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When The Drums Stop

When The Drums Stop

Book excerpt


The Civil War of the United States is one of the darkest times in our history. Family and friends alike fought for and against each other. A nation divided by political, economic, and ethical issues turned to violence to resolve their long-standing dispute. Four years of unfathomable bloodshed left much of the United States in ruin, but with darkness came an overwhelming and undeniable light that shone through the heroic deeds of brave men and women alike who were determined to see this great nation move forward and become a beacon of hope for the world.

My motivations for this book came from my Grandfather, Bill Roach, who discovered a direct ancestor that not only fought through the last two years of the war but who survived it. Anderson Roach was born in Tennessee and just prior to coming of legal age he selflessly joined the Union Army, Eighth Tennessee Volunteer Cavalry assigned to Fox Company. Although this is a work of historical fiction I have done my best to follow Anderson’s footsteps through the conflict and attempt to illustrate the many hardships he would have endured. As a former U.S. Marine, I am no stranger to the demands placed upon a military man and the great strain on one’s mind, body, and spirit. Anderson himself participated in nearly forty-seven recorded engagements with Confederate forces during his two-year tour; many of which lasted for several days at a time. I am dismayed to say that although I did not cover every engagement I have tried to cover those that were most significant for his unit and the war effort.

So, it is that I hope I have captured some of Anderson’s experiences and emotions through the trials of Civil War era combat, the bonds that he undoubtedly forged, and the terrible pain of loss he most certainly would have experienced on a regular basis. We salute you Anderson Roach and thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your great sacrifice. You will not be forgotten.

Chapter One - Reflections – August 1922

What is it that makes men hate each other with such fervor? What is it that would drive brothers and cousins to murder one another for an ideal and cast away the love that they once had? It is only truth that nature, and the animals within it, can be unforgiving as they strive to endure; but then, then there is man, and man is a whole different creature entirely. Men will murder each other simply for an ideal, and if your ideal differs from theirs they will burn down forests, poison streams, and paint the once serene green fields a bloody crimson until they have what in their mind is just and right.

The thick fog of death is a vile thing, and in those days it happened again, and again, and again, and no matter how many times death visited it never became any easier, it never sat right with me what we done. It only poisoned me further and drove me to do things with my hands I never thought I would do. Even in my worst nightmares I had never dreamed of the things that I witnessed with my own eyes, the terrors that happened right there in front of me and the shadow of the past that I would carry through the rest of my life. War is often a necessary thing and it is only right to serve one’s country in the struggle of a good cause; but for those of us who fought that war, who lived through it, the cause become lost somewhere between decaying corpses and bloodied fists.




“Mr. Roach?” A soft young woman’s voice called out to me but I found myself staring blankly at the census paper I had received in the mail just a fortnight ago. Despite her welcoming call I felt no sense of urgency to respond to her and continued to stare vacantly at the page gleaming over its many seemingly innocent questions. Government of the United States, it read in bold faced letters. It all seemed so official and reminded me of those papers posted all over dusty little towns during the war. “Mr. Roach?” she called out to me again just a little louder this time. I slowly lifted my head and nodded at the young woman sitting across from me behind a makeshift desk in the primary school gymnasium. Pressing my hand firmly against the chair next to me I forced my aching body upward and straightened out my back pushing the weight of my frame against a worn oak cane I held with a numb hand. Each step I embarked upon was planned and mindful so not to fall over. As I reached the chair across from the young woman I slowly sat down and adjusted my wrinkled shirt as to be presentable in public. The young woman was slender, dark hair and fair skin with chestnut brown eyes that I seemed to fall into like warm quicksand. She reminded me of someone, someone I had known long ago in a place that somehow no longer seemed real or even possible. She pulled loose strands of hair from her forehead and tucked them behind her ear as she quietly cleared her throat. Her clothing was simple, a long grey dress, stockings, and black flat shoes; perhaps the daughter of a businessman in town.

“Good afternoon…” I said with a hoarse voice. Clearing my throat, I repeated myself. “Good afternoon Ms. How are you today?”

“I’m just fine Mr. Roach, thank you for asking and good afternoon to you as well. Mr. Roach my name is Miss Johnson. Thank you kindly for taking the time to meet with us today. I see you received the census the U.S. Government had sent you. Were so happy you decided to come today.” There was something about this young woman. I couldn’t put my finger on it and I couldn’t bring myself to look away from her face either. She seemed put off by this bewilderment of mine but tried hard not to show it. I gazed down at my hands that rested on the top of my cane; pale white and cracked I hardly believed they were my hands at all.

“Well young Miss I am obliged to be here.” I pulled my cane in further to the front of me and adjusted both hands on top leaning forward so I could hear her clearly. My hearing just wasn’t what it used to be and sometimes they would ring something awful or I would hear things that weren’t even there.

“Did you have an opportunity to fill out the form Mr. Roach?” I slowly lifted the paper from the desk and handed it over to the young woman.

“It should all be there. It should all be there Miss.” She gently took the form from me with her long slender fingers and quickly looked over my answers. I found myself nodding off to sleep and swiftly sat up straight to wake myself. Old age is a terrible state, one that I hoped I could muster the strength and resolve to get through with some dignity. The young woman placed the form firmly against the thick oak table and straightened out her simple dress before posturing upright behind her type writer. She placed her hands gracefully over the mechanical writing tool extending her fingers straight as a board.

“Mr. Roach, the U.S. Government has asked us to record as much information as possible from the men who had served in the Civil War and I wondered if it would be alright for me to ask you some questions and strike them down for the record on my type writer?” I nodded and smiled politely. Glancing at the bulky grey machine sitting in front of her I rolled my eyes and scoffed at the thought of the typed word. I never did learn how to use a typewriter. Damn things seemed just wrong to me, just wrong. The inventions they created these days were just appalling and appeared aimed at encouraging the very laziest of people to indulge in their sin. How could a typed letter ever convey ones’ character or sincerity?  

“Of course, of course. It’s not often I get a chance to meet new people.” I coughed and cleared my throat before looking at her again and smiling. She smiled back with rosy red lips and dimples in her cheeks that just lit up the room like fireflies on a warm summers evening.

“Thank you Mr. Roach. Mr. Roach, can you please state your full name for the record?” I took a deep breath and replied confidently.

“A.J. Jackson or Anderson Jackson Roach if it pleases you Miss.” She quickly went down a list she had laid out on a wooden clipboard checking things off as she went with a lead pencil. The paper was worn and it seemed that she had interviewed many other gentlemen before me. I glanced at the names curious to see if I would recognize any of them from service. Some of the names had check marks next to them, others had question marks and some a line through the name and check box entirely, probably deceased long ago. It was a wonder I had lived this long and a miracle by the grace of god that I made it through the war when so many men, young and old, did not. I was spared the bullet, the bayonet, and the cannon but old age showed me little mercy and at times the bullet would have seemed a mercy to the ravages of time.

“And your age Sir? How old are you?” I stopped and thought about it for a moment. I wasn’t quite eighty years old yet but things were a little fuzzy these days.

“Old? I’m not old young Miss. I am seventy-five years young Miss, born in the year of our Lord, Eighteen Forty-Seven.” The woman laughed under her breath but quickly composed herself pulling a loose strand of hair back behind her ear.

“And what state and county were you born in Sir?” My heart warmed and I proudly replied.

“The great state of Tennessee in the greatest county of Tennessee that there ever was, Grainger County Miss. Grainger County Tennessee.”

“And what state and county were you living when you enlisted in the Confederacy or Federal Government?” I found it interesting that she said Confederacy first probably assuming my allegiance to the South since our state had seceded and so many had joined the ranks of Old Johnny Reb.

“I enlisted in the Federal Government in Grainger County Miss. Grew up there all my young life and lived there most of my life after the war.”

“And what was your occupation before the war Sir?”

“I worked the land just as most good men did. I was a farmer.” She grinned and glanced up at me with a crinkled nose.

“And your father Sir? What was his occupation?”

“My father was a farmer and his father before him. Farmers all around Miss. No better way of life. I’d imagine even our ancestors from the old country were farmers to. Runs in the blood.” She placed her hand over her mouth and gently cleared her throat then reached down and took a sip of water from a short glass.

“Did your family own any slaves Mr. Roach?” I quickly shook my head and laughed quietly.

“No Miss, oh goodness no. Do I look like a wealthy man to you? We were a proud family but not a wealthy one. Always enough food and money to get by but certainly not enough to purchase slaves. If we had owned a plantation I most likely would have been on the side of the Confederacy. Though, if we owned a plantation I most likely would not have fought in the war at all.” She seemed shocked by my answer but I wasn’t sure why. Seemed to be just a matter of fact to me.

“And how much land did your family have before the war? Did your family own land before the war?” It had been so long but I thought back hard to Paw and all the talk he gave me about our great piece of earth. Paw loved that plot of dirt dearly and although it did not bring us much in the way of fortune it sure did bring a lot of great memories. On our land, we were kings, on our land we were free to do as we pleased.

“Thirty-five glorious acres of Tennessee soil, some of it black as oil and some of it as red as blood. The perfect place to grow your crop.”

“Do you recall the value of the property owned by your family?” I scratched my scalp through my balding head. What I wouldn’t give for a full head of hair again.

“Oh, I suppose it was no more than five hundred dollars at the time. Land was cheap back then but you must understand that was a great deal of money for the time. How my father ever came across that much money in the first place I will never know.”

The Unlucky Man

The Unlucky Man