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Memoirs of a Confederate Gentleman:   Excerpts from Book

Charles

Our second engagement with the Yankees came on June ninth at Brandy Station, Virginia. It was a trial by fire. I put any romantic images of the honor and glory of war behind me. There are no words that can convey the horror and madness that is war.

I remember that second battle as having four distinct chapters. It began as we sat astride our horses in the woods just behind a stone wall. Although the engagement was primarily a Calvary battle there were also infantry troops in attendance. The Calvary was dispersed on either side of the infantry. Soldiers stood twenty deep the length of the barrier. Ahead of us stretched a field of the greenest grass you could imagine. Here and there clumps of white daisies nodded sleepily in the breeze. A hawk circled lazily in the pale blue afternoon sky. Just beyond the field in front of us running east to west was a dusty, brown, ribbon of road. On the other side of the road the grass continued. It blended into an apple orchard whose trees reached for the horizon.

The horses pawed the ground idly or nibbled on low hanging branches. Everyone was deathly quiet.

 

Maj. Charles E. McGuire
Major Charles E. McGuire

The men stared, their dusty faces focused on the road ahead of us. We knew the Yankees were marching in our direction. We had been told to wait until the enemy was close enough to see them plainly.

It was in those seconds just before grave danger, when looking death in the face that we felt most alive. The grass was greener, the sky was bluer, I could see every leaf on the trees, I could smell the dust in the road.

A small rabbit hopped along in the grass not too far from where we sat. Out of the blue, the hawk we had noticed earlier, swooped from the sky and violently snatched the rabbit from the field. I wondered, who among us would death snatch like the rabbit from the field?

The second chapter, was the call to arms. Abruptly, those same men who moments earlier had been so still, muscles tensed, waiting, now sprung to urgent action. There was smoke from the guns and cannons. The smell of dust and sulfur was choking. The yelling of men and the whinnying of horses deafened our ears. Confusion reigned supreme. In that moment, as the world went to black and white, it was as if the earth opened beneath our feet and Hell belched forth a demon filled cloud of ash and sulfur upon the Godless landscape.

Whether the tempest lasted for minutes or hours, I cannot say. There were only images, snarling, sweaty, faces blackened by gunpowder, smudged flashes of blue, gray and black passing by, the flash of a sword, the fire from a pistol, all of this punctuated by flashes of red, each image passing so quickly that the mind cannot process it.

Then, the third chapter, the call to retreat was sounded. The company regrouped to count the survivors and lick their wounds.

The gunshot and cannon fire stopped and for a moment the quiet was deafening. Then you heard it, the unearthly moan of the wounded sweeping across the fields. They raised their voices for help and water. They prayed that someone was to left alive to hear their cries. The ambulance corps rode out to sort the living from the dead.

In the quiet of the late afternoon came chapter four. I rode across the battlefield. The grass was trampled flat and the daisies lay stained with blood. Branches and leaves had been torn from trees by rifle fire. Men and body parts were scattered like toy soldiers on the ground. With battle weary faces turned toward heaven, the soldiers stared, unblinking, through vacant open eyes, into the fading sunlight. They seemed to be only sleeping; surely if you sound the bugle they will jump to life and fall into line. Then there were the horses, oh Lord the horses, laying on their sides. The soldiers had chosen to go into battle but the animals had no choice. They went where they were led. I thought with regret about the horses I had sold to the army.

A lonely crow called from the edge of the woods. The hawk, a victim of a random bullet, lay beside the rabbit in the field. There was no more hunter or prey, no more blue or gray. There were no cries of victory or sobs of anguish, only silence as, united in death, brother lay beside brother on the green, broken, blood soaked grass.

That night as we bivouacked in the shadow of an old abandoned house, we assessed the condition of our company. We had been very lucky. We had lost one man, Joseph Barrett, He would be buried on the field and word would be sent to his family. Two other men had been wounded and Matthew had been shot in the shoulder but not severely enough to impede his ability to fight. Most of the rest of us had multiple scratches and bruises. Thankfully, we had not lost any horses. On the positive side, it appeared, we had gained a bugler. Cousin John rode into camp early that evening with the boy in the saddle behind him.

"What have we got here ?" asked Caleb lifting the boy from John's saddle.

"I found him wandering the battlefield," said John as he dismounted his horse.

Caleb led the boy over to where I sat by my tent. He was a fine-looking lad. His sandy blonde hair poked out from beneath a gray forage cap. He stood about five two and was solidly built with a pleasant square face. He was obviously not the son of a planter, but neither was he poor white. There was a coltishness about him but you could tell he was from good stock.

He was wearing a dusty, patched, confederate shell jacket and mud soaked gray trousers that were two sizes too big. A shiny brass bugle hung from a strap over his shoulder. He looked too young to be a soldier.

I suspected that he had been outfitting himself from the clothing left behind on the battlefield. My uniform jacket hung over a chair behind where I sat, my sword and belt hung over top of it with my sash and hat. The boy eyed them with admiration.

"You a real general?" he asked, his eyes widening.

I smiled at the promotion. "No, I'm a major. What's you name son?" I asked.

"Hardy," the boy answered.


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