Sunday, June 25, 2006

Short Story: The Devil's Malevolent Symphony

Standing shoulder to shoulder with the determined, thinning ranks, he glared forward through the sulfurous haze lingering between the opposing lines. Shots battered his ears from both sides of the seemingly endless gray line. The fiery yellow sun, spotlighting the unfolding tempestuous drama, heated the stuffy humid air which oppressed the original optimism of their earlier advance. Quickly grabbing another cartridge, he tore the end with his teeth and emptied the contents down the simmering musket barrel. Fighting among the thousands, he felt both invincible and vulnerable out on the featureless, shelter-free fields. Picking another target not 80 yards to his front, he cocked the hammer, placed the cap, and aimed towards the blue-clad figures aiming at him. As he lowered his rifle, ominous puffs of smoke appeared almost at the time he felt the jarring shock. Spinning away from the pain, he fell violently, face first into the hot dry ground.

The Angle at Gettysburg

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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Monday, June 19, 2006

The PGCB Dismisses Dissention

Several times I have contacted the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board asking when they would post the transcripts of the recent casino hearings. After having testified in Gettysburg on Wednesday, April 5 2006, I had hoped that the public would have access to the transcripts, especially given the overwhelming opposition stated.

After several months, I received their response. The PGCB said, and I quote the e-mail in its entirety:

"The transcripts of the public input hearings will not be posted on the
PGCB website. You are able to view these transcripts in the PGCB's
Harrisburg office. Please call to schedule an appointment.

PA Gaming Control Board
P.O. Box 69060
Harrisburg, PA 17106

As they clearly state, in order to obtain a transcript from these public hearings, the PGCB requires an appointment. Concerned citizens from both Pennsylvania and around the country who prove unable to travel to Harrisburg have no opportunity to read for themselves the testimony given during the proceedings. Since the PGCB regularly posts on-line the last few years of meeting transcripts, one can only assume that the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board made their decision in order to keep opposing testimony out of the public eye. This becomes then another in the growing collection of very sad days for Pennsylvania politics.

For other articles concerning the proposed casino near the Gettysburg Battlefield, please see:

More Opposition to the Proposed Gettysburg Casino

The Gettysburg Casino Hearings

Last Chance to Testify Against Gettysburg Casino

A Casino in Gettysburg: The Danger, The Truth

The Smothering Mantle of Irrelevancy



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Sunday, June 18, 2006

Not Shot But Bayoneted

While the American Civil War offers endless examples of inspirational gallantry and heroism, we must not fall prey to the ever lurking temptation to romanticize this fascinating yet dreadful conflict. In a letter written to General John L. Hodsdon of Augusta Maine, Captain James Hall of the 2nd Maine Artillery speaks of the many facets of war. In this instance, he writes of the Battle of Gettysburg.

2nd Maine

"We again bore the brunt of the battle at Gettysburg on the 1st day of July (and the first of the fight). I was the advance Artillery of the Army of the Potomac and was engaged for more than an hour before any battery came to our assistance. And you may well know we got badly hurt. 36 horses & 22 men in about one hour and a half - My loss in men was many of them slightly wounded and several taken prisoner so close was the action. We were so reduced in horses that we were obliged to drag two guns off by hand. The boys fought like the D-, never better. You may judge when I tell you that many of our horses were not shot but bayoneted that it was a close and desperate struggle for our guns, two of which they actually had hold of at one time. I have seen hard fighting before. And been badly smashed up, but I never saw a battery taken from the field and its guns saved in so bad a state as the Old Second came of that day. On Thursday and Friday we were engaged on Cemetery Hill and suffered only slightly. - The victory on our part on Friday the 3d was most glorious.

We are in line of battle and momentarily expecting a battle although I think at times Lee has escaped. - As soon as we get into camp, the monthly return for June will be forth coming.

I have the honor
to be very Respectfuly
Your Obt. Servt.
James A. Hall"



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Source: Maine State Archives

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Graves of our Dead

Solitary Soldier

The Blue & The Gray

The flow of the inland river,
Hence the fleets of iron have fled,
Where the blades of the grave-grass quiver,
Asleep are the ranks of the dead;
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgment day ;
Under the one, the Blue;
Under the other, the Gray.

These in the robings of glory,
Those in the gloom of defeat,
All with the battle-blood gory,
In the dusk of eternity meet;
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgment day;
Under the laurel, the Blue;
Under the willow, the Gray.

From the silence of sorrowful hours
The desolate mourners go,
Lovingly laden with flowers
Alike for the friend and the foe;
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgment day ;
Under the roses, the Blue;
Under the lilies, the Gray.

So with an equal splendor
The morning sun-rays fall,
With a touch, impartially tender,
On the blossoms blooming for all;
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgment day;
Broidered with gold, the Blue;
Mellowed with gold, the Gray.

So, when the Summer calleth,
On forest and field of grain
With an equal murmur falleth
The cooling drip of the rain ;
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgment day;
Wet with the rain, the Blue;
Wet with the rain, the Gray.

Sadly, but not with upbraiding,
The generous deed was done;
In the storm of the years that are fading,
No braver battle was won;
Under the sod aad the dew,
Waiting the judgment day;
Under the blossoms, the Blue,
Under the garlands, the Gray.

No more shall the war-cry sever,
Or the winding rivers be red;
They banish our anger forever
When they laurel the graves of our dead!
Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgment day ;
Love and tears for the Blue,
Tears and love for the Gray.

Francis Miles Finch (1827–1907)



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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Review: Horses of Gettysburg

Over Memorial Day weekend, I viewed with pleasure a rather uncommon documentary film on DVD concerning the Battle of Gettysburg and the American Civil War. Narrated by Ronald F. Maxwell, director of the epic films Gettysburg and Gods and Generals, the documentary film Horses of Gettysburg held my attention from beginning to end.

General Howard Equestrian Monument

With eager anticipation, I placed the first DVD in the tray, sitting back comfortably in my chair, ready for whatever would come. Producer/Director Mark Bussler's beautiful cinematography immediately captured my attention as spectacular high- definition battlefield panoramas gracefully advanced in succession across the screen. Noble equestrian statues rose silhouetted against tranquil, kaleidoscopic sunrises while waves of early morning mists caressed the familiar, sacred landscapes. Gentle breezes subtly intensified the imagery as the fog shrouded grounds eerily mimicked the once ominous smoke covered fields of battle.

Cavalry traversing a stream

While relishing the pristine landscapes, magnificent horses came galloping, trotting, charging, and grazing. Cavalrymen guided their agile, powerful mounts through a trickling brook as the late morning sun slipped through the swaying leaves. Squadrons of mounted re-enactors charged their foes in chaotic cavalry clashes or attacks on stubbornly entrenched infantry. Beautiful horses of common and noble lineage surveyed their surroundings, endured examinations, or gratefully accepted a handful of oats. Although the photography proved the initial source of captivation, the perspectives on the animals and their contributions soon made this production complete.

A quiet moment

After the initial majestic vistas set the stage, the production progressed, offering intriguing perspectives on the war. The film amply met the challenge of presenting unique viewpoints with which to consider this crucial yet so familiar battle. According to the narrative, an estimated 72,000 horses and mules brought the Southern and Northern forces to battle on these now consecrated grounds. About 5,000 lay dead when the conflagration receded at day’s end on July 3, 1863. This battle, this war, could not have progressed as it did without the horses.

Cavalry Charge

The documentary guides you through a brief summary of how horses and their kin impacted society and warfare throughout human history. Progressing to the 19th Century, Horses of Gettysburg adeptly addresses how soldiers on both sides acquired, examined, cared for and trained their horses to adjust to the thunder of artillery, the firing of musketry, the beating of the regimental drums, and the overall pandemonium of deadly battle. A wonderful variety of old photographs, sketches, and paintings cascade across the screen to illustrate the various points made. Interwoven among these vintage photos, the scenes of re-enactors and their animals easily transport you to another time some 140 years past.

Cavalryman firing pistol

Continuing on, you enjoy discussions of how the armies employed the animals, horses and mules alike, to satisfy the many military necessities of the day. Given this film’s title, you also witness lively re-enactments of the roles these animals played, depicting the accomplishments of individuals on horseback, battalions, brigades, or the contributions of mule teams and their drivers. The efforts of Buford’s men on Day 1, J.E.B. Stuart’s and Custer’s cavalry brawl on July 3, 1863, a mule team’s rush of ammunition to desperate troops, Captain Bigelow’s heroism on Day 2, General Farnsworth’s fatal charge, Frank Haskell’s view from the saddle and many other stories make the time immersed in this DVD pass all too quickly. The occasional stubborn mule and their eccentric handlers add a touch of levity and balance to the occasionally somber tales.

As your journey with Disc 1 winds down and the credits roll by, still more awaits the fortunate viewer. During the next several minutes, Mark Bussler adds a wonderful collection of old shots of the battlefield, postcards, photographs and other scenes which keep you glued until the final slide. Then comes Disc 2 which contains over 3 hours of additional special features including 3 personal interviews, 3 documentaries on horses in American history and several Inecom trailers.

North Carolina Monument

Producer/Director Mark Bussler's depictions of fog shrouded fields, frenzied cavalry charges, magnificent horses, compelling stories of sacrifice, playful moments and somber depictions of devastation and tragedy impact on all levels. Along with Ronald F. Maxwell's respectful, authoritative narration, each segment clearly manifests a sense of reverence for the animals, the men and events which so dramatically shaped the country that we call home. The beautiful cinematography inspires. The unique perspective informs. Combined as they are here, I suspect you will do as I did and watch Horses of Gettysburg again.

For more information about "Horses of Gettysburg", please visit



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Sunday, June 04, 2006

Short Story: Coward

Last nights few hours sleep did not lift the burdensome cloud of fatigue. Neither did the rain that now pelted anything unlucky enough to be out in this weather. Moving forward to his assigned position, he sloshed through growing streams of muddy runoff swelling in the streets and then over the soggy fields past town.

Trudging on, he thought that their battles always seemed to end like this as if nature wished to separate herself from the deeds of men by washing the stains of war from her soil. He wondered if perhaps God commanded a drenching, belated baptism to save the numerous dead. He walked on. The rain, normally a nuisance, provided some welcome relief from the past days sweltering heat. The downpour cleansed his clothing, skin, and hair of the thick dust and acrid smell of sulfur. That it soaked everything he wore seemed a necessary price to pay.

Taking his place on the picket line, he sat on a rock, his thoughts wandering as his eyes panned the open spaces to his front. He wondered if a similar man in gray looked back at him, rifle at hand. They would soon move in pursuit, he supposed, but for now, the three days of hell had ended. Their adversaries had silently withdrawn during the night, leaving the good townspeople to eagerly encourage them back onto the streets through which they had retreated just a few days earlier.

Gazing around him, he thought that perhaps the cooling rain would slow the bloating of the thousands of poor souls who now lay dead on the recently contested ground. "May it also soothe those", he prayed to himself, "who among them still held to life." Battle was an old acquaintance, a familiar but unwelcome guest who always returns, invited or not. But the scale of these fights continued to grow. He had seen battle before, but not like this. Just three days ago, they had proudly marched through town in orderly, disciplined columns, determined to erase the taint on their name that seeped deeper than the chill from this pelting rain. Two months prior, the foe put them to flight, an inglorious, unmistakable rout. They had failed at their primary task to secure the right flank of the Union Army. Thankfully, the townspeople either did not know about or had forgiven their lapse. The local citizens had welcomed them on Wednesday as they strode for the fields north of town.

That they continued to be called cowards seemed unjust and stoked a simmering anger that he fought to keep hidden. But even this downpour could not entirely extinguish the flames of resentment which that name, that insult fanned. They had not been so well led if you asked him. He certainly could not have changed their disposition on that Saturday in May. With thousands of screaming men in butternut and gray bursting upon them from the dense woods, leaden messengers of death whistling by, swarming like angry hornets, what could he have done? He had tried to fight. He stood his ground. But despite his determination, the crushing numbers compelled him to leave. At least he had not blindly run through friendly into enemy lines as some others had. Nor had many of those who tried to stand with him. Yet, he now had the humiliating brand of coward, as yellow as newly churned butter. Without thought, he griped his musket tighter, pulling it closer to him. Water continued to drip unnoticed down his back.

Did his army comrades look upon the dead of his Corps as cowards? Did collision with a bullet save the fallen from that taint? What of his once boyhood friend who, during the battles in the Valley, had pulled him to safer ground after a ball pierced his thigh? Three days ago, on these fields, he had watched his friend collapse in agony to the ground, shot to the stomach, and could not help him. The man who had saved his life lay nearby writhing in pain. Yet he continued to load and fire as ordered. When they fell back, he knew that leaving his friend doomed him to the slow agonizing death typical of those gut shot. Did the bullet or the suffering remove his friend’s stain of cowardice?

And what of the wounded? Could anyone justly call men cowardly who now missed a hand, arm, or leg? Did those who survived the butchery of the surgeon’s tent rightly deserve such aspersions? What of the long marches, 20 or more miles a day, at times without water or food? He recalled the thirst and the layers of dust on his teeth as they endured these forces marches, as blind to their destinations as to the trials to be asked of them. The rain now would have been very welcome then.

Just a few days ago, this place offered the chance to earn anew the privilege of holding their heads high. After the fight to come, no longer would others call any member of his Corps yellow dogs. Thoughts drifted to his family. How he missed them. As much as he loved them, since May, he could barely stand the thought of writing to them as he had done so faithfully since he enlisted. He recalled the decision to fight for his adopted country to earn their acceptance, along with the needed $13 a month in pay. One year ago, he thought to fight to shed himself and his family of the tag "immigrant". Now, he would fight to erase the name "coward" as well. He sadly remembered the letters from home that he had so eagerly sought with each mail delivery. Now they scared him. What if they too thought him a coward, not quite a man, lacking in honor?

Eager to rid his mind of these torments, he forced himself to look up and out over the rain battered fields. Could any of the small nameless shapes scattered about the muddy, wet ground yet hold life? How much better off than they was he? Glancing back down at his shoes, the troubling words crashed back into consciousness. Yet now, defiance swelled in his breast. Damn it, he was not a coward. Their Corps had fought Stonewall Jackson in the Valley. They saw over 1,600 of their own fall at 2nd Bull Run and more than 1,500 at Chancellorsville. No. These were good men.

This battle could have brought them salvation. This battle could have made things right. But, despite their losses, no one granted them the laurels given the rest of the army. How could they be so deprived of the honor they deserved, the honor they earned? On the first day, their commander ordered them to take position to the right of Reynolds’ Corps in an open field void of protection. Resolutely, they marched into those fields. But, the artillery fire on that blasted hill kept them from joining with their comrades to their left. That left a gap, dangerously exposing their left and right flanks. When the assault came, nothing but clear space stood between them and the surging force he had known waited beyond the trees in their front.

Men in gray and butternut waved flags and shrieked as they always did, the sound penetrating as solidly as the balls. The dull thuds of bullets hitting flesh sounded as numerous then as the rain that now fell. He grimaced as he recalled the slashing shards of exploding shells that gashed and tore men’s flesh. The agonizing cries. The pleas for help. The blank empty eyes that stared skyward. The irreparable sorrow enfolding another family, now without a father, brother, or son.

The deadly battle re-appeared to him as if he again held his musket towards the onrushing gray lines. Their own blue ranks stretched thin, they could not hold their ground. With southerners again coming on their right, surging in their front, and moving on their left, they gave way, some fighting, others running through the town on whose streets they had so proudly marched just a short time ago. He again felt the stain growing, the name ringing in his head. Coward. He had not heard the numbers but he knew that they had lost in both killed and wounded more that they had in any other battle. He knew from the ominous silence that came in response to the names called at roll. So many now gone. If these men were cowards, then with pride he would call himself one of them.

He pulled his hat down over his face. The saturating rain continued. Next time, he would show them all that he was worthy of the uniform, of the 11 Corps’ insignia, and of being a United States Volunteer. He was no coward.



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