Lingering Pain

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Coffee was a gift from God for the soldier on campaign. It is only slightly less a gift to a man in civilian life. In the very early hours prior to the battle of Allatoona Pass my mess and I were tasked with leading our reinforcements to their place in the works. My Captain then placed us in support of the Napoleon in the works. Men of the 39th Iowa were nearby and while some laid down to catch some sleep before the coming storm others boiled coffee. One man, likely about my age, offered me some of that welcome coffee. It was good coffee and a welcome gesture.

A few hours later he would be wounded in the brutal hand to hand fight that happened there. He was able to retreat to the Star Fort and seek shelter there thus avoiding the hell of a POW camp. The butt of a rifle had shattered his collar bone and made it impossible for him to use his Springfield or even to lift anything with his right hand. Such a wound is a painful one and often a life threatening one. It is a wound that does not easily heal.

Over my years of campaign I have inflicted that wound upon numerous enemies. It is quick to take a man from the fight and remove him from the ranks for a good long time. Knowing now what pain and suffering this one man has suffered I almost feel guilty for so freely teaching my own men how to inflict this injury upon another. I almost feel guilty, for many men have survived such a blow and returned to life in spite of the pain. They have lives worth living and believe it worth living. Many fall prey to the addiction of laudanum or alcohol in their efforts to deal with the pain. Some fail to learn to live with the pain and end the suffering by walking into the snow.

I have faced the horrors of war upon three continents. I have suffered minor wounds from battle and abused my body endlessly on campaign. I suffer from severe rheumatism but find the pain bearable so long as I have a bottle to dull the ache. I know now it is not the physical suffering that has damaged me so but my own guilt. I have killed many men over the years, some deserving some not. I have seen many men fall beside me; men who were my friends. It is a pain that sits cold in my stomach to this day. Like many others who have faced similar I drink to forget it. Cognac, scotch or other spirits help ease the pain by imparting a numbness that dulls that eternal ache.

I once heard a man say that the past is a ghost that haunts you from the time it exists until the time you do not. He was right.

A typical soldier of the Army of the Tennessee

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Young men have often asked me what the typical soldier of the Union Army was like. It isn’t hard for me to answer that. I merely visualize any one of a host of young men from my company. Most were farmers of stout stock used to long days, long walks and hard work; it was not much of a stretch for these fine young men in the army. The problem I had was trying to impart the discipline inherent in the armies of the continent to American soldiers. Those young men absolutely would not stand for it.

The soldiers I saw, both US and CS, generally wore their uniforms rather well. It didn’t matter how ill fitting those uniforms might be they took pride in their appearance and made every effort to look the part of a soldier. Uniforms and a mans appearance rapidly becomes one with the mud and rain of the elements. A man may look clean and polished on parade ground but on campaign not so much. But it never took long upon returning to a garrison post to clean the uniform and patch the holes.

The young men I served with began as good fighters and ended as good soldiers. Long marches and harsh weather may have made them look less than pretty at times, but they were no band box button polishers. When it came time for the Grand Review those men marched through Washington City with their customary aplomb. They were their to be seen, not to see. No man of any intelligence who watched them parade by had any doubt why the Confederacy had been ground to dust as the reason why had just marched past them.

Those young men generally came home and picked up their lives where they had left them. They came home and kept on keeping on. They are the generation that will build this nation and carry her into the next century.

The Moon

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A full moon is a true bit of pleasure given to us by mother nature. She is beautiful and quite useful as she makes the night rather bright, bright enough to travel by. In the winter it can make the night like day.

I admit I often stay awake later than usual when the moon is full and enjoy just lighting my pipe and watching the moon hang there like some enormous gem. I remember the first time I truly saw the moon. I had seen it many times but when I first saw a full moon over the sands of North Africa she marked my soul. I saw her again like that on the prairie of Minnesota and the Dakota territory. Where I have settled now on a clear night the moon fills the sky.

There is an old saying: ‘may your beauty glow like the moon.’ I do believe it is apt to compare the moon to the beauty of a woman for only the beauty of a woman can compare to that of the moon. My own wife is my moon and I love her all the more for her beauty.

The future

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Have you ever wondered what men are willing to fight and die for? Pictured above is just one of those things. Children are precious because they are the future. A good man or woman will pass as much of what is good as they can into the next generation. The next generation must be an improvement upon this one.

The young lady pictured is beautiful, intelligent and knows her mind. From the time she could walk she has been reading and learning. While she does not read the same things I do she is a better reader and writer. She has more imagination as well. What she does not have is my hate; of that I am glad. I can hope she can see the good in man where I often only see the bad. Where I am cynical she has hope. She is young and I can hope she keeps that outlook on life.

Mina and I have taught her French as best as we could. I started my French on the docks and finished it with a mouthful of rocks. She has learned it much more easily than I, combined with English and a smattering of Lakota she is a well spoken young woman able to converse intelligently better than most.

It is a pleasure to see the wonder in her eyes when I speak of Paris and other grand cities I have passed through. She is not as content as to reside by this small town. She wishes access to grand libraries and universities so that she might further her learning.

What she steadfastly refuses is to allow me to teach her how to use a knife. She believes a sharp mind the equal to any knife. I do not know how to tell her that there are as many evil men as not out in the real world. I hope and pray she never discovers that first hand. But I must allow her to follow her dreams; if Mina and I can point her in the right direction. A child is like the thread behind a needle; she goes where the needle goes. But the needle goes on when the thread is cut; let us hope the garment made by that thread is worthy.