I’ll stat by saying that this did NOT happen to me. Yes, I stood at Thayer’s Approach on the Vicksburg battlefield the other week, but the rest is fiction and concocted in my own imagination. Enjoy!
I stood upon the edge of Union Avenue, the sun dipping low over the tree-lined to my right My eyes trailed up the winding path on the southern ridge that soldiers had cut over a hundred and fifty years ago and I couldn’t help but wonder what it must have been like on that day.
Mississippi in mid-May couldn’t have been as breeze and moderate as it was now in November. The heat, the mosquitoes drawn to the river to the west, the booming cannons coming from all round mingled in with the screams and whizzing of bullets.
What would it have smelled like? Would the stench of gunpowder and sweat have overpowered everything, or would soldiers have even given any thought to it? Breathing in deeply, I could smell nothing but the earth and fallen oak leaves scattered across the well-kept lawn. It reminded me of the autumns of my childhood spent in Louisiana. So close to home now, but for the soldiers who stood where I stood now, home was so far away. Soldiers from Iowa, Ohio, Michigan, New York, and Wisconsin must have felt so alone, so isolated from their family and loved ones. I couldn’t imagine it and I didn’t want to.
I read the plaque about Brigadier General John Thayer’s attempt to approach the Confederate line by trenches and tunnels, how they built fascines to protect themselves under enemy fire. That was all after Grant decided to lay siege to Vicksburg. After two days of bloody, vicious fighting convinced him that the Rebels were too well fortified to buckle under direct assaults. All over this extensive battlefield, mines were dug, explosives detonated under earthen redans and redoubts, telegraph lines were cut, railroads were intercepted, and men died fighting for something they believed in with all their hearts.
I couldn’t relate. Not really. I had been too scared all my life to go after what I wanted. Too scared of what people would think of me. I’d hear their voices in my head telling me I was insane for doing it, for trying to be something I wasn’t.
Maybe that’s why I wanted to come here. To understand why these men would put themselves through a siege for forty-seven long, hot days.
I heard footsteps coming up the pavement behind me and moved away from the plaque so the visitor could read and learn what happened here. I was tempted to turn away, afraid that the person would think I was a little “special” for staring at a barren hill for so long. If traveling to all these battlefields had taught me anything, it was that there were few others dedicated to the history as much as I was. Who else would strap on a backpack and go hiking through the parks when there were perfectly good roads to drive on?
“You best take cover,” the voice said. “Those Rebs could have sharpshooters up there.”
I turned to look who was speaking, my blood chilling in my veins. I hated it when strangers talked to me on these battlefields. I never knew what to say or how to react. I just wanted to be left alone.
The man beside me looked like he had stepped straight out of an old wet-plate photograph, the kind Mathew Brady used to capture the likeness of dead soldiers on the battlefield.
The hem of his pants were muddied and frayed, his leather shoes looked like they had seen better days. His uniform was stained by patches of dirt and clay that popped against the navy-blue fabric. Shiny brass buttons that were undone down the front of his coat caught the sunlight, as did the metal from the rifle he carried. Beneath his coat, was a cotton shirt that must have once been a nice, pristine white, but was now ruined by sweat and soil. A haversack was strapped across his chest to hang on his left side, just like mine. Only, his was a Union haversack and coated to make it weather resistant. Mine was straight canvas, like a Confederate’s.
Upon his head was the typical army-issued kepi, the wool dyed to match his coat. His face was smudged with a black substance I could only guess was gunpowder, and I could see droplets of sweat on his brow as if he had been sweating before coming up to me. And then, standing out starkly against his tanned skin and dark uniform, was the bandage around his right hand. It was speckled with the same dirt that soiled his clothes
I searched my memory, but I couldn’t recall ever seeing a flyer or hearing word about a reenactment scheduled for that day. In fact, I knew I had missed quite a few special events at the park by coming this week as opposed to the following. Maybe I had seen wrong or I had finally met someone a little crazier than me? Continue reading