I appreciate you taking the time to chat with us today. I’m not sure what to call you. Your situation is so unique . . . a woman dressed as a man to serve in the Union Army. Would you like me to call you Cassie?
Cassie is fine. I enlisted as Thomas Turner, but we’re alone at the moment. You’re the only one who knows my secret. If another soldier walks in on us, just refer to me as Thomas.
All right, Cassie, who is your role model, and why?
My granny Ardie. She always believed in me when no one else did. It was like she saw me, the realme, for exactly who I was and loved me all the more for it.
Tell me about your family. Do you have siblings?
I have four sisters. All of them are married except me.
It must have been hard on your parents when you chose to enlist, especially since it entailed playing the part of a young man.
They didn’t know. I left in the middle of the night. I’m sure they assumed I ran away.
Why didn’t you tell them?
My father was attempting to arrange my marriage to a horrible man. He was well-known in the community for his philandering, as well as his foul temper and abusive ways. Much like my own father. When I couldn’t convince him to change his mind, I fled.
What is your earliest memory?
I don’t know if it is my earliest memory, but one of the first was the Christmas Granny Ardie gave me a doll. I named her Elizabeth. She had a beautiful pink dress with lace trim and a porcelain face. She went with me everywhere. One day I was playing in the kitchen and my father arrived home in a drunken rage. He picked up Elizabeth and threw her into the wall. Her face was shattered. I was inconsolable.
What a horrible memory!
There were many others similar to that one but something about that moment replays over and over in my mind. And I was so upset because my mother watched it happen and said nothing. Did nothing.
Let’s talk about your work in the Michigan Second. It must be so taxing. Have you found any friends that make the strain easier to bear?
I try to keep to myself. You know, the less investment in relationships, the less likely my identity will be discovered. But there are two fellows I consider my chums. One is a young errand boy named Jonah. Talk about precocious! I’ve never seen a child who can talk so much. Half of the soldiers shoo him away like a pesky fly and the rest find him an endless source of amusement.
And the other soldier you’ve befriended?
He’s not a soldier. He’s a photographer, sent by Mathew Brady to capture war images. His name is Gabriel. At first, I found his chatter vexing, but he’s proven himself to be a loyal friend. Easy to converse with, intelligent and kind.
Does Gabriel know your true identity?
No! I’m afraid if he knew, it would ruin everything.
What is it you fear the most?
Captivity. And perhaps a life wasted. I only have one life to live. I need to make each day count. I can’t think of anything more terrifying than a life of insignificance.
What is your dream?
To be free, truly free. Able to go where I want, do what I want without looking over my shoulder. Prisons are everywhere. I left one when I ran away from home, but I’m finding emotional prisons follow wherever I go.
That’s what I’m doing. Fighting for freedom . . . for the nation’s as well as my own.
What a thrilling adventure. Thank you for chatting today, Cassie!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tara Johnsonis an author, speaker, and passionate lover of stories. She loves to travel to churches, ladies’ retreats, and prisons to share how God led her into freedom after spending years living shackled as a people-pleasing preacher’s kid.
From the time she was young and watched Gone with the Wind with her mother for the first time, the Civil War has intrigued her. That fascination grew into all aspects of American history and the brave people and stories who make up its vibrant past.
She says, “History is crammed full of larger-than-life characters. Doc Holliday, Annie Oakley, Helen Keller, Daniel Boone, George Washington, Amelia Earhart, and Frederick Douglass are just a few examples of flawed, wounded humans who battled their demons with determination and left an indelible mark on the pages of history. I suppose that’s why people are so fascinating. No matter the era, we all battle the same wounds. Abandonment, abusive fathers, overprotective mothers, loss, grief, rejection, addiction, crippling anxiety, loneliness, or the yearning for unconditional love, to name a few. We all battle the same junk and have to decide whether to fight or cave. Run or stand. Cry or smile. That’s what great characters do. They are a reflection of our struggles, our own wounds. Our own need. And, when written well, they remind us whom we need to turn to for healing.”
Tara has written articles for Plain Truth magazine and has been a featured guest on Voice of Truth Radio and Enduring Word Radio. Tara is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers. She and her husband, Todd, live in Arkansas, and the Lord has blessed them with five children: Bethany, Callie, and Nate, as well as Taylor Lynn and Morgan Lane, who are with Jesus.