150 Years From Death

Okay, saying the Civil War is death is a bit drastic. It is one of the bloodiest wars, and one of the most significant events in American history, so that’s why I said today is 150 years from death- plus it sounds cool.

I knew the anniversary was coming up pretty soon, but I didn’t realize it was this soon! So I would’ve made up a different post, probably a study in the characters of some of that war’s generals, and my own opinion of them, but like I said, I forgot my days- or rather years. Anyway, a less pleasant (if that’s what you can call it at all) milestone will be coming up in about a week to mark the death of Abraham Lincoln, and maybe I’ll have something made up by then.

Today is actually an interesting day for me to look back on the strange mirroring of my life to the Civil War. 155 years ago, in 1861, the war began. 5 years later, America would be a different country. Similarly, 5 years ago I had barely any interest in the Civil War. We got a Times magazine and I remember not carrying very much about it. 5 years later, here I am- not an expert in the Civil War, but I wouldn’t mind being an expert some day. And I certainly hope I can get that Times magazine.

Now, sense I haven’t planned anything properly to commemorate this day (except a Civil War tea party tomorrow, completely accidentally planned to coincide with the war’s end) I’ll put up an excerpt from my Civil War trilogy, in partial celebration to life taking me in unexpected directions, so that I know what I do today of the Civil War.

A short synopsis of my story is that two men are sent to the past to observe a great battle in American history- Gettysburg. They’re not supposed to interfere or get involved, but of course Mark, the main character, can’t stand staying out.

I don’t generally write war or battle scenes (problematic for NaNoWriMo) but this scene is one of the bloodiest in my novel. But if you’re going to send your characters into the Gettysburg battle, they’d better come out with more than a scratch, and you’d better be ready to write it! So, here it is:

Mark listened to the sound of war awhile, for a time unmoving. But then he slowly started to come forward, his steps determined. He looked straight ahead, drawn to the battle by the captivating and forceful sounds.

Suddenly the explosions became greater around where they were. The loose dirt shook slightly with the strength of the rumbling, the edge of the hill, leading down to the main fighting, seemed to be taking a great deal of the explosions. One of the trees suddenly bent over, its roots hit by some debris. A rock went flying by, followed by several rocks, flying every which way.

Mark suddenly picked up his pace, almost going at a run, unaware of Jeremy calling to him to stop. He ran forward, trying to make it to the edge to see over and see what was happening. He wavered when some of the dirt suddenly flew up, showing the force of the hit.

The cries of men could be heard, either the cries of an attack or a retreat. Suddenly one voice could be heard above the others. It was coming nearer, suddenly very close.

Suddenly a man appeared over the ridge, running to get up the hill and away from the fighting. It was Harper, looking filthy, bloody and frightened. He had nearly made it to the top when there was another explosion- and the lower half of his body was suddenly gone.

Mark drew back violently, checked in his run. He stared in horror at the dead half of the man and then, quickly looking away, ran on in a slightly different direction.

But the enemy had apparently lifted their aim, so that Mark was immediately aware of explosions around him. Bullets, debris and huge things flew past him. He fell to the ground before he was aware that he needed to hide from the attack, and remained there, for a second too confused and frightened to do anything.

He looked around and, seeing a rock near the edge that would shield him, he quickly went for that. First he stood up, crouching low to the ground, then finding even that was a danger, as something whizzed past his ear, he crawled very low to the ground to his final destination.

Once he reached his goal there was no chance for him to relax. The guns continued to fire, hitting from all directions. It seemed that the enemy could attack from any position, and it seemed they were successfully destroying everything.

Below him Mark could see the battle raging as though it was being fought between hell-crazed demons, screaming and yelling men at each other’s throats, firing their weapons at anything that moved as quickly as they could. To Mark’s untrained, amazed eyes, the scene below looked impossibly, horribly confused. There was no telling what was happening, even the commanding officers; standing at various points did not look like they understood it completely. They went back and forth, shouting orders, watching the progress- or trying to sort it all out.

The Near Side’s uniforms were, generally, of a moss green sort, while the Far Side’s uniforms were a dark burnt gray- but mingled together there was no telling them apart. They had combined and were fighting back to back, one constant attack after another.

Somehow, in the confusion that slowly seemed to spread, Mark and Jeremy got involved. It started when one of the explosions finally managed to knock enough ground loose beneath Mark so that it crumbled beneath him. He found himself falling into the rage of the fighting and, before he understood what had happened he was responding to the immediate danger.

He picked himself up from the dirt and defended himself from a man that seemed so enraged by the appearance of the foe that he was attacking anyone that came in his way.

Mark had just received a hard knock against the head from the butt of the man’s rifle, and he had savagely struck back, when Jeremy suddenly appeared. He had seen Mark go over the side, into the depth of the battle, and rushed forward; taking the same risks Mark had to get to the edge.

The next few hours passed in a strange blur. Somehow, unwillingly, both the travelers got involved in the very thing they had been trying to avoid. They fought, but merely to save their own skins. They tried their best to stay out of the way, constantly trying to get away from the trouble but somehow never succeeding. Every time they would nearly make it back up the hill something would stop them, another, horrible explosion, a strong, angry hand, the glance over the shoulder.

And something else drew them away from safety. It was the excitement of the battle. They felt strength and adrenaline moving through their bodies, so that they were as unaware of the passing of time as they were unaware of what was really happening. They found that they could fight, very easily. Death was all around them, men lying in heaps, staring up at the sky with strange eyes, but they felt as though they couldn’t get hurt, not even by a bullet.

The sun moved across the sky, unheeded by the men fighting below. It was a hot day, still and dead. The air filled with the smell of gunfire, smoke and burning flesh, close and thick.

The hours flitted past, not showing any change in the fighting. Gradually, as the sun started to near the other side of the sky, the battle started to ebb- but it didn’t show any signs of stopping.

The shots and explosions continued ceaselessly and torturously, pushing the men on. But there were no longer any war cries. The wind had taken all such anger out of the men, only allowing them to fight on. Other cries, of despair and hopelessness rose in the air; oblivious of how dry and empty the air was of anything breathable.

Finally night started to come on, unnoticeable. The order went out to cease fighting, on both sides. But it went unnoticed for the most part, the men merely wanting to fight on until it was over.

Slowly, night settled, merely darkening the scene of the battle, so that the enemies fought on against each other in the darkness.

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