The battlefield was covered in a haze of smoke that grew deeper with each volley. The sulfurous stench of burnt black powder was a thick miasma in the air, even more offensive to my superior senses than it had been in my past. Drumbeats thundered behind me, echoing in my heart and mind.
I took a deep breath, bringing my rifle to my shoulder. I sighted along the barrel, taking careful aim at one of the blue coated Federals across the field. He saw me, and his eyes widened in mock fear. I shot, the kickback of the action slamming the butt of my 1853 British Enfield into my shoulder. He fell. But the Yankees were still gaining ground. We were woefully outnumbered.
Men fell around me, and I found myself in the front ranks. Then the boy who carried our company flag faltered and fell, the tattered cloth fluttering slightly in the breeze as the pole clattered to the ground beside him. I lunged forward, grabbing the worn wooden pole from the dirt. I raised my arm, the flag catching in the wind, and let loose a wild yell, which was echoed and repeated by the ragged line of men still standing beside me, swelling as they watched their colors fly, forcing them to fight with renewed vigor. The booming rapport of the cannon thundered over the field as the artillery commanders shouted their orders, their voices mingling with the orders of our own captain, and blue-coated men fell in a mass clump. But it was over. The captain signaled retreat, and the drum’s cadence changed from a marching rhythm to a withdrawal. Each man still standing wrapped his hands into the coat of the nearest wounded, dragging him back to the safety of the trees, where he immediately jumped up and readied himself for the next charge.
This time, we would add a bit more acting to the scenario. We marched forward again, the drums guiding our steps, as we closed with the Yanks. Orders flashed down the line, and we fired. Down went the guns, and men began the process of reloading their single- shot rifles. A good marksman could get off a shot every thirty seconds or so. We fired again, the rhythm slightly ragged this time.
And then the Yanks returned fire, perfectly in time with one another. The resulting roar could have come from one gun. The man next to me, Billy Allen, fell. His neighbor, George Hatfield, then broke ranks, kneeling down beside him. George was not checking on his friend’s well-being. Instead, he began to rifle through the ‘dead’ man’s pockets, removing anything of value and stuffing it in his own. And then he stole Billy’s brogans, tying the laces together and slinging them over his shoulder. They had planned the whole thing, but it was something that had really happened on the battlefields of the War. By 1863, all of our supplies were running short, and the Confederate dollar was practically worthless. There was little shame in robbing the dead when it meant that the living would be able to stay that way just a little bit longer. I had seen this played out so many times. Then, however, there was no act.
When the Union cannon began firing, it was time to act a bit more. The Yanks themselves were still advancing, firing at us as they went. A disturbance further down our line caught my attention. Robert Hatfield, twin brother to George, had broken rank as well. He, however, was not raiding the dead. He was running. Deserting. Without missing a beat, the First Sergeant turned, raised his rifle to his shoulder, and fired. Robert fell.
Deserters weren’t tolerated.
Another Union volley struck our line. Another of the boys let himself fall, but he was not going to stay there long. As the Federal line inched closer, he struggled to his feet, leaning heavily on his gun as he tried to limp away from the carnage on the field. The Confederates gave one final, ragged yell as they were surrounded and taken prisoner. The Yanks marched us off into the tree line, but not before Corporal Hastens gave his life for his freedom. He twisted away from the soldier who held him, and ran.
One of the Federals fired at him, and he fell, his hat flying off. He didn’t move again.
When we reached the trees, the joy I felt was nearly overwhelming. The men were proud of themselves for all they had done today, teaching others about their passion. They truly enjoyed what they did. Out on the field, the spectators were cheering wildly. Our captain and the commander of the Union troops solemnly shook hands, congratulating each other on a battle well-fought.
The drums began again, and each unit regrouped nearer the spectators, both sides in one long line as they continued to cheer for us. The battle was over.
Now to pull the audience into the act. The command to load our rifles echoed through the still air. I held my rifle upright between my feet, the muzzle in my left hand as my right reached into the cartridge box at my side. Pulling out one of the paper cartridges, I tore the paper with my teeth, pouring the powder down the muzzle. Ordinarily, that would have been followed by the minie ball, but, understandably, that step was skipped here. Next, I drew the ramrod out of its place below the barrel, compacting the powder with a few sharp taps before returning the rod to its place. Then I drew the hammer halfway back, placing a copper percussion cap on the nipple of the hammer. I brought the gun to my shoulder again, lowering it briefly while I took the proper stance. Then the rifle went back down as the command to affix bayonets rippled down the line. With a hiss of steel, the triangular knife slid out of its scabbard. The troops clicked them into place, and then raised their guns to point at the crowd before us. I took aim, picking my target, making sure it wasd above the heads of the crowd for safety reasons. At “Fire” every rifle on the field went off, toward the crowd, who gasped in collective surprise. And then we charged, a rebel yell echoing from every throat, including those of the Yanks.
Laughter, gasps of surprise, and loud cheers accompanied the drums this time.
Finally, it was over, and each unit marched back to its respective camp.
A bloodless battle.
Choreographed, like a complicated dance. Long before the first shots were fired, all participants knew what the outcome of the battle would be.
So different from the battles I had known.
My human memories are relatively clear. A vampire’s physical condition, at the time of the change, is a determining factor in the ease of memory recall. I was in perfect health, fully aware, when Maria found me that dark January night. And I wanted to remember. I wanted to recollect the men I had fought beside, my friends in the ranks. We lived together, fought together, ate together, and laughed together. We depended on each other, often for our very survival.
In so many ways, my men were my family; much like the men here considered themselves brothers.
Even still, my memories of battle are chaotic. A swirl of colors, the roar of the guns, the stench of burnt black powder, stinging my eyes and burning in my throat. The euphoria of a battle won, the crushing despair of a battle lost. And the pain of knowing, before each battle, that win or lose, some of my brothers would never return. That is what I remember.