Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Write in the HISTORICAL genre (05/03/07)
- TITLE: Battlefield Memoirs
By Myrna Noyes
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On that long-ago day, the blazing gun, pointed in my direction, hit its mark. The ball tore my flesh, entering just above my left wrist. It quickly left a trail of damage, severing chords and muscles, breaking and splintering bone, before exiting near my elbow. The pain didn’t even have time to register, when another blinding explosion shot from the enemy’s battery. Before I could move in my tracks, I was struck hard in the right shoulder by a flying shell fragment. Fortunately, I had my blanket roll on my shoulder, and the shell didn’t break the skin. However, the impact doubled me up like a jackknife and knocked me unconscious to the ground.
Men, wearing both blue and gray, fell all around me this first day of the bloody Battle of Chickamauga, Georgia. It was Sept. 19, 1863, and I was a weary and worn private in the Union Army. Nobody really wanted to fight in this densely wooded area beside Chickamauga Creek, but since this is where our two opposing sides met, we squared off against each other. Visibility was limited by the under-and over-growth, and the generals had little control over their men. Cannons were useless except in the occasional field that broke the heavy forest, and orderly battle lines simply couldn’t exist. Fighting was often hand-to-hand, and tactical decisions had to be made by us soldiers rather than by our generals, who faced a strategic nightmare. The combat advantage seesawed back and forth throughout the desperate day with first the superior Confederate force mounting a fierce assault and then our smaller Union one valiantly counterattacking. We were parched with thirst, hollow with hunger, and well-nigh exhausted but kept our spirits up, being confident of ultimate victory.
Then came the gunshot to my forearm and the shell blow to my shoulder. After I came to, I realized with horror that I was lying in a pool of red. An artery in my arm was cut, and I was losing a great deal of blood. My lower back hurt, and I’m not sure if it resulted from being hit or from doubling up and collapsing. Nightfall neared, and the fighting was slacking, so I hoped someone would find me soon. I lapsed in and out of awareness, at times thinking of my four year-old son being cared for by relatives in Illinois. His mother, my beloved Rachel Ann, had died when Charlie was yet a baby, and my heart still grieved for her. Now, I wondered if my little boy would be left an orphan, and I despaired at that.
A light, cold rain began falling, and I was unable to cover myself. I worried whether help would come. The groans of the wounded and dying of both sides competed with the sounds of our men felling trees and chopping brush to construct breastworks to slow the Rebels when the attack commenced again in the morning. Moonlight sifted through the trees, providing faint illumination upon the gruesome scene below. Flickering tapers moved about the battlefield, carried by shadowy nurses and relief corps members, searching for those who could still accept their ministrations.
Toward dawn I stirred at the sound of footsteps, hoping aid had arrived. It had not. Instead, a couple Confederates lifted me onto a litter, carting me back behind their lines as a prisoner, along with several others. I suffered temporary blindness, probably caused by my profuse bleeding, so could see nothing of my new surroundings. The “graycoats” offered me no medical assistance, but my comrade Levi, also wounded, managed to clumsily bind my arm on a piece of board he found. I couldn’t lie down on account of pain in my breast, so had to half sit up. The shoulder the shell hit became sore, swollen, and bruised, but it was actually a minor wound.
After sixteen days the Rebels thought my injury fatal due to blood loss and that death was imminent. They offered me in exchange for one of their own captive soldiers, and that was agreed to. I didn’t die.
Thanks for listening to my story. It’s good to recall those bygone times. Please, don’t forget them…or me.
In tribute to my great-great grandfather, Elijah N. Gallaway
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