Diamond Resolution

Chapter 25

Return and Return

March, 1865

The attack came a few minutes later, and I was busy doing what I could to repel it, along with my fellows. We fired like madmen for about ten minutes when it became clear that we would have to fall back again, and so we did, dodging behind trees, reloading and firing in the frenzy. And yet they came on and still we retreated. It looked like it was going to be the same old story, and it was.

We went through the day, falling back and doing our best to resist. All we could do, though, was retreat, and as the sun set, we were a mile or more behind our previous position. As the firing drew to a scattered close, we flopped down on the ground to rest.

“Adolphus,” I said, “I am heartily sick of working so hard and having less than nothing to show for it.”

“Cheer up, lad. You’re still alive in spite of their best efforts.”

“Sometimes I wish I weren’t so I would have to go through this again.”

We had our usual dinner, and then, under a kind of informal and understood truce, gathered our wounded and dead. Orderlies appeared to take the wounded away, while the dead were buried by those they fought beside only hours and minutes ago. The scene was tragic and sobering, not only because of our dead, but for all those on the field who drew breath no more.

Darkness fell, and when I went up on the ramparts to have a look, I saw multiple camp fires as far as I could see. I went back down to tell Adolphus. “There are more camp fires than I could count. Grant must have brought up more troops. I think he’s manufacturing them somewhere.”

“We certainly know they are aware of how to do that. Were you going to tell me about your dream?”

“I don’t know if I said this, but it wasn’t like a dream. It was as if there were a greater, more superior reality than what we experience here. I think it was a vision of the anteroom to heaven. When my experience began, I felt as if I were floating above a grassy surface going up a slight hill. When I came near the top, I saw a large neo-classical building of a marble that was white beyond white, but it did not hurt my eyes to look at it. There were twelve beings of light on a platform who were surrounded by creatures that seemed to me to be purity and light. Then, as I watch, something I can only describe as a kaleidoscope of colors such as I have never seen, have no names for and which gave off a sense of peace, love and joy. I took this emanation as the person of Christ, since it appeared outside the building. I assume God was somewhere within, but I did not see. The single being gave me to understand that my time had not come, that I had to return since I had many things to accomplish. I would have gladly stayed, but I felt myself drawn back down the way I had come. And it was then I woke up.”

Adolphus uncharacteristically asked me nothing as I talked. Even then, he sat silently for several minutes before he spoke. “I have heard similar accounts when I was in seminary. A number of my fellows rejected any kind of divine nature to these accounts, saying they were the product of an over active imagination or suggested by many accounts through out the history of literature and religion. Myself, I had an open mind and was not persuaded to one side or the other until this you have told me. Knowing who you are and the honesty you hold so dear, I am persuaded that you did indeed visit the anteroom of Heaven, and experienced the beings as you have told me.”

“I am right pleased that you believe me. Anything less would have caused my to doubt myself. The question for me is, what do I have left to accomplish so that I may attain the heavenly realm? How shall I treat others so that I might have Heaven’s favor? I have so many questions I cannot give speech them all!”

Adolphus put a hand on my shoulder. “Do as you have done, and you will have your reward. I believe this most earnestly.”

“Thou art kind.”

He smiled. “I am truthful, and a fair judge of men’s characters.”

We rested for a while, and then prepared our defensive position as best we could. I felt it was inevitable that we would have to do so again and again and again until the war was over, but until then we needed to protect ourselves as best we could. We worked silently and, after not too long a time, had our trenches dug and lookouts posted. Andrew took the first period, and I would follow him two hours later.

I lay down and rested as best I could. I thought I should write Laurel a letter, even if there were no mail coming or going. I would secret my letter on my person, so that if something happened to me, someone else could discover it and see that she received it. It was macabre on my part to even think of this, but I thought I owed it to her to have my last thoughts intended for my lovely bride.

It was while thinking such thoughts that I fell asleep and dreamed, not of Heaven, but of her. And in truth the two were one and the same.

 

 

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Diamond Resolution

Chapter 24

I Dreamed I Dwelt in Marble Halls

March, 1865

The dream I spoke of to you earlier was like none that I have experienced. I thought I was moving up a long green hill, and the season seemed to be spring. Around me were trees of all kinds, including some of the flowering variety. I felt comforted and strengthened by the display, for to me it was a reminder of the power of God, and I wonderful if my vision was one of heaven.

I seemed to float above what I took to be grass, although there was a different quality to it. I had the idea that it would never wither or turn brown, but stay fresh eternally.

As I neared the crest of the slope, I saw a large building in the style of classical Greek architecture, made of beautiful white marble. I passed through an opening in the building to find that it was not such a habitation as I had thought, but rather an arena such as might be used for sports or other gatherings. Arrayed on stone seats were all sorts of beings and creatures, indescribable except to say that they were alive and well-disposed to be with me. I floated over to some sort of stage-like area where stood a dozen shining beings, who welcomed me silently to that space. There was an air of expectation in the arena, and I wondered what would happen next.

Some curtains at the rear of the stage parted, and what I can only describe as a kaleidoscope of colors unlike any I had ever seen emerged. There were colors that don’t exist in this life, and others that are impossible to describe. As the colors rotated and shone, I was overcome by a feeling of reverence and peace. This must be God, I thought, and I am dead.

The divine being came toward me and moved into my body. I saw all I had done in my life, and felt no judgement from the being for my mistakes. Then the being came out of me, and I was made to understand that my time was not yet, and I should go back and practice acts of peace and mercy while on this earth. I would return to this state, but not any time soon.

I floated back the way I came, and when I reached the point where I entered the scene, I woke up to find that the dawn was breaking. Adolphus was already up. “Hurry up! Get ready! We’re expecting an attack!”

“Adolphus, I had such a dream.”

“No time for dreams! We need to move!”

“But this was different from any I’ve ever had. And it was more real than reality.”

“I’ll listen when we have time! Move!”

I saw it was no use to argue with him, so I readied myself and took my place behind the ramparts. Maybe this will be the day I re-join the beings, and I would have no regret about that save for leaving my family.

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Diamond Resolution

Chapter 23

Reflection

March, 1865

We came back to learn there had been no action, so our fellows took the opportunity to rest and take care of their equipment. Andrew greeted us upon our return. “Welcome back! How did you find Nurse Robbins?”

“We did not,” Adolphus said.

“Had she moved to another station?”

“You could say that. Her station is one we shall all partake of one day.”

“It seems you are speaking in riddles, for I do not understand you.”

“Andrew, she is dead. She died of something she contracted from one of her patients.”

“Oh. That is most unfortunate.”

“Yes. She was so young, only twenty years old.”

Andrew dropped his head, and I took by that he was praying for the poor young woman.

After a decent interval, I said, “How has it been here?”

“Oh, fortunately it has been very quiet. We know, though that will change. We just don’t know when.”

“That is as it always is and ever shall be.”

“Fighting without end, amen.” Adolphus spoke grimly.

“Yes. You know how it is.”

“We do indeed.”

Evening was coming on fast, so we divided the night up into shifts so we would know when we were to stand guard. Since Andrew had the first shift, Adolphus and I made ourselves as comfortable as we could and tried to sleep. I replayed the events of the day in my mind and so could find no rest. After about an hour, Adolphus spoke. “Caleb.”

“Yes.”

“Have you slept yet?”

I raised myself on one elbow. “Not a wink. How about you?”

“I regret to say that I have not.”

“I have been thinking about Miss Robbins, and how she was tragically cut down in the prime of her life.”

“Yes, that is so difficult to bear. It is hard enough to sustain the loss of one who is advanced in years, but in that circumstance, we bear it with the thought of a full and meaningful life with the expectation of eternal life to come.”

“Indeed we do. But that is not to say that both do not cause us grief, and it is that grief I am feeling now. I was thinking that Miss Robbins was about Laurel’s age, and should something similar happen to her, I know I could not bear it.”

“You would be surprised what you can sustain, Caleb. I have known several who have sustained a similar loss, and yet with the solace of friends and family and faith in God’s goodness, they go on to even greater consderations.”

“I pray that it may be so.”

“As do I. Look, we had best try to gather a few minutes’ sleep that is available to us before it is our turn to stand watch. That time is fast approaching.”

“Well advanced. We will talk again soon.”

“Yes, we will.”

With that, we turned over and had a few minutes’ sleep. I became insensate rather quickly, and dreamed a dream that was both disturbing and uplifting.

 

 

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Diamond Resolution

Chapter 22

Providence and Fortune

March, 1865

Compared to some distances we had to walk, we found it was not far to the shack being used as a hospital, but we did not recognize it at first since it had been added onto and had a very different aspect from the first time we visited.

“Alphonso, would you have recognized this as the place we came to see Hiram?”

He shook his head. “In truth, I would not. It is considerably larger and has a more ominous look to it.”

“That I will warrant you. I believe its size and foreboding aspect are due to increased casualties causes by so much fighting. We make an impress on the places we frequent, and the influence of the blood, suffering and death have become a part of these structures.”

We stood there a while, trying to come to terms with what lay before us. Finally Alphonso said, “We didn’t come just to look. Let us see if our nurse is still here.”

We walked over to a table where a corporal sat as a table. “Papers?” he asked.

Alphonso produced our passes and the man before us examined them carefully, as if we were trying to sneak into the hospital. He gave them back. “These seem to be in order. What is your business here?”

He spoke with a tone that indicated that he did not know what we were about, but whatever it was, he did not like it, and the sooner we were gone, the better.

“We’re looking for a nurse whom we met before named Robbins. Is she still here?”

“I don’t know. I have little to do with what goes on here—” he jerked his thumb in the direction of the interior. “You’ll have to ask in there.” He turned to scrutinizing a list on the table.

“We thank you for your help,” Alphonso said, even though he had been no help at all. He made no reply, but continued to examine his list.

As we went in, I said, “Friendly and helpful sort, wasn’t he?”

“No,” Alphonso said. “But we can never judge what is going on in the interior by looking at the exterior. Now—who do we ask?”

The interior was a bedlam of shouts and cries, of pleas to God and incoherent screaming. “Let’s try to find a part in here that is not so frenzied.”

We went over to one side where relative calm reigned, though just barely. I addressed an orderly. “I am sorry to bother you, but we are looking for a nurse named Robbins.”

He had been bending over a patient, but he raised himself and said, “Are you a relative?”

“No. She took care of our friend. We met her a while back.”

“She’s out back.”

“May we go see her?”

“You can do anything you like with her. She contracted a disease from one of the soldiers and died of it, about a week ago. We buried her with the others in the back.”

Adolphus and I were shocked and said nothing for a while. Then we stirred ourselves. “Let’s go see her grave,” Adolphus said.

“Of course,” I replied.

We made our way our of the building to a nondescript area where fresh burials lay side by side with those that had been there for a while. Most of the bodies whose graves were identified would be exhumed and sent to their home towns, generally, although some were reinterred locally. We looked among the markers and finally found what we were looking for. Someone had crudely scratched on the board, “Amelia Robbins, 1845—1865. Requiescat in pace.”

We took off our hats and stood there for a moment, reflecting. “It’s not much of a marker,” Adolphus said, “but I’m touched by the Latin.”

“It does lessen the crudity of the marker.”

We stayed a few minutes longer and then put our hats back on and started the walk back to our emplacement. We said nothing the whole time.

 

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Diamond Resolution

Chapter 21

Drawing and Withdrawing

March, 1865

Sure enough, the Union forces attacked the next day, and pushed us back a mile or so. There we entrenched ourselves and waited for the next assault. At one point, Adolphus stood up and looked around.

“Adolpus!” I hissed. “There are snipers and you are making a perfect target out of yourself.”

With that, he knelt down, but continued looking around.

“What are you doing?”

He kept looking and then seemed to fix on something. “Ah! There it is!”

“There what is?”

He pointed to a large oak. “That tree. I remember seeing when we were on our way to try to visit Hiram. Yes! That’s it!”

Adolphus’s realization meant that we were near the site of the hospital where Hiram was taken. Why he felt it was important to know we were near I have no idea. Adolphus sometimes takes strange notions, and this was not the strangest of them by far.

“Why is this important to you?” I asked.

“We could see if the hospital is there, and Nurse Robbins.”

“Yes, and then?”

“We tell her about Hiram and how well he’s doing. I think she would want to know.”

“The hospital is most likely not there. You know that.”

“I do, but I believe it is worth a try. I’ll ask the captain for permission.”

“He probably won’t let you go. We are in the middle of battles, after all.”

“It won’t hurt to try.”

“I see you are resolved to do this thing. I will go with you!”

“Spoken like the good fellow you are!”

The captain came by all our positions every hour or so. Accompanied by the usual lieutenant, he leaned down from his horse and said, “Can you spare us some water? My orderly forgot it.”

The lieutenant heard this and bowed his head. If he does this sort of thing too often, I thought, he will have semi-permanent latrine duty.

“Certainly!” Adolphus smiled. “We have an extra canteen, and you’re welcome to it.”

“I thank you kindly.”

I stepped up to them and said, “I have a favor to ask, sir.”

“What is it, Dillard?”

“Sir, when we went to visit our drummer boy, it was in the hospital not too far from here. There we met a nurse, and we’d like to check on her to see how she’s doing.”

The captain pondered this request for a moment. “Does either of you have a romantic interest in this woman?”

“No, sir!” I exclaimed. “I’m married, and Adolphus, he—well, he doesn’t—that is—”

The captain laughed. “Just say it corporal. He doesn’t care for women. Lordie did you not consider that I have been in this army for a decade and heard all sorts of things, some of which I wish I hadn’t. But if a man’s a good soldier, he can wear a petticoat to fight in! Now, that would turn the heads of those bluebacks!”

“Yessir,” I mumbled, embarrassed that I had misread our commander.

“And, yes, go visit your whatever-she-is. But if you hear the sound of rifles over here, you high tail it back. Understood?”

Adolphus and I nodded and gathered what little we needed for our short journey.

We set out, and Adolphus said, “I think it best we follow the railroad tracks. We can see anyone coming much better that way.”

“Agreed.” And so we set off, not knowing what we would find

 

 

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Diamond Resolution

Chapter 20

Day of the Dead

March, 1865

I felt like I slept fitfully, not enough to be rested when I awoke, but sufficient that I had a dream I remembered. As we were eating what passed for breakfast, Adolphus noticed that I had said nothing, which was not my custom. He let it pass for several minutes and then said, “What is wrong, dear boy? We have not had a word from you since we arose.”

I sat silently for a moment, and then said, “It was probably the dream I had. It was so real that I had trouble for a while telling what was dream and what was real when I awoke.” With that, I fell silent again.

“Is there more?” Adolphus prompted at last.

“Yes, though I am not sure what to make of it.”

“Well, if you would be so good as to share with us, we will do our best to clarify matters.” Adolphus looked eager to do so, so I started.

“I had a dream, as I told you, and in it I saw all the people who have died either in my company or those whom I have received word of their passing.”

“Tell me about it.”

“I either dreamed or saw—as I have told you, I could not tell which it was—all the departed ones standing in a field, arrayed in formation like soldiers. I passed among them, and one by one, they said the same thing: ‘You caused my death and, for this, you shall not live.’ Their faces were ghastly, and their voices rough and low, as I would expect from the dead. I said nothing, and when I had reached the other side where these beings stood, I turned around and started to come through them again. This time, they said, ‘This end shall be soon. It shall be very soon.’ When I returned to my starting place and turned around to look at them once more, they faded as does morning mist under the sun’s rays. Then I woke up, and you know what happened after that. I have no notion what it could mean.”

Adolphus looked thoughtful. “It could be a preoccupation that your waking mind keeps at bay. When you sleep, your dreams release all limitations, and then you see what you have described.”

I shook my head. “What I experienced was too real to be a dream. It was a kind of sleeping manifestation of something that was very tangible indeed.”

“I see. Did you feel it could be prophetic?”

“I cannot tell. I suppose it could, but I have no way of discerning that matter.”

“Well, we must wait and see what manifests itself.”

“I suppose so.”

“But now we must prepare ourselves for what the day will bring.”

We fell to, packing our backpacks and checking our rifles. Then we waited behind our ramparts for something to happen. The morning passed, and it wore on toward noon with nothing happening. Then we saw two riders approaching at a gallop. As they neared, I saw that one was our captain, and the other a lieutenant I did not recognize.

“Look!” I exclaimed. “The captain is coming! He must have something important to tell us.” Headquarters would have sent a lieutenant if the matter were usual, but the captain’s coming meant he had important news.

The two horsemen reached us and the others along the line and stopped. “Gather ‘round, men,” the captain called. “I have important news!”

Just as I surmised, I thought.

He stood in his stirrups. “We have received intelligence that part of Grant’s command will move to the south in an attempt to go around us. They will then come back in a pincers movement to try to surround us. You must meet them before they can get into place and stop their advance. And you must leave now! I have other groups to tell this news!”

He and the lieutenant goaded their horses, and they took off to go further down the line.

“Well,” said Adolphus. “That was clear enough. Let’s go!”

We packed up hurriedly and went south on the double. We could hear the sounds of a great many troops who seemed to be running parallel to us. It was only a matter of time until they engaged us.

After about half an hour, we and our other forces reached a small hill where our captain awaited us. He must have an extremely fast horses to reach this place before we did, I thought.  He addressed us once again. “Dig in! The enemy is only over yonder! Prepare to engage!”

We fell to digging and had just finished our trenches when we saw a blue line of soldiers crossing the meadow in front of our hill. The captain drew his sword and held it aloft. “On my signal, men. Easy, easy, hold it…now FIRE!”

Our rifles spoke as one, and although the blue line wavered, a number of Federals came on. We continued to fire, and more and more of them fell. We took losses ourselves, of course, but it seemed they were fewer than among the ranks before us. After about fifteen minutes, we had beaten back the attack, and could hold our fire.

“That’s it, boys! We’ve had the best of them! Hold your ground! They might come back!”

We waited nervously for sign of a counterattack, but after an hour, it seemed clear that none was in the offing. The captain studied the terrain in front of us through binoculars. After a while he put them down. “I believe we have bested them,” he said. “You may stand down but designate a man from each unit to keep watch. It is best to be prudent under these circumstances.”

We gladly relaxed, lying in the dirt and please to do so. “It is hard to believe that we defeated them,” I said.

“Yes,” Adolphus agreed, “but we know it is only a temporary surcease.”

It’s only for a while, I thought, and then it will continue.

 

 

 

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Diamond Resolution

Chapter 18

Backward, Ever Backward

March, 1865

The attack came that same day, and it seemed to me that, of all we had suffered in a short while,  each one was worse than the one before. Hiram somehow found a drum, and when we were attempting to advance against an overwhelming number of troops, he stood in front of us, beating out the call to attack. Certainly, he retired to the rear when we moved forward, but for the time he was there, he put himself in grave danger since he had no weapon save his slingshot. I admired his courage and prayed for him as he stood his ground. He might not believe in prayer, but I did, and so I prayed as hard as I could for his safety.

We were overwhelmed with this attack, and fell back enough that we felt we were out of range of pistols and rifles. Artillery was a different matter, and they continued to throw shot and shell into our ranks, creating carnage with every ball that landed.

Adolphus, Andrew and I took refuge behind a small hill to rest. We knew we would have to continue our retreat soon, but for the moment, we had a desperate need to catch our breath and gather our wits, which were greatly disturbed by what we had been through.

“I do declare I believe this is the worst assault on their part yet.” Adolphus wiped his face, which was blackened by the powder we used in the rifles.

“I must agree,” I said. “We think each one is the worst, and then one comes along that is even more horrible.”

“What do you say we keep running until we reach Lynchburg? Then we will be in place to surrender.” Andrew looked pensive.

“I doubt our captains would think much of that plan.”

Adolphus stood up. “It is time to continue. Be careful and luck to all of us!”

During the long day, we fell back a mile or so, moving in increments until we felt we were safely out of range of all but the biggest cannons. There we took a moment to eat a cold supper—we had had no lunch, and were marvelously hungry.

As we sat and ate, Adolphus asked, “Have you any word from Laurel?”

“None since the last letter. I fear that all lines of communication are cut, and I may not see her until we are reunited, which is a consummation I devoutly wish.”

Adolphus nodded. “Well, I shall pray that you receive a letter soon, or, even better, that you are reunited before not too much longer with your dear Laurel.”

“She is that to me, and I thank you for the prayers.”

We sat in silence for a moment, thinking of what lay behind us, and speculating on what was to be our lot.

Adolphus stood up. “There’s no putting it off—it’s time for us to dig ourselves in.”

Andrew and I groaned, even though we knew that doing so was a necessity. And so we fell to our task, feeling every bit of fatigue and discouragement we could muster.

 

 

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