The Color of Prayer

An historical novel

The prayers of all could not be answered. The Almighty has his own purposes. –A. Lincoln

The election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 to the US Presidency in 1960 caused 11 Southern states to secede, and open fire oCivil War divided the country, with the fate of 4 million black slaves at stake. In Springcreek, Ohio, EDWIN LYBARGER turns 17 on the eve of the 1860 presidential election, eagerly awaiting his future at Kenyon College, far from Father’s dry goods store. Committed to George Washington’s rules of comportment for young gentlemen, Edwin “permits reason to govern” so he and his best friend DAN UNDERWOOD can peaceably salvage justice in their plan to tame a town bully. With Lincoln elected, Edwin and his best friend JUPITER JONES travel to greet his inaugural train in Ohio, witnessing through Jupiter’s eyes the rarer justice of a white man, the president-elect, giving a black man the benefit of the doubt.

When the divided country explodes into war in April of 1861, Edwin is forced to honor Mother’s plea that he wait to enlist until he turns 18. Heeding the counsel of school friend SOPHRONIA ADAMS, age 15, Edwin spends the summer working the farm of a cousin gone to a 90-day regiment. When his cousin is killed in action at the Cheat River in Virginia, Edwin’s attempt to retrieve his body from enemy territory is stopped at gunpoint.

Turning 18, still eager to learn soldiering and stop treason, Edwin joins his friends in Knox County’s Company K, 43rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Celebrating the capture of a rebel fort in Missouri, Dan accidentally breaks his leg. The regiment’s inexperienced surgeon mistakes the compound fracture for the splintering impact of a musket ball. When Dan dies, Edwin sends him home a hero dead from enemy fire. Edwin finds unexpected solace in the arms of a camp preacher’s daughter, who absolves his guilt for being alive. When he’s shot in the knee and sent to a Kentucky hospital with Sisters of Charity for nurses, Edwin witnesses that men with the most desperate prayers die first—so he stops praying.

In Springcreek, Sophronia keeps Edwin in her prayers. His heartfelt consolation when her young sister drowns leads to their regular correspondence. She works with the Ladies Loyal League to help soldiers and their families, putting herself in harm’s way to save a despondent boy who returns home with no feet.

Rejecting a discharge for disability, Edwin learns to walk again and returns to his regiment. Volunteering for the quartermaster corps, he’s assigned to bury the dead. When he confesses jealousy that home cowards get to kiss Sophronia for ten cents in a booth at Springcreek’s soldiers’ fair, she rewards him with her likeness in a hinged velvet case. Union fortunes rise with news from Vicksburg, then Gettysburg. The scare of Confederate John Morgan’s Ohio raid ends when he is finally caught and jailed for a horse thief.

Determined to fight on to victory, Edwin re-enlists for the duration and earns a brief home furlough. Edwin arrives the day after his father dies. His conscience won’t allow him to propose to Sophronia until—if—he returns home alive. He knows the odds are against him.

Edwin puts his faith in General Sherman, becoming one of Sherman’s bummers on the Big March through the heart of slavery, proud that his men never go hungry two days in a row. He spends a memorable evening in the company of the opinionated, revered Union general.

Lincoln’s death shatters Edwin’s confidence at war’s end. Will Sophronia still love the man the war has made of him?

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