Darkness at Bay

Wesley Spicer, guest writer

With my life slowly seeping down between my fingertips, I stared numbly up into the vast abyss of darkness with no intent of returning. My mind reeled from the horrors I witnessed and the choices that I made, and I desired, with all my being, for a second chance. A chance I knew I would never get. I recalled the men’s haunted eyes, yet, for some reason, the horrors of war had never claimed me. The worst part is that most of them fought and fell at my side. Their laughter and shouts merging with silence. My mind wandered again and I thought of Orenda and how peacefully she had been sleeping the day we were separated.
* * *
June the twenty-sixth, 1863, was an average day, and I had just finished cooking my meal over the coals when Orin came sprinting into the small clearing that I have called home for the past five years.
“They’re coming! Climb!!” I glanced around and immediately took in the situation. Five confederate soldiers had followed and were intent on locating her. I sprang to my feet, grabbed my hunting knives, and dashed after my young crony. By the time she and I were hidden amid the leafy foliage, the men had reached the encampment and were looking cautiously around.
“I could have sworn that I saw two of em’ youngsters runnin scared from this here campsite. Are you sure that we’re chasin only one gal? This better not be anothern of your ol shenanigans.” the big one warned.
“I’d swear on my mothers grave, I’m telling the truth. You gotta believe me!”
“Shut it you two. They’re around here somewhere and I’ve got no intension of losin’ em cause’ of y’alls loud bickerin’, dya hear? Now, John and Robbie, you guys get to searchin’ the woods. See if y’all can locate their tracks before dark. If you do, catch em’, bring em’ back here and we’ll ask em’ bout’ the shoe factory. David and James, set up camp and I’d better not hear another peep outta you two or I’ll beat the livin daylights outta you. As for me, well, I’m going to start a fire and polish this here medallion. Dya know I earned this thing way back in 1861? It ’twas for my valiant fightin skills when I beat the strongest soldier the Union had. It ’twas on the battlefield of Manassas. A man should get respect for that there bravery, dya know?” He was still rambling when the two soldiers he sent searching came shuffling beneath Tris and I.
“Says he earned it did he? He’s a liar if I ever did see one. I’ll bet he stole it from the officer that he was assigned to help. Ha! There ain’t no way I’m gonna let that dolt boss me around much longer. He can’t ever remember my own name! It’s Robert, not Robbie!”
Within the hour, darkness again blotted out any semblance of light, and the moonless sky stretched its hands across the trees. I settled down on the branch and drifted away in a dreamless slumber.
* * *
The fire had long since died down and in the pre-dawn light, I looked at Orin sleeping on the branch next to me. How amusing. I thought. When we first met, I had just escaped the grasp of my abusive mother. Orenda has been the only person in the world who has been kind to me and has remained by my side. Thanks to her, one of the remaining Iroquois families took me in and taught me all that I know. Now, with both of our families gone and nowhere to go, we have just been living on whatever we can find.
Suddenly, without warming, the limb beneath me crumbled and I found myself plummeting towards the earth. With a crash, I slammed into the forest floor and immediately blacked out.
* * *
“Hmph, he’s alive after all,” a voice rumbled next to my face. My eyes flew open, and I jerked out of bed. Immediately regretting that decision, the next few moments were a living nightmare. After my vision focused and most of the aching subsided, I stared around in confusion. Looking down, I noticed fresh bandages covering a large portion of my chest and forearms. As the man lumbered around the restricting confines of fabric walls, my mouth opened and I croaked the only word I could muster.
Grunting, he handed me a canteen half full of water. Snatching the canteen, the precious liquid vanished within moments. “Where am I? Who are you? How long have I been here and what happened to my things?” I blurted hoarsely.
“You were found by one of our scoutin’ parties and they carried you back to camp. My name is Charles. You have been here for the past two days laying on my bedroll. Your things are over there in that corner. Any more questions?”
“Yes, what’s with all that deafening thunder?”
“That thunder, as you call it, is our youth killing themselves over a disagreement. We’ve got a war on our hands for reasons that are beyond me. War truly is a terrible thing. Anyways, as for you young man, you will remain with me for the rest of the battle in this camp because it’s too risky for me to let you loose. I’ve got no desire to assist the Union in gainin’ another victory.”
* * *
The battle of Gettysburg raged on until July 3rd, and many lives were lost on both sides. From what I gathered from among the men, the battlefield was soaked with blood and littered with the bodies of fallen men. While marching back to Virginia, one of the soldiers showed me a letter he was writing to his family.
It read, “I hope this may find you all well . . . The same Almighty power that has kept sickness from me so long & raised me up when disease took hold of me . . . let us say thy will be done. He still orders everything for the best & knows what is best for us if we do not know. So in any case my dear wife let us put all our trust in him . . . Give my love to the children kiss them for me. Tell Josey & Lucy & Bell when I get home I will bake them something nice . . . Remember me in your prayers Cynthia & I will pray for the choicest blessing upon you all. My God keep you in his loving care & his spirit dwell with you. Your most affectionate husband and father.”
His concern for his family reminded me of Orenda. I found out later in the week that she had trailed the bedraggled soldiers back and was hiding in the woods near the camp. Unfortunately, we were not able to meet each other due to me being transferred to another military unit that was under the command of Lt. General Longstreet, who was heading down from Virginia to meet up with General Bushrod Johnson. As I was departing, however, I spotted Tris up on a nearby knoll. Even from a great distance, I could see the tears glistening in her eyes and streaming down her cheeks as I marched away.
* * *
The date is now September the 17, 1863, and I am on my way towards another battlefield. While grasping the smooth butt of my rifle and feeling the scant supply of powder thump against my leg, I march along with the other soldiers. Despite the incessant shuffling, the silence reigning around us is deafening. Husbands wonder if they will live to see their spouses again; sons desire to go back to their homes and families.
* * *
We joined General Johnson’s troops a couple hours before nightfall and each exhausted man collapsed where he stopped; some did not even bother to roll out their bedrolls. Somehow dragging myself towards a nearby tree to set up my bed, the void of exhaustion claimed me before my head hit the ground. The frost that night crept into camp, stole a couple more soldiers, and left as silently as it had come.
We were woken early in the morning and stiffly shook the ice that accumulated on bedrolls during the night. Once we found out that some men had died during the night, we held a brief and solemn commemoration before continuing the treacherous trek with the Calvary unit leading the way. After several miles, a courier brought orders instructing us to turn towards Ringgold before continuing on to Reed’s Bridge. We met some enemy fire while marching through Ellis’ Springs. However, the union soldiers retreated and we did not meet any resistance until we crossed a creek and stopped at the edge of a cornfield.
Cautiously, we began to cross the open field wary of the enemy’s presence. Shots rang out and bullets began to fly around us. After a couple moments, the firing ceased and the union soldiers began to retreat towards the bridge where a skirmish ensued. The fighting lasted for a couple hours before we gained control of the bridge and the enemy retreated. With the sun low in the sky, the men steeled themselves to brave another cold night with the hopes of making it till dawn.
* * *
The following morning, we took up our supplies and headed west to assist in some of the heavy fighting. When we arrived at battleground, we were ordered to start fighting as soon as possible. Most lieutenant colonials stopped to organize their battalions, however, my unit was disregarded and were not given any orders except the command to go and fight. That is exactly what we did. With a mighty shout, I found myself being swept away towards the gunshots. Within moments, rifles discharged all around me and we were immersed in a cloud of smoke. Through all the confusion, I was able to make my way towards a nearby outcropping of rocks bordering the woods and began to fire at the enemy soldiers. As I reached down to reload my gun, a stray bullet whizzed overhead. Hunkering down behind the rocks, I protected myself as much as I possible could. Suddenly, my neck exploded in pain. The next thing I was aware of was the darkness closing in all around me.
* * *
Waking to the feeling of numbness spreading throughout my lower body, my first response was to panic. I frantically grabbed my legs, but I could not figure how to make use of them. Moaning, I attempted to drag myself towards the tree line using the only limbs that still worked.
With the cold moving in for the night and no way for me to obtain medical assistance, I propped myself up against the trunk of a tree, awaiting rescue.
* * *
Sometime during the night, there was a faint rustling of leaves and the snapping of underbrush as a figure moved stealthily towards my position. Positioning my bayonet towards the intruder, I waited for him to spot me. A feminine voice surprised me,
“Are you Confederate?”
“Orin! How… why… what are you doing here?!”
“Thank God.” she sobbed, smothering me with hug. Immediately backing off, she implored “Where are you hurt? Can you move?”
“I’m not positive, I was hit by a bullet and dragged myself here. I…I feel cold and nauseous and my legs won’t work!” Looking me over, she gently pulled me over to a nearby tree that had fallen and draped me over its rough bark. One of my arms dangled limply by my side and the steady dripping told me that I was nearing Death’s door.
Tris began talking but I could not comprehend the words spilling from her lips. Reliving all the memories we shared, I reached up and caressed her cheek with my hand. Brushing her hair away from her tear filled eyes, I gave a weak smile before allowing my hand to drop and finally permitted the darkness to come rushing in.

Works Cited
“Battle Of Gettysburg.” HistoryNet, www.historynet.com/battle-of-gettysburg. n.d. Web. 2 February, 2018.
“Battle Of Chickamauga.” HistoryNet, www.historynet.com/battle-of-chickamauga. n.d. Web. 2 February, 2018.
“Battle Of Chattanooga.” HistoryNet, www.historynet.com/battle-of-chattanooga. n.d. Web. 2 February, 2018.
“Civil War Soldiers.” HistoryNet, www.historynet.com/civil-war-soldiers. n.d. Web. 2 February, 2018.
“Civil War Letters, Soldiers of the Civil War, Battle of Gettysburg Letters.” Battle of Gettysburg, Relive the Bloodiest Battle of Civil War. www.totalgettysburg.com/civil-war-letters.html. n.d. Web. 2 February, 2018.
“Historical Events in 1863 (Part 2).” OnThisDay.com, www.onthisday.com/events/date/1863? p=2. n.d. Web. 2 February, 2018.
Powell, David A. The Chickamauga Campaign: a Mad Irregular Battle: from the Crossing of Tennessee River through the Second Day, August 22-September 19, 1863. Savas Beatie, 2016. Print.