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Merry Christmas, President Grant

Merry Christmas, President Grant

A Stove Leg Christmas Special

I suppose the first time I remember Christmas being notable had to have been back in ’60. Dolores was brought up real Christian, and her English parents made sure she took the traditions with her when she left home to marry me. Oh my sweet Doe, she’d decorate the house and leave little sweets and presents laying around. She’d always harp on me to get on my knees and pray every once and a while. Sometimes I would just to appease her, following, almost mumbling with her every word of the Lord’s Prayer. I wasn’t always faking it, though. Sometimes, late at night, when I couldn’t sleep and was faced with all the bad things I’ve done in my life, I’d say I was sorry. But I’d only say sorry for some people- most had it coming. I never prayed about the war.

The next Christmas was a quiet one. Dolores was getting antsy that she hadn’t been with child yet. Married for two years and nothing. Doc said she seemed healthy and her cheeks were rosy, meaning that the trouble was most likely with me. My buddies always made fun of me for not being able to shoot straight, and I guess they were right in more ways than one. On top of her mounting stress of wanting to employ her motherly duty, she was worried about me. She knew I was headed down to Camp Douglas come the first of the year to enlist in the Union Army. She never pleaded that I wouldn’t leave- for she knew I had to go. What kind of man would I be if I let a bunch of lousy rebs and greybacks bring our country to its knees? So I left. But I promised her that I’d make it back and give her all the children she could dream of having. Of course, I wasn’t too sure I could keep that promise. The getting back part.

That promise I made to Doe looked like a tough one to keep come Christmas of ‘62. That cold December in Mississippi was one that I’d almost rather forget. We were on our way to Vicksburg, following the trail set forth by Then-General Grant and General William T. Sherman. I was under the command of ol’ Billy when we entered into the Chickasaw Bayou. The swamp would run about chest high and was as thick as the syrup my sweet Doe would pour over my flatcakes on Sunday mornings. I missed her cooking, simple as it was. The gunfire came raining down harder than I’ve ever seen or felt. The southern boys were led by some Pemberton character, a Pennsylvanian who decided to fight for the slave drivers, a traitor. I ran as fast as I could to get out of the Mississippi mud. I would have stopped to ask for protection from something above, but I just didn’t have the time. Sherman seemed pleased with our efforts, but I didn’t see us making any stronger pushes towards the greybacks up yonder at Vicksburg.

It took the summer, but we finally rooted them grays up out of their rotten holes. They dug in deep with their backs up to the Mississippi.

The following December I got word that a terrible winter was hitting, that the cold winds blowing off Lake Michigan brought a fever to Doe that left her bed-ridden and immobile. I made it home in time for Christmas, but she was gone two days before I got into town. She died childless and with her husband a hundred miles away. I couldn’t help to feel as if I had failed her. But I suppose looking back I didn’t have a chance to make good on the promise I made before heading south. I went back to Camp Douglas the day after I buried Dolores, more numb than afraid to be headed back into the fire.

The year following Dolores’ death went by in a flash. Whatever will I had to fight was buried in a lot off 31st Street. The end of ‘64 brought a different sentiment. At noon, on the 22nd of December, Sherman read aloud a telegram he sent to President Lincoln earlier that day, exactly a year since Doe had departed. The telegram stated:

I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the city of Savannah with 150 heavy guns and plenty of ammunition and also about 25,000 bales of cotton.

Sherman concluded his reading and turned his attention to us, “Let’s not let Lincoln down.”

As we marched on Savannah, we torched every factory, farm, and church that we came across. The flames grew toward the red Georgia sky, as did my will to live and to fight. We killed, looted, and destroyed until we ran out of land to roast. The beachhead was beautiful, despite the incredible amounts of ash that blanketed the sand. The American Civil War was over, the fires died down, but my desire for something more was rekindled in the flames of destruction.

Upon returning to Chicago, I fell in with a band of rough veterans that didn’t want to settle for a desk job downtown. We’d head down to Missouri and Iowa for our jobs, a bank here, an insurance company there. I never could look the tellers in the eyes when I told them I was holding the joint up. I guess Doe’s spirit did a number on me after all. We weren’t the sorriest bank robbers, but we certainly weren’t the best. We had a run of it. I heard earlier this month of some kid named Jesse James. Just a boy, knocking over a bank down in Missouri- I guess them are his parts nowadays. Hell, he can have it. We’ve no use for it now.

Before the war I could hardly tell you what Christmas was, let alone when it was. There’s talks now that General Grant, pardon me, President Grant is going to make it a national holiday.

I guess now it’s Christmas Eve of 1869. A man has just asked me if I had any last words before the firing squad carried out their task of the day. I never thought someone would ask me what my last words would be- just figured a bullet would catch me slack-jawed. I guess now would be a good time to listen to my Doe and get down to pray. Hard to take a knee strapped up to a fence post with my hands tied behind my back. I can’t surely say if a blindfold counts as a man closing his eyes for prayer either, but I suppose it’ll do for now. As for my last words, I think I’ll just keep them to myself.

“Nah.” I tell the man with a pistol on his belt.

He steps away. I hear him shout his orders and I feel the tight wad of lead crash into my chest. Merry Christmas, President Grant. I hope your holiday catches on. A day to be celebrated far and wide across this burnt and broken union. I pray that Doe waited for me.


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