Tag Archive: Atlanta


Excelsior

The hot air bag came into view first, dark against the twilight horizon.  Everything in the city was closed or in ruins; Edmond and Sean had not seen another person since the train station.  Edmond wore his sword, and Sean had loaded his revolver.  Both strained their eyes into the lengthening shadows with twitching fingers.

The airship was listing haphazardly.  The bow was caught on a sand bar, the stern downstream.  The ship must have drifted to this spot from an anchorage upstream.  It was a stone’s throw from the waiting teeth of a bombed out bridge.

The hot air bag was light blue silk, opaque in the dim light.  Edmond and Sean immediately recognized that while the wider beam and shallower draft made her slower in the water, it gave the ship a distinctive advantage in the air.  Her aerodynamic lines and brass fittings marked her as British.  Everything about the ship, from her redwood construction to her complex engines spoke of expense.  This ship must have made massive profits to be worth building.

“I would say she must be ruined, because there is no one on board, but there isn’t any damage I can see.”  Sean spoke quietly despite the racket they had made clamoring down to the river’s edge.

Victoria’s Crusade.”  Edmond’s brow furrowed as he read the name.  “She’s a blockade runner. A smuggler’s ship.”  Her three engines and sleek lines said as much as the name.

“It can’t hurt to look around.”  Sean sounded almost plaintive as he glanced between the fine craft and Edmond.  Their troubles were forgotten for Sean; he wanted to see the ship.

“Oh I’m sure it could.”

The two men picked their way slowly down the sandbar and up the side of the ship.  Sean grabbed a loose rope and scrambled onto the deck.  Edmond, whose stump was bleeding from the walk from the train station, struggled up with the rope and Sean’s help.  There were two splotches of blood that had soaked into the deck and a number of pistol rounds buried in the deck and handrail.  Edmond unscrewed a lantern from the rail and raised his eyebrows at Sean as he lit it.

They found that the burners that heated the air in the bag were all nearly empty.  There was barely enough catalyst to keep the bag from collapsing, let alone take off.

“Damnit!” Sean swore as he closed the cover on the third unit.  Without functioning burners, the ship was simply an ungainly river barge.

“Lets check the hold, there is always a chance that there is more fuel there.”  Edmond did not sound as if he believed there was any fuel there.  He also did not sound as though he were spending too much effort covering his excitement at the beauty of the airship.  Edmond found himself figuring out the bearings and distances for travel to the Chesapeake Bay, despite the fact that he had never even heard of a two man crew running such a large ship.

The hold, lit by their small lamp, revealed only scraps of silk and lace: all that remained of the smuggler’s load.  Night had fallen completely by the time they entered the engine room.  Neither man had a large amount of experience with the propellers that drove these vessels through air and water.  That is why they did not see it for more than a minute.

“It looks like it was set to explode on a timer.  Something must have malfunctioned.”  This was more than Edmond had bargained for.  No ship was worth fooling with explosives he knew nothing about.  “Lets get ou-”

“No sir, we can use this!” Sean had an excited look on his face.  Edmond would have rather no one even talked loudly around the explosive.

“A massive incendiary won’t help us against three angry bigots.  Lets go Sean.”

“This is just like the incendiaries we used at New Orleans.  We can use the catalyst inside to power the burners on deck!”

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace. Edmond had not prayed since Vicksburg.  Sean knew more about ammunition than he, and though he was of unsteady temper he was steady of hand.  Surely he was not spared one explosion to perish in another?  Edmond nodded and Sean quickly cut the match-cord that led to the detonator and carefully unscrewed or broke all the pieces holding the container of catalyst in place.   A few seconds of work and the tension evaporated like fog in the sun.

It was only a few minutes of work dividing the catalyst crystals into the burners on deck.  The sandbar held onto the hull of the ship, but a few minutes of burn lifted them gently into the night sky.

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Trapped

News Telegram

“Its over!” Sean burst into the sun room of the plantation, the whole of which had been converted into a hospital.  Edmond and a half a dozen other convalescents looked up from their breakfasts to tee the young officer waving a telegram over his head.

Edmond rose and poured Sean a cup of coffee so he could join in the round of toasts.  The telegram rapidly went from hand to hand, its simple message read and reread.

“How did it happen?  What were the terms?  When can we leave?”  Edmond asked as they sat at a small table.

“You know Captain, information I learn in the union telegraph office is secret.”

Edmond raised his eyebrows.

“Top secret.”  Sean smiled.

“How did it happen?” Edmond asked as he pushed sugar and cream toward the Lieutenant’s cup.  “What were the terms?” Edmond pushed pushed a plate of toast and jam to Sean’s side of the table.  “And…” Edmond pushed a plate of bacon across the linen tablecloth.  “When can we go home?”

“Well, sir, the answers are supposed to be secret, but I’m certain the former owner of this plantation was also supposed to give his hogs over to feed the army.”

Sean explained between mouthfuls that a month or more worth of news had come in when the telegraph lines were repaired.  The war had ended when Lee’s army had tried to flee Richmond, and Grant had chased him to Appomattox.  Lincoln had come out with a number of executive orders planning the reconstruction of the south, and congress had agreed to fund them.  Sean had been picking up speed, both in his telling and his eating, so by the time he got to the bacon:

“Troops’re in Virginia and th’ Carolinas, restoring order for construction crews and I heard that they-”

“Slow down Sean!  You’re not on a deadline.”  Edmond laughed as he carefully poured some milk with his new left hand.

“Actually sir, I am.  I’ve been given my discharge papers, the old staff at the telegraph office are expected to be replaced next week.  I thought that you and I might try to catch a train… and the last one out leaves at five.”  Sean looked slightly sheepish as he finished the rushed speech.

“I’ll gather my things.  Where is the train headed, Richmond? ”

“Most of the lines are cut, sir.  We can only get to Savannah or Charleston.”

“Neither of those is exactly a northern direction” Edmond laughed.  “But perhaps we can catch a ship from there.”

The two gathered their things and packed them into a stagecoach.  It was eleven by the time they left, and a long journey into the city proper.  If they could not catch the train, then they would have to find lodgings in the city.  The ticket counter was quiet, a lone teller was talking quietly to a couple of men at the edge of the counter.

“Good evening.  I would like to purchase two tickets to Charleston.”

“For the five o’ Clock?”  The teller asked, looking Edmond up and down.

“Indeed.  How much will tickets be?”

“Ten thousand dollars.”  His tone was flat and level.  It might have been a joke, he might have been about to smile and say that the train was not coming, or that the price was actually four dollars and fifty cents.  He might have, were it not for the sneer and the loaded revolver under the counter that was just touching his fingers.

Sean sucked in his breath to yell, but Edmond saw movement out of the corner of his eye and spoke first.

“Why do you give this offense sir?”  Edmond tried to sound calm.

“There are two ways for a Yankee to leave Atlanta.  One is ten thousand dollars, the other is painful and free.”

“What do you mean by that?”  His officer’s sword was in his pack, his revolver had been destroyed in the blast that took his arm and leg.  That left him barehanded against at least three.  Sean was a large man, and ready to fight, but Edmond could see the long shadows of the two men behind them.

“Walking , certainly Captain.”  The man grinned, showing his teeth.

Edmond heard the sound of an approaching train.

Replacements

“You can see, Captain-”

“Discharged honorably, technician.”

“Well, sir, then you can see in the schematic that the gas burns here, and generates steam, which powers the pistons.  The power generated makes the joints as strong as your old arm, and while the inner workings are sensitive, the frame is solid.  You lose ability to move your wrist, except to rotate it, but it can rotate all the way round.  You can see somewhat how it works in the diagram there.”

“I can see how it works but what I can not see is how I work it.”  Edmond replied, tentatively flexing his new fingers.  “Why can’t I-”

The union doctor followed Edmond’s gaze to his new toes.  “The foot mechanisms are much simpler.  You can move the ankle as you move the fingers, through the connection at the stump here, but the toes simply flex as you walk.”

Edmond sat up in bed, tentatively pushed himself into a standing position, and took a few limping steps before tripping over the heavy steel foot.

“Remember that your body is healing, as well as getting used to the new equipment.”

Edmond gritted his teeth and pulled himself up.

Fever Dreams

The sharp copper tang filled his nostrils, and the entrails set his breakfast churning.  His uncle knelt by the corpse and checked the brand.  Edmond strained to see what had been written in the dirt with the blood from where he stood.  ‘N*gger Lover’

“Get on back to the house now, boy.  When you get there, saddle up your horse and wait for me.”

Tears fought their way past his resolve into his eyes.


Edmond lowered the telescope and glanced at the compass.  “Signal to the ground: Cavalry advancing from the south southeast.  Bring the ship around to-” The explosion threw a whirlwind of splinters and pain.  Had the hot air bag been hit?  He looked up-

The brown canvas was there above him, lit by smoky oil lamps.  There were shapes above him, and a dull feeling that something was gone.  He tried to ask them- but his tongue was too heavy.  They were leaning over him, putting more weight on his heavy head.  Why were the lamps going out?

He was standing at attention while Sherman explained how the airship corps would be refueled and resupplied so far from safe landings in the Mississippi.  Their target, the city of-


“The air corps would be an excellent place for you to serve!  The federal government understands that many feel a duty to their country as well as an obligation to follow the peaceful commandments of God.”  The recruiter was explaining how Quakers could serve in the army.  “The air corps serves in a purely scouting and reconnaissance capactiy, most airships are not even armed.”


The deck was growing slippery, despite the sand.  “LOAD!  Johnson, take the sergeant below.”  The whole gun crew was being unnerved by the bloody body.

“No-” Edmond pushed feebly against the straps holding him down.

“More morphine.  We’re almost finished.”

Edmond turned his head to the side, but the nurse held the mesh over his mouth and drowned him again in darkness.

Sweat ran into his eyes as Edmond looked down the long gun.  The air above the gun was hot and wavy, but he could still make out the distance markings and the front sight.  He coaxed the grinding gears into movement and when the gun had swung in front of the enemy airship he yanked the firing cord.  The cannon should have fired.  He had an instant to realize that it had not, and then look at it, before-


Now there was only the beetles.  Their sharp pincers deep in the flesh of his arm and leg.  Slicing and pinching.

Reveille

Edmond opened his eyes.  Brown canvas flapped somewhere above him.  He opened his mouth to speak.  Dry.

“Water.”

“You’re awake, Captain!”

The room came into slow focus around the scratchy, blue, wool covered arm holding a shining tin cup.  Edmond tried to sit up and pain lanced through his left arm.

“Just take it easy, sir,” said blue wool as he lifted Edmond’s head to tip the cup against his lips.

Edmond swallowed. “Where am I?”

“Atlanta, or what is left of it, sir.” He said as he lifted the flaps of the tent to let in more light.  Edmond raised his right hand and rubbed his eyes.  The man had a box with bars in it embroidered on his coat. The lieutenant sat down in the chair to his left.

“Sean McIntire.”

“Yes sir, thats me!  Good to see you awake sir.” Lieutenant McIntire said as he pulled the blanket back up over Capt. Drake’s arms.

“What happened to me?”

“You don’t remember, sir?” He looked quickly to the entrance of the tent and then back to Edmond.  “The doctors will be back soon, I’m sure that a bit more rest, and something for your pain-”

“I’d like to know why I’m in pain, Sean.”  Sean opened his mouth and then closed it.  “At least help me up so I can itch my foot.”  Sean stood and moved to Edmond’s side, but did not help when he reached for the tent pole to the right of his bed and slowly hauled himself up.

“Captain,” Sean rushed to the tent opening and bellowed for a doctor.  Edmond grabbed the thin wool blanket and began to pull its great weight back.  He slowly uncovered his right foot, and the stump of his left.  He stared at the protruding shin bone and the bright metal pin that stuck grotesquely from the bottom.  His heart pounded as the stump filled his vision.  He reached blindly for the cot behind him, and realized his left arm was going through the cot.  Confusion turned to revulsion when he saw the stump of his left arm.  He reeled backwards, gasping in the dusty air as he lost consciousness.