Saturday, December 28, 2013

Victoria by Eric Lanke

A little while ago, I made my novel, Columbia, available for download from this blog.

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. "Victoria" is one of these stories, centering on the character of Victoria Andrews, and describing her relationship with her favorite son and the correspondence they maintain when he goes off to war.

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.

Victoria 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 21,600 words and the document is 67 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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Victoria took her letters out onto the veranda to read them. That’s where she preferred to read them, out in the fresh air, sitting in her favorite rocking chair, and listening to the noises of life around her. It was not where she did her writing, of course, the writing of each careful and supportive reply to each and every letter she received. The writing was quiet and personal work, and it was done at the roll top desk in the sitting room, a place where Victoria had once organized all her knitting and planting projects and which now seemed solely occupied by the work of writing messages to her husband and sons off fighting the war. The sitting room was the perfect place for writing the letters she sent, soft and sometimes fearful missives oftentimes composed by candlelight long after all the chores of the day were done. But for reading the letters she received, Victoria thought there was no finer place on earth than the veranda of her home in Columbia, South Carolina. In the open air, where all the world could see her if it chose to.

There were two of them today, one from her husband, Zebulon, and one from her youngest son, Reuben. They were both in Virginia, at Petersburg, protecting their nation’s capitol at Richmond from the Northern invaders. There was a time not too long ago when receiving a letter from each of her family members in the army on the same day was an odd and welcome happenstance, providing her occasionally with a long afternoon of reading material to savor and preen over, tempered only by the unspoken realization she then had more letters to write and send. When the war was new, and volunteering was easy, and sacrifice was a word you only heard mentioned in Sunday sermons, Victoria Andrews had seen a husband and two sons off to war, pride choking back any tears she might have shed for fear or absence. In the years that followed, two more sons joined the fray, the realities of their struggle a bit more sobering but the need to commit oneself no less urgent. But now it was three and a half years later and Zebulon and Reuben were all she had left, her other three sons dying in strange and unheard of places at one time or another. If the three flags hanging in her front window wasn’t reminder enough, she always had the increasing frequency with which her remaining loved ones’s letters arrived on the same day to remind her of happier and more innocent times.

Zebulon, Jr., had been the first one lost, then Marcus, then Frederick—the good Lord deciding in whatever wisdom He used to rule the universe that He would take them in the order she bore them.

Her oldest boy, Zebulon’s namesake, had just graduated from West Point two years before the start of the war, and entered the conflict as a captain, leading a company in one of the South Carolina regiments. He was killed in the first major battle of the war, a Confederate victory called Bull Run, after a meandering creek it was fought near, and First Bull Run, after a second battle took place on practically the same ground a year later. Tragically, he was killed not by the enemy but by fire from another company in his own regiment who, in the confusion that besieged that first major engagement, fired into Zebulon, Jr., and his men as they advanced obliquely to grapple with a company of Northern soldiers.

Marcus, who was in West Point when the war began, left that institution five months shy of his graduation when his state left the Union, and came home to receive a commission as a second lieutenant from the governor of South Carolina, and later one as first lieutenant by the president of the Confederate States of America. He fought in several major battles, including every one of the Seven Days in 1862, and had risen in rank to major by the time Gettysburg happened. He survived that awful battle, only to succumb to dysentery and pneumonia on the wet, muddy retreat from the battlefield, dying in a hospital tent somewhere in Maryland, delirious and uncertain of where he was.

Frederick, always the rebel, had not gone to West Point as his father had wished, and instead tried to break into the newspaper business by writing unsolicited reports of local events and submitting them to as many periodicals as possible. He had just been offered a copywriting position with the Charleston Mercury when the war came. Like so many young men across the South, he volunteered soon after, but not for the infantry. He asked to be and was sent to war by his new employer as a battlefield correspondent, and was paired up with a sketch artist named Flynn to send dispatches back from the front. This he did for two years, until the sights of his countrymen being slaughtered and his country’s need became so great that even he could not withhold his strength from the struggle and enlisted. He was sent to the front, back this time in Virginia, and was killed at a place Victoria had never heard of called Spotsylvania Court House, hit by a bullet through the neck as the Union troops shot, thrust, clawed, and bit at their Southern opponents for six hours in a failed attempt to take a little piece of land dubbed the Mule Shoe.

Victoria learned all this, learned of the death of three sons, from the letters. There were always two, one from whoever her son’s commanding officer had been and one from her husband who, although not always nearby when one of their sons met his fate, would also write to her the moment he received the news. As he had said in each of those earth-shattering and mournful letters, he had no dispute with the men who had led their sons into battle, but he fervently hoped his words, arriving before theirs, would soften the blow in some small way, enough, at least, to keep the grief from overwhelming Victoria as it so frequently threatened to overwhelm him. In each case, however, given the vagaries of battlefield reports, chains of command, and unreliable mail service, Zebulon’s letter had always arrived after the one from the commanding officer. Although the strangers who had known her sons in ways she hadn’t always wrote beautiful letters—respectful and moving tributes to the bravery of her sons and the immense sacrifice she had been asked by the Almighty to lay on the altar of their country—it had reached the point where the delivery of an envelope written in an unfamiliar hand was enough to send Victoria into convulsions of grief and loathing.

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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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