Location: marengo, il, United States

Sunday, April 03, 2005


On a crude kitchen table a kerosene lantern flickers as the brothers finish the meal in hostile silence. Neither one notices shadows that play and dart over the rough walls behind them. The two young Hamilton boys are stubborn, and the pair has resolutely refused to compromise their opposing views. They both believe they are each justified and the other woefully wrong.

Leland sits lost in thought and stares vacantly at the steaming cornbread his mother places on the table. She steps back and hurries over to attend to the cooking stove. She remains quiet and avoids speaking about their conflict.

He reaches across the table for the platter, and from it he tears off a slab of the hot cake. Chewing mechanically, Leland keeps his eyes focused on the dish and its golden bread. Orland, his elder brother by two years, shovels up a spoonful of pinto beans from his plate, and then crams the food into his mouth.

This storm had been brewing for some time now. Strong and bitter words had been said by both over the course of many months past. And each brother in turn had accused the other of not only treachery, but cowardice and stupidity as well.

Leland was not altogether alone in his personal convictions. A few of his male neighbors thought exactly as he did, but his only brother also had allies on his side.

In the heated conclusion of that night’s latest quarrel, the answer had become obvious to them both, so they came to agree on one final thing – in the darkness of the following morning one should leave the family homestead.

Their mother picked up her broom and quietly began sweeping the rough wood floor around the stove.

Before the sun rose the next day, Leland Hamilton packed his few belongings and walked out the door. He saddled up a horse and left the small community of Rantoul, Illinois, never to see his family again. At the age of nineteen he decided to go down to Georgia and join up with the Confederate forces.

His intractable and pigheaded brother could stay and rot, for all he cared.

Rumor had reached the plains of central Illinois that General Sherman had his Union troops gathering in Tennessee, preparing to march 65,000 men down to Atlanta and onward to Savannah to “Make Georgia howl.” Young Leland determined he would arrive first, and he intended to personally howl right back in Sherman’s face. And in doing so, he would show his brother who was right after all.

In mid-November of 1864 the Union army began moving relentlessly toward the Atlantic Ocean. On December 20, after a ten-day siege, Savannah gave out a gasp and surrendered; the northern army then moved in and took command of the city. During this battle, Leland got himself captured and thrown into the dungeons at near-by Fort Pulaski, where he remained until the end of the war. Such is life.

The fort had fell two years earlier to the Union forces, and had been transformed into a prison to house captured Confederates. Supplies became scarce for both prisoners and captors alike. The commanding officer then turned to the local civilian population, asking them to help provide food and clothing for his men, and for his captives. Cynthia Blitch responded to that call.

Born and raised in Pembroke, Georgia, her mother had died from milk fever shortly after Cynthia reached her sixth birthday. Her father saw to it that her and her five brothers knew the advantages of toil and labor, along with the love and grace of the Lord Almighty.

She had been shown from an early age the proper way to handle a mule and a plow. Her older brothers taught her the art of tracking and killing game. Treated equally by her father, she worked along side her siblings as they cleared land, built fences and tended family crops. She learned how to cook and sew from a matron at the community church. She chopped firewood, and she hauled water up from the nearby creek for washing clothes. She also prepared most of the meals for the household.

Cynthia boasted long and luxurious hair, and a pair of striking hazel-green eyes. She also had a quick smile along with an even quicker temper.

Fiercely independent and headstrong, she developed a reputation among her friends and neighbors as an honest, forthright and hard-working woman. But she was not one to be crossed.

Cynthia could hold her own with any of her rowdy brothers. She once threw an eight-inch knife twenty feet and pinned the hand of one to a pine tree, on a dare. As a result, the surprised brother lost two of his fingers, but he gained a newfound respect for both his sister and her aim.

Her father, a part-time preacher, had also been detained at the Union-held fort while the conflict had raged on. Two of her brothers had been killed and one severely wounded during horrific battles between the North and South. She grew to hate the Union soldiers and all that they represented, but for her father’s present well-being, she took on the responsibility of delivering supplies to the prison.

Once a month Cynthia made the twenty-five mile journey from the Pembroke settlement to Fort Pulaski in a horse-drawn wagon. After loading the wagon with baskets of sweet potatoes from the family farm, along with sacks of corn, peanuts and dried meat, she added extra blankets or clothing neighbors donated. Then she set out alone.

Once, while traveling through a dismal area known as Shriver’s Swamp, she came under attack from a band of outlaws. One of the thieves jumped aboard her wagon and attempted to take control of her horse. But while the other members watched on in astonishment, she fended off his assault with a homemade nail-studded whip. He and his gang then fled this woman's fury in haste, leaving Cynthia to continue on her way unharmed.

On one of these visits to the fort, she met Leland Hamilton. Her father later married the couple shortly after both men were released. She and Leland then went on to raise four boys and three girls, the youngest of which was named Annie.

Annie grew up on the Hamilton Plantation near Black Creek. Feisty like her mother, she stood two hand-widths less than five feet tall. When she became of age, she met and married Joe Tippins. He owned a farm and a gristmill near the small village of Daisy, Georgia. They soon moved out to his farm where their children were all born. They had two boys and three girls; Allen arrived as the youngest of the five.

Joe immediately went into shock at little Allen's birth. He took one look at the newborn, turned and angrily accused Annie of being unfaithful to him. The child had dark hair and hazel-green eyes, so he looked nothing at all like his blond and blue-eyed father. Joe vehemently denied being this boy's father, so against Annie’s pleadings, a bitter separation followed.

Joe remained at the farmhouse where he raised the other four children alone, while Annie and the baby moved into the city of Savannah.

Contact between the boy and his father happened rarely. Any brief intervals they spent together made both uncomfortable, and each encounter left Allen feeling unwanted and more despised by Joe.

By the time he reached the fifth grade, economic times become rough, so he quit school to work. He began as a low office boy, and his chores consisted of sweeping, sharpening pencils for secretaries, and any other needed errands.

But the clattering noisy typewriters at his newfound workplace fascinated Allen. Whenever he had a spare moment, he studied the machines closely, and he asked countless questions of the typists.

Several secretaries showed him different features of the typewriter – how the space bar and shift keys worked, how to change a ribbon, or how to insert paper in the movable carriage and the proper way to line it up, and even how to set tabs for even margins. He made a copy of the arrangement of letters and numbers of the keyboard, writing it out on a piece of cardboard, and he took the facsimile home. There he began practicing.

His efforts paid off. The one secretary to the rough and no-nonsense boss took ill and missed work. The man needed an important letter typed right away, but no typists were available.

Allen overheard him, so he volunteered to do the job. The skeptical man gave him a chance. Allen then sat down at the secretary’s desk while his boss looked on. He inserted a fresh sheet of paper into the machine like a professional. Then while the man watched and waited, the young boy carefully adjusted both tabulations. Next, he began pounding furiously on the keys. In less than three minutes he handed the man a perfect letter, ready for a signature.

Both amazed and impressed, he promotion the young man on the spot.

Allen later went to work for an office machine repair shop. The man in charge there saw that Allen had a keen mind for mechanics, and he proceeded to teach him everything he knew. Allen learned quickly, and eventually becoming the firm’s top repairman.

But a few years later the Great Depression hit and brought along drastic changes. The owner announced he had to close up the shop. Everyone had to go. There was no money left to pay wages any longer. After the shock wore off, Allen decided to gamble on a bold move.

He met with the other employees and told them of an idea he had. Would they be willing to gamble with him? Then he went and offered his boss a small amount of cash he had saved up, in exchange for the shop. The man thought for a moment before taking the money.

The business thrived only because of Allen and his wild idea. He had assured them of only one thing, and that was an uncertain future. But since the future already looked bleak, it became an offer they were all willing to gamble on. So they all worked without pay until the shop began to prosper once, and eventually it did.

Way to go, dad.


Blogger Gone Away said...

A haunting tale told with artistry and skill. Harry demonstrates his mastery of the written word and the tale of a past made alive once more in his words. Wonderful stuff, made the more riveting as the suspicion, then the knowledge, dawns that we read of Harry's forebears.

Once again I can only marvel at and envy your "Way" with words and the rich ground you plow.

6:23 PM  
Blogger Gone Away said...

P.S. Found this comment in the pocket of a coat I haven't worn in ages. Darned if I can find my crown, however. ;)

6:25 PM  
Blogger Jay said...

Fascinating story, kin or not. But told the way only a man would tell it. Beautiful detail beginning and end, but in the middle, you gloss right over the love and marriage part. You spend a dozen sentences describing the meal, as many describing typing as a skill, and then only 3 short ones in the middle to say they met, married, and had children, even at the expense of your pacing.
Boys are funny that way, I suppose.

6:54 PM  
Blogger Ned said...

Well, I don't know if he is wearing clothes but apparently he doesn't wear his coat. I thought Elvis was the King?

Great story Way, and something I really admire. The ability to take family history and write it as it was lived and not as a mere catalogue of relatives. My mother told great stories of her family and now I wished I had listened more.

7:10 PM  
Blogger Harry said...

LOL Gone, ya rascle. (and Ta, mate)

Jay, the fact is, I know v. little of my ancestors, so 95% of this tale is a pack of lies.

My great-grandfather was really named as such, and did come from Rantoul, and did get captured, and did indeed meet Cynthia, who I have been told used a whip, but others in the family accuse my poor old mom of "exaggerating", but hey, she was a Texan, after all.

The love bits I must leave to those that know what they talk about, since I got no clue about romance, or how it works. I could have put them all in bed, I suppose, but then what? Help this boy out here.

Ned, ya got a few details, then go with what ya got. *grins*

7:41 PM  
Blogger Keeefer said...

Harry, I could read your stuff all day....except id probably get sacked.
Yet another great tale....keep em coming.....and i can post on your blog today too!

8:19 PM  
Blogger Harry said...

Ta, Keeef. As long as lies exist, I'll keep trying.

12:50 PM  
Anonymous Pinto Westfalen said...

Your blog is creative Keep it up. Pinto Westfalen

3:06 AM  

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