Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Beginning and End (04/16/09)
TITLE: Hatchie Surprise
By Patrick Whalen
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“Don’t start with me Jenkins. I appreciate the faith you all have in me, but I’m not sure I’m up to this.”
“Ah come on Chap! You’ve marched with us since Chicago. You’ll do fine. Of course if I were you, I’d ask for my musket back.”
“Thomas Jenkins! I am certainly not talking about the march. Being a chaplain is a tremendous responsibility. I’ve fought with you, all of you. Some of our common friends fell at my side not two miles from where we stand. I’ve heard the bumblebees flying overhead and I’ve seen what they do to a man when they find their mark. We all are far from home and already many of the men are descending into vices to cope with the loneliness and worry. They need someone strong to help them maintain the faith with which they entered this war.”
“Don’t know what to tell you there Robert. I’m guessing that book you have there in you hand has quite a few answers.”
Robert tightened his grasp on the bible clenched in his right hand. “Indeed Thomas. Thank you.”
The regimental drummer boy hurried to the road and took position next to Captain Mclanahan who nodded his approval. Young Jarad rose his sticks in salute then began beating out the long roll upon the fresh, calf-skin batter head.
The incessant tone rang throughout the camp. Men clamored about, gathering their belongings and strapping them to their backs. Within minutes the entire brigade had formed in a column of fours along a lonely stretch of Mississippi road. Four thousand men stood in complete silence as the officers assumed their places in the line.
The colonel raised his sword. ‘Column forward! Guide right! March!”
As the men stepped forward in unison, Robert held his bible to his chest and began to pray. Miles clicked by yet Robert didn’t cease to pray for the men in blue who were headed towards the restless rifles of their foe. Dust kicked up from the road and caked upon his praying lips. Water swished within the canteen upon his hip, but he dared not halt calling upon the Lord.
His eyes scanned the bobbing sea of blue ahead of him; muskets gleamed in the morning sun. The lulling monotony of left, right, left was interrupted by the distant pop of musket fire to their front.
“Brigade! Halt!” Just as quickly as the men had stepped out upon the march, they stopped as one body.
A lieutenant rode quickly by Robert then stopped at the colonel’s side. They exchanged words and the lieutenant galloped out of view. The officers began to scurry about in a sudden burst of excitement. Every man in formation searched their memories to recall the months of training that had prepared them for this moment.
The column shouldered their muskets then formed into battle line. They proceeded forward in step with the steady beat of the drum. Robert Walters desperately wanted to shoulder a musket himself and join the men just as he had done at Corinth. The realization that he was now a chaplain settled upon him. He had to stay behind the coming fray.
Minutes passed like seconds. Sporadic pops turned into deafening volleys. Cannons roared and the ground shook with each explosive impact. Minutes passed like hours.
One by one, wounded soldiers appeared in the rear of the battle. Robert aided in tending those he could. The ghastly wounds and horrific cries tore at his soul as surgeons did the best they could under the canopy of leafless oak trees. Silent guns signaled the end of the battle.
Robert moved across the Hatchie River with those he could motivate to help collect the dead and dying. The sight of the dead soldiers, both blue and gray, troubled him, but it was the dying that wrought upsetting sights and sounds. Chaplain Walters swallowed the grief that rose in his throat. Across the field he walked, from body to body, praying with those who could hear. When he came across a familiar face, he shuddered.
“Thomas!” The chaplain fell to his knees and removed the jacket from his fallen friend.
“Hello, chaplain.” Private Jenkins reeked of mud, gunpowder, and blood. The chaplain unbuttoned the wounded man’s coat. A long, grotesque gash slashed deep across Thomas Jenkin’s belly spilled his life blood onto the Mississippi clay.
“Thomas. I am afraid this is the end my friend.”
“No chaplain. It is the beginning. Remember me.”
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