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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Conversation (face to face) (10/07/10)

TITLE: Duty
By Rachel Phelps
10/20/10


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Robert extended his hand gravely to the man before him, focusing on the forms of civility the situation dictated.

“General Grant.”

“General Lee,” the shorter man responded, indicating a chair with his left hand. “It has been many years since last we met.”

Robert nodded, casting his mind back. Many times during the last year he had attempted to recall what Ulysses Grant looked like, but it had been two decades since they served under the same flag. Grant had been only a lieutenant in the Mexican War, and hardly one of his close associates. Any memories of the man were overshadowed by the blood and frustrations of the current war.

Robert squared his shoulders and took the proffered seat, hand resting on the ornamental sword he wore. Bile clawed at the back of his throat yet again. Surrender was even more galling now that he had seen his adversary in person. He was a little man, dressed in the rough garb of a private. Only the shoulder straps denoted his rank as lieutenant general. Neatness and decorum had never been hallmarks of the younger man’s career, he recalled.

The silence lingered, broken only by the shifting of Grant’s staff members as they arranged themselves on the far side of the room.

Lord, grant me patience.

“I remember you from our days under General Scott,” Robert offered as it became apparent Grant would not take the initiative to begin. “Your horsemanship was legend.”

“You remember me? I am flattered, General,” Grant said, nearly stuttering in his surprise. “Given our age and rank difference, I hardly expected it.”

Robert stroked his beard, weighing the best way to respond. “I confess I could not recall your face, but I well knew your name and reputation.”

The comment set Grant to reminiscing about the old war. Robert kept up with the conversation about tactics and battles, but his eyes were drawn to the window, where the sole other representative of the Confederacy stood, staunchly clasping the white flag. Brave lad.

He could see again the grim, set expressions on his staff’s faces as he called the retreat and sent for ink and paper. They had believed to the end that he would pull them out somehow. The army had watched him ride out with the white flag with nary a grumble, but he knew they would have charged forward with the same fervor.

Perhaps he had underestimated his men… Robert swiftly stopped the self-recriminations. His men were living on parched corn. The Confederacy as a whole was bankrupt, starving and completely incapable of carrying out the war. His regrets over how many lives had been lost before arriving at this moment were of far greater import than his wounded pride.

He was as polite as his strained nerves would allow him to be, but after a time he broke in on Grant’s reminiscing.

“General, I believe we have terms to discuss.”

The man started as if he had forgotten why they met.

“Were the terms of my letter acceptable?” he asked.

Robert nodded, and Grant sent for paper for them to be written. The Union general seemed intent on making this process as little demeaning as could reasonably be expected. On the whole, his attitude was rather one of sorrow than one of victory.

Robert could respect his reticence. His estimation of the man before him was rising from “butcher” to something akin to “comrade.” Grant had drawn much fire with his bloody tactics, but he had prevailed. General Longstreet’s face came to his mind, arguing that the battle plans Lee had drawn up would cause carnage in the ranks. Robert had answered him with what now seemed like farcical calm. “To be a good soldier, you must love your army. To be a good commander, you must be willing to order the death of the thing you love.”

And sometimes its surrender. He mentally amended.

Grant paused in his writing and glanced toward him, eyes at the sword by his side. Robert tensed, waiting for that final bit of humiliation that would make the surrender complete. Grant’s eyes met his, and the Union man gave a half-smile. Robert shifted to remove it, but Grant gave a nearly imperceptible headshake and returned to his writing.

Emotion strained in his chest, but Robert managed to control it. Perhaps it meant little to Grant, but for him, the gesture was inestimable. The country might mend after all.


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This article has been read 964 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 10/24/10
I really enjoyed this trip back into our history. You made the story interesting and made me want to learn more about these two men. History was never one of my favorite subjects in school but you made it fascinating.
Sarah Heywood10/24/10
This was great! You did a wonderful job of bringing history alive. So often past historical figures seem as as dry and black and white as the history books they come from. It's always delightful to me (as a history buff) to see them brought to life, even if it's in a fictionalized manner. Great writing!
Cheryl Harrison 10/25/10
Excellent!
Gregory Kane10/25/10
The writing here is rich and evocative. Perhaps it's because I'm neither yankee nor reb but I felt that I never quite entered into the spirit of your piece. For instance I couldn't follow the significance of the half-smile. That said, it's clearly very well written and I'm sure it will resonate with a good number of Americans
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 10/28/10
Congratulations on your well-deserved EC!
Amanda Brogan10/28/10
I could just feel history oozing off the page. The embarrassment of surrender, the tension of enemies turned to reminiscing of old comrades ... the glory of respect and honor. I even learned a few things about the two generals in this piece. Perfectly written!

Congrats on getting highly commended! I can say no less of it myself. :)
Amanda Brogan10/28/10
Oh yes, and congrats on your Editor's Choice! :D
Henry Clemmons10/28/10
I always enjoy reading the directness and honesty in your writing. I usually leave inspired as was the case here. Congrats on your well deserved placement.
Marita Thelander 10/28/10
Rachel, your historical fiction is always awesome. I love how you manage to find ways to use your gift and insight for this genre in many of the FW challenge prompts. That is a gift. Congratulations.
Sarah Elisabeth 10/28/10
Way to go girl! :-D
Caitlyn Meissner10/29/10
What a great idea for a story! Congrats on your EC. :)