Thomas lies face downward against the body of a dead soldier from his regiment. He is not hurt, but his little brother Joseph is shot and lies somewhere behind him in the meadow. If Thomas is going to get Joseph, he must do it quickly. The fighting will provide the only cover on that bright summer morning. The way it is going, it might soon be over. Once the fighting stops, there will be nothing to keep confederate soldiers from spotting his movements out there in the open.
Thomas abruptly turns his head to search for his brother. It is clear Union regiments are losing. Many from the 2nd Massachusetts are down. He notes the losses by the 27th Indiana and they shock him. His eyes tear up and a lump develops in his throat. A wave of hopelessness flows over him that he had not felt since the Battle of Cedar Mountain when Jackson was handing their butts to them. This morning’s order forced his regiment to attack the Confederates from the meadow now covered with bodies in blue uniforms. The 27th Indiana is receiving the worst of the assault from soldiers positioned behind a stone wall.
“If Joseph is alive, I’m going to shoot him,” says Thomas. It was Joseph who wanted to join the 2nd Massachusetts two years ago. Joseph joined for duty and honor. Thomas joined because he was not going to allow anyone to kill his little brother.
Thomas swallows his hopelessness and looks behind him for his brother. He has cover behind the body of a soldier who fell just after Joseph did. Thomas hears someone from the 27th yell, “Fire!” He takes a crouching stance and runs from body to body searching each face.
Thomas hears a ball fly by his ear with a whooshing sound. He dives for the ground, but he does not stop searching. He crawls across the field checking the faces of more soldiers than he believes could have marched between his brother and him. He believes he has gone in the wrong direction until he spots a pink handkerchief. Thomas tied a handkerchief he borrowed from their mother to the back of Joseph’s belt as a prank.
Thomas crawls to Joseph. Joseph lies face down, so Thomas fears the worst. He begins to call to him “Jo!” cries out Thomas. “Jo! Jo!”
Thomas arrives at Joseph’s body. He grabs the cross belt and rolls Joseph onto his back. Joseph’s face is distorted from pain. Thomas is relieved Joseph is alive. Joseph has both hands against his chest. There is a lot of blood behind them.
“Keep pressing down on that chest wound, Jo,” says Thomas.
“It’s just my hand,” says Joseph. “But it hurts like GRRR!”
“Can you move?” asks Thomas.
“Maybe,” says Joseph. “How’s my leg?” Thomas crawls down to take a look at Joseph’s leg. His light blue trousers are soaked in blood on the outside front of his thigh. There is more blood at the back of the same thigh. It looks to Thomas like the blood is from an exit wound.
“Unless you were shot twice, it doesn’t look too bad,” says Thomas.
“I was shot twice,” says Joseph. “I was shot in the leg once and fell. When I saw you hit the ground, I motioned to you with my hand. That’s when I got shot again. They shot my hand.”
“You idiot,” says Thomas. “You and I are going to run a three legged race to those rocks over there.”
“We can fight from here,” says Joseph.
“We’re done here,” says Thomas. “We were done before we started. Even the commander knew that. How are you going to shoot that musket with no hand? Are the Rebs just supposed to run over here and fall on your bayonet? I need to get you to those rocks and stop all that bleeding.”
“Alright,” says Joseph. “If it’ll get you to shut up.”
“How’d you manage to get shot in the right leg and right hand?” asks Thomas. “You’re going to have to put your right arm around me to hold yourself up. I’m going to have that disgusting hand dripping blood on my shoulder.”
“I’m just afraid I’m going to pick up an illness rubbing against your thigh,” says Joseph.
“Shut up,” says Thomas. “On three.”
“No,” says Joseph, “Ready. Go.”
“Fine,” says Thomas. “Ready. Go!” In one motion, Thomas pulls Joseph’s arm over his head and lifts him off the ground. Joseph growls with pain. Having run many three-legged races as children, they move quickly across the field despite the obstacles on the ground. Shots fly through the air by them with a whistling sound and they crouch. They reach the cover of a rock and Thomas pushes Joseph’s back against it. Thomas helps him lower himself and sit.
“Don’t get comfortable, boys!” yells another soldier. He fires his musket. “We’re getting flanked!”
“You hear that, Jo?” asks Thomas. “Can you make it back to the woods?”
“Guess we’ll find out,” says Joseph.
“Ready. Go?” asks Thomas. Joseph nods his head. “Ready. Go!” Thomas pulls Joseph’s arm over his head again and lifts him off the ground. Joseph exhales sharply. They run from the cover of one rock to another. The other soldiers continue firing, but they retreat. Thomas and Joseph run through the woods. The sound of muskets lessens. They only hear shots fired in the distance. Their footsteps and breathing make the loudest sound.
At camp, Thomas cleans and dresses Joseph’s wounds. Their mother’s pink handkerchief is wrapped around Joseph’s leg. Thomas looks over his little brother and leaves to wash himself.
Thomas pours water from his canteen over his hands to wash off Joseph’s blood. After he dries them, he examines them. They are trembling.
Thomas hears an order to fall in. He shakes his head. He runs to the spot where he left Joseph to pick up his gear.
“Because of you, I won’t have whiskey after this battle,” says Thomas.
“What?” asks Joseph. “We just came back.”
“You’d better hope I get shot, Jo,” says Thomas, “or I’m going to beat you when I get home.”
“Just raise your hand,” says Joseph, “and wave at the Rebs like an idiot.” Thomas reaches down and squeezes Joseph’s leg. Joseph yells from the pain. While Joseph’s eyes are closed, Thomas runs to join their regiment.
© 2017 EDUARDO SURÉ ALL RIGHTS RESERVED