Read My Vicksburg Online

Authors: Ann Rinaldi

My Vicksburg

My Vicksburg
Ann Rinaldi

Harcourt
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
B
OSTON
N
EW
Y
ORK
2009

O
THER
N
OVELS BY
A
NN
R
INALDI

The Letter Writer
A Novel

Juliet's Moon

The Ever-After Bird

Come Juneteenth

An Unlikely Friendship
A Novel of Mary Todd Lincoln and Elizabeth Keckley

Brooklyn Rose

Or Give Me Death
A Novel of Patrick Henry's Family

The Staircase

The Coffin Quilt
The Feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys

Cast Two Shadows
The American Revolution in the South

An Acquaintance with Darkness

Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons
The Story of Phillis Wheatley

Keep Smiling Through

The Secret of Sarah Revere

Finishing Becca
A Story about Peggy Shippen and Benedict Arnold

The Fifth of March
A Story of the Boston Massacre

A Break with Charity
A Story about the Salem Witch Trials

A Ride into Morning
The Story of Tempe Wick

The Story of Tempe Wick

Copyright © 2009 by Ann Rinaldi

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Rinaldi, Ann.
My Vicksburg / Ann Rinaldi.—1st ed.
p. cm .

Summary: During the siege of Vicksburg, thirteen-year-old Claire Louise struggles with
difficult choices when family and friends join opposing sides of the war.
ISBN 978-0-15-206624-6 (hardcover)

1. Vicksburg (Miss.)—History—Siege, 1863—Juvenile fiction. [1. Vicksburg (Miss.)—History—
Siege, 1863—Fiction. 2. United States—History—Civil War, 1861-1865—Fiction. 3. Brothers
and sisters—Fiction. 4. Family life—Mississippi—Fiction. 5. Friendship—Fiction.] I. Title
PZ7.R459Myv 2009
[Fic]—dc22 2008020852

Text set in Adobe Garamond

Printed in the United States of America

TK A C E G H D B

To Cindy, a tried and true friend

Chapter One
May 1863 Vicksburg, Mississippi

The only reason we came back to town, and stayed during that terrible nightmare of a time, those forty-seven days of confusion and heartbreak that made up the siege of Vicksburg, was because of Sammy the cat.

Oh, other people stayed, for other reasons, mostly because they couldn't believe it was all happening. "It will go away," they told themselves. "The Yankees will soon understand that they made a mistake coming here. What's here for them, anyway?

"And until that realization comes to those Blue Coats, we'll just build ourselves some caves to live in, to protect ourselves from the cannon fire, the rifled artillery, the exploding missiles, and the general pandemonium all around us.

"And we'll eat beans and rice and bacon and corn-meal. And maybe, when all that runs out, maybe rats and mule meat." That's what the people said.

When we heard the first firing, on Sunday, May 17, we were just outside a small town called Bolton's Depot, at Fruitvale, Pa's parents' plantation. We'd been there for a
little over two weeks, ever since General Grant and his army crossed the Mississippi and landed at a Confederate stronghold below the mouth of the Big Black River.

Here at Fruitvale we had commodious rooms, the best horses to ride, servants galore. And Mama had brought along all Pa's medical books and her home remedy books, for her home remedies worked side by side with Pa's modern doctor ways. She also brought her good dresses and jewelry, and mine and James's going-to-church clothes.

My little brother, James, who was only five, said he could hear the artillery shells from way down at Big Black River where the Yankees were fighting and getting closer to Vicksburg.

James was afraid for Sammy, who was back home in Vicksburg.

"What you're hearing is the mortar bombs from Porter's fleet on the river below the bluffs," Pa explained to him. "We're safe here."

"But Sammy isn't. He's home alone in our house."

"Clothilda and Andy are with him."

"That's worse," James said. "They won't let him cuddle next to them at night and he needs somebody." He was trying not to cry. At five it isn't easy.

I know. I'm thirteen and it isn't easy.

"He'll be all right," Mama soothed James. He was her "little man." She called him that, and for the most part he lived up to it. But I envied him for still being able to break
into tears when the occasion warranted it. I, myself, was too old. Anyway, Pa would be put out with me if I cried. And the last thing in the world I wanted was for Pa to be put out with me.

He expected me to be a young lady, a comfort to Mama and him, what with my older brother Landon off to war for six months now, home only once, in April.

It would be all nice and fit and proper and we would be the typical Southern family and I would be knitting socks and sending them to Landon, except for one thing.

Landon had gone and joined up with the wrong side.

Landon was with the Yankees, with Grant. Oh, he wasn't out there this minute fighting his way to destroy our town. He was with Grant, all right. But, like Pa, Lan-don was a doctor. His was the first class to study under the president of Harvard, Charles Eliot. He had completed written exams, clinical sciences, and a three-year degree program.

"Should have never sent you there," Pa had scolded him when he came home in his blue Yankee uniform with the double row of buttons down the front. "You learned more than medicine. You learned their sentiments, their ideals, their beliefs. Did you get extra credit for all that?"

Pa was as mad as a wet porcupine. I think I even saw tears crowding his eyes when he looked across the supper table at his pride and joy in that blue uniform. He'd been so proud of Landon up until now. He'd had plans for after the war, of Landon working with him in his surgery.

"I'm not going to be shooting Confederates, Pa," Lan-don said. "I will likely be treating them if they come my way. You know how I feel about killing. The same as you."

Pa had had nothing to say about that. He knew Lan-don spoke the truth.

"If I embarrass you in this uniform, sir," Landon said quietly, "well, I won't come home anymore. I don't want to hurt your standing in this town."

"Yes, and that kind of talk is what will get you run out of the house, as far as your mother and I are concerned," Pa said. "You're a doctor. You do us proud. You just haven't got the brains to know which side to serve. Now the conversation is over."

Pa worried about him. I know he did. Sometimes I caught him sitting there staring into the middle distance, a book in his hands, and I knew he was thinking of Lan-don, though he never spoke of him.

Mama did. She called him "my boy." She kept his boyhood room as he'd left it. She waited for his letters and read them to us at the supper table. Pa said nothing when she read them.

Now in the parlor at Fruitvale, James ran to Pa and hugged his leg. "I want to go
hoooo
me."

Mama's eyes were tearing up now, too. "Please, can we, Hugh? I miss home. I miss my things."

"You've brought many of them with you," he reminded her.

In the last two weeks we'd heard the news from neighbors who'd left town and passed Fruitvale. Forts were springing up on the bluffs of Vicksburg, above the Mississippi. An 18-pound cannon the army had set up on the bluff was named "Whistling Dick."

And finally the words we never thought we'd hear: "The Yankees are coming!"

"Claire Louise, take your brother into the kitchen and give him some cookies and milk," Pa directed me.

I did so. There was nothing like cookies and milk to dry James's tears. And I promised to play chess with him, though I found myself missing home, too. Our house was on Cherry Street, a pleasant street of cobblestones lined with trees. It is more pleasant than imposing, made of white clapboard, welcoming and commodious. The river is to the west of us.

From the front parlor now I could hear my parents' voices rising and falling in a lively discussion. But I could not hear the words.

"Do you think Mama will tell Pa to take us back?" James asked.

"She doesn't
tell
him what to do," I corrected him. "They talk things over first. And that's what they're doing now. Don't forget, Pa's going away. He won't be here to protect us. And he wants to make sure we're all right before he goes. He wants to do right by us, James."

He nodded, wordlessly.

It occurred to me that the chess set was in the front
parlor, where my parents were. I told James I had to fetch it and went out into the wide hall, wide enough to house a whole regiment. I stood, for a moment, outside the door of the front parlor and heard them negotiating.

"That's it," Pa was saying. "You promise to live in the cave I've prepared for you and the children and we'll go back. There's no other way I'll allow it, Louisa." I recognized the voice he used. Steady and firm, like he often used on me.

"With my home standing within plain sight? You want me to live in a
cave?
" Mama asked.

There was a moment's silence. Which could mean he was holding her and kissing her. My pa was usually a private man when it came to displaying affection to Mama. I'd never, except for a kiss on her forehead, seen him exhibit tenderness. I'd always supposed they did that sort of thing in private.

"I'm sorry, Louisa. But the house is a target. At least, underground, you all have a chance." His voice was muffled. He was kissing her now, I imagined.

My pa is a good-looking man. His full head of hair is streaked with iron gray, his shoulders broad, his waist still lean. His jaw is firm, too firm sometimes. His nose is straight and strong, his eyebrows heavy and his mouth too often unyielding. When he looks at you, you pay mind. And there are times you wish he didn't look at you. Usually, though, a look is enough to put you on notice.

Mama adores him. I know he is a man of good parts.

And I also know that, even being a man of good parts, he does not approve of me. I do not know the reason why. He never says the reason why. I wish he would. Even though, at the same time, I understand that he leaves it to me to figure out. Because he knows that only when I comprehend why he does not approve of me will I be able to mend my ways and gain his approval.

I lay awake sometimes studying on it. Sometimes I cry. He dotes on James. His hopes are all tied up in Landon even though he went and joined up with the Yankees. Me? I am the wrong one. The outsider.
I do not belong.
He is ever kindly to me, but it is tinged with sternness.

"And? If Landon comes home?" I heard Mama saying behind closed doors. "Am I permitted to invite him into this cave?" Oh, Mama knew how to play her cards, all right.

"If Landon comes home, have him check on the gash I stitched up on the head of little Jimmy Otis. And tell him that Mrs. Otis is with child again and has to take her special medicine."

"So you're going to work in concert with him anyway? Your Yankee son."

"He's a darned good doctor. Came in top of his class at Harvard."

"You've forgiven him then?"

"Can't let him know it. Not yet. Not right." More silence.

I heard Mama sigh. "Oh, Hugh, I don't want you to go. I want things back the way they were."

"We never get that in life, Louisa. The now is all we get. So you promise to live in the cave with the children then?"

"Yes." Her voice was tearful. "And Sammy the cat, too?"

"Yes," he said wearily, "and Sammy the cat."

We left that very afternoon in the dray with Chip, Pa's "man," driving the wagon and Easter, whom we'd brought from home, driving the surrey. On the road we met all kinds of people fleeing the town. Only we, the Corbets of Cherry Street, were going back to the town.

And all because of Sammy the cat.

Chapter Two

If James had his cat to worry about, I had my friend, Amy.

After all, she was my best friend, and I'd promised to stay with her through it all. Then what had I done?

Fickle-boots me, I'd run away. I'd left town, that's what I'd done. Just when Amy needed me the most.

Oh, before we'd left to go to Grandma's, I'd asked Pa if I could stay with the Clarkes. I'd be safe with them, I told him. But he'd said no. You didn't say anything back when Pa said no like that. Not that he'd shouted it or anything. Pa did not have to shout. At his age, which was forty-six, I calculate, he'd done all the shouting a man had to do to have the world know he was someone to be reckoned with.

As a doctor with a going practice in town, people knew him as soft-spoken and sure of himself. They trusted him and he returned that trust in full.

As for we, his children, Pa was more available for his patients than he was for us. Oh, he did right by us. However, there were times when we thought he didn't know we were alive. But just do something we weren't supposed
to do, and we found out he was very much aware that we were alive.

Just be bad enough in school so it warranted a note home (me).

Just throw something of Mama's across the room (James).

Just go and join the
other
army (Landon).

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