Work Header

These Meager Strokes

Work Text:

To Lieutenant Colonel John Laurens,

My dear Laurens, it is my fondest desire that this letter finds you in good health and of a mind to forgive a soldier’s lengthy reminiscences. Perhaps that, given the uncivil nature of soldierly life, should you find yourself poring over my poor prose among civilized company, you should reserve these memories of our company for more solitary reflections. Sheath this letter again in its accustomed envelope, dear Laurens, until such a time arises as is proper and good for the retiring to the palace of memory, away from the more mundane parlors of society, to unsheath it once again.

I find myself at nights awash in thoughts of our battles together. I pray that I am not alone in such ponderings, as a soldier, like a man in love, becomes in the heat of battle, and is in perpetuity, a soldier. So I am always bound to you and our company. I pray that such thoughts endure with you as well.

If you have found yourself in such solitary wanderings, I pray you are not burdened by the heavy coat of duty you wear, for such duty, like wet winter wool, can conspire to become its own bonds. Turn off these heavy clothes, I say, and begin as we all began, bared to the world and manumitted from its demands.

Permit yourself to recline - the langours of memory a key indulgence of men at peacetime - and permit a candle, light enough that I can imagine your face in the darkness, the twin suns of your eyes and the constellations of your complexion, each freckle perfect in its firmament. There is darkness in a soldier’s heart, ‘tis true, the darkness of having seen man bared of all but the basest reasoning. But forgive my sentimentality for I have no desire to see such shadows on your face, my dearest, Laurens.

I hold my quill firm now, as you hold your own weapon in the great chaos of the battlefield. Perhaps, should this letter move you toward your own effusions of memory, you should return the favor, a small reassurance that my mind has found its twin.

I find myself, in my idleness, busy with the memories of our mutual triumph in capturing the final Redoubt. Indulge my petty vanity now, as you have indulged it many times, to recount for you my recollections of that night. The hushed noises of our breath in the darkness, the quick work of our penetration of their forces, the ejaculative cries of men in battle - but, truly, I rush myself, Laurens, and have no such desire to see you similarly hurried.

You are silent by night, Laurens, the prudent necessity of any man familiar with such nighttime offensives. I confess, my enthusiasms would not permit me such silence until your hand, ever firm, closed upon my mouth as we stole together in the darkness. Although my vanity permitted by my station - or the reverse - you governed me with such fierce devotion as another Alexander once must have enjoyed on the battlefield and in his tents.

Let us not linger here, though I might seek to linger on such memories the next time Providence sees fit to bring us together in such reminiscing. You cut a fine form in battle, dear Laurens, moving with such swift elegance as to carry your battalion and I, I must confess, was carried along with you. I was at your command, entirely, even as my station was above yours, and I found myself, as I do presently, your obedient servant.

Members of our phalanx were quick to penetrate their defenses and you, finding the movements of these curious phalanges sufficient, had the presence of mind and stoutness of heart to tell us to rush on, though I confess at the sight of our work, I had lost my breath. Hearing your consent to continue gladdened my heart, and seeing the stiff assurance of your fixed bayonet reassured me in fixing my own, quickly, enough to thrust past their defenses and into the very heat of battle.

That a man might lose himself to such things as battle is known. I did not hurry to Hades, as Achilles did, but perhaps to seek a much smaller death - the tattoo of blood in my ears as my war-drums; your cries, once diminished by the necessity of silence, full and vocal and manly again. Such are the ways men have always moved together in darkness.

Our weapons, unloaded, now required ball and wad and powder, and your hands were swift in their attendance to mine own musket, ramming straight and forceful, sure where I confess nerves had taken my faculties. You are beautiful, Laurens, in your constant attendance.

It is only with such assistance, and the steady encouragements of your tongue telling me to rush onwards, that saved me from a more grievous fate that night. I took hold of my musket and positioned it at the breach in their forces, your hand guiding mine as I hope my hand is similarly guiding yours now.

Our aim proved true. I heard the similar ejaculation of your musket a minute after. We, as young men, suffered from multiple such emissions during that night, until the final consummation of our forces against theirs. Battle makes fools of memory, the flashes of it as the flashes of gunpowder, quick and fleeting. My recollections thereafter are of your kind face in the darkness, your loveliness as that of Aphrodite, though we might be Ares’ playthings.

That morning’s light did, with its rosy fingers, bring clarity of mind and peace. And we, ensconced in the wreckage of our bedclothes, in that tent that we made our home those many months, found our mutual solace.

We are soldiers: Our weapons are crude instruments in determining our fate - we have only those crude instruments with which we are born - and my words here are crude instruments for expressing that passion that we both encountered in one another that night.

It is now, dear Laurens, that you may think me a fool or a simpleton, and perhaps I have been made simple in my affections, for I cannot think of a greater peace I have experienced than in our bearing of arms together. I should want to say that, for all the world has rendered mine a thorny path, you are a clearer of the way.

Please take pity on your poor messenger, Laurens, as these meager strokes are poor substitutes for the strength and force of my intent. I have gratified my feelings, by lengthening out the only kind of intercourse now in my power.

Yours most sincerely,

A. Ham.


My Dear Hamilton,

We remember that battle very differently. I shall endeavor to rectify these discrepancies in our recollections at once, and set out for camp tomorrow.

J. Laurens