Mike Witham, Soulf of the South, novel, historical fiction, American Civil War
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Chapter 1

AUGUST 28, 1835 greeted Mobile, Alabama, with a warm sun, a calm ripple of Gulf water on its coastal shore, and the sound of common flickers chirping their pleasant melodies. In fact, it was a picturesque Southern summer day. Yet it was only fitting, for future generations of Southerners would look upon the day with happiness, glory, and honor. On August 28, 1835, William Henry Lytham of Mobile, Alabama was born.


William was the eldest child in a family of five. Though the predominant religion of his hometown was Baptist, William’s parents, Matthew and Melissa, along with many of the townsfolk, were descendants of the English Catholics who left the persecution in their “Mother Country” and settled in the South. The Lythams were patriotic to the bone, and no one doubted their commitment both to their country and to their faith.


William had a brother and a sister. William’s relationship with his brother James, six years his junior, was very close. They loved each other tremendously and were committed to supporting each other in any way possible. They knew that blood was thicker than water, and whatever sibling differences they may have had while growing up, they would, in the end, always position themselves on the same side.


William’s relationship with his sister Tara, twelve years his junior, was obviously the relationship of an older brother to a much younger sister. Tara was truly priceless and a bundle of joy. She would always bring a smile to William’s face. William wanted nothing but the best for her and was committed to making her life happy any way he could.


William was a child like any other. There was something about him, however, that no one could explain. He was sensitive, caring, yet at the same time he could, if required, demonstrate a ferocity rarely equaled. The townsfolk were unable to explain these polarizing characteristics. Yet both were essential parts of William’s character. All who observed it testified that it was meant for something—something significant.


William’s dual composition was poignantly demonstrated at the tender age of seven. On his seventh birthday, a boy in his grade school class, Darren McKenny, boasted that he was stronger than William. William knew this to be untrue and kindly told him so. The boy, however, challenged William to a duel, which William promptly accepted. It did not take long for Darren to realize that he was no match for William. William straightaway administered a flurry of lefts and rights to his opponent’s stomach and face such that, before Darren could even say his name, he lay defeated on the ground. Those who had witnessed this episode quickly realized that William was no ordinary boy.


William’s encounter with Darren would not be his last. For the present, however, William warmly received Darren’s subsequent offer of friendship, even though the McKennys were from the North—something Southerners, at the time, did not look highly upon. Moreover, the two remained the best of friends until the eve of the Civil War.


At the age of eighteen, William followed the footsteps of his father and his grandfather before him: The young man entered the army at Mobile Academy. The Lythams were constantly concerned with love of country and of the patriotic duty to defend it against any foe. The only foes William considered a threat to America, however, were the British to the North and the Spanish to the South.


William thrived during his years at Mobile Academy. In fact, he soon gained the distinction as the Academy’s best soldier. During the heat of battle, in simulated war games, William continually commanded his troops to victory. Even President Buchanan commended Lytham on his performance, stating that he looked forward to the day when the young man would lead the entire United States Army. Perhaps William’s greatest gift, however, was his acute perception. Time and again, he knew what his opponents were up to and defeated them thoroughly. Some called it a sixth sense. Others, however, were certain that he had spies on the go.


After seven fruitful years in the army, William was made an officer at the age of twenty-five. The year, however, was 1860, and William well knew the nation’s tension. Mobile Academy offered an abundant illustration. Although William was able to have his unit operate in concert, when the troops were at ease, the men would continually break into factions according to their place of birth. Such a delicate uniformity could, in fact, recess into a division so great that literally friend against friend would be at arms. William had no better manifestation of such than in his friendship with Darren McKenny.


Seven years at Mobile Academy saw Darren change from a Southern supporter to the most formidable weapon the North could ever muster. In his first six years, however, he was indeed a loyal Southerner. Whenever the troops were at ease, Darren would always sojourn in the Southern camp. But in his seventh year, he became increasingly uneasy of the talk around camp. One such conversation in particular pushed McKenny from Southern allegiance to Northern embrace.


The dialogue was between two soldiers discussing the deepening national crisis—with them being convinced that someone from the Southern camp was ascertaining information and sending it to the Northern camp. Darren considered the men having the discourse, Paul Shen and John Jedd, to be his good friends.


“Thank goodness Lytham is in charge of our unit.”
“Thank goodness, indeed,” Jedd said. “If we had someone from the North, I think there would be a mutiny.”
“You’re right. You can never trust a Northerner. They think they’re so morally superior because they don’t have slavery. But they have made our economy dependent upon slavery as we must grow cotton to be considered economically feasible. Yet they come across as if they are the true moralists of the nation. It makes me sick!”
“What about McKenny, Paul? He tells us that he’s originally from the North but that he grew up in the South and favors us rather than them—even though his parents detest Southerners. Do you think he is putting up a front? Do you think he is a spy for the North?”
“I wish I knew. It’s hard to say. But I wouldn’t put it past him.”
“Me neither. I will never trust a Northerner!”


Paul and John’s conversation wounded Darren to the soul. Hitherto, he had trusted their friendship. Thus, for them to suspect him as a spy for the North was thoroughly devastating. He even started to believe that William felt the same way.
That evening was the longest in Darren’s life. He did not get even an hour of sleep. He kept thinking, What should I do? Who am I? Will I ever be accepted by the South? After many restless hours, McKenny became convinced that he would never be accepted as a Southerner. As a result, on the following morning, he went to meet William for the final time—as friends.


“Good morning, William. How are things?”
“Good morning, Darren. Fine. And you?”
“All right,” he answered unconvincingly. “William, I am troubled by the tension in the Academy and, in fact, in the entire nation.”
“Me, too, Darren,” Lytham said sadly. “Here, I constantly strive to have us do all activities together—dividing up only when participating in simulated war games, and then only by drawing lots and not by places of birth. I do believe this course has been very successful, for our unit has not incurred an insurrection in a nation presently embroiled in such. Regarding the nation, I am continually sending letters to the president and to congress beseeching them to resolve the matter peacefully. But can it be resolved peacefully? I personally detest slavery, as do most Southerners. If the North would only help us diversify our economy, we could end this subjugation of human beings. Yet the North continues to refuse our entreaties. Instead, they sit idly by on their high horses and tell us what to do.”
“Maybe they have a moral obligation to tell you folks what to do.”


“‘You folks’?”
“Yes, William. I will never be accepted as a Southerner. Yesterday, I overheard Shen and Jedd talk about me as if I were a spy for the Northern camp. What kind of nonsense is that? The more I think about it, William, the more I am starting to side with the North in all this.”


“Darren, Shen and Jedd don’t trust anyone. I don’t think they even trust their own mothers. They are talking pure nonsense!”
“I wish I could believe that, William. But I don’t know anymore.”
McKenny abruptly departed and, from that day forward, resided in the Northern camp. In his last month at Mobile Academy—December 1860—he incited an insurrection with the Northern soldiers over William’s leadership to assert himself as the new commander and chief of the unit. Darren failed in the attempt, but in the process drew many soldiers from the border states to the Northern side.


The failed insurrection was all William could withstand. Shortly after order was restored, he addressed the soldiers.
“Hitherto we, as a unit, have withstood the nation’s tension and division. We are all Americans first and foremost—regardless of where we were born. I myself am from the South. I am honored to be a Southerner. But before anything else, I am an American, and this crisis our country is going through will eventually pass. So, it is up to us to remain united. Thus, due to recent events, I order that from henceforth, when at ease, no one will be permitted to assemble according to his place of birth. This is the law I now make as commanding officer. Any questions?” There were none. “Then as I have said, so it shall be.”
Then he turned to McKenny and took him aside.


“Darren, I would like a word with you. I’ve been informed that you were behind the insurrection. Is this true?”
“No, sir,” McKenny lied.
“Don’t lie to me, Darren.” Lytham was guessing.
“I am not, sir.”
“Shall I call in my informants, then?” Lytham was bluffing.
The bluff worked. Darren realized William could be lying, but he also realized that William could very well have had spies in the Northern camp, and if they were brought to prove his guilt, he would be spared no mercy.
“All right, I did it. But only in the best interests of the country.”
“Explain.”
“William, as you know, our nation will very soon be at war. You, of all people, can perceive this climate. So I decided to take action on the side of the Union, our country—because you and I know the section that will secede from the rest won’t be the North.”
“Expressing the side you would take in the event of a military conflict is one thing. To actively set about an insurrection while the nation is united is quite another. I have no other course of action but to discharge you from the military. I could do this as a dishonorable discharge but…because and only because of our past friendship, I will not. Yet, you are discharged nonetheless.”


With that, Darren left the Academy. Later that day he left for New York where, after explaining the circumstances of his discharge to the New York division, he was readmitted into the army and promoted to lieutenant.


For William, he knew it would only be a matter of weeks before the South would secede. Consequently, he became more and more troubled. He wanted desperately not to take sides in the national dispute. Moreover, his career was already highly impressive. To be promoted to so high a position at so young an age was nothing short of remarkable. Yet, all this prestige and future promise would be lost, William thought, if he had to choose the South. “What an unenviable plight to be in,” he sighed to himself.

 

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Copyright © 2004 Mike Witham
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