The concussion nearly knocked me out of the saddle. Men began screaming as hot metal tore through the ranks and left blank spots in the formation. Canister was exploding in all areas of the field but the men just bowed themselves against the storm and kept moving. Men were falling everywhere but each time a place in ranks opened up, someone would step forward and fill the void. Then another. Then another.
"Steady boys!" I yelled. "Steady!"
Something slapped my hat and sent it flying. There were whizzing sounds in the air around us and thud-like noises as men fell. I felt a stinging on my right ear but that was the least of my worries.
I felt pretty inadequate because I was urging my men to hold steady when I didn't know how much more I could take before I broke and ran. Like most everybody else in this thing, I was no hero. We were just ordinary folks forced into extraordinary circumstances. As I bowed against the storm and looked around the field however, I had to change my mind. There were many heroes here. They had to be to face this and keep moving. I couldn't say it of myself though. Surely no hero could be this scared.
We finally reached the tree line and I ordered my men to dismount and join the infantry for the climb. The artillary shelling had stopped suddenly, most likely to keep from hitting their own troops but it didn't matter. I was just glad they had stopped.
My heart felt as if it would beat out of my chest as we made our way through the trees and came close enough to make out faces but we didn't stop. We were staring at each other in silence and I had to wonder which one would fire the shot that would take me down. The rocks ahead weren't what you would call mountainous but they looked like the Rockies to me. Right now, those boys were the kings of the hill and we would play hell in booting them off of it.
We were given orders to halt and the two sides stood staring at each other as we cocked our weapons and prepared to fire. I could hear similar orders from the Yankee line along with the familiar metallic clicking of hammers being pulled to the ready. It was strange to just stand and look at them. This wasn't cavalry fighting. The air was still and I couldn't help but feel this should be a time of peace.
"Ready!" someone shouted.
The sun was filtering through the branches and I managed to grab a quick glimpse of the clouds floating overhead.
I raised my revolver to business level and waited but never heard the order to fire. The once silent union artillery and what sounded like a multitude of musketry suddenly opened fire, point blank into our faces.
Arms, heads and haversacks were tossed into the air as huge furrows were dug into our lines. There was a mighty roar as our guys ran yelling through the trees and onto the waiting union soldiers. We were within ten yards of some of the entrenchments but may as well have been fifty miles if we couldn't break that line.
The smoke and dust made seeing and breathing difficult but I continued forward, slashing and shooting any enemy I was able to make out. I touched the barrel of my pistol to the head of a captain and fired. He was dead instantly as the ball burst out the other side of his skull and struck another soldier in the chest.
I was still trying to steady the men. "Control your fire!" I screamed. "Control your fire!"
Stupid thing to say. I was telling them to control themselves and I doubted I could control my bowels.
I continued to fight the seemingly endless ocean of blue until something exploded to my right. After that, everything came in flashes with gaps of black in between. I can't say if the battle lasted minutes or weeks but it didn't seem to matter. Still in a daze, I raised myself onto my hands and knees. However, my attention was diverted by something lying on the ground in front of me. It was someone's head. It was looking directly at me, the eyes wide in horror. The mouth was moving as if he was attempting to speak some unknown language. I continued to stare at it as if mesmerized. Our eyes probed each other with a horrible fascination.
He was a young man with sandy-colored hair and it struck me as odd that the neck wasn't jagged as if torn off but appeared to have been sliced cleanly. I couldn't tell if the boy was northern or southern but it was becoming as insignificant as the small mole I noticed on his ear lobe.
The war raged around me but seemed far away. Within touch but in some distant valley. Everything was in slow motion as if witnessing some macabre symphony of orchestrated suffering. The fury of those last minutes was now like molasses in wintertime and what I felt more than anything else was fatigue. It was a bone aching tiredness that left me caring for little else other than rest.
Something warm seemed to flow down the right side of my face but this, along with the battle, seemed too trivial to matter. I tried to stand but weakness pulled me down and I landed among a group of bodies.
I used my foot to push one soldier away and used another for a pillow. I turned on my side and pulled my knees up toward my chest as an infant might do in peaceful slumber. The sun shining through the trees felt warm and soothing as I pulled the flap of the dead soldier's coat down to cover my face.......and slept.