~Part Six~

All I had to do was find Jefferson Davis and I would be on my way to a new chapter, or rather to revisiting an older one: the military career I had so rashly abandoned in my youth. Clearly, I had missed my calling!

[Slowly but surely, he convinces himself of this plan's viability. The fiddler senses this and abruptly changes tacks and strikes up an appropriate tune, such as "Loop #7, Tracks." Why, the fiddler may perhaps wonder? Well, why the hell not? And so he plays on.]

However, on my way to Jefferson Davis, I found neither the open plains and deserts of my usual rides nor the toll road and canal toe-paths of my youth; rather I was plunged into a world of beguiling forests and perpetual mud with more than the occasional stray bullet from guns 20 times more accurate than those we used during the wars of my youth.

The mud could swallow up a whole mule, the humidity was soul-sucking, and the hidden pathways I had been instructed to take were sometimes littered with corpses that wild animals had dug up from shallow graves. Displaced families stole and deserters marauded—all speaking my tongue, all perpetuating horrors for flags of the very same color that had so lately stood for two opinions on the very same document! The wreckage, the disease, the runaways, the deserters, the staggering armies of half-starved amputees who often marched in mismatched outfits without shoes—could only remind me of the winter of 1847. I dreamt about those Donner girls' fancy winter coats, the red and the blue—they could have been under either flag.

I made my way up to Richmond during the late autumn rains and soon discovered a new campaign had, um, requested President Davis's attention: Sherman's March to the Sea.

Sherman? Sherman? Surely, not my home state's Senator, I remember thinking. Following the war had proved taxing from Yuma—you had never heard of so many goddamned generals. And, beyond that general generalization, Sherman presented a very special case:

His star had only risen over the course of the time that I was pushing through the forests of the South and it rose purely on Ohio politics: after McClellan, Burnside, and Hooker had failed Lincoln, it was Grant's turn—and Grant had a friend in mind to whom he might give a second chance, William Tecumseh Sherman, the callow redhead who'd never known a comb and had once fancied my wife—that Sherman, lest you forget.