The prompt this time was to write a story set during the American Civil War that portrays a conflict between two good people. The issues at the time divided this country, and my tale shows the additional destruction war can cause between two friends. I hope you enjoy.
MILES UPON MILES…
He knew he wouldn’t be able to hang on much longer. The numbness in his right leg was slowly moving upward. He remembered when his father had injured his leg helping at their neighbor’s farm. When the numbness had totally consumed his leg, a couple of hours hadn’t even passed and he was gone. Just closed his eyes and was gone.
At least he had been in his own house and in his own bed with his own wife and son by his side. Josiah was alone in a field, about ten yards from a road rumored to be used to transport Union troops across the state line. It wasn’t so much that he was afraid to die; it’s simply that he didn’t want to die here. Not here. And not today. His regiment had left him water and food to hold him for a day, maybe two, since he told them he had a friend nearby who would help him. Perhaps if he prayed, that might turn out to be true.
He felt the sun hot on his face. He must have dozed off briefly. Can’t do that again, he thought. Might not wake up next time. Could try to make it into town. Could make it if I can find a stick to lean on. The shadow that came over his face frightened him. I won’t open my eyes, he thought, and I’ll just let the animal take me. Please, Lord, don’t let it hurt too bad…
“Is that you, Josiah? Josiah River?”
Someone had hold of his shoulders and was shaking him. He opened his eyes slowly and saw a familiar face. This can’t be, he thought. Is this what really happens when you die? You go back to your childhood?
“Josiah, it’s me. Adam. Jones. You must remember. We went through school together, married our sweethearts at the same service… It’s been many years and many miles between us. Is it really you? And the choice you made was to become my enemy?”
Josiah couldn’t believe this was really happening. He and Adam had been inseparable since the third grade, and even after their double wedding that warm spring day so long ago, they were still the best of friends. The following year’s winter had brought grief when Adam’s wife had died in childbirth, and the boy a few days after. He’d left the farm and his life behind and gone to begin anew. Now, out of nowhere, in the middle of this Hell, this war that has brother killing brother, comes his friend, yet his heart was heavy with grief. Adam wore the Union colors.
“How did you come to be here, my friend?” Josiah began. “My Sarah passed two Springs after your Marie, and we were childless as well. Tell me where you’ve been and how your life has become.”
Adam was unsure how to respond. It wasn’t as if this was a casual reunion at a family get-together. This was war, and he knew his place and position well. All the states in this great country had to remain together, and it was up to the Union army to bring it back around to the way things should be. After all this time, he runs across the best friend he’s ever known and he’s made the grave error of choosing to support the wrong side. Under no circumstances was he going to sit and reminisce with a Confederate.
“In case you haven’t noticed, Josiah,” he said. “I’m a Union soldier, and you obviously are not. I’m part of an infantry regiment and we’re camped back a ways. I came ahead just to make sure this road, which belongs to us, was clear through to town. No enemy troops are supposed to be in this area.”
“Adam,” Josiah could feel the icy chill of his friend’s manner. “I realize that there are two sides to this, and I also realize that you are on one side and I on the other. But, our friendship goes back to our youth and common decency demands we remain honorable. Can you not see that I am badly injured? It happened when my regiment encountered several renegade Union soldiers a few miles back. They attacked us and attempted to take all our weapons and any money we had been carrying. They were not dedicated to the cause--your cause, and had separated from their main unit with plans to loot and murder.
To make my point, it is becoming more and more difficult to detect any sensation in my leg. I fear, at the very least, I shall probably lose the entire limb, and at the very worst, my life. Do you have a doctor there with your regiment who could attend to my injury?”
Adam didn’t understand why Josiah couldn’t grasp the severity of their situation.
“What is it you want me to do? Adam asked. “Should I have my men come and transport you back to our camp? You don’t seem to be willing to accept the fact that you are Confederate and I am Union. You are wounded and I am sound; therefore, you are my prisoner. We were told at the outset to take no prisoners however. You people are trying to destroy this country with your dissent and defiance of the laws of the land. The two biggest issues of slavery and export taxation must be dealt with in the proper manner and this country must remain undivided. The sooner you traitors understand and accept that, the sooner all this bloodshed can end.
A question just came to mind though. Why are you here alone and injured? You said you were with a regiment. What happened? Did they get tired of carrying you and caring for their wounded so they just dropped you off in a field to die? Is that the way the Confederacy treats their own?”
Josiah wondered yet again why all this conflict had to occur. Why was this great country being torn apart by its own?
“No, Adam. I was not deserted by my fellow soldiers.” Josiah was finding it difficult to focus. Why was the sun so hot today? “I kept up as best I could, but I’ll tell you the truth. My unit was on its way to a place called Gettysburg to join other waiting troops, where they plan to greatly deplete the Union’s resources, as well as their manpower. I tried to keep up, but I was holding them back and knowing the importance of the Gettysburg skirmish, I begged them to go on ahead. They refused, until I assured them I had a supporter in the area. Only then did they go forward. You see, my old friend, I accept and understand the important nature of the issues behind this conflict as do you, but even so, I am trying to maintain my sense of humanity.
My regiment was needed at Gettysburg and at Gettysburg they will be--with or without me. If I am to be taken prisoner, so be it. If I am to be shot instead, then perhaps that was the Lord’s plan for me all along. I’ll trust in that. A question comes to my mind also, my friend. That uniform you wear, do you carry yourself as the honorable man you always were, or do you now take pride in yourself as a killer? I am acquainted with the terms of war and I will accept whichever answer you offer.”
Adam looked down at his childhood friend, who was growing more pale with each passing minute. His food and water supplies had been exhausted, and his leg was diseased and discolored from the wound. He’d seen wounds that looked like that on his own men, just before they died.
This war had split his country in two. Both their beliefs were strong, and these beliefs had divided their friendship as well. He and his regiment were on their way to Gettysburg as well to join forces already in place. It would be his fight however--not Josiah’s. Josiah’s war would end here…in this field…today.
He wondered what decision his sense of humanity demanded. Did his sense of humanity even remain? War took much, then took yet again. But, this conflict was for the good of all. Of this, he was certain. As was his friend.
Adam sat down in the grass with Josiah, whose eyes were half shut and was now struggling to breathe. As he placed the canteen to Josiah’s lips to share the cool water, Josiah reached for his hand. Adam took Josiah’s hand in his and held it firmly. He decided for the time they had left together, the war be damned. They could both be on the same side once more.