Cover for Letter from Lynchburg by Bo KaierAlternate history on this week’s show– an original story by Edward J. Knight about the American Civil War that we perhaps only narrowly missed!

7 August 1865

My darling Emily,

I do not know if this letter will reach you, but if it does, I hope it finds you well. General Lee has sent word to President Johnson requesting the evacuation of Washington, and I fear that Baltimore will be next. Remember that I have an uncle outside of Boston and he should be happy to take you in, should the worst come to pass. Just tell him that we are engaged to be married and I am sure he will provide for you.

Letter from Lynchburg

by Edward J. Knight


7 August 1865

My darling Emily,

I do not know if this letter will reach you, but if it does, I hope it finds you well. General Lee has sent word to President Johnson requesting the evacuation of Washington, and I fear that Baltimore will be next. Remember that I have an uncle outside of Boston and he should be happy to take you in, should the worst come to pass. Just tell him that we are engaged to be married and I am sure he will provide for you.

I also ask that you do not fear for me. I realize that our age is fearful indeed, ever since the traitors at Andersonville opened the rift to Jotunheim. But is it truly more terrifying than the war that spawned it, where brother fought brother?
Yet while the war with the giants goes badly, I am safe and will continue to be so. I have been assigned to Colonel Mosby’s regiment, where we serve as scouts and raiders. Our battles are short, for the Jotun, as we now call them, do not see us as much of a threat and do not pursue when we withdraw.

Perhaps they are correct, for we have not been able to inflict much in terms of casualties. Instead, what damage we seem to do is to their supplies and foodstuffs. In the end, it may turn the war, for the giants consume such significant quantities of grain and meat as to strip a region bare in a day. Yet in the moment, it is not clear how much it helps. It is most certain that it did not during the great battle that occurred yesterday.

They awoke us before dawn, not with bugles but by having the sergeants move among the tents and shake each of us awake. Night still hung in the air, making it hard to see all but what was close to the smoky cooking fires. Those only remained alight long enough to get us all bitter weak coffee and a warmed porridge mixed with bacon fat. Private Mueller had foraged some apples two days before, and at the sergeant’s request, they were passed around. Their tart tang did more to awaken us than the coffee that had come before.

The smell of the fires of Lynchburg still filled the air. General Lee had ordered it burned before we retreated across the river, so as to deny any provision to the Jotun. The acrid scent served to remind us all of why we fought. How many human towns and cities would fall before the monstrous Jotun were stopped?
We were glad that the morning started cool. We seemed to be past the worst summer heat though the air still hung with moisture that made our shirts clammy against our skin. The day promised to be fair but, as dawn broke, Colonel Mosby ordered our company to mount and ride west.

We rode about an hour, to a place where Mosby knew we could cross the river on a rickety old ferry. The ferry master, an old craggy man with an unkempt beard, made it clear that he was itching to be done with us, once we gave word of Lynchburg.
Then we rode hard south for an hour, then back east. The sun was high in the sky by the time we caught sight of our first Jotun.

They were at a distance, though they still towered into the sky. They marched down the road two abreast, with a solitary giant in the middle. We counted nine total, which was more than a match for our hundred raiders. Their iron helms and polished breastplates gleamed in the sun. Brown and black hair like ropes was bundled loosely behind their heads. Each carried not only one of their tree-sized spears, but a sword at his waist. The one in the middle wore a necklace that looked like gold. They marched steadily without a break or a pause in their stride.
Mosby told us they had to be elites. He guessed we might even be looking at a Jotun general with his honor guard.

Some distance behind the honor guard, a Jotun supply train worked its way down the road. Four Jotun rovers, in their leather jerkins and carrying giant whips, herded twenty wagons driven by human slaves, both Negro and White. The wagons overflowed with wooden barrels, crates, and canvas wrapped packages. Each was pulled by two tired draft-horses, which shied away from any Jotun that wandered near.

Mosby studied them a while. We’d raided such supply trains in the past, often with good success. We knew we could count on the humans to flee at first chance and torches put to the wagons usually caught quickly.

But then Mosby’s eye wandered to the backs of the honor guard as they faded into the distance toward Lynchburg.

He said the supply train came first. I could tell he wanted to chase the Jotun leader, but he had his orders.

I’ll spare you the details of the battle, my sweet Emily. Suffice it to say, we lit our torches and swooped down on the caravan. When it was over, we’d destroyed all but one of the wagons, freed most of the slaves, and even killed one of the giants. Lieutenant Thompson ran his horse right into it and knocked it over and the rest of his squadron jumped down and finished the ugly business with their sabers. The other Jotun fled up the road. We only lost a dozen men, with Lieutenant Thompson being the most notable among them.

It was in the woods after that we found our great prize. One of the now freed slaves, a strapping Negro named Marcus, was the personal property of the High Chief of the Jotun. Their King, he said. Marcus also confirmed that we’d seen the High Chief and his honor guard not more than an hour before.

Those of us near Colonel Mosby could see in his eyes what he wanted to do. He took maybe ten minutes before ordering us to all gather around. We stood and shuffled our feet in the heat and the bugs as we waited for him to speak.
I’ll remember his next words for all the rest of my days.

“Men,” he said, “our orders were to cut the Jotun supply lines and then create as much havoc as we could in their rear. I believe attacking their King qualifies as such havoc. Two squadrons will join me in such an endeavor. The rest shall remain here to prevent further supply caravans from reaching their forces. Captain Johnson will assume command of this second group.”

He paused as he sensed the restless eagerness of us all.

“Our chance of success in taking the King is low,” he continued, “but is an undertaking that must be made. If the Lord blesses us, we will succeed. If the Lord it truly merciful, some of us will survive. As such, I will request that only volunteers accompany me.”

My dearest Emily, I hope it will not add to your fears for me, but my hand was one of the first raised. There was a tenor and a firmness in Mosby’s voice that could not be denied.

Mosby selected his men, and I was among the chosen. The others followed Johnson to set defenses down the road.

Mosby divided us into his two squadrons. The first he kept with himself. The second he put under Master Sergeant McKenzie, a stout Irishman from west Pennsylvania that had fought impressively at Appomattox. I was with McKenzie.

“Your orders,” he told us, “are to move through enemy lines as fast as you can and deliver news of the Jotun King to Generals Lee and Grant. They have sufficient force to bring to bear, possibly decisively. Haste is of the essence and the ferry master is likely to have fled by now. The only way back is forward.”

I must admit, Emily, that at that moment, I was more scared than I’d ever been in my life. But as I looked around, I saw that the others were just as frightened themselves.

But all of us were determined. We all set out at once.

Once again, I will spare your delicacies from the specifics of the rest of the day.

Suffice it to say, we soon found the rear of the Jotun army. The squadrons soon lost sight of one another as ours dashed forward as best we could, searching for our own troops. At first we did quite well, the Jotun being unawares of our approach and then our presence among them. Alas, soon they took note of us and chose to engage us in combat.

The fighting was Hellish, dear Emily, and I use that term not to protect your sensitivities so much as to accurately describe the order of the afternoon. I will say that I was sore afraid, more so that I’ve ever been before.

Master Sergeant McKenzie fell to a Jotun spear in our first encounter. Our bullets did no harm to the two Jotun who had engaged us, and so we fled toward the still smoldering ruins of the buildings of Lynchburg. They cut down Mueller and McKinney as we fled. Williams died from a thrown boulder that came close enough to my own head for me to feel the whistle of the wind. Samuelson stumbled, and they were upon him before he could regain his feet.

By luck or arrogance, they did not pursue us further once we’d passed the first of the charred buildings. We wandered among them, exhausted and desperate in thirst, but the Jotun turned back to other things. We worked our way forward as best we could. Among those ruins of our own making, we found bodies tossed by the Jotun as if into a refuse heap. The smoke blinded us and the charnel smells brought us to the edge of illness. I will not describe the rest of the awful sights as I do not wish to relive them.

We were at the edge of despair, and almost at the edge of lying down in surrender, but with a few stern words to each other, we found the strength to continue on our mission.

Suffice it to say, we survived.

But Emily, my dearest Emily, I must say that my heart almost broke in happiness when we emerged from the ruins and saw those boys in Blue and Grey running toward us. Only the day you agreed to be mine has brought more joyous tears to my eyes. The mix of uniforms made it clear that we’d not only found our own troops, but one of Grant’s special regiments as well.

They took us to General Grant as soon as they heard our tale. The man … what is there to say about the man?

He was calm, despite the thundering of cannons in the distance. His gaze pierced each of us, as he probed for details of what we had seen and of what we thought the King might do. His features were serious, but he carried himself lightly. I could not help but imagine the gears turning behind his eyes as he took in all the scraps we had to feed him.

When he had finished with his questions, he summoned an aide but did not dismiss us. The aide hunched over a table with a pen and prepared to write the General’s words. Before he did, he turned to us. Again, I will not forget the words uttered that day.

“Colonel Mosby was correct to send you men,” he said. “The battle is all but lost. The Jotun press us too hard on too many sides. The cannons kill too few, and their spears and swords too many.

“But you offer us hope. We know that the Jotun did not advance upon our armies in June because they were still selecting their King. That process was not swift. If they have to select another, it may buy us precious time.”

He turned to his aide, a skinny older man with long sideburns and spectacles.

“Message to General Lee, co-commander of the Army of the States,” he said. “The Jotun King stands with their troops this day. I will lead my forces in attack, with the express purpose of capturing or killing him. General Lee to take the remainder of the Army and fall back, with the express purpose of defending Richmond and Washington as he sees fit.”

He paused and grew still. With the puff of breath of a decided man, he nodded once again.

“If I do not survive,” he said. “Convey my final words to my wife Julia. I love her and our children with all my heart.”

We stood, silent as the tomb, as the import of his words sank in.
At long last, General Grant turned to us ragged survivors again.

“You men have fought hard,” he said, “and suffered much. I would not see you suffer more by following me on this last charge. Your orders are to accompany my aide and assist General Lee in his retreat.”

That, my dearest Emily, is the last words the great General ever spoke to us. What he may have said to others, I know not.

We left and met with General Lee but briefly. He brooked no delay and soon had entire units engaged in orderly retreat.

The chaos of battle continued until nightfall, though I was well away from it. Yet as dusk fell, a horrid cry went up from the Jotun. Shouts rang out in their guttural tongue and drums filled the air. When our troops pulled back, the Jotun did not pursue.

By dawn, we were fully disengaged and safely far from attack.

We learned later in the day that Grant’s Last Charge had succeeded. Leading a thousand men, they had fought their way with saber and rifle to the Jotun King’s presence. There is some dispute on whether Grant himself delivered the killing blow, but the blow did come, for all accounts agree that the Jotun King fell among a flurry of men. The disorder in the Jotun army only served to confirm the claim.

We made our retreat in peace. After a full day and the absence of pursuit, General Lee gave orders to rest and recover. To our joyous surprise, Colonel Mosby joined us then, having survived as well.

That brings us to the moment of this missive.

Emily, my love, I miss you with all my heart. Yet I feel that I touched the face of history here, these past few days. I know not if our cause is lost, now that Jotun roam our land. I do know that, for it to succeed, we need such men as Colonel Mosby and General Grant. All is not lost, as long as the fire of bravery burns hot.
I hope to be worthy of standing with such brave men in the days to come. Almost as much as I hope to be by your side once again.

With Love and Adoration,