Forward and Backward
The next morning at dawn, we stood at our posts, ready to climb over the ramparts and press our attack. I was nervous, as I always was, but resolved to acquit myself as best I could, avoiding injury and trying to inflict as little of that as I could. This seems an odd thing for a soldier to wish, but I never enjoyed killing, and wanted no more of it. I knew that more opportunities would be thrust on me, but, as I have said, aspired to make the best of those by causing no harm.
And so we went up and over, firing like madmen in every direction, but harming few. We surged toward them for about fifteen minutes and labored through 1,000 yards, and then they came back with a savagery I had not seen before. Well-fed and well-rested, they screamed like banshees and cut us down like wheat.
Oddly enough, the thought of wheat made me think that Laurel would be planning her garden. This tender picture so disarmed me that I nearly shot one of our own. The bullet sailed high, but the man could not tell where it was intended to strike.
With that, I turned with the others and ran for all I was worth. We were becoming better at retreating rather than advancing, I thought. After all, we had had plenty of practice.
We fell back until the Union advance petered out, and found one of the many groves of trees in that area. There we rested and tended to our wounded. The dead would be gathered up later, after the battle. The thought of those once living and breathing men lying insensible on the cold ground caused a great melancholy to descend on me. I tried not to think too much of it.
I found Adolphus, and I was right glad to see him. “How long do you think we will keep doing this?” I asked.
“As long as we continue fighting back.”
“I pray that will not be long.”
“As do I.”
We erected the best defenses we would in the trees, and sat down, alert, to await further attacks, but none came that day. As the dusk gathered, I asked Alphonso, “Do you think they’ll attack soon?”
He surveyed the scene in front of him. “It’s always hard to tell, but with darkness coming on, my guess would be that they are done for the day. We should remain alert nonetheless.”
“Of course. Do you think they’ll try using sappers again?”
“If I read the setting correctly, I do not think so. It is too difficult to dig among roots with the tools they have.”
“That is good news.”
“Ah, yes, but we also will have the usual shot and shell to contend with.”
“That settled, are you hungry?”
“Let’s eat, then.”
We fell to our rations, eating eagerly as if the food were good. It is amazing, I thought, what the human mind and body are capable of tolerating. And that includes the war itself.