Once upon a time on a dreary winter’s evening two historians who had been eating too many chocolate chip cookies stumbled across an idea. Whether the following events actually happened or were merely the figment of overactive imaginations, we leave for you to determine…
It’s April 1861. Rose O’Neal Greenhow parades up to a podium in front a small group in front of the Willard Hotel and announces: “My dear gentlemen and ladies, it is with great delight that I announce this year’s bachelorette, Miss Flora Hoopskirtch. Hailing from Maryland, she is charming, just eighteen, and very beautiful. In the coming weeks, she will attempt to choose a husband from the extremely eligible bachelors who have agreed to participate in this entertainment of the heart. We are hoping this will be a grand diversion from the current unpleasantness dividing our country and that we can all remember the joys of falling in love as we watch this romance play out across the pages of the National Tribune, our exclusive sponsor and reporting network. Are you ready to meet the Miss Hoopskirtch, our lovely bachelorette?”
Flora advanced to the makeshift stage and smiled nervously. She unfolded some prepared remarks and read about how excited she was to find her true love. “And I hope that this experiment for love will unite our nation and remind us of all the common bonds we truly have.” She waved good-bye and headed to the side, giving the scene to the eight men who now appeared.
Ms. Greenhow invited the fellows to introduce themselves briefly, giving the reporters time to make notes and introduce the program and cast of characters to the waiting nation.
“Greetings, I’m Elmer Ellsworth. I’m from New York, but I’ve been living in Illinois. Miss Flora, I’m organizing the Fire Zouaves and I also have a burning passion for you.”
“Hey Flora, I’m John Hunt Morgan. And I’m about to raid your heart.”
“Miss Flora, I don’t know why I’m in this show. But I’m Richard Ewell and I’ve been looking for love for a long time. In fact, I’ve lost all my hair in the process?”
“Hey Miss Flora, my brothers signed me up for this, but I still hope you’ll pick me. I’ve been at West Point for five years, I write poetry, and I can keep a room neat and tidy. My name’s John Pelham.”
“Hi. My name’s Tom. Tom Chamberlain. And my brother Lawrence” (somebody hissed from the audience “don’t call me Lawrence.”) told me to leave home and my bossy parents. Pick me and we’ll spend the rest of our lives far from Maine and the in-laws!”
“Robert Lincoln at your service. If my dad finds out…” he wasn’t even able to finish his sentence before Ward Lamon sprang out of the crowd and whisked the president’s son back to the safety of the White House.
“Well, Miss Flora. If you want a good time, I’ll show you some things I learned at West Point. Or at Benny Havens. George Armstrong Custer, at your service.”
“A big Texas howdy to ye, Miss Flora. I’m John Bell Hood, but my friends call me Sam. I’m ready to settle down and I hope married life doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.”
Ms. Greenhow was just about to announce the schedule of dates for the next few days, when great clatter sounded from the nearby street. “Fort Sumter’s surrendered! The Rebels have taken Fort Sumter.”
Almost instantaneously, the seven remaining bachelors divided. Ellsworth, Chamberlain and Custer started looking for blue uniforms while Morgan, Ewell, Pelham, and Hood unfurled a Bonnie Blue Flag and started parading around. Miss Flora burst into tears, seeing a civil war happening before her eyes and seriously fearing she would die an old maid.
Meanwhile the reporters chanted: “No time for a show like this now!” “Bunch of nonsense!” “Forget the romance, let’s have blood and guts!” “Off to war, off to war, off to war!”
Ms. Greenhow pulled Flora to the side, whispering urgently. Then she returned and made an announcement. “In light of the recent news that undoubtedly heralds war, we have made the decision to cancel the show. Each of the bachelors will leave, telling Miss Flora a secret and receiving a flower to take to the military camp and battlefield.”
Each of the men took turns standing in front of Flora to tell a secret and take the offered flower.
Ellsworth suddenly serious and nervous leaned close. “I shall only be in a few battles, I think.” If his tone had not been so sad, Flora might have teased him and asked him to hurry back and see her. Instead, she just smiled kindly and pinned a rose to his uniform.
John Hunt Morgan rode in on a horse, stooping to tell his secret. “Yankees beware. You and Ms. Greenhow should write to me often.” He winked with a spy-like conspiracy and tucked the flower in his hatband before galloping south.
Ewell seemed to have a lot of trouble thinking of a secret. Finally, he said, “I already hate a man named Jackson.” Then he awkwardly accepted the flower.
“Gallant” Pelham flourished a bow, then whispered mysteriously in Flora’s ear. “They say I am an ultra-secessionist. What do you think that means?” He took the flower and kissed the young lady’s hand.
Tom Chamberlain advanced unhappily and told his secret. “I already hate marching. My great wish is to have a horse like my brother.” He took the flower and laid it in his pocketbook. “That way I can remember this forever.”
Custer kept his secret surprisingly simple and looked mistrustful of Ms. Greenhow hovering in the background. “I really like to have my photograph taken.” The flower he accepted he later fed to his horse as a snack…when he thought Flora wasn’t looking.
“Sam” Hood said, “This won’t mean anything for another two years, but always remember…shoulda gone to the right and avoided the big rocks.” He took the flower with a grim smile.
The bachelors all headed off to war, leaving Miss Flora quite forlorn. Ms. Greenhow was exceedingly irritated, but no one really knew why until years later it was revealed that the show had been a grand scheme of hers to get information from Federal officers and pass it to the Confederates.
April Fool’s from Emerging Civil War!
Author’s notes: All credit to Meg Groeling for coming up with the idea for this sketch and choosing the bachelors. We certainly had a few good laughs over the concept while writing it together.