I confess, I am a closet history geek. Perhaps it was all the auctions, antique shops and flea markets my parents would drag me to while I was growing up or my early obsession with Laura Ingalls Wilder, either way I have always adored history (but not always openly). Thinking back, I probably read historical fiction books more than those of any other genre growing up and as a teacher I used them extensively as a learning tool. That is why I really value good writers of historical fiction and in particular those that can write it for younger audiences.
Haley Whitehall has that type of talent, her blog is called Soldiering through the Writing World and she often has tips for writers, writing challenges and short stories posted on it that are well worth checking out. Below is a story she crafted for us plus a little more about Haley. Thanks Haley for agreeing to being today’s featured writer.
Timothy clutched his rifle as he stared at the pinpricks of light in the sky. After he finished his prayer he said, “Another battle soon enough.”
Elijah stood beside him, his face blank, unreadable. He was much taller than Timothy. When he enlisted he had lied about his age. That was not unusual in this army. Many youngsters, eager to fight the Rebs, claimed they were older. However, in Elijah did the opposite. According to enlistment records the eighteen-year-old was a mere fourteen.
No one questioned the gangly youth. He kept his sides clean, and his fiery red hair and freckles gave him a baby face.
“Think we’ll surprise the Jonnies this time?” Elijah asked.
“Perhaps, boy. The same goes as always, if I take one, you’ve gotta find my mother in Allentown and give her my things.”
“I don’t like it when you talk so, Timothy,” Elijah responded quietly.
“I don’t care whether you like it or not. Promise.”
Elijah pulled a piece of paper out of his coat pocket. He had written it months ago before the Battle of Vicksburg.
Timothy flashed a playful grin. “Letter to your sweetheart?”
Elijah scowled. “You know it’s to my sisters.”
“Too young for a sweetheart, huh?”
Elijah fingered the letter containing his last words. He felt an explanation for his enlistment was necessary. The pure motives behind him enlisting—to avoid being forced to join the ranks as a soldier. He’d see his family in heaven because he hadn’t killed a soul.
He saw Colonel Martin weave his way through the pines closer and closer and closer. He didn’t want the officer to come. He didn’t want the order. He didn’t want a hand in turning this pleasant grove into a wasteland.
“Call the men into marching formation,” Colonel Martin ordered.
Elijah picked up his drum and began beating assembly. Silently the battle-hardened Pennsylvanians fell into line. Elijah scanned their faces. They seemed oblivious to the fact they could be marching to their deaths. He didn’t feel a bit ashamed that he was carrying a drum instead of a rifle. He’d been shot at, same as them, and hadn’t run.
Back in Harrisburg, Elijah heard people talking when his back was turned. They called him yellow or other words that can’t be repeated in polite conversation. Some even speculated he was a copperhead. He didn’t cotton to slavery. He didn’t cotton to invading the South neither. He just didn’t want to kill no one.
He had always felt that way. The war had been going on near a year and he hadn’t got himself a blue uniform like most others. Killing someone was a sure ticket to hell. At least, that’s what Preacher Raldwin preached.
After he made the promise to his ma it sealed the deal. One night his momma had beckoned him over to her bedside. The devout Quaker woman ghostly pale, had been for days. It took all her strength to reach out and grab his hand.
“Promise me, Elijah, you won’t become a soldier. Promise me you’ll never hurt others.”
“I promise, Ma,” he squeaked out.
She smiled, closed her weary eyes, and took her last breath peaceful like.
Elijah had stood there staring at her body. Stunned he and his two older sisters were now orphans. He’d crossed her arms on her chest and silently prayed that God would welcome her home. Elijah did not doubt that she would make it through the pearly gates.
Elijah sighed as he reflected on her peaceful death. After all the gruesome images he had seen in the pass few months he realized his ma had been blessed. She left this world with her children by her side. So many men died in agony—cold, hungry, alone.
All Elijah wanted to do now was honor her memory. He wanted to make her proud. The only way he knew to do that was to keep the promise he had made to her before she died.
A few months after his ma’s death, Elijah realized his promise would be mighty hard to keep. The Union Army needed men badly. A recruitment officer could take one look at him, plowing in the field, and sign him up without his say so.
That’s why he enlisted as a drummer. Drummer boys didn’t kill. They didn’t even have to touch a rifle.
With each step Elijah’s drum felt heavier. He might as well be lugging a ball and chain for hours. Soon it’d be dawn. They’d be ordered to attack. He hoped the Rebs would still be asleep.
He heard rustling in the thicket and dismissed it as a raccoon. The monotonous sound of footsteps was disturbed by a crackling noise like fireworks on the Fourth of July. Shock made Elijah mute. In the flashes of light, Elijah saw a line of shabbily clothed Confederates. Many were barefoot. Those were the worst. It was said they had nothing left to live for but to kill Billies. They let out a horrible war whoop. The yell was the most hideous, most unnerving, most terrifying sound Elijah had ever heard.
Chaos erupted. Elijah heard the officers yell at the Yanks to stand and fight. He swallowed hard. He couldn’t protect himself with a drum.
Timothy gripped Elijah’s shoulder. “You’ve nothing to worry ’bout, boy.” He calmly loaded his rifle and fired back at the enemy.
Elijah wanted to shut his ears to the desperate, piercing screams of the wounded and dying. He wanted to close his eyes so he wouldn’t see the corpses and the scarlet stained ground.
But he couldn’t.
He just stood there, shell-shocked, watching.
In horror, Elijah saw Timothy grasp his left side and fall to the ground. Vengeance consumed his thoughts. Rage started in his toes and rose, bubbling his blood. With glaring eyes, Elijah gritted his teeth, jutted out his chin, picked up the man’s rifle and ammunition pouch. His fingers fumbled as they reached into the pouch. He loaded the rifle, pointed and fired. And fired. And fired. Cutting Rebs down like crows devouring his momma’s garden.
“Keep goin’, kid. Let ’em have it,” Timothy encouraged hoarsely.
The sun gave the mountain tops a rusty crown as they illuminated the battlefield below. Elijah kept firing. He saw the blood gushing from the chest of one of his victims. The man, his mouth twisted in pain, fell on his back. Elijah looked away and wanted to vomit. He tasted the burning bile rising in his throat.
What had he done?
He dropped the rifle to the ground, pulled out the letter from his coat pocket and ripped it into several pieces. Bitter tears stung his cheeks. He didn’t keep his momma’s promise. He had killed. He couldn’t tell his sisters he was going to see them in heaven because he knew, in his heart, he was going to hell.
A ball struck him in the gut. He dropped to his knees with a moan. His vision grew fuzzy. “I tried, Momma. I tried,” he cried.
After the battle, Timothy drug himself over to Elijah’s cold, bloody body. He picked up the papers beside him and pieced them together in the dirt. When he read the words tears streamed down his dusty cheeks.
“You’re not going to hell, boy,” he whispered in the Elijah’s ear. “You kept the Rebs from finishing me off. You saved my life.” He shook Elijah’s stiff shoulder. “You’re a hero Elijah, a hero!”
Realizing that Elijah couldn’t hear him, Timothy’s silent tears turned into blubbering sobs. He cradled Elijah’s corpse and stroked his fiery red hair. “Lord,” he said, his eyes tightly shut, “let Elijah know how thankful I am for his friendship. Let him know that I am going to write his sisters and explain everything to them. I know they will understand. You understand too, don’t you Lord?”
Timothy looked around at all the other fallen heroes. This war had to end, this destruction had to end.
This plague of death had to end.
By Haley Whitehall
1) How often/when do you write?
I write daily. I treat it like a job and put in at least 8 hours a day writing/editing usually starting in the afternoon. I’m a night owl.
2) What authors do you admire and why?
This is such a hard question to answer! I admire Gary Paulson and Avi for being able to write numerous quality books in a variety of genres. I admire Ann Rinalidi for make a career by writing YA historical fiction.
3) Would you prefer to be published the traditional route or would you give self/e-publishing a try.
The face of publishing is constantly changing. I am trying the traditional route but would like to have my work available in e-book form too. E-books give authors a wider audience.