Davina Matthews stood at the east window of her bedroom as daylight
broke upon her sleeping farm. Her eyes slowly traced the split-rail
fence that separated pastureland from woodland. Yankee patrols had
appeared now and again to graze their mounts in her pastures. Levi said
they had stolen a couple hogs from the woods a week past, but thus far
they hadn’t bothered the small flock of sheep or the few grazing beef
steers and milk cows.
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to
pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a
time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time
to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance. She had learned those
verses from her father back in South Carolina, as well as many other
passages of Scripture through the years, but now those words of King
Solomon plagued her nearly every day.
“‘All is vanity and vexation of spirit.’” Davina’s whispered
words created small breath puffs upon the window pane. Vexation of
spirit. Yes, indeed, ever since her husband Ben rode away to join
Forrest’s cavalry corps.
The war had seemed so distant then, except for Ben’s absence.
Sometimes it almost seemed to be someone else’s war. Until that cold,
blustery day in late February when a single soldier on horseback, Hank
Fowler from over near Selmer, had ridden up the lane with the terrible
news of Ben’s death at Donelson, a place Davina had never heard of
before. Pastor Blackwell told her it was God’s will, and he told her
good would come from her loss, even showers of blessing. His words still
felt hard and cold like midwinter earth.
Now, she was surrounded by Yankees. The first of their large steamboats
had arrived at Pittsburg Landing just three Sabbaths before. The Yankees
— Sherman’s men, most of them — had pitched their tents around the
little church that her own Ben and their slave Levi had helped build.
Their humble Shiloh Church was now the enemy’s headquarters, and again
today, April 6th, no preaching of the Prince of Peace would be heard
within those simple log walls, only the deadly schemes of war.
It was our hands that built your house, Lord, and Ben and Levi done a
lot of it. Now it’s only a stinking, muddy city of filthy men and
filthy beasts. Just ain’t no place to take the little ones for
Davina sighed and wiped the window pane with the cuff of her nightgown.
A few days ago several riders in gray had dashed across her pastureland
to the cover of the trees beyond. And on Friday afternoon, a Tennessee
cavalry patrol had stopped at the farm to water their horses. The
captain of the patrol confirmed what Davina already suspected — the
army was coming up quickly from Corinth and there would soon be a great
battle. But yesterday all was quiet, and this morning was just as
If the army was close, then Aaron was close, too. Very close.
I’m empty, Lord. Is this what you want? Is this why you took Ben?
Because I was leaning too much on him and not on you? I’m only a
woman, Lord, and without Ben my heart is broke. You say you can put it
together again, Lord, but can you even find all the pieces? And today,
Lord, I’m afraid for Aaron. Keep him safe, please. He’s only
eighteen, and I can’t lose him, too.
Davina dabbed at her eyes with her kerchief.
A soft knock on her door broke the silence. “Mama?”
It was Luke, her fourteen-year-old son. “Come in, dear.”
The boy entered and came to Davina’s side at the window. “Will it be
Davina put her arm around Luke’s shoulders and drew him close. “Only
God knows for sure. I was just standing here thinking about your
brother, and praying, too. We haven’t seen him in more than six
months, and it’s hard on a mother to know her boy’s so close, maybe
in danger. I’d give anything to hold him just like this.”
“I wish I could go and fight, Mama. Just think of it, me and Aaron
fighting them Yankees side by side.”
“Ain’t your time, my dear. Besides, this family’s already given so
much.” Davina hugged her son a little closer. “It’s a hard thing,
your papa never coming home, but I need you here with me.”
“I know, Mama.” Luke gave his mother a peck on the cheek. “Wish
Aaron was here. Why can’t it be like it was?”
Davina had asked that same question countless times. Things would never
be like they were before, not without Ben. And it was ever so hard for
her to know how things ought to be, now that he was gone.
“I hate them Yankees, for what they did to Papa.” Luke’s words
were hard and terse. “Every last one of them.”
Davina turned from the window to look at Luke. He tried so hard to be a
man, sometimes, but so much of the boy remained, and that boy was
tussling with the same hard things she was. So different from her
grown-up Aaron, who was so much like Ben. But Luke was growing fast,
now; another year and she’d be looking up at him.
“Hating ain’t good, Luke. ‘Love your enemies,’ that’s what
Jesus said.” But the words sounded hollow and left a bitter taste.
“Oh, Mama, I can’t — ”
A low rumble like distant thunder rolled across the sleeping farm.
Davina’s breath caught in her throat. Luke stiffened beside her. Then
there was a second report, more distinct this time, and another that
Davina felt in her feet. The window glass in front of her face vibrated
a raspy note within its frame.
“It’s started, Mama.”
“Yes. Now leave so I can dress. And pray for your brother.”
“Yes, Mama.” Luke paused at the door. “I’ll pray that Aaron
kills lots of Yankees.”
Davina dressed quickly — not her pale blue Sunday dress with the
frills at the hem and sleeves and bodice, but rather loose-fitting,
workday attire: faded brown duck trousers with leather braces and a
plaid cotton flannel shirt. She went to the front door, drew on her
boots, and walked out onto the veranda.
“Missus Davina.” Min Jackson stepped up onto the veranda, breathless
from running up the lane from her family’s cabin. “Did you hear,
missus? Did you hear?”
“I heard, Min. Wish I hadn’t, but I heard.” Davina looked over the
line of trees beyond the fields to the east. “Seems a big fight’s
started down near the church.”
Davina and Min stood at the railing of the veranda, listening intently
as the thump of artillery grew more constant. Waves of clattering musket
fire filled the gaps between cannon blasts and soon the noise of pitched
battle became a steady clamor from which there was no escape.
“Oh my,” Min said every so often. “Oh my.”
Davina’s children appeared one by one on the veranda, still dressed in
their bedclothes. She hardly noted their presence until six-year-old
Davy, the youngest, began to scream. Ruthie, his tenyear-old sister,
took his hand and tried to quiet the boy.
Davina was about to gather Davy into her arms when Anna, her
fifteen-year-old daughter, came rushing out of the house, as did Luke.
“Anna, look after your little brother, please.”
Anna picked the boy up. “Don’t cry, Li’l Davy. You remember them
bad Yankees we seen? Well, Aaron’s down there, and he’s giving them
Yankees a whipping and we won’t see them no more. Then Aaron’ll come
home, and everything’ll be good again.” Davy screamed all the
Davina fixed her gaze on the wisps of battle smoke rising over the
trees. Aaron was down there somewhere, down near the Corinth Road maybe,
with all the rest of the Thirteenth Tennessee. She knew her eldest son
would go into battle and do his duty, just as his father had done. His
courage warmed her a little, but it frightened her more, and she wished
only to take the buckboard and dash down the lane and bring Aaron home
to Matthews Hill.
Still, it was the Sabbath, and she would try to observe it as best she
could. The family would gather, and Luke would read from the Bible, and
maybe Willy would remember some verses, and she would pray for the
little flock — her flock. They would do these things just as they had
done them last Sunday, and the Sunday before that. But first, her flock
needed to be fed.
“Min.” The black woman moved not at all. Davina turned and laid a
gentle hand on the short, stout woman’s shoulder. “Minny.”
Min jumped at the touch. “Yes, missus?”
“Go fix breakfast for this hungry gang. Do up some ham and eggs, and
griddle cakes, too. Make plenty for all yours, too.”
“Yes, missus.” Min tore her gaze away and disappeared into the house
just as her husband, Levi, came running across the yard from the barn.
“Excuse me, Missus Davina,” Levi said, bounding up onto the veranda,
his brown eyes dark, wide, and darting. “You need me doing anything,
missus?” He ran a large hand over the top of his nearly bald scalp and
down the side of his stubble-roughened face to his chin. “I mean, not
the usual, missus, already done it, me and my boys. Anything, Missus
Davina, with the fighting and all?”
“Settle down, Levi,” Davina said, trying hard to settle her own
voice. It had been a long time since she’d seen Levi in such distress.
“There might be work to do later, but right now, I just need a clear
Davina turned her back to the battle sounds. “Anna, Luke, come here,
please.” Anna, still holding Davy in her arms, seemed every day to
grow a little more toward a beautiful young woman and a little farther
from the gangly child she used to be, and it pleased Davina deeply.
Luke, just thirteen months younger than his sister, tried hard to look
the man of the house, but the fear in his eyes was unmistakable.
“There’s no way of guessing what the Lord’s set on our table
today,” Davina said, “but I think it best we be prepared. First,
we’re all going to have breakfast. Levi, bring your little ones up
here to the house. We’ll find room. It’s chilly here on the veranda,
so maybe in the living room by the fire.”
“Yes, missus,” Levi said.
Luke didn’t look pleased. Several times during the recent months,
he’d made it clear that, in his judgment, his mother was too good to
“It’s the Sabbath, so after breakfast we’ll have Bible reading,”
Davina said. “Luke will read for us, won’t you, Luke?”
Luke’s face brightened a little. “Yes, ma’am.”
“Anna, I need you to look after Ruthie and Li’l Davy today.
That’ll be two less things I need to worry about. And, Levi, I’m
thinking that, win or lose — and I pray God to smile on us and we beat
them Yankees to kingdom come — Aaron and his friends will need
anything we can take them. You and your boys go look around and figure
what we can spare — hams, bread, butter, cornmeal. Look at all our
hidings, too. Get a heap together, and if we get an opportunity, we’ll
load up the wagon and get on down there.”
“No matter which way the fight goes, they’ll need whatever we can
Davina felt a soft tug at her elbow. It was eleven-year-old Willy, his
blue eyes the exact image of her own.
“What can I do, Mama? I want to help Aaron, too.”
Davina got down on one knee. She cupped Willy’s face in her hands and
kissed him lightly on the forehead. “You got the most important job of
all, my boy. We’ll all be doing lots of praying today — for Aaron to
be safe, and us here, too, and for beating them Yankees, and for this
wicked war to end so we can have peace again. Remember what St. Paul
said to do?”
Willy nodded. “You mean pray without ceasing?”
Davina hugged Willy close. “That’s what we need today, my dear.”
Willy’s voice was barely a whisper. “I will, Mama. You know I
Excerpted from "Until Shiloh Comes (Shiloh Trilogy)" by Karl A. Bacon. Copyright © 2015 by Karl A. Bacon. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.