August 28, 1994

ON AUGUST 28, 1861, my great-great-grandfather went to town with his sixteen-year-old son and they both of them enlisted in the Union Army for three years or "during the war." He may still have been grieving for his wife of 23 years, who had died six months earlier. She'd given him eleven children. He'd just remarried, and had a lot of responsibilities.

Perhaps he did it to take his mind off his troubles or just to roll the dice and change his life, or perhaps for the enlistment bounty and private's pay in hard cash, or perhaps for other reasons or combinations of reasons that I will never know. But, whatever his reasons, off he went dressed in a new suit of blue wool, toting a Colt .36 revolver that unlike most relics of war has made it all this way down the time stream into my hands. His son was killed in some nameless battle. My great-great-grandfather came home occasionally to father replacements, and when the war ended, he returned to his plough. He was illiterate and that's how he died, leaving his widow with eleven more children, 131 acres of land and a military pension.

Well, Grandpa, why did you do it? Why did you leave your girlish bride twelve weeks after you took her virginity and go off and risk your life for 15 dollars a month? I'd like to know because if there was a war on that would take greybeards I'd probably enlist myself.


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