Originally published in four separate volumes, J. Arthur Moore’s chronicle of a young Arkansas boy’s experiences on both sides of the Civil War battle lines gains emotional power as a single long tale.
“War does thin’s ta ya,” Duane says in a passage characteristic both of Moore’s less-than-subtle use of dialect and the novel’s fundamental power. “It makes ya kill when ya really ain’t wantin’ naturely ta do it. It’s a horror ya cain’t b’lieve really happens.” Moore’s central point, that war is hell and everyone longs for peace, is underscored in a poignant scene where a Federal band, playing within earshot of the Confederate army encamped across the river, begins with John Brown’s Body but also plays Dixie; as it closes with Home Sweet Home, “tears ran unchecked down the cheeks of a hundred thousand [sic] men and boys.”
Heartfelt and affecting, written in plain prose that suits its young protagonist, this sad story poignantly drives home the human cost of war.
On the Eve of Conflict: the beginning of the story, Book 1 of Journey Into Darkness
The fire leapt merrily on the hearth. The supper dishes had been washed and put away, and the evening chores were done. Mr. Kinkade was sitting in his favorite chair and staring into the fire. His wife rocked slowly in her high-backed, wooden rocker, quietly darning socks for her husband. Duane lay on the rug in front of the hearth, drawing pictures on wrapping paper with pieces of charcoal. Pounder lay napping, close to his side.
The man did not take his eyes off the fire as he addressed his wife. "Laura." He paused. "Ya know the South is secedin ta become the Confederacy. Well I heard taday thet fightin broke out in South Carolina 'n Lincoln declared war." He stopped and turned toward her. "I signed up taday ta help defend Arkansas if she should come ta be attacked."
The boy dropped his piece of charcoal and looked up at his father. Even though he had expected his pa to sign up, the reality that he had actually done so came as a shock to him. His mother stood up and, laying her darning aside, walked over to where her husband sat. Tears welled up in her eyes and dampened her cheeks. He reached up and clasped her hands in his, then pulled her into his lap. The dog merely opened his eyes to watch, though sensed the boy was upset and tensed to move if the boy should.
"Oh, Andy!" she cried and buried her face in his arms. He stroked her hair gently as he held her close and tried hard not to cry.
Duane felt a sudden emptiness in the pit of his stomach. He left his drawings and slipped out to the porch. His cheeks glistened wet as he looked out toward the shadow that was the barn and up toward the broken moon. His mouth quivered and he began to shake all over. The dog slipped silently to his side where he sat and watched the troubled face of the boy he loved. Grasping a post at the edge of the porch, Duane held tightly as he stood sobbing silently, the tears streaking his face. Suddenly the boy ran from the porch toward the haystack beside the barn. He threw himself down, buried his face in his arms, and cried out his heartache to the hay. He lay there a long time asking God why there had to be a war and why his father had to go. Pounder followed to lay by his side and lick the tears from his face. Duane caressed the soft head, then wrapped his arm around the thickly coated neck in an affectionate embrace and buried his face in its softness. The tears flowed as Pounder whined his concern for his grieving master. Finally the boy calmed down enough to notice that someone was approaching.
"Dee?" his father spoke gently.
Duane rolled over onto his back and gazed at his pa. Mr. Kinkade sat down beside him and the boy crawled closer to his father and lay his head in the security of his pa's lap. For a few minutes neither spoke.
"Pa," the boy began, "why do ya have ta go? Can't they fight without ya?"
"Son, if ev'ry father thought they could fight without him, the South wouldn't stand a chance." He held his son affectionately, caressing his shoulders as he hugged him close.
They sat there quietly as the sky slowly rotated over their heads. Strong arms wrapped the boy gently and held him close, hoping to God that he would be coming back after the war. Duane looked at his father and saw the hurt and the worry that he was feeling as he gazed intently at his home. The man's eyes turned to his son.
"Ain't it time ya git ta bed? Yer ma'll wonder where ya got ta."
"Ain't tired, Pa. I couldn't sleep now nohow."
His father stood up bringing Duane to his feet by his shoulders. The dog rose to his feet and watched. Grasping the boy's right shoulder firmly, the man turned his son in the direction of the lane. Pounder eased himself to a seated position and watched them go. They strolled slowly down the dirt and gravel pathway and across the meadows to their favorite fishing hole. Dark silhouettes of trees against the starlit sky seemed to float overhead as they passed along the ground between them.
Ma watched them from the doorway as they drifted through the moonlight, growing smaller in the distance. She understood, and turned to the hearth to keep the fire going and to await their return. Pounder, too, understood. He returned to the house where he lay down at the top of the steps to await their return.
The glistening silvery meadow smelled sweet in the night air as father and son walked quietly side by side.
"Pa, what's war like?"
"I dunno, Son. I've neve been in one b'fore. I s'pose it's bloody 'n tirin 'n prob'ly som'thin cruel. I fig'r when men go ta war, they fergit the enemy is people jest like them."
They continued on quietly for a time. Passing through the stand of silent pines, they came upon the meadow. They went on until they reached the darkened shape that was the oak, and there they stopped. The water rippled and gurgled along, interrupted every once in a while by a flash and a splash as a catfish broke across the surface.
Duane watched in silence as he relaxed against the sturdy figure who stood behind him. His pa absentmindedly rubbed his son's arms against the chill night air.
"When the war's over, Dee, we'll come down here afta the big one out there. Next time he won't steal my pole."
They both smiled at the memory.
The two stood there a long time, like statues in the night. It was a special feeling, a need each had to be close to the other, knowing full well there was much to do before the parting, and there was a distinct possibility they would never see each other once his father left. An owl hooted in the distance. Crickets sang in the grass. The need passed. The two turned and started back toward the house.
The dog stood as his master and the man crossed the yard toward the house, then preceded them inside. Mrs. Kinkade was darning socks when they arrived, and laid her work aside as the two entered the cabin.
"Night, Pa," Dee whispered after they had closed the door for the night. He went to his ma and kissed her lightly on the cheek. "Night, Ma."
Pounder followed the boy into his room. The boy's room was small and sparsely furnished -- his bed, a wardrobe, and a chair. As he kicked off his boots and changed into his nightshirt, he could hear his parents banking the fire for the night. The lamp light dimmed and went out. Tossing his clothes in a heap on the chair, Duane climbed into bed and sat with his knees tucked up under his chin.
The dog raised himself halfway onto the bed and pushed his muzzle under Duane's wrist. The boy stroked the muzzle and face, then tossled his ears gently with both hands.
"I love ya, Pounder," he said softly. The dog whined his own love for the boy. "Go ta bed, now, boy."
The large shadowy form slipped from the bed and curled itself into a comfortable position across the doorway.
Faint moonlight drifted in the window, casting a glow on the room. Duane sat there, his mind reeling, but blurred. He was tired. Pulling up the quilt, the boy settled down into the bed, closed his eyes, and drifted into sleep.
Up From Corinth: Book 2 of Journey Into Darkness
A sparkling sky with its brilliant moon cast an eerie glow on the dewless and parched landscape. The divisions of General Gilbert's III Corps moved ghostlike in great clouds of silty dust as it crawled eastward along the Springfield Pike towards Perryville in search of water and a place to rest the night. Every soldier, every beast, every vehicle wore a mantle of white dust. It had worked its way into every crack and crevice of equipment and tack, every fold of wagon canvass and clothing and skin. Duane rode his horse near the side of the wagon. He felt the gritty film in his hair, under his shirt, in the folds of his eyelids and the hairs of his nostrils. It was layered on his sweat and stuck inside his parched mouth. The extent of his misery was masked by the depths of his exhaustion having been on the march for a week of this extended drought.
Earlier in the late afternoon there had been the distant sound of a cavalry skirmish. Word had come that a Confederate presence was established at Perryville. But more important, there was water ahead. Darkness had fallen almost five hours ago, still the army moved. Suddenly the front of Sheridan's division came upon the puddled creek bed and found itself under attack from the ridge of land east of the creek. It was an hour before midnight. The night-lit terrain with its shadows and soft bright reflections was difficult to defend. As the division came to rest, an Indiana brigade was sent forward to seize the creek bed and scatter the Confederate defenders.
While elements of the division maneuvered for battle, an officer rode up to the supply wagon. "Lieutenant," he called to Marshalton, "get up there and see what you can do to help!"
"Yes, Sir, Captain!" he wheeled his horse around to the back of the wagon. "Johnny, pass me my field pack. Grab a supply pack for Dee." He turned to a quartermaster company nearby. "Sergeant, bring up litters and field supplies and follow! Johnny, bring the wagon as close as you can."
"Here!" Johnny called as he passed the requested gear. "I'll be along."
Orders were passed in the night confusion as the doctor, the boy, and two dozen soldiers moved toward the fighting to help the wounded. The brigade was repulsed and the walking wounded began to wander back from the field of battle. Midnight passed as the shooting ceased and the wounded were attended in the soft glow of starlight and the high, nearly full moon, wherever they met the surgeon and his party along the roadway from the creek. The lieutenant's party continued to work its way forward until they came upon the wounded who had fallen near the front of the assault. They lay along a ridge of land that paralleled the creek below. A small valley lay bathed in night light which reflected off the pools of water and caressed the bodies of fallen soldiers on the sloping ground stretching gently to the dry banks.
The boy could hardly swallow for the dryness in his throat. He stared longingly at the reflection of the water and felt a hand grasp his wrist as Dan read his thoughts and cautioned against a rash move. The two tied their horses to the branches of nearby shrubs, then joined the others as they turned their attention to the wounded. While the small groups worked quietly they could feel the enemy watching from the opposite ridge. They could sense their whispered conversations. There was a feeling of mutual truce. In that sense of safety, the boy worked his way down to the water. Then he lay in the damp dirt, pulling himself over to the pool to quench the dryness in his throat. The warm fluid felt comforting. Duane sat back on his knees and slipped his canteen from his shoulders, lay it in the water, and pushed it under to watch it fill. Returning to the wounded, he shared the precious liquid with the conscious.
Nearly two hours had passed in the first night of the new day. A few of the wounded had been removed from the slope. Suddenly the night was shattered by the approach of a new assault. Instinctively the boy dove for cover in a rocky flaw on the hillside as two new brigades from Sheridan's division moved down the slope, crossed the creek, and advanced up the far side.
The moonlit valley erupted in violent conflict as the Confederate line poured a devastating fire upon the advancing Federals. Relentlessly the Union troops pressed the attack in a deafening clatter of musket and rifle fire. The night was filled with screams of pain, the shout of orders, the Rebel yell, the smoke and din of battle, the whine of projectiles glancing off rocks. Duane kept low, not daring to look for fear a stray bullet would find its mark and strike him down. The assault stalled briefly, then pushed forward up the slope, forcing the Confederate defenders to fall back toward the town. The line was broken. The defenders continued a stubborn resistance as they withdrew. Sheridan's troops pursued the retreating forces and the fight faded noisily from the ridges of the eastern creek bank.
Duane and the others advanced cautiously as they moved to help the wounded. Before long the rest of the division began to move forward. More assistance arrived to help the wounded as the majority of the troops paused for water on their way up the slope to establish lines of battle along the ridge to the east of the creek before resting where they stood for what few hours remained of the night.
Johnny had arrived with the wagon and was on foot in the area of the recent fighting, when he called, "Dee! Come here quick!"
Duane sensed an urgency in the voice and dashed through the water and up the embankment. He found his friend kneeling beside a Confederate corpse.
"What fer'd ya call, Johnny?" He breathed hard to catch his breath.
"You might want to look close on that uniform," he pointed. "This regiment's from Arkansas."
Duane knelt to inspect the insignia in the moonlight. He glanced up to his friend. "Seventh Arkansas." His eyes were moist with a sudden surge of emotion. But any tears were forced back as he continued somewhat hoarsely, "We gotta find one thet's alive. I gotta know if'n maybe some'n knows of my pa."
"You check along the top to see what you can find," Johnny suggested. "I'll continue to help along the slope here."
"Thanks," Duane accepted. "Jeremiah's still where I left him on the other ridge. Chance I don't see ya afte' a look about, I'll git him first thin then follow on to where eve' ya head with the wagon."
"I aim ta."
The two separated as Duane walked off through the noise and movement of newly arriving regiments in search of Confederate survivors. He paused a moment to scan the moonlit high ground. In the shadows beneath a stand of maples a little distant from the commotion of soldiers settling in for a few hours rest, there was a movement. Something metallic caught a stray beam of light and flashed in the darkness. The boy approached cautiously, unholstering his revolver as he neared the dark shadows, slowing his pace to allow his eyes to search for information. His heart pounded nervously as he wondered if danger lay ahead or someone who could help him or just a tree branch giving way.
An injured soldier leaned against a tree trunk. One arm hung bloodied and useless at his side. The other supported a musket with fixed bayonet, pointing directly at Duane. The boy dropped to his knees raising his revolver in one swift movement, but paused with his thumb on the hammer when he saw in the dim light that the soldier had not pulled back the hammer on his weapon.
"I ain't fixin ta be kilt," Duane spoke nervously. "But it ain't my wantin ta do no killin neither."
"Thet sets jest right with me, Boy." He lowered the weapon and Duane did likewise. "Wouldn't do no good nohow seein's it ain't loaded."
"Ya bad hurt?" Duane stepped closer as he slipped his weapon back into its holster and took the canteen from his shoulder.
"Don't figure ta be goin under fer it. Seems ma arm's busted up." He accepted the offered canteen and took a short drink from its contents. "Ain't ya the one thet went ta the water fer this last fightin?"
"Yeh." He took back the wooden container and shoved the cork back into the opening.
"Where ya from, Boy? Ya don't talk like no Yank I eve' heard."
"Benton, Arkansas." He looked at the shattered arm and saw it was still bleeding. "My pa's some'ere's in this war 'n I'm hopin ya'll be knowin somethin as kin help me fer ta find him." Dropping his pack on the ground, the boy pulled out some bandages and started to wrap the arm while he spoke. "I saw by one a yer dead as ya'll's from Arkansas, too."
"There's a heap a Arkansas regiments here. How's it ya come ta be a Yank 'n yer pa's a Reb?"
"Ain't no Yank. Jest picked up by 'em when I got shot to Shiloh." The boy concentrated on the job at hand, saying nothing. But he knew from what he had seen working with Johnny and the lieutenant, that a surgeon would take the arm off when this soldier's turn came on the table.
"Where'd ya larn whateve tis yer doin?" the man asked.
"Lieutenant Marshalton's a doctor. Seein as how he's lookin afta me, he's learnin me some, too."
As the moon dipped lower toward the close of night, its light brightened the shadows under the trees. Duane's eyes had grown used to the dim light and he studied the man he was helping. Green-grey eyes studied the boy, too. They were warm and kindly, a hint of a sad smile and the wish that war didn't exist. An agile body, firm in muscle tone, and calloused hands, suggested here was another farmer.
A sudden movement not twenty feet in front of them caught the man's attention and his eyes clouded with alarm. Duane felt a pressure from the shattered arm as the soldier spoke.
"Look out, Boy!" He raised his musket.
Duane dropped the ends of the fabric he was in the midst of tying. A gunshot shattered the night as he dove to the ground and grabbed for his revolver.
Across the Valley to Darkness: Book 3 of Journey Into Darkness
The 13th Alabama regiment advanced to the right of center. The 1st Tennessee held the right end of the line. The remaining three regiments stretched to the left. Duane saw only one other brigade clear the woods with Fry's. It was Pettigrew's. General Pettigrew appeared concerned that the remaining brigades on the left were not advancing. Finally they appeared and the whole line was dressed and in straight order as it neared the end of the point of wood to the right.
Duane continued to keep the cadence -- a hundred and ten steps per minute for a forward rate of just under a hundred yards per minute. Looking ahead the boy saw clearly in the distance, beneath the rising smoke from the cannonade, the lines of blue defenders along walls and fences, and the clusters of artillery whose crews were busy preparing their guns. It certainly didn't appear that the artillery had done its job.
On either side of the road in front, were the thin lines of skirmishers, bobbing in wheat fields as they prepared to open fire on each other. They had been the safest during the artillery duel. The shells had simply traveled overhead.
The advancing line cleared the last trees and the boy could see the men of Pickett's division in the field a little ahead and far to the right. If he weren't so twisted in his gut by a deep-set fear, Duane might have seen something grand in the mile-wide front of brigades in dressed formation. But the distant puffs of smoke on the hilltops beyond the right and left were followed by the booming of artillery.
Still the line advanced. Artillery opened on both flanks and in places along the front. Shells screamed through the hot mid-afternoon air and exploded in the ranks. Pieces of bodies and gear blew into the air as the missiles of death took their toll. Great holes appeared in the ranks as ten men or more were taken out by a single shell. So far, the center of the line was relatively safe.
Pickett's division reached a stretch of low ground, out of the line of fire. There it paused to redress its lines. Moving forward once again, it came under a sudden and destructive fire. Then, on command, the whole division shifted to a left oblique and marched at a 45 degree angle. This slowed down the forward movement as it brought the entire division to the left to link with the end of Fry's line. The far left of Pettigrew's line collapsed under a flanking attack and began to fall back in disorderly retreat. The remaining brigades approached the road.
Because of the road's angle, the center of the line would strike it first. Colonel Fry's brigade was about two hundred and fifty yards from the Union line when the enemy fired in line by brigades and regiments. The impact of flying lead slammed into the front lines with devastating results. The flags went down, were picked back up, and continued forward. Scores of men fell wounded, some dead. Duane felt a sting of pain from a bullet that buzzed the side of his left leg. But it failed to slow him as another ripped through the wood of the drum. Artillery from several batteries opened with canister. All that the boy could see of the Federal front was a roiling cloud of smoke specked with flashes of fire in a long line.
"Forward!" Lieutenant Jenkins cried and waved his sword.
The companies advanced in bunches. Coming up against a board fence, the men of the brigade tried to break it down with their rifle butts. It would not give. The skirmishers before them had not been able to break down this section of fence. Here they waited and joined the line of attack. It would be necessary to go over the top.
As the first file crossed the top boards, sharpshooters opened fire. Foley was hit in the wrist but continued to advance. Duane heard a bullet whiz by his head and another strike the rim of the drum. Many slammed into the wooden planks and posts. Sergeant Henson was seriously wounded as a bullet passed through his neck and shoulder. He toppled into the ditch beside the roadway. Private Wilson was killed.
The line paused briefly in the safety of the roadway which ran below the grade of the field. The men lay down to rest a minute before going over the second fence on the opposite side of the road.
"I ain't wantin ta do this!" Jamie called to Duane over the roar of the battle.
"We're this far!" Duane called back. "Let's go finish it!"
They were on their feet again. Jamie slipped his rifle between the fence boards. Clambering over the planks as quickly as possible, they dropped to the ground on the other side amidst a hail of bullets, then rolled to their feet to go on.
Once past the fence, the lines redressed, linked up with Pickett's division, and moved forward as one solid front.
Enemy artillery and infantry continued heavy all along the front as the Confederate line closed and began its own destructive fire. The air was thick with cries of pain, the shout of orders, the whir and whine of lead. Great empty spaces continued to be blown in the Confederate ranks as artillery took out large numbers. The artillery back on Seminary Ridge continued to wreck havoc as its shells fell along the Union line and disabled men and cannon.
Officers were falling in great numbers as bullets and shell fragments found their marks. But still the colors remained upright and the remaining troops continued to close on them.
A slight grade remained before the Union fences. Colonel Fry led the charge as his little brigades swept furiously up the gentle slope. Firing and yelling, they flew forward. The colonel fell with a bullet in the thigh.
"Go on!" he called. "It will not last five minutes longer!"
To the right, the men from Pickett's left were with them. A lieutenant in a Virginia regiment clasped hands with a captain of the 1st Tennessee shouting, "Virginia and Tennessee will stand together on these works today!"
Both flanks of the Confederate line were being turned in. Duane felt the push of troops as they closed in on the center. Regimental colors were crowding into bunches as the men swarmed toward them. The low stone walls were only a few yards away. Now, for the first time since the lines stepped from the trees some twenty minutes back, the attackers let lose their blood-curdling Rebel yell and swept across the walls. Tennessians, Alabamians, and Virginians moved together.
Masses of blue ebbed about, trying to stay the attack. A few remaining artillerymen frantically loaded canister shot. Duane jammed his sticks into his belt and drew his revolver. A gun crew was loading to the right. He fired on one who went down. Others ran. The gun was turned. The boy fired again. In front, the Federals gave way in full retreat. The cannon fired its charge of canister into the flank of the Rebel mass. Screams of pain, cannon fire, muskets and rifles, the Rebel yell, shouts of orders, exploding shells pressed against the senses. The boy also felt a cutting pain as a shard from a shattered stone sliced across his ribs.
A blue line of infantry paused on the higher ground in front, to fire on the Rebel infantry at the angle in the fence. But it would not advance.
"Look!" Jamie shouted. "They's perfect targets on the sky!"
The boy fired along with several in the closing companies and the Federal soldiers fell in bunches. But their line held and their return fire was deadly.
One of Pickett's generals crossed the wall where the Union gunners had been driven from their battery and the guns stood silent.
"Come on, Boys, give them the cold steel! Who will follow me?"
He went forward with hat held high on the point of his sword. A rush of men and colors followed him over the wall. Fierce hand-to-hand combat surged about the wall. Infantrymen and artillerymen fought back with rifle butts, hand spikes, and rocks. Men on both sides fired and loaded and fired again. One battery of cannon continued to operate with double loads of canister. But its crew was being thinned at a rapid rate.
As the tide of grey and blue surged and ebbed and mingled in mortal combat, and the air filled with smoke and noise, debris and blood, the few who remained in Company K continued to load and fire on the men in blue. They fought without order. The lieutenant had fallen. Standing, kneeling, pushing through the massed humanity, they did their work.
A flying stone caught Jamie on the head and he went down, blood streaming from a scalp wound. Duane had felt the pull of bullets passing through his clothing, felt the warm dampness of his blood running down his leg and pooling in his shirt, and had heard the missiles of death singing through the air. He knelt to check on Jamie and to load a fresh cylinder into his revolver. The drum sang out as a bullet ripped its head. His companion would be okay. Rising to his feet, he dropped the empty cylinder into his pouch and felt pain seer through his left arm. A bullet had passed through the muscle below his elbow. Blood quickly soaked through his shirt.
There wasn't time for this. The boy moved toward the silent guns for cover. The general who had crossed the wall was gone. Duane saw the general where he lay wounded near the wall. Lead sprayed and burned his cheek as a bullet struck the gun barrel. The blood dripped from the finger tips of his wounded arm as he rested the revolver in his good hand on the gun carriage and fired into the chaotic mass of Federal troops in the trees to the right.
The fragments from the remaining Confederate regiments were falling fast. Some of the colors lay on the ground or were propped against the stonework. Union reinforcements rushed to the scene, but had not yet advanced. Fear held them back. Pain struck Duane's ankle as a sliver of metal cut through his sock. Beyond the trees there was a fierce volley of artillery fire as smoke billowed down the slope and across the stone wall to erase an entire Confederate charge. An eerie silence fell ahead.
Union fire into the mass of grey, mingling leaderless near the angle in the wall, intensified.
"Help me with this gun!" Duane called as he noticed a charge of canister on the ground behind the gun.
Bullets ricocheted from stone and field piece. Suddenly, the powder charge attached to the canister load erupted in flame and smoke. The explosion wrapped around the gun and slammed debris through the drum and the boy's flesh. He felt the heat of the fire and the sting of flying metal. The concussion of explosion wrapped him in pain and the smell of smoke.
Blackness invaded the boy's senses with one grand roaring crescendo and sudden pain.
Then silence. Darkness. Nothing.
Toward the End of the Search: the conclusion of the story, Book 4 of Journey Into Darkness
The time for sleep was short. Predawn glow had just begun to redden the eastern horizon when gunfire erupted to the north west. It was 5 AM as the battle was renewed. Within minutes, a clattering of musketry announced the advance of skirmishers as General Birney's division moved to the offensive. More than 20,000 Federal troops advanced against General Lee as the noise of conflict awoke Duane and Johnny. Suddenly the woods exploded with the roar of violence as the mile-wide wave of battle surged relentlessly forward.
During the next two hours the Federal line continued to push forward. At first, the two youths worked together as the ebb tide of wounded stumbled to the rear in search of help. Along the Brock Road from the north of the aid station, troops and artillery flowed southward into the battle. The immediate crossroads hung thick with the rolling dust of their passage and the noise of the moving masses and their vehicles, spurred on by the shouts and commands of their officers.
Word came that the battle line was nearly a mile to the front of the breastworks.
"Dee," Johnny shouted over the din of activity, "you stay here with Joshua and Micah. I have to go forward with the brigade!"
With that, Johnny was gone. Wagons of ammunition and medical supplies rumbled down the road. Duane heard all this feverish movement of battle and worried in the back of his mind that Johnny would be killed. He was sure something terrible would happen. Nevertheless, he continued to help dispense materials from supply packs and to follow the guidance of the two bandsmen as he assisted them in whatever way they needed.
The roaring tide of battle continued in the distance for most of the morning. For a time, numbers of Confederate wounded and prisoners were brought in as the Union line had collapsed the Rebel line and forced it back upon itself. Then, as the sun neared its high point at noon, there came a distinct crescendo in the fighting. The tide was turning and the Confederates were pushing the Federals hard toward their own breastworks. A great rush of activity spilled from the woods as retreating infantrymen dashed to the rear and a vast horde of wounded was brought in.
Shortly after noon, the retreat was complete as the Federal forces returned to their breastworks and Johnny rejoined his friend. The smell of burnt powder became strong in the air as it blended with the smell of blood. The ground about the aid station was littered with the mix of wounded, both Union and Confederate.
"The surgeons are having a real rough time of it," Johnny observed as he helped Duane distribute stiptics, bandages, and splints. "Just as fast as one poor fellow is cut and moved another is on the table. The blood is so deep, the ground at their feet is a red slime. The bloody pieces of bodies are stacked in piles knee high."
"Damn it ta Hell, Johnny, but this be one time I's glad I cain't see 'n I really ain't needin fer ya ta say as how bad it is. The pain an' screamin 'r bad 'nough. Ma nose an' ma ears is tellin a real heap a horrifyin sufferin. I reckon too, as I hears Reb voices in the wounded likewise."
Hundreds were occupied with the task of treating the wounded. The fighting continued along the first line of breastworks as the brigades of General Birney's division continued to withdraw to the line of defenses. The momentum slowed and the battle line settled in a stalemate just a few hundred yards from the field medical activity. By mid afternoon there was a welcomed lull in the fighting during which General Hancock directed a rearrangement of troops for greater strength and in preparation of a concerted charge to be mounted in the late afternoon.
As fast as they could, the non-combatants at the aid station loaded the wounded who could travel onto ambulances to be transported off to Fredericksburg.
"Hey, Dee," Johnny called. "What was your brigade at Gettysburg?"
"Thirteenth Alabama. Why?" He tied off a bandage knot, then stood to face the voice.
"There's a wounded Reb here from the 13th, a kid named Matthewson."
"Jamie!" Duane shouted. "Is he bad hurt?"
Johnny moved to guide the boy to the lanky youth who lay among the wounded. "Looks bad."
"Dee, is't really thet yer alive?" the faint voice called weakly.
"I is fer sher," he knelt beside the sixteen-year-old. "Ya got back from the fightin thet day?"
"Yeh," pain cut him short.
Duane remained beside his Confederate comrade while Johnny left to continue his work.
The youth went on, "I come to near evenin an saw as they was takin in wounded. I made like I was dead an waited fer night ta git back ta the company. I sher did think as ya'd met yer maker when I last saw ya layin in yer blood." A fit of coughing overcame the wounded youth.
The younger teen sought his friend's face with his fingers and explored gently to see how bad he was hurt.
"Hey," Jamie whispered, "it tickles. What ya doin?"
"I cain't see, Jamie. Lost ma sight thet day when a powder charge blew in ma face." He felt the sweat and dirt of battle and the long curls of dusty hair, but no indication of a wound. Wait. There was a trickle of blood at the corner of his lips. "How bad hurt is ya?"
"There's one as burned ma arm. Another grazed a shoulder. Wu'st one's in ma gut -- broke a rib an' got ma innards. Weren't so bad fi'st off. But the Yanks had already gone by an' the only way out an' not bein shot agin, was ta the Yank side. I started ta walk 'n only went a few yards an' had ta crawl. Some with a litter carried me out."
"What's this?" Duane asked, wiping blood from his friend's mouth.
"Banged inta a tree branch durin the fightin. Kinda dumb, I s'pose."
Duane slipped his hand to the bloodied shirt around Jamie's abdomen. Ripping it open, he gently explored the wound, first where the bullet entered; then, by sliding his hand around the older boy's side, the exit hole on his back.
"Oh God! Thet hurts!" Jamie gasped in sudden pain.
"I'm gonna put some bandagin ta hold ya tageth'r, Jamie," Duane explained as he searched his pack for more fabric.
"It ain't wo'th yer tryin, Dee. I know I ain't got much time left. Jest stay with me an' talk some." The wounded youth fought hard to control his voice and to keep the pain from taking over.
"Sher, Jamie," Duane agreed as he gently withdrew his hand from the pooling blood beneath his friend and laid the front of the shirt back across the broken body. "But I ain't wantin fer ya ta die." His voice cracked.
"I ain't a'fear'd none, Dee. I ain't wantin it neith'r, but I knows it's a certain." His voice quivered and a tear slipped free to course its way through the powder which blackened his face. "Jest stay with me a piece."
As the two continued to talk and Duane learned the fate of some he'd known, the hour slipped away. Suddenly, at four o'clock, the air was rent with gunfire as a fierce Rebel charge burst toward the first line of breastworks. The Union line exploded in destructive volleys of riflery and thunderclaps of artillery fire.
The two teenagers shook at the sudden explosion of activity. They were quickly enveloped in the smoke of battle as a breeze blew the sulphurous cloud in their direction.
"Kin ya see how fer the fightin is?" Duane asked.
"'Bout two hundred yards," Jamie answered.
As the battle erupted all along the Brock Road defenses, the woodland once more burst into flames. The wind blew them toward the Union defenses and soon Jamie reported to Duane that the Federal breastworks had caught fire.
"The Yanks is fallin back an' ar people 'r comin through the fire ta the wall!" Jamie described while the bullets whined overhead. "The two armies ain't twelve paces apart shootin each other through the flames," he continued.
Shouts of orders, the roar of cannons, the rattle of frantic wheels, the whinny of horses, the raking volleys of musket fire, screams of pain and panic, rose to a numbing intensity.
"Get down!" Johnny shouted as he rushed to Duane's position. "We're holding them!"
The leading edge of attacking Confederates mounted the breastworks, but the fighters were cut down as fast as they came. Finally, the men of General Birney's division were rapidly reinforced as new troops were brought into the conflict. The line held. Frantic activity behind the line kept everyone busy who was able to help as the new flood of casualties fell in the immediate front. Eventually, the fighting subsided as the sun sank low in the west and twilight dimmed the woodlands. A crackling red glow moved eerily through the wilderness. As the fighting ceased and the moans of the wounded rose on the air, fires raced about the underbrush. Moans turned to screams. Scattered gunfire popped about the wilderness as pockets in the clothes on the dead and wounded, filled with rifle cartridges, ignited, and the charges exploded.
The troops settled warily as the wagons raced about to re-supply ammunition and caissons were brought in with fresh munitions chests for the artillery. The work among the wounded was constant. Hundreds had gathered and lay about the area waiting to be attended. Once more, the nurses and non-combatants worked into the night.
Duane took a break around midnight and asked Joshua to guide him back to where Jamie lay.
"Sorry I bin so busy, Jamie," he spoke as he knelt. "Want some water?"
There was no response.
Duane reached out to be sure his friend was there. His hand touched a shoulder. But it was hard as rock. His fingers searched for the face.
"This ain't the right one, Joshua," Duane stated, as he felt the cold hard flesh and the soft curls of hair. "Damn this war!" he exclaimed quietly to himself. "Damn it all ta Hell!"