Good Morning readers! I’ve been thinking lately about the soldier’s of the war. What did they go through? What was their experience the first time on the field? The fear, the overwhelming of senses. Could they make it through battle? Rather than sharing my supposition, a friend of mine has graciously shared his first-time experience with me. Check it out!
By Les Patton
It was my second re-enactment. I had only a uniform and a musket. I was given a pair of boots that did not fix too well. I told my Captain that the boots were tight. He told me that was realistic. A good portion of the Army of Northern Virginia did not have shoes. The shoes and other needed equipment were often taking from fallen soldiers after a battle.
The unit marched out onto the field and assumed our defensive positions. We were in a trench about 10 feet in front of another mound where I could hear a cannon crew preparing their gun. It was cold and snow flurries were falling. There was a slight whiteness to the ground where the snow would melt almost as fast as it hit the ground. Ahead of me I could see about 200 feet. There were numerous trees to both the left and right but thinned out in front. There was a mist hanging over the field and
there was hardly any wind.
I then heard my Captain give the command to load. Everyone in the company loaded as quickly as they could. You could easily tell who the veterans were. Their musket were loaded before us newly arrived recruits had our cartridges out of the box. Then for what seemed like an eternity, we waited, and listened, but heard nothing except the falling snow flurries. They fell like the stars.
Then the ground began to shake, I heard the thunder of horses getting closer. I saw a horse and rider approaching fast. I heard him say to an officer several yards from me. “The Yankees are coming.” He pointed into the trees and said they would be here in minutes.
Then, I heard the shout of a word that will forever be engraved in my memory. From behind me, loud and crisp, “Fire”. Within a second, the cannons began to roar. Each time they fired the ground would shake. We laid in the trenches with our hands over our ears. It was a deafening roar. Leaves and twigs began falling all around us. Some even fell on us. The air in front and all around us turned blue from the cannon blast. I could not see more than 50 feet in front of me.
We then heard the word “Rise.” We all stood up and dressed out lines. “Forward March.” At the arms port, we walked through the blue smoke. With each breath, my throat became dryer and dryer. It was a horrible taste. This was the taste of battle. Then came the command of halt. We all stopped and stood staring into the blue smoke. Then came the command of “Fire!”
I pointed my musket and began to fire. I started to re load as fast as I could. I still could not see at what I was firing. Just aiming and shooting into the blue smoke. By now the smoke was so think I could only see about 20 feet in front of me. Which each round of ammo fired, the blue smoked, thickened. It was like a big blue blanket covering everything. The air was alive with sound. The muskets firing, the cannon roaring to our rear, The commanders shouting orders. It was a constant roar of noise which made anything difficult to distinguish.
I then heard someone yell “There they are boys, pour it into them!” I looked and saw faintly dark silhouettes appearing from within the smoke. For the first time I met the enemy, almost face-to-face. As they approached, I could hear them yelling. I could hear their commanders shouting orders. I could even hear the twigs cracking with each approaching step.
They stopped at a short distance which seemed just a few feet from us. I saw them level their muskets pointing straight at us. I could barely make out their faces when suddenly there faces were consumed by a bright flash. The person standing beside me fell to the ground. I hesitated with my loading and looked down at my falling companion. He was motionless. At that instant, the horrors of war hit me.
I felt someone grab my back and pull me backwards, I then heard someone yell ‘I said fall back.” Was this command meant for me? Or was it from the Federals? I started to fall back with the rest of the unit. When the order to halt was given, I found myself surrounded unfamiliar faces. To my left I saw an individual that I have never seen before. He had long hair and a beard. Neither his hair nor his beard looked as if had been washed in weeks. His uniform was in complete disarray, Patches everywhere. It
seems as if he was wearing just a bunch of patches sewed together. I looked down towards the ground and noticed his bare feet. I asked him where his shoes were, He told me that he has not had shoes in some time. Wasn’t the ground cold I asked, He smiled and said, “You get use to it.”
I found myself in a completely different unit. I had no idea where my unit was or what
happened to it. I found the unit first sergeant and told him I did not know how I ended up with his unit and that I had to find my unit, He chuckled and said, “you are now part of this unit.” Part of that unit I remained for the duration of this battle.
I have served our country and retired from the United States Army. Although I have been in countless deployments, field exercises and assigned to a rapid deployment unit in Operation Desert Storm, I have never felt the confusion, chaos, and camaraderie within a unit facing the horrors of battle.
I hope you enjoyed Les’ story, and that it gives you a small look into the life and terror of a new soldier in battle. War is not all guts and glory. Sometimes it’s fear, terror, pain, suffering, and finding out just what one is made of.
Be sure to check out past blogs to learn more, and stay tuned for more blogs in the future!!
What are some things you would like to read about?