Saturday Excerpt: The Yankee Widow by Linda Lael Miller
Happy Saturday! Fans of Historical Fiction will definitely want to start their weekend off with this brand new read from New York Times bestselling author Linda Lael Miller, The Yankee Widow.
About The Yankee Widow:
Caroline is the young wife of Jacob, who together live on a farm raising their daughter just outside of Gettysburg. When Jacob joins the Northern army, no one anticipates he will not return. Then Caroline gets word that her husband is wounded, and she must find her way alone to Washington City and search among the thousands of casualties to find him.
When Jacob succumbs to his injuries, she brings his body home on the eve of the deadliest battle of the war. With troops and looters roaming the countryside, it is impossible to know who is friend and who is foe. Caroline fights to protect those she holds most dear while remaining compassionate to the neediest around her, including two strangers from opposite sides of the fight. Each is wounded… Each is drawn to her beauty, her kindness. Both offer comfort, but only one secretly captures her heart. Still, she must resist exposing her vulnerability in these uncertain times when so much is at risk.
In The Yankee Widow, gifted storyteller Linda Lael Miller explores the complexities and heartbreak that women experienced as their men took up arms to preserve the nation and defend their way of life.
The first minié ball ripped into Corporal Jacob Hammond’s left hand, the second, his right knee, each strike leaving a ragged gash in its wake; another slashed through his right thigh an instant later, and then he lost count.
A coppery crimson mist rained down on Jacob as he bent double, then plunged, with what felt like a strange, protracted grace, toward the broken ground. On the way down, he noted the bent and broken grass, shimmering with fresh blood, the deep gouges left by cannon balls and boot heels and the lung- ing hooves of panicked horses.
A peculiar clarity overtook Jacob in those moments between life as he’d always known it and another way of being, already inevitable. The boundaries of his mind seemed to expand beyond skull and skin, rushing outward at a dizzying speed, hurtling in all directions, rising past the treetops, past the sky, past the far borders of the cosmos itself.
For an instant, he understood everything, every mystery, every false thing, every truth.
He felt no emotion, no joy or sorrow.
There was peace, though, and the sweet promise of oblivion. Then, with a wrench so swift and so violent that it sickened his very soul, Jacob was back inside himself, a prisoner behind fractured bars of bone. The f lash of extraordinary knowledge was gone, a fact that saddened Jacob more deeply than the likelihood of death, but some small portion of the experience remained, an ability to think without obstruction, to see his past as vividly as his present, to envision all that was around him, as if from a great height.
Blessedly, there was no pain, though he knew that would surely come, provided he remained alive long enough to receive it.
Something resembling bitter amusement overtook Jacob then; he realized that, unaccountably, he hadn’t expected to be struck down on this savage battlefield or any other. Never mind the unspeakable carnage he’d witnessed since his enlistment in Mr. Lincoln’s grand army; with the hubris of youth, he had believed himself invincible.
He had assumed that the men in blue fought on the side of righteousness, committed to the task of mending a sundered nation, restoring it to its former whole. For all its faults, the United States of America was the most promising nation ever to arise from the old order of kings and despots; even now, Jacob was convinced that, whatever the cost, it must not be allowed to fail.
He had been willing to pay that price, was willing still.
Why then was he shocked, nay affronted, to find that the bill had come due, in full, and that his own blood and breath, his very substance, was the currency required?
Because, he thought, shame washing over him, he had been willing to die only in theory. Out of vanity or ignorance or pure naivety, he had somehow, without being aware of it, declared himself exempt.
Well, there it was. Jacob Hammond, husband of Caroline, father of Rachel, son and grandson and great-grandson of sturdy, high-minded folk, present owner of a modest but fertile farm a few miles south of the small but industrious township of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, was no more vital to the noble pursuit of lasting justice for all than any other man was. In any larger scheme, neither his life nor his death would truly matter.
He knew his wounds were grievous, that a quick death was the most merciful fate he could hope for, and still he wanted so much to live, to return to his beloved wife, to his child, to the modest but thriving farm that shone in his memory, fairer than heaven itself.
The sacrifice was terrible, unspeakably so. Was it worthwhile?
Jacob pondered that question, decided that, for him, it was.
The country had splintered, bone and blood, perhaps never to be mended. It was far from the ideal set forth by those bold intellects who had gathered in Philadelphia back in ’76, in a blaze of fractious brilliance.
Somehow, in the sweltering heat of a Pennsylvania summer, and yet no doubt cooler than their collective temperaments— out of dissent, out of greed and ill humor and stubbornness and all manner of other mortal failings—these remarkable men had forged a philosophy, a glorious vision of what a nation, a people, could become.
To Jacob, bleeding into the ground, in the midst of an end- less war, that goal seemed more distant than ever, hopeless, even impossible.
And still, had he been able, he would have fought on, died not just once but a thousand times, not for the country as it was, but for the noble, sacred objective upon which it had been founded—liberty and justice for all.
Whatever the cost, the Union must hold together.
So much hung in the balance, so very much. Not only the hope and valor of those who had gone before, but the freedom, perhaps the very existence, of those yet to be born.
In solidarity, the United States could be a force for good in a hungry, desperate world. Torn asunder, it would be ineffectual, two bickering factions, bound to divide into still smaller and weaker fragments over time, too busy posturing and rattling sabers to meet the demands of a fragile future or to stand in the way of new tyrannies, certain to arise.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…
That belief, inspiring as it was, had chafed the consciences of thinking people since it flowed from the nib of Thomas Jefferson’s pen, as well it should have.
Like many of his contemporaries, the great man himself had kept slaves.
The inherent contradiction could not have escaped a mind as luminous as Jefferson’s, nor could the subtle difference in phrasing as he wrote those momentous words. He had not written that some men were created equal, but that all men were.
Strenuous opposition to the indefensible institution of slavery had been raised, of course, but in the end, expediency prevailed. Representatives of the Southern colonies, with their vast fields of cotton and other valuable crops, would face certain ruin without their millions of unpaid laborers. They had refused to join in the rebellion against Great Britain if slavery was outlawed.
Since the effort would surely fail without them, the concession had been made.
But what was the value of freedom if it remained the province of white men while excluding all others?
Alas, the question was too big for a man in the process of dying, alone and far from home.
There was nothing to be done, save letting go. In the deepest recesses of his heart, in that calm place beyond fear and pain and fury, Jacob prayed that the will of God be done, in this matter of countries and wars.
Then, with that petition made, he raised another, more selfish one. Watch over my beloved wife, our little daughter, and Enoch, our trusted friend. Keep them all safe and well.
The request was simple, one of millions like it, no doubt, rising to the ears of the Creator on wings of desperation and sorrow, and there was no Road-to-Damascus moment for Jacob, just the ground-shaking roar of battle all around. But even in the midst of thundering cannon, the sharp reports of carbines and the fiery blast of muskets, the clanking of swords and the shrill shrieks of men and horses, he found a certain consolation.
A whisper of hope. Perhaps he’d been heard.
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