The frenzy continued mocking the apparent insignificance of his sudden removal from the contest. The muskets roared. Officers shouted. The battle raged. A riderless horse galloped past, hurrying away in blind directionless fear. But he could not see it; would not have seen it. A ball had collided with the bone in his lower left leg. The shattered useless limb had accelerated his decent into the unforgiving earth which he now tasted beneath him. Pain held him in its white hot grasp, begging him to reach for its source while instantly punishing any movement made to remedy the searing agony.
Unable to reach his wound, he lay still praying the pain would subside, yet knowing otherwise. The torment danced inside him making each short minute seem like endless, torturous days. He laid face down, chest heaving, leaden balls zipping around laughing at his misery while threatening to bring more. The confusing roar of battle thundered all around him. Hell’s orchestra played on, glorying in its deafening malicious furry with every terrible note.
He wanted to move, to turn towards the lines and see his comrades. He struggled to catch a glimpse of his friends. Like a ravenous demon, pain shrieked aloud with every attempt at shifting his weight, raking his nerves raw with agony. He lay still, hoping the pain would pass, letting his mind go elsewhere. Despite the thousands in their front, he knew they had gotten close. Victory waited just beyond the low stone wall that now scoffed at his feeble inability to advance. “Home” his commander had said, waited on the other side of that low unimposing boundary. The ground shuddered as a lanyard let loose a murderous blast from Union artillery adding a cymbal’s crash to the Devil’s malevolent symphony.
Wincing with pain he glanced down to see bone protruding through the badly frayed skin just below his knee. He needed a tourniquet but his head again fell forward hard onto the soil. He knew what was to come. One side would inevitably submit to the other. If the bluecoats held, they would plan for a counter stroke and march past his irrelevant form as he lay in the dust. If victory instead smiled south, the reserves would follow, focused clearly on the glorious rout of the fleeing enemy. Either way, for now he would lie anonymously on contested ground. Aid would come only with the white flag or a beneficent straggler, if either arrived in time. Then he would most certainly face the saw. But for now, the surgeon could wait. His one overwhelming desire became the growing, all consuming thirst which gripped him harshly by the throat. Each gasping breath intensified the insatiable, unbearable thirst swelling within.
While the sun scorched his prostrate form, no longer trying to think, an unexpected feeling startled him. The soil under his face suddenly felt damp and comparatively cool. On the side of his face, he could feel a pasty mud forming, replacing the dry parched earth which just moments ago caught his fall. He recognized the familiar taste however. He knew that like Christ on the cross, this vinegar would offer no relief. Feebly feeling around his shoulders and neck, his trembling hand returned to his field of vision, covered in blood. The sting on his neck spoke to the source as the fear grew that his waking moments might now be few. The blood from his neck, the increasingly unendurable thirst, and the reality of this day told him clearly he likely had little time left.
He recalled wondering what it would mean to be wounded. So many brave had marched into battle, only to suffer on fields of agony or under the surgeon’s knife. Yet thus far, that cup had passed from him. A kind Providence, he firmly believed, had watched over him, spared him. As the sound of battle faded, he wondered what he had done to offend the God who had until now so graciously kept him from harms eager grasp.
Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the blurry outline of a figure waving something thrust over his head, a hat perhaps, held boldly aloft. The questions of who or why did not come as his thirst and pain subsided. His world drifted into a silent darkness. Just before the light faded entirely, with an increasingly labored and shallow breath, he sought God’s forgiveness then whispered to his family that he loved them.
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