Christmas is the time of year when we put aside our differences and celebrate the joys of the season.
Even during the Civil War.
No better place to do that than Rosebriar Plantation on Christmas Eve 1862.
The beautiful antebellum house in Virginia has been turned into a battlefield hospital after the Battle of Fredericksburg with Union Army surgeon, Major Flynt Stephens at the helm. There they treat the wounded from both the North and the South.
I hope you enjoy this excerpt from LOVE ME FOREVER, my Kindle Scout winner.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
December 24, 1862
Later that evening . . .
Flynt placed the metal star at the top of the Christmas tree.
Behind him, he could feel the stares boring into his back. Men from both sides lay huddled together in the great hall of Rosebriar, each one believing it was his tree with his Christmas star.
North or South.
He smiled. Wasnâ€™t it Dickens who said every man should keep Christmas in his own way?
That was as it should be, he thought, stepping down from the ladder and standing back to admire the fifteen-foot-tall pine tree the soldiers had erected in the main receiving room. Peace on earth. For now. The yellow flag Flynt hung outside the grand house ensured every soldier knew it was a hospital and both Union and Confederate wounded lay inside. The fresh red, white, and blue candles glowed brightly and the small net bundles filled with nuts and golden apples hung on the boughs of the tree. Someone had made a strand of beans and strung it around the bottom. Glass ornaments, round and blue and silver, hung on the top branches.
New-fashioned ornaments heâ€™d bought on a whim back in medical school before the war. Who could have predicted this horrible conflict? And its casualties. Outside, a heap of amputated feet, legs, arms, and hands lay at the foot of an oak tree a few yards from the main house, waiting to be taken away.
Light, melting snow covered the pile.
But the weather was turning clear and mild.
He prayed that was a good sign and next Christmas would be different, though talk was the country was discouraged after the devastating Union loss two weeks ago at Fredericksburg. The people didnâ€™t want to continue the war. If Burnside and the other generals couldnâ€™t pull off a victory soon, he doubted if the government would get the support it needed to go on with the war.
That meant supplies.
Field hospitals were in want of fresh food, especially fruits and vegetables, causing cases of scurvy to break out. Rosebriar, on the other hand, had more than enough stored food and wood and, thanks to Pauletta Sue, the wounded benefited. They had fewer deaths and less cases of typhoid. It amazed him how a few changes in procedure saved so many lives.
Flynt let his gaze wander over the soldiers brought into the hall, most reclining on straw mattresses. Some had spent days in tent hospitals, lying on the frozen ground with only pine or twigs underneath their blankets. Every man able to sit up or raise his head was brought in to enjoy the Christmas celebration.
Heâ€™d never forget the look on the menâ€™s faces when Pauletta Sue went around to each wounded soldier and gave him a small glass filled with brandy, insisting on using as many clean glasses as possible. Aunt Fairinda raised a ruckus in the kitchen, but she calmed down when she saw the men smile. He could still hear the hushed voices of his cook and the other servants oohing and aahing over the tree, saying it was just like the old days before the war started. Even Old Dan shed a tear. Surprised Virginia folk knew how to do up Christmas right, heâ€™d said, like Tennessee folk.
And the singing.
Flyntâ€™s heart warmed to the voices of the wounded men lifted up in the chorus of a popular holiday carol. Pauletta Sueâ€™s light soprano rang out loud and clear. She sat at the pianoforte, her fingers skipping over the keys, turning her head and flirting with every man who caught her eye. He stood in the corner, watching her. Wanting her. His glance moving up and down her body, taking in her deep green silk dress covered with black velvet trim spread out around her, setting off her ivory-skinned beauty like emeralds surrounding a precious pearl.
The perfect mistress of Rosebriar.
Every man in the room envied him.
The real question on his mind was, was this Pauletta Sue from Tennessee?
Or his lady in gray?
It didnâ€™t take him long to find out. Somehow, when he wasnâ€™t looking, he swore theyâ€™d switched places. The two women were playing games with him. The lady in gray tended to the soldiers earlier, then the real Pauletta Sue took her place to entertain the officers.