Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Laid Low by Buck and Ball
Journal Entry: September 20, 1862
Today, we were back on the Potomac River at Shepherdstown, where the river turns like a slithering snake. Keeping the Federals from following us home, we drove them back across that snake. On the bluffs above the ford, we saw many Federal boys, young and new to battle, carrying new Enfield rifles that wouldn’t fire. Panicked, they tried to climb down the cliffs, but failed in a hellish falling dance. We have seen too many dances of death in too few days. We have, each and all, seen too much.
I have left Maryland, having been laid low, having seen more of hell than any fiery brimstone preacher could have posited. Blanketing those hills and sunken roads of Sharpsburg is a blackening red field of carrion, both men and mounts.
Tonight, I had to leave camp to be alone, out by the river, away from that hell, if only for an hour. Here, with the crackle of my fire burning and the steady rhythm of the river nearby, I am usually unafraid; still, fear rises in me now. I have skills beyond most men to take care of myself; I know the wilderness; I have faith in my Colt, my shotgun, my saber, my senses. My faith in practically everything else has been shaken; our world, our ancient mother seems to be without hope of rescue, as though a mighty musket fired buck and ball at close range square into her bosom. This earth beyond rescue; my soul seems beyond repair.
In the clear midnight sky, the stars are the stars of home and they comfort me somewhat. The big dipper is bright above me; its cup pointing to the North Star. I have been told that it leads slaves north to freedom, or to a lesser form of slavery. If any one among us can find freedom in this tortured world, I wish them Godspeed. Perhaps a clear sky will lead me back to Marianna and my Wilderness home. Perhaps.
After a moment of pondering, I look back to the northern sky, but the stars are now covered by clouds; so quickly the sky changes; so quickly the world changes, so quickly.