Hooker's Bridge is a Civil War historical fiction novel based on fact about building a pontoon bridge across the Ohio River in Cincinnati. Prior to the Civil War there was no bridge over the river at Cincinnati, which was the 7th largest city in the country then. It was the major food processing, manufacturing center and transportation hub in the mid-west. Products from western states came in by canal boats and railroads. The product was then off-loaded onto wagons and taken to be transferred onto steamboats that took it right across the river to Kentucky to again be put back onto wagons and taken and loaded onto trains to be sent south and east to support the Union Army war effort. This was very time consuming and a bottleneck. The Confederate Army was marching and fighting it's way north thru Kentucky with the intension of attacking Cincinnati to interrupt it's shipping capability. The Union Central Command learned of their plan and decided a temporary pontoon bridge would facilitate a more rapid and easier supply of troops and goods required by the Union Army in the fighting in the south. General Joseph Hooker was assigned to achieve this important vital effort to help preserve the Union in the Civil War. Hooker drank a lot and ran a loose Headquarters.
Kevin carried the last of the baggage out of the house to the carriage and put it in. As he did, he looked back at the house as if in a daze, thinking This was not real. This was the only home he ever knew. What was ahead? Going to America? He glanced around further and then walked around the far side of the carriage. There was ol' Dinjo standing in the corral by the barn. He went to her and threw his arms around her shoulders and neck and squeezed hard. Dinjo squirmed.
"Old girl, why can't I take you with me, I've learned so much riding on your back." He moaned. But Kevin could not think of taking Dinjo to the dock because he didn't think he could leave without a big scene of parting and that would have been too embarrassing for him.
His mother called, "Kevin, here is one more bag." As he painfully pulled away from Dinjo, he gave her his biggest kiss ever.
He took the bag as Catharine pulled the door shut for the last time and fixed the padlock. She seemed to be going in slow motion, also. Kevin and Aleen were standing near. Catharine grabbed them both, and they all hugged in silence as the tears came unabashedly.
"We need to leave now to get to the ship on time," Catharine said. With frequent glances back, the three left their life behind and headed on for a new life ahead, in America.
Catharine talked a lot on the way to the shipyard. She repeated that she decided to leave Ireland because the English had marked them. She was warned by old Mr. O'Brien and he said that Aleen and Kevin may be marked as children of a traitor and be at some disadvantage. She went over again, especially with Aleen who was 18, to compare the American money she had exchanged at their bank for Irish pounds. She went over again how they were to get to Cincinnati to meetup with her cousin there. She instructed Kevin, who was 16, that he was responsible to keep track of their baggage and get it moved when needed.
The morning air at the dock was cool and so full of mist it seemed that you could bite it and chew it. Longshoremen were loading the ship with all sorts of freight and supplies. The noise of the bustle, clanging, and hollering heightened the sense of urgency to catch the morning breeze to get to sea. Finally, the passengers were called to board. Friends and family gave best wishes and last goodbyes. Kevin's aunt and uncle from the village came to the ship to see them off and to take the carriage back. Everyone was hugging and crying and bidding their last farewell.
"Be sure to write. Keep in touch," both his mother and her sister said with their last goodbye.
Kevin said to Uncle William, "Be sure to take good care of Dinjo, give her an apple now and then."
They walked up the gangway carrying their personal bundles and baggage onto the boat. They watched while the lines were cast away. The ship creaked and groaned, like an old rocker when it was put under sail as they started to move.
With the last wave goodbye, they went below to the main cabin to find their quarters. What greeted them was one big room full of confusion and people trying to stake out a spot to store their belongings and to have room to sleep and live. It was no easy task as there were more people in the room then there was room to be comfortable. All the talking, pushing, encroaching, and just plain invading what space, there was caused more than a few harsh words. No one was prepared for the cramped quarters, let alone the lack of facilities and just plain loss of dignity and comfort. Kevin, Aleen, and their mother were fortunate enough to find three bunks, one on top of for each other. Kevin took the top, Catharine the middle and Aleen, took the lower bunk. Space for dressing or for personal needs was almost nonexistent. Toileting became impersonal and could only be done with great care and effort.
The first day out, so many people got seasick that the main cabin smelled putrid from all of the vomit, and the wailing became a constant din. The second day, almost no one ate, not only because the food was pretty horrid, but mostly because they didn't want to throw up anymore. Fortunately for Kevin, he ate the food his mother brought with them and didn't seem to be affected by the constant rolling of the ship. Aleen was sick the first day but was getting better on the second. However, their mother was seasick for at least five days and never really regained good health. Conditions on board were horrible, even though the O'Donnell's were supposed to have purchased a higher class ship crossing. The food rations were a meager, two pounds per day per person and not cooked well. Freshwater was scarce and sanitary facilities totally inadequate. After a few weeks, some sick passengers just lay in their bunks unable to get up, and a number of them died. The dead were unceremoniously thrown overboard. There was no doctor or drugs on board the ship for the whole forty-day trip.
Kevin thought, We survived the famine in Ireland for eight or ten years only to possibly die on board the ship crossing to America. Kevin and Aleen acclimated to sea life as best they could, but their mother took a turn for the worse on the twenty-fifth day out. She developed a fever and would not eat. Kevin and Aleen took turns attending to her, wiping her with cool seawater to try to reduce her temperature, and coaxing her to drink water and eat. They endured long sleepless nights with many sick passengers moaning and crying out in pain. It was hard caring for their mother as she became weaker and more flushed with fever. They felt helpless, and it was all they could do to try to keep her fever down and keep her as clean as possible.
The painful experience of attending to his mother was embarrassing to Kevin, but he had to and wanted to share the responsibility with Aleen. Kevin prayed hard, and he diligently and tenderly attended to his mother with the most primitive of things-it was all they knew to do. A few women advised them, but to little avail, as nothing seemed to help. Kevin and Aleen hoped she could survive for the twelve to fifteen days until they landed in New York and a doctor could see her. But on the thirty-second day out, with a mere ten days to go, their mother died quietly in her sleep. Kevin and Aleen conspired not to tell anyone, knowing she would just be thrown overboard. But soon, others realized what had happened, and the inevitable process commenced. The Firstmate came and told them that the crew would be there in about two hours to get their mother.
Kevin and Aleen dressed their mother in her finest clothes, combed her hair, and sprinkled her with some meager cologne. When they finished, they sat down, held each other, cried, and waited. Aleen tried to say prayers, and Kevin mumbled with no more than blank consciousness. There was little consolation from the other passengers as few of them even had the energy to be sympathetic. Finally, the crew came with the stretcher, lifted Catharine on to it, and headed on deck with Kevin and Aleen following them. When they got to the rail, Aleen yelled stop, which they did. For a last few seconds Kevin and Aleen touched their mother and cried as she slowly slipped off the tilted stretcher into the sea. They stood there for several minutes holding hands and looking back, as the ship sailed on.
They were cried out by then and seemed somewhat relieved by the warm sunny breeze. They decided to sit on deck as opposed to the hellhole of their quarters below. They chatted about Ireland and about their dreams of America; they moaned about the loss of their father and now of their mother. Now it was about just the two of them. Kevin couldn't bring himself to repeat what his father had said, that he was the man and was to take care of his sister. He was too scared to say it, but he felt something inside promising to try to do it, but not knowing what it meant. That was more than enough for one day. They went back to their bunks and lay in silent exhaustion from the stress of the last several days.
On the forty-third day from leaving Ireland, the ship sailed into New York's Battery Harbor. Aleen and Kevin with their youthful energy were among the first to get off of the ship. They loaded their baggage onto one of the wagons provided by the Immigration Service and walked behind it to the office. Kevin relied on Aleen to lead as she could read good. Kevin could read some but left school pretty young to go to work to earn money for the family. He looked all around, seeing other ships that had landed and all the strangely dressed people going through the same rituals as they were.
Finally, inside the hall Kevin gathered their belongings, they were directed to the lines of people standing in front of a row of desks. After giving the clerk their names and requested information, they were directed to separate lines, one for males, and one for females. This was the first time that Kevin and Aleen had been separated and it made Kevin a little nervous. He was directed toward another desk to set up seeing a doctor. After answering all the questions as best he could about his father's death in Ireland, his mother death on board ship, and his sister being with him, he was directed to a doctor for an examination. Finishing that, he was back out into the main hall. It took a little time for Kevin to spot Aleen because she took longer getting through the medical line. Kevin felt somewhat embarrassed because he was leaning on Aleen to be more...