Winter passed. Josiah even shoveled several times from the house to the barn with some guidance from me.
On a long, cold evening in February, Josiah asked if I would read Robin Hood to him. I began and we really enjoyed the time together sharing the book. That was the beginning of me reading to him, something we continued as long as we were together.
One day in late winter, as Josiah and I sat talking, he said, “Elias, I want ya t’ begin yer journal. Ya don’t have t’ write about the battle yet, but when did ya leave off with yer old journal?”
I sighed. I had known this moment was coming. The journal had lain untouched in my dresser drawer. I also knew that Josiah had been very patient, but I just didn’t think I could do it. But I could at least answer his question.
“I stopped just before the Battle of South Mountain,” I said. “I wasn’t actually in that battle, so I suppose mebbe I could write about it.”
Going upstairs I retrieved the journal and my pen and ink and brought them down to the kitchen table. Hesitantly, I began to write. Writing was slow both because I was using my left hand and because I was reluctant to write. A few times I smeared some of the letters as my left hand dragged through the ink, but when I remembered to curl my hand, the writing was at least legible.
When I finished I read what I had written to Josiah. He nodded and allowed as how that was a good beginning.
“Tomorrow we’ll go on,” he said.
I knew I couldn’t, but I didn’t say anything.
The next morning, Josiah insisted that I get the journal again. When I had it and was sitting at the table, he asked, “So what happened the next day? Right after the battle?”
I sighed. I supposed I could actually write about that. The hardest part was walking through the pass and seeing all the dead soldiers of both sides. So in my journal I skipped over that part, but Josiah wouldn’t be satisfied. He said, “If ya went through the pass, ya must have seen some of the dead.”
“I did,” I replied reluctantly.
“How d’ya feel about that?”
“It was terrible! In some places they were stacked like cordwood. Some had shocked expressions or looks of incredible pain on their faces.” By then, tears were welling in my eyes.
“So ya need to write about that,” insisted Josiah.
“Why? If ya could tell me about it why caint ya write about it? Ya see, Elias, I think writin’ about these things could actually help ya deal with the ghosts that are hauntin’ you.”
I dried my eyes and sat for a long time, perhaps as long as a half an hour. There was a battle going on in my mind. One side of my mind was saying, “Perhaps Josiah is right,” while the other half was saying, “There’s no way ya can do this.”
Finally, both sides said, “Ya need to try it. That’s the only way you’ll ever know.”
So I picked up the pen and began to write, adding to what I had already written. It was only a few sentences, but it did fill in the hole in my writing. When I finished, I read it to Josiah.
He nodded and very quietly said, “Wonderful. Ya did it. We’ll do more tomorrow.” Then he asked, “Have ya ever shown yer writin’ to Ma and Pa?”
“No,” I replied. “I’ve always thought it was too personal. The writin’ I’ve shared with ya the last two days is the only writin’ I’ve ever shared with anybody.”
He nodded. “Perhaps ya could try another kind of writin’ someday. Ya love to read stories. D’ya think ya could write stories?”
“I’ve no idea. Mebbe someday I’ll give it a try.”
The next day I wrote about the march towards Antietam Creek. That wasn’t too difficult. But soon I came face to face with the battle itself. How could I ever write about that? I began by writing about crossing the Creek and bivouacking in the field. That wasn’t hard. I found I could write about the early morning — the light and the fog, the booming of cannon, and the crackling of musket fire. But when I got to the point where we moved forwards and I began to see the wounded and the dead, that was nearly impossible.
However, I’d gotten some momentum by then, and I found that I had to keep writing. I had to!!! I had to spill it all out!!! And I did. I wrote and wrote, my hand trembling so much that sometimes the writing was nearly illegible. I wrote about losing Theophilus, but I found the hardest part was writing about Tony trying to hold his guts into his blasted abdomen and begging me to help him. It all poured out. I can’t explain why or how. It just did. I finally stopped when I got to the field hospital.
When I finished, I sat silent, crying my eyes out. Josiah, who had sat patiently through the writing, laid his hand on mine.
“I’ve done it, Josiah, but I don’t think I can read it t’ ya yet.” He said that was fine, so we just sat while I read our current story to him.
That night I expected that I would be awakened by terrible dreams, but I wasn’t. I slept through the night and didn’t wake until Josiah prodded me in the morning. Of course, that wasn’t the end of the dreams. Even now they sometimes return, and now I have nobody to comfort me.
After breakfast, I took my journal, and Josiah and I went into the barn loft for privacy. There I read him what I had written. By the end, we were both in tears.
“Thank ya, Josiah,” I whispered, and I leaned over and kissed him on his lips. “You’ve helped me more than you’ll ever know.”
Thereafter, I continued to write, telling about the amputation, the hospital, coming home, the dreams, and Josiah’s patience.
Spring came, and with it the time of planting. The plowing and planting were somewhat laborious, but we completed them successfully. One of our cows had a calf that spring, and Josiah and I both assisted in the birth.
We resumed going to the pond as the temperatures became warmer, and we usually met Eddie and Tad there, particularly on Sundays. We picked up right where we had left off before I departed, with swimming, tag, ball-playing, and wrestling. I found that even with my damaged arm I could still hold my own when Josiah and I wrestled. Sometimes, I knew, when Josiah and I were wrestling, that he became aroused, but neither of us ever said anything.
“Josiah,” I asked one night as he was rubbing my chest, “aren’t ya disgusted by my stump?” It was the first time I had said the word aloud, and it seemed to hang in the air before Josiah answered.
“Nope. It’s part of ya now, and ya came by it honorably. I’m sometimes sad about it but never, ever, disgusted.”
“Well, I’m still havin’ real problems with it. I don’t wanna go anywhere where strangers can see me; I don’t like t’ look in the mirror; I hate t’ be reminded of it. When we first began goin’ back t’ the pond with yer brothers, I was terribly embarrassed. At first, Tad kind of stared at it. I think mebbe Eddie said something to him ’cause he hasn’t done it since that day. And I understand why Tad would do that, but it was just really hard.”
“I can imagine,” replied Josiah. “And I’m glad he’s stopped. Tell me, does it ever hurt you?”
“Not really, but I still have a phantom arm sometimes.” I had written about the phantom arm in my journal, so Josiah knew about it, and he simply nodded when I mentioned it.
What was surprising to me was that I had absolutely no sexual desires at all, despite the intensity with which Josiah and I had pursued our passions prior to my departure for the army. I had no idea what Josiah was doing to relieve himself — if he was. He never did anything when we were in bed together, and during the day we were together most of the time. I repeatedly apologized for not being able to be more intimate, but he always brushed it off, saying that he hadn’t ever loved me because of sex but because of who I was. I thought more and more about it as the weather turned warmer and finally decided that, like the writing, I needed to do something.
One very hot night, as the two of us lay perspiring in bed, I suggested that we go to the pond for a swim. Josiah loved the idea, so with nightshirts on and towels around our necks we made our way to the pond. The full moon shone in the black sky and bathed the meadow and pond with its magical, silver light. As soon as we arrived we stripped off our nightshirts and waded into the water. The cool water on our skins was wonderfully refreshing, and we paddled about for some time. Finally we climbed out and laid our towels on the ground, where we lay silently, just enjoying the night sounds and the moon and the companionship.
I looked over at Josiah who somehow seemed even more beautiful to me in the moonlight. Slowly, I turned towards him and began rubbing his chest. When he started to roll towards me, I asked him to stay on his back. Propping myself up as best I could on my stump, I began to kiss him, first on his chest and then on his mouth, where I tongued him. He responded eagerly and gave a low moan.
Drawing away for a moment I asked, “Josiah, d’ya remember what I promised I’d do for ya just before I left?” He nodded. “Well, I know I said I’d do it as soon as I got home and I haven’t so I wanna do it tonight.”
“Ya don’t have to,” he murmured, “unless yer really ready to.”
“I’ll never know until I try. Will I?”
He smiled and shook his head. Without speaking I hitched myself up a bit, kissing his neck and his ears, which I bathed with my tongue. Then I tongued his mouth which he accepted eagerly. From there I returned to his chest, licking everywhere and nibbling his nipples, which were now firm. I moved down his stomach and finally to his crotch, all the time rubbing the insides of his legs with my free hand. Finally, my tongue touched his cock, which was hard as a rod of iron. Slowly I licked it while fondling his balls. Then, taking it into my mouth, I plunged down on it so far that for a moment I gagged. Slowly I moved back up to the tip and licked his most sensitive spot. I could feel him growing tense and then he grabbed my head, arched his back, and squirted long and hard into my mouth. When he finally finished and lay back, I once more kissed him for a long time.
“Oh, Elias, that was amazing!” he whispered. “D’ya want me to do it to you?”
I thought about that for a bit and then said, “No, tonight’s all about you.”
In the next hours I brought him to a climax three more times. Finally he said, “That was so wonderful! But I’m afraid I’m exhausted. I’m not even sure I’ll be able t’ walk back t’ the house.” I laughed, got up, helped him up and we returned to the farmhouse and to bed, where we slept peacefully until Ma called us in the morning.
Josiah seemed a little reserved in the morning and did not have much energy to do anything, but of course he recovered, and soon we were back to our old ways, doing each other every night.
I finally felt back to being my old self. I was no longer as conscious of my stump, in fact, I seldom even noticed it.
Josiah and I shared our wonderful love together for many, many years. Of course, when we were in our fifties, having sex multiple times a night was not really an option. But as he had said, we didn’t love each other because of the sex. In fact, we had the sex because we loved each other.
Josiah was of course not happy with the outcome of the war or the way the South was treated, but that all faded in time. I never went back to Antietam and never had any desire to.
As Josiah had suggested, I began writing stories, mostly about farms and farm people because that was what I knew. I always read them to Josiah and he made good suggestions, so in a way we were writing the stories together. In the end I sold a few to the Frederick newspaper, and a couple were picked up by other papers. I also shared my journals with him, both the past ones and the ones I was continuing to write. We had some good laughs over the ones I wrote when I was a boy. When I read the new ones, we cuddled and shared them together.
Ma and Pa lived into their eighties and when they died I inherited the farm. Meanwhile, when Josiah’s parents died and he inherited their farm, he sold it for a dollar to Eddie, who continued to work it. Although Tad had married and moved to Baltimore, he returned at planting and harvest times to help out. At those times we had wonderful family parties. While nobody could cook like our Mas could, we all chipped in. Tad had three boys and girl whom we considered our grandchildren and usually spoiled them. They were sturdy, fun-loving, and capable children and we had many happy times with them.
I suppose that people in town and at church figured out just what Josiah and I were and what we were doing, but nobody ever said anything. Although we had several pastors, not one of them ever condemned us. We were always a welcomed part of the community, where we enjoyed the potluck suppers and the Saturday night socials along with everybody else.
Josiah died, two years ago, so I am now left alone in my late seventies. I miss him every day and every night. I suppose that’s part of what love is, because it must almost always end with a sad parting. But really, my love did not end. I still love him; I still talk to him when I’m alone. When I have a problem, I always ask myself how Josiah would have solved it. He gave me my life back with his patience and his love. I had always hoped that I would die first so I wouldn’t miss him, but I know he still loves me and is watching over me, and someday we will be together again.
First, many, many thanks to Joseph Butterman, who advised me and gave numerous suggestions, particularly regarding the army and the war. Without him, this story probably never would have been completed.
Second, history has recorded that the Battle of Antietam was the deadliest single day in American military history, with a total of 22,720 casualties. Of course, “casualties” included dead, wounded, and missing or captured. The total Union dead were 2,100, while the Confederate dead totaled 1,550. While these are the official numbers, they remain approximate for with such numbers, total accuracy was impossible. Further, during the Civil War, over two thirds of the deaths can be attributed to disease. Also among the wounded about one in seven later died from his injuries.
Other battles had higher figures, but they were battles which ranged over several days. Gettysburg was the deadliest battle, with some 51,000 casualties over 3 days. Others, such as Chickamauga (34,624), The Wilderness (29,000) and Chancellorsville (24,000) also ranked higher.
No matter what figures one uses, however, the numbers from Antietam were appalling.
Finally, Elias’s regiment is fictional. It does, however, closely parallel the 3rd Maryland, which I was unable to use because he would have had to enlist a year earlier.
Index page photo courtesy Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division,
Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs,
reproduction number LC-DIG-ppmsca-26921