I opened my eyes to see the leaden sky, which was not a surprise. What was curious was that I was not lying in the mud, but being carried by someone or something at a great pace, which made my body scream with pain. Who or whatever carried me stopped and shifted me so that I was facing the ground. Then I knew it was another soldier carrying me over his shoulder. But to where? We were a fair distance behind enemy lines, so why would one of them carry me away?
“Hey!” I called. “Take it easy!”
“I’ve got to get you out of here, and the sooner the better,” came a rough voice. “I know it hurts, but it’s the only way to save you.”
“Yankee shell fell short, wiping out most the enclosure. I grabbed you and took off. I think we can make it to our lines.”
“What about my friend?”
“Corporal, I don’t know your friend, and even if I did, I wouldn’t stop to look for him.”
“What is your name?”
“Full of questions for someone whose life is being saved, ain’t you? Anyhow, it’s Bullard. I’m an artilleryman myself, so I know about these shells. When I heard it coming in, I threw myself down and tried to burrow in. I guess the mud saved my life—I got deep enough I didn’t even lose consciousness. But I don’t want to think about what I saw. Tell you what—I’ll keep going if you don’t ask any more questions.”
“You got a deal. And thank you.”
“Well, of course I should do this. We’re on the same side, after all.”
As we jostled along, I kept thinking how Providence had once again saved me. If a man didn’t believe before he got into the war, he would certainly change his mind quickly about that. I had seen that happen time after time, and wondered if God allowed wars so that we would believe in Him. It seems a high price to pay, but then we are mortal while He is divine. I sound like a chaplain, I thought.
I could tell by moving my head in a certain fashion that we were nearing the lines. No doubt Bullard saw the same thing just then since he redoubled his efforts. I watched as he took me over the ramparts and then laid me down behind the wall.
“I have to rest,” he gasped, “but can’t do it for long. We still have a ways to go, but not as far as we’ve come already.”
“Thank you for saving my life,” I told him.
“I was saving mine, too, remember?”
“Yes, that’s true. Would you prop me up? I want to see if I can spot my friend.”
“I wouldn’t recommend it. You’re safer lying down.”
“Well, that’s a good point. Being blown up has addled my brain.”
“We’ll just stay here a minute and then press on. If your friend survived, there’s only one way he can go to escape. I bet you’ll know soon how he is.”
“I pray that he is not dead.”
“As do I. There’s been enough killing.”
“When do you think it will end?”
“When the generals say, and who knows when that will be. They’re not like you and me.”
We stayed a while beside the wall, and I noticed that the firing to our west had died down. I did not know what that meant. It could have meant anything, so, as with so much else in the past few years, I would have to wait and see.
Bullard roused himself after a few minutes more. “Let’s get going. Do you think you can walk fairly well or should I continue carrying you?”
“I think I can walk.”
“I’m glad for that. You’re not that heavy, but heavy enough that I don’t want continue like this. Come on, I’ll help you up.”
He pulled me up and I stood there for a moment, slightly dizzy. He put out his hands as if to catch me. “You all right?”
“Just a little dizzy.” I waited a few seconds and said, “It passed. Let’s go.”
We made our way as quickly as we could, although I have to confess that I set the pace. I was impressed by Bullard being willing to place himself in danger for my sake. I would have to find some way to repay him, if we got out of this alive.
Strangely enough, we saw no one ahead of us, and I had to wonder what had happened. The continuing silence was odd, and I worried that we might be walking into something else. We came to a small rise, and, as we came down the other side, we saw a field strewn with bodies. Apparently it had taken the brunt of the Union cannonade, and the dead and wounded from both sides were much in evidence. We hesitated at the sight, and Bullard whispered, “Lord have mercy. I haven’t ever seen anything like this, and I’ve been in a lot of battles.”
There was nothing to do but pick our way among the troops, ignoring their piteous cries for help, for water, for their mothers. It broke my heart to do so, but at the time I had to think of my own survival. The scene would haunt my dreams for weeks afterward.