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Columbia is the story of Theodore Lomax, a nineteen-year-old Union solider in the American Civil War, and as committed as any to the ideal of human freedom. After being assigned to the army of William Tecumseh Sherman, shortly after the general’s infamous March to the Sea, he willingly participates in the destruction of civilian property in Columbia, South Carolina, believing his acts are justified by Southern resistance to the Northern cause of emancipation. But when the destruction escalates into violence against the civilians themselves, he becomes disillusioned, and feels compelled to strike out in opposition to his own countrymen.
The novel is told from Lomax's point of view, but there are ten other supporting characters, each with a story of his or her own. "Decker" is one of these stories, centering on the character of Enis Decker, and describing his entry into the Union Army and his first encounter with a squad of "bummers."
There was a time when I thought these stories should alternate with the chapters in Columbia, presenting a richer but perhaps more tangled tapestry of the lives that painfully converge in the novel's climactic scenes. But Columbia is clearly a more coherent narrative without them. Still, they were valuable to me as an author, and I hope you find them useful and enjoyable as a reader.
Decker by Eric Lanke - $3
Clicking the "Add to Cart" button will take you through a short payment process and provide you with a PDF download of the story that you can read on your computer or tablet, or which you can print at your convenience. The story is about 16,800 words and the document is 55 pages long. Given its theme and historical setting, the work reflects the racism of the time, and includes episodes of violence and strong language.
Want a sample? Here's are the first thousand or so words.
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Private Enis Decker had never seen a woman naked before. He knew about their breasts. Even fully dressed you could tell a woman had breasts, but as to what they looked like uncovered, or what she had between her legs, Decker didn’t have any idea.
He was from Kenosha, a small town in Wisconsin on the shores of Lake Michigan, and was brought up in a strict household. Although his parents were very religious, their faith and piety never truly rubbed off on little Enis, the volatile combination of his mother’s Bible lessons and his father’s savage beatings affecting him in ways neither of them had intended or would have predicted. Decker did not enjoy his life. He had, in fact, little understanding that life could be enjoyed, and so, after the war had been brewing for a few years, he joined the army without telling anybody back home. Just up and joined and left town without even saying goodbye. He was seventeen years old.
They sent him to a training camp north of Washington and attached him to a newly formed Wisconsin regiment scheduled to ship out for Savannah to reinforce William Tecumseh Sherman as the general regrouped to turn his victorious columns northward into South Carolina. Decker spent a grand total of three days in camp, the first settling in after his train ride from Chicago, the second forming and drilling uncertainly with the regiment on the parade ground, and the third packing up and marching off for the transport ship that would take him and the others down the Atlantic coast. The voyage took two days and Decker was violently sick the entire time, the pitching and rolling of the deck beneath his feet unlike anything he had ever experienced before. One of the officers gave him something designed to settle his system, but Decker was unable to keep it or anything else down, spending most of the trip with his body draped over the ship’s railing, emptying the meager contents of his stomach into the troubled sea.
Upon their arrival in Savannah, Decker was temporarily separated from his regiment and placed with the others who hadn’t fared well on the journey in the field hospital set up just outside the Union encampment, where the doctors paid him almost no attention at all, even though there seemed to be a genuine lack of any battle casualties in the area. One man had just had his leg amputated, and another had been shot in the shoulder, but there was no one else there with any real injuries. At first, Decker was happy just to have a stationary cot on which to lie down, but as his nausea passed, he became more and more frustrated with the doctors who seemed to keep him there for no good purpose.
When finally released the next day, his regiment had already gone into camp, but no one had thought to leave word for Decker as to where it could be found. Given one misguided direction after the other from officers and soldiers in other regiments, Decker spent the entire day wandering up and down the gigantic Union camp, looking either for familiar faces or for his regimental flag. He found the flag about seven o’clock that evening, fastened tightly to the post of a tent requisitioned to the regimental color bearer, a broad and serious man, and one of the few men in the regiment who, primarily because of Decker’s inexperience and ineptitude with the drill five days previous, could match Decker’s name with his face.
“Decker!” the color bearer had said upon seeing the private come stumbling into view. “Where in blazes have you been?”
“At the hospital,” Decker said.
“The hospital?” he asked. “Have you been shot?”
“No, I haven’t been shot,” Decker said irritably. “They held me there all day yesterday on account of my seasickness. They released me this morning, but nobody could tell me where the regiment was. I’ve been looking for you all day.”
The color bearer eyed Decker suspiciously, as if he didn’t quite believe Decker’s story. “Well,” he said. “You better go report to the colonel. There’s been talk that you deserted.”
“Deserted!” Decker exclaimed. “I might as well have for all the attention anyone’s paid to me.”
“Watch your tongue, private,” the man told him. “Now, go report to the colonel.”
Decker went, reported as ordered, and was assigned to a tent with three other men, none of whom he had ever met before. Rations had already been distributed for the night and, as Decker arrived at the tent he would call home for the next three days, his tentmates sat around their campfire finishing off the food they had been issued. One of the men gave Decker his last few scraps of bread and Decker munched on them hungrily while no one bothered to make any room for him around the fire.
The orders to march came within a few days, and none too soon as far as Decker was concerned. The soldiers in his tent were all from the same town in Northern Wisconsin, two of them in fact brothers, all hailing from a logging community Decker had never heard of on the Minnesota border. While not downright rude to Decker, it was clear they did not wholly trust him, offering only a generous measure of the hostility people from small villages often reserve for those from places unknown to them. Decker got his full share of rations on each of the succeeding days, and although the soldiers allowed room for him around the warming fire and had no compunction about sleeping nearly on top of him in the crowded confines of the tent, Decker could not help but feel somewhat like an outsider among them. He would have gone wandering through the regimental camp, looking for friendlier comrades, had they all not received orders to stay with the squads assigned to them. Sherman’s army was getting ready to move, and when the orders came down, there wasn’t a colonel in the camp that wanted his regiment to be the one holding everyone else up.
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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit www.ericlanke.blogspot.com, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.