The year is 1853 and I am promised to Keith Dean. I have been since I was a baby. We are the children of the most powerful families in Cass County, Georgia, why wouldn’t we marry? The wedding is growing nearer, and I am terrified. I already know he is not a gentle man and his mother and sisters hate me almost as much as he does. My father is as uncaring as he was when he sent my mother away. She only gave birth to a daughter, and not a son. I have always been an obedient daughter, but as each day passes, I am more convinced I cannot live the rest of my life as Mrs. Keith Dean. I know Crystal Davis will be gone, and all that will be left is what Keith and his family allow.
War is nearing and I am ready to fight for the South. I can’t wait to ride home victorious, waving my hat and letting the young ladies flock to me. My cousin says I am crazy to want to fight, father too, but they don’t know what it’s like to be a young man with war at your back door. I will go, and we will stomp the Yankees back, and they will see. How can we fail? I’ve been riding these hills before I could walk, and I’m not the only one. Many of us from Lexington, Kentucky are joining the Confederacy. John Morgan’s men has some of the best horses and riders known to man. We will not fail.
These young boys are foolhardy. As I look at their young faces, I fear for them, because war is hell, and they do not know this. Perhaps I too am foolish, for I am turning to the South to fight. I do not have power or slaves, I just want peace, and the North has no business coming to my land. Before war rose on the horizon my house was lost to a fire, I lost my livestock, then my fiancé, so I have nothing to lose but my will. I wonder if it is strong enough, if I am strong enough, if these children are strong enough. We have to be because the Yankees are coming, and the cavalry must be ready.
Excerpt from Shadows...
“For the enemy hath persecuted my soul; he hath smitten my life down to the ground; he hath made me to dwell in darkness, as those that have been long dead.” Psalm Ch. 143 v.3
- Justin Malin -
Monday, April 7, 1862, daybreak near Shiloh Church, Tennessee I wish battles were won with tenacity, with the blood, sweat, and tears that go into the fighting, for this day’s victory would be ours, as yesterday’s was, but it was not to be. Not this miserable day, with men stretched to their limits of endurance after a hard day of battle, which was the high point of the days of marching, all to be capped off with a ceaselessly rainy night and the threat of the enemy gunboats making sleep impossible. Last night I began to wonder if our supplies would hold out should the battle continue on the morrow like this day. I guess I wasn’t the only fool who took up arms at dawn, for my brothers continued to fight beside me, but they knew as well as I it was hopeless. After having spent most of the morning trying to get our weapons dried, the ammunition for them was quickly disappearing. All up and down, our lines began to break, and we, along with the Texans, gave up the precious ground we had fought for—and some had died for—the previous evening. I felt the heat from the bullets sail past my head. With the coaxing of my leg, Lady moved away from it, sliding down into the creek. She never hesitated, gave no indication she was aware of what she was stepping into. I saw the water running red, and the sight made my knees weak. I had no time for the fear. Fear did two things I had come to find: fear made you react quicker, often without thinking clearly, and it also communicated to my horse, making her flighty and anxious. With the lightest touch of my heels she sprung forward, the red water splashing as we used the bank for cover. Out of nowhere, another cavalryman slid down before me; his horse was white and the water splashing on his coat made me gag, for it took only a second to register what a superb animal it was. A ball exploded nearby, the sound deafening, and Lady jumped onto the creek bank. I pitched sideways and lost my seat, finding myself in the shallow creek. For that brief moment I sprawled there, I couldn’t help the fleeting realization the water wasn’t cold, like it should be. Perhaps it was because I wondered earlier how much blood went into turning the water red. I looked over to where the Yankee cavalryman had been. The explosion took out the man’s horse; mercifully it had been fast, because pieces of the animal lay everywhere. But the man had survived, or at least, would for a short time. He lost the bottom half of his body with his horse. I lay in that creek long enough to see the horror wash over his face as he realized this. I had only enough time to get to my knees before I vomited. The world became hazy, the sound of battle coming from a distance. I don’t know how long I crouched there, watching the red swirl around me, submersed to my elbows. So many, so many, I told myself, stunned by the past two days. I couldn’t fathom how many men spilled their life’s blood in the water and on the banks. So many. But me, I would always be fighting; somewhere in my soul, that little seed of despair had planted itself. This was not going to end as quickly as we had hoped. We would not be as victorious as we had anticipated. Fewer men would return home than wives and mothers could have predicted. So many. “Shiloh Church,” Duke said, stopping on the bank across from me. I stared at him for a moment until I could figure out what he was talking about. I stood, my knees shaking under me as I looked toward the church. Don’t show fear, I admonished as I straightened. “Seems a sin what it’s witnessing,” the Lieutenant said. My senses were coming back to me and I realized the battle continued, nearly on top of us. I turned and hurriedly climbed the bank. I looked up at him, the smoke from the battle hanging heavy behind him as he reached out to hand me Lady’s reins. I was speechless as I took them and looked up into my leader’s gaunt face. He suddenly seemed much older than his years, run down by the death, the destruction, and it was at that moment I knew all those who survived this war would be forever haunted. We might go for months and have it never enter our minds, but at some point we would see a dead friend in the face of someone we would meet, or we would wake from a sleep drenched in sweat with the cannons and screams still ringing in our ears. Yes, this war would long outlive us. With a nod I took Lady’s reins and swung easily into the saddle, never touching the stirrups, pushing the fear further back and clinging to the hope that this day would soon end.