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  • Travelling south from Northern Virginia to Mom's home in Pawley's Island, South Carolina. Got the car packed, tunes playing, Kathy and J.B. fall asleep, and I'm in a zone as the miles on the odometer add up, bringing us closer to our destination.

    My thoughts wonder as we descend through the South. Familiar names of towns we pass stir a place deep inside - there's a town where Great Grandpa Martin Hager marched, camped, fought, witnessed so much bloodshed. His diaries always noted the weather, his location, where and how much they marched, where he scored a loaf of bread from the town, letters sent to friends at home, letters received. His diaries so lovingly transcribed and shared with the whole family by his grandson, my father.

    He was barely 15 at the Battle of Fredericksburg. By the time we are passing Seven Pines/Fair Oaks, I am recalling what happened in this battle, an event that would forever change him. I am overwhelmed with a powerful sense of grief as the full impact of this event confronts me, and I try to put myself in that 14 year-old boy's shoes. The blood of my blood, I'm beckoned back to that time, that moment when it all changed for young Martin.

    Here, 149 years, 10 1/2 months ago, he watched his own Step-Father, the brilliant and daring Captain Joseph Gerard, cut down by rebel-fire, the life snuffed out of him, amidst the awful confusion and mayhem of that terrible battle in the swamps.

    This wasn't how it was supposed to go. There was no glory, no overarching sense of satisfaction. Every single Union regimental officer was lost in this bloody battle. 14 years old. I think of what I was doing at that age - what my son was doing at age 14. My heart just breaks for that boy, my Great Grandfather - blood of my blood.

    How did he ever endure for another 2 1/2 years of marching, camping, fighting, exposure to all of the horrors that are War? God only knows. He would return from the campaign, go on to become a successful store-owner, raise a family, live to the ripe old age of 93 - indeed, we was the last "3 year enlistee" from the war to die, in 1939. He'd returned to Gettysburg for the 75th anniversary, and rededication of that battlefield in 1938.

    But in 1862, none of that had come, yet. He was just a 14 year-old, stuck in the middle of hell, grieving the sudden loss of his hero, his protector, his only father. He soldiered on.

    Dad always said he didn't like to talk about the war. He'd left those horrors far behind when he came back home. Only on the rare occasion, a 4th of July picnic or family gathering, would he reluctantly spin a tale about something that happened during the campain, when prompted by a family member. Dad always amazed at how he would recall the weather details - "it was a clear, sunny day", or "it was slightly overcast, with the threat of rain", until years later, reading through Martin's diaries.

    As we move towards North Carolina, deeper into the South, my thoughts of Martin are left behind - for now. Living where I live, in and around where he spent much of his time during his 3 years in the Union army, I am often brought back to reflecting on his experience. What it was like - how it changed him - what mark it left on my father, and ultimately, on me. I am most proud to be descended from this young man.

    (Picture is courtesy of Currier & Ives)
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