A Civil War Story

Stanstead Journal - - NEWS - Spe­cial Col­lab­o­ra­tion Tony O’con­ner Derby, VT

Ely sat silently, al­most com­pletely sub­merged in the mud. Mud that was more water than earth. Half an hour ear­lier he had been hit in the hip. He still wasn’t en­tirely sure what had hit him or where it had come from. A smile seized him at the pos­si­bil­ity that he had been struck from be­hind by a mis­fired shell of his own ar­tillery. He knew things like that hap­pened all too of­ten. Although he was un­able to sit com­pletely straight up, he could still twist his head and he found it strangely amus­ing to watch his own blood mix with the brown water. It formed lit­tle pools near the pro­trud­ing roots & clung to float­ing leaves. It seemed odd to be con­cen­trat­ing on such unim­por­tant things. Wasn’t he sup­posed to have his life flash­ing in from of him as he was dy­ing? Yet he felt his death was in slow mo­tion. In some ways he was sur­prised his mind was work­ing so well - or at least he thought it was. White bits of his hip­bone and fibers of his blue uni­form were stuck in the trench wall just above his head. It was like a work of art in some rich man’s hall­way. He had no thought of sur­vival! He knew that he must die - an­other coun­try boy sac­ri­ficed on the al­tar of free­dom. And why not me he rea­soned; it was all luck. It was just his time. When it had hap­pened, he felt noth­ing but he heard the thud that four years of ex­pe­ri­ence had taught him was louder than a mini ball en­ter­ing his tanned flesh. The pain was only bad for a short time and was rapidly fad­ing away. He was grate­ful for that. He al­ways knew he didn’t want to sur­vive a bad wound and there was no ques­tion that this was in­deed a bad one! It gave him some com­fort that all of his lower body was hid­den in the wa­tery slop. This way he never ac­tu­ally got to see his in­jury. He fig­ured his man­hood had been com­pro­mised and he didn’t want that to be his last earthy sight. It was all so de­grad­ing but it would have been even worse to have had oth­ers stand­ing around star­ing at him the way he of­ten pitied the wounded af­ter pre­vi­ous bat­tles. Calm came over him as he re­al­ized his com­rades in arms were all gone. They had all charged over the wall a half hour ago seek­ing elu­sive glory. A glory, which he had learned could not be found in a war. Es­pe­cially if glory was to found in de­stroy­ing some­one else’s prop­erty and breath. Strange, he hadn’t even reached the top of the trench when he found him­self fall­ing back­wards into the waste and slime at the bot­tom of this seven foot ditch. It was the same bot­tom he had been avoid­ing so well for weeks. His pals of­ten com­mented on how clean and dry he kept him­self. He had seen the aw­ful re­sults of al­low­ing feet to get wet. Liv­ing life with one leg was not for him. He would rather die than be a crip­ple and a bur­den on his young wife Mar­gret and their two daugh­ters. When the charge went over the wall, it hap­pened so slowly. From the mo­ment he got hit un­til his un­grace­ful land­ing, he saw dozens of oth­ers hit too. Now a half hour later , all was quiet and still. He took pride in the fact that he had not screamed and cried like most of the younger boys did. There was no cry­ing now - just a peace­ful si­lence that comes with death. Ten feet away lay some­thing that use to be a per­son. He tried but couldn’t fig­ure out which of his friends it was. He was pretty sure his brother was not a causal­ity here with him in this his fi­nal hour. He fig­ured they had won the bat­tle be­cause they had not re­turned. He won­dered if upon their re­turn they would just fill in the trench over him? Why not; hadn’t he done the same thing many times. He was so thirsty he con­sid­ered drink­ing the red-brown water; but when he com­manded his head to turn it wouldn’t. Re­al­iz­ing that his end was at hand, he wanted his last thoughts to be mean­ing­ful. Yet he al­ways thought he would sur­vive the war, so he was un­pre­pared in April 1865 be­fore Peters­burg of what to think of. He had been through so many bat­tles with­out a scratch; why now with the end of the war in sight? Get­ting killed was the job of oth­ers not his. Yet here he was with­out the abil­ity to move a finger and even his eye­lids re­fused to obey. My God what to think of last! In 150 years would any­one care he gave his life for them? Would any­one learn from his last full mea­sure of de­vo­tion to a na­tion he would not be part of? Ely spent the last mo­ment of his life think­ing of us. Have we be­come what we were sup­posed to be­come? Has a man’s word risen to a higher level? Do we

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