Chapter 1: An Encounter (Part 1/4)
With Captain William B. Blair stationed in Texas and Lewis Harvie Blair studying and traveling in the region, it was only a matter of time before Peggy would make her way to visit her brothers. Little did she know that her trip would change her life forever.
Peggy had exchanged letters with Alfred before they met, each sending three letters to one other. It was clear from their correspondence that there was a connection between them. So when Peggy arrived in Texas, her brothers immediately saw the potential for a match between her and Alfred.
Peggy had always been fascinated by the idea of the Wild West. Growing up in the privileged society of Virginia, she had been sheltered from the realities of life on the Frontier. But her brothers’ tales of adventure and danger had captivated her imagination, and she longed to experience them.
So when the opportunity arose for her to travel to Texas, she jumped at the chance. Her brother was stationed at Corpus Christi Army Depot Department of Texas, and her other brother traveling through Texas, was headquartered there; she was eager to see them and explore the region.
She arrived in Texas in the middle of summer, the hot, dusty air making her skin sticky and her clothes cling to her body. But she didn’t mind. She was excited to be there, to see the rugged terrain and meet the people who lived in this harsh and unforgiving land.
She had traveled through the vast stretches of desert and saw sights she had only read about in books – towering mesas and buttes, endless plains stretching to the horizon, and herds of wild mustangs running free. She met people of all backgrounds and cultures, from cowboys and ranchers to Mexican vaqueros and Native American tribes. She listened to their stories, learned about their traditions and customs, and gained a newfound respect for the resilience and toughness of the people of the West.
But as much as she loved her time in Texas, Peggy was also acutely aware of her status as a young woman traveling in a strange land. She had to be careful, to watch her back and stay out of trouble. She was grateful for the protection of her brothers and their fellow soldiers, but she also longed for the freedom to explore on her own.
Peggy knew she would need to know Alfred Gibbs during this trip. They had been exchanging letters for a few months before her journey, and Peggy was eager to finally meet the man who had captured her imagination with his eloquent words and gentle nature. They met at a small trading post on the edge of a small river, where Alfred was overseeing the delivery of supplies to the nearby forts.
As Peggy stepped out from inside the small wooden waiting room made available for travelers waiting for a stagecoach, she was greeted by Alfred’s warm smile and gentle demeanor. She couldn’t help but feel a flutter in her chest as he took her bags and helped her into the military coach waiting to take her to the Depot. The young woman mentally noted how his hands could be firm yet soft.
As the party rode off toward Corpus Christy, Alfred rode alongside the stagecoach as it made its way to the post, and Peggy watched in awe as he commanded his horse with ease and grace. As they arrived at the post, Peggy couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride as she watched the men around Alfred show him res admiration. He was an important man, even if he only held the rank of Captain.
Gibbs helped the young woman out of the coach and escorted her toward the visitors’ area. Showing Peggy to her room, Gibbs set down her bags; Alfred turned to Peggy and remarked, “You are even more charming than your brothers described, and even lovelier than I had imagined.” Peggy blushed at the compliment.
He excused himself, explaining that he had to return to his duties but would look her up later in the evening. Mounting a black bay, the young officer rode off to finish his duties, leaving Blair to ponder her journey and what lay ahead. From behind, her two brothers shouted excitedly, interrupting her thoughts, “It’s about time you got her, young lady. We had to send our best man out looking for you!” The three embraced as the sun began to set on the Texas landscape.
Over the next few days, Peggy and Alfred spent limited time together. In their letters, they had talked about Alfred taking her on walks along the river and sharing stories of life in Texas. But what had happened in practice was that her brothers had filled her days with reconnecting and talking about their life on the Frontier. It was clear that if the two young people were to develop a connection and share many common interests, they would need much more time than what was currently provided.
After Alfred finished his daily duties at the Depot six days after her arrival, they did spend a few afternoons exploring the countryside together, riding horses, and discussing their lives and life in general. Peggy was struck by Alfred’s intelligence, his wit, and his compassion for the men under his command. She could see why her brothers spoke so highly of the man.
After two weeks on the post, they arranged for Peggy to attend a ball that Alfred would attend. Peggy was struck by how handsome and charming Alfred was in his dress uniform, and the two spent the night talking and dancing. They found themselves drawn to each other and realized their connection through their letters was more substantial in person.
Over the next few days, they spent every moment they could get together. They went on long walks, shared meals, and discussed their hopes and dreams. Peggy knew that she was falling for Alfred. Still, she knew if there was any chance of something more happening between them, her family could be challenged by falling in love with a Union soldier, given the life they saw her brothers living. It would be a challenge to break free from the protective embrace of her father. But in the end, their connection was too strong to ignore.
After spending what seemed like only a few days together, but what was, in reality, two months, Peggy and Alfred began making arrangements to leave Texas and head north to Virginia. They would need to take a sloop that plied between Corpus Christi and Indianola, the quickest way to get back to Virginia.
After a few days, they boarded the sloop and sailed through the bay, which was stirred to fury by the usual summer gale. As the boat anchored for the night around the headland, they watched anxiously for the return of the sloop to bring tidings from home by way of taking a steamship that they boarded in New Orleans.
The following day, they were greeted by a sea of glass, ruffled only by the momentary sight and snorts of numberless heads of great sea turtles, which appeared to be playing a game of hide and seek. The route was inland, in the smooth waters between the outer islands and the land.
Peggy and Alfred’s party, which included William’s wife and Lewis, reached the harbor of New Orleans where they were to take a steamship to the east coast of the country.
After settling into their accommodations, Peggy and Alfred spent their days and nights enjoying each other’s company and taking in the sights and sounds of the sea. One night, Alfred and Lewis decided to sleep on the deck when both men were awakened by a sound coming from someplace on the deck and were captivated by the darkness caused by the moon’s total eclipse. It was their first experience with an event of that kind, and it left an impression on each of them.
As they made their way to Virginia, Peggy, and Alfred discussed what the future might hold for them. Peggy glanced up from her embroidery as the ship glided through the calm waters between the outer islands and the land. The journey from New Orleans took longer than expected, and the sun’s rays shimmered across the sea’s surface like a thousand tiny diamonds. Grateful for the delay in returning to White House Landing, Virginia, the young woman enjoyed her days with the other women and whatever time she could get with the young Captain.
While there was a break in the conversation, Peggy’s gaze fell on her brother William’s wife, who sat nearby, conversing quietly with her husband. They seemed content in each other’s company, making Peggy wonder if she and Alfred looked the same to them.
Alfred, the son of the renowned mineralogist Colonel George Gibbs and grandson of Oliver Wolcott Jr., Secretary of the Treasury under Presidents George Washington, and John Adams, was a man of intellect and distinction. His education at White Plains, New York, and Dartmouth College, followed by his graduation from the United States Military Academy at West Point, spoke of his character and ambition.
Yet, there was something else about Alfred that drew Peggy to him. He had a certain charm, an air of mystery that was captivating. The more she learned about him, the more she longed to know.
Their conversations had been filled with laughter and fascinating tales from Alfred’s experiences in the military. They shared an interest in the world beyond their own experiences, which created a bond between them. It wasn’t long before Peggy realized she was falling hard for the young officer.
However, as the daughter of John Geddes and Sarah Ann Eyre Heron Blair, Peggy was mindful of her duty and propriety. A relationship with a military officer was not without its challenges, especially as tensions between the Northern government and the South slave owners grew, threatening to plunge the nation into Civil War.
The steamship finally docked at the pier at White House Landing, and the passengers began to disembark. Peggy felt sad as she realized her time with Alfred was drawing close. The future was uncertain, and she couldn’t shake the nagging wonder if their paths would cross again. Little did she know destiny had a plan for Peggy Foushee Blair and Alfred Gibbs, and their story was beginning.