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.

Sometimes, I sit about and think about what it was like for the people we portray; how they coped with those issues that are touched on at an event, but never quite get to live out. I know I have always wondered what those first days were like for those companies of the 5th that had initially been left behind in Minnesota, upon rejoining their regiment in the south. Were they accepted? Did people question their skills, and ability to handle the pressures of battle? This is what spawned the idea for my first short story about the Fifth Minnesota; and this collection.

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

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Across the Black River

To French, it almost felt as though he was caught in a nightmare. Sound seemed distorted, movement slowed and yet  everything was moving so fast at the same time--his vision narrowed to take in only the men around him. The enemy was drawn up in the large open field, standing in rows of patchwork quilt shades of color. The column burst from the thicket which screened them from the enemy in two places; officers growling orders, the sound of brogans pounding at the double quick as the snaking blue battle lines broke opposite before being roughly refused by shoving and barking sergeants. French was shoved into his place in line, the now familiar rush of feeling and clarity of awareness washing over him. Anxiety, excitement, fear, elation, the madness of the battlefield churned within him. He forced himself to breath, breathing out deeply with a sigh as lines of blue continued to double quick behind his row. “Bastards were just sitting here, waiting on us!” Someone said from down along the rank. French had to agree with the sentiments, though it left him with a sinking feeling he knew was widely shared. The rebels seemed in no rush to engage, and their position was such that they clearly had a good spot. In numbers, the odds favored the Federals some--unless of course the enemy had men in the trees which lined the far side of the field. A call sounded to fix bayonets; followed by a discordant symphony of steel drawn and clattering metal. Someone behind him slapped his shoulder, his touch bringing everything else out of focus for a moment. “Luck French--see you after!”

French smiled grimly. Orders were shouted which he hardly heard, but his body knew what came next, and he shouldered his musket along with the rest. The rebels eyed their lines, and suddenly the distance between them didn’t seem so far. Close enough, but across that short and deadly space fate awaited. Chance. Some men believed that if you were killed it was simply your time. French had lost such belief; for he had seen the waste and meaningless end of far too many. Death was random, and fell as often upon the undeserving as deserving. The line was standing firmly, but you could feel the pent up energy of the men all around them. It reminded French of the way you can feel a horse straining to move forward when halted after a canter, forcing itself to mind when nature demands something different. In this case though, the desire was to get through the task at hand--to survive--and many a man fought within himself the urge to seek cover or run. The order was given and the lines moved --their enemy raising muskets level in murderous intention. Some steps faltered then, but the lines continued forward across the field despite dread anticipation welling up like cool water from the depths of their thoughts. French was counting his steps, a habit which always seemed to come unbidden in moments like these. When he had counted his eighth step, the enemy opened fire.


They say that in the heat of battle, everything slows down. Life is slow motion. Whomever ‘they’ are that says so, French decided, was wrong. The engagement seemed to happen in anything but slow motion, their lines moving across a field of screaming bullets and the smell of blood tinged with gunpowder. Before he knew it, he was reaching the tree line, chasing an enemy that had chosen to fall back. It seemed to him that he had slept through the moments from their first volley to now--having no clear recollection of when the enemy had started pulling back. It did not matter though; having seen the backs of their foe a frenzy had set in to the Federals, a bloodlust which seemed to erase the fear and uncertainty of their opening moments on the field which made sane men rush headlong without breaking stride.In his head a voice of reason was shouting for him to stop, but he ignored it--French was angry. His heart was pounding in his chest as he rushed headlong after the grey and brown clad enemy,  the underbrush nearly sending him sprawling but catching his footing with a shout of rage. No, you won’t escape me that way, he thought. Even if the land itself rises up and tries to halt my steps, I will have you! These were not men anymore to him, they were like prey now and he was the wolf--his fear of death and injury boiled away and leaving only a stabbing worry that they might escape and elude his wrath. Men were shouting, some on the verge of hysterical screaming as they charged on up a hardscrabble rise and into the edge of the trees. A volley met their charge--singing lead dropping men, leaves and branches with equal conviction. French slid to a halt amongst leaves, the smell of mildew and soil filling his nostrils as he brought his musket up. He tried to calm his breathing, sighting down the barrel at the back of a man who was doing his best to scramble away though the thin tree trunks. Slowly he squeezed the trigger, willing that the lead loaded within to seek his enemy. He would have liked to have said this was for all those that had died in this God forsaken campaign--a sacrifice to the frustration and senselessness of the war--but he knew better. Men don’t think of such lofty things in the blood, pain and dirt; vengeance rarely if ever encourages greater morality. He gently squeezed the trigger and the musket roared flame, smoke curling and drifting like phantoms amongst the trees. His target jerked forward, his musket clattered away as the man tumbled to the ground. French bit too low on the paper cartridge as he reloaded, spilling powder down his chin and filling his mouth with an acrid taste. Smoke billowed through the trees, as the wind changed and the combined discharge of musketry and cannon drifted heavy opaque around them. Everywhere came the crack and flash of weapons, and before long the smoke obscured the visibility of the field. As he returned the rammer to its place, French realized with a shock that he was wholly alone--but for the man he had shot down some distance before him. The heat within his heart ebbed, and utterly failed as he became aware of how exposed and alone he was. He turned, scanning what he could make out through the slow clouds which hung thick in the humid air, feeling his heart race. A noise from somewhere off before him pricked his ears, and French knelt on instinct. He sighted along the barrel, but the only movement which drew his aim proved to be the feeble attempts by the man he himself had shot down to crawl away. The snap-hiss of a musket lead passing too close forced him face down, eyes wide like a rabbit who has the scent of a fox but doesn’t know yet where he stands. A nearby tree suddenly erupted in a geyser of splinters and bark as bullets collided and cracked loudly in his ears. Sound was hard to distinguish, the sound of battle continuous all about but difficult to place for distance or direction. All at once it wasn’t so hard, and French brought his musket up best he could and sighted ahead as the movement of men became plain before dark shapes began to appear from the smoke. His courage failed him at the last moment and laying sprawled face down, he did his best not to breathe. So many, too many, he thought. I’m dead, he thought, run right by me. No one takes note of the dead, especially not ones enemy. Ignore me, run right on by me! The first pair of brogans went by what little he could see past the soil and his bent visor; the second stepped on his musket and pinched his fingers--but he stifled the shout of indignation stoically. Suddenly his plans were dashed, as the heavy thump of feet stopped behind him, and he felt hands upon his coat sleeve. Are they robbing me? Oh God, they will discover me now! He was flipped over, and sure he was about to be found out and made prisoner, he instead saw a familiar powder smeared face. At first the eyes held him in sorrow, but all at once the face broke into that lopsided grin and shouted--”Look, it’s French! I took you for dead, but you look alright! What happened?”

French blinked hard, and shook his head. “I tangled with that one there”, he said gesturing to the rebel whom he had shot down, “but I tripped and knocked myself silly. I’m alright Dawes, help me up.” He was pulled to his feet, and Dawes ushered him on back towards the lines.

“Nasty business ahead, and no doubt they will be coming in force back at us. Them bastards was drawin’ us in French--we got our dander up and charged ‘em alright--straight into a further mess of them formed up in ambuscade!” French looked at Dawes in surprise.

“More of them?”

“Thats right friend, plenty more--and organized. Only thing what saved us was our boys aint afeared of using cover and ducking! They peppered the trees but good though, and we all just lit off back. Lost a couple I’m sure, but it’ll be more further if we don’t get back!” He didn’t wait for his words to register, but followed along with others that came loping out of the fog of war back the way they had come. French looked back once with a sense of alarm towards the drifting opaque cloud before setting off quick after Dawes. Every step towards the relative brightness of the tree line he expected to hear the zip of lead chasing him, but only a heavy silence chased him into the open fields where officers and sergeants awaited with shouts and indignation.

“Sons of bitches! Get the hell back in line! Charging off like that--the fool thing to do!” Shouted someone as a hand roughly shoved him towards the reforming lines. French didn’t fight the rebuke, but fell in beside Dawes and nodded to a wave from Keller. It wasn’t immediately apparent who was missing simply because men kept appearing from points along the woods, so French stopped worrying about it and focused on checking his gear. In throwing himself down, he had lost some cartridges, but not too many. This is why--he chided himself--you always button up your box! As it turned out the sergeants were passing around extra ammo anyway, so he simply took a few more for himself. Sergeant Willingham appeared before them, with Spoonts and Erikson in tow. He cast his mean little eyes over the ranks for a moment before turning his head and launching spittle at the ground before him.

“French! You’re nominated, got a detail for you.” Dawes slapped his shoulder, and murmured a wish of ‘good luck’ quietly. Willingham started off towards the knot of officers where the Colonel was sure to be, French looking from Spoonts to Erikson for some sign of what he had been “nominated” for exactly. Spoonts simply looked ahead, while Erikson mouthed ‘no idea’. French swore silently to himself, and knew that his mother would be shocked to hear the curses her son had learned to use so well.


“Simply put, I need to know the ground.” Shaw didn’t even look at them when he spoke, standing in what French imagined might be seen as a heroic pose if seen in some musty larger than life painting.

The Major nodded’ and looked to the Captain. The Captain frowned and turned to the Sergeant. Chain of command, French thought as he, Spoonts and Erikson stood nearby. The Captain nodded to Willingham and looked over the rest of them. “Use caution, no heroics Sergeant.” The Captain said stiffly.

Willingham nodded and saluted. “We have no idea where the enemy is, and I must know!” Added Colonel Shaw stamping his foot--the petulance of the Colonel’s action gave a sudden fire to his frustration and dislike for the man, and French lost all control.

“Begging your Colonel’s pardon, Sir,” French spat staring hard at Shaw’s back, “but the enemy is just over there--”. Willingham was trying to shout him down, whilst the Major was going red in the face--but French would not be stopped. “--and according to those that just saw them, Sir, they are coming en masse.”  

Sergeant Willingham shoved him hard into place, and was frothing at the lips in a low guttural growl  until the Colonel gently elbowed his way to stand before French himself. The officers cool blue eyes scanned his own, a slight smirk showing at the corner of his thin lips. “You will forgive me Private, if I desire to have such reports verified. I have only seen those enemy which were engaged here, and pursued against orders into the wood. I require more intelligence before I commit my forces to engagement.” Shaw turned and looked hard at Captain Arkins, and then gestured towards French dismissively.

This, Captain is an example of why discipline is so necessary in ranks. I can see that Colonel Hubbard has been too lax with his officers--it shows so keenly in the temper of the men. Major, I want my report as soon as it may be had. I won’t be caught unawares by the enemy!” The Colonel turned and stepped back towards where some maps had been arranged upon a stump, making it evidently clear that they were dismissed. The Major frowned and Sergeant Willingham was already shoving them away, leaving Captain Arkins standing with a look of absolute fury as he stared off in no particular direction. When the Sergeant had led his detail out of sight of the officers, he suddenly rounded on French and jammed the butt of his musket into his gut. The air was driven suddenly from French, and doubling up he collapsed to his knees with a wet sounding grunt followed by a wheezing cough. Spoonts backed off and watched with great round eyes, but Erikson and knelt down and threw an arm around French as Willingham stood menacingly over them. “Sergeant! There was no call--” Spat Erikson before the Sergeant interrupted with a bark. “Shut your mouth or I’ll give you one too--and French! One more boy, one more time out of line and so help me I’ll see you beaten to mush--I swear to God! Now get up, we have work to do!” Willingham didn’t wait, but turned and started for the treeline, Spoonts falling in behind him eagerly.
“That weren’t right, he had no call to strike you like that.” Growled Erikson as he helped French to his feet. After a few steps French was sore but able to carry on himself, and they jogged half-heartedly after the Sergeant. French coughed, and shook his head.

“I’m more worried that that bastard Shaw won’t listen to the word of a man that saw how the ground lies already. We shouldn’t be here Erikson,” The Sergeant and Spoonts ducked into the trees ahead of them as French frowned. “We are gonna wish we never was before this is over.”

Erikson just nodded, and the pair passed under the branches into the dimness beyond. Willingham was looking back for them, and waved for them to come along quick. The four of them spread out, muskets held low and ready. It was moving into late afternoon now, and the shadows were thick under the trees. Smoke still drifted in dense clouds, making the view before them into nothing more than grey hazy outlines. Every sound was magnified, and French would have sworn that the others must have been able to hear the pounding of his heart, but he knew that wasn’t so. A snap of a twig made the hair on the back of his neck stand up, and all four dropped to a knee as one. French peered hard into the trees and gauzy smoke, but could see nothing. They started forward once more, and soon came upon the man that French had shot down himself, turned to one side on the forest floor. Willingham kicked him, savagely--then grunted in satisfaction that he was in fact, dead. He wasn’t terribly old, this dark haired pale man-- who had been the enemy and now looked simply rather sad and forlorn as French looked down at him. Spoonts went over, and immediately started to rifle through the dead man’s pockets under the watchful gaze of the Sergeant. Spoonts held something in his hands for a moment, showed it to Willingham before tossing it callously away into the brush. French reached down and retrieved it, discovering a small crude frame holding a cracked image of a woman with dark soulful eyes. Erikson watched about nervously, Spoonts simply announced that the dead man had nothing of value on his body, and Willingham called that they should move forward a little further. French looked at this man whom he himself had shot, and felt a sudden fatigue to the depth and core of himself. Erikson looked back, and cocked his head.

“You coming?” He did not seem to notice the man, dead before them. French felt the fatigue turn cold within him, and allowed the object in his hand to fall without a sound at his feet. He nodded and followed after the others--the soulful eyes of the woman in the image staring on into the sky.

In the end  the enemy had pulled back, leaving only the man they had come across in the trees as evidence of what the second platoon claimed they had run into during their charge. They had been lucky to this point, and though there were a few men with grazes and shoulder wounds, the regiment was still largely in good order. As they returned from their scout, the column was in a state of preparation and it was easy to see why--a great drifting cloud of dark thick smoke was rising just off on the horizon from just about where the bridges were located. Willingham swore, and shoved the three of them back to get into line.

The enemy, wily as ever, had engaged them in an attempt to delay their advance towards the bridges so as to give sappers time to destroy the crossing. The column stood in a wide cleared field which ran to rutted mud and pebbles close to the water, watching as the tall wooden supports and remaining bridge decking smoldered--or in some places still burned with a hiss and pop. Several empty barrels lay strewn near the waters edge, the remains of the pitch which the enemy had lain over the bridges to ensure that little would halt the fire’s work once begun. The sudden disappearance of the enemy now made perfect sense to French, as he wrinkled his nose against the lingering acrid smoke made vile by the presence of pitch. The men might have felt inclined towards venting the rage at finding their objective destroyed had the Colonel not been so magnificently engaged in doing so himself in plain view of everyone. He stood half in and half out of the water, swearing loudly and waving his sword about so that his officers were wisely inclined to await his pleasure some distance back. Willingham was scanning the ranks, daring anyone to smirk or chuckle at the Colonel’s display. At last, Shaw seemed to have shed his demons, for he quieted down and stood for a bit simply staring at what was left of the bridges as the brown water coiled and swirled past. When his sword had been returned to its scabbard with a faint snap, his officers approached him--but cautiously. They conferred, leaving the men still standing as before in the setting sun and humidity. Dawes whispered to no one in particular that ‘that was that’, but French didn’t think so. The bridges were gone, but the Colonel remained. In short order there was a call for the battalion to stand at attention, and they were marched to form a crescent facing the destruction. As French turned with the others to front, he knew his suspicions were about to be proven true.

The Colonel paced as he waited for the evolutions of protocol to come to an end, and everyone stood quietly watching him. For a moment he simply stared about, and then all at once he took a deep breath and spoke loudly for all to hear. “As you can see, the enemy was here before us.” He turned a moment and looked hard at the smoldering ruin, before taking up a slow pacing to and fro before the assembled men. “I am very disappointed in you all--ashamed of the conduct of this battalion!” Spittle flew from his lips, and French felt the words like a slap across his face. Glancing to his side he could see many of the men felt the same. Ashamed of their conduct? What had they done, but follow orders?

The Colonel continued unabashedly. “I don’t know what sort of command you are used to--I suspect one lacking in professional merit--but this will change! This failure is yours--and I expect better!” There were some grumbles now, but they went unheard by the Colonel and the sergeants silenced any further efficiently. “This is the United States Army, by God!” Shaw half screamed it, but then seemed to gain his composure and straightened his blouse before looking to Captain Arkins and barking--”We camp here tonight. See to it Captain!” Arkins saluted smartly, and somewhere in the ranks French heard a soldier mutter a curse.

Their camp, such as it was, proved comfortable enough. It may simply have been that everyone was so exhausted that anywhere would have done as well, but French had found it was best not to examine such things too closely. For one thing, who had the energy to do so--and if it proved lacking, what could you truly do about it? He tented with Dawes, Erikson and Grady, and after a great deal of trial and error they found a way to button together their shelter halves so that everyone was happy. Grady proved his worth in returning with an armload of cattail leaves which made for dandy bedding--though the ever quiet man merely nodded when lavished with praise. French wanted so badly to remove his brogans, but hesitated. If they were called upon to move suddenly, he might regret doing so. In the end, he couldn’t stand it and removed them anyway. There was a hush from the others, but shortly they too followed suit and all four of them moaned with the pure pleasure of release from confinement.

“That’s the first I’ve had them off since we went in the river and I had to dry them out.” Mused Dawes, rubbing his feet with a shiver.

“Smells like it too.” Smiled Erikson, and everyone chuckled. Everyone began to stretch out, men finding comfort for themselves half tangled up with others and not caring. It reminded French of his youth, and sharing a bed with his three younger siblings. He suddenly wondered how they were--and where now in this never ending affair. He gave a silent prayer for them, trying not to think of them any other way but well and whole. “You know”, French mused quietly,”I cannot for the life of me recall the faces of my brothers.” It was silent a moment as everyone chewed that over. To his surprise, it was Grady that answered. “You’ll see them again, and you’ll realize that you never forgot them--not really.” French puzzled on that response a moment, and would have answered but Grady rolled to his side and pulled his cap over his eyes. No one else spoke, and so French held his tongue--listening instead to the soft breathing of Erikson beside him, already asleep. The sky was was growing red-orange, and somewhere nearby someone was snoring to wake the dead. French thought a moment of the woman in the broken photograph and closed his eyes. No he decided, even that noise would never wake the dead.

The next morning they broke camp, eating cold rations on the march under a sky which promised rain. The Colonel was in fine form, and seemed quite recovered from the day before. A place where the river could be forded was found a short ways upstream, though it meant that everyone was to be wet through once more. Accoutrements and musket over his head, French followed in ranks through the chest deep water--cold snapping him awake--and up the other bank. They appeared to be headed back, which was good--but on the opposite side of the river. There was trading of whispers and prognostication of course amongst the men as to what they were doing exactly, but no one could guess. They broke from the brush and woods by late afternoon and found themselves on a road--an honest to goodness road--and as the whole of the battalion marched the sound seemed to bring the men to life. They stood taller, wet and caked in mud, but fierce and determined. French felt it, a surge within him of energy and purpose. Something about the sound of their marching feet reminded them that they were one--and for that time the aches of feet and shoulders were forgotten. As they turned a bend in the well pack earthen roadway, they saw a town before them--no, more a village nestled along the river. Still, it boasted some taller buildings of good masonry, and French thought they must be warehouses or some such regarding the river. Men whispered at the sight of the settlement--like explorers returned to civilization after being lost in some wild place--as they passed a small farm where an elderly woman halted rocking on the porch and watched them with some surprise. Three children were working a small garden near the house, and each one gathered up their things and scurried towards the back of the house. French wasn’t sure which side this community was one--he knew this area had quite a few pockets of Union loyalists--but when the order came for arms port, he felt a little better being prepared. Women and children surely were no threat--but what if there were others out of sight? They marched but a short way before they were halted, and platoons were divided and dispatched from the column to search the town and grounds for signs of rebel activity. For once, Shaw’s orders were not met with grumbling--if they were going to be here any amount of time, everyone wanted to be sure there weren’t any enemy sharpshooters just waiting to take a shot on them. The platoons peeled from the column from the rear of the battalion, and so French didn’t see but only heard the old woman shouting at someone as she took them to task for bothering ‘decent folk’. The musicians played a simple beat at the order of the Colonel, which somehow sounded all the more intimidating as the drum beats echoed back from the buildings which rose up around them. People were gathering now, a few here and there at first--but shortly little clusters formed in doorways to the warehouses and one near a small inn and tap house whose sign named it ‘Plow and Dell’. Colonel Shaw strode erect, followed by his officers and the colors--French glanced around at high windows and he marche, his gut clenched as he wondered if they might be under an enemy rifle even now. A tall,plainly dressed man in a simple coat and vest broke away from the group near the taphouse and approached the Colonel with his hands clearly visible--Shaw halted and nodded to the man. Eyes fixed on them, ready for trouble--the journey behind them and its troubles near to their minds, and no chances taken. Above him and slightly behind, there was movement suddenly from a window in the warehouse,and someone shouted ‘He’s armed!’ as half of the second platoons muskets turned and there was a short volley followed by the sound of shattering glass. That was the last that French could honestly speak to with any clarity. In times later, he would try very hard to understand how the events had unfolded afterward--but it was a blur. Someone was shouting ‘Don’t shoot!’--as the smoke of the first volley tumbled down amongst them--they heard what they thought was musket fire and suddenly everyone simply leveled and opened up. Dawes was attacked by someone,and seeing his struggling French fired at near point blank and blew the mans head away in a jet of flame. Dawes just stood looking down at the dead man as French and others poured into the warehouses in search of the enemy. Everywhere was shouting, somehow a fire had started in the second of the large masonry buildings along the river, and now thick black smoke drifted everywhere. French followed two lads he didn’t know up a flight of stairs and through several long hallways.One of the two ahead of him crashed hard through a green door, and into a room shouting ‘He was in here, I know it!’.

French ran through the doorway, only to stop suddenly when he found the pair standing still in the room before him.His feet crunched in shards of window glass as he peered around the two soldiers he did not know. A boy, not much more than 12 or 13 lay curled up on the floor in a slowly expanding pool of blood. Laying at his side, the fabric furled in a tight roll about the dark colored pole, was a flag--the Federal emblem, Old Glory--slowly soaking in the pool of blood.

“It was a flag Johnson--son of a bitch, it was a flag!” Shouted the younger man. The other, whom French assumed must be Johnson just shook his head as he mumbled--”It was a musket, I saw it in his hand as he started out the window...I saw it...I saw it....”. French stumbled back into the hall, suddenly sick. Outside he heard shouting, a scream broke through that and then more musket fire. Johnson and the other soldier came into the hall, looking at him only briefly before trotting off back towards the stair. After one last look at the dead boy, French followed them. The lower floor was engulfed in smoke now as well as the fire he had seen from next door was spreading to this building--he hardly noticed as he came back into the street again. Someone was cuffing him hard across the head suddenly, and then he was shoved into ranks--The Colonel standing with his revolver drawn and held expectantly at his side. The man French had seen previously in the plan coat and vest lay dead in the gravel behind Shaw--flames were beginning to break through the windows of the other warehouse. Dawes laid a hand on his shoulder and shook him. “Why French?! Why did you shoot him?!” No words came to his mind, but he saw the boy curled up with the Federal Flag slowly drinking up blood--a boy shot because someone thought he had a musket. Dawes just stared hard at him, and shook his head.”Why French?! These people are Unionists, that man was begging us to stop shooting!” Willingham shoved Dawes, and told him to shut up--the battalion was called to attention and everyone fell into place. Nothing made sense to French anymore.

The fire was a red and orange monster, which danced among the tall brickworks of what had been warehouses along the river. Dusk was coming on, and the sergeants had to shout loudly over the roar of the fire as it consumed goods, timber and masonry--orange and yellow reflected from the green-grey water of the river. Ash fell upon their shoulders like black snowflakes, as their column marched away from the billowing smoke. A man, whose coat was scorched in places, shouted at them in a voice hoarse with emotion--but the soldiers steeled themselves as best they could. French couldn’t hear him over the thoughts within himself. The man wept as an ember fell and slowly burned on his shoulder--before the smoke billowed about and he was lost to view. As the column marched across the rough street and further on the road that took them out of town, the light of the fires cast their shadows across the ground ahead of them. The shadows danced, and altered in the flickering blaze--sometimes the shapes of men, and other times reminiscent of devils.

“Keep on boys--I know you are torn over it, but what been done is beyond making different.” Said a sergeant as he walked along the column to the left. “It’s war, and it is a cruel thing.”

What makes a man cruel, French thought suddenly, or war so horrible? He caught a glimpse of Spoonts, jealously examining a gold watch he had clearly stolen--and then Dawes, whose eyes ran with tears and whose face was a mask of misery and grief. Which was he in the end, if measured against the realities of this war which would leave his generation a scar that would never fully heal. He could not answer his own question, and hanging his head, French simply concentrated on making each step on the road before him.

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