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At the Stone Wall (standard:other, 499 words)
Author: kendall thomas Added: Aug 01 2003Views/Reads: 2013/1Story vote: 0.00 (0 votes)
A fictional retelling of the battle of Fredericksburg in which men, as symbols of courage and self sacrifice, become ciphers in a concluding double entendre spoken by a Confederate general.

At the Stone Wall 

by Will 


December 13, l862 

General Burnside took a swig from his silver flask then ordered his
Northern troops out from the shelter of Fredericksburg to form a battle 
line 600 yards from a long, stone wall where General McLaw's 
Confederates where concealed. 

It was a cold day; the breath from thousands of men fogged the air. 

Private Hanna, on the Northern side, stared across the wide, frozen
field to where the Grays waited four deep behind the long, stone wall; 
on top their deadly muskets were posed in readiness. 

Private Hanna stood next to the  grizzled standard-bearer, Sgt. Casey
O'Riley, who was holding the flag high, a gold plated eagle gleaming on 

A brass-throated bugle gave its call to advance, and two brigades began
tramping forward, their gear clattering and clanking in the tense, 
still air. 

Almost instantly Confederate artillery began cutting them to pieces
before the Georgians behind the wall even fired a volley. 

The Northern troops fell back.  Sgt. O'Riley was down on one knee, but
still holding the flag high.  Blood covered his chest.  He gave Private 
Hanna a wink and nod that he was all right -- but he didn't look it.  
Another soldier tried to take the flag from him, but the stocky, old 
soldier shook him off like an angry, old bull against a young upstart. 

Again Burnside sent in two more brigades.  And in quick succession they
were driven back. 

The field was littered with the Union dead and dying. 

Throughout the afternoon Burnside sent wave after wave of his infantry
to their slaughter. 

Mini balls whizzed through the air; in the tumult thousands of men fell
dead on the frozen ground. 

Private Hanna was behind Sgt. O'Riley just as he went down again.  When
Hanna reached him the old veteran was struggling to rise once more 
while still maintaining the flag in an upright position.  But he no 
longer had the strength.  Blood trickled from the corner of his mouth. 

Private Hanna placed his hand on the staff to help keep the flag up, but
he didn't try to take it from O'Riley. 

Between spasms of pain, O'Riley smiled up at Private Hanna, then closed
his eyes; his gnarly hands reluctantly slipped from the wooden staff.  
As slowly as a child's hand slips from its mother's in sleep. 

He grew still like a picture, and Private Hanna knew he was dead. 

Darkness finally ended the butchery, but not before seven Union
divisions had shed their life's blood in 14 charges trying to reach the 

The next morning Confederate General McLaw and a couple of his
subordinates, Generals Kershaw and Cobb, stepped among the dead, 
pausing when they came to the body of a young private still clutching 
the Union flag to his chest. 

“There lies a good man,” Cobb said. 

McLaw stared out over the battle field where over 8,000 men lay dead. 

“They're all good men, General Cobb; that's why they're dead.” 


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