Welcome to Fifth Minnesota Fiction!
Update 1-26-15: Ladies and gentlemen, the show is coming to an end. For all of you who have read, supported, and encouraged this blog and my writing--thank you. While many of these stories have already been previously published in book form, I am about to join the 21st century and publish in electronic reader format. As such, this blog will vanish into the ether March 1st. Thank you all, I hope you have enjoyed my meager offerings.
This is a blog dedicated to the essence of what my experience doing Civil War living history is all about--telling a good story. In the case of the Co. A, Fifth Minnesota, we strive to tell the stories of history--everyday lives caught up in the turmoils of strife and change. Our purpose, is to give room for some of those stories to grow, and find an end for themselves. The process of good Living History is much the same as that used to write a story, the difference is that with the written word it is the reader that acts it out in their head. With Living History, the participants take those great narratives and give them life themselves in action and word.
Here those stories we have begun can go on. I hope you will enjoy them as much as I do writing them! A word of warning though--be patient with me. Posts may be spread out a bit (I write these whenever real life allows) but something new is almost always cooking; it simply may take time to get them served up at the table.
A. Wade Jones
Sunday, October 18, 2009
My Brother, My Enemy
Somewhere far from the cot he was laying in, he knew that his mother was checking all the doors and windows as she always did--always had for as long as he could remember life at home--before she turned in for the night. His father would be ushering petulant cows through the dusky pasture towards the shed for the night, singing those silly songs to himself that drove everyone crazy. He used to make them up as he worked in the garden and hay loft, silly rhymes he would sing to the tune of the “battle hymn of the republic”. Suddenly the pain was severe again, and it was all private Hopkins “Hop” Young could do to remain silent. He had decided he would not be like the man at the end of the ward, moaning all night and keeping the new arrivals awake. He breathed deep and slowly, trying to master the pain. They had told him it would be so, for awhile, offered him morphine. That was until the most recent crop of casualties had arrived from the latest trip to the butcher, and only the very worst cases were given doses of the always fluctuating supplies of drugs.
That was the beginning of the “Phantom of the Ward”, as Jenkins called the man. Hop just thought of him as a pain in the ass. It wasn’t that they didn’t have compassion--surely the man was in pain--but until one got used to the sounds at night none of them had gotten any sleep. Three days of that had left them none too friendly, no matter the reason for the ruckus. Such was the life here in the U.S. General No. 2 Hospital, Ward B. The commanding officer was Colonel R. F. Stratton, a lofty man who spoke of the fight and God’s desire to see them well again. He seemed determined to remind them all that if the national army could render mighty Vicksburg ruinous (to which the hospital was quartered near) with such ease, surely the war must soon be won.
Hop never had the heart to inform the good colonel that the “ruination” of Vicksburg had been neither easy nor all that quick. He, and two others in the ward had been there with the 5th and knew first hand the hell that the siege had become for both sides by the end. But, Stratton meant well, so Hop kept his tongue. As the pain subsided, he ran his hand over the wrapped bandages that covered his torso, thinking of the stitching and the inevitable scar he would have. The bullet had been fired at very close range, but had thankfully passed through his side missing everything. There was the chance of infection of course, which is what killed most men in the end more so than the wounds themselves, but the surgeon seemed certain it was a fairly clean shot. He didn’t like to think about it too much in truth. It wasn’t that he was afraid of dying so much, as he found that when he thought too much about the battle and being wounded, he become dizzy and sick to his stomach. He moved his hand away from the bandage and made himself think of something else. He stared at the ceiling, and noted--not for the first time--the uneven and obviously rushed brush strokes of the flat white paint. It appeared to be lead paint, which gave such a deeper and more solid color than whitewash ever did. He began to think about such normal things as how much paint must have been needed to do this room, and how he had once had to worry over such trivial things not so long ago.
He was 9 nine years old, and his brother Jacob was supposed to be helping. He wasn’t of course, as usual. Their father had sent them out to whitewash the inside of the granary, because he felt certain it helped in further preservation of the logs. Jacob said that the whole idea was foolishness--well he said so to Hop, but never would have dared say so to their father--and vanished as soon as possible. Jacob and Hop were fraternal twins, only minutes apart in age but years apart in personality. Hop was technically younger, but acted the old man--Jacob was forever swanning off from work but adored by their mother. What could Hop do, but whitewash the old log interior himself? As he tore open the paper bag of store wash his father had provided to add to the bucket of water, Jacob suddenly swung out of the loft above scaring Hop and spilling the chalky powder everywhere.
“HA! Nearly greased your drawers there--didn’t you? Ha ha ha!”, laughed Jacob gleefully as he swung from his knees in the open hatch to the loft above. Hop stepped back and brushed powder from his pant legs.
“Jake, you fool! Look what you’ve done! Father’s gonna whip us both when he sees this, and that’s for certain! Now get yourself down from there and help me with this mess!”, Hop snarled crossing his arms and scowling. His brother, griping the whole way that Hop “weren’t any fun” set to the cleaning up. They had worked together that day, painting the whole interior. When they finished, both boys were head to toe in whitewash; and Hop never told their father of Jacob’s misadventures in the loft.
The shadows cast by the candles in their lantern sitting upon the desk of the orderly danced, as a faint breeze shifted the flames. Hop listened to the ragged breathing, the snoring, and the creek of the floors in another ward. Sleep evaded him this evening, but he did his best to not allow the familiar guilt to creep back in. It seemed harder now that he was on the mend, which he supposed made sense. When he had first come, he had heard orderlies suggest openly that it was a waste to treat him. This callousness had shocked him, and he and fallen quickly into a serious despair. In the end it was the Matron, the stalwart and motherly Mrs. Crewes, who had ensured his treatment and rejuvenated his spirits.
“Well now my boy, we’ll have no more of this feeling sorry for yourself! The surgeon will be over shortly to look you over and we’ll have you mended in no time!”, she had said to him, propping up his pillow and unintentionally causing a nasty pain to shoot through his wound. He grimaced, but managed a smile. The plump, round Mrs. Crewes had kindly eyes, and the firm “you will do what I say because I know what is best for you, even if you think I don’t” gaze that his own mother had such practiced skill with her own children. In some ways, it was this similarity to his own mother that had ultimately ensured Hop’s obedience to the Matron’s order. In time, as Mrs. Crewes work to produce positive care for him proved productive and his health began to return, gratitude and appreciation for the uncompromising Matron was enough to guarantee his following her rules.
“You mustn’t worry yourself for the attitudes of these orderlies, Private”, Mrs. Crewes had told him one evening as she spoon fed him a warm broth, “They’ve seen too much, and the carnage and slaughter makes them hard in their hearts. It’s part of why they and the surgeons fight so about having my ladies here–we remind them of their humanity.”
Hop swallowed, feeling the warmth of the liquid flow into the depths of him. He watched a pair or orderlies roughly carrying out a man, recently died, upon a stretcher. Mrs. Crewes looked at them a moment as well, before returning to the task at hand.
“You mustn’t hold it against them. Could anyone carry on for this long seeing men in pain, men dying, lives so beyond their ability to do anything without becoming hardened? They’re wounded too,” the Matron had said with a sad smile, “but their wounds don’t show like yours do.”.
He watched the shadows dance for a moment or two more before he felt his eyes closing, heavy with sleep. Just as he was slipping into the soft embrace of sleep, the “Phantom” began his moaning from the far end of the ward. Soft at first, then a little louder. Hop’s eyes squeezed shut, and then opened.
“God almighty!”, said Bill Jenkins in a loud whisper from across the room, “he’s at it again!”
“Right on schedule too, more regular than rail service.”, stated Kelley from Hops left.
Hop sat up slightly, a hot stitch shooting through his side briefly. “He doesn’t even know he’s doing it.”, he said, playing the advocate briefly.
“Yeah well, I KNOWS he is! Keeps me from sleeping proper!”, responded Jenkins. The Iowan with the surly disposition was little more than a half white form floating in the grainy dark to Hop, but the gruffness of his tone made his meaning clear.
“Yeah well, now you are waking the rest of us,” said a fourth voice from Jenkins side of the room, “so please yerself and shut your pie hole!”
Kelley chuckled, and the sound of his cot creaking spoke that he had turned over. The “Phantom” had subsided again, and Jenkins went to bed again with a grunt. Laying back, Hop closed his eyes and slowly drifted into a troubled sleep. He was taunted with the dream–more of a memory really–of that fateful day that he had received his wound, and of the churning hell of the battlefield.
Jenkins, Hop, and Kelley sat propped up in their beds, the bright sunlight suddenly streaming through the windows of the ward as one of the nurses drew the curtains. Days came and went this way, and it was easy to loose track. Often, the only way to really take note of the passing of time was the removal and addition of patients. Now, new forms had filled their ward; bringing fresh bandages and all the accompanying aspects of wounded men. Sounds of labored breathing, groans of pain and unconscious despondency--even the strange mix of various ointments, salves, and weeping wounds. Outside their ward, it sounded as though it was a busy day. Orderlies were no where to be seen, and only one nurse was seen drifting through to check on them. It’s a strange thing, thought Hop, to be a soldier in a hospital. To know what those around you have seen and experienced first hand, but often not know the men themselves. To share more in common with the man whose face is a mass of yellowed bandages, who cries out for friends who are likely no more--than the Surgeons or even those stalwart ladies who fought the establishment every day simply to offer care and compassion to the wounded. To know the war, to hate it and want nothing better than to return home--yet to feel strangely left out and seek eagerly whatever news of the progress and failings of ones own most despised subject.
What a strange thing, to seek so hard to survive the dangers and boredom of the army; days and hours spent complaining about bad food and little sleep, fool commands and close calls. Thinking always of home, and loved ones, and the end of it all. The terror of being hit, being wounded and dying or worse--becoming an invalid.
As time went on (assuming you survived your wound; the trip to the field hospital; the field hospital itself; the ministrations of the orderlies and surgeons; and everyday chance of infection during your recovery) the fear slowly subsided for most, and one became accustomed to their new role. Fate would begin to make her appearance in the room then, and soldiers would drift into those that would go back--and those that would go home. Some who would go back, were the men they were before; enduring and complaining and longing for home. Some others were changed by their wounds; as though the harm done them by their enemies made them hard and introspective. For those for whom the fear had never let go fully of their hearts, returning was terror. Hop had seen this, a private from Ohio who was literally dragged from the ward to be taken back to his company. He was a boy, as so many of them were, and had begged and cried for his mother. Hop often wondered what had happened to him.
Most of those that went home did so because they were used up; old men long before it was their time to be so. Young years bent under the weight of war, missing legs and arms and eyes. Human beings whose whole lives had been changed in one engagement. Standing up too soon from a trench--victims of the randomness of shrapnel and the whirring bullets. Some struck down by the flying bits of those who had stood beside them when the shells exploded amongst their company lines. Some of those wanted to go home, wanted to escape. Others felt like cowards slinking away into the safety of the cozy homestead and family awaiting them.
But today, both kinds of soldier felt the flurry of action beyond their walls and couldn’t help but be curious. They strained to hear, and cast curious glances at a few of the new men who had joined them. But these men were not yet sociable, still out of the world in a daze of injury and exhaustion. Beyond their doors, came shouting orders, the sound of scuffling feet, and the cries of wounded or dying men.
“Big offensive, must be.”, said Kelley nodding with excitement.
“Might be the push towards Atlanta, that’s said to be any day now.”, responded Jenkins.
“As if you’d know!”, said Hop chuckling. Jenkins shot him a dirty look.
“I know! Franklin told me, and an orderly hears things!”
“Hears you pass wind at night! Which is all your surmising is.”
“I don’t!” responded Jenkins, looking to Kelley for support and not finding it.
“You do, Jenk....raise the sheets on occasion too.”, said Kelley, smiling.
They were quite for a long time then, simply listening. Listening to men cry out in pain and terror, the bustle of action. The nurse wandered through, checking each of them with a glance as a stern nod. She was younger, but far from attractive. This one the one someone had given the nickname “stone face” because she had never once smiled at any of them. Indeed, from the look on her face, Hop rather imagined she likely had never so much as attempted the warm action in her life. Despite the demeanor, she tended to be the best for information--provided you were respectful in asking.
“So, what’s going on then?”, asked Kelley.
“The casualties are coming in from the campaign in Georgia. We’re only getting those that are mending or were not as badly wounded, and from the look of things it must be going well.”, said stone face with the tight lipped expression she always wore.
“Going well? How so?”, asked Jenkins.
“The numbers,” she replied as she started towards the doors, “when the numbers that overflow to us are small, it tends to mean things are going well. Mend quickly gentlemen--you might miss the rest of the war otherwise!” With that she was gone, leaving the ward in busy whispers.
“Mend quick, she says!”, said Kelley pointing after the nurse with a frown, “does she think we wanted to be here?”
“Stoneface” wandered out, and a short glimpse of people bustling back and forth was all that they were afforded of the war beyond their little piece of it. Hop lay back and stared up at the ceiling again, sighing loudly as he tried to master the dull ache in his side.
“Hey, Hop”, came the gruff tone of Jenkins from down the line of beds.
Hop didn’t sit up, but still staring at the ceiling he licked his dry lips and answered.
“Phantom’s gone. Must have had it in the night; poor guy.” , came the response. Hop felt elation at the possibility of a night of undisturbed sleep. How long had “The Phantom” been there? Long enough that they had gotten to where they simply took his presence for granted, and yet had not noticed that he had been silent the night before. It struck him suddenly too that Jenkins had said “poor guy”, suggesting some sort of compassion for a stranger who had otherwise only garnered scorn and displeasure.
“I hate this place.”, came a quiet voice from somewhere on the left.
“Could be worse”, said Kelley, “like them field hospitals. I was in one when they first got me off the field.”
“Yeah, we all were Kelley”, responded Jenkins.
Kelley was silent. The voice down to the left, quiet but steady, spoke again. “I suppose there are worse places.”
Hop closed his eyes, thinking of the worst place he had ever been. It was a small corn field, dry brown stalks all about, except where the passage of troops or eruption of artillery had gouged holes. He could almost still hear the sound that the dry stalks had made as they crunched through them, the corn rows giving way as they scraped against their woolens and leathers. The ground had been soft, and gave at their stepping, making the march difficult. In the ragged horizon of corn tassels and grey sky they could see the enemy flag waving this way and that. Corbin Hansen and his brother Thomas had both shouted insults at it and even fired trying to score a hit on this symbol of rebel pride. Hop was aware of the lines of the brush on the ceiling. He drifted between awareness of the conversation between the men around him and the remembered sounds of battle. The taste of powder, acrid and like nothing else, in his mouth. The overcast clouds had rolled like fish in the shallows of the river, when he and his brother Jacob would go throw stones at them. Why, now as an adult he didn’t understand. One of those childhood cruelties he supposed–they had been replaced with the cruelties of adulthood. The first enemy volley had come whistling through the corn at them, snapping and cutting stalks like some great invisible sickle. Then a second, clearly being fired blind into the corn but doing damage nonetheless. Hop felt the tightening in his stomach of anxiety and anxiousness–the corn never seeming to open up to allow them a chance to fight back. Instead, it seemed to replant itself just as they thought they should be free of it, and more fire poured into them. Men fell with groans, shrieks, some without a sound--falling hard face first into the dirt and fallen silage to the sickle of the enemy bullets. Suddenly, Jacob had been there at his side. Filling a hole left by Corbin Hansen, smiling at Hop with that usual devil may care look. He was smiling because he could finally get a chance to fire his weapon–Jacob had made sergeant and spent most engagements in the rear as a file closer. Jacob had joked many times that as the 5th sergeant he had the dubious honor of being more likely to have to fire on one of our own trying to skedaddle from a fight than the enemy. Hop had many times told him outright that he didn’t think Jacob was cold enough to shoot one of their own. Jacob had always been quiet, and simply mused that he was hoping one day to get into the fight himself and kill a reb. That day, he had his chance. When the corn was mercifully down to the last thin row between they and the enemy, his memories became blurred. Hazy, like someone had draped cheesecloth over his eyes.
Hop found it was often so when he tried to think about the tumult of combat. He supposed it was a way to protect himself from the horrors he had seen–and perpetrated. They had murdered the enemy before them that day. There was no other way that he could think of it, for soldiers kill as a matter of course. But they had waded into these men from Mississippi in a way that could only have been murder–coupled with the pent up fear and anger for being fired upon as they approached through the cornfield. Hop remembered clubbing a man with the butt of his rifle as the rebel drove at him with his long bayonet. For a moment, he felt the elation of survival again. His brother there beside him, shooting down a rebel as he ran away from them. Officers slowed the men down, reformed what was left of their line and started them forward again, just as the rebel artillery struck. It was hurriedly aimed, for the explosive shells fell far forward then behind them–but this was not so for the units on their right flank. One shell hit amid them, and blew men into vapor. Hop felt his face, for the rough scar on his temple–where some part of a man had driven itself into the flesh of his face. At the time, he had simply pulled the splinter loose and bled–only later did he realize the red white sliver was bone. Another shell burst over them, and though this battle–really only a skirmish that surely no historian would ever remember–was clearly in their hands, men were rattled. They pressed forward, firing into running men who would retreat and regroup under cover and start again. Hop admired the enemy for that, and wondered if he could have been so brave. Always at his side was Jacob, taking gleeful pleasure in loading and firing at the enemy. Impervious to bullets it seemed, never even flinching from the snap hiss of a close shot. He saw Thomas Hansen spin out of the line, and flop to the ground. His hands pressed tightly to his throat, as blood like a geyser pumped from him. Hop stopped then, rushed back to Thomas, whose eyes pleaded the pain and terror he was in.
“Hop, come on!”, shouted Jacob lagging behind, “they’re on the run!”.
“Hansen! God look at him! What do we do?”, Hop had shouted back. Jacob looked at the dying man whose blood had sprayed all over his brothers hands and the knees of his trousers as though he here not a man at all but simply part of the landscape.
“He’s dead. Get back in line.”, came his reply as a bullet zipped overhead.
Hop looked at his brother, this man who used to be his brother. His eyes were cold as steel. Stumbling to his feet, Hop wiped the sticky blood on his coat, and stared down at the lifeless body of Thomas Hansen. His eyes were pained, even in death–-his skin pale wherever he wasn’t painted in the bright red blood which had flowed so rapidly from him.
“Get back in line private.”, growled Jacob again. Hop dropped his rifle, suddenly unable to hold it up any longer. He had had enough, he couldn’t do anymore. He turned his back and a sudden panic–-a need to escape this inhumanity--gripped him. He was no longer in control of his feet, they chose to make him run. An officer cried out from somewhere, “Where is that man going? Stop! By God, stop you coward! Sergeant! Shoot him! Do your duty or I will!”.
Hop opened his eyes and took in the ceiling again, the late afternoon light fading. He wrestled with his thoughts, the madness of that moment. He couldn’t escape the feeling that his own brother had been the one who had shot him down; yet he was at a loss for why he was not recuperating in a stockade. The terror and conviction to run left him with a sense of shame, yet he could not bring himself to condemn himself further. Had he not fought in 8 other engagements with bravery and grit? He was no coward, this he was certain of. It had been the shock of his brothers utter lack of humanity; the drastic change in him that had made him run. That had been the final stroke against his ability to be rational, as he had been so many times before. Jacob wasn’t there anymore, but how–-and why?
“How did that happen to Jacob?.”, said Hop aloud to himself.
“War does strange things to men,” said the usually silent man immediately to his left. Hop turned and looked at him. He was an older man, beard and mustache shot through with grey and white. He was missing his left leg, and was bandaged on his right arm.
“Pardon?”, asked Hop, not sure this newer man was speaking to him at all.
“War does strange things to men. Some walk through it with no greater affect than to make them a little older; others are never the same.”, responded the man, turning his grey eyes on Hop.
Hop nodded. “Jacob is my brother.”
“He give you your wound there?”, asked the man.
“No.”, answered Hop suddenly.
“Huh, mine did–-well most likely or might as well.”, answered the man. “He’s a rebel, family near as split down the middle. I’m originally from Kentucky, and it was his regiment what did this to me”, said the man gesturing to his leg and arm with his free right hand.
“That’s awful.” responded Hop quietly.
“My brother, my enemy.”, said the older man, turning to stare at the ceiling. “But you know, I still love him, aint that funny?”
Hop found his eyes welling with tears, and he shook his head as he help back a gasp of sorrow. “Not really. I figure that’s what makes this all so bad.”
The older man sighed and nodded, and then returned to being quiet. Hop decided then and there, to harden his heart–-he could see no other recourse. For whatever reason, he was spared from the stockade for cowardice, and he would make the most of it. Perhaps that was why his brother has been so cold–-he understood that he had a job to do and the only way through the hell of this war was to push on with that duty. The feeling made him feel a little better, for he surmised that this meant the Jacob he knew wasn’t gone, just waiting for the end. Like mothers silly and impractical flowers that waited through the winter to sprout again in the spring. On that thought, Hop drifted into a deep sleep and rested well through the night.
He had mended, and was reassigned to his regiment–though he’d been gone for long enough that he was placed in a new company–-E–-which apparently had gotten pretty hammered and drew in more replacements than any other in the 5th. Hop made some new friends quickly enough, and kept a low profile in case the tale of how he’d been wounded ever came out. He had made sure to check on his brother, and found he was said to be very well and had risen to the position of 3rd sergeant in company A. Thus assured that Jacob was alright, Hop went about doing his best to remain detached and serious about their duty. He was determined to make the most of his second chance as a soldier. Though not the first company in line, some weeks of cold stalemate against a well entrenched rebel force supplied ample first test to his mettle. He came through very well, and soon Hop was promoted to corporal after being instrumental in taking the enemy by surprise during a night time raid to their trench. He had killed dispassionately, having learned how to close himself away from the moment. He felt nothing now, and many were the men in his platoon who looked to him for guidance.
Sitting one night in a forward skirmisher post, Hop and three others tried their best to listen for any sounds of the enemy. The night was so dark, that to orient onself you had to reach out to touch the sides of the entrenchment.
“Lord it’s cold. I thought it didn’t get cold down here in the south.”, said Timmons, fresh from the fields of Minnesota.
“It does,” responded Hop, “but wait until the heat, now THAT’S something.”
“Wish we had a fire,” said the other man, Henly, “feel like I’m in a deep hole with this darkness.”
“Sure, we can have a fire–assuming you don’t mind maybe attracting some reb mortar crew or crack shot. Usually don’t fight much at night, but why risk it?”, said Hop sagely.
There was no reply from the darkness, but Hop didn’t care. These new men had so much to learn yet, but that wasn’t their fault. They were fresh and hadn’t seen much yet. They would learn plenty in time. A sound made them all turn with their muskets and call out in a loud whisper “Who goes?”.
“It’s me, Dave.” came the reply.
“What’s the password?” asked Hop cocking his musket.
“Crimeny, ah...Ridgely”, came the response.
“Alright..come on in”, said Hop as he lowered his weapon and a black on black shadow slid into the shallow trench.
“Hey boys, just come up to tell you that there’s gonna be a group from A company that is going forward of our line to cause mischief–-they wanted you to know so you wouldn’t shoot them. Of course, they kinda suggested you wouldn’t be able to hit em anyway...but...”, said Dave Geoffrey, a private in E company as he felt around for his audience.
“Just for that, we ought to pop their lieutenant in the backside”, laughed Henly.
“It’s wide enough not to miss.” answered Timmons.
“Thanks Geoffrey, you staying or going back?”, asked Hop.
“Sadly, I must return to the rear–-promise I’ll save some stew for you boys though. Sergeant says your relief will be up soon–-so figure sometime before dawn.”, and with that Geoffrey scrambled as quietly as he could out of their hole and rapidly vanished into the dark around them.
Hop stared into the darkness, and soon heard very faint movement off to the left.
“Rebels corporal?” asked Timmons excitedly.
“That patrol of A company Timmons, listen–-sound is moving up from behind our lines. The enemy is off there, to the right center–-remember?”, responded Hop firmly.
“Right, just so dark...”, before Timmons could finish there was a shot–very close by–and a man cried out shortly. All three men leapt to the edges of the tench, and watched the darkness. Nothing more, until the sound of the patrol from A company slunk back towards friendly lines. For some minutes it was quiet, and finally Hop waved his two companions down.
“Sounds like the rebs wounded somebody...or maybe we did them one–-either way it’s over now. I guess those A company boys decided better of their little look see.”, said Hop as he got himself comfortable in the bottom of the trench.
“Now what corporal?”, asked Henly obviously nervous.
“Simply Henly. I’m gonna try and get some sleep, while you two keep your ears for odd sounds. Try not to shoot each other or any of our men–-wake me in an hour and one of you can get some rest.”, and with that Hop pulled his cap over his eyes (though there was almost no need, one could hardly see anyway) and tried for some rest.
It didn’t last long. From the darkness, forward and left of their hole came the soft sound of a man crying for help. Before either of them could do so, Hop was awake and peering into the gloom.
“We should go out and get him..that man is wounded, must be the one what we heard shot before.”, said Henly starting towards the lip of the hole. Hop grabbed him and tugged him back.
“You stay right there you fool. You go out there, and you could be shot by them OR our lines.”, said Hop in a heated whisper.
“But, corporal–-listen he’s”, said Timmons before Hop silenced him with a gentle jab to the chest.
“He’s dead, or will be soon. It’s hard, I know. But this is the way it is–-it’s not worth you getting killed for.”
There was silence, and Hop took it to mean they understood–-he returned to his place and tried again to sleep. The man suddenly went quiet, and the darkness was still.
“See,” said Hop,”now, wake me in an hour.”
15 minutes later, the voice called out again–-but louder.
“Help me, please, help me”, came the hushed sound. Hop awoke instantly, and felt deep resentment at once.
“Lord, won’t you die already?”, he spat out loud as he stood up.
“Please, it hurts,” said the voice, “someone help me.”
“Ignore him.”, said Hop again, “Henly why don’t you try for some rest.”
“Yes corporal.” said Henly, as Hop took his place. The voice was silent again, and stayed so for almost an hour, before coughing was heard and then a louder voice called out, “Help me, please!”.
“Poor fellow”, said Timmons in a whisper.
“He’d better to just go ahead and die–put us all out of misery.”, answered Hop, slightly angry.
“I suppose.”, answered Timmons quietly.
All through the night, the man cried out. As he became delirious, he began to call for his mother–-then for water–-and then he became hard to understand. About dawn, their relief finally came, and weary Hop and the others started back towards the line–-only to be told not to bother. Sometime during the night, the enemy had withdrawn. A group from A company was carrying a body back from forward–the man who’d they had heard crying out in the dark–-and Hop stepped over to take a look.
His brother Jacob was pale, his eyes rolled back into his head and dark blood had frothed from his mouth to dry at his lips. He tripped when the line was moving forward it was surmised, and his musket had gone off. The bullet, his own, had struck him in the stomach. Because of the darkness of the night, and because Jacob had been so far forward of his men, they hadn’t known where to find him–or even if the enemy had fired. As such, he had laid there all through the night and died.
Hop stood, ashen and shocked as he stared upon the man whom he had thought impervious to bullets. The man whom had been a stranger and whom he had wished would simply die as he cried for help in that dark night, so that he could get some rest. As Hop wandered back to the line, he realized that truly war does strange things to men in the course of it’s time. He piled his gear in his tent, and sat down in a heap on the cold ground. He felt a familiar stitch in the scar of the wound to his side, but ignored it. It paled by comparison to that which filled his heart; and he began to write home to tell his parents that Jacob, his brother and mother’s darling, would not be coming home.