Appomattox Court House, Virginia
April 9, 1865
His name wasn’t Edward Hiram, but it amused him to call himself that. Edward was Robert E. Lee’s middle name, and Hiram was the real first name of Ulysses Grant.
He appreciated the humor and the irony. There was a shortage of humor in these last days of the war. No one cracked jokes anymore. The Union boys didn’t act victorious, only tired. The Confederates still acted defiant, not defeated. As for the irony, that was his alone. He carried it with him like another saddlebag, just as he had been traveling at night, skirting picket lines and carrying messages for months.
It was Palm Sunday, and the dispatches had been moving between Grant and Lee since Friday. Richmond had fallen, Lee’s troops were hungry, and no supplies would be forthcoming. The Army of Northern Virginia would surrender this day, within the hour.
For half a year, Hiram had traveled between the two armies. No one knew who he was. No one trusted him, for he wore neither blue nor gray. In fact, no record of him existed. There were no pay warrants, no records of assignment to a company or regiment or battalion.
He was a civilian in this war, yet he moved in and out of the armies’ picket lines as easily as if he were at a church social. No one trusted him, no one knew his name, but they all let him pass.
Hiram fingered the gold pin just inside his lapel. He’d first put it on less than a week ago, when it became clear that the end was coming quickly. It was solid gold and engraved with the ornate letters G.W.
Only a handful of the pins existed. But others were already being made, and many more would come soon, when the war was officially over.
Hiram rode on toward the village of Appomattox Court House.
The meeting was to take place at the home of Wilmer McLean, and there the bloody conflict would end. It was a safe location and easily accessible to both generals and their staffs. A rambling two-story house, dark with white trim, it had a magnificent Southern-style front porch that ran the length of the place. Officers and horses milled about the front dooryard. Someone was singing one of Stephen Foster’s popular songs in a fine Southern tenor voice. Hiram stopped to listen for a moment: “ ’Tis the song, the sigh of the weary, hard times, hard times come again no more. . . .”
They believe the hard times will end with the war, Hiram thought. In reality, they may be just beginning.
He rode around to the back of the house, unnoticed. My greatest talent, he thought.
No staff waited there. Lee had told them all to wait in front of the house until he called them in to witness the surrender. The McLeans had left the home, aware of the momentous business that was about to transpire. Lee’s famed horse, Traveler, was tethered to a fence post. Hiram entered through the kitchen and, silent as dewfall, moved to the sitting room at the front of the home. The dark velvet curtains were drawn. Lee sat at a little oval table near the front window, one elbow resting on it. Even with the expression of drawn exhaustion on his face, he sat erect in his spotless gray uniform. His sword, jewels encrusted in the hilt, lay at his side. In an army where many of the men had no shoes at all, Lee’s boots were new, stitched with red silk. His silver hair and beard were perfectly groomed. He looked like a man about to take high tea, not one about to surrender a cause for which many of his countrymen had bled and died over the last four years.
Hiram cleared his throat. “General,” he said.
Lee did not look at him. “Is it ready?”
“It is,” Hiram said.
Then Lee did look up, his face clouded.
“Sir,” Hiram added. He rarely bothered with formalities. He was no longer a military man, after all, and even when he had been years ago, his work had been rather less formal than that of the Army regulars. Still, Robert E. Lee commanded a respect not due to many others, in or out of uniform.
>“May I see it?” Lee asked, his voice ever soft, ever studied.
Hiram opened his saddlebag and withdrew the papers. There were three pages, the last one blank. Lee read them quickly, running his hand over the raised seal at the top of the first page.
Both turned as the front door opened and Ulysses S. Grant stomped in. Sixteen years younger than Lee, four inches shorter, slightly stoop-shouldered, he wore a uniform and boots spattered by mud. Aside from a pair of shoulder straps, he wore no indication of his rank, and his shirt and coat were those of a private soldier. He nodded to Lee, then to Hiram. “We haven’t much time. The staff will need to be admitted in a few minutes.”
Hiram pointed at the table. Lee held the papers out to him. Grant crossed to him and took the pages, rattling them in his hands. He looked up at Hiram. “You understand that it could not be in my handwriting, or General Lee’s. The body of the statement itself, I mean.”
“I don’t concern myself with such things, General,” Hiram said. He looked at both generals. “I have simply done my small part.”
“Not yet, you haven’t,” Grant said. He took a pen from his waistcoat and shuffled the papers, the blank page coming to the top. He scrawled his signature across it and handed it to Lee. The older man hesitated.
“General Lee?” Grant said.
“Yes,” Lee said. “Yes. General, I would like to pray.”
Impatient, Grant took off his hat. Hiram knew Grant had never been religious, and Lee was famously pious. There was a breath-filled silence while Lee bowed his head, eyes closed. After a moment, he looked up and signed the page, his signature just below Grant’s. His hand shook a little. Hiram was startled. It was the closest thing to weakness he had ever seen from Robert E. Lee.
“General,” Grant said, “the coming years will be difficult. You and I know this better than any others.”
Lee waited a moment, then nodded. “The peace may well be more violent than the war.” He looked at Hiram, then at Grant. “We must protect the people. All the people, North and South. As soldiers, it is our sworn duty.”
“A precaution,” Hiram said. “The nation— if indeed we are to again become one nation—will be volatile.”
Both generals stared at him as if he’d spoken out of turn. Hiram felt a rising tide of annoyance at this silent rebuke from two men who’d been afraid to have the device in their own handwriting, and yet they had just affixed their signatures. Perhaps they were, after all, no better than politicians themselves.
Hiram took the pen from Lee, added the date and the time below the two signatures, and beneath that wrote, Appomattox Court House, VA.
“Go,” Lee said. “Ride hard. The Glory Warriors await news of what we do here.”
“The guardians are in place?” Hiram said, looking at both generals.
Grant rubbed his beard, looking at Lee, then glanced back to Hiram. “Yes, and a guide will be waiting for you to take you the last few miles.”
“The roads are not reliable in the area, especially when the rivers flood. One of the local Indians will show you the best route. I understand the man is quite respected in the Territory.”
No one spoke for a long moment. “We are growing by the day,” Hiram finally said.
Grant waved a hand at him, then sat down. “You heard General Lee. Go.” He turned to Lee. “And on to the public business we have here.”
Hiram folded the papers back into his saddlebag and left without another word. He ran his hand over the G.W. pin again.
The Glory Warriors.
They didn’t trust him. Even after all of this, they didn’t trust him. But he would be protected. I don’t trust them, either, Hiram thought as he mounted. They have done what they must, and so will I.
Within a few minutes, Grant was writing out the terms of Lee’s surrender, while blue and gray stood close to each other, witnessing the end of four years of hell that had been unleashed upon the land. Hiram spurred his horse away from the house. He had a long journey ahead of him.
Three Weeks Later
Near Fort Washita, Indian Territory
The Indian was waiting on the muddy road a few miles north of the Red River, where it divided the Territory from Texas, when Hiram met him. The old Chickasaw sat astride a magnificent horse, solid black with a white star on its forehead. The Indian was older than Hiram had expected. He had to be at least sixty, perhaps seventy. It was hard to tell with the Indians.
Hiram had traveled hard, but he hadn’t come directly from Virginia to the Territory. He’d made a long detour, but one that would protect him. One that would protect the Glory Warriors from impulsiveness and stupidity, qualities Hiram found in abundance wherever he stopped.
He hadn’t even made it to his first stop when the news reached him about Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. And so it begins, he thought, much sooner than any of us expected.
He’d waited three days for more news— it would dictate what he did next. But there were no other killings in Washington. Not yet.
He moved on. He saw Yankees and Rebs taking meals together as if the past four years were a grand illusion. He saw freed slaves working fields alongside poor whites. But he also saw revenge killings—North on South, South on North. He saw two starving farm women in Arkansas fighting each other over a single bushel of corn.
The peace may well be more violent than the war, Lee had said.
He nodded to the old Indian, then turned the collar of his jacket out, showing the G.W. pin. Without moving, the Indian said, “I am Jeremiah Colbert. I was told to wait here at noon each day. You have money? Northern money, no Confederate bills.”
“Colbert? What kind of Indian name is Jeremiah Colbert? You don’t trust me for the money? You think I speak with a forked tongue?”
“Don’t mock me, white man,” Colbert said. “I speak better English than you do. Most of my people have English names. But if it matters, I am also called Onnaroketay. And remember, our government didn’t go to war with itself. My nation is more civilized than yours.”
Hiram reached into his bag— not the one with the Virginia papers— and took out a wad of bills. Without any movement from Colbert that Hiram could perceive, the Chickasaw’s horse moved forward. He took the bills from Hiram.
“How far?” Hiram asked.
“Ten miles,” Colbert said. He turned his horse around in the road and trotted away. After a moment, Hiram followed him.
Fort Washita had been built more than twenty years earlier, and at the time of its construction was the U.S. Army’s most remote outpost in the West. Built to protect the“civilized tribes” of the area— the Chickasaw and Choctaw, specifically— from marauding Plains bands like the Kiowa and Comanche, it was abandoned when the war began, then occupied and held by the Confederates through most of the war. It wasn’t large— guardhouse, a few barracks, officers’ quarters, hospital, and parade ground. The word “ramshackle” came to Hiram’s mind as he and Colbert rode up to the guardhouse.
Hiram turned and looked at Colbert. “You can go,” he said. “You’ve earned your money.”
Colbert shrugged, turned the black horse, and trotted down the road. Hiram rode through the front gate into an overpowering silence. Just inside the gate, he stopped and dismounted, tying his horse to a tree. The two men came from the far side of the guardhouse. One wore blue, one a threadbare gray uniform, but otherwise their similarity was striking— corn silk hair, blue eyes, drooping mustaches. The one in blue wore an infantry cap; the gray one was hatless, his hair matted and dirty. Both carried pistols on their belts.
Hiram showed them the G.W. pin without speaking. They each turned back their own jackets to show identical pins. One of the men Hiram had recruited to the Glory Warriors was a Union captain who in civilian life was a New York jeweler. He’d begun casting and engraving the pins and was awaiting Hiram’s word even now to know how many more to produce.
“What’s your name?” said the one in gray.
“I have no name,” Hiram said.
The blue one shrugged. “Micah Garrity.”
“Jonah Garrity,” said the gray.
“What state?” Hiram asked.
“Missouri,” Micah Garrity said.
Hiram nodded. There was a certain poignancy to it: Brothers from border states often wound up on opposite sides of this war. “It’s all over,” Hiram said. “Lee surrendered. The rest will follow, even here in the West.”
Jonah Garrity nodded. “We’ve heard tell.”
Micah Garrity scratched his stubbled face. A long mass of scar tissue ran from his left ear down the jawline to his chin. “Don’t have to ask what’s next, else you wouldn’t be here.”
“You have everything in place?” Hiram said.
Both men nodded. Hiram opened his saddlebag. He withdrew a single sheet of paper, folded and tucked it into an envelope. With great deliberation, he sealed it.
“We don’t get to look at it?” Jonah Garrity said, his voice low.
“Can you read?” Hiram said a little too quickly.
Both men glared at him, blue eyes hardening.
“Then don’t waste my time,” Hiram said. “What’s inside there is for others to read. You have your part, I have mine, and they will have theirs, when the situation warrants.” He handed the envelope to Micah Garrity. “You know what to do with it?”
“Dammit, we ain’t fools,” Micah Garrity snapped.
Hiram said nothing.
“You seen ’em?” Micah said. “Both Lee and Grant?”
“Of course,” Hiram said. “Who do you think sent me?”
“Of course,” Micah said.
Hiram looked at the man to rebuke him for his tone, and he missed the movement. Jonah Garrity’s pistol was in his hand, and before Hiram could even turn to get his own, the big gun had sounded twice. Hiram stumbled back against his horse. One hand went to his chest. He felt the warmth of his blood and thought, Damn them. Damn them all.
“It’s not over,” he whispered, clawing at his saddlebag.
Micah Garrity kicked Hiram’s legs out from under him and stood watching as the man bled out. “It is for you,” he said. He bent down and pulled the G.W. pin from Hiram’s coat, tearing off a bit of the fabric with it.
“We don’t want him to die in here,” Jonah Garrity said. “Take him outside.” He and his brother each took one of Hiram’s arms and pulled. They dragged him along the path, through the gate, and into the mud in front of the fort.
“He had a nice horse, at least,” Micah said. “That’ll help.”
A mist had begun, and the late- afternoon light was fading. Jonah and Micah Garrity walked away from Hiram, leaving him in the middle of the road to die.
Hiram didn’t know how long he lay there. He floated weightless above himself in the rain, then felt as if he were being dragged back down into the mud. Nothing flashed before his eyes, as he’d heard happened with dying men. He just felt the floating sensation, then the dragging, over and over again. He rolled onto his back. The entire front of his white shirt was red. He saw the old Indian and for a moment thought, Are you God? Are you to pass judgment on me?
But Jeremiah Colbert— Onnaroketay—dismounted and looked at him without speaking. He lifted Hiram as if he weighed nothing at all and draped him across the saddle of the beautiful black horse. Colbert still said nothing, but Hiram felt the horse moving. He was no longer floating, but his head felt incredibly light.
It’s not over, Hiram thought. Then he closed his eyes, floating again, and this time he wasn’t dragged back down.