John Love, former CSA soldier, returns to his plantation home to find it destroyed by the Union Army. Finding his father, wife, and child inside he sets out to find a new place not just for them-- but for his former comrades as well.
John Love broke away from his fifteen war-ravaged companions, and rode into his home town five days after Sherman's March tore through on their way to Savannah. He found the place completely destroyed: not a single stone stood unmolested. His own plantation home, having put up quite defensibly against the siege, now showed now sign of its former palatial glory.
The imported cypresses that lined the way into the great house were now all burnt. Barely a stump remained.
John spurred his horse on, gathering more speed and anxiety, as he approached the front porch with its now fallen columns.
How the house had seemed the center of all the world just five years before. That was when the plantation was in full production, and luminaries from Europe and beyond came to secure the best cotton of all-- Love Cotton. Beside the cotton, the Love House was known for the yearly barbecue, a feast of such proportion that the entire state seemed to swarm down around the place for a good week in anticipation of the first plate of the smoked meat.
Now the house looked like the plates of meat after the barbecue was over: all piles of bones and meat residue and crumpled bits of matter. John wasn't sure quite what the birds circling overhead were, but they seemed to portend something awful-- they looked dark and black, as if they were sent by a god of death to pick clean the bones of those lost in battle.
Dismounting, he ran through the door, hoping to find his wife and child still there, somehow, unharmed. And perhaps his nana, the one who had raised him, and maybe his father.
They were there. Disheveled, broken, hungry, whimpering-- but present.
John Love fell to his knees. His father reached his hand out, grasping for something like hope. Father Love's eyes were beaten and desperate.
“Father, we have to leave,” said John.
It took a slow moment, but Father Love nodded.
“Fidelia is very ill,” said Father Love, pointing up the battered stairwell to the top of the house. “Your son is with her.”
John kissed his father's dirty forehead.
“We'll get out of this, I swear,” he said, before heading up the stairs.
The next day, taking his small son's hand as they walked down the long road, John struck out to rejoin his war band. His wife, still sick, walked on his left. Father Love rode slumped on John's horse. They walked slowly through the remnants of what had once been a great town: now even the smallest of slave quarters had been burned in an indiscriminate and all out attack.
“So this is total war,” said John as they passed the schoolhouse where he'd once sneaked in a snake and slide it up teacher's dress to the delight of especially the older boys. Only the chimney and a few desks still stood on the spot.
Others were pouring out of the city, too. They streamed west-- in a seemingly unending line that might have stretched all the way to doomsday. No one seemed to know quite where to go: only they wanted to escape this destruction and start somewhere new, in some new paradise, perhaps out in California.
John halted his family to help up an old woman who's knees had given out. She was not suitable for this sort of force march. A terrible though fluttered through John's mind. It had been better if this woman died.
And she did. Not half a second after John suppressed the thought a bullet came speeding from somewhere and a band of Union soldiers descended upon the escaping civilians. Using their pistols, mainly, this detachment of soldiers crawled out of the woods to circle around the desperate refugees.
John picked up his son and set him on the horse with Father Love.
“Run-- go north of here, fifteen miles,” he told the boy before giving him his own pistol. “You'll find my comrades in a grove. Show them this and I will meet you there.”
With his son dispatched, John turned to join the battle. He stepped in front of the Union guns, and waved the exiles past.
One of the Union men approached close enough for John to wrestle him to the ground, prying away his gun. John stood above the man, whose eyes plead for a mercy he had not shown. John shot him in the head.
Whirling around, the gunman barely dodged a bullet meant for his skull. But the shot went straight through Fidelia's chest, and she fell backwards in shock. John shot at the killer until his gun was empty-- and the Union men retreated.
John knelt down besides his wife. She was dying and there was no time to patch up the wound. Blood flowed free from the hole.
“Fidelia, I'll save you--”
“It's my time,” she said. “But you-- you must go on. For our son. For the Love House. I can see it, like a dream, now-- you'll build a town unlike any other... but you must let me go.”
John nodded. He searched the site of the skirmish and found another gun, still loaded.
“I love you,” he said to a conscious, but now speechless Fidelia, before aiming at her head and firing.