Oh Lord Jesus.
Johnny stood on the serried line, to his right and left were seemingly endless soldiers in blue, with light blue trousers. His regiment stood, the Rebs were coming. He could hear them scream; it was the Rebel Yell that echoed over this accursed field of green.
The scream said “we are here, and we are coming for you.”
The Napoleons opened up, BOOM, BOOM. He gripped his Springfield, he waited for the command. As he had been trained, as he was told. He watched as the Johnny Rebs closed on his regiment; they grew closer. Closer.
He had to piss in the worst way. His hands rested upon the steel and walnut of his rifle; in it rested a Minie Ball; nearly three-quarters of an inch of dying nestled in his barrel.
Waiting. Like he did. Like he did with his regiment; thousands of young men strong. Men sound of body and mind; they waited for the axe to fall. For the Rebs to come. To close with them, to kill them.
His grip was sweaty upon his piece. His mouth was dry; the sun beat down upon his dark blue coat. He swore he could feel the sun build heat in the brass bugle upon his bummer cap; he was a man of line; an infantryman.
His mission; to close with and kill the enemy on this accursed field.
“Thou shalt not kill;” the preacherman said.
But today he would.
He’d kill Rebs just like him; children of the same God. How could he figure that right? How could he ever be clean?
ROAR. They screamed. They trilled; it was the Rebel Yell.
They meant to leave him cold and splayed-legged upon the field. With the bayonet that pierced, the ball that killed. Grapeshot to smear him across the bright green grass.
The hell with that. His mouth was dry; his vision narrowed into a tunnel. He saw the running Rebs in their butternut and gray. Oh Lord, he thought.
His Lieutenant screamed.
“Hold, Boys! Hold!”
The man held his sword along the line of troopers; straight-across as if to hold them back.
Zip. Phweet. Snap!
“Uh,” said the man next to him. Ephraim. He fell as if his strings were cut.
Johnny pissed himself. He would hold. On the grave of his father, on the spirits of his ancestors, he would hold.
The Rebs had their own artillery; a gap formed in the line of blue.
“Close ranks! Close ranks!”
Johnny moved. It was automatic. The Rebs closed upon the hill. They were close. Close!
Johnny brought his rifle to his shoulder.
“Full cock and aim low!”
Johnny ran his hammer all the way back and sighted on a shouting man with a dirty blonde beard.
“First rank, fire!”
Johnny smashed his trigger. The yelling man, the bearded man, disappeared behind a dirty puff of smoke. Had he just killed a man? He was too busy to care.
Johnny automatically kneeled, he pulled a paper cartridge out, bit off the end and dumped it in his barrel. He rammed the ball into his barrel, ran the hammer to half-cock and placed a cap upon the nipple. He was ready.
Right by his ear, the second rank fired.
The Reb’s advance faltered. So many of them fell.
The third rank fired.
The Rebs screamed, their charge fell to pieces.
Johnny’s heart hammered away. The rebels fell. His heart pounded hard; he screamed. Something squeezed his chest; it was as if a great weight pressed upon him. He fought to breathe. He couldn’t. For the love of God, he couldn’t.
Johnny fired. The Rebel’s charge stopped. Johnny sagged to his knees. They got me, he thought.
On the 21st of August, 1931, Private John Buckmaster fell at last. His daughter found him; he looked peaceful.
They listed “heart failure” on his death certificate.
But Sharpsburg killed him.
No one would ever know.