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Posted By: on: 08/28/2000 15:31:44 EDT
Subject: RE: Hey, WuzReb!

Message Detail:
Now that we've got the Colonel to post on his first experience in battle, now it's your turn. Let us all know how it was and how you felt, ok? The first time in a fight is usually the most memorable.

I'll tell of my first time in the battle line later on.

JR



Howdy JR!

Good to have ya back, pard! Been a bit quiet this week. ;-)

Ahhh, you're gonna try and make me put it into words, huh? How to tax my vocabulary, LOL! Well, at the risk of boring folks to death, I'll give it a go!

First words that come to mind are things like "terror" and "Ohhhhhh, holy shucks!" Of course no one is actually shooting real bullets at you on a reenacting battlefield, but I found lots to be petrified of, anyhow! Most of all, I really, really did not want to screw up. Even the simplest things seem to become complicated, with the specter of making a total ass of one's self in front of your pards looming over your shoulder. Sheesh, if you've never tried to simply march in step with a bunch of other guys, trust me, it's a lot harder than it looks. Helps if you are on hard ground, so you can hear the rhythm ~ Ah, there's a reason they invented route-step, right? ;-)

But on to the battle. Remember, this was all new to me, so be kind!

* * *

First, in order to remove all doubt as to who the new, dumb recruit is, let's just say something came up, and so I was late onto the field. Scampering up with cartridge pouch flapping and leather soles slipping on the grass, and everyone but me is in position. Smooth move, private. Even the spectators along the sidelines had to see that. My mouth is instantly dry. No one tells me where to go, so I pick a spot on the firing line, actually behind a split-rail fence, and everyone but me seems to know what they're doing. Thankfully I'm now partnered with a guy I know, who has already "seen the elephant," so I can pick his brain; "Psst, should I lay down or just sit here? When do we load?"

And then we hear the distant rattle of drums, and see points of bright color bobbing jauntily onto the far end of the field ~ Flags! Here come the Yankees! Oh, wow, there sure are a lot of them! I have forgotten about the spectators completely. This is so totally cool! My heart trips into double-time, and my tongue turns to cotton. I look along our thin line, and wonder how this is supposed to work. What if I do something really stupid, in front of everybody? Far down the field, the blue troops dress their lines, and then our sergeant yells, "Git down! Lay down!" BOOM! White smoke belches in a rolling cloud ~ Oh, hell, they got a cannon. One joker next to me trips something in the rail fence, and the resultant clatter of falling timber sends me a foot off the ground. Hey, fellas, they are supposed to be shooting blanks! No prob, Sarg, I'll lay right here like a tarrapin, until you say otherwise.

Then the Lieutenant hollers, "Load and make ready!" and suddenly I have about fifteen fingers, no two of which cooperate with each other. Hands shaking, nervous as hell ~ DON'T want to make any mistakes, else they'll laugh me off the field. Spill some powder but most of it goes down my rifle barrel ~ I think. Fumble with caps that suddenly seem the size of sesame seeds, drop three, successfully place one on the nipple ~ Jeez, if I'm such a wreck now, what must it be like if this were for real?

A peek over the rail fence ~ the blue cannon crew is scampering all around their gun. "Right flank, read-ayyy!" Oh, hell, is that us? "Fire by file!" Rippling blast of smoke and sound ~ everyone but me, who is two seconds behind. Sergeant looks at me, continues with his orders. "Reload! Left flank, let's put that gun out of work!"

Soon the gun crew is down or scattered, the cannon silent. However, yonder the blue lines sway forward, flags tilting bravely, the 72nd New York looking sharp as a dress parade. Someone hollers, "Here they come!" Heart pounding like a jackhammer. Boy, sure are a lot of them.

Very strange feeling, when those distant voices are heard, strong, manly tones; "Ready boys? Fire!" and rattling smoke bursts towards us. Geez, right at us! Things then become a blur of fire, reload, fumble cartriges and spill powder, try to avoid dropping caps. Did the Lt. want us to load now? Are we on "fire by file" or "fire at will?" What did the Major just say? The Lt. hollers at us to stay low, and suddenly my rifle is about 10 feet long, as I tear open a paper cartridge and try to shake powder down the barrel without spilling or sticking my head up. Darned paper cartridge scrap won't spit off my lip ~ Geez, they're still coming! Bullet-proof Yankees! Another blast of rifle fire licks towards us, someone to my left yells, and smoke rolls over us, pungent sulpher in the back of the throat. "Quickly boys, quickly!" the Major shouts. Right, fumble faster.

How on earth did those guys do all this, when it was the real thing?

Then the racket falters, the now-ragged lines in blue falling back in smokey silence, leaving contorted scraps of themselves on the grass. Some of our grey boys rear up to holler insults ~ "Hey, Yank, we're over here!" Behind us, the Lt.'s gruff voice calmly advises, "Get some water, boys." Water, I discover, is a wonderful thing, as I take a long, delicious pull of tepid liquid from my canteen. Who'd have thought that just breathing could make a body so gawdawful thirsty? A couple of our fellows are now casualties, one doing a credible imitation of a dead guy, sprawled awkwardly across his musket, the other groaning and writhing, as a pard offers him a canteen. Darn, these guys need to be in movies!

"All right," the Sgt. yells. "Here they come!" The boys in blue have not retreated far, and now shuffle themselves into ranks, aligned smartly on their colors. Here we go again. Sure are a lot of them. Smoke and noise and I fire out of turn, feel my belly cringe in shame, but the order is to reload, and finally to fire at will. I can see their faces, now, but don't really think to look at them. Just the blue forms, oncoming targets, getting bigger and bigger, and I just can't seem to reload fast enough, dammit! What if it was a thousand Yankees with actual bullets, and they just kept coming? How could you ever shoot enough to stop them?

"We gotta take some hits," I hear the Lt. say, and at the next Union volley, the fellow to my right jerks backwards, with a great, punch-in-the-gut grunt. Me, I'm not so confident in my acting ability. Still the blue troops come, confound it, won't stop!, and someone hollers, "Fall back!" Right, I'm going, scrambling to my feet, and as fortune has it, a ripping Union volley booms just as my shoes skid out from under me in the slick grass. Taking the hit, I just keel over in a tangle of rifle and arms and legs.

Miiiistake. The white sun is now glaring right, square in my eyes, a molten, brassy sky above. I hear a deep-voiced cheer somewhere beyond my feet, and more sputtering rifle fire. Through slitted eyes I see Old Glory come in a tilting rush towards our fence line, almost over my position ~ Remarkable sight, the boldly-flowing, red-white-and-blue banner backlit by the sun and framed against sky, beautiful and stark and mortally brave, as dark, silhouetted forms lunge over our rail fence. How many, in that long ago, saw this same instant of awful beauty?

No one is near me, now, the scattered grey "dead" lumped along the rail fence some yards away, the others driven back past my "body." You know, this would really be a terrible, lonely situation to be left in, hurting and forgotten on a real battlefield.

Damnation, I really should have found a more comfortable way to die. Okay, so I'm not dead, just mortally wounded. In great but silent agony, I feebly writhe myself over onto my belly, face-down in prickling grass, then expire. Uh-huh. Now my arm is being squashed asleep. Take a note, troop; from now on, die in a comfortable position.

I follow the last of the fight by sound, my boys rallying once in a shrill countercharge that thrills the heart. But then I hear musket fire and then deeper voices, "Give it up, Reb, or die where you stand!" A strange, smoking silence falls, unfamiliar voices addressing "Johnny" or "Reb." A rough hand grabs my shoulder, gives a tug. "Dead," an impartial voice announces overhead. No, I think, only from the shoulder down. Gotta die better, next time.

And then, finally, someone hollers the one command the real war never knew: "RECALL," which brings both dead and wounded back to life. Suddenly blue and grey stand in marvelously unscathed health, mingle briefly, amicably, some exchange handshakes, and then the Sgt. hollers us back into ranks. Let's show those 'taters what the Confederate army is supposed to look like. In column of twos, we strike our pace and march smartly off the field - all but for the fresh fish, who keeps having to skip back into step. Maybe I'll figure it out, eventually. Anyhow, I am damned sure gonna be back tomorrow!

* * *

So. . . am I hooked? You bet yer nickle pocket watch I am! Where else do you get a view like that? I never lost sight of the fact it was all pretend, that I would not be hurt unless I tripped and fell all over myself, that we were all engaged in make-believe. But there were those brief moments, those flashes of insight, which added up to the simple, yet profound question, "How did they do it?" I have no real idea, have never heard a shot fired in anger and fervently hope I never will. But there really is something to this, to putting on that wool and walking with ghosts, and learning from men - and women - whose passion and reverence for history surpasses my own. I'm slowly gathering my own kit, those oddments of a Civil War soldier's trade. I still live in horror of screwing up, but the greatest fear is that I won't do the memories of those brave men justice. North or South, blue or grey, they risked and offered and gave all, for what they believed in. I've got to get it right. What they lived, I only pretend. God grant I pretend well, that should they look down from whatever Hereafter they earned, they will not be ashamed . . ..

With best regards, I am,

respectfully,

WuzReb

aka Pvt. G. M. Poindexter

3rd Co. Batt'n Sharpshooters, McGowan's (SC) Brigade, ANV

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