When we made our way back to our camp, a heavy rain set in just as we arrived. It rained for five days, turning the ground into a messy, sloppy morass.
“Do you think it will ever stop raining?” I asked Adolphus.
“We must pray that it will not,” he answered, “for when it does, the fighting will start again.”
Of course, it stopped raining, and after we had waited a decent interval, we assembled for the captain to address us.
“Soldiers, you have been faithful and true to the cause which brought us together. You have endured the fire of the enemy on the field, and been soaked by rain and chilled by the snow. You have endured endless meals of salt pork without too much complaining.”
At this point, the troops jeered, and delivered their opinion of the pork in terms I dare not share here. The captain smiled and took it in good humor.
“Yes,” he said. “Remember that I eat what you do, and were it not that I would starve, I would never let a morsel pass my lips.”
Here the troops erupted in to cheers, and I thought, we are hard up for something to celebrate. No salt pork! What an occasion that would be!
“I must bring you the sad news that we must continue to be so fed. Our only solace is that we will not starve.
“But to the matter at hand: the enemy has been provisioning all during winter camp and bringing in troops from all quarters. We have a difficult situation here, with fewer goods and little hope of fresh troops. In spite of all of this, I know that you will fight your hardest and do your best to repel the attackers. By doing so, you bring glory to yourselves and to our cause. May the South live forever! Three cheers!”
“Huzza! Huzza! Huzza!” the troops came back.
“And now go make your preparations. God be with you, and if we do not meet after the battle, then surely we will meet in heaven, where our brothers await us. Please kneel, and let us pray.”
We all knelt, some in the mud, but they didn’t seem to mind.
The captain prayed, “O Lord, you know the odds are against us, but we were reminded that the odds were also again Joshua when he rose against Jericho. And we all know how that battle turned out. May we have the wit of Joshua and the strength and courage of his soldiers. All this in the name of you, God, who are all powerful. Be with us this dayand all the days of our lives until we stand before your glorious throne. Amen.”
“Amen!” rose up in a chorus from all parts of the field. Then we drifted off to our shacks.
“So, what did you think?” Adolphus asked.
“I thought the captain gave a stirring and rousing speech. And the prayer was one we needed desperately. But what are your thoughts?”
“I have a different opinion. The captain is a wise and thoughtful man, so he would say nothing to discourage. But I thought he hardly seemed convinced of what he was saying. He knows what lies before us, and also can see defeat in the not too distant future.”
I thought for a moment and then said, “Now that you put the matter in that light, I find I must agree with you. But we will fight bravely until that end.”
“Well spoken! And this from one who spent his time in this war trying to avoid conflict.”
“I can only be pushed to far, and I have to think of our fellows.”
Adolphus nodded. “Yes, indeed. That’s what has caused us to persevere. And of course, our faith in God.”
We came to our shack and went inside to discover Andrew lying on his cot. He grimaced as we went over.
“Andrew!” exclaimed Adolphus. “What is wrong with you, lad?”
“I have terrible pain in my stomach,” he moaned.
“I do hope it’s nothing like Hiram had.”
“Would you summon the doctor?” he looked at me.
“Of course!” I double timed it from our shack and arrived, out of breath, at the surgery and went inside. Because there had been no fighting, there was only one soldier with a bandage on his arm. Doctor Brown bent over him. “Try not to use your arm, and it should heal up in about a week. Remember to keep is as clean as possible.”
“I will, Captain. And thank you.”
“Of course,” Brown said, turning to see me.
“Corporal Dilliard! And all out of breath, I see. What’s the matter?”
“It’s Andrew, Doctor. He has a pain much like Hiram’s.”
“I hope he will not have the same outcome of that poor lad. I’ll go back with you.”
The Doctor and I walked quickly back to our shack. I was glad for the slower pace.
“Is there anything that might account for his malady?” I asked.
“There is nothing among the troops that I know of. I will have to examine him and take my best guess. In a case like his, it could have a host of causes.”
We arrived at our shack and went in to find Adolphus bending over Andrew. He straightened up when he saw us.
“He says the pain grows worse. We must do something!”
“That’s what I’m here for,” said Doctor Brown calmly. He removed his jacket and handed it to me. He then opened Andrew’s shirt.
“Andrew, I’m going to press on your abdomen. It will hurt, but I must do that to determine the cause of your problem. Try to bear it bravely.”
“I will, Doctor,” Andrew said through gritted teeth. “Pray do not make it a long examination, for I could not bear that.”
“I will be swift as winged horses,” Brown said, and pressed on Andrew’s abdomen.
True to the Doctor’s words, Andrew arched his back and bit his lip until the blood came. But he said nothing. What a brave fellow, I thought.
Doctor Brown pressed in a few more places, and then stood up. Andrew collapsed on his cot, the blood from his lip running down onto chin. Adolphus stepped over with a cloth and held it on the poor man’s lip. “Hold this there,” he said. “It will soon clot up.”
“We must take him back to the surgery. Do you have anything we can carry him on? I do not want him walking in his condition.”
“We can carry the cot.” Adolphus gestured at Andrew. “It weighs no more than a stretcher.”
“If you say so. Follow me.”
Adolphus picked up one end of the cot, and I took the other. We made our way to the surgery, slipping and sliding on the mud that seemed to be everywhere, but being extremely careful not to drop Andrew. Finally we reached the surgery and took in. Two orderlies lifted him onto a table, and Doctor Brown began examining him more closely. He looked up at us. “I won’t know anything for a while, so go back to your shack and come back in a couple of hours.”
“We will. Does his condition seem to be critical?”
“At this point, I cannot tell. That is why I need more time.”
Alphonso and I made our muddy way back to our shack and sat on our cots. It seemed odd not having either of our friends there with us. Alphonso felt that too, for he said, “It seems strange not to have Hiram or Andrew here with us.”
“I was just having the same thought. We have been through a lot together.”
“You did more than I. You have done an excellent job taking care of them and encouraging them.”
“They are like sons to me, so I felt that was my duty.”
Alphonso yawned. “After winter camp, I am unused to rising so early. I believe I’ll lie down for a while.”
“I’ll join you. My eyes are heavy as well.”
We lay down, and I thought about all that had happened in the past few months. After a while, I fell asleep with those thoughts.