Title: BY MY CRY
Author: L. Bright
Warnings: Violent deaths, A/U character death. Please don't read if this might upset you unduly. Could be considered post ITSOTG1 and 2.
Archive: Yes, but story may be further added to or fiddled with.
Notes: More than 1,000,000 Civil War soldiers were eighteen years old or under. Various memoirs and accounts helped, but this is not an exhaustively detailed and fastidious exploration of the Civil War. For instance, names of some officers and regiments and battles have been coined or transposed.Events take place from early in 1862 to May of 1863, but are portrayed in a nonlinear way. I have myself stood in the Bloody Lane at Antietam, seen a double rainbow from Little Roundtop at Gettysburg, visited Harper's Ferry and Antietam--and found myself deeply touched by the poignancy of these cornfields, orchards and creeks of nearby battlefields.In many ways a J/S A/U makes no sense, even to me, held up against the kind of fic the fandom has produced so far...which is reality-based. Only I suddenly remembered this great old song from my youth, and I sang this thing over and over for a week; couldn't get it out of my head.
By My Cry by L. Bright
FLAGS AND BANNERS
Last night, I was woken by my cry...
Had a dream, just as plain as you and I.
Saw the morning sun
on a woodland in the spring,
Still hear the echoes crashing
through the trees...
Oh, when I saw you down,
I fell upon my knees.
You and I, we were wearing Southern gray...
I called to you, but I used another name.
I beat the ground and I cried out in your pain.
But through a scarlet door,
I watched you slipping away,
And your brother's helpless prayers were all in vain.
Last night I was woken by my cry...
The journal of Private Joshua R. Bradley:
March 1, 1862 entry --
I hate the rain. Mind you the cold is no friend of mine, but
rain--the godforsaken rain has not ceased one solitary moment for ten
Oh, I don't complain aloud; that would be unsoldierly and
possibly unmanly. But I'm approaching having my fill of all the
misting, driving, downpouring, drizzling variants of rain. Until I
took to living outside full-time, I had no notion there were so many.
I make the--from my point of view, heroic--attempt to write
in my journal, but my fingers are stiff and the paper completely
sodden. A drop of water hangs from the end of my nose, and when it
falls, another comes dutifully to take its place.
With my back resting against my rucksack, I hunker cursing my
fate, under a makeshift shelter made up of my great-coat and
blankets. Over it all is thrown the oilcloth that I, like every
hapless soldier of the Rebellion, lay down nightly between myself and
the ground. Later tonight, this same sodden carapace will be my bed.
Only officers--and Yankees--have real honest-to-God tents.
They don't tell you that before you join. The poetic allusion of the
"tented field" is an illusion, it turns out, for Confederate infantry.
We are camped in the vicinity of the bridge over the North
Anna river at Cherry Grove, which we took yesterday, establishing 12
miles of the river up and down-stream as our northernmost line. Now
our men and materiel move across it nonstop.
I hardly felt the victory as such, far more interested
in--somehow, some way- keeping dry. I therefore count myself
officially now a veteran; battle is nothing new to me, anymore, and,
it seems, no longer my prime concern. Dry socks can be,
occasionally, more consequential.
Rain is a helpless discomfort for the soldier. Why mince
words? It's a pain in the ass, and makes an unhappy existence so
much unhappier. Wet clothes, wet shoes and wet blankets; wet meat
and bread; wet feet, wet ground; wet wood to burn--or rather, not to
burn -wet arms and ammunition, wet ground to sleep on, mud to wade
through, swollen creeks to ford, muddy springs...
And yet, somehow, shrunk from constant drenching (with a drop
or two of self-pity), I abide. We all abide...
March 3 entry --
Sol invictus! Today was the first sunny day of the last
thirteen. All day, men could be seen, like so many toads, turning
their faces up to its rays.
Little leisure to write tonight. I'm on sentry, Lord deliver
me, with Lloyd Brophy, the pedant's pedant, the bore of bores. Oh,
we all love to listen to Brophy. We pride ourselves on his presence
in our company!
How can a man know so many words, and none of their beauty or
power, or charm?
At some point on our watch, as sure as geese fly South he
will open his ponderous maw to share with me some incident of his
personal prowess--at swordplay, for example. But, to preface it he
has to commence at Eden and go laboriously through the Patriarchal
age, on through the Mosaic dispensation to the Christian era, takes
in Greek and Roman history by the way, the Ottoman Empire, then Spain
and Germany and England and colonial times, and the early history of
our Republic; the causes of the necessity of our war, and a complete
history up to date. I'll be asleep in twenty minutes. Come on in,
General McClellan and the entire Union army; no sentry will bar your
progress this night.
March 5 entry --
Yesterday a bunch of us were detailed to drag a team of six
bony mules and a flat bed wagon carrying timber out of knee-deep mud
in the road. No easy feat, let me vastly understate. One of the
fellows got kicked in the ass, and was dragged off to the hospital
tents, crying like a baby. Must've hurt like nobody's business, and
it was wrong of us to laugh.
A young fellow stepped up to take his place who seemed slight
to me at first, but proved himself tough, and a steady hand with the
animals. A farmboy, I surmised, from his plain speech. But in the
army a man learns to value men for what they are and not on account
of education, wealth or station. Attachments are sincere, and they
last. You learn what constitutes a worthy man out here, and a
We struck up a friendship after our little travail in the
mud. All of us were coated with this ordure, head to toe. But for
some reason--and in spite of the fact that we hadn't exchanged more
than a dozen words--this young fellow and I caught sight of each
other, eyes popping white out of our aboriginal faces. We started
chuckling. The dam broke, then, and we about laughed our heads off,
collapsing on the ground, starting up a fresh round whenever we
looked at one another.
Subsiding after a good while, we shook hands and more
formally introduced ourselves. This was Sam--Samuel Winburn--a boy
from the verdant Valley of Virginia; a private soldier, like myself.
After, somebody got a fire started. We washed off most of
the mud and warmed ourselves, best we could. We shared a pot of
coffee--real coffee--as a reward for service, hot and black, with
We talked; where we're from, something of our families, how
we joined up. Laughed a great deal.
Time got away from us. Twilight had deepened when he took
his leave, to return to where his own company was bivouacked, with a
look behind him at me. I hadn't expected that, and was startled, my
heart performing a little skip and jump. I raised a hand in
farewell, as did he. I admit I watched him out of sight.
March 8 entry --
Three days ago since I've seen Sam Winburn.
He will not leave my thoughts. I even went looking for him;
I knew he was with Company C, Prentice's Rifles, but no luck.
Somebody said a nice-looking boy had been here looking for me
today. So, like characters in a French farce, we've been just
missing. We don't know each other enough to know when and where to
Ah, well... Qui prévient le moment l'empèche d'arriver. *
March 10 entry --
I met up with Sam again.
Actually, he caught up with me on the march, rather late in
the day when the order of the ranks had loosened and the companies
mingled in route step, the men singing, laughing, talking and joking.
Sam jogged up behind me, and tapped my shoulder, rousing me from
prurient little fantasies of thinly sliced glazed ham and new
potatoes, and cold lemonade. "I thought that was you," he said,
cheerfully. "Enjoying this Sunday stroll?"
"You bet! I'm considering walking home and starting all over."
Seeing him made the day for me. We fell in step side by
side, our sentences leapfrogging and tumbling to be first.
It was interesting to hear him talk; he seemed to know so
much about arms, knapsacks, ammunition, marching, fighting, camping,
cooking, shooting, and everything a soldier is and does. He winded
me. He amazed me; 18 and without much formal education. But that
was certainly no strike against him with me, and not, as far as I
could see, much of a handicap.
I pulled him aside by his sleeve when an officer on horseback
dashed past us followed by some of his staff, hoof-beats thudding in
the sunken road. A loud, rolling cheer rose up as the daring and
hell-bent Lt. General Robertson Hobbs, a favorite among us, was
recognized. A moment or so later, Col. Stover, a niggling, grim,
little wisp of a man rode by, not such a favorite. All braid and no
hat, if you take my meaning, riding a rawboned bay on which he sat
badly, wearing an ill-fitting uniform with bloused sleeves, and shiny
gold buttons and some of those colorful "honorary" medals--bestowed
on Stover by Stover. Never forgoing an opportunity to make fun, we
all cheered him immoderately. Stover knew it was a joke at his
expense, and looked even grimmer.
Waving our hats, Sam and I grinned at each other. The whole
sunny-afternoon world seemed blessed. My eyes rested on him, this
unspoiled boy before me, tough but not callous, simple kindness
shining out of him, a good mind to go with his good heart...and
suddenly understood the gift I was being offered, if I would but take
it. A brother, though not of my blood.
I've made many friends in the war, but no one special.
March 27 entry --
Sam and I have established a habit--as often as we can manage
it--of meeting up after the march, or at the end of a day in camp, to
share our meal.
He is a...faithful sort of person. The kind you set your
watch to, the kind you wait patiently for because you know he will
A thoughtful listener--very dangerous for me, given my
in-born loquacity; I started talking five minutes after I popped from
my mother's womb. Those feline, thinking eyes of his lead me far
afield rhetorically. Until I realize it and say, "Why didn't you
stop me? I don't want to take Brophy's title, 'World's Most Boring
Sam will shrug and answer, "I was with you," and jump off
from my thoughts. Our talks are wonderful.
He has the lankiness of a man in the making, spidery fingers
and big knuckles, long legs and clumsy feet; a lively head of
dark-chestnut hair that the sun has gotten to, a dusting of freckles.
The whole package is entirely charming. He seems without artifice,
incapable of a false note; earthy. And very funny, but in a
first-you-have-to-do-a-doubletake kind of way, pith and wit mixed in
entirely fresh ways.
Some of the fellows have noticed our liaison; we haven't
hidden the friendship, certainly. I've taken a tiny bit of teasing
for it. Natural enough reaction to my starting to keep company with
a conspicuously comely young man. All in fun; there's nothing
insulting in it--or even in the obvious implication. I am a
But always I've chosen my own associates by my own lights.
I'm eagerly pursuing my friendship with Sam because I like him better
than anyone in a long time, and don't take into account what people
may make of it.
Sam Winburn's company, Prentice's Rifles, at Nathaniel Bluff, April, 1862:
On rising ground 50 yards away, stood the line of greening
beech trees that marked Company C's objective. From two young
privates' points of view, it might as well have been 50 miles away.
Canister shot was bursting all around, that dull
pock-pock-pock; rifle balls clipped off the dry stalks of last
winter's wheat field they were crawling through. Sulfurous smoke
drifted, obscuring everything.
The noise was a malevolent thing; bugle calls, musket fire,
men screaming, raging, bellowing orders, suffering, fighting for
inches of ground... Corp. Kelly Hibble, ten yards away, had had his
jaw blown off, and kept yelling for somebody to help him find his
teeth. His front was red to his knees, steaming in the early morning
chill. Sam looked away. There was no help for the corporal; he was
going to die, without a doubt. Half a breath later, a rifle ball
guaranteed the blessing.
"They told us to advance!" his comrade Jack Beaufort yelled,
grasping Sam's shoulder, wide mouth ringed with black from biting off
To Sam, Beaufort's lips were moving, but the words were lost
in the din. "What?!"
"Our-orders-are-to-advance!" the other man tried again,
closer to his ear. "I think Cap'n Prentice is up ahead! Maybe
Sam nodded, yelled back. "Let's get the hell moving, then!
'Cause I'm damned sick and tired of this!"
He got up on elbows, cradling his rifle, and began a
desperate scramble forward, Beaufort moving beside him. Five yards
on, Jack's black hair and blood and brain sprayed Sam and the pale,
dry grass around. He stared, frozen for an instant. Jack was an
only son; he'd wanted to go home and take over the farm from his
ailing father. No more.
//That could happen to me... any time ... all I like to do,
and think and hope and want and remember turned to dark-red mist and
pieces of red-tinged bone... now I'm here, next minute I'm ended,
just like that, between taking a breath and a heartbeat--.//
He thought suddenly about Josh Bradley, his new friend,
remembering the oddest little detail about him: the laugh-lines
around his eyes. And the expectant way he stood when Sam came
visiting, or the way he looked coming across the field to visit Sam.
More than ever the boy did not want to die. //--can't let it
happen.// Every inch forward was a gamble, but Sam had to keep
moving. Going back was unthinkable, not a choice.
He went, putting himself in God's hands, expecting any second
to have his ass shot off, bullets hitting where he'd just been, where
he was just about to be--just missing.
Or maybe he'd died already and only continued this vain
struggle as a ghost? His head spinning with nausea, ears roaring, he
was no longer sure at all which way he was heading. Were his ears
deceiving him, too, or had the hail of shot tailed off?
At last, he half-fell, half-crawled into the beechwood and
readied his musket, looking across for the rest of his company. The
relative quiet disconcerted him; these woods should've been bristling
with blue-coats all trying to kill him. He spit out the dirt in his
mouth. Where was Capt. Prentice?
Looking around the tree he was hiding behind, he saw that the
Union troops had withdrawn, or more likely, fallen back on orders.
Question was why had they not pressed their advantage? Maybe they'd
over-extended themselves here? He had no way of knowing.
There was the dry metal crack of distant gunfire, further up
the line in either direction, but Sam was alone. He stood, and the
awful fact sank in--he was the only man of his company to make these
He turned in a slow circle, horrified and shocked, black
spots swamping his vision, legs watery. The enemy had rent a hole in
the Confederate line here, where Company C had failed and died--and
all for nothing. For an objective that had just melted away. All
the blood wasted. His eye fell on a headless form in the grass, and
some part of his brain recognized the captain's insignia on the
uniform. Jesus wept... He leaned with one hand against the tree in
front of him and vomited.
Never would remember much about the aftermath of it all.
Reporting to a passing sergeant who took him to a staff officer, who
then took him to Major Gen. Anderson himself to be debriefed. The
general regretted the loss with sincerity, commended him, and gave
him some words of comfort. He remembered being sat down in a corner
of a tent, and given some water, talked to by the chaplain. After a
while, when it seemed he'd been forgotten, he'd walked out, aimless
Josh found him eventually, running up with worried brow,
though Sam hardly noted him at first, and jumped when he began
"All your company, Sam... I heard just now; word went
'round... I'm sorry." Matter of-fact hands felt Sam over for the
wounds that had to be under the blood and dirt on him. He hadn't so
much as a scratch.
"This is supernatural," the older man marveled. He clapped
Sam's shoulder in comfort, and peered at him harder. Sam had seemed
steady enough, if understandably somber. He'd been his company's
pet--Josh knew that; those men had taught a green kid to fight and
Josh now saw he was overmatched, bewildered, and perhaps not
so seasoned after all. The cornflower eyes were needy as a
five-year-old's. And he was glad he'd come looking for Sam, as arms
wrapped around him and the boy held on so tight. Josh let him as
long as he needed to, feeling the heart pounding within its frame.
"It ain't fair, Josh!"
"We all knew we were in for it," Sam gasped. "But nobody
"That's to your credit," Josh said.
"They wanted to live as much as me..."
"Aw, Sam. Listen to me. The luck ran your way and not
theirs. Some might say it was just chance. But maybe God spared you
for other things." He petted Sam gently as he would a puppy. "I'm
glad you're not with them back there in the field... And it's
alright for you to be glad, too. No need to forget them. But you're
alive. Come on, let's get something strong down your gullet, burn
out those unhappy spirits."
Sam let him go, swiped a hand across his eyes. He bent for
his things and Josh lent a hand, taking most of it for him. They
began walking, both kicking at leaf litter.
"What...what happens to a fellow like me?" Sam asked
unhappily. "In my--situation."
"Man without a country, so to speak? I can talk to my
captain," Josh said. "You could fall in with us. I'd like you to."
He glanced quickly at Sam. "If that's what you want."
" 'Course it is. " He couldn't say to this man who was still
in some ways a stranger, 'I feel safe with you. I don't want to be
on my own.' Aloud he only asked, tiredly. "I mean, what else?"
"Then it's as good as done. Actually, Capt. Regan's a client
of mine back in Richmond. I know about that second set of books his
accountant keeps. Makes him pliable, but I don't take advantage of
Company E seemed like a good bunch, mostly Richmond men; they
took Sam right in, even shared their hidden caches to make an evening
of it. There was a lot of good-natured ribbing, and he was regaled
with tales of Josh's exploits.
"Remember the time he half-shaved Tim?"
"I don't wanna hear about that again!" This from the hirsute
man sitting at Sam's left.
"Shut your trap, Tim. See, Josh had the only razor in the
company after a lot of us lost our baggage at Bank's Ford. He shaved
Tim while he was asleep--half the upper lip, one cheek, one-half the
chin... Next day all of us acted like nothing was different. Poor
bastard looked so bewildered all day, rubbing his face. Damn, that
"How long'd you stay like 'at, Tim?" a man named Reese asked.
"Josh said he lost the razor, remember? And 'found' it
miraculously, a week later," Tim grumbled. "Miraculous that he
stayed so clean-shaven hisself for a week."
"How about the day he punched out Bub Bristoe?"
"Yeah, but Bub asked for it. For some reason, he took
against Josh. I mean from day one. Josh finally had all he was
going to that's all. Walked up to Bub--who looks a lot like a
grizzly bear reared up on hind legs, by the way--stood toe to toe
with 'im and just, Bam! Whip-sawed that ol' boy. Nobody thought he
had it in him!"
"Pretty good for a blueblood. I thought they was all
pasty-faced hemophiliacs sippin' iced bourbon and slippin' it to
their mulatto housemaids!" General laughter burst forth.
"What did he mean, 'blueblood'?" Sam asked Josh, under the
noise of conversation and laughter.
"Oh. Uh, Jesse's exaggerating a little. It's nothing."
Josh looked uncomfortable. "My, uh, family...sort of founded
Richmond. There's old money. Horses. Textile mills, a railroad...
Line of shipping. And my grandfather was governor of Virginia...
"Oh." Sam considered the pedigree, a kind of grave, elfin
judge, more than slightly drunk. "Well, you seem alright."
Josh stared a moment, then laughed, uproariously. "The
Bradleys actually are considered somewhat less than top-rail in the
scheme of things," he said, finally. "Socially acceptable, but too
much of a whiff of working for a living about us."
"Look, I didn't mean anything by--."
"No, no; it's ludicrous. Besides that, we never produced a
president, in a state where they grow in patches like so many
"Say, Josh!" somebody called, "show Sam that thing where you
hook your leg behind your head!"
"I'm not doing that," Josh said. He caught Sam's eye.
"Don't even ask me."
Time came for turning in as a cold drizzle started up, but
Sam couldn't presume to bed down beside Josh, a fact which only now
occurred to him. Most of the men in infantry slept in pairs,
doubling the cover and warmth. Only he didn't know the others and
felt shy to ask. And then again, maybe Josh already had a partner.
Then Josh turned to him and simply said, "Bunk in with me."
"You're not partnered off with somebody?"
"I was with Sonny Harper up until about six weeks ago when he
got himself rather seriously wounded and got a medical discharge."
He smiled, slightly. "I'm currently free and unencumbered. And I
keep myself clean as summer linen. I try. Still interested?"
"Sure," Sam said, returning the smile. "Thanks."
They walked over to a place Josh must've staked out earlier
"Is that fellow Harper going to be fine?"
"Oh, yeah. His, uh, shoulder was split by a saber. The
surgeons thought they might have to take the arm, but he was spared
Losing a limb, having to have it amputated in the field with
a slug of whiskey to dull the pain and a rag in the mouth to stifle
one's cries, was every soldier's horror.
They pulled off their coats, bundled them tightly to make
pillows where they could prop their heads, took off their boots.
"Give me your oil-cloth," Josh said. He spread Sam's out
neatly, then lay one of his own blankets over that.
"I know the drill," Sam smiled. "The other blankets go on
top, then the other oil cloth."
"After you, then," Josh invited.
Sam lay down and Josh lay next to him and covered them both.
Josh sighed, surprisingly close to Sam. "If you get cold," he
yawned, "feel free to huddle up." A careful silence, an
afterthought. "You're safe in here with me. Understand?"
"Yes, Josh. I figured."
Josh woke to a restless movement beside him, and raised his
head to figure out what.
"Oh." His sinews stood down from alert. Just some dream
jarring Sam's slumber- and his own. "Are we going to have this every
night?" he muttered, groggily.
Sam turned away, brow knit in his sleep, and sighed, "Micah!
Mama said wait--." Josh's first impulse was to reach over and maybe
soothe him as he would one of his own two boys, but Sam settled
without his help.
The Northern enemy was making a massive push down from the
Potomac toward Richmond, as the Confederates fought to reach the
Potomac and go on for Washington--both sides meeting and tussling
somewhere in the middle. It was a campaign of "dare marks," virtual
lines drawn in the dirt where both sides stuck out their chins,
defying each other to cross.
When they met, Sam and Josh could claim, fairly, to be on
their way to being real soldiers.
They'd been properly hazed in their first days as new
recruits, been practical-joked, plucked and picked clean in all the
usual ways: that new knife for everybody to borrow, a nice comb for
general use, nice little mirror for everybody to shave by, money to
lend out. And amazing how convenient a new fellow could be, how
willing he was to go on guard, and get his feet wet, and give away
his rations, and bring water, and cut wood, and dig breastworks and
They'd "seen the elephant," what those hard-bitten men around
them called a man's first shocking experience of real battle. They'd
been "blooded"--taken a slight wound or two and recovered--had heard
the screech of shell and the bumblebee hiss of minie balls. They'd
learned how to find water, forage for food, cook without utensils,
make shelter without tents; to take the weather, the privations, as
they came and say no more about it. The pair grew battle-wise, able
to forecast outcomes from understanding the preliminaries, to
second-guess big-wig generals from signs only their experience on the
ground enabled them to see.
But weeks of constant skirmishing, crossing and re-crossing
the low hills and rivers and deep forest belts of the Virginia
Piedmont, made two young men veterans--another name for soldiers who
knew how to win and stay alive.
War had a way of showing men unexpected qualities inside
themselves, of finding the chinks in the best facades to reveal the
lazy man inside the laborer, the brave man inside the clerk, the
worthless man inside the financier, the bully inside the minister,
the berserker inside the pacifist--even the "honest" man, who would
not eat stolen pig but would take a little of the gravy.
But a surprising thing happened: Josh and Sam learned that,
with each other, there were no facades. And what was left behind when
war had done its work was genuine.
By now they'd become true "pards," living for two. Neither
man would think of having an apple without cutting it in half.
A march like today's meant fatigue to the point of agony.
Sam saw his own pain in Josh's drawn face--it hurt to see it.
Footsore, they hobbled into camp, wanting only to lie down
and rest. But even as he collapsed, Josh groaned, "No, no, no.
Sam turned away from him. "Let me be."
"I'm going to fetch water," Josh said, heaving himself to his
feet like a spavined horse.
Sam grunted vaguely in his friend's general direction, eyes
closed. But he opened them when he felt a firm tug at his left boot.
He raised his head and squinted in the direction of his feet. Josh
was removing his boot. "Josh--."
"This needs doing." Josh took off the other boot and then
rolled off the crumpled and dirty white socks. "If you're too tired,
then I'll do it for you." He'd brought a bucket of water from the
stream and held a cloth. Soldier life had schooled them well; there
was the next march to be considered. 15 miles today more than likely
meant 15 miles tomorrow. Feet had to be cared for, no matter how
exhausted the men abusing them found themselves.
Josh lifted one of Sam's feet into his lap, dipping the cloth
in the cool water. "You know we have to do this," he said, quietly.
"And put salve on."
Sam nodded, watching. "I know. Thank you, kindly, Josh."
"It's nothing," Josh said, occupied with the footbath.
"I'll do you after." Sam sighed helplessly at the cool feel
of the cloth. Damn, but it did feel good. "Gladly."
"Looking forward to it. Let's have the other one." He was
gentle, businesslike, bathing, patting dry. He reached toward his
pack, got the little tin of salve and delicately applied it.
Sam watched him the whole while, feeling very grateful to him.
"You have clean, dry socks?" Josh asked.
"That was my last pair."
"Don't worry, I have extra." Josh pulled two pair of clean
white socks from his rucksack.
"You can spare these?" Sam asked.
"Now, see, Sam, you've hit on what I consider my worst flaw;
I'm generous to a fault."
The day was marked by a bright, monotonous overcast.
The column was marching as it had been doing for the two days
previous, the men around Sam moved with their teeth grit, bogging
down with fatigue. Old "Job" Bissinger, the company grouch, had been
scorching the air with his embittered curses for some miles.
Chin down, grinding it out, Josh had that "gone-to-China"
look in his eyes Sam knew well by now.
A call to halt came, and the men proceeded to enjoy every
sweet second of it, however long it was to last--lying down on dusty
grass by the roadside, easing knapsack straps and gun-belts,
snatching the opportunity for a smoke, or moistening parched throats
from canteens. Sam and Josh collapsed side by side, shared a drink
from Josh's canteen.
"I hate stopping as much as I hate starting," Josh grated.
In answer Sam just fell back and pulled his sweaty felt hat down over
A mounted orderly came riding back, picking his way through
the tumbled men, followed along by the razzing infantry always gave a
man on horseback--good-natured on the whole, if tinged with a little
envy. But this fellow looked no-nonsense--he was bringing news from
up front--and the kidding died away.
Sam uncovered his face, sat up, slowly.
At once, it became clear to all that the stall ahead was not
due to anything like a broken-down wagon or caisson, or a stream to
be forded. Exhaustion was replaced by a sense of peril impending.
Nervous tension spread through the ranks. What was going on?
The troops milled as minutes ticked by. Sam and Josh stood,
both feeling something not right.
They received no orders before the Union artillery opened up.
From somewhere in front came a faint report, and in mid-air
above them a round cloud spattered into view, snowy-white against the
blue sky; and then came another remote, jarring growl, followed by a
shuttlecock sound too familiar to their ears and growing louder each
moment. A spurt of earth was projected into the air not far from the
"They're shelling us!" Josh yelled.
The boys in gray hit the dirt. Another shell hit in the
ditch alongside the road.
"They're trying to get the range," Josh said, lifting his
head. "We better get out of the road." He stood and yelled as he
moved, "Get out of the road!" Nobody needed a gilded invitation; men
by the hundreds were already on their feet, willingly leaving the
area. A wild scramble up the banks ensued, all of them running into
the shorn cornfields adjacent.
A shell plowed the crest of a rise on the right, and the
entire line, 1,000 men, made a profound obeisance as it passed over.
The thought--the desperate hope--was that it might be a
"quartermaster hunter," ordnance overshooting its objective and
heading far behind the lines. It must clear them--it must clear
It didn't, quite.
As if time had somehow slowed, the shell's bizarre and
terrible effects spun out, first carrying away the top of a man's
head, so tidily he stood upright for two good, deep breaths before
falling. Where it landed, sending up clods of earth and smoke, the
body of a stalwart bearded man disappeared, leaving in his place, on
the ground where he'd stood, a confused mass of quivering limbs which
presently lay still.
They were pinned down as Union batteries tore into the road,
wishing like hell they could be somewhere else. Another shot came
and another and yet another, the smoke thickening until they could
barely see twenty feet in front of them. The war-music had begun and
a battle none of them had been expecting was on them. Josh and Sam
covered each other up and clung like children all through the wicked
Soon after, orders were shouted to move out by the left
flank, but just then another shell took effect, knocking over several
men and killing one of them. More men were lost as they all lay like
sitting ducks in that open field.
Their own batteries were being wheeled forward now, the
artillery men moving up the road they'd vacated and standing to the
pieces. All of them yelled rough encouragement.
"Put your boot in their ass!" Sam shouted, raising his head
from shelter under Josh's arm. Josh squashed him back, hissing,
"Stay down!" But he was grinning, hazel eyes twinkling, as he said
The men around one of the nearest guns suddenly broke away to
right and left. A dense white stream of smoke leaped from the muzzle
and we got the crashing report a few seconds later. The gunners
stepped forward again, lay hold of handspikes and spokes and hastily
swung the gun back into position.
After a quarter-hour of this, the enemy shelling slackened,
perceptibly. The bugle signaling advance sounded, and the men began
to move out. The infantry got to its feet and began to advance by
The Pelham farmstead, May of 1862:
James Pelham, a prosperous, granite-faced farmer, let the
regiment camp on a portion of his land. The commissary officer
bought sacks of flour and corn meal from him, and barrels of good
hard cider, and the men enjoyed a day or two of rest in this
First day, after a morning of drills and review and more
drills, Josh and Sam fell in idly together for a walk around.
They came upon a quite handsome red roan colt grazing with
the draft animals in Mr. Pelham's lower pasture. The horse trotted
up to the fence when it saw them as if recognizing a couple of
friends, gray tail like a flag. Whickering softly, it stretched its
neck and inspected them in turn. "Hey there, beauty," Josh said, as
they both caressed the suede-soft nose.
"I'd give you a sugar-cube, fella, if I had one," Josh
crooned, sweet-talking the horse, who nudged him. "Do you ride?" he
asked, glancing at Sam.
"Does sticking on a wall-eyed mule count?" Sam laughed. "Do you?"
"I used to." Josh looked around. "Think Mr. Pelham'd mind
if I put a little sweat on his fine animal?" He took off his jacket,
climbed the fence and hopped softly down on the other side, talking
softly to the animal the whole time. Firm hands gathered in the mane
and he was astride, lightly, the horse beneath him snorting, but easy
with his presence. He let the horse rear a little than cantered
away, handling the horse--even bareback--with practiced expertise.
Sam had never seen anything so marvelous as Josh, bareheaded,
in his muslin undershirt, riding that horse.
He could be seen for what he was--what he'd been--a polished
young aristocrat; the kind of man expected to ride, fence, shoot and
dance well, who spoke French and Latin and married the right sort of
girl. But for Sam, who knew a Josh of dusty boots and five-day
stubble, of scarred knuckles and faded uniform--he was a character
from a storybook, a vagabond prince to follow to the ends of the
earth, resourceful and brave. He gazed, admiration for his older
friend filling him.
Josh, who'd been circling the paddock, pulled the horse up as
he approached Sam. "Get behind me," he invited with a grin. And Sam
did, clambering hurriedly across from the fence to sit behind Josh.
"Hold on my waist," Josh ordered, and clucked the horse
forward. Sam's hat flew off and he whooped with the exhilaration of
the ride, arms tight around Josh, the three of them flying. They
rode down the big pasture and back, at a dead run. "Uh-oh," Josh
said, and pulled up quickly.
Mr. Pelham was standing there in his broadcloth coat, one
foot on the bottom rung of the fence, unlit pipe in black-bearded
Josh let Sam down and dismounted himself. "Mr. Pelham," Josh
"I don't want him rode," Pelham said.
"Yes, sir. This was an impertinence," Josh apologized. "You've been more than decent to us."
"That there's my son's horse." Pelham seemed not to have
heard him. "The boy won five county fair races on him. No damage
done just now; you're a fine rider. But my son died at Bull Run, and
no-one's to ride the horse again."
"My sympathies, Mr. Pelham," Josh said. "Let's go, Sam."
Sam ran to pick up his hat, and the pair left the enclosure. Sam
paused to speak to the bereaved man. "I-I lost a brother at Bull
Run, Mr. Pelham. I'm sorry for your loss."
Pelham's night-dark eyes touched him. "My sympathies to you,
son, and to your mother and father, if they be living."
"Thank you, sir, they are."
Josh and Sam looked at each other as they walked away, both
feeling the old man's sadness as a palpable force. Though
sympathetic, they still felt compelled to be away from it; the old
man's grief did not want them there. Pelham had set his gaze on his
son's roan horse and did not turn their way again.
The blazing fire lit up the forms and faces and trees around
it, but deepened the gloom of the surrounding woods. The soldier
hugged himself and felt how good it was to be with the fellows around
a fire; one of them. Pity the guys away off on sentry in the dark.
The night was nowhere near cold; the blaze and the coals
warmed the heart far more than the body.
Imagination seemed to feed on the embers, and as the young
soldier gazed into them, liberty and home, running in sunny meadows
with friends, Sundays at church, gingham dresses, the tilled fields,
all passed before him. His brothers came to mind, or perhaps his
woman, or his mother and father. He thought of both the loved and
the lost, and his own doubtful future loomed up. The possibility of
death and the unavoidable grief at home stirred his heart. The
soldier fought hard to keep his tears from falling.
This was a time to fondle his little gifts from home. Simple
things... The needle case with thread and buttons, the knitted
gloves, the letter telling of the struggles at home and the coming
box of good things--butter and bread and toasted and ground coffee,
and socks and soap--and other comforting things saved by self-denial
for the soldier, the brother, the son, and husband. Time to call on
God to spare, protect and bless the ones at home. This was the
moment for high resolve; to remind himself of his duty, in a way to
re-enlist for the war in his mind and heart.
That heart grew out to his comrades, his general and his
country--the friend at his side--and as the trees sighed around him,
the soldier slept and dreamed of being at home.
Joshua's journal --
June 10, 1862
Hard fighting this day.
After, I could not seem to find my spirit, and goodness in
the world seemed so very far away. Then Sam sat down and put an arm
around my back, without a word, offering the comfort I desperately
required just then and could not ask for.
I have a notion he admires me. For a moment I wondered if
he'd think less of me; if my needing his comfort made me less of a
man in his eyes...
I only needed to look at him to see that such a notion hadn't
crossed his mind; that he was happy just being of help to me. I felt
my heart begin to beat again, my appetite for life slowly return.
Joshua's journal --
June 21, 1862
I've never neglected my journal for so long. These past few
days have been...taxing. Marching mostly by night. And marching.
The column was pushed along at a rapid pace all day of June
13, when a halt was ordered and we laid down in a spur of pine woods
to rest. Not much to eat that evening, for some real wrung-out men.
Sam and I shared the last of our stale biscuits, and happy to have
At early dawn of Tuesday the 14th, we got to our feet, and
with gnawing stomachs resumed our ranks with the column as it marched
steadily in the direction of a little town called Newmarket. Again,
We arrived in the night, sat down, and friend divided with
friend the little supplies of raw bacon and bread picked up on the
day's march. Sam could scarcely hold up his head and found my
shoulder convenient. I didn't mind; I found his trust in me touching.
We were scarcely stretched on the ground and ready for a
blissful nap, when the orderly commenced bawling, "Detail for guard!
Detail for guard! Fall in here, fall in!" Then followed the names
of the detail. Thank God my name wasn't called. I'm not entirely
certain what I would've done. Pulled out my pistol and with eyes
dead from lack of sleep, shot the orderly? A man gets surly when
somebody comes between him and his sack-time.
Six men answered to their names but declared--in purest
honesty--that they couldn't keep awake if placed on guard. Their
protests were in vain, and they were marched off to picket a road
leading to camp. When they were relieved, all confessed that they'd
slept soundly on their posts. Nobody blamed them a bit.
While it was still dark, all hands were roused from our most
profound, most healing sleep. The column was formed and away we
went, stumbling, bumping against each other, some even dozing as they
walked. Whenever the column halted for a moment, as it did
frequently, the men--myself among them--dropped heavily to the ground
and instantly fell asleep. Then the officers ordered us forward
again. All communication between my brain and my muscles had by now
ceased, and Sam, bless him, had to haul me to my feet, then bodily
pull me along.
I swore to myself that he wouldn't have to, again.
Those first on their feet stumbled over supine comrades, who
would in turn be awakened; and again the column was in motion,
nothing heard but the slow tread of feet and the cry of "Close up
men, close up!"
The alternate halting and hurrying tried the endurance of the
most determined men to the very utmost; and yet at daybreak, every
man was in place and ready for duty.
After some ineffectual efforts to get a breakfast, the column
pushed on in the general direction of Spotsylvania. The 15th was
spent at or near that place -- how we spent it is difficult to
remember. Looking for food, I would think.
I fail to see why our government cannot dependably feed its
soldiers. The battalion we were ostensibly part of was yet again
thrown on its own resources where food was concerned: two ears of
corn on the cob were issued to each of us. We parched the ears in
the coals, mixed the kernels with salt, stored it in our pockets and
ate on the road. That was an arduous meal; every handful a day's
work for a man's teeth.
We reached the intersection of the east-west turnpike at Chilesburg, making camp near a granite spring-house where we filled our canteens, and a grove concealing an ammunition dump.
Toward evening the men were lying around, chatting tiredly
amid general quiet. Sam looked completely played out, but when I
ruffled his hair with my fingers, he gave me a game grin. Suddenly
the earth shook with a tremendous explosion and an immense column of
smoke and fire whooshed up into the air to a great height. For a
moment there was complete turmoil. We all broke and fled in wild
At a safer distance away we gripped our muskets and stood in
anxious attention until it went around that the ammunition had been
caught by a spark from a cook fire, and no crafty, unseen enemy
threatened our line. Laughter and hilarity prevailed for quite a
while among us, exhausted as we were.
Order restored, our weary march resumed, the column going by
plantation roads in wretched condition, and crowded with troops and
wagons, stragglers and camp followers. That the night's travel was
arduous can be deduced from the fact that when morning dawned, the
column was only six or seven miles from where the munitions dump had
gone up like a Roman candle. We arrived near Bowling Green about ten
o'clock of Thursday the 16th.
Resting the men, late June 1862:
A clatter of metal on metal interrupted Josh's clumsy blouse
mending. A sawhorse laden with scrap hardware, caisson hinges, gun
barrels and such, had collapsed a dozen yards away.
Sam looked up from cleaning his rifle with a perfunctory, "What the--?"
They watched the commotion for a moment; an officer yelling
at the detail in charge, the men shuffling about with much
head-scratching and blame-assigning.
"The incurably blind leading the irreparably stupid," Josh commented.
Sam looked at him and gave a wry smile before returning to
his task. Light grazed the boy's head, found the silk in
sun-streaked hair, in the fur of his lashes. There he sat, a
decorous young Southern soldier with a clean-cut jawline,
peach-fuzzed face smudged with gun oil; patched gray short uniform
coat open at the neck, muddy, calf-high boots.
Josh gazed, distracted a moment by the appealing picture his
friend made. His responses to Sam's face and form were distantly
troubling to him. The intangibles of Sam- his warrior spirit, kind
heart--were what stirred Josh's selfless valor, brought out all his
fierce protectiveness. Nothing must happen to Sam in this vale of
sorrows; Josh wouldn't allow it. By all means, any means, they must
But the young man's graces were hard to ignore; they were
proof almost of the caliber of soul his body housed. Sam's honest
beauty touched a mysterious soft spot in Josh he'd never known was
there and couldn't define. And he hated mysteries, was maniacally
compelled to solve them, get to the bottom of things. Sam was very
like him, actually, in that respect.
Sam was speaking, looking at him with bemusement.
"What?" Josh asked. "Ow!" He shook his hand; he'd stuck
himself with the damned darning needle.
"You're doing it again."
Sucking his finger, Josh raised a deliberately incurious
eyebrow. "Yeah? What's that?"
"Me. Like you're a jack-leg preacher and I'm a fried chicken dinner."
Josh relaxed a little, grinned softly. "I'd've thought you'd
be accustomed to being gawked at, Face. I've seen you cause a
Sam's cheeks colored, like watered-wine staining silk. Josh
relented. His best friend had no vanity, a trait Josh found
endearing, a tribute, maybe, to the young man's upbringing.
Sam muttered something, not looking at him.
"Beg your pardon?"
Sam cleared his throat. "Makes a difference," he said, more
distinctly, "who's doing the gawking."
"Ah..." Josh nodded. A moment of thoughtful silence passed.
"Um, Sam, you do know about... About certain fellows who... Men who
prefer to have congress solely with--. Men who like boys?"
"Was it supposed to be a secret?" Sam asked. " 'Cause I
gotta tell you--."
"No! I only meant--. Never mind."
"What is it you're aiming for, Josh? I really am listening
to you. Think of me as a pair of ears."
"I don't know; just thinking that... Should someone approach
you--not that you couldn't take care of yourself--you could! But
wondering how you'd handle yourself in one of those...delicate
situations? All kinds of things go on in camp; it's a sinner's
holiday out there. I mean, has it ever become...unacceptable? Has
anyone...?" Josh's whole body seemed to ask, 'How do I put this?'
"Look, if there are ever any *unwanted* attentions, Sam--. Any at
"There haven't been any," Sam said, with a not-quite-confident laugh.
Josh's skeptical face said it all. "Sam, how could that
possibly even be?!"
"Well, once or twice. Look, this is completely between you
and me, but Col. Halliwell -."
"That'd be Roger Halliwell?"
"Yes. He was Captain Prentice's friend, from their boyhood
days. At first he was just friendly; like a big brother. He'd give
me an apple when he came visiting Capt. Prentice. Then he started
asking me to be his aide-de-camp. And I'd say 'no, thank you, sir,'
and he'd tell me what an opportunity it'd be and like that... But he
kept after me--and I started to take it to mean something else,
entirely. Then he wasn't so friendly, anymore. He made me feel
small, promising me better food than I was gettin', and a uniform
with braid, and a bed in his tent... He--." Sam gave Josh a look,
"he grabbed me and kissed me, once."
"What the hell--what did you do?"
"Pushed him off and wiped my mouth. I told him I hated the
way he treated me cheap more than I hated the kiss. He found that
Josh showed his towering disapproval, storm clouds gathered
on his brow. "He was a superior officer who knew you couldn't
retaliate," he said. "I mean, Sam, do you know how badly that
situation could've ended up for you?"
"Took some maneuvering to get clear of it, for certain. I
decided I'd stick to my duty after that, mind my business, keep my
head down and soldier with the rest of 'em. Nobody even thinks of me
that way, anymore. I'm just, 'that handy young fella', and that
suits me. Alright?" His pause after that was amused. "Were you
offering to set yourself between me and the hosts of the wicked?"
"Yeah," Josh nodded, looking at him intently. "Actually, I
am. Any time."
Sam felt very...fond, smiling at his friend. "Hell, I
already expected that, Josh," he said. "But thanks."
"It's my privilege."
The pair spent the evening with friends; fellow privates
"Smoky" Pete Wyland and Hart Jackson. The four pooled their supplies
and had really quite a grand supper; a stew with potatoes in it, a
cherished jar of peach preserves (brought forth as tenderly as a
newborn baby), and biscuits.
"All we lack is a centerpiece," Josh said, making Sam snicker.
After eating, they sat talking bullshit around the fire,
sipping from Smoky's stash of nose-hair-curling home brew, which
"recipe" called for willow-bark juice, rotten crabapples, turpentine,
brown sugar, lamp oil, and, incidentally, alcohol. They got to
singing, too. Sam started it, in his inimitably off-key voice:
O Polly, O Polly,
It's for your sake alone,
I've left my old father,
My country and my home.
I've left my old mother
To weep and to mourn,
I am a Rebel soldier
And far from my home.
The others joined in forthwith, if only to get him on key:
I'll eat when I'm hungry,
I'll drink when I am dry,
If the Yankees don't kill me,
I'll live until I die;
If the Yankees don't kill me
And cause me to mourn,
I am a Rebel soldier
And far from my home.
Turned out, none of them were any good:
Here's a good old cup of brandy
And a glass of nice wine,
You can drink to your true love,
And I will drink to mine;
And you can drink to your true love,
And I'll lament and mourn,
I am a Rebel soldier
And far from my home. **
They turned in late, in very good spirits, returning to their
"homestead," the spreading sycamore tree on which they'd hung their
canteens, at whose foot they lay their haversacks and spread their
The moon rose, enormous and velvety gold. The sound of
frogs, crickets and nightingales was the throbbing heart of an
inordinately fine evening. The air smelled of moist greenery and
Josh had turned over and back a half-dozen times, his
activity tickling Sam, who'd been sitting there taking in the
pleasant night. "Picked up a few fleas, Josh?"
"There's fleas in here with me, alright. Horny, tumescent
fleas." Shifting restlessly, Josh sighed. "Ah, I'm missing my wife,
that's all. A night like tonight... The whole world feels like one
So far Sam had only ever kissed girls, fondled a budding
breast or two, and done nothing further, but he tried to seem a man
of the world, nodding in sage silence.
Joshua looked at him and chuckled. "It's Smoky's joy juice,
Sam; it's the full moon. I'm enjoying a rare sense of well-being and
I happen to love my wife. After six years of marriage, I desire her
as much as I did on our wedding night. I want her just as much-
*only* her, and, frankly, I want her now."
"I don't know much about that," Sam admitted. "Wanting one
woman. You know, like you'd die if you didn't have her..."
"You've never been in love, Sam?"
Sam recalled girls back home he'd liked a lot, played
hide-and-seek with, stolen kisses from or been kissed by, girls he'd
thought were pretty. Like Naomi Jennings, with her tow hair and
straight gray eyes... "Maybe I have. A little. I don't know."
"Nobody does. Love's a thing you fall into, like a mud
puddle; something you wake up to one morning and there it is."
Pensive, Sam considered love's secrets, none of which he was
privy to. He felt tender-footed, and confused.
His glance fell on Josh. He'd seen the man before him in
exultation, in distress, frightened out of his mind, angered,
delirious, blood-up, victorious, in pain--but never in love or
pleasure. Sam found himself, suddenly, acutely aware of and curious
about that corner of Josh's life.
"Have you been with a whole lot of women?" he asked.
"Let me answer that this way: I've certainly lived a man's
life, Sam. And I've never made any vows of chastity."
"When did you first--? You know."
"I was 16. With one of our house-girls at Bretley, the house
I grew up in. Well, actually it was three of us together. Me and
her, and her sister. Though only one of them was technically my
"Two gals." Sam was both impressed, and a little dizzy with
"Yeah," Josh said, self-satisfied smile playing about his
mouth. "And it was a slippery slope from there--a beautiful
succession of hot under the silks debutantes, high class courtesans
of brilliant wit, authoresses and philosophes, actresses and merry
young widows--until Libby took me captive."
Sam took that in. Trusting Josh with his life had quickly
encompassed feelings, his pride, and secrets, too, the things he'd
never told anyone--or felt he could ask anyone.
"What-what's it like?"
"Sex," Sam said. "The actual deal. What's it like with a woman?"
In the dim firelight, Joshua's eyes changed, widening
impossibly before slowly turning more kind than Sam had ever seen
them, more gentle. He showed no great shock or gave any other overt
hint that he thought Sam's state of virginity phenomenal. There'd
been no time in the boy's perilous life to lose it.
He leaned up on an elbow, preparing to speak. "First thing
to get out of the way is that sex is nothing at all like you've
imagined," he said. "A boy thinks all kinds of nonsense beforehand.
Forget it. Being with a woman is...natural, more than anything else;
something your body knows how to enjoy without being told how. And
you're not there just to satisfy yourself. You take into account the
girl's comfort with you, her trust. The point being pleasure, for
"What sex is decidedly *not* is a tidy, proper little garden
tea. Sex is...indelicate, crude, and deliciously un-tidy. It can be
fierce or tender. Or both at once. Sometimes it's just comedy. You
feel it--boy, do you feel it--with every sense, top to bottom, inside
and out, up, down, sideways..."
"Sounds real... thrilling."
"At its best. But I would be remiss as a friend if I didn't
also tell you that it can be clammy, dull and disappointing. And
you don't have to rush into it before you're ready, Sam. Hold out
for when it's the best; when you genuinely love and desire the lady
granting her favors to you. Follow your heart not just your--." He
seemed to re-think his wording. "Then again, you're 18; you no doubt
think of nothing else."
"Actually, I think a lot about my ma's chicken and
dumplings," Sam observed, making Josh snort with laughter, and moving
to lie down near him. "I mean it! I'm thinking about 'em right now.
All the time you were talking, in fact."
Chuckling at him, Josh settled down, too, lying back. "So,
unlike every other randy 18-year-old in the history of mankind, you
do *not* think about sex at every waking moment?" he asked.
"I think about it," Sam admitted. "Well, between marching 10
miles at a throw, fighting for my life and scrabbling for food and
"Your plate's piled pretty high, at that." Josh looked at
him. "Next time we camp near a friendly town of any size, if you
want, we can get a two-hour pass from Little Jack... I can take you
somewhere, a clean house... I'm a more experienced man; I can show
you the ropes of the place without embarrassing you..."
Sam shook his head. "I reckon I'll just do that
April 27, 1863 (before Chancellorsville):
The young soldier was always awake to watch the sun rise.
Growing up a farmer's son Sam had never known what it was to sleep
late. A day like today reminded him of spring days back on his
father's farm in the Valley of Virginia, between the Blue Ridge
Mountains on the east and the Allegheny Mountains to the west, the
air light and still breathing cold, the stars still there until
sunlight hid them and warmed everything.
Camp was still quiet, except for the mess cooks building up fires.
At home Pa'd be in the thick of the harvesting, the boy
thought, his cheerful old man reaping the fruit of his black bottom
fields--late corn, barley, rye, oats, alfalfa... In the old days all
of them would be helping, Sam, his five brothers and three sisters
giving up what schooling there was to pitch in.
But there were books in the home, and a treasured piano.
Their maternal grandfather made fiddles and the whole family played.
The siblings were close-knit, each other's best playmates, and had no
idea they were poor.
Three of the boys went off to war together, washed along by
the patriotic sentiment of the times.
And went on to separate regiments, a jarring development they
hadn't expected. After parting they met differing fates.
Micah, the oldest of them, had died in the fighting at First
Manassas, the battle Northerners called Bull Run, on July 21, 1861.
David had lost his life in October, in the fighting at Balls's Bluff,
at Leesburg, under General "Shanks" Evans. Both battles were
Confederate victories; at Ball's Bluff, the Union had been completely
Sam took pride in the victories, but he'd rather have had his
brothers back. He hadn't taken much time to reflect that he would
not see Mike and David again this side of the River Jordan. War had
stolen his chances to grieve, overlaid his sadness with more intense
When he joined up, he'd wanted to do heroic things, fight
with honor; win great battles, return home a hero. And there'd been
moments... But mostly it had been desperate confusion, blood, mud,
vermin, and covering his head under torrents of shot; seeing things
happen--causing things to happen--to men's bodies that nearly
extinguished his mind--.
Sam was 19 just (he'd had a birthday pass without much
notice, even by him, in February), and already a veteran soldier.
He'd seen boys as young as ten in very dicey situations, as
flag-bearers, drummers; fighting, even. Everybody knew about Johnny
Shaughnessy, 10 years old, who'd shot and killed a Union colonel and
been awarded a medal for bravery.
Sam's younger brothers at home, Zach and Joseph and Seth,
were all still such children as he remembered them, playing with
slingshots and hobby horses and marbles, shinnying up trees and
catching frogs... Sam hoped none of them had a fever for joining up
to come fight; war was not a thing with which little boys needed to
be familiar. Sam didn't want his younger brothers to know about pain
and killing and not getting enough to eat. Honestly, he wished he
War demanded everything a man had inside himself, and the
little glory in it was tainted by unutterable loss.
A big battle would come tomorrow or the next day. The
inevitability of the fight made Sam's insides gripe. Yet it felt
normal--fear was almost a friend, so long had it been his companion.
His best friend, Josh, stirred then, grumbled, lying uneasily
on the ground beside him, rolled snug in his kit against the chill.
Josh was older than Sam, 31 when they'd met, a lawyer from Richmond
with a successful practice; a married man with two young sons.
Since they met they'd been keeping each other company, and
keeping each other alive. They'd shared everything they had; their
food, their blankets, letters from home, moments of lunacy and
laughter, the smell of death, the sight of other friends of theirs
torn asunder and dying; the sweet taste of life spared to live
another day... Neither of them had expected to survive so long.
Josh was one of a kind.
Blunt, generous and impetuous, fiery in battle, practical and
strong-willed, the tall, slender reed of a man was the rock of his
company; he lent it his mordant character. War had instilled a
sadness in his brown eyes, but his smile was usually ready, and easy
to draw forth.
It was he who could make the whole company laugh, who came up
with the best nicknames. For example, the tall, rawboned fellow from
Chesapeake who never spoke above a laconic mumble was "Shakespeare."
Robert Bristoe was "Bub" for life because Josh had shortened the much
more descriptive "Big Ugly" Bristoe. He called Sam "Face"--but only
occasionally, and mostly to tease him.
Josh was a city fellow, fairly well-to-do, and could have
paid for a substitute to fight in his stead, or even become an
officer. He'd chosen instead to fight as an infantryman, an ordinary
foot-soldier. He kept a journal in which he made diligent entries,
in quiet moments (and when there was opportunity) by firelight at the
end of the day.
Sam admired him no end; was grateful to the Lord above to've
found him, to have someone to depend on, to care for. Nobody who
hadn't been to a war could know how much that meant.
And somewhere along the way, nearly a year ago now, they'd
fallen in love with each other, as only two young men in war could;
profoundly, tenderly, for as long as they had.
Josh coughed, rolled over. "Mornin' ", he croaked, leaning
up on an elbow.
"Mornin'," Sam said, smiling at Josh's sleepy face and hair.
Josh reached for his hand and held it companionably.
"Marching today," he said. "Fighting tomorrow."
"Yeah. Afraid so. Want to go for some coffee?"
Josh's gaze held his. "It's still dark. Come here, get me
warm." He lifted his blanket, inviting Sam over to snuggle next to
him. Sam stroked his hair back, smoothing it, slowly, looking into
eyes full of pensive thought, looking back into his.
They lay together and watched the stars fading, not talking
until Josh broke the ineffable peace.
"We may not get much chance, in the next few days, to...to
take a moment to say certain things, Sam. So..."
Sam kissed his sandy cheek. "I know. I love you."
"And I love you," Josh whispered. He found Sam's mouth and,
holding his jaw, kissed him. "Let that be for all time."
Record of a skirmish at Mechanicsville, June 26, 1862:
Our company was holding the advanced post at the bridges. We
expected an attack two days ago, not knowing that the disposition of
the Federal force on the north bank was completely up in the air.
McCain's Pennsylvania corps, before which we had retired from
Fredericksburg, and which was to have joined and extended this Union
flank on the Rappahannock, was held up. We didn't precisely know
where McCain or any of his regiments were; we only thought we did.
When the advance began, we were first to cross the river.
On the other side, for some distance the only road was a
plank one through swamp. Our company traversed this convenience
without opposition, at double-quick time, until we came into the open
and approached the small hamlet of Mechanicsville.
This sleepy place was at the intersection of the "old" Cold
Harbor road and a toll road leading, it suddenly dawned on me, home
I thought, 'If I got on that road and started walking, in a
matter of two days I'd be standing in front of 1015 E. Clay St., the
house I bought for us when we married. I'd traverse the herringbone
pattern of my brick walkway. I could walk up the steps past the
white double columns, open my front door of polished walnut and
gleaming brass. I'd proceed down the hall, booted feet silent on the
rose-covered runner. I'd pass through the door of the sitting room,
put my arms around my wife and my boys and I'd never, ever let them
I didn't get on the road. I prayed my family was safe and
continued in my duty.
Thus far we had seen no Federals except a few scattered
pickets, who promptly retired before our advance. The country around
us was in no way distinctive--just an ordinary Virginia landscape of
fields, farmhouses and commonplace woods; but it was the picture of
serenity in the light and mist of a summer morn.
The company formed a line on the right of the road and
approached the wooded campsite in which, we supposed, the foe was
concealed and waiting for us. When almost up to it, some excited
soldier discharged his muzzle-loader. At once, without orders, the
entire right wing of the regiment (we on the left kept cooler heads)
blazed away at the collection of tent-poles and cracker-boxes,
reminders of the site's late occupation. A bugle call was ordered to
reign them in and cease fire. At that time it was realized that
there probably wasn't a Federal soldier closer than a mile distant.
We entered the camp, found a place left in an awful hurry;
coffeepots boiling dry, irreplaceable items (to us) left behind.
Coffee and cigars, canvas and oil-cloths, sugar and flour and meal,
sides of good beef, cans of peaches, even real whiskey. Jesus Christ
Himself wouldn't've faulted us, hungry and long-deprived of luxuries,
for grabbing as much of this finery as we could.
Having passed through the camp we were halted again just
beyond, in a dip of the ground through which coursed a small rivulet,
and some of us took the opportunity to fill canteens. While waiting
there, we received the first hostile shots from muskets beyond the
creek. Seems the Union men had come back to challenge us. We
returned fire. They soon got our range and it began to look like a
real battle at last. A fire-fight ensued, with us advancing slowly.
Things got down to hand-to-hand, knee to knee, tooth to tooth. As
Sam said, "warm work, for certain."
We took losses and lost the skirmish. Out of our own company
of 60, nineteen were killed and or wounded. Lloyd Brophy was killed
on the field, and silenced forever; that particular death surprised
me, how ill I took it--I guess I liked Brophy more than I knew. Our
orderly sergeant John Archy, a little Irishman who'd fought in the
Mexican War, was mortally wounded in the head and died later. Caleb
Griffin was wounded in the neck, and Jesse Cordry, only slightly, in
Joshua's journal --
June 30, 1862
Walter Eustis just sat down with the rest of us to morning
coffee with ashen face, looking like he'd seen the devil. 'What's
wrong with you?' we asked.
He said that last night, while we were pinned down in the
town, he'd found his canteen dry as a bone. Dying of thirst, he'd
crept outside in the dark to look for water. He'd found a barrel
full of cool, sweet water and liberally quenched his thirst from it.
Only this morning, he'd returned to it and found it'd been used to
wash and soak a bullock's head and was dark with blood.
I cannot adequately express the horror this story engendered
in me when Walter told it. My skin crawls even in the retelling.
And I can't help feeling that, somewhere in its intimate
horror, there is a telling metaphor for our present war.
Joshua's journal --
July 3, 1862
We have fought a battle every day for seven days, going point
to point with McCain's Pennsylvanians at the towns of Harrod and
Blythe, at Bode's Farm and at Gordonsville. The fight in front of
Gordonsville was the worst, a pitched battle in dense woods.
It was here that Capt. Cuffee Regan, a friend and client of
mine for seven years, lost his life. Cuffee had his share of the
silly pomposity too often found in officers--hell, he was that way in
civilian life. But he had something better--a true heart in his
bosom, an interest in his men's welfare, and a soul that did not
flinch in time of battle. I will miss him.
In the thick of things, Sam and I got separated. I lost him.
Later on we found each other; all turned out well. No more
will be said in this volume concerning the incident...
We are to be folded into Company B, under Capt. Shad Galway,
a good man, with a sterling reputation.
Sam had gotten himself clubbed by a Union private's rifle
butt and been knocked out. He woke up, fuzzy-headed, wincing at the
soft spot where the rifle had met the skull. "Dang..." He took a
bleary look around.
The fight had long moved on, the sun slanted amber now
through the trees and the lingering smoke from musket fire. Around
him in the undergrowth were only dead and still dying men, wearing
blue and gray.
Suddenly it occurred to him that Josh would be worried about him.
He got to his feet, dusted himself off, picked up his rifle
and moved, staggering some with the dizziness.
He followed, it seemed, the outcome of the fight. Looked
like the Federals had taken more losses, but he saw a familiar
gray-clad body or two. He prayed hard that he wouldn't stumble
across one particular and much-beloved body; wouldn't let himself
even think of that.
Finding one of the silvery little rivulets that meandered all
through the swampy forest, he knelt to drink first, thirstily, and
then began to fill his canteen. The click of a pistol next to his
ear made him stop, staring straight ahead.
"Don't even breathe, Reb. And don't touch that musket."
Sam didn't need telling. The man with the gun walked around
in front of him. He found himself looking up along the shiny
scrollworked barrel of a very fancy side-arm. With effort he looked
beyond it to the blue uniform and the blond-bearded face of a Union
corporal, a man of about 35, pale-browed and broad; a straggler
maybe, or just trapped behind the line. "Yes, you're in quite a bit
of trouble," he said, reading Sam's eyes correctly. "Why didn't you
run with the rest of the white trash? Or maybe you did? Before the
Sam held the man's gray gaze with his own. "If anybody ran,
which I doubt, they'll just come fight again tomorrow. " Suddenly
pissed-off anger replaced his fear. "I saw way more blue back there
on the ground than gray--."
The man shoved him back viciously with his foot and Sam sprawled.
"You have no right to talk about their deaths," the Federal
said, holding the gun a trifle unsteadily on him, jaws clenching.
Sam looked for, waited for, a further weakness, an opening. "If I
shot you now it'd be between me and God. And I'm already on his bad
side, so one more demerit won't change a damned thing insofar as my
"You ain't going to take me prisoner?" Sam asked.
"Prisoner?" The man's eyes flickered brightly, almost
laughing. "Prisoner? No. I don't really think I can do that. Not
being in good standing, currently, with my captain and regiment."
"I haven't decided," the corporal said with an odd honesty.
"Call it 'momentarily absent-without-leave.' I don't know if I can
go back. I'm not the only one, either. There's one or two
desertions every day; soldiers of the rightful government of this
country, running from their duty." He seemed to consider what he'd
revealed by those words, but didn't retract them. "Hell, why
shouldn't you know it? I'm not betraying a damned thing. McClellan
wouldn't fight, and Burnside can't general his way out of his own
tent. Good men are dying for the mistakes of paper generals. I've
had my fill of it, but I'm--I haven't made up my mind."
There was a silence as the Federal's eyes darted crisply
around them before returning to Sam. "What're you doing here,
anyway, separated from the rest of your company." His eyes made a
circuit of the gloomy clearing again.
"Let me go," Sam said, flatly. "And you head that direction,
I head t'other."
"It's a suggestion," the man said, absently. "Funny, I
haven't been in charge of making my own choices since I enlisted.
I've almost forgotten how." There was a sadness in his eyes as he
looked at Sam again. "I lost my friend five days ago. Finest man I
ever knew; we enlisted together. He was best man at my wedding, an
engineer, a gentleman; a singular personality." He seemed to be
looking through Sam. "Shell tore him in half. And I don't know how
I can continue in an endeavor in which his life could be wasted the
way it was. Where there's no heroism, and war's a hell without
meaning. He helped me remember my duty. He was the only thing
between me and the--the--." The sentence remained unfinished.
Sam glanced up. He wanted to say, 'I have a friend like
that, too. And I know he's maybe thinking I'm dead, looking for me.
And he'd be heart-sick to lose me--.' The thought of Josh grieving
threatened his calm front.
But the bearded corporal's face held a certain, bitter
letting-go. He'd despaired, gone 'round the bend. "Get on your
feet," he ordered. "I'm damned if I'll stand in the open like this
for your band to take potshots at."
Sam didn't comply with any hurry; he very much wanted to
remain in the open. Standing over him with plenty of leverage, the
man gave him a back-handed slap. Blood trickled from his nose and
ran down, but he just licked it away as he was dragged up by the
scruff, the gun cold against his temple. "Move. And take heed, boy."
Josh heard movement through forest litter, a man cursing,
harsh breathing. Picking up a good-sized rock, he chunked it across
the clearing behind the sounds he was hearing, and peeked through the
creepers on a tree. The old ruse with the stone evidently still
worked just fine.
Josh took in the situation. Sam, pistol to his head, being
held by a Federal corporal. Some straggler cut off from his
regiment, Josh guessed. Who was now, happily, looking away from him.
"Show who you are!" the man yelled, none too happy about the
turn this thing seemed to have taken. "Show yourself, you gray-back
lice! Or I kill him!" The gun dug hard into Sam's bone. "I've got
no love for your kind! I will kill him, sure as day."
The boy held himself proud, in spite of the bloody nose he
was sporting, and the death he was facing. Josh's heart wanted to
break in two.
He stepped out, and Sam saw him. Their eyes met, and they
stared as if they would never see each other again. Then Josh heard
the pistol being cocked and saw red.
He stole closer, reached around and grabbed the gun barrel,
jerking it up before it could fire. When it did, Sam dove for cover.
The Union soldier whirled, jerking at the gun. Josh let him,
slipping his saber from its scabbard at the same time. As the other
man cocked the pistol to fire, Josh ran the federal infantryman
through with a vicious thrust. With a roar, the man grabbed at him,
and with an uncanny strength, bore him backward, fighting his own
death with a freakish strength.
They'd seen the little village below serene in the misty
morning. Now, at mid afternoon, it lay burning from top to bottom,
torched by Union soldiers. //We won,// Sam thought, incredulous.
//What the hell kind of victory is this?//
Josh sat down, heavily, blood on his hands, streaks of it on
his tunic and face. Eyes staring into a deep place, he seemed slack,
inside and out.
Sam felt somehow, at his core, untouched by his close call
today, content to be alive, to just hold onto that. But looking at
Josh--the one responsible--was like seeing a man suffer pain from
wounds he was dreaming.
Of the two of them it seemed only Sam had the power right now
to move, act. So he took charge of Josh, got him clean, tried to
tempt him to eat; watched him fall asleep on the ground like a man
knocked unconscious. Guarded his rest.
Josh woke seven hours later to the spectacle of black
silhouetted trees against the red of sunset and dying fires, and
wept. He hid his face, and was quiet, but Sam knew... And let him
be. God knew it hurt, but he couldn't fathom what to say.
Dinner time came and went. Sam ate alone. The older man,
most of the time so voluble, sat and did not speak. When had Sam
last heard his voice?
He longed to hear it.
Josh gazed at nothing from above interlocked fingers. When
finally he did speak, his voice was too small, a sliver of pain.
"It's nothing to do with you. I need...a little time to repair,
Sam took his opportunity. He'd begun to suspect what the
matter was. "The fight was fair, Josh. Fair as fair could be."
"The hell it was."
"He wouldn't've minded killing you, or me! I guarantee you that much!"
Neither of them spoke anymore for a few minutes.
"Tomorrow's not promised to any mortal man," Josh said at
last, quietly. "Or to anyone he loves."
Sam tried to grasp firm hold of the message he was being
sent. "We can die at any time," he said. "I know it."
"Grasping that terrifying truth up here is one thing," Josh
pointed to his temple, then touched his mid-section with all his
fingers. "Quite another to feel it in here, taste it, like
bile--face it this-very-instant. That Yank had you cold. An inch
either way, a misstep, and- . So I spit him like a pig on my saber,
then choked the last breath out of him. He was a hair's-breadth from
taking your life, and I'd've done anything--anything--to save you."
"Josh, when it's over, it stays over." Sam was becoming
impatient with him. "That's how we keep going out here. We don't
carry the last fight with us to the next. We taught each other
"Anything, Sam! I wanted to butcher him." Sam blinked in
surprise, but Josh was serious. "I never felt that before, and never
want to feel it again. And it had nothing to do with state
sovereignty or the rebel cause." The remote eyes found Sam, looking
at him as if to place his identity. Sam didn't flinch under the
scrutiny. Then it was over, and Josh wilted, bent elbows on knees.
"I apologize for making you worry about me, today," he said.
He cleared his throat before continuing. "For being so distant, and
not communicating. At best, I was impolite."
"Stop being such an all-fired gentleman with me, or I will
start worrying. Look, I've got us all snug over there. Let's turn
Josh was obedient, if not enthusiastic; he really was
wrung-out, Sam had seen suddenly, at the end of his reserves of will,
hanging on by sheer orneriness.
Side by side they lay, stiff and silent, wide awake and
staring into the glowing night sky.
"This is no good. I'll never sleep, tonight," Josh said,
irritably. "I slept all day."
"What if I stay'd awake with you, then?" Sam asked. "We
could talk. Or not. Just lie here looking at the stars..." Josh
had told him the names of the constellations, the stories behind
them--and he never tired of hearing them recited. Andromeda,
"I won't hear of it. You've wet-nursed me all day long, Sam.
Had no rest."
"Turn over and close your eyes."
"Alright, damn it, I give up. Goodnight." Sam turned away.
Ten or so uncomfortable minutes later, he heard Josh stir.
"I know you're not asleep," the much loved voice came, with a
surprisingly gentle scolding. "There's no need to freeze me out."
"What'd you expect?" Sam asked.
"Sam, I can't let you exhaust yourself for my sake."
"It's my choice," Sam said, voice brooking no argument. "Not
something you can permit me. I care for you, jackass. If you fell
down, I'd help you up without even thinking about it. Seeing you cry
broke my heart, Josh. So maybe I can't fix it, but let me try. For
Josh moved nearer. His light hand touched, then squeezed
Sam's shoulder. "There's nothing any friend can do for me, tonight,
Sam. Even you. I've always accepted my killer instinct. I'm a
lawyer, I've been trained to find the weak places, go for the throat,
without mercy. I have to have that capacity; I own up to it. Only,
tonight, I'm--it--feels like there's another man in me I don't know
at all. A man I'm not especially proud of. I need to go up against
him in my own soul and try to win. Convince myself I'm not, at
heart, a murderer."
"You killed that Union fellow to protect me," Sam argued.
"I'm part of this; I take part of the blame, if there is any."
"I won't allow it, Sam."
"You think you can just give me orders to that effect, Josh?
And I'll turn aside so you can cut yourself up in peace? I'm not
just *any* friend. I'm special to you, I know I am. We just never
"Goddammit, Sam! You don't understand. Yes, you're special
to me." Strong emotion quaked Josh's voice, as it always did.
"You're very special. But you are also what's ailing me, what's
wrong. You're beginning to mean far too much to me, and it's skewing
everything out of true. I-I wasn't entirely sane, today. I
completely lost my moorings."
"I'm what's wrong." That hurt; and Sam heard the cut in his
own voice. What was Josh saying?
"I don't know when your-your very being--became necessary for
me, Sam! When it got to the point where I could forget what I owe
myself! I'm not blaming you, it's me--."
"You can't just stop," Sam swallowed, "liking somebody--.
Unless we split up... You're talking about us splitting up?" Josh
didn't answer. "Christ, you really are?" The prospect of it
"Well why don't we, then?" Sam buried his face in the crook
of his arm. "Get it over with. I don't want to care this much
"Sam... How do I explain? What I did this morning wasn't
exempted by war. An act of barbarism--an act that'd be murder in
civilian life--can be excused for a soldier. But I took a man's
life, not because he opposed me in any battle, but because I didn't
want to lose you! It was personal. I was AWOL, Sam. I'd looked for
you two hours, dreading for every single minute of that two hours
that you were dead. After half an hour, I was convinced you were.
"I got there. And I saw you. Saw what he was about to do."
Josh's breath brushed Sam's neck as he confessed. "Saw him about to
take my best friend, the only light and truth I have in this chaos,
from me, and I couldn't--. I couldn't face never seeing your dear
face again." He sounded so miserably heartbroken. "The cause I had
was good... But what I did- and the unholy joy I felt in doing
it--was outside the bounds. Not the act of a civilized man."
Sam looked over his shoulder toward his sweet friend. "Can't
you forgive yourself? Please, Josh. You're the best man I know or
ever will. You came for me, and you rescued me, like in 'The Tales
of Sinbad.' Not afraid for yourself, afraid for me. When you came
stealing up, that's the first time I saw that you love me, Josh. And
I wanted--I wanted so bad to tell you I-I loved you back. In case I
died? How I admire you and-and worship you."
"Worship?" Josh sounded startled, puzzled. "Worship, Sam?"
"Whatever it is when you-you'd like to give somebody the
whole world and lay it at their feet. If that's worship..."
"I think it is," Josh said, after a silence in which Sam
heard him swallow hard a couple of times.
"Then don't talk about not being my friend, anymore. I like
that we belong. I'd sooner not see the sun again as not see you.
And we damned sure are necessary to each other."
Josh knew defeat when it came, and it had. Enough. He
didn't want Sam to sound this unhappy any more. "I know. I know we
are." A few moments passed in silence.
"He lost his best friend," Sam said. "That corporal? He
told me that he'd lost his best friend a coupla days ago."
"Is that so?" Josh asked.
"Yeah. He was a deserter, because of it. But to me seemed
like it really didn't matter that he'd deserted, 'cause he was lost."
"Jesus, I was fighting my twin." Josh shivered. "Or my
opposite. Poor bastard... He'd lost his compass, lost his belief in
the war, in himself; he'd've been lost everywhere he went. Same as
I'd be if I lost you..." He pet Sam's bicep, tentatively. "You've
been my savior, Sam," he whispered. "Always. Not my madness." Sam
took gentle hold of his hand and drew the entire arm about him.
Josh's nose and mouth moved clumsily, nervously through
Sam's hair as his other arm found its way around. Sam sighed in the
tight embrace, body mutely seeking more of Josh's.
Josh's breathing changed its quality, gaining a subtle thread
like a man about to speak--or take off running.
"I can just about hear you thinking," Sam said.
"What am I thinking?" Josh laughed, a shaky outburst. "That
you smell like sweet grass, and smoke from the town fires burning?
And something else I want to call 'boy,' because there's no more
suitable name for it..." His phrases slowed. "And that...you're,
uh, still trembling, a little bit, from our harsh words..." He
moved to separate his long-legged body from Sam's. "And I'm thinking
I should let you go now, before I embarrass myself with you--.
Because I am about to."
"No." Sam held him back, his grip charged with all a young
male's powers of persuasion.
"Sam, it's--vitally necessary that I move. Right now.
There's a reason--."
"Stay. Please, stay, Josh... Feels so good."
Josh held his breath a moment, waiting for rescue,
reinforcements, relief. None came. "Sam, I..." He was mortified.
"I-I haven't embraced another warm body in over eight months,
and--you're...you are extremely appealing."
"I make you want it. Like you want your wife."
Josh was stock-still, heart pounding. The next words were
blurted out. "Y-yes, you make me want it." His breath shuddered in
his chest, his face burned with shameful desire, he wanted to pull
off his skin, run from the destiny that had brought him here. He was
glad Sam couldn't see his face. "Do you--? It's the same? His hand
trailed lightly down Sam's side, rested for a wary moment on a slim
hip before continuing across to Sam's front. Gentle fingers brushed
the outline of Sam's erection. "Oh, Sam..."
Sam said nothing. His hand simply found Josh's flank, and
caressed the warm, corded muscle under the flannel. In an act of
impulse, homage, Josh pushed up the hair covering the nape of Sam's
neck and kissed him there. Sam exclaimed at it, the sound one of
pure discovery, the end of a certain innocence between them.
"Where's this taking us?" Josh asked.
"Right to each other. Right here."
The morning brought immediate orders to march, so there
wasn't time for more than an exchange of meaningful looks.
Sam couldn't stop thinking about what they'd done last
night--the callused feel of his friend's hand unbuttoning and
stealing inside the fly of his pants, the deft motions of Josh
undoing his own; Josh's ragged breathing, his need, his whispers of
Sam's name... The strength of his arms, the shy at first, then
strong and very eager feel of his cock, the hot, surprising splash of
And his mortified shame after, his begging forgiveness; until
he realized that Sam hadn't been ashamed--far from it. In the end
he'd just spooned behind Sam, held him, and slept like a baby.
Josh, too, had been carrying around his own secret smile, today.
Sam remembered his own pleasure vividly, never knew anything
to do with his body could be so good. What his own right hand could
provide was a shadow to the other.
He couldn't remember exactly when he first knew for sure that
Josh wanted him- before Josh himself, without a doubt. He'd been
wanted by men before, but this time was different; with Josh he'd
discovered that he wanted back. If Josh had ever grabbed him, taken
a kiss, he would not have wiped it off, and not refused.
As he marched, the boy barely felt the ground under his feet,
or the sun burning his neck, barely marked the dust clogging his
nostrils and blinding his eyes. Here he was, 18 years old, fighting
in a war alongside a friend he adored, so much in love he hurt like a
man gut-shot. All day he wished for night, hurrying along the sun.
Josh spent the day quite astonished at himself. Never mind
he'd been unfaithful, he'd fallen from grace in spectacular fashion,
with a boy. And discovered a source of delight so powerful, he could
still feel the back-wash of it. Just a little childish fumbling
under blankets, pants down around their knees--they'd brought down
He hadn't enjoyed lovemaking with anybody since he'd left
home, and, unquestionably, the hunger'd been there; he wasn't an
ascetic. But he could have gone longer, and had never before had
difficulty mastering himself. A gentleman had to, after all, on
None of that explained the bald fact of the young man, or the
sizeable cock he'd caressed. Or the smile he couldn't wipe off his
Or his devout wish for an encore.
He'd loved Sam long before last night happened--platonically.
But he'd long feared where the strength of his love was leading him.
Maybe he'd feared this very state of affairs--the same deep affection
and touching of souls, but mingled by some alchemy with undiluted
lust to become...pure trouble. There was no doubt it was volatile,
and that it would continue if he let it, with little impetus.
He fully intended to let it.
The day drew to a close. Without much discussion, they set
up homestead in a secluded spot between the big raised roots of an
The dinner hour came and went. Sam built a fire and Josh got
out his journal, disposed himself against the tree root, long legs
But he didn't write in it. Instead he watched Sam idly
feeding the fire, the young man's eyes day-dreaming. //Thinking
about me? As I'm thinking about him?//
They hadn't spoken much beyond necessity today. And on the
surface, there seemed not much to talk about tonight. Only one
subject was to the point and Josh, for one, had no idea how to
approach it gracefully. He didn't want to just bowl the boy over
like it was his due.
Sam must've noticed his silence and looked over at him.
"Been a long day..."
"Longest day of my entire life," Josh said.
"Longest day of mine, too."
"You-you must be tired." Josh desperately wanted to disguise
Sam half-smiled. "I am. Just to lay my head down'd be a blessing."
"Douse the fire," Josh said, putting his journal carefully
aside. "I'll turn in with you."
For a moment they lay unmoving in their cocoon, neither
certain where they stood with this. The indecision didn't last.
Suddenly they were deep in each other's arms. They brushed noses,
helplessly, hands exploring, desperate hunger on both sides.
"I've been thinking about you, all day," Josh whispered,
working at Sam's trousers with trembling fingers. "And this."
Sam was likewise occupied. "Me, too. Me, too, Josh--."
Their chins bumped, and almost accidentally, they were sharing a
first gentle kiss, full of wonder at meeting each other so
intimately, caressing each other's tongues.
"Mmmm," Sam approved, breath hissing in his nostrils, hand
grasping the back of Josh's head as they sparked. Josh knew himself
Slowly they broke apart, and slowly Josh finished his
unbuttoning, eyes locked with Sam's. "Face to face this time--," he
Under the blanket they bumped elbows and knees until they
found the point of sweetest contact.
Keeping quiet was twice as hard tonight as last, because the
pleasure seemed twice as good--nearly unbearable as they rocked and
thrust, skidding untidily out of their covers. The climax undid
them, but only for a few panting minutes. They made love again in
quick succession, both enjoying a second messy, heart-wrenching
The evening star hung next to a moon set like a little silver boat.
"And to think," Josh sighed, pleasure-softened. "I never
once considered having a boy."
"Feather in my cap," Sam murmured. "I'm the one took your fancy."
"Who knows, maybe it would've happened to me before now--if
I'd ever met a boy of your quality. But I never have." Two of
Josh's fingers smoothed Sam's brows, then touched his chin, turned
his face to look at by the scant available light. "I can say it to
you, finally. This face has been sorely bewitching me, Sam."
"Drawing my eye, never leaving my thoughts. Since you wiped
that mud off your pan the day we met."
Sam looked him over. "When I got my first good look at you I
thought your face..." His fingers traced Josh's bushy eyebrows,
dimples, cleft chin. "Well, I thought it was kinda comical--."
"Hey, hold on there. I'm no Adonis, but--."
"--and gentle. Proud... And five minutes after I left, I
wished I could see it again."
"I wrote you something," Sam said, giving a just-waking Josh
the rumpled piece of paper he'd been working on.
"How long've you been awake?" he puzzled, taking the paper,
looking at it. There was writing scrawled in pencil with Josh's name
at the head in a greeting. A child's love poem, complete with
misspellings, but so eloquent. Josh read, and felt tears prick his
You are the Friend
that I love forever.
I will care for you,
This I sware to you,
And if we must to part
It will break my heart.
So let us stay together,
And be friends forever and aftr.
Your loving and affetionate, Sam.
Their affair was by its very nature a series of thefts,
unlawful--it made them desperados.
The war made things difficult, if not impossible. Physical
love happened on nights when there was enough peace for it--and that
was rare in the ensuing weeks. So near yet so far, much strategy
employed in finding a shadowed corner or private place to bring some
part of their bodies together, with only occasional success.
But they were both, somehow, happier than they'd been since
Sam lived in a fever of first love, first desire, Josh's
person a tidal force acting on everything in his world, especially
the part down between his thighs.
For Josh, who now knew how Zeus must've felt when he snatched
away Ganymede, this love was both unforeseen and completely outside
his former understanding of himself. He suffered an upside-down joy
peculiarly his own--which he would not trade for anything.
This was a lucky night; they drew second watch together. The
camp was quiet at 3 a.m., not in a state of high alert. They did not
neglect their duty, both were proud to say- despite the terrible
temptation to slip into the dark under the trees and have each other.
Didn't mean they intended to entirely waste the opportunity.
Each time they made a circuit of the camp, they would stop in
the same secluded spot and kiss.
The men had been issued soap, irregularly, or had it sent
from home; but this was the first opportunity in some time for a
real, all-over, not-just-washing-up-out-of-a-bucket-of
Like everybody else they began hurriedly stripping off for a
swim in the broad Rappahannock; sabers, belts, boots, pants, tunics,
blouses. They took in the scene before them, hundreds of men
gamboling in the nude under a lambent summer sun, like some vision of
the Elysian Fields.
" 'And Alexander rested his men ten days there, and gave them
games, providing rich prizes and pleasant pastimes, in honor of
Achilles whom he counted an ancestor,' " Josh said.
"What's that?" Sam asked, like a sponge for Josh's endless knowledge.
"It's from Arrian's Anabasis, a history of Alexander the
Great. And a very good read. Alexander was king of the Macedonians,
and a great fighting general like Robert E. Lee. Did you know he
ruled the entire known world two thousand years ago?"
"Two thousand years." Sam whistled.
Josh continued. "He died at the ripe old age of 33. Which
gives me a couple more ye--." He stopped mid-word and just...looked.
Strange to realize that they hadn't seen each other
completely naked since they'd become lovers.
For a moment it was as if the only thing Sam could see was
Josh; the only thing Josh could see was Sam. They simply gazed,
seizing details for the memory--a dusting of hair, a runner's girdle,
strong calves, downy thighs, a ruddy birthmark--before managing to
break it off.
"That'll have to last us," Sam commented, coughing drily.
Eyes averted, Josh nodded. "Yeah."
To be truthful, all the men were being demonstrative on this
sunny late July day; bathing in the river, roughhousing like
children, laughing, swimming races, scrubbing each other's backs; and
rehashing past battles with much embellishment, broad pantomime and
As the afternoon passed, many had broken off into twos and
threes for quieter pastimes, cards or music, letter writing. A few
gracious hours of peace.
So it was fine. Josh soaped Sam's back, dazedly taking in
his new young love's bare form, the unmarred skin (all his boy's
wounds and scrapes properly in front) that faded from sun-burnished
brown at the shoulders down to a cream that would make a voluptuary
weep. To be able to openly have such contact--he couldn't believe
They laughed a lot together. Josh washed Sam's hair, and had
his own washed in turn. They both used Josh's comb. Sam watched
Josh shave, holding the mirror for him, and smiled at the end result.
Though he had no beard to speak of, Josh lathered and "shaved" him,
demonstrating the so-called finer points of the art.
After a lazy skinny-dip, they disposed themselves among
wildflowers on the grassy bank, soaking up sun.
Josh couldn't stop his eyes from stealing hungrily over Sam.
He momentarily contemplated gouging them out with a couple of
sharpened sticks, but doubted it'd work. He was being tried by the
Almighty he knew it, faced with this guilty pleasure of his, this
combination of manhood and delicacy--this silky stomach and dip of
navel, gentle cock nestled at the crux of the boy's body; tender
pulse there, and there...
"I want to touch and kiss and squeeze you so badly, right
now, Sam," he groaned softly. "It's hell. Wanting to completely
devour you at inopportune times."
"Josh!" Sam turned over, lay his head down on his folded
arms, the image of a young man in the grip of a wonderful, aching
misery. "Don't start talking like that."
"Why not? I'm keeping my voice down."
"Because you're naked and you're clean and shaved, and your
eyes look green, and I could reach over from here and put my hand
right on your--."
"--Don't say it! I see what you mean. " Josh blew out a
frustrated breath. "We are to be pitied."
"You want pitiful? I think about us living together," Sam
mused. "Just daydreams, the kind I'm supposed to be too hard-bit
for... How it'd be. A snug, little house with a kitchen garden,
lots of books in it. And a big fireplace..."
"Sam," Josh said, chidingly. "I'm married. You understand,
don't you? We can't, ever--."
"I know you're married, Josh," Sam said, with a teenager's
long-suffering impatience. Sometimes he was, after all, just a kid.
"I can still wish for more, can't I?" he asked. "I can wish for
things. You didn't let me finish. How's this sound?" He lifted his
head, blue eyes dancing with mirth. "Room with a big, feather bed, a
door that locks... Chance to spend the whole day just--."
"Hush," Josh ordered. "Or I swear I will desert the army
right this minute and run away, taking you with me. And the month's
payroll, while I'm at it--. "
"What payroll? We ain't been paid in six months!"
"--a few wise investments, we retire wealthy coffee planters
"Big-city lawyer planning a life of crime," Sam chuckled,
good-naturedly. "No shame a'tall."
"Not a speck. I should be put away."
Sam's words came quiet as the sunlight, or the breeze drying
and lifting his hair. "Remember when I told you I didn't know if I'd
ever been in love before? Well, I'm in love with you, Josh. I fell
into that mud puddle. And even if we never can live together; even
if we never share anything private again, I always will be. Forever
"I love you," Josh breathed. "Forever and after... But..."
he hesitated, "...it's a star crossed thing... I wish--." His sad
smile showed his dimples. "Look at me; I'm doing it, too," he said.
"Wishing. Guess I can't help myself where it concerns you. I'd love
for you to be mine--." His gaze held Sam's a lash too long.
Fun and games were over, the few inches of air between them
charged. Josh wanted hours of sex with this boy, days of sex.
Knowing it was bound to show, he sat up, reached for his trousers
with resignation. He stood, dragged them on, putting on his shirt as
he tried to gain his composure and failed. Sam, Libby... One was
the sun, the other the moon--. He'd told Libby she was the only one,
ever, for him. Then Sam came along, with his "forever's," getting to
Josh where he was most vulnerable.
In truth he loved them both. "What the hell am I supposed to
do about this?" he hissed, disgusted with himself.
"Deal with it as it comes," Sam's voice came up to him. Josh
turned to find him looking up, blue eyes as old and knowing as the
world. "Same as everything else we been through. There ain't any
"You're too young to be thinking that way," Josh said to him,
shivering a little even in the sunlight. "I worry what this war
might be leaving you with, Sam. " His voice shook. "W what's going
to happen to your dreams? Your--your...reach for things beyond your
"There's one dream I got," Sam said, getting up, with clouded
brow, putting on his own pants, bending for his belt, and the shirt
and uniform blouse he'd been wearing. "You want to know what it is?
You and me walk out from this thing together. I don't even mind what
happens after that, Josh. With you and me, I mean." His jaw set
determinedly. "I won't cling to you... I've made up my mind to
that. I just want you to be living and breathing when the dust
settles, back home with Libby and your boys, just loving them, and
being a happy man." He smiled, sadly. "You've got a lot of love in
Josh could bear no more; he glanced around, spied a copse of
bushes thirty or so yards away. He picked up the remainder of his
own things. "Come after me."
Sam's eyes raked him, saw everything. "Where?" he breathed harshly.
"Just follow," Josh said. "Ten seconds, then follow me."
Sam nodded, tersely, watching him walk off; that lanky
stride, the tall form he could pick out of a hundred men in pitched
battle in the dark. Looking down steadfastly at his feet, he counted
And met Josh the other side of a stand of wax myrtle bushes,
eight or nine feet high. His friend drew him close with longing in
his hazel eyes, but kissed him like an older brother, on his
forehead, fingers pulling at the cool shells of his ears. They
squeezed between the tightly growing shrubs, found themselves on
their knees in a shadowed, earthy place, a Great Hall for
wood-sprites. The two men dropped the things they were carrying,
boots, items of clothing.
"This'd make a great hideout," Sam commented, taken with the
adventure for a moment.
There was a soft, conspiratorial laugh. Josh's arms slid
around his waist, pulled him tight and hard against the wiry body,
groaning his name. He rubbed their shaved cheeks together, sighing
as Sam's arms slid under his and slowly, unbreakably, around him.
"Love you, boy--. Love you."
"Josh, I love you."
As they embraced they kissed, open-mouthed, becoming fierce
quickly. Josh's method was different, somehow, this time; demanding,
running Sam through his paces with no way to refuse or hesitate. Sam
felt sweat break out on him as he tried--willingly--with all his
strength, to keep up.
Suddenly Josh pulled away and began to strip off, his shirt,
his pants; stuffing the clothes down thoughtlessly for some sort of
bedding. Sam drank in the sight of him, heart in his throat. "First
time I saw you hot for me in plain sight," he panted. He reached out
to touch, grasp, grateful just for the chance, as Josh urgently
helped him out of his trousers. He hardly noticed.
Josh finished the task, stopped to look down at him, brow
knit, breath coming fast through flared nostrils. He hungrily
accepted Sam's attentions for a few moments, fingers drifting in the
unruly silk of Sam's hair, until, withdrawing gently, he whispered.
"I don't want to play at it with you, today."
Sam was as weary as Josh of all their furtive trysting in the
night, of barely tasting his friend. Yet he still felt very green at
all this. "What, then?"
The man in front of him moved close, arms propped either side
of him, naked, aroused.
"My key, your lock," he whispered. Sap rising, passion
growing, he bent to nuzzle down the pale, strong column of Sam's
throat, kissed his chest, his belly.
The kisses burned Sam, got him so hard he could barely stand
it. He caressed Josh's damp back, watching his lover every second.
Josh caressed his erection. "That's 'yes'?" he asked,
looking up, and Sam nodded his head, whispering, "You ought to know
Hands that had been possessive at his waist slid upward to
press his shoulders firmly back against the ground. Strong knees
parted Sam's thighs wide, making him feel wonderfully at another's
mercy, making him gasp. Josh urged him tenderly to wrap his thighs
tighter around and they tangled with abandon.
Sam smelled sharp, bruised myrtle, damp earth... Above his
head coins of sunlight hung in the dark leafy boughs, swinging with
the breezes, dappling his face.
He could hear the sounds of the camp distantly; no-one
nearby. He felt his companion's breathing even with his own, and
sighed in dazzled, raw languor.
For all his life Sam would never forget this moment; wanted
to imprint it on his heart, on his bones.
He peeked at the man on him, around him--Josh, who'd given
them both what they needed to have, who lay heavy between his spread
and still-trembling thighs, sweat dewing his spine and slicking his
hair. It hadn't been play.
//Sure was nice, though.// Sam caressed him, a little
carefully, as if he were a new-made thing.
Josh moved, suddenly, murmuring. "--can't stay long--." His
languid eyes caught Sam's and stared. "Sam." Then he seemed to
remember everything, all in a rush. "Sam! "
"Present," Sam chuckled, feeling his face flush at what
they'd done with each other, at the vivid memory of his legs over
Josh looked down their bodies, lay a hand over Sam's hip.
"Undeniably." He regarded Sam for a time. Sam remembered those eyes
melting with pleasure and love, gazing down at him as his friend
peaked, freely letting Sam see his ecstasy.
And something he didn't know he was letting Sam see, that
part of him he held back because he didn't think Sam could
understand. His remorse, and his anger at himself for being
unfaithful and taking so very much joy in it.
Sam had seen her picture, once, his rival; a miniature
painting in a keepsake locket Josh would take out to look at from
time to time. Green eyes and dark red hair done up elegant, skin
like milk. The little picture caught her spirit, hinted at humor,
honesty. Truth to tell, he would not rob her of Josh even if he
could; why shouldn't Josh have two people love and please him?
"Sam. Are we still friends?" Josh asked.
"Friends?" Sam asked, brow lifting. "Sure we are." He
ruffled Josh's feathery hair reassuringly. "How could you think
"I thought...this just now...might've made a difference.
"Things took a turn when I first set eyes on you."
"Amen to that," Josh agreed, face full of private thoughts.
Sam tenderly dipped a finger into the clever little depression Josh's
dimple made in his cheek. Josh looked at him, then, and cupped his
face with both palms, confident smile soft as cloud. "It was just
fine, wasn't it?"
Sam giggled like a child as Josh followed the line of his
nose and mouth with his own nose; it tickled. "Way more than just
'fine.' There must be a better word."
Josh bent to his ear, whispered something naughtily intimate,
making them both laugh. "C'mere... Let me--." Josh centered them
on each other and kissed him for a long time in the silence. Sam
gasped in sheer bliss at the end, and they shared the same shaky
breath of it, mouths touching.
"We can't stay, much as I want to," Josh said. "Let's go
clean off a little in the river."
"Right together? But Josh--."
Josh's eyes never left him. "I really don't give a damn at
this moment. Come on. Let's run for it and dive!"
All night the camp was full of song, laughter and good
feeling, dancing, fiddle playing. The joy in camp seemed to echo
And Josh didn't seem to care if other men saw the
more-than-affection he had for Sam. The pair found a tree to lean
their backs against, to listen to the music and singing and watch the
bonfires, letting their heads rest together and, unobtrusively, their
The winter was spent making the opposite of war; tangling in
bed, not with the enemy. And every chance they got. They were a
happy match, that way, desire for desire, stamina for stamina.
The Army of Northern Virginia had scattered as usual to
winter quarters, due to the impassability of the roads. It was the
common thing. Some of the regiments billeted in sympathetic towns,
in individual homes, or cut timber and threw up their own rough
Their regiment tenanted a deserted plantation estate--called
Sammorton Lodge, a big mansion house, with numerous outbuildings and
slave quarters, some of it unfortunately, burned. However, the men
made themselves quite at home, accumulating all their little
comforts. Every effort was made to strengthen the men, and keep them
clothed and fed.
Sam and Joshua commandeered a little crackerbox, one room and
a hearth, where they could sleep, cook, eat. The two weren't above
sleeping where slaves had slept, though some of the men--whose
misplaced pride wouldn't allow them to accept the gift of shelter
inherited from negros--grumbled.
"Who gives a damn?" Sam grinned. "We've got our own place!"
The humble dwelling was clean and dry, roomy enough, and,
with a good fire, warm. These four walls would afford them the first
privacy they'd ever had.
Tonight began with Josh alone. Sam had sentry duty. It had
begun to snow heavily today, and by now looked to becoming the first
real accumulation of any consequence.
But by the time Sam got home, wet and weary, and Josh let him
in, the fire was going.
Leaning his rifle against the doorpost, he gazed around.
There was wood they'd chopped for themselves stock-piled high
along one wall. And there was the cookpot bubbling away, and their
humble supplies; over there, out of the way but handy, weapons,
knapsacks. Josh had fashioned them a table out of scrap wood, on
which sat an oil-lamp. The stools had been here when they moved in,
overturned in a corner, but they did fine.
The bed was a rustic contraption; just a frame and ropes and
a cattail mattress, but with blankets on it--and the thought of Josh
bare-naked in it--more than welcoming.
Josh closed the door behind, slid the wooden bar home and
sighed. He moved up behind Sam and embraced him. Taking off Sam's
hat, he pushed up silk-wet hair to reveal the cold nape, which he
kissed, whispering, "Glad you're here." Sam turned and drew him
close, ardently, looking over his face before hugging him good and
"Get these wet things off you," Josh said. Sam removed his
coat, let Josh take it away from him and hang it with his hat on a
worn peg by the door.
Josh gestured around. "You should be proud of me. I
actually put hand to broom and straightened some."
Sam nodded, and Josh saw that he was moved. "Nice as home,"
Sam said. He coughed to straighten out his voice. "I mean, there's
a long, cold winter ahead of us, and even more fighting after that;
and there's hardly anything to eat... So why do I feel so lucky?"
Dinner was a good bean soup with bits of smoked meat in it,
and a loaf of brown bread Josh had bartered for. They ate in quiet
companionship, looking at each other in the gentle lamp glow.
"Sometimes, back home," Sam said, "we'd push all the
furniture back and dance after supper. My dad would play his violin,
mama'd sit down to the piano and sing. I'd dance with all three of
my little sisters at once."
"My wife and I used to do the very same," Josh said, "Dance
after dinner, I mean. We'd...step out into the garden to catch the
air on a summer evening." He smiled at the memories. "Somebody gave
us this cunning mahogany cylinder music box when we were first
married. It had a mandolin sound, and played 12 extremely
sentimental love songs..." They sat reminiscing about their lives at
home for a moment. Until Josh looked at his friend with fun--and
"Come on," he said, standing. He held out his hand to Sam.
Sam smiled. "No music?"
Josh scoffed. "With me singing who needs music?"
They moved together. Josh took Sam into his arms. He began
to hum a sprightly waltz, and Sam followed his lead. Laughing, they
danced around and around the dirt floor. Josh twirled Sam and then
pulled him close. They stood, breathing quickly, touching each
other, bodies very close.
"I couldn't've planned a seduction better," Josh whispered,
nosing Sam's cheek and gathering him even closer.
Josh gazed down at the young man being so sweet to him, doing
that very direct and unmentionable thing a lady would never ever be
asked to do.
But Sam treated him like a pearl of great price, whispering
to him that his cock was beautiful, seeming to sense what would
delight him, when he didn't know himself. Tongue, teeth, lips,
He growled with the raw carnality of the act, the freedom to
thoroughly enjoy it, as a man should. Sinking the fingers of one
hand into Sam's hair, he began to take what he wanted. At last he
yelled out loud, startled by the outrageous strength of his release.
It had never been like this before, with anyone.
When he opened his eyes Sam was soothing him, easing all his
tiny little shudders with a slender hand. So easy to be with, and
such a look on his lover's face: protective, uncomplicated,
peaceful--as if they had fifty years to spend, and there was no rush,
no chance of harm.
"You're good to me," he whispered, happiness filling him.
Warm sea eyes touched him. "It's easy."
"Come here," Josh invited, with a smile. "Take your turn."
What could have been a dreary stretch of winter freezes and
thaws, of drifts of snow up to the bottoms of the windows, of endless
drills and inspections ordered to keep them sharp, of cabin fever and
nothing much doing, became instead days of happiness for Sam and
Josh, talking and storytelling and play, Josh teaching Sam French,
and playing card games and all kinds of mischief in camp (ask someone
who was there about the cockroach races); evenings shared with
now-mutual friends. And there were all the sweet hours spent
exploring together in the country of pleasure.
Josh caressed the legs he'd pushed high, kissing his pard's
ankle bone and high instep. "So slender," he whispered, moving in
his lover. "Even your toes are beautiful..."
He leaned close, touching Sam's mouth, then tongue with
gentle fingers, looking down at him. "I could go with you like this
all night..." He groaned aloud, beginning to pound hard. "Sam, my
beautiful baby--. God, Almighty!"
Sam gripped the side-rails of their bed, putting his whole
body, every muscle, into giving and receiving pleasure.
Josh brushed Sam's shimmering eyes with his thumb, familiar
with the phenomenon, the way his boy looked lost in the act of love,
gaze hot and sightless, wet with too much joy to hold.
"Want me to finish you?" he panted. It wouldn't take much,
for either of them, to quicken, go for it. Sam reached to caress his
tight belly and chest, his shoulders.
Sam woke to the cobweb gray of daybreak. He'd slept as he
always did, against Josh's side, held by Josh. Lifting his head a
little, he studied the mercurial face--the gentle profile, long,
brindled lashes, neat mouth and chin. //I love him so. And I'm
happy with him. Don't--. Don't take him from me--.// He wasn't
sure if he was addressing God or Elisabeth Bradley in his heart. Why
couldn't they have met somewhere other, some time other than this?
Winter did take its toll on the men. There was frustration
in the camp, drunkenness, misconduct, and some fighting almost every
day. The men also harassed the countryside around the estate,
foraging for their own "horizontal refreshment."
He pulled sentry with C.J. Reese. Damned cold, too; their
breath billowed in clouds of steam. Naturally the talk turned to the
news about two men from Company G, accused of the crime of rape.
"They ought to be discharged," Josh said, having heard the
sordid story. "Preferably dishonorably." He felt compassion for the
girl involved, and indignant anger on her behalf.
"Oh, get off your high horse, Josh," Reese said, glowering,
stamping his feet against the cold.
"I assume you have a point, Reese."
"Those poor SOBs suffered no more than any man's natural
weakness. Most of us ain't *seen* a woman in three months!" He
spat. "Besides, she was nothin' but a nigger."
Josh felt his face flame. "A negro's child is still a child!
She was somebody's helpless young daughter, whom they robbed of her
innocence. You have children, don't you, Jeff?!"
"All I'm saying is don't look down on men who actually *need* a woman."
Josh shook his head, baffled by what was to him a non
sequitur. "I must've missed a step, right there. Those two animals
raped a 15-year-old girl! Don't stand there essaying a defense for
them to me. It's obscene."
"Easy for you, Josh!" Reese stopped and turned toward him,
rather belligerently. "You happen to be getting enough of what you
want, shacked up with your bed-boy! Everybody knows you're shootin'
your wad into him."
Josh laughed, unruffled. He hadn't built a very lucrative
private law practice in Richmond by being transparent; he knew better
than to give it all away before he had to. " ' Bed-boy' ?" he asked.
"You can't mean--Sam? Sam's a man. He's twice the soldier you are
before he puts on his boots in the morning."
"I say mother-fuck you, Josh--." Reese began a charge,
starting for him. Josh just watched. "And Sam knows how to stand
sentry like a soldier, and a Virginian."
Reese stopped, lips tightening. The words pricked his pride.
Josh Bradley was hardly a pushover; the man had an uncanny right
hook. And he could've used it by now.
"Neither of us wants to go on report for fighting," Josh
said. "Let--. Just let it drop." He looked Reese in the eye.
"Look, forget about me, Jeff. Sam's only just turned 19, and--aside
from the perhaps unfortunate choice of taking me as his
lover--he's-he's a fine young man. Don't go spreading low talk about
him. Come on, he's one of us, and you know that! Lost two brothers,
taken his lumps without complaining. He deserves better than to be
tagged with a smutty label."
Reese stared back, darkly, but eventually nodded.
Ten minutes or so passed as they continued walking the
circuit, tensely tramping the packed dirty snow. Then Reese said,
out of thin air. "You know what I resent about you most, you
fancy-pants Richmond SOB?"
"What's that, you uncouth cracker from--where was it you said
you hailed from? Dismal Swamp?"
"Oh, goddamn your smart ass. Always the cat falling ass
backward into cream." Reese sneered. "Fine family, best
education... Only you could fall into a pile of shit and come up
with a handful of diamonds."
"What the hell are you talking about?" Josh stopped to
engage Reese more fully.
"Prettiest damned boy in the Army of Northern Virginia and
you get him?" It was something of an apology. And Josh's
belligerent stare dissolved into amazement and then a twinkling grin.
"Maybe I did something right," he said, blowing on his hands
to warm them. "In my last life."
Sam and Josh stood in the doorway, ready for the march,
carrying their packs and rifles, looking at their home. They would
never see it again.
Sam wondered what would happen to all the happiness it had contained?
"Let's away," Josh said. "It's just a room. The essential
things come with us, down the road."
Sam shouldered his rifle. //Yes, but this is where I lived
with you, tasted your seed, woke up with you by me every day. Here's
where I let myself dream all kinds of dreams about you and me. Now I
guess that's all they were ever gonna come to.// "Well then, let's
go," he said, resigned. "I'm with you."
The regiment was being sent to join General Lee near
Fredericksburg where he'd been quartered over winter. They moved out
to begin the march east, and the opening of the ball.
Joshua's journal --
April 14, 1863
Joseph Hooker, the man who has replaced the demoralized Union
general Burnside after our victory at Fredericksburg, has begun
turning toward our army; yesterday we heard he'd flanked us to the
west, utilizing Slocum's three corps, and was threatening our supply
line from Richmond.
According to the grapevine, which is more effective by far
than Western Union's telegraph, Robert E. Lee has determined this
flanking move of Hooker's to be no more than a feint; that Hooker has
split his forces and would very much like us to wait for him in
place, to catch us between his pincers. A blind man could see this
is a great tactical battle in the making.
However Lee is sending Major Anderson's division--which
includes our own regiment, along with the brigades of Mahone and
Posey, to bushwhack old "Fighting Joe." Lee will have to split his
forces, of course, an extremely risky maneuver considering that our
army is already, I hear, only half the strength of Hooker's. We are
45,000 to Hooker's rumored 75,000 or more.
45,000--to be divided between Lee and Stonewall Jackson. And
our portion will move, under Jackson's command, in a frontal attack
toward the Union army.
April 29, 1863, late afternoon,
on the Plank Road from Fredericksburg:
Word that they'd be moving today had come down at breakfast,
spreading through the camp faster than telegraph, reaching 12,000
pairs of anxious ears.
They were going to support a movement by Stuart's 2,700
cavalry toward a place fifteen miles from Fredericksburg called
Chancellorsville, in opposition to a Federal advance toward the same
The area of Chancellorsville was an open plateau in the
center of which stood a plantation house and a scattering of church
buildings. Three major roads converged there. The Catherine
Furnace, used to produce iron, was set in the side of the plateau, a
little south of the mansion.
The Confederates had their orders--to prevent any
concentration of Federal troops there.
All morning they'd been marching, quick-step, the column all
business, close-mouthed, grim with determination.
At a rest stop, Josh sat, and leaned back against his pack to
rest. As he was taking a cool drink from his canteen, Sam sat by
him. Josh handed him the canteen. Their fingers brushed as Sam took
it, and they shared a look full of a couple's secrets.
Still so hard to be close to each other, Josh thought,
without wanting...much more. Perhaps a time would come soon. He lay
down to rest his aching back and Sam lay beside him. They
communicated--in their own way--without touching, without words, but
all the same.
The sky was so blue, as blue as Sam's eyes as they held his
for a moment, bluer than any sky had a right to be; ideal for
kite-flying or daydreaming. The irony couldn't've had a sharper
edge, Josh mused, the joyful firmament looking on so unaffected as
men went to meet the terrible and foolish trials they brought on
"Let's go fishing," he chuckled, meaning it, a little.
"You make it hard for a man to keep to his duty," Sam
scolded, with soft rejoining laughter.
Josh sighed, wistfully. He'd awakened before day to find Sam
sitting up nearby in the quiet, watching the early camp-fires.
Something faraway about him, always, Josh realized, some part of his
friend always thinking too hard, too deep.
His face had changed; no longer quite the same dewy child of
last spring, he was a man, now, burned and shorn, toughened and honed.
But then he'd looked at Josh and given him a smile.
And Josh understood that his lover's soul was still, and
would always be, tender and new as the morn.
At that moment he had wanted no more in this world than to
hold Sam, and he had done so, eagerly. They'd shared a kiss and each
other's warmth. Josh expected those sweet moments to sustain him
through whatever might come today or tomorrow.
They rested for 20 minutes, and the march continued with no
other rest until night fell. By then the sky had clouded, grown
damp, and the wind had picked up considerably.
Word went down the line that two columns of Hooker's infantry
had moved toward the Germanna and Ely fords of the Rapidan river and
Nervous excitement ran throughout the ranks, and a touch of
battle fever. The men had more than enough confidence; they'd been
beating Yankees at nearly every turn for over 16 months. "Here they
come, boys," somebody yelled. A nearby officer settled them with a
barked, "Hold, men! You'll get your turn! Steady the line."
The movement of the Union divisions could be heard long
before the rebel front ever caught sight of them, the deep grumble of
many thousands of men, horses and wagons and caissons. The
Confederates began to move toward the din, their line of battered
gray and dirty butternut a mile or more long. They fired at first
sight of the Union infantry.
And the thing was on.
The bugle call for "attack" sounded, furiously, and the gray
line rushed forward, yelling, muskets firing. Running across the
openings in the trees, they found themselves faced with Union
infantry arrayed row on row, firing directly into their ranks. Josh
and Sam kept abreast of each other, fighting side by side as always,
loading and reloading, scrapping hard for every inch of ground and
cover. The woods grew close, hellish, thick with acrid smoke.
No headway was made, and the night--and the battle--wore on
and on, until by dint of the sheer numbers of Federals, the
Confederates found themselves being driven back.
Josh and Sam hunkered behind a decaying log, exhausted, but
waiting for orders, preparing for the next round. Pete Wyland almost
got himself rifle-butted when he jumped down next to them. He looked
like a raccoon, eyes ringed with black all around from dirt and
"Smoky! What the hell are you doing?!" Josh demanded.
"We ain't gettin' nowhere," Smoky said, out of breath. "I
heard orders to fall back."
"Right behind me, I thought."
At that moment, Hart Jackson scrambled in next to them. "I
ain't never seen so many goddamned blue-backs! Seemed like for every
one we bumped off, 'fore you look, five done took his place!"
"Let's move out, then," Josh said, picking up his weapon and
pack. The four friends retreated, Josh covering their backs before
running after them. All around them other men were doing the same
By midnight, the massive Union advance had forced them all
back from Chancellorsville, and Hooker himself had occupied the
Chancellor house and made it his headquarters. Somebody said that
he'd concentrated over 50,000 men there, with 18,000 more near to
Anderson withdrew the division and re-formed his lines in
front of Tabernacle Church.
Friday, May 1, 1863:
The Tabernacle Church was a two-storied frame building,
whitewashed, twelve tall windows all around, set on a rising field at
the intersection of three dirt roads that converged there.
Soon after they arrived in the vicinity, Anderson had them
all digging intrenchments across the roads, sweating with pick and
"What the hell we digging in for?" Sam wanted to know.
"Wouldn't want us getting bored." Josh swiped the back of
his hand across his forehead, leaving more dirt to mingle with his
sweat. "Now would they?" They continued their digging.
"Dammit, Josh, you're filling in dirt as I dig it out," Sam complained.
Josh surveyed the trench, head leaning sideways. "I'll be."
A bugle sounded.
The work was discontinued at once. To their surprise, an
immediate advance was being ordered. The men scrambled to their
lines, and Maj. Gen. Anderson addressed them. He was a tough one, a
thoughtful scrapper. "I've been informed by Gen. Jackson that Gen.
Hooker is already advancing this way. Gen. Jackson is ranking
officer on this field, and has ordered our little digging operations
here discontinued at once, and us back into the fray. He informs me
that Hooker wants to open the way back to Fredericksburg for himself,
through us. But will we let him?"
The men shouted loudly in return, "No, by God!"
Anderson shouted back. "By the grace of God, no!
The mass of the army, under Jackson, Anderson and McLaws
advanced toward Hooker's skirmishers.
McLaws was sent along the Old Turnpike, Anderson along the
Plank Road, while Jackson supported the more exposed left of the
movement. Those two roads became one at Chancellorsville.
Hooker was at the same time marching a column along each of
these roads back east toward Fredericksburg. The opposing forces met
about midway, between Tabernacle Church and Chancellorsville.
The issue of battle was joined almost immediately, in the
fields along the roads and in the dense intervening forest.
Lee came up at about this time, and he and Jackson, riding
side by side, followed in the line on the left. Everyone cheered
wildly for these two trusted and beloved commanders, and, as if
spurred, rushed forward and drove back the oncoming Federals.
Anderson turned the 12th Corps back to Chancellorsville, with loss.
The Federals sought protection behind their line of 18,000 men
holding the front of the fields at Chancellorsville. The
Confederates followed until they found themselves confronted by
formidable intrenchments of logs in the forest.
Stymied, they withdrew a short distance as the day closed.
The men slept right there, in the lines of battle covering the roads
leading from Chancellorsville.
Sam and Josh tried to sleep sitting up, taking turns closing
both eyes, expecting every minute to get the call.
Josh's record of the Chancellorsville campaign:
Friday, May 1, 1863
Both General Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson themselves
rode within ten feet of me yesterday. A cheer went up such as I've
rarely ever heard, and we were more than heartened. We were
And, for the second time in my life (the other was meeting
Chief Justice Landis), I know that I've been near greatness. Both
men impress, but I will never forget especially Jackson's terrible
intensity. His face was pale as he passed us, his eyes flashing.
Out from his thin compressed lips came strict commands, "See the
column is kept closed. No straggling." Nothing wasted, nothing to
rob him of a drop of his will for the task. As he rode up the line
with the imposing General Lee, he leaned far over the neck of his
horse Little Sorrel, as if in that way the march and the victory
might actually be hurried.
Saturday, May 2, 5 p.m.
"Look there, Sam."
A magnificent rainbow had sprung its arch across the western
sky, at their rear.*** Every man standing to in that dim forest
clearing was looking up, pointing, faces rapt with wonderment or
pensive with foreboding.
"Lord," Sam said, feeling awe and a sense of...moment. The
rainbow seemed to hold such a baleful significance right at this
moment, this day. "That's--something, for certain. A wonder in the
"I'll take it as a good sign," Josh said. "Though I imagine
the other side's taking it in exactly the same way." They glanced at
each other, then looked openly, unflinchingly, feeling the enormity
of the moment, of being soldiers, with life always in the balance.
"Shoulder to shoulder," Sam said, offering Josh his hand.
Josh took it, gripped it.
"Yeah. Shoulder to shoulder." A soldier's oath. A childish
thing, maybe, but it made their hearts glad.
Jackson called the charge. With rebel yells they rushed
forward through the forest, driving all kinds of game before them.
The infantry came upon, somebody said Howard's Corps, who were
holding Hooker's right. Unbelievably, these fellows seemed
unconscious of even the near presence of an enemy and were cooking
Roused from their staggering complacency, Howard's men ran
from them like mice out of a barn, rushing out onto the turnpike
toward Chancellorsville, sweeping all other grouped forces along with
them in their flight. Within half an hour, prisoners were being
taken. It seemed as if the whole Federal army would be routed,
followed by the Confederate regiments, flush with victory. The
rainbow had turned out a good sign, after all.
Josh's journal--May 2, 1863, 9 p.m.:
Perhaps our most admired soldier, Stonewall Jackson, has in
this sad twilight, been gravely wounded and carried off the field.
He is expected to lose his arm... We hear that he was wounded by his
very own pickets. Always Jackson has been--and always will be-
thought of as an inspiration, a man of indomitable courage and
May 3, 1863, dawn:
Jeb Stuart replaced Jackson, and had advanced the divisions
to a little bluff at Hazel Grove. He placed 70 of the artillery
pieces at his disposal atop its peak. 30 more raked the western
flank and another 24 were on the Plank Road to the southeast. Under
this enfilading fire, the Union troops broke like china.
While the artillery was about this work, McLaws assaulted
Hooker's left, Anderson his center, from the south; while Stuart
pressed line after line against his right. By 8 in the morning, Lee's
wings were joined in front of Chancellorsville in continuous line of
battle, and a stubborn fight of stroke and counter-stroke began.
A hard day's fighting; the hardest Sam had ever known. Once
he fell, when an artillery shell exploded near to, and thought he
could not get back up, could not go on.
Three times they took the Federal line of defenses, and three
times were driven from them by Hooker's fighters. Whole stretches of
that ground began to look as familiar as their hometowns. Hooker's
big guns kept them at bay for hours, but eventually it was a
Confederate shell striking a brick column of the Chancellor house
that disabled Hooker himself.
Maj. Gen. Darius Couch, untried as a strategist, was forced
to take over the command. He did not seem to have any definite plan
May 3, 1863, 10 a.m.:
They broke through the Federal lines on the west and gained
the center of the Chancellorsville plateau, at a little cemetery.
Hooker's men--who'd fought valiantly all day- were compelled to
retreat past the now-burning mansion, and back into a line of
intrenchments thrown up as their refuge of last resort.
Lee rode squarely in the midst of his line of battle. The
men pressed forward with him in pursuit, pouring volley after volley
into the retreating Union army. The shells of Confederate batteries
were being thrown over the Yanks' heads, bursting in their ranks and
adding to their confusion.
The surrounding forests were in flames, last autumn's
accumulated leaves set afire by burning cartridges and fuses. Flame
poured out from every window in the Chancellor house, adding to the
smoke from the conflict and the burning forest.
In the fog of battle, Lee passed by, spurring his horse,
Traveller. The sight of the tall gray general on that rangy gray
transfixed Sam, rooting his feet to the blood-mottled ground. The
general's almost mystic reality seemed a signal for the unrehearsed
clamor of joy that followed him, coming from somewhere deep in the
men's guts and hearts. From Sam, too.
There they all were, still under fire, choking with the smoke
of battle, wounded men crawling with feeble limbs, the ones still
standing tasting their own blood and sweat. Despite it all, all the
pain and physical trial, a long unbroken cheer, in which the weak
chords of those who lay helpless on the earth blended with the voices
of those who still fought, rose over the thunder of battle. The
sound, deep, ancient, hailed the presence of a victorious chieftain.
He was theirs, and they were his, and the triumph belonged to all of
them. This was what they fought for. This moment was home, and
family and all their proud history.
Sam turned to share his feelings with Josh, but at that
moment, a musket ball zinged past his head. He ducked to one knee,
head whipping around at the sharp thud of impact, the soft splash of
something...mortal. And then he saw.
"Josh." The whole world went cold, empty.
Josh lay there spread-eagled. Sam couldn't take in what his
eyes were showing him,. With a deep moan he ran to the place Josh
fell and stared down. Blood pumped from the ragged hole the ball had
made in the center of his chest.
The wound was grievous, like a scarlet door through which
Josh would surely exit this living world. He looked up at Sam,
surprise in his face for a moment, then a dreadful knowing.
Sam fell to his knees, his muscles and bones poured out like
water. He pounded the ground with both fists and roared again.
"No!" He crawled forward and knelt by his friend, praying to God,
Josh fought for breath where there was none. "It's alright,"
he managed, but it had taken the hardest effort of his life. "It's
alright--." His light eyes dwelt on Sam''s face. "Promise me.
Don't take it hard, Sam..."
He swallowed, but there was only more blood; and he waited
for a moment, fighting. He so very clearly knew what was happening
to him. And to see him in mortal pain was like being cut to pieces.
"Kiss Libby and...my sons for me, Sam. Please take care of
them--for a time. Please, Sam. Maybe that's why you were spared..."
"Yes." Sam leaned and kissed his lover's forehead tenderly,
his hot tears wetting them both. "Yes."
"I'm grateful..." Josh sighed, as deeply as he could.
"Grateful to you."
"No, no, no..." Sam brushed back the familiar feathers of
brown hair, knowing his prayers would not be answered this day. "Oh,
God--. I won't never see you again! Josh! Stay!"
"I want to..." Josh's hand covered his, weakly, his eyes
closing. A silvery tear spilled slowly from under the lashes of one.
And he died.
It was so very quiet.
Surely, Sam thought, the world and all things in it, the sun,
moon and stars, should mark this young king's passing. He wanted to
pray but all he could remember was a verse he'd heard his last Sunday
before marching to war--the war that had both given him Josh and now
taken him. He whispered it: "In my father's house are many mansions.
I go to prepare a place for you--. And-and if I go and prepare a
place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself; that
where I am, there ye may be also."
Unable to continue, he lay down and buried his face in his love's neck.
"Sam?" Hart Jackson was shaking him, very gently. "Sam,
it's enough. The wagon's coming 'round. They've got to take him."
Sam raised his head. Night had fallen around them. The
surrounding scene had no color save for smoke.
They had won the battle, but lost--the very best they had.
Hart looked down on him, sadly. Pete stood behind him,
narrow face a country of sadness. Sam, in turn, glanced at the cold
countenance of the only man he would ever love. Grief came back,
molten lead in his veins. He couldn't even remember the last time
they'd kissed. And now Josh's mouth was all bloody.
"I'm sorry, Sam," Hart whispered. "He was--." The words
choked him. "--a good friend."
"Sam, I know that--. I know you shared his bed. Just wanted
you to know, it never mattered to me. Or to Pete, or anybody else.
You made each other happy."
"At least he had that," Peter whispered. "He died with
somebody who loved him dearly, by his side."
"We'll see this done decently," Hart said. "For his sake.
We don't want him thrown on, willy-nilly."
"No," Sam agreed. "Bring me a bucket of water, Hart, please.
And a cloth. I'm going to wash his face."
And he did so, steeling himself. He was Josh's only kin out
here; it was his duty to fix things, make his brother's body
presentable--straighten his clothing, cover his wounds, and comb his
hair. And see that he was sent home. This was what it meant to be
Monday, May 4 to Wednesday, May 6:
Stuart had roughly 25,000 men to hold off Hooker's 80,000 if
the northern commander decided to retake the offensive. Lee's
remaining 22,000 Confederates were moving against Sedgwick. Anderson
was to attack from the south, while McLaws assaulted from the west,
and Early from the east. It was 6 p.m. before all were in position
for the attack.
What followed was brief and not what anyone had expected.
But when it was over, 4,600 Federals had fallen and Hooker had
ordered a retreat.
In total, for the entire campaign, Federal losses amounted to
17,287 while Lee lost 12,821. It was a resounding victory for the
Confederate Army, and arguably, the greatest battle of the war.
September, 1863, six months after Chancellorsville --
The train to Richmond:
The train rocked away the miles. And the young man in the
dusty butternut trousers, rough muslin shirt and gray kerchief, with
his wide-brimmed felt hat in hand, no longer looked out of the window
at the passing landscape for anything of interest.
All that had really interested him since his honorable
discharge, he held on his lap. Sam had seen this calfskin-bound book
many times, held in a precious hand. He'd never looked inside;
though Josh had not been secretive at all about the journal--his
"half-crazed ramblings," as he called them.
Sam smoothed the cover with his fingers, hesitating to open
the volume. For the longest time he hadn't been able to even touch
it, much less look inside.
Now he would be giving it to another, to hold in trust for
sons who would never know any more of their great-souled father.
Perhaps in the green eyes he knew only from a certain locket, or in
the tiny faces of the boys, he would find something left of his
friend. And he would get to see where they'd finally laid him.
He picked it up and, taking a breath, opened it. A folded
sheet of paper slipped out from between pages. Sam soon realized it
was a forgotten letter, not finished and never mailed. It was in
Josh's handwriting, dated January this year, 1863, and addressed to
If you saw me now, you'd wish you were still
a single woman.
I sleep on the ground, I don't bathe nearly as
often you'd like. I'm footsore, my uniform hangs in tatters;
I have eaten bug larvae and I have enjoyed them... There.
What do you think of your fine soldier/husband, now?
That fellow who marched off to war in a state higher
than the angels has been brought lower than a hobo's heels.
Despite the ceaseless misery, all is well with me.
Cannot say the same for so many others of our brave battalions
who are no longer seen. I've been lucky more times then I care
to consider. Not to worry you unduly.
I worry for you, living in Richmond, under the threat
of riots and shortages and such... We will keep the enemy from
you, I promise. Take care, my love. Please, just... take care.
And as I told you, go to Adams for any help you need. He has
my full faith and understands my wishes for my family.
A dozen kisses for you, my love, and a million sighs.
I miss my woman; I want to smell her clean, russet hair, kiss her
funny nose, her creamy shoulders, her tender breasts. Carry her
over the threshold to our bedroom... Enough of that; it does me
May I beg a kindness? Please, right this minute, kiss
our boys for me. I miss James and Tracy so much. Will they
remember their dad, do you think, me away so long?
My friend Sam is well and whole, and still with me.
I tell you, Libby, there could be no better companion. He's my
shield, and I'm his. There is a great...meeting of minds between us.
Still, though he is very wise--a man in the ways it counts,
brave and true as they come--beneath it all he's only a child.
I fear for him, probably more than is my right.
We shared your treats. The cookies and preserves
kept very well, but, frankly, I don't know in what catastrophic
state of spoilage they'd have had to be to keep us from devouring
them. Thanks from both of us. Sam's parents are not rich people,
and there are a lot of brothers and sisters; I've not seen him receive
many packages from home.
I know you won't mind, dear, that I gave Sam half the
socks and handkerchiefs and the second pair of long-johns you sent.
I'm sure he misses his home and the comforts, however basic...
The letter ended abruptly there. And pain choked Sam, the
agony of memory... '//Oh, Josh...// His jaw clenched. He would
bear this, he would, once he figured out exactly how. He folded the
letter, slipped it into his shirt-pocket.
For a distraction, he turned to the last page of the journal
to bear that neat, hurried hand:
From May 1, 1863 --
In my journal I don't tell of great battles, or generals, or
presidents, or kings, and therefore, I don't write history. I talk
about the troubles, triumphs, modes of thinking, living, fighting,
and dying of common soldiers. I tell of wild adventures, hideous
deaths, and marvelous escapes. I recite terrible incidents,
ludicrous incidents, pitiful ones; and if my narrative is rude in
expression, it's because, if it were more tasteful, it would not be
Mankind reckons more of Thermopylae, with its handful of
heroes, than of all the fields of filthy carnage on which Persians
fell and Greeks triumphed. The Alamo, with its one hundred and
sixty-five immortal defenders, leaving no survivors, will be the
subject of song and story when Arbela and Cannae are long forgotten.
We of the Confederacy know a thing or two about lost causes.
I cannot help thinking, therefore, that with such themes (and
when I tell, too, of the woes of women, and the vices that spring
directly from war, and then of the negro, inevitably to be free, and
his relations to the white race), that someday this record will
excite interest. This will hardly be lessened when, because of my
apprehension of his virtues and character, I have chosen, without his
consent, to dedicate this modest volume to Private Samuel Winburn,
one of the veterans who have starved and fought and bled with me in a
hopeless cause, and one whose devotion is only equaled by his
May 6, 2002, 2 a.m.,
Townhouse on a tree-lined Georgetown street:
The young adviser to the President of the United States woke
with a soft gasp. Wide-eyed in the dark, he oriented himself to his
own pounding heart. His world slowly wheeled into place, stilled,
came into focus.
That dream...that incomparable vision. A whole life lived, a
Sam Seaborn turned his head, looking over at his companion in
bed. He reached out, lightly touched his lover, fingers outlining
the tender face in the half-dark, the fine profile; thanking God that
his own Joshua with sad, brown eyes had, in this life, survived his
grave wounding and was here, now, breathing.
...And when I thought how my dear friend my lover was on his way coming,
O then I was happy, O then each breath tasted sweeter, and all that day
my food nourish'd me more, and the beautiful day pass'd well, And the next
came with equal joy, and with the next at evening came my friend.
And that night while all was still I heard the waters roll slowly continually
up the shores, I heard the hissing rustle of the liquid and sands as directed
to me whispering to congratulate me, For the one I love most lay sleeping by me
under the same cover in the cool night, In the stillness in the
his face was inclined toward me, And his arm lay lightly around my breast --
and that night I was happy.
--Walt Whitman, 1860
[from the poem, "When I heard at the
close of the day"]
* Qui prèvient le moment l'empíche d'arriver -- translates to "He who
anticipates the moment prevents it from arriving."
** "Rebel Soldier" is a real Civil War tune.
*** According to accounts, a rainbow was indeed seen over the
battlefield at 5 p.m. on May 2, 1863.
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