What do you do when war comes to you?
The Yankees arrived threatening to rape and pillage. Imprisoning us women, the children, and the local parson in the house they had completely surrounded. They held flaming branches and threatened to burn it to the ground with us inside. They had already taken our food, already invaded our country, and now this. At least they had not made good on their threats…yet. We prayed for the Confederate soldiers to come and run off these blue bellies.
Our hearts leapt within us at the sound of musket fire. Our boys were there! More musket fire. We prayed they would not fall to Yankee bullets. A young Yankee stood at the doorway of the cabin, blocking our way and firing at our boys in gray. The musket blast created a concussion through the small house, and as the cries of the children increased, so did our hatred.
We didn’t know which side was falling. A quick peak out the back door and I was able to warn one of our soldiers of a Yankee position. Another shot. A Yankee went down.
Though my medical supplies were together, I saw no Confederates down, and no way to get out of the house. The cavalry were fighting hand-to-hand, then, silence. Hoof beats pounded the ground as the Confederate cavalry rounded up the few Yankee prisoners. The parson slid out to survey the damage and see if it was safe for us to exit, though we crowded at the open door.
“Are there any Yankee’s hiding in there?” the cavalry sergeant asked gruffly.
“No sir!” I said.
“You sure?” he asked. Now how could he ask that after all we had been through?
“You are welcome to come check,” I replied, pulling my medical bag over my head.
“We’ve got one here!” the parson’s cries melded with the soldier’s grunts of pain. I walked out the door to see that he had dropped a wounded Yankee on the porch. He was panting and desperately trying to get his coat open. I froze. “Tend him,” the parson instructed.
“You want me to tend a Yankee?” I couldn’t believe it. Some of the other women pushed past me, and scooped his head out of the dust as the Confederates gathered around, wanting to hang him.
“No! There has been enough killing!” Atha cried. The children gathered around the wounded soldier as he writhed in pain. Instinct kicked in. I waded through the children, took a bandage out of my bag and examined the wound. He had a Minie ball hole in his chest. Placing the bandage over the wound, I looked him in the eye as he gripped his chest and my hand. “Do you know Jesus, soldier? Because you are going to be meeting Him very soon.” He looked at me, sizing me up, slight fear behind his eyes, but also a challenge of ‘you wouldn’t, would you?’
He began to panic. “You aren’t taking me to Andersonville, are you? I’ve heard horrible stories about there. Don’t let them take me to Andersonville!” he cried, looking at his friends who were now prisoners of war.
The parson stood near by. “You don’t have to worry about Andersonville, son.” He knew what I knew. This soldier was not long for this world.
Examining the wound once more, the blood flowed freely, staining my hand. The Minie ball had struck his lung. I placed a better bandage and put pressure on the wound. He screamed and writhed beneath my hands. I closed my eyes for a moment, allowing myself to deal with his pain. His breaths were becoming more shallow and rugged.
“McGillicuddy! In my haversack there’s a letter…”
“You going to be fine, Miles.”
“Listen! Send the letter for me. Tell my Betty what happened to me.” His breaths were becoming more labored and ragged. He knew he was dying.
I put more pressure on the now soaked bandages, but there was nothing more I could do. He looked at me and took a few more ragged painful breaths. His head rolled slightly in Atha’s skirt as he released his last breath. I closed my eyes against the pain of losing another boy who was now facing eternity.
No longer was this boy who had just died under my hands a Yankee, one who was to be hated, despised, and fought against. Now, this boy with the olive skin tone, wavy brown hair and beard was what he had always been-a child of God. One for whom Jesus came and died, one whom He loved.
General Lee was correct in saying, “It is a good thing that war is so terrible, lest men grow too fond of it.” War is horrible, yet war is also in the Bible. The question becomes, what role would God have us play? Are we a warrior? A healer? Someone with the good news of the gospel? When we face an enemy, we fight. When the battle is over, can we see their value in the Lord?
I am beginning to understand God’s mercy. I did not have to tend that soldier. I did not have to ease his passing, or make sure he wasn’t hung, or make sure he didn’t die alone. But neither did God have to come die for me, yet He chose to. Somewhere along those few intense moments, this boy went from a hated Yankee, to being seen through God’s eyes. It is a much different perspective. In a situation such as this, the question becomes, can we see past the color of someone’s skin, or the uniform they wear? Is it for the glory of our nation, or the glory of God? Is it best to choose the honor of our army, or obedience to God? “In as much as you have done it to the least of these, my brethren…”
(Photo credits to Sheila Chasteen)