“The seemingly endless time of cold darkness crept past in a succession of grey days and long nights.
In its camps, the Army of Northern Virginia once again experienced the religious fervor that came to them when they were not busy. At such times, men of all faiths sought solace in prayer and gathered in revival meetings where many found the inner peace that war denied them.
Families came to the winter camps to spend the season with their men. Most boarded with local families. Bearded warriors held in their arms for the first time tiny folk who had not yet been seen. The children brought joy to them all, but in the evenings the soldiers brooded over their families, their thoughts unreadable in the light of the fireplaces.
Amateur theatrical productions were a natural gift of this army, something so familiar from home that the men expected them. Wooden theaters sprang up in the snow and frost caked mud. These were crude structures of field sawn boards, each with its glowing pot-bellied iron stove. The programs were filled with familiar plays, but some of them were only a year or so old in London or New York. One of these was entitled “Our American Cousin.”
Balthazar was fond of the theater. At school in England, he had been prominent in Christmas pantomime and Shakespeare alike. Now, he did all a commander properly could to interest his men in this activity, thinking it a healthy diversion from the boredom of the winter. The Stephen Foster songs he had heard in Richmond appeared on the boards as renditions by his battalion chorus. Soldiers’ singing groups were a tradition in the French Army. He followed the custom in America. The foreigners in the battalion made up the backbone of the soloists and Joseph White played the piano to accompany. His skill was yet another of Clotilde Devereux’s gifts to the Whites. Balthazar played the role of Falstaff in a Second Corps’ officers’ production of “The Merry Wives of Windsor.” His English accent and baritone were praised around sentry fires for weeks after the play’s run.
Food was short that winter, but the Commissary Department managed to deliver just enough to give everyone a chance to rebuild strength worn down by years of deprivation.
Sick and rundown horses and mules were sent to the big veterinary hospital at Lynchburg. Cynics laughed at the possibility of seeing them again, knowing that the army supply system would somehow send those beasts who recovered to some other home. Well-loved mounts and the odd artillery horse lucky enough to have a friend were nursed in secret by men who hid them from the veterinary service.
Smoot came back from leave bringing with him his family. He had found that life in western Prince William County had become too hard. They could not be left behind. The Yankee army had learned of his new rank and his wife could not stay with her people any longer.
Balthazar was surprised by Smoot’s wife.
In the crucible of war Smoot had become a worldly person, a man at home in all surroundings and circumstance, a man who looked natural with his feet under Clotilde Devereux’s table.
His wife was not like that. She remained the simple country woman he had left at home in 1861 when he joined Turner Ashby’s cavalry. Balthazar could not but wonder how she would adapt to the life of an officer’s wife if they managed to gain the South’s independence.
Balthazar now understood that Isaac Smoot’s personal world had been forever altered by life in the Devereux household and that the memory of Hope Devereux was lodged in a special place in his inner being. How that would end he could not imagine.
All winter Balthazar trained the battalion, working them hard the whole day long. In the time available he did what he could to transfer to them the knowledge he had gained in a lifetime of active soldiering. Everything he had to give, he gave them, for he felt deep in his bones that the fight coming in the spring would be the greatest fight of the war, perhaps the greatest fight of all time. He continued to teach them battle drills of various kinds, seeking through the inculcation of rote reaction to command to make them into a force more effective than mere numbers would suggest. He also continued to receive reinforcement in the form of individuals that no other command was well suited to absorb. After interviewing them he decided whether or not they were acceptable for inclusion in what he was building. By the middle of February, he had three hundred and fifty men in the battalion.
In the evenings he devoted many hours to instruction of his officers. He found that many of them had soldiered a great deal but there were bad habits to be undone and his own way of doing things to impress on them.”
This is from one of my novels. pl
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