By Michael Morgan
© 2016 All Rights Reserved
Dim red glow flickers into blinding moonlight.
Black hand rising into squinted view. No, not black. Soot stained, mottled with bits of pale skin. Crusted with dark flakes that fall away to expose more pale skin as the hand flexes. The hand pushes against the ground, and the view tumbles to one side.
Fireflies in the distance, and singing? Yes, singing. Negro voices. The songs of home. Sounds of metal tools on earth. The vision goes indistinct for a moment as blackness edges the scene. Burial parties? Yes, that must be it.
An unseen hand fumbles free of unseen tangles, and sends shrieking pain through its shoulder as the scene is levered off the trampled grass to settle like a painting hung just a bit off kilter. The unseen hand touches the unseeing eye, but feels nothing through the numb digits.
The pale blob to the left attracts the eye, resolving itself into a familiar C- shaped scar that Micah had carried on his forehead since they were six year old. Was it really Micah? Hard to tell. Only the scar, one blue eye, and a ruined face.
Other names called other friends into view. Ollie and Jack. Side by side as always. Lying tangled, blouses torn open probing for the wounds that killed them.
Where was Brother? He should be here. Somewhere.
Crawling along the line. Sharp steel gouging the knees and hands as they passed over. Tangled men. Face up, face down, curled fetal. A canteen. Scant drops of water falling from the ragged hole instead of the spout.
Faces past. Mr. Barnes, the owner of the dry goods store, had a soft spot for the school teacher. Andrew’s leg was missing. Calhoun, Fredericks, Hoff, Johnson. Men he’d known all of his life. Brother wasn’t here. He should be. Everyone else was.
Susurrations from the back of his mind became moans and faint pleas for water, mothers, and sweethearts as the field crawled to life with the agonies of the damned.
The stained hand reached out to roll a ragdoll to its back. A gurgling exhalation from a face stained black across the right cheek. The doll’s eyes searched and settled on the face above.
“I… did not expect to… see you again.” Death rattled closer.
“I’ll get help.”
“Can I do anything?”
“Tell Mother what?”
A cough. Cracked lips coated crimson so bright the color was visible in the moonlight.
The stained hand reaches to touch Brother’s shoulder but the blue sleeve refused to touch butternut vestments. The gulf between the colors could not be closed by force of will or even by common blood.
The grass rose up to cushion the fall.
“Pahdun me Lootenun,” the freedman’s voice called reality back into focus. Clouds obscured the moon, and a dark face in the dark continued, “Y’all need a stretcha?”
A pathetic attempt at a gesture reminded him of the wounded arm, “No, but my brother does,”
“I’m sorry Mars Lootenun, if thas yo’ brotha, he past help. We here to take care o’ these boys.” More figures in the gloom. The sound of a shovel biting into the turf.
Warm hands raised the Lieutenant. Wobbly legs turned to erratic steps along the windrow of his life.
A town on the march to Atlanta. Like the one he left on the way to West Point.
Just old men, little kids, and women trying to keep life going. A pinned sleeve or leaning crutch belonging to the ones lucky to return. Reminders of those who never would.
Sweethearts, sisters, and wives swarming the board where the lists of the wounded and slain were posted each morning. Begging God not to give them any news.
Here, in this place, looking over the field, reciting the census of his town. Knowing home is gone.
What to say?
Brother died in my arms…?
What did he die for?
Brother died defending his home so he could live as a free man.
Brother died, and I lead the men who killed him.
It was my duty…
Mother’s voice stole his thoughts…You followed a tyrant who would enslave all men while waving the banner of Emancipation!
Dragging foot stumbles on something. The dead weight of an arm attached to a cocked revolver, pointing the way home.
The War of Southern Independence has long held a fascination for me because the causes of that conflict, and the consequences of its outcome, have shaped the national identity and dialog in the United States far more than any other war before or since.
The regional differences and social conflicts of the war were never resolved, and we are seeing these forces again in the rising tide of violence perpetrated by the political factions of today. The irony lies in the labels. If one side is composed of “sore losers” and the other of “deplorables” who is left to cheer for?
I recently finished this book:
Still the Arena of Civil War: Violence and Turmoil in Reconstruction Texas, 1865-1874 by Kenneth W. Howell
The author is a archetypal Unionist, but I thought his work was fair. I found his description of the operations of the Democratic Party in cooperation with the Ku Klux Klan in Texas a bit…familiar.
“Brother” was written as an examination of a young man suddenly cast adrift, as so many young men were, during the aftermath of that conflict. With homes and families destroyed, or cast to the wind, these men drifted away. Mostly westward.
We read about these men as the heroes and villains of the Old West. Eventually, they picked up new lives, or found the self-destruction that gave them peace.