by Lyndon Perry
The acrid smell of burnt black powder drifted slowly across the battlefield, mingling with a late morning fog which the courage of the weak winter sun could not chase away.
The tranquility of the small valley tucked away in the Shenandoah hills had been shattered by vengeful shots of muskets and booms of canons; its serene landscape now a patchwork of blue and gray, the hundreds of dead and dying bodies making a mockery of its once peaceful panorama.
Private Jefferson Teeples grabbed at his chest, clutching the fabric of his uniform in an effort to stem the flow of blood. He gazed at the dead soldier slumped in front of him and considered the moment.
A voice and image from his past, like a specter insisting on breaking through to the corporeal world, flitted before and around him.
“You come back a hero, boy! Ya hear? You come back a hero or you don't come back at all.”
His pap's drunken words, the last words he'd heard before joining the war, were simply the final hammer blow in a long line of curses, slander, lies, and abuse young Teeples had allowed to condemn his heart.
Coughing blood and tasting copper, he accepted his fate with a decided equanimity. He’d joined the Rebellion in order to die, hadn’t he? Suicide by war is how he’d come to think it. And now his long, sad life – all twenty-two years of it – was almost over and he was glad.
|Image by Kim Shaftner from Pixabay.|
For the first time in a long time he felt he’d accomplished something worthwhile, something his pap would be proud of. He’d gone hand to hand with the enemy and came out victorious. Or nearly so. He'd killed the Northern bastard just as he caught the end of the bluecoat’s bayonet with his chest.
As he slumped over on the rough and broken battlefield, his torso now slick with blood, he looked up to see a fellow graycoat run up to him waving his cap in excitement, now pulling out a canteen of water.
“Hold on Johnny Reb, don’t you die on me, ya hear? You’re a real hero now, Private, a real hero.”
The man put the tin bottle to his lips and Teeples half sat up and took a tentative sip. He sputtered most of it out and coughed, his body convulsing with pain.
Leaning back onto the fellow soldier's lap, Private Jefferson Teeples closed his eyes. Moments before eternity, he thought of his pap, and smiled.