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

Monday, July 15, 2013

A wander through Avoyelles Parish

There was really no question, but it seemed that everyone had to take a turn at the field glasses so that all would be satisfied. Honan quietly brought them to his eyes, and scanned the area beyond where the platoon was secreted in the brush and tangle. They had been assigned to scrounging supplies, which Corporal Dills and his ‘Rag-and-Ruffians’--as they were often called by their fellow soldiers--were very  accomplished at indeed. Now one did not enter into such duties as a soldier without the expectation that sometimes there would be complications--and even if you were assigned with a choice, sometimes shit happens. Such was the moment they found themselves in now, stopped dead on the road back to the battalion after a successful night of scrounging by an enemy outpost which had not been there the evening before. Honan scowled as he peered at the enemy, sucking his teeth a moment.

“They aint no fresh fish, that’s certain. See how they stand, the way they hold them muskets?” said Honan, looking away from the glasses a moment and nodding to Dills. “Yeah, them boys know their business.” He handed the glasses back to Corporal Charles Henry Dills, and shook his head. The Corporal looked again, and quietly sighed. “We will have to find a way around then.” He said at last, putting away the glasses and turning to his squad. He knew them all, very well indeed, and had served with them from the beginning. He had only recently been elevated by them as corporal, and he wanted to do right by their trust in him. His father had been corporal before him, but had been medically discharged after the fall of Vicksburg. His uncle, Charles, stood quietly in the trees opposite keeping vigil on the path they had traveled this far. Besides Uncle Charles and the rough-n-tumble Irishman Honan, he had been assigned three others. Private Henry (known by the boys as ‘Shoe’), Private Whitburn, and Private Sullivan (known lovingly as ‘Scratch’). Corporal Dills felt confidence in these men, both because he knew their quality but also from experience; every one a veteran of this war which sometimes seemed to have always been a part of his life. This was his third summer of the war, and the boy he had been was long gone now. His joints sometimes ached, he could not get through the day without his morning coffee and he found himself recognizing the wisdom in his own father and uncle. He had joined as a boy of 17, and had just reached his twentieth birthday the week before in an army camp. He knew he was changed as a person, the serious young man he had been--so determined to be a proper soldier--was looser now, but still serious.It was more than that though, and it bothered him sometimes how the beloved interests of home now only seemed to fatigue him when he tried to think of doing those things again. He stamped his foot, trying to clear his thoughts and turned his attention back to their situation. Looking around the area for ideas as to how they might skirt this unexpected outpost, Dills cocked an eyebrow. “Honan, take Whitburn and the pair of you scout up there--you see where that magnolia is standing--” Dills pointed off to their right as the pair of men came to stand beside him. “--just there, it looks like there might be a berm of earth there. It may screen our movement enough that we can slip past them and be on our way.” Honan clicked his tongue and spat a short stream of tobacco juice into the weeds.

“Right you are boss, come on.” He and Whitburn scrambled off, slowing their pace and crouching low as they went.Dills turned and raised his glasses upon the enemy, watching for any sign of danger. Their friends in the surprise outpost were ragged looking, scruffy faces and worn uniforms--but Honan had been right in his estimation as to their experience and likely skill. You could tell a man who had seen the elephant from one that was green or fresh simply by the look of him. How? For one thing, their appearance. Fresh replacements or those who had not been engaged in anything beyond fatigue details in the rear tended to maintain that clean and polished look. It might have driven some officers with delusions of regular army crazy, but troops in the field that truly knew their business, tended to look rough. Unshaven, uniforms askew with brass unpolished (or none left, having discarded it along the way), motley and surly looking when drawn up into formation. The greatest unspoken sign though, the one that truly told you if the man you were looking at could handle what the war would throw at him was how he held his musket. An experienced man, would never sling his musket if they were not in the rear--nor would he he allow the butt to rest on the ground if he was standing. Instead, their weapon was always held so as to make bringing it up to fire required the least amount of effort or time. As cliche as it was to say, an experienced man was one with his musket . He would sleep with it, eat with it, and rarely be out of contact with it. The fight out here in the West was often an impromptu affair, without so much of the arranged maneuvering and facing off as in the East. Here, small engagements erupted suddenly--violently and up close. Fights could come down to fists, musket butts and bayonets--and did on occasion. It was almost a nice change when the enemy was the shape of man some distance to be fired at with a prayer and as much luck of hitting anything--mostly the enemy was either unseen snipers or a man that was close enough to tell how long since last he had bathed. Dills felt a cyclone twisting in his gut, as he stood watching the enemy for any indication of their being aware of his men working their way along the berm. So far,it seemed they were in the clear--but then, one of them raised a musket and was sighting down the barrel at something. Dills heart began to race, Shoe was whispering loud in his ear--’Shit-shit Corporal, they see them! They must see Honan, we gotta fire!’--and then Shoe was cocking his musket. Dills slapped down Shoe’s musket with a derisive hiss, and rounded on the others.

“Take aim, but NO ONE fires unless I give the order!” he growled, turning back just as a shot rang out. One of the others in the outpost groused loudly at the waste of ammunition, until the man who had fired bounded forward and rose up with a fat groundhog from not far from the berm.

“Hey, gots us some decent eatin’ fer a change!” shouted the man with the groundhog, wandering back to the group with the bleeding animal hanging limp in his hand. Dills looked to the others and motioned for them all to lower their muskets. He could only imagine what Honan and Whitburn thought when they heard the shot, as he wiped cold sweat away from his face with the back of his arm. The shooter was cuffed by one of the others, and though not all of the conversation was easy to hear, it was obvious that this fellow was a newer addition to the group.

“...telling everyone we’re out here....think next time ‘fore you do somethin!” The man with the bleeding rodent shrugged and was patted on the shoulder. He set to skinning and dressing his kill, while the others resumed their watchful relaxation. Honan and Whitburn appeared back a moment later, the irishman smiling.

“Near shit myself when that musket went off!” he said with his usual familiar aire, shaking his head and spitting tobacco into the weeds. “Hello of a shot though--you see that groundhog? Big bastard, I mean he was..” Corporal Dills held up and hand and interrupted. “Swap congratulations with Johnny later--can we sneak out along the berm?” Honan looked sheepish, and shook his head. “We’d be covered to a point, but once we started off for home--they’d not only see us not far into it, but we’d have to have our backs to ‘em. I for one, aint gonna have that fella what shot that groundhog shooting at me unless I can see it coming!” Dills swore under his breath, and wandered back towards the gathered sacks of their scrounged supplies. They would have to fight their way out, and though they had the advantage--seeing at the enemy didn’t know they were there--two things nagged at him which he began to mentally turn over in his head. They were not far within enemy held territory, rather the sort of grey zone one found formed between lines--but that tended to be where one ran into the enemy. As such, they had no idea if there were other outposts nearby, nor if they would find themselves suddenly facing more enemies drawn once the shooting started. It was a risk, but he knew this would come to blood. And that, Dills found suddenly, was what bothered him most.

He had killed men. He wasn’t one to boast or find pride in that, and in truth it even bothered his conscience now and then. But, those men had died in battle. They had tried to kill him, as he tried to kill them. They had been fighting for ground or an objective--but it was someone else who made the choice to engage and fight for whatever it was they fought over. Now, he would be the one choosing to spill blood, and though he knew it ultimately was for the survival of his own men--it also was to protect and bring back supplies they had stolen. Would the supplies be useful--even necessary? Yes. But it struck Dills that this war, as awful as it had been, had finally reached the point of killing over stolen goods, and THAT bothered him. In the end, there was no choice, and he knew it. But he would remember this decision, and it further turned his stomach regarding scrounging--something he never had cared for to begin with. He briefly thought on if they might simply take the rebels captive,surprise them unawares--but the hard voice of his experience discarded that thought. It might assuage his guilt, make him feel better about what must be done, but there were too many things that could go wrong. Too many ways his men and himself might end up on the wrong end of things to take the chance. He frowned, and saw what he had before him. Saying a silent prayer and asking for forgiveness, He turned back to his men and gathered them together.


Theodore Hailey Coulton was so happy, he could burst. His mother and father had meant well, he knew that, but at last he had escaped their will and joined up. Now here he was, a soldier, and serving alongside men that were real hard cases--veterans! Sure, he still tended to step wrong when ordered to march, he made mistakes of course! But these fellows, they knew their business,and he was learning from them everyday. Okay, so shooting that critter had drawn a little ire from Will, but hadn’t he remarked later what a great shot it was? No one said a cross word once that groundhog had started sizzling on the fire neither, and that was a fact. He sat back against the tree, his musket in hand as Joe had taught him, and looked about at these men who he secretly worshipped. They were real fighters, and he longed to be seen as one of them. So far, he was ‘boy’ to them--but that would change. He would earn his place here, if it was the last thing he did. Joe and Will were up watching, Henry Dowd and his brother Frank looking at the old letters from their mother. Daniel was turning the groundhog on the small fire they had, lord but that smelled good! They had been living off of the land a lot lately, since the damn Federals had cut their supply lines again. Seemed sometimes that the cavalry--which was supposed to work at protecting their supply lines--was truly good for nothing more than parades, like Joe said. Joe would know, he’d been the in regular army during the war with Mexico--and he looked it. Turning his head, Theodore saw Joe stop suddenly as he looked about into the gloom of dusk. As Joe started to turn to whisper to Will, a shot rang out and the side of his face was blown away. A  musket lead whizzed over the campfire and struck sparks from a rock not a foot away, while Will’s shout of alarm was cut short when a bullet tore through his chest and dropped him atop the Dowd brothers. Fear suddenly grabbed at Theodores throat,and he choked and sputtered as he flung himself across the ground in an effort to find cover. Henry was hit in the belly as he rose trying to get up from under Will, the well read letter from their mother scattering about. One of the pages fell into the flames, and was slowly consumed. Daniel rose and sighted on something before firing back, only to had a bullet skim off the top of his musket and through his right eye. He collapsed and began to scream horribly, thrashing about with his legs and kicking the groundhog fully into the fire. The smell of the meat intensified, and then changed as it burned and charred. Frank was trying to haul his brother away towards the woods, and Theodore lost sight of them when he heard and then felt a musket lead slam into his right shoulder. He was thrown down, and he ate dirt and grass, the pain not registering at all until he felt for his wound and came back with blood and chips of bone--his own. He vomited, wanting to go home--wishing he had never joined. Daniel lay with his feet in the fire now, no longer moving. A soldier appeared in the red light of the fire and dusky sky, he was compact and his eyes were hard. This was the enemy, Theodore thought as the man swung his musket and slammed the butt into his jaw. He heard a crack as his head snapped around, the world turned upside down, and then all was dark.

He felt himself floating, an irresistible urge to sleep.

He realized as he let go, and floated away into a place where he felt no more pain, that indeed he had made his place as one of them--as they last thing he did.

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