Morning After

[Note on 4 February 2010:  I wrote this when I was the minister at Center Hill, about four miles from the Tennessee line.  I am re-posting it here from my old Blogger blog.  The date I actually wrote it was 4 July 2006.]

Here’s a little story I wrote a few weeks ago and have “doctored up” from time to time. I have had an interest in the Civil War for years and would like to write a full length novel some day, Lord willing. We’ll see…

Since I grew up and live now in North Alabama, the Western Theater has been my primary interest. It’s less than a two-hour drive to Franklin, Tennessee. I’ve been there. I walked through the confederate cemetery, containing nearly fifteen hundred fallen southern soldiers, near dusk on the eve of the battle anniversary in 2005. I went inside Carnton Mansion, the Confederate hospital during and after the battle, and saw the bloodstains on the floor from November 30, 1864. I walked up the same stairway that General Nathan Bedford Forrest strode up and saw the upper balcony from which he surveyed the field just before the battle began.

This fictional story takes the form of a letter that a Confederate Calvary Officer from North Alabama wrote to his wife the evening of the day after the Battle of Franklin.

The Army of Tennessee (the Southern army in the West, the Army of Northern Virginia led by Robert E. Lee was the Southern Army in the East) was basically destroyed as a viable fighting force at the Battle of Franklin. The South was going downhill before Franklin, now, it was falling from a cliff. The battle began about 4:00 P.M. and continued for five hours, till after dark. A good friend of mine had an ancestor who fought there as a Confederate general. He fell at Franklin.

Though I was never a soldier, I have attempted to portray the horror of war. It is blunt at times. There is a reason for that. I don’t want the lesson below to be missed.

The spiritual application of my story is this – things like this are what happens when we ignore the teaching of Jesus about peacemaking.

Morning After

December 1, 1864
Franklin, Tennessee

Dear Deborah,

This morning dawned sunny and crisply cold. While my men were preparing the morning campfire, the light from the just risen morning sun glinting off the limestone outcrops reminded me of the pastures on our own farm and made me wish I was back on Blue Water Creek.

Events moved so rapidly yesterday afternoon and into the night that I hardly had time to think, much less reflect on what was happening. I’ll tell you a little about it. I don’t think I can ever tell the whole story. I just don’t have the stomach for it.

Yesterday was terrible. No, it was worse than terrible. When the blood and gore of the battle finally ended, there wasn’t much left of the old Army of Tennessee. The Yankees actually left the field when it was over. I reckon they’ll be laughing all the way up to Nashville about what fools we made of ourselves. Most generals would think twice about attacking a strongly fortified position while advancing upgrade over a large open area allowing the enemy a clear field of fire. By the way, did I mention our artillery hadn’t caught up with us, so we had to commit mass suicide without even the consolation of having artillery support while we did it? I’m sure the hundreds of southern widowed wives and bereaved mothers will want to thank the gallant General Hood for that.

I imagine I’ll hear shortly that we’ll be marching on up the road toward Nashville so Hood can complete the task of destroying his army, or what’s left of it. General Forrest thought we could get a sizable force around to their rear and let them have it from there. NBF has certainly done that maneuver many times before. But not the all-wise and all-courageous Hood. Show them what we’re made of, show them we’re men, march straight into the Yankee muskets while the ground becomes piled higher and higher with fallen sons, and brothers, and husbands around you. Well, Hood showed them. Guess he really feels like a general now. Much more of yesterday, and he won’t have anything left to general with.

I thought the worst was over till I went onto the field today to assist in recovering our dead. No bullets are flying past my head now. That worst is over. But this worst is different. I’m not sure which is the most severe.

I found a small spring of water in a sparse grove of trees a couple hundred yards from what had been the Federal line. I counted thirty-eight men all dead in one place near that spring. One young private, maybe he had had his sixteenth birthday, was lying dead on his back. There was a single splotch of blood, about the size of a silver dollar, in the center of his chest. Bits of frost had formed on his eyebrows and his brown hair. He had obviously been dead awhile.

His right eye was closed. But, he had died with his left eye still open. It stared straight up. As I stopped briefly and stood over him, he seemed to be staring straight at me with that one left eye. I imagined he wanted to ask me something. Maybe to tell his girlfriend that he loved her. Maybe to tell his ma where he fell and how he died.

But I think what he really wanted was to ask me was “Why?” Why was he on this battlefield? Why did he have to die before he was twenty, before he could plant his own seed and see his name carried on? His family had no slaves. They farmed their small place by the sweat of their own brow. It was the rich planters down around Montgomery who owned most of the slaves. It was their war. Why did he have to be in it? He didn’t care what flag flew over the capitol. He just cared about his family, his girlfriend, his bluetick hound dog, and his next meal. Now all that was lost, and what was the point of it? Maybe that’s what he wanted to say. Maybe that’s what all the dead soldiers wanted to say.

I’m writing this letter by the campfire after supper, like I usually do, but I can still see that innocent, questioning stare from that kid’s open left eye. I think it’ll stick with me till I have a not-so-innocent, questioning stare of my own.

The scene at that spring this morning reminded me of the time Paw’s hogs got the cholera. I remember there were about ten of them who had tried to get to that spring under the big oak tree where the hills drop off into the creek bottom. They had drug themselves there to drink from that spring, not understanding that they were dying. The first one died near the water. Then another one crawled up and died, then another and another. Before long the hogs that came last were crawling over the already dead hogs, trying to get to the spring, and were dying on top of them. When we discovered them, they were in a neat little pile, all dead by the spring.

That’s how it was this morning. The dead Confederates, dressed in their ragged butternut clothes, like they were just going out to the field to plow the mules – piled two and three high, all dead by the spring, just like so many dead animals. Tell their mothers, wives, and sweethearts that they died so the rich planters can keep their slaves. I’m sure they’ll find a lot of consolation in that.

I hate this war, Deb. I hate it because of the senseless killing, and I hate it because it makes me want to be a senseless killer. I see no glory and I see no honor. All I see is arrogance and greed. And the death and misery produced by them. Both sides are so blinded by their own depravity that they don’t comprehend the results of their actions. I just want to go home, if there’s any home left.

I better turn in now. There may be some more killing tomorrow. I guess it’s either kill or get killed. Sure something to look forward too, isn’t it?

I think about you all the time. I hope I’ll see you again.

I love you.

Isaiah Hall
Major, CSA Calvary


One Response to “Morning After”

  1. Chris Turner Says:

    This was a very interesting letter and story told with great detail. You put me at the spring seeing those dead soldiers that fell and died there, the young boy staring blankly into nothingness with his one eye opened…you have a talent for writing. I enjoyed reading your letter very much.

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