Near Sharpsburg, Maryland
September 15, 1862
Camila Miller hugged her six-year-old sister, her attempts at shushing her unsuccessful.
They had been two of the last ones down the wooden ladder into the dark, musty cellar.
“Can you quiet that young’un?” A man called gruffly from the opening at the top of the ladder. “I can hear her bawling all the way up here.”
“I’m trying,” Camila said, mostly to herself, and held her sister more closely. She and her sister wore matching bonnets and matching dresses, all cut from the same bolt of gray cloth their father had been given in payment for repairing a bench in the church. The cloth was a rough homespun material and had given Camila an abrasion under her arm after a long day of washing clothes on the washboard.
As her eyes adjusted to the dim light, she counted five different families huddled in the cellar. Including hers.
The cellar smelled like tobacco which wasn’t a surprise since three of the families grew tobacco for profit. The others, including hers, grew corn to feed their cows and if any was left, they might trade it for something like cloth or fruit.
Camila turned her attention back to her sister. She’d been crying since Camila had grabbed her up and half carried, half dragged her to the safety of the cellar.
“Grace? What is it? Why do you cry?”
Grace looked up at her with huge eyes, her cheeks stained with tears. “We left Bandit.”
Bandit was their six-month-old kitten. Grace, with Camila’s help, had kept Bandit alive after it was abandoned by its mother at only three weeks.
Now Grace always had Bandit somewhere near her, night and day. Camila had been in such a rush to join the others in the cellar, she hadn’t noticed that Bandit wasn’t with her.
Grace’s chin trembled. She was about to cry again.
“Where is she?” Camila asked trying to ward off the impending round of tears. “I didn’t see her.”
“She ran toward the church when Father started yelling.”
Camila had been scrubbing clothes on the washboard and her sister had been playing nearby. Her father had been gathering corn and her mother had been husking it when the stranger came and spoke to her father.
As the stranger rode off, her father had shouted at them to get to the neighbor’s cellar. The neighbor being old Mister Barnes, the man shouting at them from the cellar door above.
That had been their plan all along since the war started. Her father would help her mother get the baby to the cellar and Camila would make sure Grace got there. Now that her mother was with child, it was even more important that Pappa help Momma.
Camila was the third child of soon to be five siblings. Her two older brothers were soldiers in the war. Her parents had begged them not to join, but in the end, they couldn’t stop them.
Her father was particularly unhappy since both her brothers were fighting for the south.
Camila hadn’t been surprised since Maryland was a border state. They had neighbors who were sympathetic to the north, some who were sympathetic to the south, and some who tried to stay out of it altogether. That was their little community. Simple people living their lives, not bothering anyone.
“Grace,” Camila said. “I’ll go get Bandit.”
Grace’s face lit up.
“But you have to promise me,” Camila said. “You have to promise you’ll stop crying. Can you do that?”
“Go to mother,” Camila said. “Do you see her?”
Grace nodded again and started toward her mother.
Camila stood up, stretched to her full five feet four inches and took a deep breath.
Then she climbed the ladder that put her back into the neighbor’s corn field.
She had to find Bandit before the soldiers got there.