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THE UNION QUILTERS
Men from all over the county had gathered to sign their names and put on Union blue. The men of the Elm Creek Valley had been assigned to Company L of the 49th Pennsylvania Volunteers, and as a regimental surgeon had already been appointed, Jonathan had been named one of his assistants. The next day they would join up with the rest of the regiment at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg, where they would await orders and prepare for war.
“They’re staying in Harrisburg?” asked Gerda, her face lighting up with hope.
“For now,” said Hans. “I don’t know how long.”
“We could visit them,” Gerda exclaimed. “Dorothea and I, Constance, Mary—all the ladies of the sewing circle. We could carry with us anything they might have left behind or didn’t realize they needed. You saw the camp, Hans. You can advise us what to take.” She touched Anneke on the forearm. “You wouldn’t need to go, of course, not with the boys to mind and Hans here at home, and your delicate condition.”
Anneke nodded, relieved to be spared the trip. “I’ll do whatever else I can to help you prepare. If any of our friends need any sewing or knitting for their husbands finished, or if Constance wants her sons to stay with us while she’s away—that would be all right with you, wouldn’t it, Hans?”
“They’ll likely move on before you could get organized.” Then Hans winced, raked a hand through his thick brown hair, and rested his elbows on his knees. “In any case, Constance wouldn’t need us to watch her sons because she wouldn’t be traveling with you.”
“Why not?” said Anneke. A glance to Gerda showed that she was equally perplexed.
“They didn’t let Abel enlist,” said Hans. “He argued, his friends spoke up for him, but in the end they wouldn’t let him put pen to paper. I don’t want war, you know that, but to turn away a sharpshooter, a brave man, a good loyal Unionist, all because of the color of his skin—” Hans shook his head. “Foolishness, utter foolishness, and it may cost the Union the war.”
Anneke could picture the scene vividly, and yet it was incomprehensible. Until that moment, she had thought the Union cause just and noble, their army led by wise and courageous men, and victory certain. The officers’ hubris shocked her, transformed all her confidence into doubt. How could the Union afford to turn away not only a single willing and able man, but thousands, thereby hindering the very cause they all urgently wanted to serve?
She wondered if Constance were at that very moment praising God for restoring her husband to her so unexpectedly, or if she were cursing the foolish officers who had shamed the man she loved by sending him away.
From THE UNION QUILTERS by Jennifer Chiaverini. Reprinted by arrangement with Dutton, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc. Copyright (c) Dutton, 2011.