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  • The Salted Leg
  • Gary Lee Miller (bio)

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Photo by Andrew J. Russell, Library of Congress

And so it came to be that on the evening of July 24, 1865, Joshua Clantz, formerly of Kaskaskia, Illinois, and the Army of the Potomac, arrived at the Post Mills, Vermont, home of Mr. and Mrs. Emil Picard wearing the remains of his Union uniform and carrying a half-melted packet of Clark’s Maple Sugar Candies, seven forlorn oxeye daisies, [End Page 16] a four-shot pepperbox revolver and the left leg of Private First Class Orlin MacDonald, sawed off just below the knee and coffined in a crate of white Liverpool salt.

Scarce a month past eighteen, Clantz had walked all night on the dirt road from White River Junction, where the Connecticut and Passumpsic Railroad coach had disgorged him at half past three that afternoon following a journey from Springfield, Massachusetts, haunted by half sleep and heart-stitching nightmares. That was the usual progression of affairs. Clantz rarely closed his eyes for more than ten minutes’ slumber before murderous visions of Fredericksburg or the Wilderness fantodded him awake, and he’d come to accept the tilted, gauzy world he drifted through in his waking hours. Sometimes, even as he stood, images of the war swarmed him, and he’d faint away, awakening to a new perspective, the rut of a wagon track, say, or the floury dust of the regimental parade ground.

On his person, Joshua Clantz carried, excepting the $3,000 in Confederate scrip he had collected in case that currency should one day arise from its worthless state, just eighteen cents, wrapped in a kerchief and tucked in his peg-soled campaign boot. He’d spent a nickel on the candies at the dry goods store opposite the train station and consumed several of those but hadn’t eaten otherwise for the better part of two days; the pepperbox, tucked inside his coat pocket where a highwayman might not notice it, banged against his bony ribs like a hammer on a bell. As he mounted the broad wooden porch, he wished in the way of a soldier—without hope—for two things. First, that Miss Sophie Picard would not hate him too bitterly for the burden he was about to deliver, for he had a mind to woo her. Second, that the smell of stewing fowl tendered on the damp air meant he would be asked to dinner, a prospect he nonetheless dreaded. The War, which he had left behind in some ways but not the least in others, had queered him for polite company, and even for company that was impolite.

Hendrikson, the regimental quartermaster, had not only provided the salt in which Orlin MacDonald’s amputated leg rested but had fashioned a shoulder harness for its hemlock sarcophagus from a pair of leather rifle slings. Clantz loosened the slings, shucked the wooden crate from his shoulders and lowered it to the floor. He pushed his dark, suety hair behind his ears, made the most serene countenance he could from his ruddy, pockmarked face, stood up to his full height, which wasn’t but five foot six, and hammered vigorously on the door. [End Page 18]

The woman who answered was a matron of fifty, dressed in an olive-hued store-bought dress and a tidy white apron, auburn hair going to gray and coiled in a bun. She leaned into the accumulating darkness, irritation on her face.

“Is it necessary to make so much noise?”

I’ll bayonet you through the brisket, Clantz thought, but he held his tongue, for Orlin MacDonald’s sake and his own. He needed only deliver the salted leg and tell the story of Orly’s death, the wooden box and its contents, a story he’d rehearsed a thousand times in the days since the boy had passed. Then it would be on to business of a different kind.

“I am here for Sophie,” Clantz said. “If you could fetch her, I’d appreciate it, as I’ve come a long way.”

At that, the woman took a quick, loud breath and put a...


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