The Battle of The Blue

The Battle of The Blue
Rebel forces charge the Topeka Battery at Mockbee farm, original painting by Benjamin Mileham

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Unwanted Glory, Part 1 by Dick Ginnold

I found this story online while researching the men from the 2nd KSM who had been killed in action. It turns out the writer is named Dick Ginnold and is the Great Grandson of Georg Ginnold of Topeka Battery.  This is a fictionalized account of the events surrounding Georg and his family in October, 1864.   

   The North Wind drove a cold rain towards Doris and her children as they picked their way back home along on the muddy path next to Topeka’s Main Street. Doris tensed with her responsibility, like a mother hen with her 5 chicks. Eleven year old Mary watched her 9, 7, and 4 year siblings and Doris carried baby Lena in a front pouch, a trick picked up from the Pawnees.   Just a few feet away from the family, a U.S. Cavalry supply train with marching  infantry was passing towards the battle lines at the Missouri border. Doris’ husband Georg and his artillery battery were already there.  Most of the soldiers tramping along the muddy street were no more than young boys, led by a few grizzled veterans. It was late October, 1864 and the weather was turning cold and ugly. Distinctions between the blue uniformed officers and the motley crew of volunteers were being erased by the rain and mud, merging everyone in a slow, grayish column marching towards the battle.  As she and the kids moved along, Doris felt the cold and rain soaking through her garments and worried for her children. She thought of Georg, awaiting the battle with the Confederates. He had volunteered in response to the Governor’s second call to muster less than 3 weeks ago. Georg was 32, three years older than her, and a respected carpenter in the growing town of Topeka. They came to America from Prussia 12 years before, Georg without a trade and she disowned because of their love. They had moved West and settled in Kansas to build their family and their life. The war had followed them and now they were all swept up in the conflagration.  Perhaps because he had an air of leadership, Georg was assigned to a gun battery and was made a corporal , though he had no military experience. The platoon received no training except to fire a few practice rounds before they were rushed to the front.  Ordinary Kansans, carpenters, haulers, bakers and tradesmen were facing  General Price’s Confederate force of 20,000 cavalrymen which was on the verge of entering Kansas at the Big Blue, just 40 miles away. There were already rumors of  a pitched battle and casualties yesterday. Doris prayed for Georg’s safety..  
  Mary and her brother Richard were carrying home a bucket of water from the town  well. Doris cautioned them: “Children, stay away from the road. Walk carefully and  don’t spill. This water has to last. “ Richard asked: “Ma, will Papa be home soon?”
She answered: “No, son. Your father can’t come home until the enemy has been  defeated. He is protecting us, just like Captain Burns, Mr. Gage and the other fathers. ”
   Doris and the kids arrived at their little square house, with pine plank siding, a single window, and a stovepipe chimney poking through the rough shingle roof. Georg had built an addition to the rear with a small bedroom for Doris and him.  The rest of the house was a single room, with a wood stove in the middle. There was an outhouse in the muddy back yard.
   “Mary, help the children off with their coats and hang them to dry, ” Doris ordered.  “I’ll heat the soup and make dumplings,” she added. She changed the baby, put some dry clothes on her and passed the baby to Tillie, her seven year old: “Tillie, watch Lena and give her a bottle and rock her”. She passed the front door and looked at herself in the small mirror on the wall.  She still had the dark hair and flashing dark eyes Georg loved, but she hated the shadows under her eyes and her drawn, worried face. Life was taking its toll.
    Doris walked to the stove and took a piece of wood to stoke the fire. She noted the dwindling stack. Doris dreaded chopping wood with the huge ax. Each time she feared that she might strike her foot or hit a curious kid. If Georg didn’t come back soon, she would take up the offer of help from Mr. Wurth, the widower who lived alone next door. 
    As Doris prepared dinner, she tried to count her blessings. Mary was like a little  mother with the smaller children and the baby. Doris couldn’t make it through this time without her help. Richard was also a comfort, a good boy. But Georg was the key to the family’s happiness. He had a bright belief in the future and made the rest of the family enthusiastic, no matter how hard times were. He passed on his skills to the boys, played games with all the kids and began each day with a cheery “Good morning” to all. He was a necessary counterpoint to Doris’ growing anxiety and depression. The kids loved Georg and missed him. They understood a little about the war and Georg’s danger. Even the smallest were being especially good and helpful, as if this might get their father back sooner.  
   As Doris set the table, her earlier pensive, dark mood returned. She felt a chill  and a tight, worry band around her head.  The rich smell of the boiling soup and the crackling of dumplings frying in lard brought her back to earth.
 “Mary”, Doris ordered, “please get the kids ready for dinner. “ Take care of Lena and then take the rest of the kids to the outhouse, before it gets too dark.” “As you say, Mother”, replied Mary. Doris looked up at a few small leaks in the roof, starting to drip through the tar covering. They would have to place pans as long as the rain continued.  She needed a man around the house! Lord help us when real winter begins, she thought. Doris was setting the table when there was a sharp knock at the front door. Doris was flustered. Who could it be at dinner time? She wiped her apron with a cloth and smoothed her hair. She walked to the door and opened it. Captain Burns, Georg’s platoon leader, was there, looking muddy and disheveled, with a bandaged head. A higher officer was standing behind him.

                                                                                                                to be continued...

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