During my youth, “The Little Engine That Could”, was my favorite children’s book. My Mum would read it to me almost every night before bed. It was not just the story that would captivate my attention, it was my Mum. I would sit down next to her on the side of my bed, while leaning my head against her left shoulder. The sound of my Mum’s soft voice would ease my tired mind into a world of imagination, while my body shut down for the night. Story time like that should give your son or daughter a good chance at a normal childhood – right? I would now have to admit that an exception would have to be attached to my situation. I don’t know a reason, or what happened, but there always was a need to fill my mind with the subject of History. A very large part of my life was always devoted to living in the time of the American Civil War. All the three years, eleven months, and twenty-eight days of death, attrition, poor sanitation, and poor health during a time of war in the 1860’s– had me completely mentally consumed. There were times in which my thoughts would just focus on the pictures, or certain soldiers. The time that was spent being mentally absent, seemed right. This would be one of the innumerable ways of coming to terms with understanding my personality.
The short Prelude was my way of setting up my introduction for this essay – an entertaining way of developing a visual image in your mind so you can see what I am thankful for in life. There are actually a multitude of different scenarios in which a person can articulate the reasons that cause their mind to understand the concept of gratitude. I wake up every day motivated by an internal ignition switch that compels me to get moving. I would like to say that this has been a way of life, even in my youth – but that would be an incomplete truth. My perpetual mixture of unbalanced emotions which cause me to make things better, and my children are what focus my compulsions every day. Like so many other people, my stories throughout life are similar in many aspects. These events we weave animate and bind our own ideas which sculpted this character we all use to define ourselves. Even the personal baggage we all carry with us can slow us down at times. I lived through adversity while at school, and jobs, friendships, marriage, and even parenthood. I have had to deal with death of loved ones, struggles with certain topics during school, a Father who gave up on me, a replacement Father who took over the role of parenthood, lack of friendships, and even a first marriage that ended in failure. Through it all, I have always made it to the end of each obstacle in life. I have cherished all the blessings which were bestowed upon me, and came out feeling so grateful for it all. Good and bad, full or flush – never will my life experiences in which I was dealt ever cause me to regret a moment of it.
During 1863, Americans were experiencing the struggles of life dealing with the consequences of a Civil War. Amongst the many strong spirited Americans, one particular woman by the name of Sarah Josepha Hale had sent an editorial to President Abraham Lincoln. This editorial expressed by Sarah, was her way of requesting that there should be a recognized National Holiday for giving thanks. Mr. Lincoln was not, the first President who had the pleasure of reading these editorials, but he was the last. On October 3rd 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a National Thanksgiving Day, to be celebrated on the final Thursday in November. Up until that time, the idea of Thanksgiving never even closely came to morphing into a concept in a person’s mind. Since 1621, the Plymouth Colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared a time in autumn so the families would harvest and celebrate their thanks. For more than two centuries, celebrations of sorts were designated by individual Colonies and States. During my youth, Thanksgiving was just as important like as Christmas or Halloween. I remember having to sit with my Sister and Cousin at the little kids table while observing our parents exchanging friendly banter, memories, and laughter amongst each other throughout the night. As I am older now with my own children, Thanksgiving still carries that inherited feeling of importance. I am very proud of my newly extended family and all the extra treasures that make their way through my day. I would like to express my own way of showing thanks, but this will be different. I love to write Poetry, Quotes, and Stories which help express my feelings that are not always shared daily. The following excerpt is a letter in which I wrote to my wife sharing with her, all the wonderful things about my life. This letter is a little different; I like to add a unique twist. When writing this letter, my idea was to put myself during that place and time in history. The Battle, Colonel Gordon, date, and time is factual, but the emotional feelings expressed by the author is fictional.
By Jeb Bensing 2013
A LETTER TO MY WIFE AT HOME
Private Jeb Bensing
Thursday, September 18th, 1862
Captain James McGee Commanding
My Dear Bernadette,
I hastily write to you with the littlest amount of strength that is left in my arms. I had a mini ball hit me right in the abdomen, and fear that there is not much time left for me on this earth. It was a hard fought battle, and almost took the whole day. My regiment started on the move from the Hagerstown Pike around six in the morning. Colonel Gordon had put our men along this slightly bent sunken road facing the East Woods. The 6th Alabama were dead center of that sunken road. To the left of us were the; 26th, 12th, 3rd, and 5th Alabama Regiments. To the Right of us were the; 2nd, 14th, 4th, and 30th North Carolina Regiments. My chest was flush up against the bank of the sunken road. During this time our Alabama regiment was waiting, and focused on the East Woods. For a moment there, my senses began to notice the smell of the grass and taste of the dry dirt. It seemed like an eternity, but most likely it was only about a half hour. Around 9:00 in the morning, a cool breeze brushed across my face, and my mind noticed a lull which blanketed the field. There were no cannons being fired, no clatter of quick shuffling feet, pointless banter amongst men, just that slow breath, and keen focus of sight on what is about to come up over the gentle hill that was situated within yards of our front. Every man instinctively knew what to expect, and just waited patiently as the Officers took charge, calmly moving up and down along the line calling out orders for our next move. I rolled my body over enough to one side, noticing Colonel John B. Gordon walking about us along the sunken road. Colonel Gordon is always looking so calm, like as if it was any given Wednesday morning. The Colonel has a way about himself, which is bestowed upon his men, that signifies inspiration. That inspiration which animates and binds all of us to fight until the sun goes down, or when every man has fallen in front of the muzzle of a musket. As I was lying there engulfed in my thoughts, Private Walker hits my shoulder. Walker yells at me to turn around and focus or a mini ball is going to hit me in the back of the head. I shake my day dreaming thoughts from my mind, and that is when my eyes focus on what had begun to move toward our front from beyond the East Woods, and Miller Farm. You first begin to see the very top of a staff which holds a flag, only if you force the eyes squint for a better focus. I may be having trouble with seeing off in the distance, but there clearly is no difficulty in hearing that sound. As we lay there waiting, the eardrum begins to vibrate, and the heart becomes overwhelmed with fear. You find your mind starts to concentrate on the object which is moving with a universal rhythm, while emerging from up over that green field. The thud of boots as they strike the ground while at a slow march. The shouting of men directing movement, and that deep sounding drum, as the band marches you off into battle. What may seem like hours are really only minutes that pass as you begin to see the panoramic view of death, disguised as men dressed in clean well pressed blue uniforms. A mixture of emotions and thoughts rattle around in my mind, one cannot help but begin to feel a little claustrophobic. There is no turning back now; it is too late for that lost opportunity. I then suck it up, grip my musket tighter until my fingers begin to feel numb. I then hear Private Brooks shout, “Can we shoot at those Yanks now sir?” with a quick response, behind me a voice calmly replies, “Not yet – wait for the order”. Colonel Gordon never lets a second of hesitation slip past him. Those men marching shoulder to shoulder, while they brace their musket over their right side, all look like they are hypnotized on the smell of death. It is a sight to see, and reflect on if you live long enough to have placed those memories deep in the back of the mind. With the precision of step, the gleam of bayonets which reflects off the sun, your mind develops a photographic picture that will never be effaced from my memory.
Now, I find myself writing to you on this mid Thursday afternoon on the 18th of September. My heart has been aching since I had seen you and the kids last January during my furghlow. I would give my last ounce of coffee beans and pork, if it meant seeing you for one last time. There have been times I would hear your voice whisper in my ear while on the march, or in the tent. Your voice has resonated deep into the back of my mind, like the sound of the wind that would whisper passed you ear on calm Sunday morning. I want to assuage your pain and sorrow, by letting you know that it will be alright from here on out. You can never carry any shame or guilt from the results which come with this war. You can take pride in the fact that you had the opportunity with supporting my decisions with making a difference. I will take with me the love and joy, in which you have showed, and expressed me. I would like to share with you now, this understanding within me, like a splinter in the mind. I truly feel that there is nothing which could have been better for me in my short life. My memories of our wonderful children, Savannah and Jared help carry me through each day. The love and moments all together, will never be effaced from my memory.
Your loving and affectionate Husband,
- Expressing Thanks
Our four Basic Holiday's have changed in many ways over the years. Attention is focused more on Holiday Specials, than their foundational meaning. Whatever happened to Thanksgiving?
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© 2013 Jeb Stuart Bensing