(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

Malcolm Bedford was the owner of Portobello plantation, where he lived with his second wife, Sarah, and their three children, an adopted daughter, Valette, and an orphaned nephew, Middleton. Malcolm’s sister Agnes had married Hugh McGehee, and they and their two children occupied a neighboring plantation, Montrose. Plantation life in Mississippi flowed easily in those days just preceding the Civil War, with frequent parties and visits between families to provide hospitality and entertainment. Other less pleasant happenings, however, intruded upon the serenity of plantation life. Talk of secession, states’ rights, slavery, emancipation, Lincoln, and war began to be more seriously discussed and argued whenever a group of people assembled. Hugh McGehee and his son, Edward, discussed these problems and Edward’s possible enlistment when the latter returned home for a short visit from the Louisiana Seminary of Learning and Military Academy.

Duncan Bedford was also in school at Washington College, Virginia. In love with Valette, he accused her of leading other young men on. When he went back to college, they were no longer on friendly terms.

Shelton Taliaferro, a distant relative of the McGehees, and his son Charles came to visit Montrose. Edward was home for a visit at the time, and the two young men became friends. They spent a short time together at the seminary until Charles resigned. It was this young man, to whom life seemed to flow generously, who attached himself to Edward. A year after his first visit to Montrose, he and Edward enlisted under General Beauregard. Shelton Taliaferro, his father, and Edward McGehee were the only two people for whom Charles cared, to the disappointment of Lucy, who had fallen in love with him. Duncan also enlisted, but without first coming home. He wrote a letter to Valette to tell her of his enlistment and to assure her that he still loved her.

About a year later, at the time of the battle of Pittsburg Landing, Agnes received a letter from her son. It was dated three days earlier, and according to his letter, the battle would be taking place at that moment she was reading the letter. Feeling instinctively that Edward was dead, she ordered William Veal, the butler, to hitch up the wagon so that they might set out for the battlefield and bring home the body of her dead son. When she returned, she brought with her Edward’s body and those of two other boys of the neighborhood. She also brought word that the body of Charles Taliaferro had not been found, although it was almost certain that he was dead since he was not with the survivors of the desperate fighting. Lucy was heartbroken.

After the Emancipation Proclamation on January 2, 1863, many of the...

(The entire section is 1118 words.)