December 10, 1864;
Jarratt's Station, Virginia.
At dawn, the soft whisper of wind rose, awakening the restless among us; winter coming on, a new season of whispers, new voices from the north. By mid-morning, it had blown every cloud from the sky, leaving a beautiful blue vault of heaven and the warm white sun. And then, the wind picked up.
By noon, I knew this furious wind was working to blow these two armies away from the banks of the James River. This has gone on long enough, said our natural mother; war is at a standstill, something must move, so the gust blew harder from the north.
It is one o’clock and men who have walked headlong into the hornets’ nest hold their collars and beg mercy from the blast. What tents they had are tattered; the spikes tossed into the air, the cots scattered, tumbling down the embankment. What hats they had, are pulled down and tied like Sunday bonnets. The infantrymen hunker down in the trenches, the gunners cling to the south side of the battery wagons, but even the heaviest wagons rock and creak, the panels lift and slam; the tarps shiver, as though they are alive and afraid.
The fury rips at the regimental colors; flags of every stripe pop like whips in the wind. It claws at the scars of every battle, at every hole from shot and shell. Our identity, our flags, so painstakingly mended with horsehair by the coarse hands of the color bearer, who sews with the care of a Charleston seamstress. The north wind returns the scars, the holes, the rips and it then blows harder.
Herds of horses huddle in the makeshift corrals, except for a few stallions that stand, head up high; their manes and tails appear as if in full gallop, though they are standing still. They face the wind as they would the battle; they know no other way.
The winter wind rises, the white pine gives, the weary redbud breaks, but the maples are dancing in a hands held high hallelujah to the sky. Brown leaves tumble and blow by, like field mice scurrying for shelter from this red hawk wind.
This moment takes me back to hurricanes of my youth; the gales so hard that the strongest oaks behind the blacksmith shop swayed like saplings and my mother whispered - keep together - it will pass in time. And it did.
I tuck my papers in my pocket and stand, eyes closed, arms outstretched, face front to the wind, and wish; wish to be blown away from here; wish to lift in the sky and fly to my home. It feels like flying; flying on this fast current, barely off the ground, but fast, faster than I‘ve ever ridden, right on to my home.
The whispers have returned in the air, lifting me; the whispers of Fredericksburg are calling, becoming more urgent here, crying, even wailing, so loud that I forget my flight, and falling, open my eyes. I am still south of Petersburg; still in this hell beneath the vault of heaven. But for a moment, I could handle it; for a moment, I was high on the wind and home. If I hold that moment for each moment hereafter, for each moment that I have; I could handle hell, and it could be my home.