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THE TWO GENERALS.
A CHRISTMAS STORY OF THE WAR.
NEAR to the little State capital
Kentucky, there lived at
Christmas-time of 1860, an old man, Major Reckenthorpe by name, whose life had been marked by many circumstances which had
made him well known throughout Kentucky. He had sat for nearly thirty years in
the Congress of the United States, representing his own State sometimes as
Senator, and sometimes in the lower House. Though called a major he was by
profession a lawyer, and as such had lived successfully. Time had been when
friends had thought it possible that he might fill the President's chair; but
his name had been too much and too long in men's mouths for that.
Upon the whole he had been a good
man, serving his country as best he knew how, and adhering honestly to his own
political convictions. He had been and now was a slave-owner, but had voted in
the Congress of his own State for the
abolition of slavery in Kentucky. He had
been a passionate man, and had lived not without the stain of blood on his
hands, for duels had been familiar to him. But he had lived in a time and in a
country in which it had been hardly possible for a leading public man not to be
familiar with a pistol. He had been known as one whom no man could attack with
impunity; but he had also been known as one who would not willingly attack any
one. Now at the time of which I am writing he was old—almost on the shelf—past
his duelings and his strong short invectives on the floors of Congress; but he
was a man whom no age could tame, and still he was ever talking, thinking, and
planning for the political well-being of his State.
In person he was tall, still
upright, stiff and almost ungainly in his gait, with eager gray eyes which the
waters of age could not dim, with short, thick, grizzled hair which age had
hardly thinned, but which ever looked rough and uncombed, with large hands,
which he stretched out with extended fingers when he spoke vehemently; and of
the Major it may be said that he always spoke with vehemence. But now he was
slow in his steps, and infirm on his legs. He suffered from rheumatism,
sciatica, and other maladies of the old, which no energy of his own could
repress. In these days he was a stern, unhappy, all but broken-hearted old man;
for he saw that the work of his life had been wasted.
And he had another grief which at
the Christmas of
1861 had already become terrible to him, and which afterward
bowed him with sorrow to the ground. He had two sons, both of whom were then at
home with him, having come together under the family roof-tree that they might
discuss with their father the political position of their country, and
especially the position of Kentucky. South Carolina had already seceded, and
other Slave States were talking of secession. What should Kentucky do? So the
Major's sons, young men of eight-and-twenty and five-and-twenty, met together at
their father's house; they met and quarreled deeply, as their father had well
known would be the case.
The eldest of these sons was at
that time the owner of the slaves and land which his father had formerly
possessed and farmed. He was a Southern gentleman, living on the produce of
slave labor, and as such had learned to vindicate that social system which has
produced as its result the war which is still raging at this Christmas of
To him this matter of secession or non-secession was of vital import. He was
prepared to declare that the wealth of the South was derived from its
agriculture, and that its agriculture could only be supported by its slaves. His
father, he said, was an old man, and might be excused by reason of his age from
any active part in the contest that was coming. But for himself there could be
but one duty—that of supporting the new Confederacy, to which he would belong,
with all his strength and with whatever wealth was his own.
The second son had been educated
at West Point, and was now an officer in the National army. A large proportion
of the officers in the pay of the United States leagued themselves with
Secession, but Frank Reckenthorpe declared that he would be loyal to the
Government which he served; and in saying so, seemed to imply that the want of
such loyalty in any other person would be disgraceful.
"I can understand your feeling,"
said his brother, who was known as Tom Reckenthorpe, "on the assumption that you
think more of being a soldier than of being a man; but not otherwise."
"Even if I were no soldier, I
would not be a rebel," said Frank.
"How a man can be a rebel for
sticking to his own country I can not understand," said Tom.
"Your own country!" said Frank.
"Is it to be Kentucky or South Carolina? And is it to be a republic or a
monarchy; or shall we hear of Emperor Davis? You already belong to the greatest
nation on the earth, and you are preparing yourself to belong to the least; that
is, if you should be successful. Luckily for yourself, you have no chance of
"At any rate I will do my best to
fight for it."
"Nonsense, Tom," said the old
man, who was sitting by.
"It is no nonsense, Sir. A man
can fight without having been at West Point. Whether he can do so after having
his spirit drilled and drummed out of him there, I don't know."
"Tom!" said the old man.
"Don't mind him, father," said
the younger. "His appetite for fighting will soon be over. Even yet I doubt
whether we shall over see a regiment in arms sent from the Southern States
against the Union."
"Do you?" said Tom. "If you stick
to your colors, as you say you will, your doubts will soon be set at rest. And
I'll tell you what, if your regiment is brought into the field, I trust that I
may find myself opposite to it. You have chosen to forget that we are brothers,
and you shall find that I can forget it also."
"Tom!" said the father, "you you
should not say such words as that; at any rate, in my presence."
"It is true, Sir," said he. "A
man who speaks as he speaks does not belong to Kentucky, and can be no brother
of mine. If I were to meet him face to face, I would as soon shoot him as
another; sooner, because he is a renegade."
"You are very wicked—very
wicked," said the old man, rising from his chair—"very wicked." And then,
leaning on his stick, he left the room.
"Indeed, what he says is true,"
said a sweet, soft voice from a sofa in the far corner of the room. "Tom, you
are very wicked to speak to your brother thus. Would you take on yourself the
part of Cain?"
"He is more silly than wicked,
Ada," said the soldier. "He will have no chance of shooting me, or of seeing me
shot. He may succeed in getting himself locked up as a rebel; but I doubt
whether he'll ever go beyond that."
"If I ever find myself opposite
to you with a pistol in my grasp," said the elder brother, "may my right hand—"
But his voice was stopped, and
the imprecation remained unuttered. The girl who had spoken rushed from her seat
and put her hand before his mouth. "Tom," she said, "I will never speak to you
again if you utter such an oath—never." And her eyes flashed fire at his and
made him dumb.
Ada Forster called Mrs.
Reckenthorpe her aunt, but the connection between them was not so near as that
of aunt and niece. Ada, nevertheless, lived with the Reckenthorpes, and had done
so for the last two years. She was an orphan, and on the death of her father had
followed her father's sister-in-law from Maine down to Kentucky; for Mrs.
Reckenthorpe had come from that farthest and most strait-laced State of the
Union, in which people bind themselves by law to drink neither beer, wine, nor
spirits, and all go to bed at nine o'clock. But Ada Forster was an heiress, and
therefore it was thought well by the elder Reckenthorpes that she should marry
one of their sons. Ada Forster was also a beauty, with slim, tall form, very
pleasant to the eye; with bright, speaking eyes and glossy hair; with ivory
teeth of the whitest, only to be seen now and then when a smile could be won
from her; and therefore such a match was thought desirable also by the younger
Reckenthorpes. But unfortunately it had been thought desirable by each of them,
whereas the father and mother had intended Ada for the soldier.
I have not space in this short
story to tell how progress had been made in the troubles of this love affair. So
it was now that Ada had consented to become the wife of the elder brother—of Tom
Reckenthorpe, with his home among the slaves—although she, with all her New
England feelings strong about her, hated slavery and all its adjuncts. But when
has love staid to be guided by any such consideration as that? Tom Reckenthorpe
was a handsome, high-spirited, intelligent man. So was his brother Frank. But
Tom Reckenthorpe could be soft to a woman, and in that, I think, had he found
the means of his success. Frank Reckenthorpe was never soft.
Frank had gone angrily from home
when, some three months since, Ada had told him her determination. His brother
had been then absent, and they had not met till this their Christmas meeting.
Now it had been understood between them, by the intervention of their mother,
that they would say nothing to each other as to Ada Forster. The elder had, of
course, no cause for saying aught, and Frank was too proud to wish to speak on
such a matter before his successful rival. But Frank had not given up the
battle. When Ada had made her speech to him, he had told her that he would not
take it as conclusive. "The whole tenor of Tom's life," he had said to her,
"must be distasteful to you. It is impossible that you should live as the wife
of a slave-owner."
"In a few years there will be no
slaves in Kentucky," she had answered.
"Wait till then," he had
answered; "and I also will wait." And so he had left her, resolving that he
would bide his time. He thought that the right still remained to him of seeking
Ada's hand, although she had told him that she loved his brother. "I know that
such a marriage would make each of them miserable," he said to himself over and
over again. And now that these terrible times had come upon them, and that he
was going one way with the Union, while his brother was going the other way with
Secession, he felt more strongly than ever that he might still be successful.
The political predilections of American women are as strong as those of American
men. And Frank Reckenthorpe knew that all Ada's feelings were as strongly in
favor of the Union as his own. Had not she been born and bred in Maine? Was she
not ever keen for total abolition, till even the old Major, with all his
gallantry for womanhood and all his love for the young girl who had come to his
house in his old age, would be driven occasionally by stress of feeling to
rebuke her. Frank Reckenthorpe was patient, hopeful, and firm. The time must
come when Ada would learn that she could not be a fit wife for his brother. The
time had, he thought, perhaps come already; and so he spoke to her a word or two
on the evening of that day on which she had laid her hand upon his brother's
"Ada," he had said, "there are
bad times coming to us."
"Good times, I hope," she had
answered. "No one could expect that the thing could be done without some
struggle. When the struggle has passed we shall say that good times have come."
The thing of which she spoke was that little thing of which she was ever
thinking, the enfranchisement of four millions of slaves.
"I fear that there will be bad
times first. Of course I am thinking of you now."
"Bad or good, they will not be
worse to me than to others."
"They would be very bad to you if
this State were to secede, and if you were to join your lot to my brother's. In
the first place, all your fortune would be lost to him and to you."
"I do not see that; but of course
I will caution him that it may be so. If it alters his views I shall hold him
free to act as he chooses."
"But, Ada, should it not alter
"What—because of my money? or
because Tom could not afford to marry a girl without a fortune?"
"I did not mean that. He might
decide that for himself. But your marriage with him under such circumstances as
those which lie now contemplates would be as though you married a Spaniard or a
Greek adventurer. You would be without country, without home, without fortune,
and without standing-ground in the world. Look you, Ada, before you answer. I
frankly own that I tell you this because I want you to be my wife and not his."
"Never, Frank; I shall never be
your wife, whether I marry him or no."
"All I ask of you now is to
pause. This is no time for marrying or for giving in marriage."
"There I agree with you; but as
my word is pledged to him I shall let him be my adviser in that."
Late on that same night Ada saw
her betrothed, and bade him adieu. She bade him adieu with many tears; for he
came to tell her that he intended to leave Frankfort very early on the following
morning. "My staying here now is out of the question," said he. "I am resolved
to secede, whatever the State may do. My father is resolved against secession.
It is necessary, therefore, that we should part. I have already left my father
and mother, and now I have come to say good-by to you."
"And your brother, Tom?"
"I shall not see my brother
"And is that well, after such
words as you have spoken to each other? Perhaps it may be that you will never
see him again. Do you remember what you threatened?"
"I do remember what I
"And did you mean it?"
"No; of course I did not mean it.
You, Ada, have heard me speak many angry words; but I do not think that you have
known me do many angry things."
"Never one, Tom—never. See him,
then, before you go, and tell him so."
"It will be better that we should
not meet again. The truth is, Ada, that he always despises any one who does not
think as he thinks. If I offered him my hand he would take it, but while doing
so he would let me know that he thought me a fool. Then I should be angry, and
threaten him again, and things would be worse. You must not quarrel with me, Ada,
if I say that he has all the faults of a Yankee."
"And the virtues too, Sir, while
you have all the faults of a Southern —. But, Tom, as you are going from us, I
will not scold you. I have, too, a word of business to say to you."
"And what's the word of business,
dear?" said Tom, getting nearer to her, as a lover should do, and taking her
hand in his.
"It is this. You and those who
think like you are dividing yourselves from your country. As to whether that be
right or wrong I will say nothing now, nor will I say any thing as to your
chance of success. But I am told that those who go with the South will not be
able to hold property in the North."
"Did Frank tell you that?"
"Never mind who told me, Tom."
"And is that to make a difference
between you and me?"
"That is just the question that I
am asking you. Only you ask me with a reproach in your tone, and I ask you with
none in mine. Till we have mutually agreed to break our engagement you shall be
my adviser. If you think it better that it should be broken—better for your own
interests—be man enough to say so."
But Tom Reckenthorpe either did
not think so, or else he was not man enough to speak his thoughts. Instead of
doing so he took the girl in his arms and kissed her, and swore that whether
with fortune or no fortune she should be his, and his only. But still he had to
go—to go now, within an hour or two of the very moment at which they were
speaking. They must part, and before parting must make some mutual promise as to
their future meeting. Marriage now, as things stood at this Christmas time,
could not be thought of even by Tom Reckenthorpe. At last he promised that if he
were then alive he would be with her again, at the old family house at
Frankfort, on the next coming Christmas-day. So he went, and as he let himself
out of the old house Ada, with her eyes full of tears, took herself up to her
During the year that followed—the
year 1861—the war progressed only as a school for fighting. The most memorable
action was that of Bull Run, in which both sides ran away, not from individual
cowardice in either set of men, but from that feeling of panic which is
engendered by ignorance and inexperience. After that the year was passed in
drilling and in camp-making—in the making of soldiers, of gunpowder, and of
cannons. But of all the articles of war made in that year the article that
seemed easiest of fabrication was a general officer. Generals were made with the
greatest rapidity, owing their promotion much more frequently to local interest
than to military success.
Before the end of 1861 both Major
Reckenthorpe's sons had become general officers. That Frank, the soldier, should
have been so promoted was, at such a period as this, nothing strange. Though a
young man, he had been a soldier, or learning the trade of a soldier, for more
than ten years, and such service as that might well be counted for much in the
sudden construction of an army intended to number seven hundred thousand troops,
and which at one time did contain all those soldiers. Frank, too, was a clever
fellow, who knew his business, and there were many generals made in those days
who understood less of their work than he did. As much could not be said for
Tom's quick military advancement. But this could be said for them in the
South—that unless they did make their generals in this way, they would hardly
have any generals at
all; and General Reckenthorpe, as
he so quickly became—General Tom, as they used to call him in
Kentucky—recommended himself specially to the Confederate leaders by the warmth
and eagerness with which he had come among them. The name of the old man so well
known throughout the Union, who had ever loved the South without hating the
North, would have been a tower of strength to them. Having him, they would have
thought that they might have carried the State of Kentucky into open secession.
He was now worn out and old, and could not be expected to take upon his
shoulders the crushing burden of a new contest. But his eldest son had come
among them, eagerly, with his whole heart; and so they made him a general.
The poor old man was in part
proud of this and in part grieved. "I have a son a general in each army," he
said to a stranger who came to his house in those days; "but what strength is
there in a fagot when it is separated? of what use is a house that is divided
against itself? The boys would kill each other if they met."
"It is very sad," said the
"Sad!" said the old man. "It is
as though the Devil were let loose upon the earth; and so he is; so he is."
The family came to understand
that General Tom was with the Confederate army which was confronting the Federal
army of the Potomac and defending Richmond; nevertheless, he kept his engagement
with Ada, and made his way into the gardens of his father's house on the night
of Christmas-eve. And Ada was the first who knew that he was there. Her ear
first caught the sound of his footsteps, and her hand raised for him the latch
of the garden-door.
"Oh, Tom, it is not you?"
"But it is though, Ada, my
darling!" Then there was a little pause in his speech. "Did I not tell you that
I should see you to-day?"
"Hush. Do you know who is here?
Your brother came across to us from the Green River yesterday."
"The mischief he did. Then I
shall never find my way back again. If you knew what I have gone through for
Ada immediately stepped out
through the door and on to the snow, standing close up against him as she
whispered to him, "I don't think Frank would betray you," she said. "I don't
think he would."
"I doubt him—doubt him hugely.
But I suppose I mist trust him. I got through the pickets close to
Gap, and I left my horse at Stoneley's, half-way between this and Lexington. I
can not go back to-night now that I have come so far!"
"Wait, Tom; wait a minute, and I
will go in and tell your mother. But you must be hungry. Shall I bring you
"Hungry enough, but I will not
eat my father's victuals out here in the snow."
"Wait a moment, dearest, till I
speak to my aunt." Then Ada slipped back into the house and soon managed to get
Mrs. Reckenthorpe away from the room in which the Major and his second son were
sitting. "Tom is here," she said, "in the garden. He has encountered all this
danger to pay us a visit because it is Christmas. Oh, aunt, what are we to do?
He says that Frank would certainly give him up!"
Mrs. Reckenthorpe was nearly
twenty years younger than her husband, but even with this advantage on her side
Ada's tidings were almost too much for her. She, however, at last managed to
consult the Major, and he resolved upon appealing to the generosity of his
younger son. By this time the Confederate General was warming himself in the
kitchen, having declared that his brother might do as he pleased; he would not
skulk away from his father's house in the night.
"Frank," said the father, as his
younger son sat silently thinking of what had been told him, "it can not be your
duty to be false to your father in his own house."
"It is not always easy, Sir, for
a man to see what is his duty. I wish that either he or I had not come here."
"But he is here; and you, his
brother, would not take advantage of his coming to his father's house?" said the
"Do you remember, Sir, how he
told me last year that if ever he met me on the field he would shoot me like a
"But, Frank, you know that he is
the last man in the world to carry out such a threat. Now he has come here with
"And I have come with none; but I
do not see that that makes any difference."
"He has put up with it all that
he may see the girl he loves."
"Pshaw!" said Frank, rising up
from his chair. "When a man has work to do, he is a fool to give way to play.
The girl he loves! Does he not know that it is impossible that she should ever
marry him? Father, I ought to insist that he should leave this house as a
prisoner. I know that that would be my duty."
"You would have, Sir, to bear my
"I should not the less have done
my duty. But, father, independently of your threat, I will neglect that duty. I
can not bring myself to break your heart and my mother's. But I will not see
him. Good-by, Sir. I will go up to the hotel, and will leave the place before
After some few further words
Frank Reckenthorpe left the house without encountering his brother. He also had
not seen Ada Forster since that former Christmas when they had all been
together, and he had now left his camp and come across from the army much more
with the view of inducing her to acknowledge the hopelessness of her engagement
with his brother than from any domestic idea of passing his Christmas at home.
He was a man who would not have interfered with his brother's prospects, as
regarded either love or money, if he had thought that in doing so he would in
truth have injured his brother. He was a hard man, but one not willfully unjust.
He had satisfied himself (Next