Thursday, June 9, 2011

Kneeling in Blood: Who is Kate Cumming? The Road Home

This is the last entry in Kneeling in Blood.  This entry doesn't deal as much with Kate as a nurse, as it does with Kate as a Southern woman returning home after the end of the war.  This part of Kate's journal was harder for me to read than all the rest of it. 
Excerpts from Kate's journal:
April 19th:  The enemy did not come last night, but I expect they will honor us today.  I opened a prayer book and my eye fell on the twenty-seventh psalm:  “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear.”  I do not think it was accident made me turn to those appropriate and comforting words – however some may laugh and say so.  My faith is strong in the belief that there is an unseen hand directing all our ways.
Night – The enemy marched in about 5pm.  I have just been on the gallery, watching the burning of the warehouse, and the sad work of destruction still going on.  We hear the sound of axes and suppose they are tearing up the railroad track.  I thank the Giver of all good that I have been enabled to look calmly on the destruction without one feeling of revenge.
April 22nd:  There is much excitement in town.  News had just come that there is an armistice, and that we had been recognized by France, England, Spain and Austria.  Lincoln has been assassinated.  None of our people believe any of the rumors, they look upon it as a plot to deceive the people.
April 26th:  We have just heard that the French fleet has had a battle with the Federal fleet, and whipped it and taken New Orleans.  All are much rejoiced.  There is really an armistice.
April 30th:  In the evening we went to the Baptist Church and heard an excellent sermon.  The test was, “And a man shall be a hiding-place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest.”  A very earnest prayer was offered up in behalf of our fugitive president, in which I know everyone joined heartily.  I did not know he was a fugitive, but the truth is gradually dawning on us that we are really subjugated.  I knew we had peace – how, I did not understand; but certainly thought we were independent.  This is a severe ordeal; may God in His mercy give us comfort through it.
May 1st:  A lovely day; spring is silently working her great Creator’ swill and arraying herself in all her glories.  Meadow and woodland is brilliant with her gorgeous robes.  There is a mellowness breathing in the air, which fills one with an undefinable feeling of perfect tranquility.  O, how welcome it comes to our trouble spirits!  How bountifully God has showered His blessing on us, if we would only receive them!
We have received orders to have everything packed to hand over to the United States Government, or someone – we do not exactly know who.
May 4th:  I heard yesterday that there are no cars running south of West Point, the raiders having destroyed the bridges in that section.  I intend going to Newnan, as I may have a chance of getting a conveyance from there,  home.
May 5th:  I arrived at Newnan today at 11am, having left Griffin yesterday.  On the train to Atlanta I met my friend, Dr. Hughes, on his way to this place; also Dr. Archer.
As we neared Atlanta, the scene was one of desolation and ruin.  As far as the eye could reach, pile after pile of blackened brick could be seen, where once had stood stately mansions.  
This morning, we came down to the depot, it was almost impossible to find where it had been.  I never expected to see such utter destruction as we there beheld.  The meanest building on that street – the old Gate City Hospital – was left untouched.  It served as a mark, to show us where we were.  Opposite it, where many other large buildings had stood, not one stone is now left upon another. There were many Confederate soldiers returning to their homes.  They treated the Federals with perfect indifference.
May 29, 1865:  I arrived in Mobile on the 27th, having left Newnan on the 17th. 
We reached West Point about two hours before sunset, and such a scene as I saw there I never shall forget.  The river was gliding as smoothly as if the enemy had never been thee to disturb the quiet.  The fine bridge that spanned it had been destroyed and every way the eye turned was ruin and desolation.  The depot and warehouse were a pile of blackened bricks.  The banks were covered with the men of our army returning to their homes.  The faded gray uniform was seen everywhere. There were some half a dozen “blue-coats” standing by themselves, as much alone as if they had been in the Desert of Sahara, instead of in the midst of a people whom they claimed to have conquered.  I almost pitied their loneliness.  I thought they looked as if they had been guilty of a wrong for which they were sorry.
Nature never looked more beautiful to me, and the setting sun flung his rays over the grand old trees and scattered groups, as if to remind us that there was something more than the present, which no foe could take away.
I left Montgomery on the 26th, and the roads were so bad that I thought at one time we should never get to the end of our journey.  As we neared Mobile my heart sank within me at the desolate appearance of everything.  
On reaching home I found my family all well.  My brother, along with his company, had done good service to Spanish Fort.
This year has developed the fate of the South.  Time has revealed the utter loss of all our hopes.  A change must pass over every political and social idea, custom, and relation.  The consummation makes the year just passed ever memorable in our annals.  In it gathers all the interest of the bloody tragedy; from it begins a new era, midst poverty, tears and sad memories of the past.

O, may we learn the lesson that all of this is designed to teach; that all things sublunary are transient and fleeting, and lift our soul to that which is alone ever-during and immutable – God and eternity!  And forgetting the past, save in the lessons which it teaches, let  us . . .redeem the time, live humbly and trust God for future good.
That Kate could end her journal with this incredible paragraph is not only a testament to her and her faith, it is a testament to her God, that He was faithful enough in all the days, all the roads, all the weary steps before it to cause her to know with certainty He would be faithful for the future.
Kate’s journal contains pains and sorrows which did not fit within the subtext of a nurse during war-time.  There was much I did not include, could not include for the sheer sake of time and volume.
Her journal is a piece of history.  As it was unfolding before her, so close to so many battlefields, she wrote it down.  She relays things her patients experienced, events they watched, now shared through Kate’s eyes.  She paints a picture of Southern life during this painful wartime that is true because that is what she was living.  If you want to understand what this war was about from the Southern perspective, Kate expresses it as clearly as anyone ever could.
The story of her long trip home to Mobile and the devastation and desolation she saw along the way is heartbreaking to anyone who travels in, lives in or loves the South.  And yet, her words are not without hope.  Her last words are that of encouragement to us, to learn the lessons well which she saw unfolding before her eyes.  These lessons are not political.  They are not social.  They are not cultural.
Kate implores us that the blood – of Confederate and Federal alike – which calls up to us from each and every battlefield does not speak of victory or defeat.  It speaks loudly and boldly of eternity: of faith or rejection.  It speaks of death –each one’s death:  of passing into life eternal and joyous or into eternal damnation and pain. 
May we heed those callings well.  When we have joined our voices with the fallen, it will be too late to then decide our fate.

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