We fell back about half a mile, beyond the worst of the shelling and had time to dig some hasty trenches. They weren’t very deep, but they were better than nothing. Once they were as deep as we had time to make them, we huddled in the bottoms, our rifles ready. We stayed like this for half an hour, and nothing happened.
“What’s going on?” Andrew asked.
“Absolutely nothing,” Adolphus replied, “as you can tell.”
“I wonder what’s they’re waiting for?” I asked.
“Maybe they’ve given up and all gone home.” Andrew smiled sardonically. Adolphus and I snorted.
“More likely they’re waiting for enough troops and fire power to drive us back to Lynchburg in one fell sweep,” Adolphus mused.
“That is more likely.” Andrew looked serious.
We stayed in our places for an hour, and then the same captain came up on his horse. He stood in his stirrups and shouted, “For whatever reason, they seem to be stopped, as if they’re waiting for something. That gives us time, but not much, to erect some ramparts. Fall to it, men! Quickly!”
We immediately set to work felling trees and trimming their branches. The resulting logs were cut to length and then fixed in the ground, a procedure we knew too well. We had our work decently done within an hour, and still no sign of anything from our enemy.
With our section finished, Adolphus, Andrew and I collapsed against a log wall.
“That was a lot of work!” Andrew said. “I am exhausted.”
“You’d best regain your strength,” Adolphus told him. They will no doubt regroup and then be on us once again.”
We did not care: we fell asleep in the mud, without benefit of blanket or cot. The events of the last day had tired us so that we could not resist.
Adolphus awoke me.
“Wha—wha—what is it?” I asked.
“Do you feel a tremor in the earth?”
“Of course not. I was insensible.”
“Feel—there it comes again.”
I tried to wake myself and calm my senses to see if I felt anything. I hesitated for a moment, and then said, “No, nothing. Perhaps you were dreaming.”
“It woke me to my present state. Perhaps, if this is what I think it is, we had best quit ourselves from this place.”
“But we just got here!”
“And if we don’t leave, we will die! Awaken Andrew!”
Something about Adolphus’ manner made me do so. He was sensitive to all manner of things, and did not make any request lightly.”
“Should we wake those around us?”
“I fear that for our safety we may not. Perhaps some of them felt what I did.”
I went over and awakened Andrew. “Andrew! We must move!”
He came to slowly. “Why? What has happened?”
“All I know is that Adolphus says that he feels something in the earth and we must to. And I believe him.”
“What time is it?”
“Three, if I read the moon correctly. We need to go!”
Andrew hauled himself to his feet. “Now where to?” He was too groggy to think straight.
“Westward!” Adolphus cried. “And at your best pace!”
The three of us climbed out of the trench and ran as hard as we could. We had gotten about a thousand yards away when there was a tremendous explosion right where we had been, accompanied by a bright flash and shaking of the earth. Alphonso had been right.
The force of the explosion threw us to the ground, but we were alive. I shuddered to think of what had happened to those poor souls who did not awake and run, and said a quick prayer for them.
We regained our feet and continued running. When we could go no more, we put our hands on our knees and tried to recover our breath.
“Alphonso!” I gasped. “What in the name of all that is unholy was that?”
“Yes. The Federals dug tunnels under our lines. That is why they did not stage a counterattack. Then they stuffed the tunnels with explosives and set them off, to the effect that we have just seen. It was perfidious and unexpected. I have read of it, but never dreamed of experiencing it first-hand. What a horrible way to die!”
“It is indeed,” I murmured. “Murder most foul.”
“But then,” Adolphus mused, “War is about sanctioned murder and all sorts of horrid violence. I wonder if it is all worth it.”
“For my money, having seen what I’ve seen and experienced all I’ve experienced, I’d say it isn’t.”
We continued on our way and met up with the other survivors about half a mile away from the explosion. We all collapsed to the ground and awaited the next event.