John could feel he was bleeding from more than one wound. It wasn’t something unexpected. After all, battle is not a safe place. He had marched off with the other strong men of his town, excited to get into the real action. Some called it The War Between the States.
The rain was relentless and the mud ran like a river. The horses were gone, spooked by the ambush. John held his face heavenward for a few minutes to wash out his eyes. Bodies sprawled to his left and right were motionless. He let out a long, fierce, animal-like wail.
“Dear God… PLEASE HELP ME!”
He had no idea what to do, but he knew staying here was the wrong thing. He pulled himself along through the smelly nastiness on what was once terra firma, stopping every few feet to catch his breath and give the rain another chance to clear his vision. After what seemed like hours of maneuvering, he passed out. The moaning woke him. This time, it was not his own.
John was more desperate than cautious. “Who’s there?”
The responding voice was weak and gasping.
“My name is Thomas.” His words were swallowed up by the storm.” I don’t want to die…so much to do.”
John forced his uninjured arm forward a few inches to touch the other survivor’s shoulder. Sometime in the darkness of their unconsciousness the brave men were mercifully rescued, washed, and put in clean beds in the upper room of a farmhouse.
The much-welcomed sun slipped through starched white curtains to share a little warmth. A woman sat in a small rocker doing needlework. She looked up when she heard John wince in pain. His right arm was bound as if broken.
”Good morning to you, Sir. As soon as my husband Jessie gets done with milking our only old cow he’ll help you while I fix some breakfast.”
The woman spoke matter-of-factly.
“Each of your uniforms was lice-ridden and beyond repair. They were burned. We have rounded up some clothes that will fit you.”
As she rose to fetch the food she laid one hand gently on John’s good arm. “War is an evil thing that takes our children from us. All five of our sons signed up. Only three have come home. God Bless you, young man.”
In a short while Jessie brought trays with eggs, biscuits, and strong coffee. Thomas smiled. He didn’t know much else besides his name, but he knew he was hungry.
Jessie perched on the tiny rocker.
“Is there someone we can contact for you? The mail train comes through this week."
John was eager to write to his grandfather, the only living relative he had. Thomas just looked blank.
Jessie had more to say. “I told the doctor all I know about you boys was you each had a gold cross attached to those filthy uniforms.”
He reached in the pocket of his overalls and pulled out the two small pins, now polished and gleaming again. Thomas spoke for the first time as recognition brightened his scarred face.
“My cross?” He strained to remember. “ Am I a Chaplain.”?
John looked up in amazement as he reached out his free hand to accept what he thought was lost.
The two military men read Scripture and prayed for a while. After more food and a check by the country doctor, they fell asleep. Not once had they mentioned the war. For now they would give thanks and concentrate on healing.
Jessie hurried up the stairs yelling the good news he had heard in town after the train had delivered the mail.
“ The WAR is over! General Lee surrendered at Appomattox on April 9th. ”
As the grinning man started to leave, he turned and asked. “By the way, which regiment are you men with?”
John shook his head as if still a little confused. He glanced at Thomas, who struggled even more with the foggy details.
In the kitchen Jessie spoke quietly to Anna. “What color were the tattered uniforms you burned?”
“They were so dirty and ragged it was hard to tell.”
Her mother’s heart reached to the depths of its wisdom and told her that brothers in Christ needed each other’s peaceful friendship more than recent enemies needed to fret over allegiances.
Perhaps someday she would find the courage to confess about the hateful muddy suits. One was gray. The other was blue.
She had a feeling it wouldn’t matter.
*The Civil War began on April 12, 1861 and ended on April 9, 1865. The heritage of bloodshed and grief was monumental.
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