Return and Return
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.