To mark the 150th anniversary of the bombing of Fort Sumter, generally regarded as the first battle of the American Civil War, I am publishing this prologue to a novella I am working on. Let me know if you think it is worth continuing.
Sunlight like a knife, long-shadows at noon. It is mid-winter. The sun does not travel high into the sky. Brown earth underfoot on the parade ground of the new border park, leafless trees at its edges.
At every great event, an inauguration, a convocation there is a moment where anticipation presses down on those in attendance at the same time, creating silence except for the occasional shutter click and other mechanical sounds of a press photographer’s camera.
On this day at noon such a silence descends on the ten-thousand invited guests surrounding the parade ground, there to witness the birth of a nation. The last dignitary has taken his place on the reviewing stand. All eyes look to the President of the old country and the President of the new. Their officials have had them rehearse this moment several times but as it is unprecedented there are no traditional protocols to follow. The two men look at each other, shake hands, and then sit down and gaze out solemnly at the crowd.
Earlier in the morning the wind had been gusty but now it too has gone. Nothing disturbs the silence. No country has ever been born without some bloodshed and the country being founded on this day, the Christian States of America, is no different. But a full scale Civil War had been avoided. The politicians on the reviewing stand and many in the crowd give thanks for that blessing.
The C.S.A. is a new nation with an old history and the regimental banners recall the standards flown at Gettysburg and Shiloh, in the Wilderness and at Chickamauga.
The military part of the ceremony has been rehearsed more thoroughly. Marching towards each other, one set of footsteps precisely mirroring the other, the respective honor guards meet in front of the Presidents. The sergeant-majors call out, “Halt!” at exactly the same moment, and shout in unison, “Honor flags!”
The standards of each side incline at perfect 45 degree angles to each other. A gesture of mutual respect.
From the citizens of the new nation there is a ripple of appreciative applause, like a pulse of drizzle ripping across a pond. Then silence again until the drill sergeant’s incomprehensible cry and the honor guard of the new republic set off south, inside the borders of their new/old country.
Then, as rehearsed, the president and cabinet of the new country form a less precise rank behind their soldiers and march southward to home.
The president of the old country stands at attention, his face stricken, as the long parade passes the stand. When the last CSA dignitary has gone he turns, eyes glistening, to his chief of staff. Before he can say a word the Chief stops him, leans in intimately and reminds his commander in chief that the right decision has been made.
“Lincoln was right. A house divided against itself cannot endure. But he was wrong in seeking to preserve that house in its original form, Mr. President.” Then he reminds the President of his own words at the cabinet meeting when the fateful decision had been made, “You said, ‘There are two houses on this continent, always have been, always will be. Lincoln thought they could remain together. They cannot.’
The chief pointed towards the last of the southerners heading through the ceremonial gates. “Look at them, Mr. President. Remember what you said? The only quote of Thomas Jefferson they know is the one about refreshing the tree of liberty with blood.”
“‘All men are created equal?’ They have never acknowledged it. They have a three-year old’s understanding of the phrase ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ For them it means I can do whatever I want to do and you can’t stop me, nyah, nyah, nyah. And it has been like this since the founding of the nation. And there is no compromising with them … ever. It was tried at the beginning and what you ended up with was slavery in half the country and the grotesquery of the three-fifths compromise.”
“Yes, I know,” said the President, his eyes brimming with bitterness and exhaustion. “But even so, I didn’t want this.”
(c) 2011 MIchael Goldfarb. Please feel free to link but do not quote without permission.
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