day had a head start on young Liam Craddock. He could feel it
and all that it promised. Across the years, on the slimmest sheet
of air, piggybacking a whole man on that fleet thinness, he caught
the sense of tobacco chaw or toby, mule leathers hot field
abrasion, gunpowder residue, men at confusion. If it wasnt
a battlefield in essence, or scarred battle ranks, he did not
know what else it could be. And it carried the burning embers
yellowed pages of a hand-written Civil War journal had fallen
open at Liams feet, almost 146 years since the first shot
was fired in that war. The calligraphy grabbed at him first, faded
in areas and yet sweeping with an old-line flourish making him
wonder about the tone and meter of the language, sensing an initial
presence of old-fashioned pompousness or posed dignity. Practically
nudging it aside at its birth, he quickly discarded this hastily
formed opinion. With deep interest pushing at him, coming from
an unnamed and limitless source, he had been scrounging in the
attic of the old farm house in Bow, New Hampshire, a long way
from battle sites near Richmond in Virginia, Bakers Creek
in Mississippi, or Shiloh or Spring Hill in Tennessee. For more
than 125 of those years an arm of the Craddock family had lived
here at Bow, in a colonial farmhouse with seven rooms, two huge
chimneys, a hogback out back and wide fields out front and riding
up near hills like a lease extension. Now, just turned twenty,
a good-looking student, wiry and athletic, dark Irish complexion,
possibly from an early Spanish sailor overboard off Irelands
coast, Liam loved to read about the Civil War, anything he could
get his hands on. It had settled into him, geared his interests
like an attractively smart gift, when he was young boy. And here,
an unexpected present, was a first hand account, from his great-great-great-grandfather,
Ronan Craddock, Sergeant, Company C, 43rd Georgia Infantry Regiment,
Army of Tennessee.
war was real, for both of them, the writer and the reader, the
crucible of unbelievable deaths, mounds of dead men, fields strewn
with dead men, row on row of dead men, the smell of death floating
uphill like a pot of evil at a boil. He cringed and came abreast
of his courage again. And there, deep in his genes, complementary,
he felt the tug of the sea where the rough tide had brought ashore
the Spanish sailor his grandfather talked so often about, as if
he himself had met that Armada seaman. We have all been
warriors, the old man had said on many occasions, his pipe
lit on the porch letting off an Edgeworth cut, a soft breeze whispering
in the cornfields, since that swimmer caught up a lass,
and your turn will come, Liam, in one manner or another. You may
never know the shape of its coming, but come it will, and bring
you to conflict. If you never wear a uniform, youll still
be in the ranks.
was promise more than omen, more legacy than habit, and had long
settled in place. All this time the journal had been so close
and so far. He wondered where his own attention had been, if anybody
left had known of its existence. Then, in one flame of awareness,
he was sure his grandfather knew of this find, had
seen it coming to him.
crammed him, knowing he nursed a brooding hunger about things
unusual. This was like other sensations coming home in his
mind, taking deep root. Liam could feel the message coming toward
him, almost ascribed, not as swift as a shot, but unerring
in its aim. The stilted handwriting, dense in some places as if
battlefield artifacts were in tow, or faded in others portions
the way a sleepy hand might write, scrawled often with afterthoughts
along the narrow margins, came alive and said this:
I believe it is 30th April, 1864. Wravel Grane died in these arms
this day, from a minie ball lodged in his neck and tearing apart
a huge vein profuse in bleeding. A gentle man he was, and dear
friend and comrade, who never once let an alcoholic drink pass
his lips. The man knew no curses, and if they had ever sounded
in his head, he never once in my company managed them to use.
His last words to me, of any personal approach, came on this bright
dawn where we looked out on the Virginia countryside stretching
before us a greaten and resplendent new birth of the land. As
they did in Pickens County, back home in Georgia, forward slopes
of hills proved quicker at greenery than backsides, but spreading
fast, and maples aroma swam full to the air. The sun struck
all a goodly light the whole while.
and I were west of Richmond but few miles, in sight of the James
River, and had but a canister of bread found in the trappings
of a dead Union soldier, nearly at our feet toward sleep. His
left eye and cheek were missing and made him grotesque so near
to that dread sleep. Lt. Griggs said to kick him aside, kick that
human instrument You used to grant us Your bread. Wravel had said
earlier that You would provide for us. You did provide a burial
place for him locally, after we received your bread. Lord, I thank
You for that. As we scanned the far hills at dawn, smoke rising
from a hundred positions, life moving ever on, Wravel came aware
that certainties and grimalkins or Old Harry himself were piling
atop him. 'Do not get separated from me ever, Ronan,' he had implored,
in the awful goodness that was owed in him. Know all that Wravels
words haunt me yet, about that separation and know they ever will.
last entry, in the inch-thick journal with dust as an extra cover,
read: I say Amen, Lord. I was wounded at Jonesboro, Georgia,
31st August 1864 and was at home on furlough, unfit for further
service, at the close of the war, my fated comrade Wravel Grane
so soon gone aground. Will You will a reunion?
between those two entries, Ronan Craddock, of Company C, 43rd
Georgia Infantry Regiment, Army of Tennessee, had been captured
at Bakers Creek, Mississippi, on 16th May 1863, exchanged
at Port Delaware, Delaware, and re-entered the military. The above
entry followed there in place and pulled Liam deeper into the
mix, cocking his interest to a higher pitch, and penetrating him
as deep as a bayonet wound.
felt at odds with the world, as though its elements were plaguing
him only. The autumn chill settled atop him, though smooth as
a plastic cover. An October wind talked at the lone window, yet
the dust on the hinged travel trunk appeared undisturbed for a
long time. Whorls of dust were petals on the trunk lid, and the
brass lock obviously had not been opened in years. For the next
three hours, autumns touch running its full gamut on him,
day slowly falling beside him in another pile dim under bulb,
Liam Craddock read every word written by Sgt. Ronan Craddock,
of the Army of Tennessee. As far as Liam knew, Ronan was the first
in a line of family soldiers this side of Ireland and that
of the journal were absolute horror shows on every page: about
the death around the sergeant, who could count bodies and limbs
at days end separated by the hundreds and hundreds; who
had seen headless men fall directly beside him on the skirmish
line, their heads elsewhere unknown; who had seen dead men near
dusk sitting horseback or astride a mule grazing among the bodies;
who had seen his best friend come to a bloody pulp in a matter
body would jerk uncontrollably at each of these descriptions of
mortality, as though taste and smell and sound, and the awful
forbidden touch, had found him company in the attic at last in
a stab of unearthly silence.
was somehow surviving a horrible day.
length, darkness full on him, his mind completely blown away by
journal revelations, seeing Ronan Craddock practically come alive
in a hundred scenes, Liam put the journal back into the trunk
and closed the cover. A thumping kept time at his breast, bringing
a hollow echo to the back of his head, the kind an empty canyon
emits, a still room, a dark hallway. Ideas and approaches of every
sort leaped upon him and he knew he had to get away to sort all
the efforts of his mind as they tried to tell him what to do,
what path to take.
man, you are something else, he said at one point, dipping
his head in solemn salute to that old patriarch of battle, whose
war scenes, as full of life as if he had been there to experience
them, kept crossing his mind swift as movie reruns. They banged
out a code of conduct for night listening. Lines of march and
deployment came to him, shadowy, at edges of the attic room. Campfires
lit up darker corners, though shadows ran loose again. The rustle
of a night at war triggered other visions right on the very edge
of certainty. The footsteps of a camp guard sounded faintly but
surely in the midst of an otherwise eerie silence. Then, loose
in the dusk of evening, a horses hoofs tattled far whereabouts,
a messenger in flight or a runaway. Gunfire residue rose as sharp
as skunk odor on the air, cosmoline odor just as persistent. The
the parts of war came as known as a brick in the hand, a wash
of wind, the smell of flesh at discord.
father, Desmond, lone son of Padraig, in the line of lone sons
back through Lucas, Brendan and Ronan, had died the year Liam
was born. Desmond was fifty-three and had tried for years to have
at least the one son that for a half dozen generations had filtered
down through the family of lone boys. He never saw his son Liam.
He died in a car crash seven months before Liam was born. The
young boy hungered all his young years for some family history
to grab onto, a grasp on male ancestors all locked to their own
Liam finally came down from the attic, his grandmother said, See
anything you like? You have your pick. Anything at all.
nodded. Theres an old war journal in a trunk in a
corner up there. Id like that.
it now before anybody else lays a claim on it. Its yours.
In his eyes she saw that he already had claimed ownership, knew
he best fit it.
ran up the stairs to get the journal. In the middle of the attic
room he could feel someone there with him, a presence making a
statement. He tried to hear the words coming out of the stillness,
from the far corners and under the twin gables. He realized he
was repeating some of what he had read; the words, as if spoken
to him, hanging out like echoes.
And here he was now, less than a week after reading the journal,
still adapting his life to a new influence; he was staring at
an artists paintings for long hours at an exhibition of
the artists Civil War work. The artist, Jeff Fiovaranti,
had noticed Liam the very first day almost in a trance, eyes squinting,
body taut, locked by an internal force on an external object.
the outset, when first plagued by a vanitys reaction, Jeff
sensed some other impact working on the younger man whose attention
he saw was rigid, who could stare at a painting for a full half
hour without moving. Jeff thought that a painters sensitivity
could best understand that reaction. It had happened to him on
occasion, but he hungered for any background information, the
way he searched for reasons to start a painting. In the middle
of the third day of the exhibit, hundreds of people having passed
through the fifty-five paintings only of Civil War sites but not
battle scenes, a number of people having returned for a second
viewing, he approached the seemingly mesmerized viewer.
did not know about the earlier discovery by the young man of the
journal written by Ronan Craddock, born 1844, died in bed in 1925
just before his 81st birthday. For almost half a century the journals,
supposedly unread by anybody in the family, had been bedded in
a trunk in the corner of the old family farmhouse in New Hampshire,
until such time as the family farm was going to be sold off for
a huge development.
still halted by the journal, was in turn mesmerized by the paintings.
Jeff guessed accurately his age to be no more than nineteen or
twenty years, saw he had no discerning marks about him, no scars,
no prominent feature, no describable sense of being other than
young, healthy, interested in either the art of painting or the
Civil War itself. Jeff was not sure of the latter options, but
he was aware of some deep connection working on the young man.
He thought it to be as strong as the many Civil War battle sites
and their impact had been on him, Ground Zero acknowledgment,
as Jeff called it. And he also noted that the young man kept coming
back to one painting, so he thought hed best check it out.
me, Jeff said, but Ive noticed your interest
in the exhibit for three days now, and your particular interest
in this painting. My name is Jeff Fiovaranti and I know something
about it. I painted it. He put out his hand.
name is Liam Craddock. I am sure my great-great-great-grandfather
fought there and his best friend was buried nearby. And
Jeff listened as Liam told him the story of the journal and the
impact it made on him. Its so real to me, but especially
in one place where he wrote a few words that keep ringing in the
back of my head: Do not get separated from me ever, Ronan.
I dont know what they mean, but they wont let go of
on the young mans forehead inclined his thinking. He said,
Is there near that battleground a cemetery where the dead
were laid to rest, Confederate dead? One thats still there,
being tended? He looked back upon the painting. Where
is this place?
been there, Jeff said, finding some of his own memories
leaping to the fore. Its the Hollywood Cemetery. There
are thousands of soldiers buried there, and its well cared
for, exceptionally well. Its a large tract of land that
holds some famous people. I spent a couple of days walking the
grounds, noting some of the more famous names, but there are privates
and generals there. He did not immediately tell Liam that he had
been hit by another impact at Ronan Craddocks words, which
brought back something that he heard recently; some survivors
of the battleship U. S. S. Arizona, downed at Pearl Harbor in
1941, insisted they be buried with their comrades when their turn
came. He felt the connection would come with awed association.
going down there, Liam said, the oath traveling with his
voice. I want to see if more of the journal hits me, if
there is some action to be commissioned, if its for me.
In a pause loaded with information Jeff could not fathom, yet
was aware of it, Liam Craddock continued, I know I am being
called upon. Its always been there. My grandfather said
it best: Your turn will come, Liam, in one manner or another.
You may never know the shape of its coming, but come it will,
and bring you to conflict. If you never wear a uniform, youll
still be in the ranks. Ive heard that echo for years
months later, painting a new scene of a battle site at Picketts
Mill Battlefield at Dallas, Georgia, Jeff Fiovaranti saw a local
newspaper headline leap at him: Yankee descendant desecrates
CSA cemetery. It was the story of Liam Craddock, a student
from Keene, New Hampshire, who had been discovered, late at night,
digging up a grave at Hollywood Cemetery in Virginia. Police had
been alerted by a man walking his dog late at night through the
cemetery, as he was accustomed to do four or five nights a week.
Charlie Boatwright (spell it wright, sir), an Army
veteran of the Korean War, was walking his Golden Lab, Lee Bong
Ha, on one of the perimeter roads of the cemetery, when he heard
what he believed to be a shovel hitting a rock. It had that
affirming sound, he said. Youd know it from
gardening, grubstaking, or digging a well. I was infuriated and
thought Id better rush the culprit, but my knees dont
do me as well as they used to, so I slipped off to a neighbors
house and called the police.
I went back to see what was going on, trying to get there before
the police, get in a viewable position. I saw the young man, the
one the police eventually arrested, working on a hole about two
feet deep, handling a long-handled shovel like it was an old friend,
like he knew what he was doing. Because they could not find the
letter he claimed he was finally delivering to a comrade
in arms the authorities charged Liam Craddock with desecrating
a national cemetery and eventually fined him one hundred dollars.
people of the area thought it a proper and fitting fine and wanted
to let it go at that.
The ruse about the letter to be delivered satisfied them. It was
only later the whole truth was revealed.
Boatwright, on a visit from Jeff Fiovaranti, subsequently volunteered
the following information: Before the police got there,
only a few minutes as I recall, the young man in question retrieved
a sort of golden pot in a somewhat ornate shape from a large bag,
and with some quiet ceremony of his own, a kind of minor ritual
I suspect, slipped it with care down into the hole. He placed
several shovels of earth in on top of the pot. Thats what
he was doing when the police showed up, lights flashing all over
him and the cemetery, throwing those weird shadows Im sometimes
anxious about. You never know about cemeteries, where I try to
be friendly all the time because you never know who else might
be visiting at the same time. The police asked what he was doing
and he said he was trying to leave a letter down there for the
buried person to read, but it had blown away. Most people laughed
at him but to me there was quiet sincerity about the young man
that perked my interest. I did not think he was a vandal. That
was obvious to me, even though he was in a pretty bad pickle,
if I may say so. Thats why I did not tell the police when
they showed up that he had already put something down in the hole.
They did not look for it, nor did they ask me. I was reserving
judgment on the situation. It was not until later, when the police
brought me down to the station, that I knew I was right, that
I had done the right thing. It was then I heard the cemetery workers
had filled the hole in and replaced the grass sod, which, I must
tell you, was most carefully lifted out of place in the beginning.
It was evident to me that there was a plan at hand, and I was
in on it. Months later, young Liam wrote to me, thanking me for
not giving him away, and telling me the whole story.
is what Liam wrote to Charlie Boatwright, once a sergeant in Baker
Company, 1st Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division,
Korea 1951-52, one of the Polar Bears:
I want to thank you for what you did for me at Hollywood Cemetery
that night, and how you held back some information from the police.
It is appreciated very much, by me and by Sgt. Ronan Craddock,
of Company C, 43rd Georgia Infantry Regiment, Army of Tennessee.
A few words in his Civil War journal really penetrated me. He
wrote what his best friend and comrade Wravel Grane said to him
on the morning he was to die, as if he knew it was coming: Do
not get separated from me ever, Ronan.
simple statement hung over me for a long while, but I knew what
he meant, just as it came to me when I learned about sailors who
survived the sinking of the USS Arizona on December 7, 1941; asking
that when they finally die they be brought back aboard their ship
at Pearl Harbor. Such things haunt my soul, shake it loose, and
always have. In that extent I am most fortunate regardless of
being in a compromising situation, seeming without reason or good
excuse. Somehow I knew what that draw was, that literal magnetism,
between the sergeant and his comrade. So, after much thinking
and a vow that took hold of me in an instant, I got a job in a
mortuary, learned a few tricks of the trade, dug up my ancestors
body and cremated him. I swear he was lost up here in Bow on the
side of an overgrown hill that now holds only his sweat of years.
Others in the family must have known, but it became my commission.
Ronan Craddocks ashes went into the grave beside comrade
Wravel Grane before the police got there, and were well-covered
at their arrival. Those two soldiers are now together, as bidden,
their arms at rest, peace within and without them, comrades into
the face of eternity.
trust this will put to rest any lingering doubts about your participation.
Craddock, Army of the World
Craddock 1844-1925 = 81 yrs at death survived Civil War
Craddock 1870-1949 = 79 yrs at death survived Sp Am War
Craddock 1890-1918 = 28 years at death died from wounds in WW
Craddock 1914-1979 = 65 years at death survived WW II
Craddock 1934-1987 = 53 years at death survived Korean War
Craddock 1987 = now 20 years old
Sheehan has published 7 books in the last 6 years: mysteries,
poetry, memoirs, short story collections. They include Epic
Cures, short stories in 2005, from Press 53 in Winston-Salem,
NC; A Collection of Friends, memoirs, in 2004, from Pocol
Press in Clifton, VA; and This Rare Earth & Other Flights,
poetry, in 2003. He has six Pushcart nominations, a Martha Albrend
memoir nomination, a Silver Rose Award from ART for short story,
and many Internet appearances.