I’m sorry for my sudden leave from the house, but I finally decided to go and join the Yankees. Ever since we heard about the defeat at that Fort Sumter place (Murphy 1), I’ve been thinking. I want to be able to get strong so I can have something to be proud of when I get back. In fact, when I signed up and told them my age, they still said I would do, and I got in. Everything is fine here at the camp. The officers aren’t terribly strict, and my fellow soldiers are all very diligent. So don’t worry about me. All I hope is for you and the twins to stay safe while I’m away. Give my regards to everyone else in Massachusetts.
I put down the pen and sighed. To be honest, a few of the things I had written down weren’t true. I had been in the army for a month already, yet it felt like I had been there for a year.
When I signed up to join the Yankees, I probably should have just quit right then and there. I outright lied about being eighteen (Murphy 13), and the officer there let me know what he thought about me. “You don’t look a day over sixteen! Why, I’ll bet you won’t last up to your first battle! Ha!” Well, he was right about one thing. I had actually just turned sixteen a little while beforehand.
Also, I didn’t want to get strong so I could bask in glory when I got back. I really wanted to get strong so I could avenge my father. Just a few months before the war began, Father had been shot by a man named Albert Montgomery. The second the war ended, I planned to go after that man, no matter who won or lost.
After I finished my letter, I got up from my chair and stretched. My body still hurt from the day’s training. The only exercises we ever did were practicing battle formations (Murphy 18). Most of the soldiers did not seem to have a problem with this, but I would always be really tired by the end of it all. I envied the endurance of both the young soldiers and the old ones. They all seemed more fit than I’d ever be (Murphy 20). In fact, most of the younger soldiers got bored quickly with doing the exercises, so one soldier spoke up about it to one of our mean sergeants (Murphy 21).
“Sir, we do not want to do any more of these exercises,” he said. “They do not help us in any way. We would much rather practice our shooting.”
“Who are you to talk back to me, boy?” replied the sergeant. “You all deserve to learn a lesson. Everyone practice the drills again, and don’t stop until the sun sets!”
It did not help either that many of the older soldiers would bully me (Murphy 22). I would constantly get pushed around by an older soldier named Johnson. He would [come up to me, make fun of me, push me to the ground, and spit in my face before walking away.
“You don’t look fit to fight in this war, you midget.”
“But I’m eighteen, sir…”
“Age doesn’t cut it on the battlefield, maggot. You need skill, or else you’ll just end up like my own father back when we fought Mexico, dead from a gunshot wound to the chest. Ha!”
Another problem with joining the army was the uncomfortable clothing. Our uniforms never seemed to fit correctly. My shirt had not only a tight collar, but also a very short sleeve. My pant legs were also very uneven.
After reflecting over what had happened over the past month, I sat down on my mat and prepared to go to sleep. That was when an officer suddenly entered my tent. I quickly got to my feet and saluted him.
“At ease, Calvin. I’m just here to inform you of what’s to come in the next few weeks.”
“And what would that be, sir?” I asked, beginning to worry.
“We are to begin marching to a fort sixty miles south from here. There are Rebel forces that will be arriving soon, and we are to stop them immediately.”
My heart sank. I nodded timidly, and the officer left the tent to inform more soldiers. My legs gave way, and I dropped onto my mat. My first battle in only a few days? I wasn’t sure if I was ready at that point. I could be killed! I tried going to sleep. “Maybe I’ll stop worrying by tomorrow…”
We began marching a few days later, and I was still scared out of my wits. Some of the other soldiers seemed on edge, too. They were sort of quiet and didn’t talk back as much to the officers when they were yelled at. For the next few weeks, we trudged on through dense forests, our guns ready. Then, the day came when we approached the fort.
The officers up front were talking amongst themselves in whispers. The other soldiers and I were still marching in our formations. Johnson kept flicking my ear and trying to trip me while I was walking. He was basically acting like a child, despite all of his talk about “skill on the battlefield” and “acting like a true soldier.” The army kept marching on. And then…
BANG! A gunshot rang out. Everyone jolted and quickly brought up their guns, and so did I. “Blast!” exclaimed one of the officers. “They already captured the fort! We need to keep marching!” My heart sank.
Many of the soldiers started getting anxious, too, but we all kept marching on. As we got closer to the fort, the hail of bullets became more frequent. Then, we saw the dead bodies. They were lying against the trees and on the ground. Some of them had blood coming from their heads while others had guts littered all over the place like someone’s bag had ripped and the contents had spilled out (Murphy 31). Every corpse had a blue uniform on. The group stopped and stood in horror, but the generals still ordered us to continue.
Just a few moments later, we came out into a wide-open field, and we saw the fort up on top of a hill. It wasn’t as big as I thought, but there were several hundred Rebel troops lined up at the top. When they opened fire, I saw several men near me fall. One of the bullets flew straight though a man’s head, and I watched in horror as blood and bits of his head splattered everywhere as his body fell. I was about to turn around and escape the battle when the officers yelled at us to shoot back at them.
I raised my gun and tried to aim, but just then the artillery shells came crashing down. Everyone threw themselves onto the ground and braced themselves as we were bombarded (Murphy 33). The officers were screaming and trying to keep everyone in line, but by now our entire army had scattered.
I got up and heard more screaming, but it wasn’t from my fellow soldiers. [The Rebels had stopped attacking us with artillery shells and were now charging at us, charging down the hill, trampling over fallen soldiers, and screaming in a way that sounded like a pack of wolves hunting their prey (Murphy 34).] [I took aim.] When I pulled the trigger, the bullet shot out with a BANG and flew towards the crowd of Rebels. It missed. The enemy was closing in on me, and I knew I had to get out of there.
I dropped my gun and started running for the trees. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw people running everywhere, jumping over the bodies of the dead or injured in an attempt to escape the onslaught of Rebels firing their rifles (Murphy 36). I even saw Johnson, who was lying off to the side with a bullet hole in his left arm and blood oozing out. I still didn’t stop running.
Once I got back into the woods, I ran through the trees like a madman. [I flew over fallen branches, zoomed past the rotting corpses of Yankee soldiers, leaped over a huge boulder, squeezed between two sturdy oak trees, and fell to my knees.] [I paused to listen for gunshots.] All I could hear was my pounding heart and my heavy breathing. Around me, the noises were beginning to die down, so I slowly got up and cautiously walked back towards the battlefield in a daze.
When I finally got out of the woods, I saw dead bodies lying everywhere. Many other soldiers were walking back as well and mourning the dead. I looked around and saw Johnson, still lying where he was shot. A few soldiers were trying to help him to his feet. An officer approached me. “We lost the battle,” he said, as if it weren’t obvious enough. “But the Rebels just up and left. Scouts say that they got orders to leave the fort and move somewhere else. Come and help us tend to the wounded.”
Later on, we had returned to camp. Everyone’s spirits were broken in splinters, just like the number of soldiers in our group. I let out a sigh as I watched everyone eat the raw meat and stale bread given out by the officers (Murphy 48-9). I didn’t feel like eating. Images of the corpses and spilled entrails still flashed in my mind. I decided to turn in early.
As I walked to my tent, I saw many soldiers gambling around a small table. Several soldiers had cards in their hands. There was also a pile of money in the middle (Murphy 62). I had never seen so much money before, but I didn’t feel like pushing my luck.
“Hey, Calvin. Why don’t you come and join us? We all need some time to calm down after what happened” (Murphy 59-60), someone called from the crowd. A few heads turned to face me, but most of the men kept on playing their game.
“No thanks,” I replied, “I’m really not feeling up to it. Maybe later.” I trudged past them and into my tent. I closed my eyes and tried to keep the images of blood out of my mind. This was going to be a very long and very gory war.
The months passed by, and each battle seemed worse than the last one. More and more of my comrades died throughout the war, and I went to bed every night feeling sick to my stomach. Was I to be the next person to die?
One morning in September (“Battle”), I woke to the dull drumming that signaled for us all to get up (Murphy 39-40). After I stepped outside, I joined the rest of the group for a brief meeting.
“Listen, soldiers,” began one of the remaining officers, trying to find the right words, “I know that the war hasn’t been very friendly to us, but remember that this is all for the good of our country.”
The officer sighed before going back into his more serious nature. “I also want you all to know that we got word from down in Maryland that the Rebels are about to make their move. We’re supposed to join General McClellan’s forces and get the jump on General Lee” (“Battle”).
I gulped. General Lee? THE General Lee? How were we supposed to beat him? “Uh, sir, how did we even get this information in the first place?” I asked.
The officer shrugged. “Apparently, some idiot from the other side dropped a note that said everything (“Battle”). Just goes to show that you should never trust a Rebel.” Some of the soldiers near me snickered. “All right, soldiers, let’s go! More exercise drills! Move your feet!”
After lunch was over that day, we all began getting ready to march down to Maryland. As I was bringing a sack of raw meat to the mess area, I overheard three of the officers talking amongst themselves as I passed by one of the tents. When I peeked in, they were all sitting around a table.
“Yes, I know that, Bradford, but we don’t have a choice!” said the first officer. “Lee’s forces are going to destroy McClellan if we don’t get down there and help! You agree with me, don’t you, Peterson?”
“Yes, Terry, but Lee’s not the only one I worry about,” replied Peterson. “They apparently have all sorts of great shooters down there.”
“Oh, that’s right,” chimed in Bradford. “There are some good soldiers over there, like that Montgomery fellow.” I felt a chill go down my spine. Was he talking about the man who killed my father?
“Ah, yes, Albert Montgomery. According to that note, he’s supposed to be the best soldier they’ve got. He’ll probably be on the front lines or something.” Bradford slammed his fist on the table. “But we can’t just give in to those Rebel scum! We’re still going to march over there!”
I quickly continued on my way. There was no doubt in my mind. The man who killed my father was going to be at this next battle. All feelings of doubt and fear left my mind. The only thing I was thinking of was revenge. This was my one chance.
Our army pounded through the forest on our way to Maryland. A few soldiers were shaking in their boots, but most of us had attempted to steel ourselves in preparation for the battle. More of us were actually following the generals’ directions than ever before (Murphy 67). I didn’t dare look away from the path in front of me. The time I had waited for was finally coming. My father would be avenged.
After what seemed like a long time, we reached the end of the forest. I could feel my heart pounding inside my chest. Beyond some low-lying hills, we could all see the Rebel forces marching. At the front of the line was a gruff-looking man, most likely General Lee (“Battle”). A few soldiers near me whispered to one another, but I just kept my eyes on the army, looking for my target.
I saw him near the front lines. Albert Montgomery, the man who killed my father. He still had the same beady eyes and tall figure as before, but this time he had on a grey Rebel uniform. [Taking careful aim,] I lifted up my gun along with everyone else.
“Ready…aim…FIRE!!!” yelled the commanding officer. All at once, we pulled the triggers of our guns. The bullets came raining down on the enemy (Murphy 68), and many of the Rebel soldiers fell before they knew what had happened.
The drummer boys pounded on their drums (Murphy 67), telling us to charge down and assault the enemy (Murphy 71). [Raising my gun in the air like an Indian,] I let out a whoop and stormed down the hillside with my fellow soldiers. We hacked and slashed at Rebels with our bayonets, sending blood gushing everywhere. I felt sick to my stomach, but I knew that I had to press onward (Murphy 67).
I had Montgomery in my sights. [Speeding past the fallen bodies and spilled entrails of Rebels,] I closed in on the evil man, who was currently shooting down several Yankees in a group. I waited until I was just a few feet from him because I wanted him to see the son of the man he shot. As if time had slowed down, I lifted my gun and pulled the trigger.
He only had time to spin his head in my direction before the bullet went through his chest. [Flying back by the force of the bullet,] Montgomery’s body hit the ground with a dull thud. I couldn’t believe it. I had actually done what I strived to do for all this time. My father could rest with ease now. The gun slipped from my hand.
That was when I heard the shouts of General Lee over the gunshots and artillery shell bombings. “Retreat! RETREAT!!!” he screamed before carrying a wounded soldier out of sight beyond a hill. Our generals yelled for us to give chase, so I picked up my gun and followed the other soldiers.
The rest of the battle seemed like a blur. I remember giving chase to the Rebels across a river (“Battle”) that was soaked red with their blood. When the command was given to halt the chase, I returned and looked at the bloody spectacle that lay before me. I watched as a few abandoned Rebel soldiers were led off the field by some of McClellan’s men (“Battle”).
“Where do you reckon they’re taking them?” I asked a passing soldier.
“The sergeant said they’re going to be sent up to the prison camp in Elmira (Murphy 82). I pity the fools.” He shook his head. “This has got to be the worst struggle by far. Soldiers are thinking about half of both sides were maimed today (“Battle”). I need to go help my friends.” With that, he went off.
The years after that seemed to pass by really quickly, despite all of the battles that I took part in. I saw men all around me fall in battle. Johnson was once again shot in the arm, and he had to have a scorching iron put to his wound to stop the bleeding (Murphy 86). It was lucky we still had some whiskey to numb the pain (Murphy 86), or else everyone would’ve had to hear his screams. As for myself, all that was on my mind was getting through the war so I could return home.
The battles seemed to get longer as the war dragged on (Murphy 70). Everyone celebrated when Lee was beat at Gettysburg a year later (“Heidler”). The moment we all waited for came one day in the spring of 1865. Our troops were on the way to the Appomattox Court House down in Virginia when a man came rushing down the road.
“Big news! Big news!” he exclaimed, flailing his arms in the air.
Our army stopped. “Oy, what’s the big idea?” questioned one of the officers. “If you’re trying to pull something, we’ll blast you off the road.”
The man kept waving his arms around. “Wait, hold on! I’m on official business from Appomattox!” That got everyone’s attention.
“From Appomattox? This better not be a joke. What happened?”
“Word’s gotten out that Lee was beat by Grant and a treaty was signed at a Mr. McLean’s house! The war’s over” (“Heidler”)!
Everyone was stunned. Was this man actually telling the truth? Before the generals could question him further, a man wearing a Yankee uniform came riding in with a horse.
“Sergeant Henson! What’s the meaning of this?” Our officer waved to the excited man. “Has the war really been won?”
Sergeant Henson nodded. “That’s right. When I got there, they were all shooting their guns in the air all crazy-like (Murphy 91-2). It’s about time.”
At this, everyone let out a cry of joy. Soldiers were hugging each other and dancing around. As for me, I dropped my gun where I stood and turned the other direction.
“Hey, hold on, soldier! Where do you think you’re going?!” called one of the officers to me through the crowd of celebrating men.
I turned around. “The war’s over now, sir. We don’t have to keep on marching. I’m going home” (Murphy 92). And with that, I began my trek back.
My journey back home was also a bit fuzzy, but I remembered hearing about a few things along the way. There was a parade in the capital (Murphy 92), and there was also a ceremony that was held three days after Appomattox (“Heidler”). I just kept on moving myself, taking care to find food for myself whenever necessary.
It was a long while later, but I finally began to see familiar surroundings. Not long after that, I came up to the entrance of my home town. People were already celebrating (Murphy 94), so I assumed that other soldiers had returned before me.
I walked in a daze through crowds of people who were crying and laughing and singing and dancing. Finally, I came upon the entrance of a peaceful house. A woman was sitting on the porch with her twins. I called out to her. “Hey, Ma. I’m home.”
When she saw me, she dropped her sewing needle and began running towards me. She embraced me in a hug, tears streaming from her eyes. “Welcome home, Timothy…” she said softly.
“Battle of Antietam.” American History. ABC-CLIO, 2016. Web. 29 Mar. 2016.
Heidler, David S. and Jeanne T. Heidler. “Battle of Gettysburg.” American History. ABC-CLIO, 2016. Web. 12 Apr. 2016.
Heidler, David S. and Jeanne T. Heidler. “Surrender at Appomattox Court House.” American History. ABC-CLIO, 2016. Web. 12 Apr. 2016.
Murphy, Jim. The Boys’ War. New York: Clarion, 1990. Print.
158. Portrait of Drummer Gilbert A. Marbury, 22nd New York Infantry. N.d. Civil War Photos. Web. 8 Mar. 2016. <http://civilwarphotos.net/files/images/158.jpg>.
-By Simon Corpuz
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