There Has Been Talk of Civil War

Picture of alleged “Confederate dead on Matthews Hill, Bull Run” photo by Matthew Brady.

In March of 2017 one of my favorite litmags Visitant published a then new work of mine “Abe Lincoln, Homeward Bound.” The impetus was to send a shiver down the spine. I was not inclined after writing it to consider it prescient. Revisiting it now, I would have to say, it’s back to the future-ish.

So, here’s my reprise of this work, comprising virtual recollections of the aftermath of a prior national calamity which we all must hope is not either in the writing or in fact the harbinger of what yet can happen again in America.

Abe Lincoln, Homeward Bound

The train readies to pull out of the station, heading first to Baltimore.
It will be a long day for the head conductor on the train;
he looks down at his pocket watch to make sure the time is right,
snaps the watch’s cover shut, yells out his “All Aboard”
and the privileged few allowed on this solemn journey scramble into
the passenger cars. There are some twenty guests in all, Washington officials,
close associates, a few relations, including son Robert. It is April 21, 1865.
An hour before the caisson carrying the President’s body slowly rolled along
Pennsylvania Avenue bound for the train station from the Capitol rotunda
where a constant stream of mourning citizens passed by his open coffin
to pay their respects to the man that led them through the crucible
of hell that was America’s Civil War. It has been four long years since
April 12, 1861 when the sitting duck in Charleston Bay, Ft. Sumter,
was attacked by Confederate shore batteries and in that time
620,000 Union and Confederate dead accumulated
on a roster of agony and pain for a nation struggling for its life.
Many in the North are angry and in despair over Lincoln’s assassination.
A point blank shot to the back of the head from a madman’s derringer,
a rebel who would not give up the fight for Southern rights,
has taken their leader from them just when he is needed most;
the aftermath of this debacle will be hard on all. Feelings run deep
on both sides of the Mason Dixon line. Healing wounds much need
the steady hand of the Great Emancipator, but he is gone, to be laid
to rest in his home state Illinois, in the town he called home, Springfield.
They will be waiting for him there, including a one-armed soldier
who comes every day to the intended burial site,
but one in a war which saw 100,000 amputations
done under the worst of battlefield conditions,
filling towns with hobbled veterans whose fellow citizens
do not always look upon these men with sympathetic eyes.

Retracing the route to the White House to start his first term, a caravan
of railroad cars heroically pulled along by Engine no. 49, pride of the
fleet build by McClellan Rail Car Co. of Wichita Kansas
is making its way from Washington, with eleven stops in between,
before the funeral train arrives at its final destination. Planned ceremonies will take place, and the people will come to say goodbye to Honest Abe. Farmers, seamstresses, factory workers. They will stand along
the railroad embankments, behind wooden fences in fields, on the outskirts
of the cities and on station platforms of smaller towns, the whistle stops;
standing there waiting for a chance to see their cap’n pass by as Whitman’s
poem will recite. It is a sad time, a tumultuous time, a time fraught with fear
and trepidation for an unknown future, as the way of the past has been
annihilated along with hundreds of thousands of men and boys in blue and gray on battlefields like Gettysburg and Antietam. Abe Lincoln, homeward bound.

Author note: The year 2022 marks the 157th anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination and funeral. The original motivation for this piece related to some contact I had at the time with the Lincoln Funeral Train Project. For those interested, Lincoln Funeral Train Recreation Project

For further reading: Is the US headed for another Civil War?

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Howard Richard Debs

Howard Richard Debs

Recipient, 2015 Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Awards, his chapbook Political is the 2021 American Writing Awards winner in poetry; see