Hell is in this place.
I sink flat as a shadow, but the enemy is picking us off like ripe melons in the sun. I eat the dirt, because it taste better than lead.
They call it a Civil War, but there's nothing civil about using the bloated bodies of your fellow soldiers for a shield. We never agree on what we're fighting for: the Union, colored people, or God himself. But we are learning how to die together.
Even the smell of death is not the worst for me, or the sight of someone bleeding in the field as flies seek their meal. It's the sound death makes in a lead ball, wound tight, hissing like a demon, which makes my heart shiver in fear.
The day before, the men were brave. They would spit tobacco and curse God in one breath. Now I hear grown men crying for mercy, crying for mother, talking to the wind, talking to God.
Death encircles me.
I reach for the paper in my jacket to scrawl one last note, knowing this makes me a target.
When my little sister's read it, I imagine they will dab their tears with braided hair. My mother will weep in the night until dawn breaks over the Susquehanna Valley. My father will smoke his pipe, rocking underneath a moonlit sky, which will reflect his glistening eyes. When the sun chases a shadow across the mountain, he will likely find the garden to bury his tears.
I find this strange comfort in the hour of my death that I am a brother and son so loved.
I offer my life in this field. I pray it bears the fruit of freedom. May it not in be in vain?
I lift, and roll to scratch these words I know will be my last.
Dear ma: know that the bible you read me every night as a child has born fruit. Your seed of faith has found fertile ground, as death whispers in my ear. This is a broken world, a world of evil, where I have tasted hell, but soon I will taste heaven.
Dear sisters: rally round your ma, and keep her happy, singing to her those hymns, which make the sadness in her face disappear. One small request I have: please sing for me, "Come Thou Fount" at my funeral, so when others weep it will be with joy.
Dear Pa: I hope I make you proud of our name in this nameless field of blood. You can walk with your head held high, and know that I have fought bravely and not held back in the face of fear.
Death calls me.
I can see them now, charging toward me through a sulfur haze. That rebel yell sounds like an avalanche from hell.
A bullet rips through my shoulders, and I feel the sting of death. The acrid taste of blood pools in my mouth. I feel my wound percolating in the sun. With trembling hands, I clutch this testament to my breast safely against the breeze.
My eyelids grow heavy until darkness swells, and the door of this world closes.
A voice--like the roar of a waterfall calls my name.
"I died today...what a glorious day it is."
Life a vapor, life a mist
Rising gently as we slip
Life so foolish, life so brave
What is war without the blood?
What is death without the grave?
What is sacrifice without the saved?
"That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death." (Philippians 3:10 KJV)
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