Late in 1865, a young man named Ronald Reuel was released from Davids’ Island. Ronald, a sergeant in the Confederate Army, had lived on the small island in Long Island Sound for over two years, ever since his capture at the Battle of Gettysburg. Union forces had killed or captured the entirety of his platoon. Conditions in the Davids’ Island prison where sub-human, and by the summer of 1865, Ronald was the only remaining man from his company. Ronald himself nearly died from dysentery and malnutrition, but by some miracle, lived through the end of the war.
Ronald learned of the South’s surrender from his prison guard. The man had spit in Ronald’s breakfast every day for months, but one morning he simply announced “war’s over,” and then left the cell door unlocked as he walked away. With nothing but rags on his broken back, Ronald literally had nothing, except for a dream. A dream of his wife, his children, his farm in Georgia. A dream of home.
After months of walking and riding in the back of farmers’ wagons, Ronald reached the dirt road that led to his farm. Stumbling down the road, he could barely see through the tears streaming down his face. At the end of the road, however, he found not a dream, but a nightmare. Instead of his house and barn, he found only weeds grown up over a stone foundation. Instead of his wife and children, he found a few charred remains marking the site of a great fire.
At his wit’s end, Ronald stumbled back to the nearest town. He asked everyone he could find what had happened, searching for some sign that his wife and children might be alive. After weeks of fruitless searching, he collapsed in the middle of the street, unsure where else to go. As he lay there, half dead and without hope, a coin dropped onto his chest. Looking up, he saw a man in a Union uniform staring back at him.
“War’s over,” the man said. “We are a nation again.” Then the man was gone. Ronald, in his delirium, stared at the coin. There was a store across the street, and after a fashion, he managed to get to his feet and go inside. He knew he should buy food, but oddly, he was not hungry. Finally, his eyes settled on a small shelf of books. Ronald left his coin on the counter, taking a copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland with him as he left the store. The date was September 7, 1866.
September 7 is National Buy a Book Day. If you’re an American, it’s your patriotic duty to buy a book. I prefer fantasy, but I’ll leave the genre up to you.