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James 'Gus' Filegar

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Fathers, Sons, and Brothers, Book One
by James 'Gus' Filegar   

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Books by James 'Gus' Filegar
· Fathers, Sons, and Brothers, Book One
· Fathers, Sons, and Brothers, Book Two
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Historical Fiction



Copyright:  Jul 1 2002

Nathan married his sweetheart Sarah, July 27, 1862; mustered into the Maine Volunteer Infantry on the 28th. He helped recruit the men that would be Company H, of the Twentieth Maine Regiment.
They all thought it would be an adventure . . .
the battlefield would turn their adventure into a nightmare

Fathers, Sons, and Brothers

{Excerpt from Chapter Two; “Fathers, Sons, and Brothers” Book One}
© 2002, by James “Gus” Filegar

Bloody September

The Twentieth marched up behind a small ridge and were ordered to stand ready, with the rest of the corps. They were about two hundred yards from Antietam Creek, close to a bridge that crossed it. It was the center bridge of two others that spanned the creek.
The sound of battle resounded just west of where they were. Cannon could be heard as they fired in groups of three or four at a time. Occasionally, shells would explode in mid air, which left behind, wispy, grayish clouds of smoke that dotted the air. They had not seen this before and some men wondered if they were faulty, premature blasts. They would soon enough find out, these shells were meant to send a metal rain of shrapnel to the soldiers below. A rain of ripping death.
The Twentieth now only numbered about six hundred and fifty men, which included officers and staff. They had lost over three hundred to disease and the heat. Most of the ones absent were on sick call, though some had died from their ailments, and a few had deserted. Actual fighting men equaled about five hundred fifty. The order came to rest, but be ready to move quickly. They stacked arms and quickly found shade under trees along the ridge.
Nathan thought this would be a good time to get to know men from the other regiments that sistered the Twentieth. Among them were the Sixteenth Michigan, Eighty Third Pennsylvania and Forty-fourth New York. There were also the Twelfth and Seventeenth New York in the Brigade also, but were not three year men as they had signed muster before June of 1862.
Nathan and George went to the Captain and requested permission to form a detail to forage for some food.

George found the Captain, as he lay under a maple tree. “Cap’n. May I request permission to form a foraging party . . . to find some food sir?”
“Yes, Sergeant Buck. That would be good. You and Corporal Clark take two other men.”
“Aye sir.” George saluted and turned to leave.
“Oh . . . By the way Sergeant. Please give my regards to Colonel Strong Vincent.”
“Colonel Vincent, sir?”
“Yes. He is in the Eighty-Third Pennsylvania. I am sure you will see him as you forage for food.”
“Uh . . . aye sir.” George continued back to Nathan.
“Well. Did we get permission?”
“Yes we did. Let’s choose two men and get on.”
They went and recruited two men from the company and set out to ‘forgage’. They walked towards where the Eighty-Third was located to find Colonel Vincent. They saw their guidon flying near a grove of trees and walked over to it. They found a first sergeant there. George asked, “Have you seen Colonel Vincent boyo?”
The sergeant didn’t answer. He merely pointed to a man laying in the grass not far from them.
They walked over to where the Colonel lay. He was by himself and laid out in the direct sun, with his kepi over his face.
On the way over to him, Nathan spoke, “I heard the First Maine Cavalry was at the battle area we walked through on the way. I was hopin’ to see my brothers but probably not. I wonder . . . can a man get leave to see relatives in other units?”
“I think ya can Nate . . . I overheard a man ask Henry to go see his brother’s boy in a Pennsylvania regiment. He obliged him.”
As they approached Colonel Vincent, he sat up abruptly, which startled the two and they jumped.
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to spook you two. What regiment are you from boys?”, the Colonel asked.
They saluted him. Then Nathan answered, “We would be from the Twentieth Maine sir. We have a message from our Cap’n, Henry Merriam sir. He is our Cap’n from Company H. Says he is fine and glad ya be along with us. He wishes ya to see him, if ya can, sir.”
The Colonel got up, brushed himself off, then put on his hat and said, “Well, from the looks of you two, Ames doesn’t have it as bad as he says. You seem fine soldiers.”
“Sir . . . Colonel Ames is hard, but at least our company knows why. Most of the men would like to . . . well I’d best not say anymore.”
Vincent repositioned his hat. He looked out to the small ridge in front of them, put his gauntlets back on, then pulled them, as if to stretch them onto his hand. “He is one of the best commanders we have. You men will see . . . at some point, why he is so hard. That will most likely be on the battlefield. I am sure the rest of your regiment will change their minds after that.”
They saluted him, which he returned, started to walk away, then stopped, turned around and said, “Oh . . . And tell your Captain Merriam, I will be by to see him shortly.”
They eyed the two men they had brought with them as they talked to some other soldiers from the Eighty Third. As they walked over to them, there was an eerie whistle getting closer by the second. A man from the Eighty Third yelled, “INCOMING!”
Men scattered like spooked deer and grabbed their kepi’s as they ran for cover. Nathan and George laid to the ground, with their hands over their heads, and copied the other men they had seen do the same. They had not known what to do, so they figured, do what the veterans did.
They waited for the explosion, but it never came. Suddenly the whistling sound stopped, followed by a loud crack. It was a shell, lobbed by a Confederate battery from across the field, west of the creek. The shell had not exploded, which was common for Rebel artillery shell. It had lodged in a huge maple tree, near where they had talked with Colonel Vincent.
Nathan lifted his head from the ground and looked around. The other men had already gotten up on their feet, brushed themselves off and went on about their business as if nothing had happened.
One came to where they were and said, “It’s ok boys. Just another dud from that damn Butternut battery. You can get up now. No need to burrow a hole . . . not yet anyway.”
They got up and brushed off their frocks. Nathan grabbed his canteen, took a drink, then offered George some.
“Thanks. I think I need to replace what just came out. I think I peed me self boyo!”
Nathan got the four of them together and they began to walk back to the regiment.
One of the men said, “Hey. Let’s go over to the ridge there and see what we can see from here. It sounds like the fighting is getting heavier.”
They all agreed and climbed the ridge. When they reached the top, they gathered near a small group of trees to stay in the shade. As they looked out across the creek to the field, they saw thousands of soldiers, most in battle lines that moved towards each other in great order. The straight lines of men seemed oblivious to the blast of shell and the muskets that fired at them.
As they looked afar, they could see puffs of smoke that came from a tree line at the other side of the field. Each puff was matched with a ‘pum’ a few seconds later, the echo of the artillery batteries as they fired. Shells burst which threw earth and the men on it into the air. Then, a yellowish orange flash, followed by a huge explosion that echoed ominously across the burnt field. An artillery caisson had blown what seemed a hundred feet in the air. The horses in front fell as if pushed over by the wind, then they saw what looked like a blue bag of cloth thrown from the middle of the blast.
The air became riddled with puffs of white and black smoke, as more shells exploded above the ground. Soldiers began to fall to the battleground in huge numbers. What had been long lines of engaged armies , blue and gray, now showed gaps at various places that did not last long, as the lines moved back together in an instant. Even when Regimental flags fell, they rose again quickly, as if on a tether.
A line of what seemed like five hundred, blue uniformed soldiers, stopped their forward motion, brought their weapons to the ready, then fired a volley of hot lead toward their gray clad opponents. The sound of, ‘pop-pop-pop’, came seconds after the white smoke left the barrels. Some more Confederates in each line opposite them disappeared to the ground as they continued forward, then the lines once again closed, where gaps had been created. They stopped, answered the blue line with their own volley of Minie balls. Ten minutes seemed like an hour as they watched this fury take place all over the field before them.
As they looked to their right, they saw a battery of Union artillery being placed. The horses of each piece were grabbed by one man as another undid the leather harnesses and led them behind the caissons. They were amazed that each cannon was loaded and fired within just a couple of minutes. Then, after the first rounds were fired, the tell tale puffs of white smoke came from a cornfield opposite. Then ‘pop-pop-pop’.
Soldiers that worked the batteries began to fall. Then the sound of cannon again. ‘Pum-pum’. As the shells hit, dirt spewed from the earth around the Union batteries, and again a yellow flash. Another caisson erupted, splintering into the air, with yet another man joining dirt, lumber and smoke in the air. The Rebel batteries had quickly found their range this time.
The four men looked at each other. Nathan tried to speak, but couldn’t. He felt as though he were in a dream, a nightmare. He looked at George. His eyes were locked on the horrible scenes in front of them. Men fell by the hundreds it seemed.
The sounds had gotten louder and louder now. Screams began to flow with the other sounds of battle. Horses bellows, the crack of muskets that fired and cannon that belched yellow flame and shell, became an ominous chorus of death and destruction, all right in their view and earshot.
They watched as straight lines of men continued to march towards each other and half melted away with bursts of shell over their heads. The new lines being formed marched right through where bodies lie from previous accords of battle. The smoke began to obscure their view now. The blue sky over head began to disappear as if storm clouds moved in. There was no storm of nature that day, just of man.
The other two men decided to move for a better view. As they crawled along the top of the ridge, the frightening whistling sound reared itself again. As Nathan began to yell, the shell hit the ground, just in front of the two men. It skipped like a flat stone across water, and hit one at the shoulder. He screamed for just a second, then nothing was left of him to make sound. The shell continued down the hill and stopped at a tree trunk, splitting it in half. His partner got up, turned, ran and screamed. His hat flew off as he swung his arms wildly.
They had decided they had seen enough, so Nathan and George moved themselves back down the ridge. Two more shells screamed through the air. One exploded overhead near a tree and ripped through it which caused limbs to drop straight to the ground. The other heaved the ground just a few rods in front and showered them with clods of dirt and dust.
Nathan turned to George and said, “Come on. We need to get that soldier back to the regiment.”
They walked over to the man that had been hit by the shell. As they picked him up, his right arm dangled freely from where his shoulder had been struck by the ball. What was left of his frock was now blood soaked. A trail of blood followed behind them as they carried the soldier back out of harms way.
When they got back to the Regiment, they carried him to a makeshift field hospital. It was then they noticed, the sleeve of the frock coat is what held the man’s arm from falling away. It had been completely amputated at the shoulder, but the wool had been driven right into the twisted flesh.
They had not seen war before. Only read of it. Horrid descriptions, in the papers and letters home. A few pictures had recently been printed in the larger papers, like The New York Herald and Harpers Weekly. They could not capture the smells or the sounds of war. They could only write of blood curdling screams. This was real. The smell and sound of battle was right there, almost at their throats and they were only spectators . . . for now.

They needed a break, so they stopped near some ambulance wagons close to the regiment. The black vans had an eerie look to them. Their rectangular shape looked weird with the wooden roofs that adorned them. Dirty white canvas sheets were rolled up on the sides like window blinds.
Suddenly, stretcher bearers hurriedly brought horribly wounded men to the vans. As they leaned back against the rear wheels of the first one in line, a sergeant came up to them and cursed, “Damn ya lads, get away from the wagon. Are ya blind or somethin’? These are for wounded and dyin’ men, not for your leisure. Go on . . . get yer arses a goin . . . ‘fore I lay one on ya!”
Just then, Nathan felt a dampness on his neck. He reached around with his right hand and felt the back of his neck. When he brought his hand front, there was blood on it. At first he thought he had taken shrapnel there, then he moved his head up to the right and saw the arm of a man bleeding profusely that hung out the side of the wagon that had dripped blood on his neck.
He turned to George, with a frightened look, then said, “Oh me Lord. Let’s get goin’.”
They obliged the sergeant and found their way back to the regiment. Captain Merriam came up to them and said, “Where in heavens blessed name have ya been? We’ve been given orders to form up here. Get to your posts.”
They found the company, grabbed their Enfields and got to their duties. One of the men asked Nathan, “What was it like? What did you see out there? Are we winnin’?”
Nathan shook his head and answered in a sober voice, “Can’t say we’re winnin’. Can’t say we’re losin’. I can say this . . .There is a lot of dyin’ goin’ on out there.”
The brigade was formed up now, in battle readiness. Men talked up and down the line, saying the time was here. The veterans talked up the young recruits, to stay steady and just follow the flag.
“Attention!”, was yelled through the ranks by the officers.
Colonel Ames came riding up and stopped suddenly in front of the regiment. Adrenaline coursed through their veins. Breathing got heavier and heavier. The Colonel spoke in an unsettled voice.
“Twentieth Maine. It seems we are not to be used today . . . The commanding General has decided this army has fought long enough on this field, today. We are to fall back in reserve here and await orders that will be forthcoming. I say to you . . . do not fret of this. God’s grace has touched us today as men. We will . . . have our days of fighting. I promise you that.”
The whole Corps marched back towards South Mountain about two miles where they set camp and built fires. Nathan took this time to reflect on the day and wrote home to Sarah.

“My dearest Sarah, It is Sep’t. the 17th 1862. We have marched over twenty miles to get to a battle, only to watch. We have not yet fought. But I know, at least for me, learning and thanks to the Lord, took place here. This place is called Antietam. It is near a small town, Sharpsburg, here in Maryland. Me and George and two other fellahs watched some of the battle, from a safe distance. Or so we thought.
One of the other men had a shell skip on the ground and took him right in his shoulder. His partner came unglued and skedaddled, so George and I carried the wounded man back to the hospital. What we saw, I could never describe in words. I can say, I think I know why this war has gone on as long as it has. Just when it seemed our great army would carry the day, our commanding general, McClellan, saw fit to stop the fight. We would have been next to go in. I feel we could have done great good here had we gotten the chance. But my dear, it must be God’s will. He must be saving us for another day to carry. I am fine now. As is George. I have made a great many new friends in other regiments too. The weather is unbearably hot and sticky. The food is bland but tolerable, nothing coffee can’t take care of.
Don’t know when I will be able to write again. Tell your Mother I send regards and also my Mother and Father.
I know, it’s been but a month since we left Masardis, but my love, I have to say it seems a season, since we last saw each other. I pray you are fine, and your mother also. Keep an eye on the Reverend’s boy, as he might be shy for askin for help at the farm.

Yours forever, Nathan”

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James 'Gus' Filegar

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