It’s been over a year since I sat down with my characters and interviewed them. You can read the first interview here. I had a load of fun interviewing Claire and Frank Harper, stars of the Ancient Words Series, so I wanted to bring them back out to answer some more questions. But I wanted to bring you something different. So this time, I’m interviewing Frank Haper and Ralph Williams side by side. For those of you that haven’t read my series yet, Frank serves in the Confederacy while Ralph serves in the Union. Bringing these two men together to answer some questions about life during the Civil War wasn’t so easy. Keep reading to find out what these men had to say about war, hardships, and each other. 😉
I’m sitting down with Frank Harper, who has served the Confederacy since June of ’61. In his world, it’s January 1863 and the war has not been concluded. I’ve got my work cut out for me at keeping him far away from the internet…as if he could figure out how to work it. Lol I’ve hidden my Appomattox pictures. So mums the word. 😉
Me: We’re still waiting on two more guests, but please, Frank, have a seat and enjoy the snacks we’ve laid out.
Frank: Thank you. Don’t mind if I do. Is Claire still here?
His twin sister, Claire, enters the room at the mention of her name.
Claire: Yes, I’m still here. Looks like we’ve finished just in time.
Frank stuffs a molasses cookie in his mouth and Claire giggles at his eagerness. He probably hasn’t had a cookie in several months if not more than a year at this point.
Me: Thanks, Claire, for visiting and helping me bake today. I hope you’ll be able to visit again soon.
Claire claps excitedly, a bright smile spreading across her cheeks.
Claire: Oh, I’d love that! I can’t recall the last time I was allowed to bake with abandon. Oh, do try the cranberry scones, Frank. You’ll like them, I think. If you’ve half the time, you should wander off into her kitchen. The modern appliances alone make it worth the trip! Then there’s the stockpile of flour and sugar and black tea!! Oh and the coffee!! Frank, she has real coffee here!! Here, let me pour you a nice cup. There now, you’ll enjoy that. I just know you will!
Frank’s happily eating and drinking, content to let his sister do all the talking. Lol I now wish I had laid out some more food. He does look like he could use a solid meal.
Oh, great! Another guest is here.
Their father, Olen Harper, just walked in and he stops for a kiss on the cheek from Claire before he sits on the chair beside Frank and reaches for the coffee cup Claire hands him.
Frank: Claire, are you staying this time?
Claire frowns, but her frowns will not work on me. In fact, I need to get her out the door.
Claire: No, I’ve been asked to leave before y’all begin. In fact…
She’s looking to me for confirmation, which I gladly give. My final guest will be here soon and I really should get her out of here before it’s too late.
Claire: Yes, yes, there is my cue. See, I really must go now.
She frowns again, but I know she’ll be a good sort of gal and head out. She stops to hug and kiss her father and brother goodbye. She hugs me as well before turning to leave.
Me: You’ll come again, I hope?
Claire: I’d love to!
Good, she’s going out the door now…only the moment she steps through, she runs into a wall of Union blue. Ralph Williams is here.
They recognize each other, but both are trying to downplay the moment. Thankfully for her, she blushes pretty. Now, as much as I want to give them this moment, I really must get her out of here. Frank’s up refilling his coffee cup and hasn’t spotted our guest yet. It sounds like both he and Olen are exploring my humble kitchen.
We’ll have our hands full enough with Frank. There’s no need in starting trouble early by letting him see the sparks flying between these two.
I clear my throat and that sends the pair moving, Ralph to one side with a silent bow and Claire shooting out the door. 🙂 No one else is in the room to see Ralph watching her leave except me. How sweet. He ducks his head when he catches me grinning at him.
Me: I’m glad you could make it, Ralph. Please have a seat and help yourself. I didn’t have a recipe for your mother’s cranberry cake, but I did bake a couple batches of my famous cranberry scones. I know you’ll enjoy this substitute.
Ralph: Thank you. That was mighty thoughtful of you.
He sits down and glances back at the door Claire just left from.
Me: We’ll get you a cup of coffee in just a moment. Ahh, there it is. Olen’s bringing it in for you. Please, help yourself to any cream and sugar if you want it.
Olen enters with two cups of coffee and Frank follows behind him, grinning, with cookie crumbs dusted in his beard.
Olen quickly sets both cups down and steps to the side, his eyes on the two men. The smile slides from Frank’s face and he stops dead in his tracks. Ralph tosses down what’s left of the scone and stands up, eying Frank warily. Both look on the verge of charging, chests heaving.
Me: I’ve asked you both here because Frank, like yourself, Ralph has been in service since the start of the war. He’s served in the Union Cavalry while you’ve served in the Confederate Infantry, and my readers want to ask some questions concerning your experiences. I just want to make it clear that I’m not here to squeeze anyone for information. I’m not going to ask you anything that you can’t answer without giving up army positions or strengths.
Both men silently nod their heads and cut their eyes back at each other. Lol Oh, dear! This will make for an interesting hour!
Me: I’ve asked your readers to send in some questions. The first thing they want to know is what it feels like before a battle compared to what it feels like afterward?
Both sit quietly. Frank runs a hand through his hair and Ralph rubs his beard while Olen sits between them and sips his coffee.
Both seem a little tight-lipped. Maybe I should try again.
Me: Frank, do you normally know when a battle is coming?
Frank: Most of the time, but not always. It’s normal to engage in skirmishes and they tend to be a little more unplanned. I mean, we’re always looking for those lowdown Bluebellies, so we’ll engage them every chance we get.
Ralph’s head whips to his right and he leans forward so he can see past Olen.
Ralph: Always engage us? It didn’t seem much like engagement when your backs were turned and you were running from Murfreesboro.
Frank jumps out of his seat, snorting like a bull. His father calmly grips him by the arm and Ralph just stares back at him, looking a bit too cocky. Olen gives a gentle tug on Frank’s arm and after a long pause, he plants himself back in his chair none too gently.
Me: So, Ralph, what would you say the difference is before and after a battle?
He gives Frank another hard stare before turning his attention to me.
Ralph: Before a battle there are the usual jitters.
Frank: Of course they have the jitters. Everyone knows that Yankees are afraid of steel.
His shoulders shake under his own laughter. Ralph doesn’t even spare him a glance but his jaw is tightly bound.
Ralph: If you give a Johnny enough ammunition, he’ll eventually hit someone. We’re grateful they haven’t better aim.
Frank just rolls his eyes.
Me: And after battle?
Both grow quiet again and their eyes have dropped to their laps. It’s funny to watch them because neither are aware at how they mirror each other. We may soon find that these enemies are more alike than they first thought.
Ralph: Before a battle, you think of death. Could I die? Will I die? But after…you see the reality of it. You stare into the lifeless faces of both friend and foe. Suddenly, your fears become your reality. You cross the field and find someone you ate breakfast with that morning, another who you swapped newspapers with. The one you always pass on the way to the latrine is crying out from a bullet hole and you’re just left wondering how you made it. You’d think one might feel elation at having survived, but it’s like you died even though you lived. There’s something inside of you that breaks down at the destruction you have to see, the same destruction the dead are now spared from.
Olen is silently watching Ralph, but Ralph is talking without making eye contact with anyone. He seems to be standing on a bloody field somewhere. Frank’s face is pulled down in a tight frown and he’s rubbing both sides of his head now.
Me: Frank, can you share the thoughts that run through your mind during the battle?
He blinks back his own memories and gives his head a quick shake as if to clear it once and for all.
Frank: It’s something you’d have to experience to really understand. It hardly makes any sense even now. At the start of a battle, once you’re engaged in it, you wrestle with thoughts and fears of death, but soon the activity takes over and it’s like you can’t think of anything anymore. It’s like walking through a daze. I’m alive, I can tell it. But I’m so caught up in the motions that I don’t even recognize it.
Ralph’s nodding his head and mumbling his agreement.
Frank: I’m not sure how the field generals manage to make decisions during a battle. I can hardly think. Everything’s happening so fast and yet so slowly. You can hear the whizzing of bullets. Hear them striking trees and men alike. They hit the ground in front of you, tossing up grass and dirt, and your heart just dips at how close they came to taking your leg instead. The field seems to be in pure chaos and yet there’s normally an order to it if you know how to look for it. Behind the screams, battle cries, cannon thunder, and screeching bullets, you’ll hear the bugle and drums that give each regiment their orders. It’s not always easy to tell one call from the other, but you learn real quick to tune your ear to the right sounds. The regimental flags help keep some order on the field. But I guess it’s the kind of chaos that you reluctantly get used to.
Me: Do either of you plan to make a career out of the military when the war is over?
Both of them adamantly shake their heads.
Me: If you knew then what you know now, would you still have enlisted?
Both sit still again, deep in thought.
Frank: Tyrants should always be dealt with…
Ralph is grumbling and shifting in his seat, but Frank starts speaking louder to drown him out.
Frank: …and while I would have preferred to stay at home, I’ll gladly defend my country against the likes of them! It’s a shame that not all of our Southern men felt the same. They’ve lost their senses, I’d say. I pity them, really.
Frank cuts his eyes over again, leaning just slightly so he can see past his father. Frank’s last remark was meant especially for Ralph. I haven’t brought it up, and you can’t hear him, but Ralph talks with a thick Southern drawl, having been born and raised in Tennessee. Clearly, the familiar accent didn’t get past Frank. Ralph is working his jaw and shaking his head.
Ralph: I haven’t the stomach for foolishness is more like it. These hot-heads will destroy the South, not save it.
Frank: Oh, and you think your fancy army aims to keep it intact?!
Frank has left his seat again and Ralph jumps up to join him, both shouting at each other. Olen looks at me and blinks back his annoyance. Resting his coffee cup on the table, the ever-calm, always-silent man stands between them and settles a strong hand on both shoulders. They both start to shake it away, but I can see him squeezing them both.
Olen: Mind your manners, the both of you. You weren’t asked here to demonstrate war, but to answer a few questions about it.
He eyes them both. Thankfully, they’ve quieted again.
Olen: Now sit.
Just like that, the younger men swallow their pride, suck in a deep breath and settle back down in their chairs. Olen gives me a nod and reaches for his cup again.
Me: So are we to assume then that both of you feel that your cause is worthy enough to endure the horrors of war?
They both nod their heads.
Ralph: I would have preferred to have been spared it, but seeing as how there’s no way around it, Rebels will be rebels after all, I’ll endure what I must to see our country set to rights.
Frank is putting a hole through my wall with his menacing stare, but he’s otherwise silent.
Me: Besides the battlefield, what is the hardest thing to endure?
Frank: I hope you’re not expecting only one answer.
Ralph laughs along with him.
Me: Okay then, let’s hear your lists.
Frank: Well for starters, the food.
Frank: The only thing worse than not having any food is when they actually bring us food!
Ralph laughs out loud, and then leans forward to see Frank.
Ralph: Oh, I don’t know. I’ve grown kind of fond of the weevil castles.
Frank bursts out laughing.
Frank: Yeah, well you can keep them! I’ve enough weevils in my cornmeal; I don’t need to soak the bread to get to those. We took hold of one of your supply wagons and I can’t say we were grateful for the experience. The coffee was a nice treat and all, but what the devil are you supposed to do with that hardtack?
Ralph: Serves you right. Not that we were given much of a treat when we stole your wagons. How many peanuts do you think you’ve eaten by now, anyways?
Frank: Don’t speak ill of the goober peas now. Those just might be the best thing they hand out. Not that I ain’t tired of seeing them. But back to that hardtack…
Ralph: There’s not much that can be done with it, I suppose. Thump it against a rock to knock the weevils out of their holes.
Ralph: Yeah, they bore holes into the hardtack where they live and eat. That’s why we call them weevil castles. Anyways, if you’re new to the hardtack, you try to get the bugs out. If you’re not, you try to ignore them. We’ve tried a little of everything. Crumbling it up and putting it in some broth. Soaking it in the coffee. Soaking it in water. Soaking it then frying it in bacon fat. We’ve tried a little of everything, but nothing really helps the taste.
Frank: Then there are the long marches, heavy knapsacks, thinning supplies. Although, pretty boy here gets to stay off his feet and rest most of the day.
Ralph: REST?! Are you out of your mind?
Frank chuckles at him.
Frank: Nope, but you’re off your feet. That much I know. Why, I bet those are the same pair of boots you entered the war wearing.
Ralph: I’ll have you know that a cavalryman is worth two infantrymen!
Frank chokes on his coffee and shakes his head.
Frank: To your mother, maybe. Let’s see you climb off that horse of yours and we’ll see how far you get. I don’t have anyone carrying me from place to place. I have to carry myself and my stuff. I’m both mule and man.
Ralph: Well, you’ve got the mule part right.
Me: Are there any other hardships?
Ralph: The lack of privacy, the hard ground for your bed, bedding down in a small tent with unwashed men…
Frank: The diseases, endless hours of training…
Ralph: Really there’s little good to be had. I’m afraid it’s a necessary evil, but an evil all the way around.
Me: Frank, how does the reality compare to the expectations you once had about war?
Frank snorts and shakes his head. He pauses a moment to stuff another cookie in his mouth.
Frank: Unless a man had some sort of military training, their expectations are more in line with a dream. A rosy-colored, all-glorious dream. In that dream, the hardships were at a minimum and you came home before you were ever truly missed with a grand medal pinned to your lapel. The realities are anything but. I joined at the start of the war, when the excitement was high and so was the necessary equipment. Things are very different now. Surviving in the winter camps is hard enough, but add to that the lack of food and supplies and you suddenly have a whole other kind of hardship on your hands. The act of war itself is a far cry from what one might have thought about before he enlisted. Pulling the trigger gets harder and harder, and yet you dare not ever stop, lest you lie in the dirt below your feet. It’s bad business really. I’d like nothing more than for the Yanks to put an end to all of this and leave so I can return home where I’m wanted.
Ralph has been silently nodding his head until Frank mentions the part about the Union army leaving. Now he’s cutting his eyes at Frank, his jaw clamped shut.
Me: Ralph, how do you keep your spirits up under these sorts of conditions?
His hard stare lingers on Frank’s profile a moment longer before he turns his eyes back to me. He takes a deep breath and thinks it over.
Ralph: Any way a man possibly can, I’m afraid. And that, ma’am, can lead to a whole lot of mischief. If a man has any sense left in him, he turns first and fully to Christ alone. Holding to God’s promises is the only sturdy foundation in a world where everything is constantly changing and everyone is aware of the fact that tomorrow just might not come at all. Other healthy pursuits are writing letters or visiting family if you’re fortunate enough to have a leave. Getting a pass into town offers a wide variety of entertainment. Baseball is a popular sport and a great way to pass the time. The bands relieve some of the strain with their daily concerts. Then there are more wicked pursuits that men turn to in order to pass the time and keep what little joy they can. Drinking and gambling are two of the… cleaner of the wicked entertainments. You’ll have to forgive me, ma’am, I’ll not speak of some of the others.
Me: We’re out of time, but I want to ask one last question to you both. What do you most look forward to when the war is over, besides seeing your family again?
Both sit solemnly for a moment. Olen looks from one man to the other. Ralph is staring at something over my shoulder and Frank is running a hand through his hair. Frank cuts his eyes over to Ralph.
Frank: I’m ready to live at peace again. I’m tired of fighting.
Ralph nods his head and turns toward Frank, leaning forward slightly to see past Olen.
Frank: I’ll not forfeit my rights for peace. I’ll do my duty first, make no mistake about that. But I do… ever so long for quieter days again.
Ralph is working his jaw again and settles back into his chair.
Ralph: I reckon I can give up shooting Rebels.
Ralph gives a long sigh and slowly nods his head again.
Ralph: But most of all, I want rest. I’m ready to put this aside and move on with my life. Maybe settle down.
Frank is grinning like a fox. I’m sure we can all imagine where his thoughts have wandered.
Me: I can’t thank y’all enough for taking time out to come and answer a few questions. I know this isn’t the easiest subject line to venture upon, especially in mixed company. I thank you for not tearing down my house.
Frank: And I thank you for the coffee!
Ralph mumbles his agreement, with his mouth full and the other half of his scone raised in a toast.
Me: This war will come to an end soon. I wish you both well until we meet again!
You’ll find these characters and their full stories in the Ancient Words Series. You can pick up your copy of Where Can I Flee here. In the Shadow of Thy Wings goes on sale on Amazon on December 8th.