What History has overlooked or forgotten, I, Grey Allen, remember.
Waiting on the wishes of the fire, many years removed from the unresolved
events that began my journeys, I recall it all as yesterday.
The whole of my story begins July 21, 1861, at Bull Run.
The optimism our young Virginia militia had carried onto the plains
at Manasas faded fast under the crack of rifle and rattle of saber, the
thunder of canon and the pounding of hooves. General George McDowell and
his Army of the Potomac, envisioned as a timid rabbit running-scared, had
come at us a charging lion. The battle a raging storm that swept the nation
East to West, North to South.
Into this chaos, under the bible-spouting General Thomas Jackson, rode
the young Lieutenant Gray Jefferson Allen. A force rushed from the Shenandoah
Valley by rail to reinforce the staggering lines of Johnston and Beauregard.
A makeshift army forged from sharecropper and shopkeeper unprepared and
unsuited for war. Save one. A man I will simply call the Captain.
Shoulder to shoulder we faced the Federalist fire. Our sabers swirling
under a sweltering sun, stacking bodies like cords of wood until, at day’s
end, with that first great battle won, we sat beyond the ring of uncounted
dead, a blackened dogwood bracing our backs. Two weary men, bloody and
quiet, watching the carts of dead and dying moving about us; clouds of
spent powder hovering as waiting angels staking their claims.
As a night mournful and without moon settled about our shoulders, the
Captain whispered to through lips tight as tanned leather.
“News of this triumph will fly south, Gray Allen. Shortsighted loyalists
will dance in the streets, seeing an ending to what is only beginning.”
“Have faith,” I said. “The South will win out, and soon. We shall be
home by Christmas.”
“Christmas,” The Captain returned, turning to me in the gathering gloom.
“We shall see my young friend. We shall see.”
I laughed at his pessimism. For I, invested with the zeal and optimism
of youth, did not see what the Captain saw. Destiny saddling the warm summer
wind, galloping North on bloodied wings.
Late September: 1861
A lilting breeze rippled the flaxen fields of our tented encampment,
rustling that ocean of canvas. A scent of apple blossoms struggled to rise
above the mingled stink of sweat and alcoholic disinfectant. I had just
returned from a superficial action ten miles to the north and, as I wearily
dismounted, I espied the lonely figure of a nurse sitting beneath a shading
tree. Her youthful shoulders, bent in grief, drew me as the sea draws the
She wore white linens soiled red. At my step, she looked up with green
eyes that shone through a mass of honey hair badly askew. She had high,
proud cheeks streaked with tears and blood wiped from the back of strong
hands made to pluck a harp or pick a flower. Not labor elbow deep in gore.
A young boy, a Negro, all of fourteen, cruelly taken by the far crueler
extremities of the war, rested his head upon her lap, his body rigid in
the abiding quiet of recent death.
“His name was Jeremiah,” I said quietly, timidly. “He belonged to the
. . .
Her eyes flashed, stopping me in my thoughtless tracks.
“He belongs to no one but his God now, Sir. Though I thank you for your
“Gray. My name is Gray Allen.”
She extended a hand that I might help her rise. An easy gesture gracefully
made, as though we sat upon her family veranda sipping tea. Gentry and
breeding shining bright above the bloodshed.
“Victoria James, of the Durham James’s,” she said with a proud smile.
“Though my charges express a preference for calling me Victory.”
“Then Victory it shall be. You are new to the regiment?”
“Yes, I arrived today.”
She did not complain as I raised the boy into my arms. Inured to death,
I still shivered at the coldness of that small body. Victory looked upon
his tranquil face and the sadness in her sea-green eyes clutched my throat.
“I thought I had prepared myself,” she said. “I had no idea. He died
carrying powder to a man already dead.”
In war, life is transient. Mourning, of necessity, brief. The burial
squads tended to Jeremiah. Orders sent me back to battle; my heart pierced
firm as any bullet.
During that long first year of war, on and off, now and then, and from
time to time as duty (and my limited courage) allowed, this bumbling suitor
sought the company of Miss Victoria James. To my delight and surprise,
she consented to my courting. We walked and we talked. Speaking of honor,
tradition, of cotton looms and family values, ethics and ideals colored
by our common bond of battle and bitterness. We often dwelled upon the
state of the union and in that idle wonder of the future bared our souls
if not our hearts.
“I came to this strife in blind belief of the ideals preached to me
since my earliest years,” Victory told me as we walked an evening by the
fire, attempting to warm a chill the crackling hearth could never touch.
“But this war has opened my eyes, and I fear for what I see, Gray Allen.
It makes me ashamed.”
“Yes, mortally so. No man has the right to hold another’s life in bondage.
To do that, under any pretense, is wrong. This war is wrong.” She stamped
a tiny foot. “What say you to that, Gray Jefferson Allen?”
The soldier in me winced. That part that bowed to domes of gold topped
by waving flags of crossed stripes and stars. To call evil the cause for
which so many died rang of treason. To deny it smacked of deceit. Honor
had one view of this Civil War, my Soul another. Slavery was a doctrine
of inequality inevitably challenged by God, Conscience and Abraham Lincoln.
“I say you are right, Victoria James. But I have a loyalty to the seventh
Calvary, to the Captain, and to the others about me that . . ."
She put a soft hand to my lips.
“As do I, Gray Allen, as do I; we will speak of it no more.” A fear
came to her eyes. “Promise you will never repeat what we have said here!”
With all my heart, the heart stolen by this fiery southern flower, I
Snowfall clogged the railways. The war shuttle slowed but did not stop.
Fighting fell to regional quarrels, ambush, and assassination. There was
no mail and, as morale ebbed, discipline grew difficult. Men spoke in discontented
whispers. Desertions increased.
One bitter gray dawn, half-frozen soldiers crawled out from under snow-laden
blankets to the pungent smell of wet wood that neither burned nor warmed.
Irritable roughnecks that sat cold and hungry awaiting supplies, roundly
cursing the war, the government, authority in general and the Captain in
“My God, Palmer,” I protested to the anointed leader of the vocal rebellion.
“The Captain does not control the trains or the mails, no more than he
commands the weather!”
“Aye, that’s true enough,” William Palmer acknowledged, a hard looking
fellow of Scottish descent, a blacksmith by trade with burly shoulders
and full, black beard. “All the same, here we be. Laid-up in the open,
shivering in our boots, while he sits in a flapped tent drinking tea.”
“With a boy to his attend his every want,” cried another.
“The Captain tends his own needs,” I countered sharply. “And every man
knows it. He carries his own weight and needs no footman to shine his blade
or load his pistol.”
“Bah!” Palmer exploded. “ ‘Tis not his courage we question, man, but
his damn stubbornness. The war moves around us while we hole up freezing.
Are we wolves or are we sheep? There is fighting in Mississippi, we know
that. We should move south, at the least it’s bloody warmer!”
“South by whose leave?”
A form stirred from under a wooly red blanket. The Captain rose-up shaking
off snow and smiling grimly, his keen gray eyes fixed on the open-mouthed
“What my men endure, I endure. My tent is folded,” the Captain announced.
“I will ask no man to bear that which I am not prepared to bear myself.
My orders are to hold this place. To that, I am duty bound. So are we all.”
The seeds of sedition in the camp of the seventh Confederate Calvary
now lay as buried in snow as the men. Later, as we passed on my rounds,
the Captain flashed me that hard smile I had come to know and admire as
he whispered, “Merry Christmas, Gray Allen.”
Spring came and the snows melted. The buds bloomed and the blood letting
accelerated in earnest. Trains moved troops, supplies, ordnance, weaponry
and a new ingenuity. Steam and ironclad warships that plowed the rivers
belching smoke and booming death. The brilliance of a nation brought to
bear on division and killing.
In the Capitols, the strategists of the North and South pondered new
means of raising and sustaining the massive armies needed to perpetuate
the slaughter. And the world watched as never before, through the eyes
of painters, writers and newfangled tripod cameras. There is even a picture
of Gray Allen and the Captain standing shoulder to shoulder. A photographic
gift from one Matthew Brady, the soon-to-be prominent journalist the Captain
and I plucked from the paws of a Federalist assassin. Where it lies today,
if it survived at all, I know not. I gave it to my Victory shortly before
-- but I move ahead of myself!
Another year had passed. With the 7th Calvary* entering its second winter
(and second Christmas) of discontent in the Virginia forests, the order
came to move. We struck our tents and marched to the railhead eager and
General Grant had attempted to take Vicksburg. Our orders were to reinforce
the army of General James C. Pemberton, enjoin the battle and repulse the
advance. The emboldened Pemberton, with spies making him privy to Lincoln’s
more northern plans, ordered the Captain and the 7th into Pennsylvania
where waited the Destiny waited in the guise of one Captain Warren Kantrel.
A doctor and man of letters, his was a darkly arrogant intelligence.
A brilliant mind locked behind brooding eyes and a quick temper. A stained
soul or which the green eyes and honey hair of Victoria James proved an
Though strangers barely met Kantrel quickly marked me his rival, using
his rank and position as Victory’s superior officer to manipulate us apart,
pressing his own courtship with discouraging persistence and increasing
I thought to bring a complaint before the Captain, but hesitated to
impose upon our friendship, tentativeness iced by Victory’s adamant refusal
to support that action. Her willingness to bear Kantrel’s advances bound
my hands and brought misery to my heart.
And how was I to fight it? Kantrel’s surgical brilliance delivered the
men a measure of relief desperately needed. The thanksgiving I saw in Victory’s
eyes was a power against which I could not compete. Nor had I that right.
While Victory and I had talked of many things in our walks, we had never
spoken of love. I lacked the courage.
*Editors Note: In the pages left behind by Gray Allen, there
is a footnote noting the 7th Calvary as a deliberate falsehood. His exact
words were: “I have chosen to fabricate our regimental credentials. While
I realize it may cast a shadow upon the validity of my story, it will also
assure anonymity for the Captain, honoring a vow made those many years
After hours of research and collaboration with several Civil War
Historians, using Allen’s references to Generals and their battle dates
as a guide, it would appear the 7th was used as a proxy. He and the Captain
may have been transferred twice, possibly three times during the years
covered in the text. It is impossible to know for certain although a suggestion
has been made that, at one time, Allen may have served in the 7th Alabama
All inquiries relative to another author’s posting to Fort Grant
in Arizona with the US 7th Cavalry, I leave to literary license and conspiracy
Grant trudged south of Vicksburg then turned northeast toward Jackson,
Mississippi, effectively isolating General Pemberton from the interior.
The 7th, having alternately moved east and south since January, aiding
Pemberton’s winter rebuttal of Grant, again went north into Pennsylvania.
Three days before the fall of Vicksburg, on July 1, under the united forces
of General Robert E. Lee, we rode onto the fields of Gettysburg.
I recall blankets of billowing clouds and a sun that shone warm in the
fullness of the season, the scent of unsuspecting flowers that bloomed
oblivious of the pending slaughter. Picnickers gathered on the hillocks
in top hats and Paris gowns from the House of Worth anticipating an afternoon’s
entertainment -- a pleasant diversion that evolved into three days and
three nights of unprecedented slaughter.
In the early wave, Confederate metal cut hard into Union forces. The
odor of death mixed with the scent of millet as bodies tumbled in a harvest
of bloodied blues and gruesome grays. Artillery darkened the skies. The
All Mighty shutting out what he could not abide to watch.
The pugnacious George W. Meade fell back and dug in. We charged. Thousands
died. Our offensive surge stymied and stalled until, on July 3, a flustered
Robert E. Lee ordered General George Edward Pickett into a furious, final,
all-out charge on the aptly named Cemetery Ridge.
Belching batteries of cannon cracked at our backs. The timberland pines
began to burn. Acres of licking flames that surrounded victor and vanquished
with equal disdain. The cries of the dying rose in a frightful howl that
mingled with the wail of the living who limped, crawled, or were dragged
screaming from that forest pyre, hair burning and skin seared scarlet;
bared to the bone.
At the end, a hundred thousand casualties littered the charred Gettysburg
orchards. The summer wind fouled with an indefinable stench, the air dead
from grief. How could any man, any side, or any self-ordained government
abide this horror and call itself the Victor? It was as Victory had said.
The war was wrong and I was ashamed.
Still, doggedly, duty called and I answered.
In a train of wounded miles long, the beaten and battered remnants of
the 7th Cavalry retreated. For two long months we trudged towards Virginia,
and home. A hundred more died. Our already depleted ranks further decimated
by disease, starvation, and understandable desertion.
Dispirited and ill, Vicksburg fallen, the war all but lost, the Captain
returned us to the woodland camp outside of Richmond from whence our altruistic
journey had begun. From where Palmer had so heatedly sought release, Palmer
the blacksmith who died at Gettysburg.
It did not end at Gettysburg.
The warmongers continued to beat the patriotic drum and blindly we danced,
marching to our deaths bankrupt of purpose, obeying each new command with
ingrained loyalty and unbounded stupidity. And after each encounter,
numb to the miracle of my continued survival, I would watch Victory laboring
at Kantrel’s side, marveling at her dedication and passion. Cursing their
intimacy and plotting vainly against it.
But Fate, as is her wont, on a hot summer night with a tired southern
moon frowning down, sought me out and moved the mountain I had neither
the courage nor strength to climb.
My rounds of the camp brought me to the medical area. I knew it would
afford me sight of Victory, though in the passing weeks drawn into months
I had stopped to speak less and less. The distance of a few yards having
become miles. For always Warren Kantrel stood ready to dismiss me
with his rank, and I, cowed, as unskilled with women as a frog, would skulk
off as some wounded animal seeking a place to die.
I found Victory struggling to raise an unconscious soldier to an improvised
surgical table of sawn logs fastened by rope. Before, my pattern has always
been to watch a moment, with wistful thoughts, and then move on. But this
night, some force took hold and I found myself marching into her realm
with a hot head and ready hand. I would not submit to Kantrel bullying.
If it were a fight he wanted, then a fight he would have!
At my approach, my words, Victory looked up, a light of surprise in
her tired eyes. The surprise became a tired smile as I hefted the man easily
and laid him flat upon the makeshift platform, across which, the surly
Warren Kantrel glowered.
“I would have word with you, Sir.” I opened.
“I am busy!” He bent to the man upon the table, then cursed loudly.
“This one’s dead. At the least you could find me a patient still breathing!”
With disgust, Kantrel shouted aloud for orderlies. Two young Negro boys
appeared out of the shadows to remove the body.
“A word with me!” He suddenly spat my direction. “Could it be you have
decided to grow a back bone?”
I blushed, but held my tongue. Any rash action would disgrace me before
Victory and the 7th Calvary. That consequence held my tongue and my hand.
“My performance in this war is . . ."
“My performance in this war!” Kantrel shot back, laughing openly. “Northern
and Southern pomposity. You wear this war as if it were a badge of honor.
Idiot! War is the province of fools. The fools that cause them and the
bigger fools that fight them.”
“I take exception to your remarks, Warren Kantrel. It is the duty of
every man of honor to . . ."
“To die?” Kantrel’s eyes were at once probing and provocative. “You,
Allen, are perhaps the biggest fool of all. You search in this accursed
bloodshed for something noble and virtuous, even dare to dream of love
chaste and perfect.” Hid head wagged side to side. “There is nothing here
save what you see laid about you, blood and death.”
“There is more,” I answered defiantly. I turned to Victory. “Far more
than I could ever have imagined.”
Without hesitation, I took her bloodstained hand. She answered, curling
her tiny fingers into mine. A wave of self-assurance brightened my soul
as the lighthouse illuminates the shore. A rocky shore darkened by the
lengthy shadow of Warren Kantrel.
“I find your choices incomprehensible. Your lives pathetic.”
“What Gray Allen and I choose to do with our lives,” Victory spoke boldly,
saying what I as an officer and a gentleman could not, “is of no concern
to you, Warren Kantrel.”
“You think so?” Kantrel answered in a voice cold and without sentiment.
“One can never be quite sure of the twists and turns life will take. Today,
a man loses a battle. Tomorrow, he wins a war.”
He paused, seeming to study my face as though we had but just been introduced.
“I warn you, Gray Allen, one day you will understand. The light will
come and on that day, because of her, you will hesitate. Your blade will
stall and forces beyond conception shall sweep you away as easily sand
before wind. I need only wait.”
With that, Kantrel spun and stalked away, seeking fresh victims for
his medicine and his mania. I watched him depart with my thoughts a disquieted
jangle, until the pressure of Victory’s hand roused me to the moment.
“The war is hard. It takes a toll upon all of us. I suppose God demands
a high price for genius.”
“You are too generous,” I said simply. “Warren Kantrel deserves neither
your civility or your sympathy.”
Victory, lips a colorless line, would only say, “A small sacrifice when
I see the faces of those he has saved.” She brightened. “Stay by me, Gray
Allen, we should talk.”
Victory had offered me a chance to speak my heart, a moment I so wished
to grasp, but again Fate interfered. In a sudden flurry of excited voices
and rushing bodies, a patrol, set upon some ten miles to the north, stumbled
into camp rife with wounds too varied and too sorted to detail. Orderlies
streamed around us, engulfing Victory in her duties as the sullen Kantrel
returned barking commands.
At sight of him, I dug in my heels. Kantrel snarled, “Stay on if you
must. You might learn something of men and gods this evening.”
Victory nodded, and so I remained, doing what I could to lighten the
suffering of man and boy. Through a long terrible night and into cold,
gray dawn we toiled. An endless procession of shattered bodies, shining
scalpels, bloody sponges, and lost souls. That I was of any real help I
doubted. But neither my Victory nor Kantrel said a word against me.
And I did learn something of men and gods, and even to understand the
once unfathomable tolerance my Victory held of Captain Warren Kantrel.
The fury and passions he held towards others were as nothing to the skills
he directed against Death. His hands, no matter how dire the wound or harried
the circumstance, never wavered. He dueled with Death and, more often than
not, delivered life; cheating the Reaper, the war, but never himself.
Still, came that time when even his gifted hands had done all they could.
Nothing remained but to leave the final decisions to God. The last man
accounted for Kantrel bid us a surly goodnight.
I walked Victory to her tent, in silence. What cursed irons my tongue
wore I could not even begin to explain.
For a full minute I stood before her closed flap, my hands balled fists.
Then turned and marched off. I needed to be alone and so laid my blanket
a dozen yards beyond the wearied sentries by a fire of my own construction.
The stars that had seen so much still held their virgin white. The once
frowning moon now smiled. Amused by a soul tormented by a love it had still
That Victory had offered me opportunity, I knew. That I was too spineless
to pursue that chance nettled me more than all the death and suffering
that surrounded us.
But was it cowardice, or something more profound. What place did love
have amongst all this suffering, all this hate. What future could I offer
the flower of southern nobility? A month from now, when the South suffered
its inevitable defeat, would there even be that nobility, that family,
to return to!
With that weight already upon her shoulders, how could my love be anything
but a further burden, a new worry for Miss Victoria Lucy James?
I slipped into exhausted slumber. I began to dream. How else to account
for the soft, radiant form halloed by that brilliant silver moon and resplendent
stars that came and knelt beside me, nightgown undulating against the smoldering
embers of the fire. This figment of my imagination that smelled of jasmine,
only sweeter, that leaned close, kissed my cheek and whispered, “I love
you, Gray Allen.”
And was gone.
SLAVES OF JATORA
Approximately 75,000 Words
Michael A. Wexler Phone (508) 543-8639
29 Putnam Road
Fax (509) 356-5965
Foxboro, MA 02035