of years before. Martha had married Captain Benjamin Moore, a younger half-brother of the Honorable Joseph Duncan. She had over-heard her father telling a visiting general that the tall, swarthy governor with the piercing eyes and straight black hair had introduced the first bill providing for free education in Illinois when he was just a state senator. Only a man of the highest ideals would commit to so worthy a purpose, and for Captain Moore to be a blood relation to such a person had roused something akin to good-natured envy in Mary Ann’s breast.
Martha was gone now. She had traveled with her treas-ured soldier on his military forays, as some soldiers’ wives were wont to do, but she had not been of military consti-tution. Her normally sturdy health had suffered for it, and her exposure to the elements had taken its toll. When she had returned to Leavenworth, Benjamin had sent a post to Platte City as quickly as a horseman could ride, and Mary Ann and her father had traveled to be at her side the very next morning.
However, within weeks, she had slipped from her earthly life to the Heavenly realms, leaving her infant daughter, her beloved Benjamin, and her three-year-old son behind to mourn her passing.
Now, though, Mary Ann’s officer was away, and there was a baby wanting to see the light of the sun. Carrying the weight of this child brought beads of perspiration to her brow.
Judge Hughes sat at his desk, and at the sound of his daughter’s voice, he looked up from his papers. A sturdy man gone to middle age, his coat was draped over the back of his chair, and he wore his cravat underneath his collar. The rumors of war had kept him preoccupied of late, but when he saw Mary Ann, he smiled, and then he noticed the moisture on her forehead and the paper in her hand. Exhaustion was written across her features.
“My precious Mary Ann,” the judge exclaimed as he pushed his chair back and drew to his feet. “You shouldn’t be standing in the warmth of the afternoon. Here, come sit in this chair.” He took her hand, and with a stern look, he pulled her from the door.
“Thank you, Father.” She seated herself with the utmost care, adjusting her skirts around the enormous swelling that made her appear nearly three times her normal girth. Each time she seemed to find herself accustomed to her new shape, it enlarged once again, and she was more discomfited than ever before in her movements throughout the day. It was wearying, and she was ready for the baby inside her to scramble forth. However, she wasn’t ready for it to show its little head until its father was at her side.
“You have something in your hand. Is it news from Thomas, pray tell?” Judge Hughes gently brushed the moist tendrils of hair from his daughter’s temples as he knelt at her side. He loved this youngest daughter of his, and he always had. He refused to feel guilty that he cared for her more than her deceased sister even when they were both alive. He accepted that youngest daughters were like that for all fathers, loved more and deeper, simply because they were the youngest, and for no other reason.
“Here.” Mary Ann handed him the letter as she closed her eyes against the sudden tiredness she felt in them. “He loves me dearly. He tells me so, as usual, and very eloquently, also. However,” and she gave a small laugh, “if it’s possible, I feel certain his love for our brother-in-law surpasses even that he feels for me.” Missing Thomas was the true reason for her red eyes. She took a handkerchief from a pocket and dabbed at her forehead. “Oh, Father. I’m completely weary of carrying two people around on limbs meant for one. I’m always excessively tired, and Sissy is off on another of her oh-so-important errands. Thomas says to tell her she cannot leave my side, but if he were here, he would realize the silliness of that instruction.” She waved the letter at him. “Just read this, and you will see.”
“He’s on his way home, I trust?” Judge Hughes took the letter from his daughter’s hands and ran his practiced eyes over the script written by his son-in-law’s hand, catching the words telling of the upcoming war. He turned his eyes for a moment, not wanting his daughter to sense his moment of distress. He had expected events would come to this. Also, he knew of the ‘Bad Blood,’ as his son-in-law made reference. Judge Hughes had seen the court-martial from the 2nd of July, 1835. Benjamin Moore’s elder half-brother, Captain Matthew Duncan, had served with Major Swords at Fort Leavenworth slightly more than a decade before, although Swords had been merely a lieutenant. It seems they had a severe falling out.
The first charge had been quite serious, insofar as 1st Lieutenant Swords had found the gall to send a challenge to Captain Duncan with the intention to fight a duel. Swords and two of his companions, Lieutenants Hamilton and Wheelock, had desired to discredit Captain Duncan and had challenged the man to said duel. Captain Duncan had refused to be called out, and for that he could be fully grate-ful, for Swords was later roundly cashiered.
More humorous, yet, had been the second charge in the court-martial. It seemed that 1st Lieutenant Swords then took it upon himself to upbraid and censure his good son-in-law’s elder half-brother for not accepting the aforemen-tioned challenge to fight said duel, decrying, “What sort of a captain Colonel Dodge has to depend on, to go out against the Indians!”
Such accusations had hurt Captain Duncan little in Judge Hughes’ eyes. Before his Army days, Benjamin’s elder half-brother had printed the first book in Illinois, Pope’s Digest, and had begun publishing the first newspaper in Illinois. The paper was The Illinois Herald, Judge Hughes believed, although he recalled that after Captain Duncan sold it, the new proprietors renamed it the Illinois Intelligencer for their own purposes. He mentioned none of that to his daughter. Rather, he sent a smile her direction.
“A few days, he says, and the letter is dated the 13th of May.” He looked at Mary Ann. “Perhaps even this night, or at the latest, on the morrow.” He nodded at the news, even as he considered how his own wife would fare when she heard that war was imminent. Mrs. Hughes worried for her sons-in-law more than most. Pushing that thought away, he kept his expression neutral as he encouraged his most treas-ured offspring. “You should be pleased, my daughter.”
She groaned, keeping her eyes closed. “I will be pleased when this protuberance is gone from my midsection.” Her hand lay across her swollen belly, and she gave a deep sigh. Then she relented and opened her eyes to peer petulantly at the paternal tower of strength at her side.
“You are pleased that your soldier is coming home, my Mary Ann?” Her father smiled tentatively, hoping for her face to light in a smile of its own.
“Very, Father.” A bright smile broke her dour expres-sion, and in that small thing, she once again revealed the beauty she had carried since a girl.
Her father smiled back, this time without reservation, and he stood. “Then, my daughter, we must make prepar-ations. I think a ham from the smokehouse might be just the thing, and I do know your Thomas likes my hams im-mensely.”
She laughed as she patted the ’kerchief to her face one more time. “That he does, Father. He likes your hams almost as much as he likes me.”
He winked at her. “Almost is all the difference in the world. Trust me. Be glad for almost.”
“Ham, Father.” She waved him away. “Go find Cook, and tell her we wish for ham. I think I’ll close my eyes and dream of my Thomas right here in the room with me.”
The judge whispered, “You do that,” as he reached to kiss his daughter, but by the time his lips touched her cheek, her eyes were closed, and her breathing had evened into the first moments of a well-deserved rest. He chuckled softly, “Yes, my Mary Ann, you do that.”
He rose to find Cook and that blasted Sissy. She was a wicked girl, and the judge intended to give her a very firm piece of his mind. However, the ham came first, because, after all, one must have one’s priorities in order, or life dissolves into anarchy, and what good would that do?
Friday, May 15, 1846. Saturday previous, fellow trapper Basil Lajuenuesse was killed, as were 2 others of our party. I had made up my mind to speak to Fremont on the morrow about his lack of a watchman, but as we had seen no trouble, and in any case, I did not have the leadership of the Expedition, I felt I had no just cause for immediate alarm. Now I know the terrible realization that my friend Basil has paid the price for my lack of conviction. I can only console myself that an effort on my part to bring the matter to Fremont’s attention was initiated, although it was regrettably forced aside by unforeseen circumstances. Such efforts I will relate now, for I wish to amelorate [sic] my own complicity in the matter of Basil’s death.
Before our troubles had beset us, and upon realizing there was no watchman, I had gone to Fremont’s quarters, seeing a light in his tent. When I called to him as I approached, he bade me enter, and I did so without hesitation, my concern about the watchman ready to spill from my mouth. Then, with a sweep of my eyes, I saw we were not alone. There, huddled in the candlelight with Fremont, was a man, Lt. Archibald Gillespie, who had arrived in camp with a dispatch containing a Correspondence only that day.
Seeing Fremont and Gillespie together at the light with their heads bent over the Correspondence, I bit back the harsh words I had brought with me. I do hold respect in my breast for Fremont, for I have been with him for nearly 4 years now, and this is our 3rd Survey Mission together, although this is no longer a Survey Mission by any credible means.
I did not know whether to welcome or despise this Gillespie, for he seemed to consider himself superior at first. His manner seemed proud, at the onset, and I felt much annoyed. Then, after hearing that our Expedition, commenced the Summer past, had successfully stirred up Patriotic Enthusiasm among the American settlers in California, Lt. Gillespie sang a different canary’s tune. His simple dispatch then proved itself to be from President Polk commending our Expedition and officially making us a Military Force.
I was mistaken to let such a moment distract me, yet that was exactly what I allowed. At the time, I felt I dared not correct Fremont’s perceived lack of judgment in front of Gillespie, for I have learned that Fremont is a very jelous [sic] man where his standing among men is in question. I am sure it has to do with his Illegitimate birth, but it seems to me, if not to Fremont, he has remedied that quite nicely. His advantageous Marriage to the daughter of a United States Senator from Missouri certainly overshadows the debacal [sic] of his bawdy birth.
I now know I should have voiced my words no matter, but I did not. It saddens me that Basil is dead, but I have had my revenge. Twice, by my own hand. More than twice by others’ efforts. I am also deeply indebted to Fremont for my very life.
The Indian Savages attacked us without warning or provocation. I had barely left Fremont’s tent when I heard the 1st arrow fling itself past my head. We suffered several injuries as well the loss of 3 good men before the attackers were beaten back. One of the attackers, a Klamath Lake Native, did not escape, however, and in my rage, I smashed his face to a pulp. Afterwards, I regretted my lack of self-control, but it was all for Basil, in any case. When a good friend is speared undeservedly by an Indian’s cruel arrow, Retribution must be made, no matter the Regrets that lie in store. I would want the same service done for me, if the hide were tanned on the opposite side.
The following day, the Indians tasted our wrath. Fremont gathered a party of willing participants, and in light of the Klamath native whom I’d so soundly pulverized the night before, we retaliated against an Indian fishing village named Dokdokwas. The entire place was completely destroyed, even to the women and the children. Fremont was in a fury as he ran the final Indians down, but he gave them no quarter, just as our peaceful encampment had been given no quarter the night just gone.
Afterward, as I drew my gun to shoot one of the last Klamath warriors from the village, he raised to fire a poison arrow at me. I felt no fear, as I am an Excellent Shot. Indeed, I can hit a target square at 100 paces. Still, I pulled the trigger, and I was wide-eyed with surprise when my gun misfired. I was certain Sudden Death would be my companion before the sun should set against the hills. It was not to be so. Fremont, to whom I now owe my life, charged from the trees and trampled the savage to his death.
So, 2 of the savages (and many more, in any case) paid for Basil’s death at my hand. I am heartbroken at the loss of a friend, but I feel the debt has been fully and firmly compensated. Now, I can only hope that with a possible confrontation against the Mexicans looming over our heads, the action will be as swift and decisive as our Retribution against these Indian Savages. I am sure that, if we are in God’s Will, it shall be so.