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Alan Cook

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Antietam Adventure--Matthew and Mason Adventure
By Alan Cook
Posted: Friday, February 03, 2012
Last edited: Friday, July 11, 2014
This short story was "not rated" by the Author.

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           >> View all 26
Matthew and Mason trace the route of their ancestor at the Civil War battle of Antietam, not knowing that they will be called upon to save his regiment from disaster.

 


CORPORAL ED LINCOLN, 23rd NEW YORK

(Lansing Edgar Lincoln—1842-1916)

 

by Alan Cook

 

"I was with the 23rd New York at South Mountain

and Antietam." —Ed Lincoln

 

Was it a moment's madness, caused by acts

of rebels firing on their country's flag?

The Union had to be preserved! The facts

are that three brothers left their plow and drag

to sign up with the 23rd New York.

Farm tough as nails, they shared their family name

with their President, and went from carving pork

to carving up the enemy, a game

both fraught with peril and a grand adventure.

The youngest, Ed, in 1861

was just 18 when he gave his indenture,

then spent two years of terror, hardship, fun,

at war with men who were a lot like him.

He survived the bloodiest day in our history*

without a scratch. A leader, full of vim

and vinegar, among the brothers he

was first promoted. When the campfires soared

and songs instead of bullets rent the air,

could his imagination see the horde

of his descendants who would come, a pair

of West Point army generals included?

He did not escape unscathed; one quiet day

when stillness reigned a minie ball intruded

on the peace, and soon Ed's buddy lay

upon the ground, his body pierced, quite dead.

The ball, now almost spent, still had some harm

in mind; it penetrated the skin of Ed

and for 50 years it resided in his arm.

 

*Antietam, September 17, 1862; over 23,000

Americans killed or wounded.

 

            As the guide droned on about the Civil War battle of Antietam, Maryland, Matthew tuned him out. Matthew could have given much of the talk, himself. He knew Antietam was the bloodiest day in American history with over 23,000 soldiers killed and wounded, counting both sides since they were all Americans. The Army of the Potomac was commanded by Major General George B. McClellan and the Army of Northern Virginia by General Robert E. Lee.

 

            Matthew elbowed Mason in the ribs and beckoned with his head. Mason indignantly held his ribs and wondered whether it was a good idea to start another battle on this site, 150 years after the first one. Matthew beckoned again and spoke softly.

 

            “I’m going to put an egg in my shoe and beat it. Come with me.”

 

            Mason was getting bored with listening, himself, and was up for a little adventure. “Where are we going?”

 

            “We’re going to trace the route our ancestor, Corporal Ed Lincoln, took on the day of the battle. I’ve got copies of the maps drawn by our Great Great Uncle Judge James Lincoln.”

 

            Matthew caught his mom’s eye in the crowd and pointed west and north. She nodded, absently, intent on listening to the guide, apparently not concerned about the boys getting lost. That was all the approval Matthew needed. He waved the maps at Mason and started walking toward the Hagerstown Road.

 

Matthew opened his arms in glee. “It’s a great day for exploring. This weather is the same as it was the afternoon of the battle, warm and sunny.”

 

            The temperature was in the seventies. The boys were wearing shorts and T-shirts.

 

            Mason said, “It’s the same time of year. September sixteenth. The battle of Antietam was September 17, 1862.”

 

            Matthew nodded, approvingly, at his brother’s knowledge. “It’s a good time to come here. I’m glad we could get away for the weekend.”

 

            Much of the area had been farmland during the Civil War. It still had the look of farmland, with green, rolling fields and lots of trees. There was also a wooded hill not far away. Matthew pointed to the hill.

 

            “During the course of the battle, the 23rd New York, Ed Lincoln’s unit, was on that hill part of the time. It gave them good protection and they could fire down on the rebs.”

 

            “Ed didn’t get wounded, did he?”

 

            Matthew shook his head. “Not at Antietam. He got shot in the arm while he was on guard duty, but that was another time and another place. He was lucky here.”

 

            Ahead of them was a small white church. Matthew again decided to show off his erudition.

 

“This is the Dunker Church. Of course, it’s been rebuilt, but it was really shot up during the battle. The Confederate soldiers were positioned here before the battle, along with some of their cannon. There were several attacks in this vicinity by the Union troops, including one by General Hooker’s soldiers. The 23rd New York was part of this attack. They were on the right wing, in that direction.” Matthew pointed north, along the Hagerstown Road.

 

            They circled the church and then went inside. Mason took one look at the simple, wooden pews and wondered how anyone could have sat on them for several hours. He knew church services had been long in the 1800’s. Ouch. His butt hurt just thinking about it.

 

            Matthew was looking elsewhere. He’d spotted a pretty girl about his age standing in front of the small altar. Getting up his nerve, he ambled to the front of the church in what he hoped was a casual manner. He was searching for something to say when she saved him the trouble by speaking first.

 

            “This church was built for worship by just half-a-dozen families. That’s a lot of work for not many people.”

 

            Matthew tried to come up with a learned remark. “They probably had lots of kids.”

 

            That sounded lame. He wished he’d said something smarter. However, she turned and looked directly at him for the first time. Her brown eyes were the same color as her long, brown hair. Those eyes regarded Matthew, curiously.

 

            “Have you been here before?”

 

            “Here? Oh, you mean Antietam. No, this is the first time.”

 

            “I’ve been here lots of times. I like coming here.”

 

            Matthew was still trying to impress her. “My third great grandfather fought here with the 23rd New York.”

 

            “No kidding. I had a relative with the 23rd New York.”

 

            He’d hit the jackpot. Matthew was about to ask her about the relative when Mason ambled up. He wasn’t exactly welcome, but Matthew felt he should introduce him.

 

            “This is my brother, Mason. Oh—I’m Matthew.”

 

            “Sally.” She gravely shook hands with both of them. “I know the route the 23rd New York followed during the battle. Come on, I’ll show it to you.” She laughed. “I’ll be your tour guide.”

 

***

 

            At first, Mason didn’t know what had awakened him. It was dark in the motel room. Still night time. Quiet as a battlefield the day after a battle. No traffic noises on the road outside. Definitely not time to get up. Then he heard a soft knock on the door. Whoever it was didn’t want to wake up everybody in the motel. Could it be Mom or Dad?

 

            Mason stumbled out of bed, went to the door, and found the light switch. He looked through the peephole in the door but couldn’t see anyone. He knew he should follow safety procedure and not just open it. He cleared his throat.

 

            “Who is it?”

 

            A hoarse whisper came through the thickness of the door. “It’s Sally. Please open up.”

 

            Sally? Was he dreaming? A few facts crystallized in his brain. Sally was staying at the same motel they were in Sharpsburg. Matthew must have told her their room number. But what in the world was she doing here in the middle of the night? Mason glanced at the illuminated digits on the motel room’s clock. They read a few minutes after four in the morning. This was ridiculous. His voice got louder and showed his agitation.

 

“It’s four o’clock.”

 

“Please.” Sally’s voice had urgency in it. “It’s a matter of life and death.”

 

Now she was acting the drama queen. Was the building on fire? Mason sniffed but couldn’t smell any smoke. Well, he’d better get rid of her or he’d never get back to sleep. He flipped the safety rod out of position, unlocked the deadbolt, and opened the door.

 

Sally was wearing jeans and a sweatshirt and a scared look on her face. Mason realized she wasn’t play-acting. He stepped aside so she could come into the room, and closed the door behind her. She spotted Matthew in the other bed, his face softly lit by the ceiling light. He was still blissfully asleep.

 

Mason shrugged. “He’s a sound sleeper.”

 

“Well, wake him up.” Sally’s voice hadn’t lost any of its urgency.

 

Mason didn’t relish waking up his brother, but it had to be done. He went to the bed and shook him. “Matthew, wake up. We’ve got a visitor.”

 

It took a few more shakes and some exhortation before Matthew opened his eyes. When he saw Sally he blinked several times and thought he was dreaming.

 

“What’s going on?”

 

Sally looked from one of them to the other. “You’re the only ones who can help me. We’ve got to go and warn the troops. They’re going to be ambushed.”

 

“What troops?” Matthew’s brain hadn’t yet kicked into gear.

 

“The 23rd New York, who else? Your great, great, whatever grandfather.”

 

“But. But.” No more words came out of Matthew’s mouth. He had a feeling of déjà vu. Several times before, he and Mason had been whisked into the past. Was it happening again? It was September 17th, the day the battle of Antietam had taken place. He locked eyes with his brother. Mason appeared to be thinking the same thing. Matthew turned back to Sally.

 

“Tell us what you know.”

 

Sally looked from one of them to another and spoke confidently now that she had their attention. “Just after dawn, General Hooker’s forces are going to make an attack to the south down the Hagerstown Road. The 23rd New York will be on the right flank to the north. You’d think that would be the safest place, but they are going to be ordered to go west across the Hagerstown Road and outflank the rebels. What the scouts haven’t discovered is that there are snipers and cannon hidden in the woods who will have a clear shot at their flanks. They’ll massacre them.”

 

Mason looked skeptical. “And you know this how?”

 

“I don’t have time to explain. We’ve got to get to them and warn them before dawn. Please. Do I have to go alone?”

 

Matthew was now wide awake and feeling energized. Whatever the truth of what Sally was saying, it sounded like a grand adventure. Especially since he would be with Sally. He’d enjoyed her company yesterday as they retraced the path taken by the 23rd New York during the battle, and he’d been trying to figure out how to see her again. This was the opportunity. He tore off his covers and jumped out of bed.

 

“I’m in.”

 

Matthew looked at Mason, half hoping his brother would opt to go back to bed. Then he’d have Sally all to himself. But Mason wasn’t one to pass up a fun time. He grabbed his clothes and disappeared into the bathroom.

 

***

 

“I’m wet and cold and I can’t see anything.”

 

Mason was wondering why he’d come along. The early morning fog and drizzle was making him miserable. The knowledge that the weather would get better later in the day didn’t help. It was still dark, and that combined with the fog cut down their visibility to almost nothing.

 

They were walking north on the Hagerstown Road. It was rutted dirt and somewhat muddy. Matthew was sure it had been paved yesterday. Everything was eerily quiet. No cars went by. There were no lights. Matthew echoed some of Mason’s sentiments, but his discomfort was overridden by the fact that he was walking alongside Sally. She wasn’t speaking much, just walking with grim determination, but being close to her was enough for Matthew.

 

A loud boom some distance in front of them made them all jump. They stopped walking and huddled together, shaking. For a few seconds they couldn’t move. Sally recovered first.

 

“That’s a cannon. I don’t know which side fired it. It’s early since they can’t see what they’re firing at. Maybe they’re trying to gain a psychological advantage.”

 

Up to this point, Matthew had been wondering whether they were just out on a lark. Now he knew Sally’s story was true . They had gone back to September 17, 1862, just before the battle of Antietam. He heard some voices through the fog. The voices were undoubtedly those of soldiers, awakened by the noise of the cannon. The three companions were in the midst of the Confederate army.

 

“We’ve got to stay together. Hold hands.” Matthew grabbed Mason’s hand with one of his and took Sally’s hand with the other. It was forward of him but this was an emergency. Just the same, Sally’s hand felt good in his.

 

They started walking again, feeling their way carefully. The road was quite muddy in places, but it was easier to walk on the road than off it. Mason was the next to speak.

 

“What are the ground rules? Will they be able to see us?”

 

Matthew didn’t have an answer to that. He looked at Sally. She thought for a moment.

 

“I think we’re invisible to them. However, we’ve got to stay out of the battle. I’m not sure we’re invulnerable to bullets.”

 

That was comforting. The chatter around them grew louder. They saw a row of small tents receding into the mist. Men were crawling out of them wearing the gray uniforms of the Confederates with caps on their heads. Several were seated cross-legged on the ground, gnawing on some kind of food they held in their hands, but the trio couldn’t see what it was. Some were cleaning their rifles.

 

One soldier was tending to a small fire. An iron pot hung above it from a frame made of sticks. Matthew motioned toward it.

 

“He’s heating water for coffee. When they couldn’t get booze the troops lived on coffee.”

 

Mason said, “They have to be careful that the other side doesn’t see the flames or the smoke.”

 

“They’ll have to put it out when the fog clears. That may start happening soon.” Sally pointed to the dense cloud that still surrounded them. It showed signs of thinning.

 

Matthew was comforted by the fact that the rebs completely ignored them, so Sally must be right about them being invisible. Still, they spoke in low voices and kept as much distance between themselves and the soldiers as possible while continuing to head north on the Hagerstown Road. If they strayed from the road they would become lost.

 

Several dark objects loomed out of the fog ahead of them, not far from the road. Sally pointed at them.

 

“Cannon. This is an artillery battery.”

 

The cannon were facing north, the direction in which the three were headed. Matthew counted six cannon. Each metal gun was supported by two large, spoke wheels. There must be seventy or eighty men around them. Several were carrying the heavy cannon balls to the guns or doing other chores in preparation for firing.

 

Sally pointed with her free hand. “There’s Dunkers Church.”

 

The small, while building loomed out of the fog. Now they knew where they were. Still, a chill went through Matthew.

 

“We’ve got to get out of their path before the cannons start firing.”

 

Sally appeared to be slightly more complacent. “They won’t fire until they can see the enemy.”

 

“Unless they’re trying to psych out the Union soldiers.” Mason reminded them of the cannon that had fired earlier.

 

They hurried their pace. Apparently they were through the Confederate lines because they didn’t see any more soldiers. The fog had lifted a bit and daylight wasn’t far behind. They continued for a while in silence, still holding hands. Even though the visibility was a little better the contact gave them comfort. Sally, who was leading, suddenly stopped. Matthew almost crashed into her and Mason into Matthew. Sally put a finger to her lips.

 

“Listen.”

 

They listened. There was a thump, thump, thump in the distance. Matthew remembered what they had discussed during their battlefield tour yesterday.

 

“Those are General Hooker’s troops. The 23rd New York will be at their rear. We need to get off the road and let them pass.”

 

A cornfield was on their right. Sally looked around. “This is about the spot where the 23rd New York is going to cross the road and try to outflank the rebels. We’ll wait here but we don’t want to get too far off the road or we’ll run into the Confederate snipers.”

 

They moved west of the Hagerstown Road into a grove of trees where they could still watch the road but have some safety if shooting started. Soon they saw the front ranks of the soldiers marching along the road. Their uniforms were blue but in a dim light it would be difficult to tell them from the rebels. They were carrying rifles on their shoulders.

 

Wave after wave of soldiers went by. Every little while a soldier passed holding a banner aloft that proclaimed the name of his unit. Mason looked for the banner of the 23rd New York, even though he knew it would be near the rear of the corps. His mind was active as he tried to picture what would happen next. He was worried.

 

“How are we going to warn them about the ambush?”

 

Matthew had been wondering that, also. “We can’t talk to them but maybe we can make a noise they can hear.”

 

He picked up a stick and whacked it against the trunk of a tree. Several of the soldiers who were closest to them turned their heads in the direction of the trio. Matthew was glad they heard the noise, but for a few seconds he was afraid some of the troops would be dispatched in their direction to find out what was going on. What if they started firing? However, this didn’t happen, apparently because no shots were fired at them. Matthew breathed a sigh of relief.

 

Sally had watched this activity with interest. Now she spoke. “It’s good that we can make noises they can hear, but it isn’t enough. We have to locate the snipers and somehow alert our troops to their whereabouts.”

 

Mason tried to picture what would happen. “What if we get caught in the crossfire?”

 

Matthew nodded. “We have to be careful. Of course, if we don’t do it there’s another possibility. If our grandfather, Ed Lincoln, gets killed, what happens to us? It means we would never be born.”

 

The prospect was too chilling to think about. Even Sally shuddered. But then she got to her feet.

 

“Look. There they are. The 23rd New York.”

 

The boys saw the banner proclaiming the 23rd New York infantry regiment, followed by a host of young soldiers. Matthew wondered which one was their grandfather. He would be wearing corporal stripes, but a number of men wore them. He realized he’d never seen a picture of Ed Lincoln.

 

Sally pointed, excitedly. “There’s Charlie.”

 

She indicated a handsome young man who, under his hat appeared to look something like her. Sally stood and took a step forward, as if she were going to go up to him. Matthew restrained her.

 

“It’s too dangerous. Don’t get close to them.”

 

Just then the troops were brought to a halt. Several officers on horseback came trotting up to the front. One of them must be Colonel Hoffman, commander of the 23rd New York. They dismounted and conferred together, looking at a map. They pointed toward where Matthew, Mason and Sally were standing and wondering what was going to happen next.

 

Matthew turned to Sally. “You know this area pretty well. Do you know where the snipers are?”

 

“Not exactly. That’s the problem. As you can see, there are a lot of trees and small hills in that direction. If we strike out on our own we may miss them. I know it sounds backwards, but if we can see where the 23rd New York is going, perhaps we can stay ahead of them on their right flank. That way, maybe we can find the snipers before they attack, and somehow warn our boys.”

 

“And get our heads blown off in the process.” Mason frowned.

 

But none of them had a better plan. It was now broad daylight. The ground was drying and the sun was starting to peek through the clouds. It was a beautiful day for a battle. South of them all hell suddenly broke loose. Several dozen cannon seemed to start firing at the same time, interspersed with the constant chatter of rifle fire. The battle had begun.

 

 The noise galvanized the senior officers into action. They had the lower ranking officers gather, and there was a quick meeting. Then each one returned to his own company. The soldiers prepared their rifles and attached their bayonets. This more than anything else told Matthew there was going to be blood flowing.

 

The three positioned themselves on the north side of the 23rd New York troops, which would be their right flank when they crossed the fields to attempt to outflank the southern forces.

 

The soldiers started moving, keeping spaces between them, their rifles at the ready, their heads constantly swiveling back and forth as they scanned the area in front of them, looking for the enemy. They were talking among themselves. Matthew heard one of them call another soldier Lincoln.

 

He turned and saw his grandfather. He knew it was his grandfather and not one of his grandfather’s two brothers, because he wore corporal’s stripes. Ed Lincoln looked so young and strong. He didn’t look like a grandfather at all. He was not yet twenty years old. It was their job to keep him alive. Matthew pointed Ed Lincoln out to Mason, who gawked at him.

 

Sally pulled them away. “We’ve got to get ahead of them and find the snipers before the snipers find them.”

 

They ran along the right flank of the 23rd New York, trying not to stumble over roots and stones on the uneven ground. They had to climb over a split-rail fence, which slowed them down. Matthew gave Sally a hand to help her over the fence. To their right were dark woods. All manner of danger could be hidden there. When they were about fifty yards ahead of the troops, Matthew realized what they had to do.

 

“We have to go into the woods. That’s the only way we’ll find the snipers in time.”

 

The going was rougher in the woods. They stayed together, moving more slowly because of the footing. Matthew led. He had more experience hiking in the woods than Mason, and he suspected he had more than Sally, too. He tried to pick the easiest path without diverging much from the route of the 23rd New York. He headed uphill toward where he thought the snipers would be. Through the trees he kept an eye on the Union soldiers as they made their way across the fields.

 

Suddenly he stopped and held up his hand to halt the others. He turned and placed his finger to his lips. That wasn’t really necessary, because the noise of the distant battle masked everything they said. He thought he’d seen a movement through the trees. He looked carefully.

 

Matthew spoke softly. “Don’t talk, and try not to make much noise. Even though they can’t see us they can apparently hear us.”

 

He inched forward. There was definite movement ahead. He saw a flash of gray that didn’t quite blend in with the browns and greens of the woods. Then some black and gold, the colors of cannon he had seen. He stopped again and turned to Mason and Sally, speaking in a whisper.

 

“The snipers are ahead of us. I think they have cannon. They could wipe out our guys. Follow me but not too closely. Whatever you do, don’t get between the snipers and the 23rd New York.”

 

Mason asked, “What are you going to do?”

 

“I don’t know. I’ll think of something.”

 

Sally said, “Be careful.”

 

Matthew moved steadily toward the movement and color he had seen. Soon he could distinguish soldiers through the trees. They were positioning themselves for firing. They maintained silence, so as not to alert the Union forces, although noise from the distant battle made this unlikely. Four or five cannon were located on the far side of the riflemen, along with the soldiers who were tending them.

 

Matthew was sure the Confederate troops had spotted the soldiers of the 23rd New York, and were waiting until they passed close to them before opening a deadly fire from their higher position. It would be a massacre, as Sally had said. If Ed Lincoln were killed, he and Mason might disappear in a puff of smoke, having never been born.

 

 The smells associated with soldiers during wartime wafted toward Matthew. A mixture of sweat, smoke, and gunpowder filled his nostrils. These troops hadn’t bathed for a while. Concentrate on the job, Matthew told himself. How could he warn the Union soldiers? He could only think of one way. Make a loud noise. Firing a gun would work.

 

Could he grab the rifle of one of the soldiers and fire it? Too risky. First of all, he wasn’t sure how to fire it. Would pulling the trigger be enough, or was there more to it? In addition, if a soldier saw his gun being taken away from him he would grab for it and probably hit Matthew. Sweat broke out over Matthew’s body as he pictured the result.

 

Maybe he could fire a cannon. They were loaded and ready. A man with a lit taper stood beside each one. When he touched the burning material to the fuse in the cannon it would reach the explosive charge and fire within seconds. Matthew thought it would be easier to grab a taper than to take a rifle, and he should be able to get away after he lit the fuse.

 

The problem was that he had to get past the riflemen to approach the cannon. The soldiers weren’t tightly bunched, but because they were keeping quiet they would hear him if he stepped on a stick or otherwise made a noise. Still, it had to be done.

 

Matthew turned to Sally and Mason, and whispered to them. “Stay here, out of the line of fire. I’m going to fire a cannon to alert our boys.”

 

 Mason grabbed him. “It’s too dangerous.”

 

Sally tried to comfort Mason. “Matthew’s right. It’s got to be done. He’s the biggest and fastest.”

 

Sally gave Matthew a hug and whispered in his ear. “I know you can do it.”

 

Thus fortified, Matthew picked a route through the soldiers, who were lying in the prone firing position or kneeling behind trees. He took a deep breath and hesitated, waiting for the ideal moment. Then he realized there wouldn’t be an ideal moment. It was now or never. Without willing it, he ran.

 

The noises his footsteps made sounded like firecrackers to him, but his fear drove him to great speed. By the time a soldier he passed heard him he was gone. He was making good progress when he tripped on a rock and fell flat on his face. Stunned and hurt, he lay on the ground for a moment, but then realized he had to get up and get going.

 

As he rose, he saw several soldiers looking at him. It was a good thing they couldn’t actually see him. Before they could move, he was up and running again. Now he had a clear path to the cannon he had picked. He ran up to within a few feet of it but then stopped. He needed a steady hand. He would only get one chance to touch it off.

 

Matthew took several deep breaths to calm himself, as silently as possible, because he was close to the soldier holding the taper. Hopefully, his breathing sounded like the soft breeze that was blowing. The man didn’t look in his direction. Matthew glanced down the hill at the troops of the 23rd New York. They were almost within range and had obviously not spotted the ambush. He had to act now before they were in front of the cannon.

 

Steeling his nerve, Matthew took several quick steps, grabbed the burning taper out of the hand of the soldier, and put it to the touch hole where the fuse was. His instinct told him to wait for a second to make sure it was lit, but his brain told him that if he did that he might be killed by the recoil of the gun.

 

As he turned away, the soldier lunged for the taper and hit Matthew. Matthew stumbled but willed himself not to fall. He managed to keep his footing and run past the back of the cannon. He continued to run uphill toward the rear of the artillery troops. A deafening roar split the air. The shock threw him off balance, and he fell on one knee. It had worked. He got up and ran on, his ears ringing. Rifle fire exploded to his right. The soldiers had taken the firing of the cannon as their signal to shoot.

 

There was still one cannon in Matthew’s path. Through the noise he saw the soldier with the taper put it to the touch hole. Matthew dove for the ground and rolled. As the noise of the cannon’s firing hit his eardrums like a boxer’s punch, he swore he could see the cannon ball fly over his head.

 

During a slight pause in the firing, Matthew heard shots more distant but closer than the main battle to the south. The men of the 23rd New York were shooting back. He was in their line of fire. He had to get out of there. He continued to crawl uphill, keeping his head down, and then planted himself behind the first tree he came to. Here was relative safety.

 

Or so he thought until he heard a minie ball whistle past his head. Something struck him in the face, stinging his cheeks. He put his hand to his face and felt a piece of bark from the tree. The ball had actually hit the tree. That scared him. Should he move again? He was in a panic, and wanted to run as fast as he could.

 

Then a calmer voice prevailed in his head. He was safer here than in the open. He peeked around the tree and watched the battle. It appeared he had warned the men of the 23rd New York in time to prevent a massacre. They had dispersed to sheltered positions and were returning the fire of the Confederate soldiers.

 

From Matthew’s position, he could see both sides. It occurred to him that the Union troops outnumbered the Confederates. In spite of their advantages of being uphill and having cannon, the rebels were sustaining casualties. A number of the soldiers were lying on the ground, wounded or dead.

 

He saw Union soldiers running from tree to tree, advancing up the hill. Given enough time, they would overrun the rebel position. There were shouted orders. The rebs started retreating up the hill. Some of the passed close to Matthew. He didn’t move.

 

By the time the men of the 23rd New York got to the area where the Confederate soldiers had been, the only ones left were the casualties. Matthew saw his grandfather again, from a distance. He noted with relief that Ed was unhurt. He also saw Charlie, Sally’s relative. He was all right too.

 

The Union soldiers didn’t try to chase the Confederates over the hill. After making sure the area was clear, they went back down the hill and headed in their original direction.

 

Matthew remembered that in his uncle’s report of the battle, it stated that they gained the high ground, themselves, and fired down on the enemy. Then they fell back and “made coffee.” They would not be in much danger for the rest of the day. His job was done.

 

Medics would be coming to tend the wounded soldiers. Matthew needed to get out of here during this relative calm. He headed east where he had last seen Mason and Sally. When he didn’t immediately spot them, a block of ice gripped his gut. What if they had been caught in the firing?

 

When he came to the eastern edge of the battlefield, Matthew thought it was safe to call out. He shouted their names over and over. He wandered up and down, looking for them. How would he explain to his parents what had happened to Mason? How would he explain to Sally’s parents?

 

He stopped and wiped his face with a tissue he had in his pocket. A combination of dirt and blood came off on it. He looked at his clothes. They were torn and dirty. But he was all right. He had a few scratches, but nothing like the wounds of the soldiers he could hear moaning. Or the ones who would never moan again.

 

“Matthew.”

 

The voice was soft but definite. It was Mason. Matthew turned around and saw his brother crawling out from under a fallen tree. Sally came out after him. He went to them and folded both of them in his arms, relief flooding through him. They remained that way for several seconds. Then they stood back and looked at him.

 

Sally said, “You are a mess.”

 

Matthew laughed a shaky laugh. “Yes, but I’m okay. I think everything worked out all right.”

 

Sally nodded. “You’re a hero, Matthew. Perhaps, Mason and I will be the only ones to know that, but it’s enough. You saved Charlie and your grandfather.”

 

Matthew felt good. “What relation is Charlie to you?”

 

Mason said, “How are we going to get back to the motel? We have to go right through the thick of the battle.”

 

Sally and Matthew didn’t say anything. They appeared to be deep in thought. Would the trio have to wait until night after the battle was over? What would their parents think?

 

Sally brightened. “I know. I have to head up over the hill. When I’m gone you will be taken care of.”

 

“How?” Mason wasn’t assured.

 

“Trust me.”

 

Matthew was afraid he’d never see Sally again. In the excitement of being with her, he’d forgotten to ask her the key question before. “Where do you live?”

 

“Where do you live?” She answered the question with a question.

 

“Fairfax, Virginia.”

 

Sally brightened. “Me too. What street?”

 

Matthew told her.

 

“Isn’t there a street near you called, uh, Clara Barton?”

 

“Yes, it’s right behind us.”

 

“That’s where I live.”

 

Matthew was puzzled. “How come I haven’t seen you at school?”

 

“Well…” Sally paused. “I don’t actually live there. But I was staying there with my aunt for a few days.”

 

“What’s the number?”

 

Instead of answering, Sally hugged Mason. Then she hugged Matthew. Then she kissed him. She spoke softly. “Take care of yourself.” She started walking. After she had gone a few steps she stopped and looked back at the boys. “Charlie is my brother.”

 

Then she was really gone, heading up the hill, not looking at the soldiers lying on the ground. Matthew wanted to run after her. He had a sinking feeling. In five minutes she disappeared over the top of the hill.

 

Mason said, “What do we do now?”

 

As soon as the words were out of his mouth, the scene changed. Matthew and Mason were sitting in a coffee shop near the motel in Sharpsburg. Mom and Dad were just coming in the door. They came over to the table where the boys were and gawked at Matthew.

 

Mom said, “What happened to you?”

 

Matthew looked at his clothes. They were still torn and dirty. Their adventure hadn’t been a dream.

 

“It’s a long story.”

 

“It always is. It looks as if you’ve been recreating the Civil War. Well, you have plenty of time to tell it. I should make you pay for new clothes.”

 

***

 

Matthew came into the family room with a sad look on his face. Mason looked up from his electronic game.

 

“What’s the matter, bro?”

 

“During the past week I’ve covered every house on Clara Barton. No woman on the street has a niece named Sally.”

 

Mason nodded. “I was afraid of that.”

 

“But she said she had an aunt on Clara Barton.”

 

“Think for a minute. Clara Barton was the nurse who played a big role at the battle of Antietam.”

 

“You mean she made it up?”

 

Mason felt sorry for Matthew. “Remember when she said Charlie was her brother?”

 

Matthew remembered but he didn’t want to believe it. He plunked himself down on the couch, closed his eyes, and pictured her bright smile and long, brown hair waving in the breeze. All he had left of Sally was her memory. He would never lose that.

 

 


 

 

Web Site: "Dancing with Bulls" a Matthew and Mason Adventure  


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