"Isaac" his mother said, "you better go out and check on the horses."
The young boy of twelve got up from his breakfast and walked out into the morning sun. He was the man of the house now that his father had gone off to fight in the war.
He didn’t understand exactly what the fighting was about, but he knew that the folks in the Shenandoah Valley didn’t like their property being taken from them by the soldiers in blue. His family was poor and lived in a tumbledown log house with a dirt floor. They had very little in the way of possessions, but he and his two younger sisters had a happy childhood until the war started.
Now it was up to him and his mother to run the farm and scratch out a living for the family. Isaac worked very hard for one so young, but he had developed a pride in his work and would work as hard as was necessary until the war was over and his father returned home.
This particular morning, there were Confederate soldiers camped across the way and Isaac would pass near their camp on his way around the perimeter of his family’s small farm. He did the simple chores near the house, then set out on one of the horses to check on the few cattle they had.
It was a small farm of only about twenty acres that they rented from a well-to-do farmer who lived down the road. It had been much more difficult for them to remain self-sufficient since the spring of 1861, when his father went off to war, but they had survived, and they had pretty much maintained their previous standard of living.
Isaac rode slowly along the stream toward the Rebel camp. He knew that his father wouldn’t be among them, because they had just received a letter from him stating that he was near Richmond. As curiosity often overcomes young boys, Isaac found himself riding into the camp of the Confederate army.
They were not as well-equipped as the Federal army. There weren’t neat rows of white tents around the camp, but mostly just small fires with men sitting around them finishing off what little breakfast they could forage. They wore tattered, mismatched gray uniforms that were very much in contrast to the blue uniforms worn by the Federal army, which had passed through just days before.
So far the war had been only an inconvenience in this part of the Valley, but the local folks had heard horror stories of families having their homes burned to the ground and their livestock taken from them by the soldiers in blue.
Near the middle of the camp, there was a tent with a colorful flag near it. Outside this tent sat a man on a horse. He was obviously someone important, as other men listened to what he said and did exactly as they were told.
He was an average-looking man in a dirty uniform with a long, shaggy beard and had a very serious but sad expression on his face. As he got nearer, Isaac noticed the man was sucking on a lemon, something he had only seen once before in his life, but remembered the sweet, yet sour taste of the lemonade that was made from them.
By this time, the soldiers were beginning to pack up and get ready to move on toward their next engagement with the Federals. In the buzz of activity, the man on the horse noticed Isaac and dismissed those around him. He rode toward Isaac with a friendly smile and upon reaching him, extended his hand in greeting.
"Who might we have here on such a sunny morning?" the man said.
"Isaac, sir" he replied, "I live back there with my mother and sisters." He pointed to the small house in the distance behind him.
"Where might your father be?"
Isaac looked a little sad as he replied "He’s off fighting Yankees near Richmond."
"Very good, very good" the man said. "So that makes you the man of the house, does it?"
"Yes" Isaac said, "until my Pa comes back home."
As the activity continued in the camp around them, the obviously important man on the horse talked with Isaac about many things. He mostly wanted to know about the soldiers in blue who had been there only a few days before.
Presently, another man rode up to them, called the man on the horse "General" and told him that the troops were ready to move out. The "General" then expressed his best wishes to Isaac and said a brief prayer for him before he departed.
Isaac watched the men begin their march to the next encampment. He then rode slowly home, daydreaming all the way. When he reached home, Isaac’s mother was waiting for him outside.
"Where have you been?" she asked.
"Talking to the general over at the soldier’s camp" Isaac said.
"Don’t you know we have too much work to do for you to be daydreaming about being a soldier!" his mother reprimanded. "But we all do deserve a rest from our labors now and then. Come on in and tell me about it."
Isaac walked into the cozy kitchen and sat down. Shortly came a rap on the door and in walked their nearest neighbor, old man McWilliams.
"Did you hear the latest news?" he asked. "Old Jack’s here and he’s going to chase those damned Yankees from the Valley for good" he declared. "I saw him myself, sitting on his horse, sucking a lemon."
Then Isaac realized that the man he had been talking to that morning was none other than Stonewall Jackson himself, the hero of every boy in the Shenandoah Valley.
The next year, when he heard of Stonewall’s death near Chancellorsville, Isaac felt as though he had lost a personal friend. Many years later, Isaac would tell his children and grandchildren over and over how, when he was just a boy of twelve, he had talked to the great General Stonewall Jackson on a warm, sunny morning.
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