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A New Birth of Freedom:

The Visitor

By Robert G. Pielke


Published by Altered Dimensions, an imprint of Cyberwizard Productions, 1205 N. Saginaw Boulevard #D, PMB 224, Saginaw, Texas 76179 This is a work of fiction. All the characters, places and events portrayed in this anthology are either fictitious or used fictitiously. A New Birth of Freedom copyright © 2010 Cyberwizard Productions First Edition: Illustrations by A. R. Stone ISBN: 978-1-936021-23-9 Library of Congress Control Number: 2010922110 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher, excepting brief quotes used in connection with reviews. Cover photo: Gardner, Alexander, photographer. “Allan Pinkerton, President Lincoln, and Major. General John A. McClernand, Antietam, Maryland (another view).” October 3, 1862. Selected Civil War Photographs, 1861-1865, American Memory collections, Library of Congress. Cover photo manipulation: Edwin Blair created and inserted in place of Major. General John A. McClernand by Crystalwizard Back cover college: Historical Civil War archives

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It’s all now, you see. Yesterday won’t be over until tomorrow and tomorrow began ten thousand years ago. For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun yet, it not only hasn’t begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin...” William Faulkner, Intruder in the Dust

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Table of Contents

SECTION ONE: The Visitation

1

SECTION TWO: The Truce

55

SECTION THREE: The Encounter

106

SECTION FOUR: The Contact

151

SECTION FIVE: The President

187

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To Emily Daracan-Pielke My Union Sympathizer & Karen Lynn Pielke Santos My Rebel Redactor

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It has taken centuries to recognize that all humans possess certain unalienable rights. There will come a time when we have to consider whether others deserve those rights as well. That time will come on July 4th, 1863.

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SECTION ONE The Visitation


(March 20, 1849) The passengers boarding the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad coaches struggled to drag their luggage through the narrow passageways, puffing clouds of white breath in the chilly air. Screams of excitement came from a gaggle of children chasing one another around the piles of chests and satchels. The chill in Washington City was unexpected, since it was, in fact, the exact day of the vernal equinox. Winter was supposed to be finished, yet it lingered. Edwin Blair, however, anticipated the chill. Having done the research, he gave it little notice. Aside from surveying the antics of the overly rambunctious children, Blair also carefully observed a tall, gangly man with unruly black hair who looked to be about his age signaling for help. No sooner had the man arched his brow, accompanied by a sweeping gesture toward several well-worn bags, than two of the non-company black men scattered about the platform leapt into action. How am I going to refer to them? Blair tried not to panic. I’m not going to use the slavers’ term! ‘African-American’ won’t work. He tried to reorient his thinking and adjust his speech patterns to the time. There was that 1844 newspaper article about a “colored” man stopping the runaway carriage of President Tyler. And eventually the War Department’s going to create the Bureau of Colored Troops. He shook his head in resignation. “Colored’s” going to have to do. Edwin Blair, sporting a newly grown blonde, well-trimmed beard, and carrying nothing but a shiny metallic valise that he held closely by his right side, boarded several moments after the tall traveler, catching the eye of virtually everyone he passed. The perfectly polished surface of the valise seemed more like mirrored glass than metal, and his black leather jacket flapped opened in the cool breeze, revealing a black cable-knit pullover sweater. This, together with his dark blue denim trousers, his shoes made of indeterminate material, and his gleaming valise, were the source of near universal curiosity. Several of the young 2


Robert Pielke children skipping along beside him pointed and laughed. Their parents offered barely-hushed admonitions, “Behave yourselves! You know you mustn’t stare at strangers. It simply is not polite.” Yet they, to a person, failed to follow their own advice. Blair held nothing in his left hand, yet he clenched it so tight that his nails dug into his flesh, his teeth clenched every bit as tight as his hand. No one mentioned the word “LEVI’S” burnt into a small leather patch on the back of his trousers, but several men did wonder aloud about the word “NIKE” on the side of his black and white shoes. “What ho?” one heavily bewhiskered person asked while pointing at Blair’s feet with his lit cigar, spilling its ash over his lap in the process. Edwin Blair acknowledged him with a brief but empty glance. Egads, he thought, trying to ignore his pounding heart. It’s not going to be a cakewalk to maintain the balance. I’ve got to reveal enough, but not so much that it disrupts the necessary chain of events. Otherwise, this enterprise is doomed from the start. The recently manufactured New Castle locomotive built up a head of steam and began to pull slowly out of the Baltimore & Ohio depot. Still clutching his shiny metallic valise, Blair lurched back and forth as he made his way toward a pair of bench seats facing each other at the front of the coach. One seat had but a single occupant, the tall, gangly traveler, while the other was vacant. My God, he thought as he swayed from side to side, that really is he… If my students could only see me now. The traveler was glaring out of one window, oblivious to all else. His curiosity aroused, Blair tossed a quick glance out of the window and caught sight of the station’s bulletin board. Posters nailed to it, some new, some faded, offered various rewards for runaways. One large, relatively pristine placard offered $600 for the return of three slaves. “Henry Morsell, Jim Parker and Bill Hutton,” Blair whispered, then winced. “Leaving the service of their subscriber.” He shivered, and then pulled his attention back inside the coach. Moving toward the empty seat, he noticed that the aisle-side armrest was broken, split down the middle with 3


Section One: The Visitation several shards of wood protruding upward. He made a quick mental note of it then cleared his throat and asked with a small tremor in his voice, “May I join you?” The gangly traveler turned his gaze to Blair, looked him up and down, and then, arching his brow ever so slightly, offered a wry smile while nodding his assent. “I suppose. Maybe then, you might be willing to inform me as to why the name of the Greek goddess of victory is emblazoned on your rather odd footwear?” Blair began to perspire and forced out a nervous laugh. No frenetic reviewing of the history and language of the time had fully prepared him for the actual encounter. John Wright’s Language of the Civil War was helpful, though. Placing his valise on the seat, he sat down between it and the damaged armrest. “I suspected you might know the appellation’s reference, although I wasn’t positive. I am pleased that my suspicion was correct.” The traveler raised both eyebrows. “That reminds me of the simpleton farm boy who knew just one fact, and spent his whole lifetime waiting for someone to ask him the right question. When someone finally presented him with the opportunity, and he answered it correctly, he felt extremely proud of his accomplishment.” He smiled before nodding toward the metallic valise. “I may know a bit about the goddess, but I don’t have the slightest idea what that might be. More than that, I wonder why you had any suspicions about me at all. Have we met?” “No, sir, I have not had the honor.” “Well, since we seem to be traveling together, my name — ” “Oh, I know your name, sir. You are a well-known public figure.” “Then, my wondering increases, Mr... . “Blair. Edwin Blair.” Blair extended his hand, which the traveler accepted with a firm grip. Ω As the train neared full speed, clattering over rails in need of repair, it passed through neatly cultivated Maryland farmlands emptied of their crops in the previous fall harvest. Spring was on 4


Robert Pielke the way, however, and they would soon be made ready for planting. Probably corn, Blair thought as he stared out the window at the passing scenery. He couldn’t help making a comparison between the bucolic setting and the fields from whence he had come. They, too, stood empty, but not from harvesting. They had been ravaged by a pestilence that the people with whom he shared the train could not possibly imagine. Empty fields are normal here, even healthy. Those at home are anything but. These people may worry about locusts, but they know nothing about the horrors that real Pests can bring. And if I’m successful, they never will. I’ve got a lot of work to do. The farmlands gradually succumbed to thick green forests. A farm trail broke through the trees and intersected the rails with several bare-footed children wearing straw hats, which they quickly doffed to wave the passengers on their journey, waiting at the intersection for passing trains. The traveler raised his hand in response, to the immediate and ecstatic delight of his minuscule and fleeting audience. Blair watched the scene through the window with detached interest. I wonder if those children even own shoes. Probably not, since they would no doubt be wearing them. None of the other passengers took time to engage in this brief courtesy with the world passing by outside, but every now and then, some snuck a careful a glance at the two men conversing in the front seats. “Well, then,” the traveler asked once the children were left behind. “How does Mr. Edwin Blair come to suspect things about me? My service in Washington City these past two years was rather unremarkable.” Blair stared into the traveler’s eyes with more intensity than politeness warranted. “Actually, Mr. Lincoln, I know a great deal about you.” “Should that cause me some concern?” “Oh no, sir! Not at all. In fact, everything that I have learned — know — about you causes me to have great admiration for you.” 5


Section One: The Visitation Lincoln laughed. “Well, Mr. Blair, I do believe you’ve been had. The folks who know me might question whether or not you’ve lost possession of your senses. A simple country lawyer such as I am has not had the opportunity to attract many admirers. I do believe, however, that I may have acquired more than a few detractors.” “That may be so. But during your two years as a Congressman, you have caught the attention of more than a few souls. You are not an unknown person.” Lincoln nodded again, a wry smile tugging at his lips. “I’m afraid I caught the attention of some of them much like the fox caught the attention of the farmer and his shotgun instead of the chicken he was after.” Blair‘s own lips formed a cautious smile. Lincoln’s expression grew serious once again and he leaned back against the seat. “On what is your admiration based, Mister Blair?” Blair stiffened, then took a deep breath and chose his words carefully. “On three things, sir. Three items, I daresay, of considerable noteworthiness.” A twinkle sparked in Lincoln’s eyes and his voice rose in volume. “You ‘daresay,’ Mr. Blair?” He chuckled. “I take it you enjoy reading the Bronte sisters on occasion? But don’t let me interrupt you.” Blair was again unnerved. This is going to be even harder than I thought. He cleared his throat and tried to focus on his mission, raising his voice as the wheels of the train clattered across several switches. “As I was saying, the first item concerns your proposed bill to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia. The second are your ‘Spot’ Resolutions, demanding that President Polk prove that Mexico’s incursion into the United States in truth occurred and was unjust. And the third is your vote in opposition to the Mexican War itself.” Lincoln edged forward in his seat as Blair’s went through the list. “As I recall, none of those won me many friends, nor were any of them were on the winning side of a single vote.” He raised 6


Robert Pielke his brow and produced a faint smile. “A lot of my colleagues even took to calling me ‘Spotty Lincoln.’” Yes they did, Blair thought, as several historians noted. Doris Kerns Goodwin being among them. “True, but they amply demonstrate your courage in the face of the popular will — acting against it when you believe the majority to be wrong.” Lincoln allowed a sad smile to settle briefly across his face. “So here I am, making my way back home with my tail between my legs. There’s no danger of me taking on an unfriendly majority ever again. I just may fare better back in the courtroom.” Edwin Blair offered an empty smile of his own. Lincoln sat forward, his gaze traveling down to Blair’s shoes again. “Now, Mister Blair, you haven’t told me of your interest in the goddess Nike.” He shifted his gaze back to Blair’s face. “None whatsoever, sir. I wore the shoes to elicit your interest, and,” Blair paused for emphasis, “to help create a memory.” He took a deep breath. “You see, I have a request.” Lincoln raised his eyebrows, but said nothing. “It’s a simple request which will require only a brief portion of your time.” Lincoln shifted his body to gain a more comfortable position, pursed his lips, and still said nothing. A beat of cold sweat trickled down Blair’s back. “Of course, I would not expect you to do this as a mere favor. You are, after all, a lawyer, and your time is valuable. For this commitment, I am prepared to offer you a direct compensation. A retainer, as it were.” Still no response. “Let me add, sir,” Blair hushed his voice and tried to sound a bit mysterious, “that I am aware that you are returning to Springfield to resume your law practice with your friend William Herndon, and you are currently without paying clients. I also know that you have recently contracted for some extensive remodeling of your home in Springfield. The addition of a few stoves and extensive brickwork, I believe.” Still nothing. 7


Section One: The Visitation Blair was growing desperate. “Furthermore, sir, I know that your previous remodeling, a new bedroom and pantry, is still not completely paid for.” Lincoln nodded slowly in stoic contemplation. The engine’s steam trumpet chose that moment to scream three quick bursts as they crossed yet another intersection. This time there were no children waiting, and Lincoln’s gaze remained unbroken. When the noise subsided, he calmly queried, “Mr. Blair?” “Yes?” “This is a passel of personal information you have compiled.” Blair’s heart raced. Did I reveal too much? He slowly inhaled to calm himself. “Yes. However, I assure you, sir, I have engaged in no skullduggery of any kind. Merely research.” “And you have done so, why?” “To provide a good reason for you to accept my retainer.” “Hmmm….” Lincoln mussed the hair about on his head. “You didn’t think just asking me would do the trick?” “Would it have worked?” “Mr. Blair, if you know my financial situation, why would you doubt that I would accept a retainer?” Lincoln shook his head and chuckled. “Now I know what the turkey felt like when he was invited to dinner and foolishly accepted the invitation.” “I assure you,” Blair said while trying to hide his nervousness, “that this commitment will not entail you being ‘served’ for dinner. I only need your advice. Although I may desire a particular outcome, there is no way I can ensure it. I would be relying on your honest counsel and insight.” Lincoln said nothing for a long moment. “Before I accept this invitation, let me ask you this. In the portion of time you refer to, wherein I would be giving you my ‘honest counsel,’ would I be acting as your legal representative?” “No sir. I would only be seeking your thoughtful advice.” “Well then, sir, I must ask that you elaborate a tad about the unnamed problem about which you wish me to advise you, so as I might be a little bit prepared.” Blair gave a short little nod. “Yes, sir. You do need information 8


Robert Pielke from me, but the time is not right.” A thoughtful expression crossed Lincoln’s face, and he brought his right hand up to scratch his clean-shaven chin. “I don’t suppose you’re going to tell me why the time is not right.” “I can’t, sir.” Blair reached into his jacket and withdrew a black leather billfold. “But if you accept my retainer, I can give you a date when I will be able to clarify matters.” He withdrew a single banknote and displayed it so that its printed face was plainly evident to Lincoln. “As you can see, sir, it was issued by the Globe Bank of New York on April 20th, 1840. I am assured that it is a trustworthy institution and that their notes are good.” “A one-hundred dollar note! You must regard this problem as a hard one.” “I most certainly do.” “Well,” Lincoln sighed, “I suppose I can give it some thought and, as you request, honestly advise you about what to do.” He picked the note up and turned it around, studying it. A sincere smile crossed Blair’s face. “Thank you. You have greatly relieved me of considerable anxiety and stress.” “Now, when is it that you would like to see me about your problem?’ After living two years in the capital, going home to Illinois is a welcome prospect, but it’s going to be a twelve day journey on three railroads, a stagecoach, two carriage rides, as well as a river steamer through St. Louis.” Lincoln resettled himself in the seat, as if in preparation for the trek. “In the coming weeks, I have to settle back into Springfield and become a lawyer again. My wife and children have preceded me home, and I do miss them, so I’m afraid all that comes first. Also, I’ve promised to meet with several gentlemen about the future and direction of the Whig Party, of which I am still a somewhat dissatisfied member.” Blair pulled out two cards from his wallet. “My name is printed on both of these as well as the date that I am requesting to see you. One is for you, to assist in your recollection, and the other is for me. I hope you will be gracious enough to sign both so as to lend a certain degree of authenticity to our meeting.” 9


Section One: The Visitation As Lincoln received the two cards from Blair and read the one on top, he gave a sudden start. “There is no mistake here, Mr. Blair?” “No, sir.” “You are requesting a meeting at ten o’clock in the morning on June 27th, 1863?” “Yes, sir.” Lincoln furrowed his brow deeply and directed a quizzical gaze at Edwin Blair. “You do realize that this date is fourteen years from now?” Blair smiled without evincing even a trace of pleasure. “Yes, sir. And I do intend, with all possible seriousness, to meet with you on that particular day at that particular time. And to that end, I have offered, and you have accepted, my retainer.” Lincoln shook his head while gazing at the bank note. “I certainly hope you’ll get your money’s worth of advice, Mr. Blair. And I hope that I’m still around to give it.” He signed one card and returned it, then signed the other and placed it in the breast pocket of his suit. Ω “Baltimore!” As the train began to slow, an aging conductor moved from the rear of the coach toward the front, swaying back and forth and grasping every seatback for stability. “All out for Baltimore!” Edwin Blair started to rise. The train jerked, knocking him off balance and he plunged his hand down onto the damaged armrest, skewering his palm on one of the protruding shards in the process. Suppressing an outcry, he gave a strangled grunt and then rapidly extracted the splinter. Removing a handkerchief from his hip pocket, he fashioned a makeshift bandage. Lincoln lurched to his feet. “I am surprised, Mr. Blair. You did notice the armrest when you seated yourself. I saw you rather carefully look it over so as to avoid a mishap — or so I assumed.” “Yes. A stupid mistake.” Blair clenched his hand into a fist to stem the bleeding and extended his other hand in farewell. “It has 10


Robert Pielke truly been an honor to meet you, sir.” Pain shot through up his arm from the wound, causing him to wince. He gulped and then continued, “I fear I must leave you at this station.” Lincoln accepted Blair’s undamaged hand, small in comparison to his own, with a firm grip. “I have to admit that this has been very interesting. After speaking with you, Mr. Blair, I do believe I know less about you now than I did before I even met you.” He glanced at Blair’s bandaged hand, and then gave a slight incline to his head, barely lifting an eyebrow. “Do take care of that wound.” Blair reached for his metallic valise while nodding. “Thank you. I shall. And… I shall see you again. In fourteen years. It will be a Saturday.” Lincoln studied Blair as he readied for departure at the station in Baltimore. “You were quite successful, you know.” “How so?” “You have created a memory.”

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(June 27, 1863) My feet are wet...I hate that. And my hand hurts. Sensations did not always return in the same order. This time his sense of touch was the first to reemerge, followed in quick succession sight, sound, taste, and smell. The longer the passage, the longer it took to complete the process. Blair drew in a nervous breath that turned into gagging. My God, I had no idea the fetid odors would be this overwhelming. I knew there would be sewage, but this is beyond contemplation. The first order of business is to get out of this muck and on to drier ground. He pulled the top of his sweater over his nose, and then struggled against the sucking sludge, all the while choking back the rebellious fluids forcing their way up his throat. It’s unnerving, Blair thought as he fought to extract his foot without losing his shoe. One instant, you’re looking at the back of some warehouse near the train station in Baltimore, the next, you blink your eyes and you’re looking at the back of the partially built Washington Monument. Fourteen years… just like that… and your heart feels like it’ll beat itself out of your chest. He took a step forward, and winced. What I wouldn’t give for hip boots right about now! After slogging out of the quagmire, he found a patch of dry ground where he could remove a strange, metallic device from his arm and repack it. A quick glance around confirmed that the only living things in the vicinity were a few birds hunting for food among the weeds. Good. Now how do I get this sludge off my feet? He pulled his shoes off and spent several minutes cleaning them with the end of a stick, before wiping them off with a handful of grass. That will have to do, he thought as he pulled the shoes back on. I hate wearing wet socks and shoes! And my pants are just as bad. Nothing I can do about it out here, though. Let’s hope it dries fast. Keeping an eye out for snakes and other vermin, he trudged toward a small rise not far away. Several minutes later he stopped, checked his watch, and began scouting the area. I can just barely 12


Robert Pielke see the White House straight ahead through the haze. And over to the right is… yes, there it is… the bridge over the canal. I can clean off the rest of the mud, at least. I should be able to do that in a half hour. Then another half hour or so up 14th Street to the Willard. I can sort myself out there and find something to bind up my hand with. Stupid thing to do, let’s hope it was worth it. Should have brought a first-aid kit along. He gave one more glance around, and then headed toward the canal and the promise of clean water in the shade. Ω Although it was well before noon on Saturday morning, the heat and humidity were beginning to well up, the staggering mugginess intimating impending rain. Worse, however, was the fetid aroma of horse manure mixed with the assorted offal that inevitably collected as a result of too many people in the same place at the same time. Blair had already taken off his leather jacket, and ached to rid himself of the sweater as well, but this particular arrangement of clothing was essential. Maybe the Round Robin Bar in the Willard is open, he thought as he headed in the direction of the hotel. Zut alors! At least I could sniff a drink while I wait. He shuddered at the distant sight of the Willard Hotel a mere decade after its beginnings, barely able to recognize it as the place he knew so well. It seemed a pitiful ship adrift in a sea of mud – or rather, a muddy concoction flavored with garbage and animal waste giving off the most putrid odor imaginable. There’s a vast difference, he thought while trying not to breathe too deeply, between reading about a subject and experiencing it. As much as my students might have disliked my lectures on this era, I’m sure they’d much prefer their textbooks to this actuality. As he trudged north on Fifteenth Street, he caught a glimpse of the President’s Mansion before it disappeared behind the Treasury Department. Evident everywhere were Federal soldiers, many stationed at the doorways of official buildings while others lounged about on whatever shaded lawn space was available. 13


Section One: The Visitation A sudden clatter caught his attention. Turning to look, he spotted a wagon full of chained slaves slowly creaking down the mucky thoroughfare. He forced himself to gaze into the eyes of one of the small, light-skinned girls at the rear of the wagon. ‘Mulattos‘ they call them, he thought. She looks about the same age as my… my daughter is… was…. He shivered then forced himself not to dwell on what was likely to be in store for the girl and her wagon mates. Not now. I have to keep my mind clear. This intolerable blight is going to end soon. I’ve got to keep that in mind. He turned onto Pennsylvania Avenue, his jacket draped over his left shoulder and the gleaming metallic valise grasped in his bandaged hand. Walking as briskly as possible, his armpits sodden with sweat, he hurried toward the hotel entrance. It really is true, he reflected, they built this godforsaken excuse of a city on a swamp and didn’t even bother to drain it. No wonder the state of Maryland graciously ceded it to what passed for a Federal government. The polished marble and Romanesque pillared lobby was crowded with Federal Officers and politicians, all clamoring about the rumors of Lee’s army being on the move and what they personally felt should be done about it. Blair noticed a few of them eyeing him. Their attention was transitory, nevertheless, his unusual appearance made a decided impression. After passing by the ornate Peacock Alley where aged white men in formal attire served tea to a crowd of patrons, he turned sharply toward The Round Robin. The bar was indeed open and not as crowded as the lobby, its circular configuration pleasantly familiar to Blair. He found a seat in the least populated portion of the circle in front of two windows, and immediately checked his wristwatch. Barely pausing to breathe, he glanced at an old grandfather clock in the far corner, and then set his watch to 9:30 a.m. Withdrawing a few silver coins from a jacket pocket, he dropped them onto the marble surface of the bar to attract the bartender’s attention, and then stole a peek at the latest issue of Harper’s Weekly laying open 14


Robert Pielke on the bar. The is a real issue! I’ve only seen photographs of it in the National Archives! A bit more relaxed, he exhaled slowly and draped the jacket over the stool next him then slid the magazine over. I wonder if this issue has an article that uses both “negro” and “colored...” He flipped several pages, and then stopped at an article about Lee’s incursion into Pennsylvania, staring at the “Pennsylvania Battle Map.” Wait a minute, this isn’t right. It’s showing the wrong section of the state. He pursed his lips. Blair you fool, of course it’s wrong. They don’t know yet. One of the two bartenders on duty, a smallish colored man with a light complexion and short gray hair who seemed to be in his mid-fifties, looked over at Blair. “What can I offer you, sir?” His gaze traveled down Blair’s outfit and landed on his valise. “We have some new sparklin’ Hock, if you’re interested.” He jerked his gaze back up to Blair’s face. “Hock?” Is he free or a slave? Can’t tell, but I’m glad he’s got a decent job. “German wine. And we’ve still got enough ice packed away in straw in the cellar to chill it up real nice. Or, I could mix up a nice Brandy Smash for ya.” As long as I’m here, Blair thought, I might as well have the house specialty. “I’d like a glass of Henry Clay’s drink, if you don’t mind.” “Ah. That would be the mint julep!” The bartender smiled. “The Senator used bourbon in his version, not brandy, seeins’ as how he was from ol’ Keentuck. I s’ppose that’s what ya have in mind?” “It is indeed.” The bartender chuckled as he picked up a glass. “Him and Dan’l Webster and John Calhoun used-ta come in here night after night drinkin’. He drank juleps almost always. Started with brandy in his early years I hear, then as time went on he switched the mix to bourbon.” “Heavy drinkers?” “Webster and Clay both put some down, I’ll say.’ The bartender crushed a few mint leaves into the glass, and then filled 15


Section One: The Visitation it with crushed ice. “Clay’s spirits rose mightily with each drink. It never showed much on Webster, though.” “What about John C. Calhoun?” The bartender poured a spoonful of thick syrup over the ice and added a spoonful of water. “Oh, he weren’t a drinker ‘t all. Had Lemonade mostly. Sometimes a little sherry, but that’s it.” He stuck the spoon into the glass and began stirring gently. “Did they ever get into their famous debates here?” “You mean over the slaves?” “Yes.” “Sure. Every so often. But they was here for drinkin’, gamblin’ and have a high ol’ time.” “Was there a lot of money involved”? “Oh, no, sir. They never played for money. They’d be playin’ cards for drinks and smells.” “Smells?” “The losers had to pay. They had to smell the empty glasses of the winners. Hah!” He added a mint sprig to the drink and set the frosty glass in front of Blair. “That’ll cost ya two silver dollars.” Blair laughed at the odd mental image the tale created, then handed over two of the silver coins from the bar and put the rest away. He picked the drink up and sipped at it. “That’s a good price, two dollars,” the bartender said as he pocked the money, “seein’s as it’s hot as blazes these days and we’re runnin’ low on ice. I hear tell in Richmond they’ve already done run outta ice.” “We are indeed fortunate.” Blair gave the bartender a sardonic smile as he set the drink down on the bar’s marble surface. The glass was sweating almost as much as he was. The volume of conversations in the Round Robin increased as a large crowd of men entered the bar, and the bartender trundled off to see to their needs. Blair turned to look out one of the windows. The President’s Mansion was not visible from this angle, but knowing that his destination was only few blocks away gave him chills. 16


Robert Pielke Ω Shortly before ten a.m., Edwin Blair left the Round Robin and stumbled north onto Fifteenth Street, shaking from nervous excitement. When he turned onto Pennsylvania Avenue and strode across the lawn toward the north portico of the President’s Mansion, he garnered only curious looks from the Federal soldiers. It’s astounding, he thought, the almost total absence of security. It’s a very different time. Stepping onto the portico, he could not help noticing that the brilliant white color familiar to him from his own time was missing; the pillars and trimmings dingy and faded instead. Four soldiers holding highly polished, Springfield muskets stood guard, two on each side of the open entryway, ready for the daily influx of visitors. Those are the new rifled muskets… deadly despite their nineteenth century origin. The last time I saw one of those, it was in a climate-controlled, airtight display case! A Sergeant sporting a minimalistic display of chin whiskers collected cards from the petitioners to present them to the President. Clearly, not everyone in the gathering crowd would have an opportunity for an audience; the numbers were swelling too quickly, giving further rise to Blair’s already heightened anxiety. When his turn finally came, he almost couldn’t keep his hand from shaking as he handed over the card that Lincoln had signed. “You’ll see that I have a scheduled appointment.” The guard licked his lips while squinting at the card, then turned to a private. “Go get Mr. Nicolay or Mr. Hay. Give this to whichever one you find —” He handed over the card. Another soldier escorted Blair, along with about thirty other supplicants, through the vestibule toward the Grand Staircase. To Blair, the sight of the tattered and abused opulence was just familiar enough to produce an eerie queasiness in his stomach. The talking and clomping of boots while climbing the staircase caused a major ruckus. How can Lincoln get any work done in this daily cacophony? The crowd hushed as they approached the Reception Room, and several official-looking ushers guided them into its interior. The room was of a reasonable size for fifteen 17


Section One: The Visitation people, but thirty made for a tight squeeze, with loud complaints filling the air. >to here< Blair slid onto an unoccupied seat then looked around. A black man trying to get the crowd under control caught his attention. So that’s Johnson. He watched as Lincoln’s valet did his best to make the daily visitation flow smoothly. “May I help you, sir?” Johnson, his gaze fixed on Blair’s shiny valise, addressed the comment to Blair himself. “Thank you, but I think things are progressing adequately.” Blair had studied Lincoln’s daily routine and could envision what was taking place on the other side of the wall. John Hay, a dapper man in his twenties with a small mustache, would be presenting the daily cards and notes to the President. Lincoln would then select those whom he would see during the two to three hours specifically set aside for visitors from Congress and others with official business. Everything depended on this daily card-selection process. I hope his memory really is as acute as his biographers have alleged. When John Hay entered the reception area and called, “Mr. Edwin Blair,” Blair breathed a deep, hopeful sigh of relief. Ω As if to confirm Blair’s imaginative re-construction, the office door opened to reveal Lincoln looking down at the two cards. John Hay was present as expected, but not Nicolay. Blair was not too surprised, however, to see Congressman Washburne, since he was a longtime confidant of the president and frequently visited him. Slowly looking up to confront the first supplicant of the day, Lincoln began, “Well, what can I do for you, Mr. Bla — ” Then, seeing his visitor full on, he shuddered as if feeling the cold presence of a specter. The blood ran out of his face and he went pale. Lincoln’s reaction startled Washburne and Hay. They stared at Blair, cautiously walked around him, and inspected him. Blair tried to ignore them. He cleared his throat and addressed 18


Robert Pielke the President. “I see the memory of our earlier encounter has indeed endured,” he said with a tremulous voice. “But it need not cause a surfeit of anxiety.” Should have found a quiet place to review my period philology. I need to be convincing, not appear as an idiot or a threat, and I don’t want my attempts at nineteenth century English to distract them. Too late now. Lincoln looked Blair over carefully. “I wonder if I might have a look at that bandaged hand of yours.” “Certainly.” Good. Blair set the metallic case on the floor and approached the President, carefully unwrapping the makeshift bandage until the wound was exposed, all the while evincing considerable discomfort. It was partially coagulated, but still seeping blood as he offered it for Lincoln’s closer examination. Lincoln took Blair’s hand in his own and examined it, then, releasing it back to its owner, he inhaled a shaky breath and swept his hand toward the unoccupied horsehair sofa. “Please have a seat, Mr. Blair.” As Blair seated himself and rewrapped his hand, the president turned to his secretary. “John, I wonder if you would take Mr. Blair’s card to Mr. Pinkerton and invite him to join us after he’s had an opportunity to do some detecting.” The color was slowly beginning to return to his face. “Is everything as it should be, Mr. President?” Washburne interrupted. “It’s all fine, Elihu,” Lincoln waved off the Congressman’s concern. “I do remember meeting Mr. Blair on an earlier occasion, and he gave me no reason to think that harm would come to either myself or anyone else.” He smiled and added, “except for his rather clumsy effort to injure himself on a wooden spike as if by accident.” He handed the card to Hay and settled back against his chair. John Hay, visibly calmed by Lincoln’s changed demeanor, opened the door to fulfill his assignment, and left the room. Just as I suspected from reading his journals, Blair thought. John Hay will be very helpful. He’ll be back soon, too. He no doubt thinks something is up. “I don’t understand,” Washburne’s brow crinkled. “Are you 19


Section One: The Visitation saying that he deliberately injured himself?” “I suspect as much.” “Why, for God’s sake?” Lincoln ignored the question and spoke instead to Blair. “Allan Pinkerton is an investigator, and….” “I am familiar with Mr. Pinkerton and his North West Police Agency, sir. In fact, had you not asked for him, I would have made the same suggestion myself.” Because I need him too. “You have no problem then, if I ask Allan to do a bit of checking on you?” “Not at all. However, I can promise you that he will find nothing. In fact, I can guarantee that he will find nothing.” “Then I suppose it will be up to you to tell us about yourself.” “I did say, fourteen years ago, Mr. President, that I would explain my purpose for meeting with you.” “Yes, you did. And I clearly recall you saying that the time was not right.” “Well, sir, now the time is right.” John Hay gave a perfunctory knock and reentered Lincoln’s office. “He’ll be on his way soon, I’m sure. I asked an officer to bring him here with all deliberate speed.” He was a bit out of breath. “Secretary Stanton will be here shortly as well.” “That will be fine. I think we could use several points of view about this.” Lincoln paused, and then spoke directly to John Hay and Elihu Washburne. “Over the last fourteen years, while you and I — and everyone else I know — have aged in accordance with Father Time, Mr. Blair,” he nodded towards his visitor, “apparently hasn’t aged one minute.” Hay and Washburne did not reply to this, but their faces twisted oddly, and their skins paled, beading with sweat. “I am sure that’s what he wanted me to notice, and he was successful.” “That’s not possible,” grumbled Washburne. “You have to be mistaken.” “The wound is fresh, Elihu. I do believe that fourteen years should provide a sufficient opportunity for the flesh to heal. But that has not happened. The wound was apparently sustained only 20


Robert Pielke minutes ago. Even his clothes are the same, if my memory serves me.” “There is some simple explanation, Mr. President, of that I am absolutely positive.” Washburne averred. “Hence my wishing to have some company while thinking this thing over, Elihu.” Lincoln turned to Blair. “I assume this is fine with you?” “It is indeed. I request only that you include Mr. Johnson, your valet, in this assemblage.” Lincoln squinted at Blair. “William?” “Yes, sir, if you don’t mind.” “I suppose it will do me no good to ask why.” “I plan to make myself as clear as possible, as soon as possible, Mr. President.” Johnson is something I still have to figure out. Meanwhile, I need to see how he acts, what he does, and how he thinks, if possible. Three quick taps at the office door and two louder bangs interrupted Lincoln’s response. Hay rolled his eyes at the president. “That son of yours finds the most inconvenient times to appear at your office.” Lincoln smiled. “Tad is a rambunctious child. Could you ask him to see me a bit later, John? Tell ‘em ‘Papa-day’ has a visit from an old friend.” Hay laughed. “I’ll have someone drop him off in the library.” He slipped out of the office and shut the door behind himself. My daughter was the same age as Lincoln’s son. Blair suppressed a shudder. Several moments passed before the president spoke again. “So, when might we expect this clarification take place, Mr. Blair? I would like to…” A knock at the door interrupted Lincoln once again. John Hay cracked the door open and reentered. “Mr. Stanton and Mr. Pinkerton have both arrived, sir.” “Bring ‘em in, John.” Hay opened the door wide enough to allow two fully bearded 21


Section One: The Visitation and sweaty men with stern expressions on their faces to enter, and then wheeled a service table with a large pitcher of water and several glasses on it. “Serve yourselves, gentleman. And one for myself, if you will.” Lincoln nodded his request to Hay, who complied forthwith. The portly Secretary of War took a long swig of water and wiped his mouth, then raised an eyebrow at the president. “What’s this about? John tells me you’ve got a mystery here. I don’t have time for mysteries. That self-righteous Lee is in Pennsylvania and promises to cause all sorts of infernal catastrophes to our people.” His long, skunk-striped beard shook as he railed. “Calm down, Mars.” Lincoln gestured toward their visitor as Blair began re-wrapping his hand. “I promised Mr. Blair that I would listen to his problem and I think we have the time.” He took a sip of water then set the glass on his desk. Stanton finished off his water, and then poured himself another glassful. “I thought you wanted to see me about Hooker taking, or not taking to be more accurate, the army after Lee?” “I do indeed, but all in due time.” Lincoln resumed his seat behind his desk and leaned back in his chair. “Mr. Blair has presented us with an enigma, and now promises to follow up with an explanation.” He turned to Pinkerton. “Allan, I’d like you to find out what you can about our Mr. Blair.” Pinkerton stopped with his glass raised half-way to his lips. “Mr. President,” he protested, “It’ll be a wee bit o’ time afore I can get any worthwhile information.” “I understand. Please do what you can.” “Losh! I can tell you straight away he’s no any of the whole boodle of Blairs. We ken the whole dad-blamed bunch of ‘em.” He shook his head, and then swallowed half the glass of water. Lincoln winked at the detective, and then picked his glass back up and turned to his visitor. “Well, then, I suppose we should deal with your problem, Mr. Blair. Perhaps it has something to do with that item?” He waved his hand toward the valise. Blair finished what water was left in his own glass before nodding. “It does, sir. It also has to do with your problem with the 22


Robert Pielke rebels. They are related.” He held the glass out to Hay in silent supplication. Hay nodded and refilled it. “How so?” Lincoln straightened up in his chair. Edwin Blair drew a deep, halting breath and cleared his throat. This is worse than lecturing in front of a packed auditorium! “Allow me to begin by presenting you with a map. A map that includes detailed information of the whereabouts of both the Army of the Potomac as well as the Army of Northern Virginia.” “Now that I’d like to see!” Stanton muttered. “I hardly know the whereabouts of General Hooker myself, and he’s on our side!” He drained his glass, set it back on the wheeled cart, and then flopped on the couch. “Your concern is about to become moot, Mr. Stanton.” Blair took a more relaxed breath. I have to get my nerves under control, and fast. This is too critical to botch. “The President will be replacing General Hooker with General Meade very shortly.” Everyone else looked sharply at Lincoln. Lincoln bolted upright and stared at his War Secretary. “I had not made anyone aware of this notion. The fact is, I have only just begun to come to this conclusion myself in these last few minutes.” He turned to Blair. “How could you know this with such apparent conviction?” Pinkerton shook his head, “Any acute reader of Harper’s might surmise your displeasure with ‘ye ol’ Fightin’ Joe.’” His sarcasm was clear. “Wouldn’t even take an acute reader to ascertain my displeasure with him,” Stanton added. “And it wouldn’t be surprising if Mr. Blair concluded that my influence would win the day.” “But why Meade?” Pinkerton mused more to himself than the others. They all turned again to Blair. “If I might return to the map?” Blair wanted their questions to remain in the air, unsullied by further guesswork and speculation. “It does go to the heart of our mutual problem.” “Proceed.” Lincoln gestured with his familiar sweeping motion. 23


Section One: The Visitation “I need a small table, please.” “Humph! That doesn’t sound to me like you’ve got a lot of detailed information, Blair.” Stanton slapped his thighs and stood up, getting ready to leave. “I will see you this afternoon, Mr. President. This is not a good use of my time.” A faint knock sounded at the office door. John Hay opened it an inch or two and peeked out. “It’s Johnson, sir.” Lincoln waved to admit him. “Mr. Blair, your audience has assembled. Mars, I need you here.” Stanton shook his head but returned to his seat. Noticing that William Johnson looked wary, John Hay offered him a seat in the back of the room on an old wooden chair located close to the door so he could flee if necessary, then carried a small table over to Blair, and set it down. Blair handed him the empty water glass then placed his valise on the table. “Thank you. I wonder if someone might now remove that photograph from the wall? I would like to make use of the space behind it for the map.” Hay looked over at Lincoln, who motioned for him to go ahead. “I suppose we can do without John Bright’s Quakerisms for a moment or two. While you’re at it, open that window as well. It’s already getting close in here, and the day has barely begun.” While Hay proceeded with these tasks, Lincoln and the others, looking curious and baffled, surrounded Edwin Blair as he prepared to open the case. Pinkerton slid his hand back and forth across the smooth metallic surface. His brow wrinkled and his eyes squeezed together as if to extract from his mind an explanation as to its composition. “The map is in this thing?” Stanton demanded, his disgruntlement obvious in the tenor of his voice. “And what manner of metal is this?” He walked around the table, keeping his narrowed eyes on the valise. Blair touched the latches holding the valise shut. “Yes, the map is enclosed. And more. Quite a bit more. As for the metal, I have to admit I’m not sure. It’s an alloy of some kind, probably 24


Robert Pielke consisting partially of titanium.” “I have heard a wee bit about this metal,” Pinkerton peered closer at the case, “but I know of no one who has refined it for use of any kind.” “Before I begin, I daresay...” Blair paused, recalling his earlier, inadvertent use of this term. A brief smile appeared on Lincoln’s face, but he made no comment. Blair continued, “... that we might all benefit from a break. Maybe a short trip to the commode? I know I would. It has been a trying morning, and a hot one, necessitating the ingestion of liquids. And I may tend to go on a bit.” He then addressed Lincoln. “I beg for a moment of relief.” Lincoln slapped his knees and laughed. “You may be right, Mr. Blair. Your candor is admirable and, who knows, it just might stem from you and Mars sharing the same first name! He too excels in candor,” he said, still laughing. “John, please show Mr. Blair, and whoever else might be in need, to those closed chamber pots in the basement.” Ω For Edwin Blair, it was odd, and not a little humorous, to walk by the side of the stout and bewhiskered Edwin Stanton to the basement toilets. The irritable secretary glowered, but said nothing as they proceeded to and from the crude facilities. When they returned, Lincoln was poring over a book on military tactics and had a three-by-five foot map opened on his desk. He looked up as the door opened. “Mr. Blair, I certainly hope your map is a little more helpful than this one.” He tapped a random spot with one forefinger. “It’s the only one I have of the Harrisburg area, and I think I’d have more luck using a divining rod to locate things on it than relying on my eyes. The most recent railroads aren’t even inked in.” “Sir,” Blair said as he sat down on the stool by the table, “you’re not going to need a reference to the Harrisburg area.” He repositioned the case so that the back end faced the empty wall. 25


Section One: The Visitation “Before I begin, I think it may be prudent if you canceled any further visitations during your office hours today.” “Perhaps. We shall see to it if that becomes necessary.” “Very well.” Blair, still favoring his injured hand, slid coverings off the valise latches. A whirring sounded and two small, dark squares of glass appeared where the latch covers had been. As he pressed his thumbs against the glass squares, the latches snapped open and he lifted the valise cover to reveal two objects: a smaller metallic case and a dull gray, oblong, amorphous object that pulsated as if breathing — both nestled in separate cavities uniquely fitted to contain them. Pinkerton ignored the contents and bent down to get a closer look at the latching mechanism. “How did you do that?” “It distinguishes my thumbprints from any other person’s, and responds only to mine.” Blair turned his attention away from Pinkerton and swept his gaze around the room at the others. “Gentlemen, I need to point out that the map will inevitably raise more questions than I can possibly answer.” “Let’s just see this map of yours,” interjected the War Secretary. “If it’s half as good as you imply, we’re going to need it immediately. And if it isn’t, we shall bid you good day.” Blair gave a curt nod then eased open the lid of the smaller metallic case. A platform beneath it rose up about six inches. Behind him, Lincoln, Stanton, Washburne, and Hay leaned over as one to take a closer look. The now opened case lid became a framed picture of moving lights and images, its bottom edge attached to a surface covered with glowing orbs of colored light that reacted to Blair’s hand as he waved it above the surface. Their curiosity became visible fright, and they stared at the risen object without uttering a word for several long seconds. After clearing his throat a couple of times, Edwin Stanton growled, “I see no map.” This is it. “Blair.” He paused. “Initiate.” An image of his face replaced the moving lights inside the frame. After a second or two, the object emitted the soft voice of a woman. “Confirm identity code.” 26


Robert Pielke

27


Section One: The Visitation Blair’s entire audience took a step backwards. Blair ignored the others, rapidly manipulating his fingers above the surface as if playing a musical instrument “It speaks?” Washburne queried in a voice that betrayed his heightened tension. “Yes.” Keeping his attention fixed on the image, Blair spoke again to the machine. “Bring up the planet view: Western hemisphere.” A crisp, multicolored, three-dimensional globe of the earth appeared within the frame, displaying the requested hemisphere in its entirety. Hay blinked and bent back down to peer over Blair’s shoulder. “It’s… a window?” Washburne’s reaction was more hushed. “A person could reach into it and grasp that thing with his hands.” The earth floated against a background of star-studded blackness with North and South America presenting themselves as if viewed from the heavens far above. The oceans were a deep, vibrant blue with the continents depicted in shades of brown, green, and gray, with white scattered across the tops of mountains. Johnson rose out of his chair. “I declare, I think I’d like to see what all the fuss is about.” No one paid him any heed as he cautiously joined the others and stared with them at the small, blue planet. “The map we are interested in is far too small as is so…” Blair spoke to the machine. “Project and focus.” The empty, white wall seemed to become a large opening into another universe as the planet Earth, still showing the Western Hemisphere, flashed onto it. Fuzzy at first, it clarified within seconds into a brilliantly clear and precisely colored threedimensional image displaying both the northern and southern continents. Accompanied by utter silence, Blair swept his hand above the light globes. “Process Sequence A.” On the wall, the image swirled downward at dizzying speed toward the eastern portion of the northern continent and then slowed, coming to rest above the border between Maryland and Virginia. Mountains, forests, rivers, and all other natural features stood out in sharp 28


Robert Pielke clarity, as if the viewers were floating on a cloud in the sky only a few miles above the surface. The men stared silently, mouths agape. It was Lincoln’s turn to take a slow, audible breath before speaking quietly to his secretary. “John, I wonder if you might inform the folks in the reception room next door that I’ll be seeing them another day.” Hay nodded without responding, backed across the room to the door, bumped into it, then slowly turned to exit the room and issue the bad news. “What is this?” demanded Stanton in an unnaturally high voice, his arms flailing aimlessly at the wall. Washburne, who had been silent for a while, muttered, “A curiously inexplicable wound? Fourteen years passing with no signs of aging? And now this… this speaking map machine? I think we’d like an explanation.” “Gentlemen,” Blair turned around in his chair and looked up at his audience. “I fully realize the disorientation that all of this has engendered, and I would love to stop and explain everything, but I do need to focus on our mutual problem.” Lincoln dragged his eyes from the image on the wall to address Blair, his voice much softer than the others. “This problem you mentioned, but have yet to explain, has to do with the Rebels’ whereabouts?” “It does, sir, and if I may, I would like to explain what the map reveals.” “Hech! I beg ye to proceed, sir.” Pinkerton sputtered. “I hope the more ye divulge to us, the less anxious we will be about Lee and his nefarious work, to say nae of this… this… contraption and its workings.” At the other end of the room, John Hay pulled the door open less than an inch in answer to another knock, and then opened it fully to allow his roommate, John Nicolay, to enter. Lincoln’s other secretary stared at the far wall, and blinked. Hay whispered with more volume than intended, “It’s… a map.” Blair eyed Lincoln’s two secretaries, “And so it is Mr. Hay 29


Section One: The Visitation and Mr. Nicolay, as I will show you.” He fingered the air above the light orbs. “Watch closely as I overlay the state boundaries on the terrain.” He directed his words again to the machine. “Stage One.” The Mason-Dixon Line appeared in a flash, bisecting the topography and separating Maryland from Pennsylvania. “Now the major towns, roads, and railroads.” Again to the machine, “Stage Two.” A representation of the current transportation system materialized over the map, accompanied by the names of various things, with the Pennsylvania towns of Harrisburg and Carlisle at the top, and Frederick, Maryland, and the city of Baltimore closer to the bottom. “And now,” with a nervous sigh, Blair went on, “I shall locate the exact positions of both the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac.” I hope. To the machine, he commanded, “Stage Three.” The recognizable military symbols for Corps, Divisions, and Brigades faded in, the Rebels in red and the Federals in blue, with the names of their commanding officers identifying most of them precisely. The silence in Lincoln’s office ended with a simultaneous gasp for breath. Good, but not enough. They’ve got to conclude that I know this situation far better than they do. And I hope that’s still the case. I spent many years teaching these facts, but several small changes have already taken place. I hope my actions haven’t disrupted this time path too much. Yet. Blair cleared his throat again. “As you can see, while Lee’s First and Third Corps under Longstreet and Hill are moving towards Chambersburg, and Ewell with the Confederate Second Corps is nearing Carlisle, Jeb Stuart is just outside of Rockville, Maryland, not far from where we sit. His plan is to move north on the eastern flank of the Army of the Potomac and ride around it as he has already done several times. Notice that the Federal army is also heading north, keeping itself between the major part of Lee’s army, and the cities of Baltimore and Washington. Reynolds’ First Corps, and Buford’s cavalry division, are in the lead. Most important, please observe that given the configuration of the roads, as well as the present location and movement of the two armies, there is 30


Robert Pielke only one place that they can meet.” He paused and looked around at his audience. Lincoln’s response was distinct and ominous. “Gettysburg.” Anyone with even a modicum of military study could plainly see that the meeting of antagonistic forces would likely be catastrophic, and Blair knew that Lincoln had more than a modicum for a civilian. “Yes.” That broke the dam of silence, a chaotic flood of questions bursting forth from everyone all at once. Only William Johnson remained silent and fidgeting. Blair looked around at him, and gave him a brief smile. Will that reassure him? I doubt it. Pinkerton walked around the machine and placed his hand between it and the image on the wall. A large shadow of his hand appeared in the middle of the map, disrupting the view. “Humph, it causes nae discomfort whatsoever. However the instrument – and how it works — is a puzzlement. Do you claim this to be your own invention, Mr. Blair?” “Oh no, sir, not at all!” “Then whose?” Pinkerton boomed. “Mr. Blair,” Lincoln interrupted Blair’s response to the detective. He offered Blair a wan smile. “You’ve said that your unnamed problem and the Rebel presence in Pennsylvania are in some way related. Can you please explain to us how this relationship was evident to you some fourteen years before the Rebels even existed?” Everyone turned and stared at Edwin Blair. He might just as well have delivered a physical blow to their bodies. Blair said nothing. Do they see it? The illogic of this situation has to bother them. Lincoln sees it, I think. I just hope he doesn’t lump it in with his wife’s preternatural beliefs. “Wait!” Pinkerton shook his head. “The explanation is simple: Blair had no ‘problem’ whatsoever fourteen years ago. It was merely an invention of the moment.” Lincoln turned his head and raised his eyebrows at Pinkerton. “If so, Mr. Pinkerton, for what purpose?” Pinkerton ignored the President and spoke instead to Edwin 31


Section One: The Visitation Blair. “It’s time ye told us what your supposed problem is, sir. Mr. Lincoln’s time, and ours, is far too valuable to waste any further.” Stanton, his attention still on the map, shuddered. “Especially since we need to wire Hooker as soon as possible about Lee’s whereabouts. And Jeb Stuart’s, too. If this information is true, Hooker’s lead elements are about to be hit from the front and the side simultaneously. Disaster! I see disaster!” Blair gave his attention to the map rather than his audience. “Gentleman, General Hooker is not the appropriate recipient of this news. At three o’clock this afternoon, General Halleck will receive a wire from General Hooker requesting to be relieved of his command. Halleck will reply that only the President can do so, and the President will, in fact, do so. As I have already stated, he will be replaced with General Meade.” “If so, it’s about time,” Stanton burst in. He fixed his eyes on Blair. “But how do you know this?” “I’m curious, too,” muttered Pinkerton. “This begins to seem like a serious lapse in security.” Lincoln rubbed both hands across his face, his discomfort obvious. “Let’s put one thing to rest, gentlemen. There was no security breach.” He paused again, measuring his words. “Nor could there have been. Not only have I told no one about this decision, there was, in fact, no decision at all until perhaps a few moments ago.” He looked pointedly at Blair. “It seems, Mr. Blair, that you have read my mind.” This time the silence was deafening. “Well, Mr. Blair?” Lincoln prompted after waiting for several seconds, his gaze fixed on Blair’s face. “Can you read minds? Or, are you a liar as Mr. Pinkerton suggests?” Blair attempted not to roll his eyes. “Sometimes I wish I could, Mr. President. But no, I have no such ability. Otherwise I would not need your counsel, would I?” “Mr. Pinkerton seems to perceive you as such, and perhaps even a saboteur,” Lincoln went on. “Guesswork about my intentions is one thing, but you mention specific times for the 32


Robert Pielke future actions of others. On what basis can you make these claims, if not by some kind of subterfuge or chicanery?” Blair put on an air of pained indignation. “I sincerely hope that you recognize that there are other possible explanations. I do not lie. About anything. And I would hardly make myself so visible and ostentatious were I a spy or a saboteur.” “That seems to leave us with you being a disciple of Franz Mesmer, does it not?” “I cannot mesmerize anyone, and surely not all of you at the same time.” “Then how do you know the future?” “No one can know the future!” Pinkerton interrupted, becoming even more agitated. “And if he makes such claims, how are we to trust this information displayed before us on yonder wall?” “But Mr. Pinkerton,” Blair hurried to interrupt Lincoln’s possible response, “whether we can know the future or not, we can know the past.” I don’t want this to become an interrogation. “Let me show you something.” He turned his attention back to his machine and touched a bright blue light globe. The map disappeared, leaving on the wall the same pattern of swirling lights as appeared on the small screen. “Mr. President, can you confirm for us that you sent General Hooker a dispatch this morning at eight a.m. from the War Department?” “Yes, Mr. Blair, I did indeed.” Lincoln put on his glasses and scrutinized the screen. Blair swallowed with difficulty; his throat was suddenly dry. I hope the message he sent was worded the way I learned it. “Did the message say ‘it did not come from the newspapers, nor did I believe it, but I wished to be entirely sure it was a falsehood’?” He looked directly at Lincoln and waited for confirmation. Lincoln gave a start then pursed his lips. “Yes, those were my exact words.” Blair sighed with relief. “Did you retain the written message you gave to the cipher operator?” Lincoln glanced at his desk, and then frowned at Blair. “I 33


Section One: The Visitation have it right here at this very moment.” Blair uttered a barely audible, “good,” then touched a pale green light globe. The image of a flattened, yellowed piece of paper covered with creases flashed onto the wall to replace the lights. “Is this your message?” The office came to a deathlike stillness as Lincoln walked back to his desk, reached into his hat, and retrieved the dispatch. The only sound was the soft crackle of paper being unfolded. He looked at the image on the wall, studied it, and then looked down at the slip of paper in his hand. He did this several times, then after pausing in thought, he turned around and looked at his visitor. “It would appear so, Mr. Blair.” Stanton broke the silence, “May I see that message, sir?” Lincoln passed the slip of paper to his Secretary of War. Pinkerton snapped his fingers. “Of course! Blair surreptitiously entered the telegraph office after you sent the message this morning and...” “And what, Allan?” Lincoln took off his glasses again and tilted his head to Pinkerton. “He… must have looked at it after you left, and committed it to memory and...” “I took the message with me, Allan. You just watched me open and read it.” “Well, then, he must have observed you as you were writing it and...” Blair fought to keep from smiling. He’s trying to assemble a logically possible sequence of events for how this could have happened. Good. The more he does that, the more the others will realize there is only one explanation. Washburne derailed Pinkerton’s line of reasoning. “Even if Mr. Blair had looked over the President’s shoulder while he wrote the dispatch, remaining unseen by the President and the guards all the while, I might add...” He paused, shaking his head, “how was a daguerreotype of it produced? And how did it make its way into Blair’s machine and thus onto this office wall, all in the space of a few hours?” 34


Robert Pielke Lincoln added, “I’m afraid we’re going to have to add this enigma to the other mysteries with which Mr. Blair has already presented us.” Blair motioned toward the image on the wall. “Gentlemen, may we return to the message? I ask that you take careful notice of it.” There were some grumbles, but everyone faced the wall again. Washburne and Pinkerton initially interfered with the beam of light but quickly readjusted themselves. Lincoln, being the tallest of the lot by far, remained in the rear, deep in thought. “I have to ask, are you all convinced that this image of the dispatch,” Blair gestured at the wall, “is written in the President’s hand?” Stanton handed the slip of paper to Washburne who squinted at it and then at the image on the wall. Shaking his head, he passed the slip to Pinkerton who held it up to the image so that he could see the two side by side. Stanton joined him in the examination. Then it was John Hay’s turn. “It is not merely written in his hand,” he observed more to himself than to the others, “it is the exact message….” Nicolay fingered his goatee, puzzled. “Effery stroke and movement of the pen is exactly the same. Effen the small drop of ink after the capital ‘A’ in the President’s signature, an accidental effent, is present on the wall image.” He shrugged, “As you say, John, zay are… one and the same.” “But the one on the wall looks old….” Johnson’s voice, barely above a whisper, sent an electric shock through the room. Everyone turned to look at the President’s valet. “He’s right.” Lincoln sounded distracted. “Thank you, William.” “There are ways to make a piece of paper seem yellowed with age.” Pinkerton flaunted his expertise in subterfuge. “We’ve done it many times to fool the Rebs with fake documents.” Washburne peered at the projected image, and then turned to Pinkerton. “Yes, but doesn’t that take more time than would have been available to do this? The message was sent to General 35


Section One: The Visitation Hooker this morning at eight a. m. and Mr. Blair has been in either the Reception Room or this office since shortly after ten.” Blair relaxed further, a grin tugging at the corners of his mouth. Washburne’s expressing more amazement, and less doubt, than any of the others. Good. That’s promising. “He could have used paper that was already aged.” Pinkerton recovered. “And then what? Make an exact copy of the message while it was in the President’s hat and without anyone seeing him do so? That makes no sense!” Pinkerton opened his mouth but Lincoln interrupted him. “More than that, to what end would he undertake this supposed artificial aging, or to what use would he put this aged paper? In other words, why do it in the first place?” “To make it seem like...” Pinkerton grew red in the face and shook his head. Washburne crossed his arms and stared at the irate detective. “Like what?” Blair tensed and struggled not to appear too interested. This is very promising. “Well….” Pinkerton fidgeted, but carried on. “to… to make us think this message has been in his possession for… well for as many years as it would take for it to become genuinely and naturally yellowed with age!” “What are you talking about, Pinkerton?” Stanton growled. “Why in heaven’s name would he want to do that?” Pinkerton’s voice rose to a shout and he threw his hands up. “To have us believe he is visiting us from some future time! Like that ghost that visited Scrooge in that Christmas story written by Dickens a score of years ago.” Everyone stared at Pinkerton. Stanton rolled his eyes, shook his head, and raised empty hands upward. Elihu Washburne’s jaw dropped. Hay burst out laughing. Nicolay stared without words at the detective. Lincoln, stoic as ever, leaned against his desk and said nothing. “Very well, you come up with something better!” demanded 36


Robert Pielke Pinkerton. “Why are we wasting our time with this?” Stanton complained. “Can we get back to the more pressing problem at hand? Do I have to remind you gentlemen that if Mr. Blair’s map is correct, Jeb Stuart is right outside of Washington where we’ve got a large, practically defenseless supply train?” Blair interrupted their conversation with a bombshell. “That supply train, Mr. Stanton, has already been captured.” There. That should move them along nicely. “What?” Stanton’s voice grew progressively louder as he whirled to face Blair. “You can not know this unless you are some kind of agent provocateur!” Blair replaced the image of the message with a detailed view the map. “Let me show you, gentlemen. Notice that the position of Jeb Stuart’s cavalry has changed from several minutes ago.” “Your map moves?” Pinkerton’s voice quavered, sounding at once both angry and uncertain. “Yes. Let me take us back a few weeks and I will trace a record of the movements of the two armies as they proceeded north.” On the wall, the map flickered, and then refocused. A gray Confederate line crept across western Maryland, and then split into three segments as it entered Pennsylvania. At the same time, a blue line, indicating the Army of the Potomac, crept north. The lines stopped when they reached their present positions. “This is not possible,” muttered Washburne, shaking his head. “There is too much here that is not possible. What are we to make of this?” “Mr. Blair.” Stanton growled, obviously close to the end of his temper. “We have a rebellion to put down. A rebellion that has spread north of the Capital and that you obviously know far more about than even our esteemed War Secretary, and all you do give us puzzles. I do appreciate this wondrous map you have shown us if it is accurate, but I’m not sure what further use you can be to us.” Washburne looked squarely at both Stanton and Pinkerton. 37


Section One: The Visitation “Listen here,” he said, using the same tone of voice he favored on the Congressional floor. “The President has clearly averred that this man’s appearance is exactly as it was fourteen years ago and he has in his possession a Daguerreotype of a message that the President wrote only this morning. I grant you that his knowledge of Hooker’s replacement by Meade and possibly the whereabouts of the armies can be explained. Even this miraculous map machine,” he motioned to the object, “could have been secretly invented by a genius of some kind or even a passel of them. But not these other matters. This troubles me greatly.” His Congressional voice became soft and shaky. “Impossible things are, by their very nature, impossible. They cannot be… and yet these things are. I have grave trouble dealing with things that are…” He shook his head and looked at Lincoln. “…inconceivable.” Blair smiled. “What more does he know, I wonder….” Washburne turned to look directly at Blair. “What are you not telling us? You say this problem of yours has to do with the rebellion. How? I think it is well past time you told us.” Lincoln, still apparently unruffled by the consternation of his staff and Blair’s revelations, cleared his throat. “You have retained my services, Mr. Blair, for one-hundred dollars, which I have long since spent on improvements to my home. Thus I am unable to return it to you. So it is perhaps time that I provide you with the honest counsel you so eagerly sought and paid for.” With that, he seated himself at his desk. Blair’s pulse quickened. “Believe me, Mr. President, I do not wish in any way to be coy. Nor do I want you to toss me out on my backside as a raving lunatic. “We may still toss you out, Mr. Blair,” Lincoln offered with a slight, but perceptible smile. “Except for your map, we may have just wasted this last hour with your ‘impossibilities,’ while the rebels march into Pennsylvania. To put it plainly, there are other matters that require our immediate attention.” They’re so close. The mission depends on them getting there. Maybe I should force the issue…. 38


Robert Pielke It was Pinkerton’s turn to interrupt Lincoln. He squinted with one eye closed and peered out of the other at Washburne. “I still da nae understand ye, Elihu. Ha can ye be troubled by things that you say are impossible.” “Because it’s a paradox. Like Xeno’s arrow in flight that cannot be moving, because at any given stage of the flight, it is not in motion. Mr. Blair presents us with one message that is actually two. One cannot be two, yet it is! And this just cannot be. I am trying to make sense of this, but I cannot conceive of things that are… well… inconceivable!” “We can’t even say them, can we Elihu?” Lincoln gave a brief chuckle. “Allan, let me propose this to you.” He leaned back in his desk chair, stretched his legs out, put his hands behind his head, and clasped them. “Do you agree that this is indeed an impossible situation? The two messages?” Blair scrutinized Lincoln. Good! Being the president hasn’t changed him. He’s still the wily lawyer I hoped he’d be. He discreetly pulled back his cuff to check the time. Pinkerton shook his head. “No. They can nae be impossible. We see the two messages with our very own eyes, and I trust you implicitly about Blair’s lack of aging.” He looked around. “Do ye all agree?” The others all nodded. “So if it’s nae impossible, then there must be some kind of explanation. They are nae impossibilities. We just da-not know how they can be so. One corner of Lincoln’s mouth crept up a fraction of an inch. “So, Allan, there has to be an explanation for these seemingly impossible events. As you say, it’s got to be one or the other: either an explanation exists or these things don’t. And they obviously do. You suggested a possible explanation earlier, I believe?” Blair made a barely noticeable nod toward Lincoln. He’s there already, I think, but he seems to want make Pinkerton say it. Is this a lawyer’s ploy? Pinkerton spluttered and shook his head. “I was not serious, Mr. President! Charles Dickens was telling a ghost story! And 39


Section One: The Visitation there are nae such things as ghosts.” “Maybe not, though Mary would disagree with you, but in that story wasn’t Scrooge taken to his past and then to his future?” Pinkerton glared at the room in general. John Hay stepped in. “Yes, but in Dicken’s story a ghost had to do the, ah, moving back and forth. Lincoln dipped his head once toward Hay. “Yes, I know.” He turned his attention back to the irritated detective. Does he really know…? “Allan?” “Well, if ye force me to utter nonsense, then yes, I suppose if ye could travel back and forth in time like Scrooge, that would do the job. It would be an explanation. But ye are nae seriously suggesting this are ye? If ye are, I have no further words.” Stanton was pacing, hands clasped behind his back, brow furrowed in thought. “Could there be a device…,” he stopped pacing and faced the president. “…a mechanical device, rather than something like a ghost, which could move a person from one time to the other as opposed to moving from one place to another?” Good! Blair opened and closed his jacket to cool off a bit. “People have proposed stranger ideas that that, Elihu. I recall a tale told by Cyrano de Bergerac. The Other World, I believe it was called, about visitors from the moon and an amazing journey he took.” Lincoln chuckled at the thought. “But that’s a different issue, isn’t it? How Mr. Blair spanned the fourteen years in moments is secondary to if he did it in the first place, isn’t it? He looked directly at Blair and raised his eyebrows. “I suppose…” Stanton shook his head. “Absolutely.” The congressman brimmed with enthusiasm. “I also agree.” Hay displayed almost as much enthusiasm as Washburne. “All we have to do is rule out any other way to explain it. If there’s no other way, then as farfetched as it seems, we are left with only the possibility that Mr. Blair would have to be a traveler through time.” A calculating look crossed his face and he peered at Blair. “And think of the opportunities…” he 40


Robert Pielke muttered. Wonderful. John is pretty much there too. “Allan, can you think of any other way to explain all of this?” Lincoln waved his hand toward the image. “Arrgh!” Pinkerton spun around to look again at the image. “Ye ask me to choose between nonsense and impossibilities, Mr. President!” “That would seem to be our fate.” Lincoln put his legs up on the desk and stretched back. “It appears we may be in for a spell of nonsense.” “My God!” Washburne sat down on the couch. “Think of the practical implications!” He looked around at each of the others for help. Silence returned to the office. “You know,” Lincoln mused out loud, “I fondly remember inviting Herman the Magician to perform some of his tricks here at the Mansion about two years ago. I asked him to do a few of them slowly, so I could understand how he did them and I was never satisfied until he told me the answer or until I figured them out for myself. And there was always a simple explanation.” Blair turned to face Lincoln and addressed him directly. “These are not tricks, Mr. President.” Lincoln sat up and regarded his guest. “Perhaps not, but I do want very much to understand how these things have occurred, none the less.” He pursed his lips. “Let me put it to you plainly, sir. I knew that Herman was deceiving me for the sake of entertainment, thus there was no deception in his deception. On the contrary, the deception was expected and was in fact, pleasurable. But I receive no such pleasure from being deceived about being deceived.” “I shall do my best not to be seen in that light, but I do want to take this one step at a time. I again give you my word: I will not in any way deceive you.” At least not today. “You are correct, sir. What has happened is one thing, and how it happened is another matter entirely. You see me here as I was fourteen years ago,” Blair placed his hand on his chest, and then indicated the image. 41


Section One: The Visitation “And you see the two messages.” “I have spent many fruitful hours with Louis Agassiz and Doctor Joseph Henry, two of the scientists at the Smithsonian Institution, discussing the moon and the stars,” Lincoln gestured upward to the heavens. “They, too, exist. And yet explaining them in all of their complexity is far beyond us, even for the scientists. However we do have enough information about them to know that they can and do exist. However, with you, what is beyond us is not the ability to explain things… it is no less than reason itself!” He leaned back in his chair, resting his feet on the desk once more. Blair paused in thought for a moment. A small digression perhaps? Let’s see if this helps. “Did these astronomers ever speculate on the possibility of living beings out there on their own worlds?” Lincoln spoke to the ceiling, his voice soft and reminiscing. “As a matter of fact, Joe Henry occasionally mentioned William Herschel’s ideas about all the planets being populated. Even Benjamin Franklin and Immanuel Kant held such beliefs. The more I learned from all of these imposing thinkers, the more I realized how ignorant I was of the nature of the heavens. I even have their books in this room.” He turned his head to gaze at a small table filled with various opened volumes. “Interesting things to contemplate.” “Then,” Blair looked along with Lincoln at the table, “if knowing more makes you aware of how much you have yet to learn,” he turned his gaze back on the president himself. “I think I shall be contributing greatly to the extent of your overall ignorance.” Lincoln chuckled. “I daresay you already have.” Then, with no transition, he took his feet of the desk, sat up and shifted into the manner of a lawyer questioning a defendant. “You said you were from Baltimore, Mr. Blair?” “Yes.” “You were born there, correct?” “Yes.” 42


Robert Pielke “What was the date of your birth?” “I presume you mean the year?” “I do.” Blair took a deep breath and looked into Lincoln’s eyes. “When I first met you on the train fourteen years ago, I was forty years old.” He swallowed hard and tried to keep his voice from shaking. “I am now, still, forty years old, sir. I was born in the city of Baltimore in the year 2163 A.D. On July fourth, to be exact.” Ω After Blair announced his age and birth date to a crescendo of vocal disbelief and disillusionment, he was ushered by the valet through a private passageway to wait in the library while the President and his staff decided what to do with him. He was in a quandary. It looks like the president, John Hay and the congressman have begun to accept me as coming here from some three hundred years in their future. They don’t understand how my equipment works, but at least they’ve concluded there’s no explanation for the message, or me, other than time travel. They know that… but they haven’t accepted it. He selected an apple from a bowl on the table. The other two aren’t that far yet, though. And all of them want to know how I did it. Blair mumbled as he took a bite, “I don’t blame them.” He settled onto an old, lumpy sofa in the Family Library and tried not to fidget. A bowl of fruit, a plate of warm biscuits with jam and butter, and a pot of tea had all been squeezed onto a small table for him and except for William Johnson, who sat on the opposite side of the room, he was alone with his closed and locked metallic valise. The library was much larger than the President’s office, and its curved windows overlooked the trees on the south lawn. Bookshelves, installed by President Millard Fillmore, and populated with numerous volumes on assorted subjects in no discernable order, lined the walls. Several of Shakespeare’s prominent works lay open on a table. Moments after finding a seat, Blair noticed two soldiers stationed on either side of the library entrance. He laughed to 43


A New Birth of Freedom by Robert G. Pielke  

It has taken centuries to recognize that all humans possess certain unalienable rights. There will come a time when we have to consider whet...

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