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Friendly Enemies (standard:drama, 2319 words)
Author: Ian HobsonAdded: Jul 12 2006Views/Reads: 2038/1062Story vote: 0.00 (0 votes)
A story inspired by Bernard Cornwell's Starbuck Chronicles and by the American Civil War picture cards I collected as a boy in the 1960's.
 



Friendly Enemies 

©2006 Ian Hobson 

A story inspired by Bernard Cornwell's Starbuck Chronicles and by the
American Civil War picture cards I collected as a boy in the 1960's. 

*** 

For a time, I must have drifted in and out of consciousness.  The battle
had long since passed me by but somewhere to the north-east, over the 
crest of the hill, the sound of cannon-fire rumbled like thunder.  I 
raised a hand to the gash in my forehead and winced.  The wound had 
stopped bleeding but a flap of skin hung down over my right eye, and my 
face and neck were thick with dried blood.  The body of the cavalry 
officer who had inflicted the wound lay in the grass just a few feet 
away; his right hand still gripping the saber and flies crawling in and 
out of the bloody gunshot wound beneath his right ear. 

As I tried to stand I discovered another injury: my left ankle was badly
swollen and wouldn't take my weight.  Later I guessed that I must have 
been kicked or stamped on by one of the horses in the cavalry charge; 
probably after the blow to the head had knocked me senseless.  I 
crawled over and prised the saber from the dead officer's hand and, 
with difficulty, used it to cut a sleeve from his uniform.  But the 
material was too thick to use as a bandage so I discarded it in favor 
of his shirtsleeve.  I cursed out loud as I replaced the flap of skin 
and tied the sleeve around my head. 

With the makeshift bandage in place, again I tried to stand; but my head
swam and still my ankle wouldn't take my weight.  So, with a groan, I 
fell back to the ground and lay still while the pain and dizziness 
subsided.  It was then that I became aware of how thirsty I was and 
instinctively felt for my canteen; but it was gone.  I propped myself 
up on one elbow and looked around.  There was no sign of my canteen or 
the Springfield musket that I'd been issued with when I'd signed up.  I 
suddenly felt very alone  as though the world had come to an end and I 
was the last person alive - and tears began to sting my eyes, and yet, 
at the same time, I was filled with rage.  'Thieving rebel scum!' I 
shouted.  I lifted the saber and lashed out at the dead cavalry 
officer, cutting a groove in his dead face and slicing off the tip of 
his moustache.  'God-dam bastards!'  I'd heard that rebel soldiers 
often stole from the dead and wounded.  I lashed out again with the 
saber; reliving the moment when the saber had swung towards my own 
head, and when, in sheer panic, I had discharged my musket as I tried 
to duck away from the blade.  It was the first and last time I ever 
killed a man; but if I hadn't defended myself he would have killed me; 
and he almost did.  In my dreams I still see the saber swinging towards 
my head and then the cavalry officer's head jerking backwards in a haze 
of powder smoke as he's hit by the ball fired from my crudely aimed 
musket. 

The dead officer ignored his new wounds and continued to gaze at the
sky.  It was late afternoon and the shadows were beginning to lengthen. 
 I could see other bodies; some in grey but most in blue uniforms like 
mine; none were moving.  I recognized Sergeant Logan and Dick Wallace 
among the dead.  I could see that they too had been robbed; even Dick's 
boots were gone.  I guess I'm supposed to be dead too, I thought.  
Whoever stole my musket and canteen must have taken me for me dead. 

I looked to the north, over my shoulder, as I heard more cannon fire and
then a distant volley of musket fire followed by an answering volley; 
or maybe the second volley was just an echo; I wasn't sure.  But as I 
strained to listen for the sounds of battle over the wind in the nearby 
trees, I imagined I could hear running water.  There had been no time 
when my company had been ordered forward to think about where we might 
find water; but now, looking south towards the bottom of the meadow, I 
could see a meandering line of trees and shrubs that I hoped followed 
the course of a stream.  So, trailing the saber, I began to half crawl 
and half drag myself downhill. 

I passed more bodies.  A cannon and its carriage lay on its side in the
grass with one wheel shattered and a dead horse with frightened, 
staring eyes still in the traces. Flies swarmed around the wound on the 
horse's neck.  The body of a Confederate soldier lay beside the horse.  


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