Monday, January 11, 2010

Entry #114

The Message
by James Montgomery Jackson


Elkhorn Tavern, Arkansas
Evening, March 8, 1862

Dearest Mother,

I know delivery of this message to you is uncertain, but despite difficulties that will become evident, I shall not renege on my promise to communicate at least once a fortnight. Billy’s last note said you might let him join as a drummer boy. Hold firm. He is too young for this horror.

We have seen considerable action since I last wrote. Our boys are worse for it, but not as bad off as the rebs. Oh, Mother, your heart would ache for such a ragtag collection of men. Many were shoeless; bloody footprints marking their steps. They tried to capture our supply train by a flanking maneuver. The colonel countered with a brisk charge into the woods in which I now rest. The ululation of the rebel call as they countercharged will remain with me always.

When they overran our position, one stopped beside me and, in an act of Christian charity, I donated my boots. The scarecrow on the farm has more meat than most of their troops. I would have emptied my haversack to feed them, but it was pinned beneath me.

In the quiet after the fight I observed the breeze rattle the branches, sounding like distant musketry fire. Above, a rough-legged hawk cruised for dinner. You told me they do not eat carrion, so perforce I sent it on its way.

Hug Grandma for me.

Forever your loving son,
Sergeant Thomas Breitling
9th Iowa Infantry

29 comments:

Bernita said...

You have conveyed a sense of total authenticity.

Aniket said...

This has left me speechless. Very well written.

Rohan said...

this is super stuff...what a way to look at it...

onipar... said...

Well done. I like you choice of formatting for this.

lena said...

I so love the language, very authentic. Enjoyed reading it a lot.

Tara said...

Really. Great. Writing.

Anonymous said...

It's nice to see a "historical flash." --JR

Meghan said...

I love the historical slant. Very well written!

Four Dinners said...

The blue, the grey and the red.

Great writing. I felt transported to the past.

Aerin said...

I simply enjoyed this. Very nice.

James said...

Thanks to all for your kind comments. I enjoyed the challenge of figuring out style and word choice (like perforce) that a young man might use 150 years ago. Much more formal than today's tweets!

BTW those interested in the Civil War probably know this battle as the Battle of Pea Ridge. The Union usually referred to battles by their major geographical feature; the Confederates by the nearest village or town. The Union won the war and the naming conventions.

pjd said...

I love this for all the obvious reasons. Also for the subtleties such as the donation of the boots, which I'm still a little trying to figure out. But I love your comment most of all about winning the naming conventions. This is among my favorites (so far... I've only read 114 of them).

austere said...

Great sense of history.
Which, as we all know, is written by the victors.

laughingwolf said...

a keeper, thx james...

sandra seamans said...

Wow! You left me with the feeling that he was dead or dying on the battlefield. Well done!

Laurel said...

Artful historical voice and great authentic detail here. I also loved the gesture of him donating his boots. You eloquently captured the huge tragedy of the Civil War; the men fighting each other felt kinship. Bloody and horrible epoch of US History.

Deb Smythe said...

Great job capturing the tone and voice of time and place.

Kartik said...

Astounding writing!!! And the history lesson is appreciated too :)

illyriataylor said...

this is truly amazing. I still have goosebumps. gorgeous imagery ..I am at a loss for words

B. Nagel said...

A beautiful letter from beyond the grave. This really is everything that the above have mentioned. wonderful.

catvibe said...

Excellent and devastating.

Rabid Fox said...

114. Bittersweet. I quite liked this tale. Good job.

Craig said...

I loved the letter format and the language really gave this an authentic feel. Well done.

Jean Ann Williams said...

Very well written and refreshing historical setting.

Jean Ann

McKoala said...

Ah, a historical! A good one, too. The letter is an effective and well-handled way to tell the story.

truevoid said...

letters do envelope many emotions. you have captured it very well.

Sarah Laurenson said...

I'm trying to figure out the boots, too, Pete. Just can't get a grip on two enemy soldiers facing off during a battle and one donates his boots.

Aside from that - this is quite lovely and I enjoyed it very much.

James Montgomery Jackson said...

My intention was that by the end of the story it would be clear this is a letter written from beyond the grave. The line I had hoped would make solidify this understanding is:

You told me they do not eat carrion, so perforce I sent it on its way.

He sent the bird on its way because he was carrion and the bird would not eat his offering. The rebel soldier took his boots and presumably would have taken his rations, except that this lad's dead (or at the time, dying) body had trapped the haversack underneath him.

Chris Eldin said...

I was wondering if he was dead, and am glad you gave a hint of backstory. Such authentic writing. I really felt swept back in time. Nicely done!