Across the Valley to Darkness

The Excerpt

The battle ebbed by mid-morning as the Union Army pulled back and prepared to retreat.  Duane busied himself throughout the morning in the efforts to save the wounded.  He found it hard to believe that some he found were still alive.  Ripping fabric from whatever was at hand, the boy worked quickly to stem the flow of bleeding and to keep the battlefield wounded alive for the surgeon’s table.  Working his way across the battlefield, he found his way to the edge of the tree line opening onto Hazel Grove.  By noon he found his way back to his own company in his own brigade.

The guns were quiet on Hazel Grove.  General Lee and his staff had gone ahead to the Chancellor House where the Union command had been.  Many of the batteries of artillery from early morning had been moved farther to the front.  The field was scattered with fragments of the brigade, still recovering or regrouping from the morning’s fighting.  Wounded were being attended and the dead were being gathered for burial.  Company K was gathered with others of the regiment.  Duane was overjoyed to find his companions.  He approached at a very tired walk and noticed the men of the company had dropped in disorderly exhaustion wherever they had been when the fighting had stopped.

“Where’s the captain, Sergeant?” the boy asked the first person he found.

“Where’s yer horse?” Sergeant Matthewson asked upon recognizing the courier on foot.

“Shot out from under me,” Duane explained.

“The captain’s hurt bad, Dee.  They took him off early this mornin,” the sergeant answered.  “Lieutenant Jenkins is in charge ‘n he’s talkin ta Willis an’ Sergeant Raymond on supplies.”

The man pointed to the trio in conversation near a supply wagon about twenty yards off.

Approaching the conference, Duane waited respectfully to be noticed.

“Our wanderin’ boy has returned,” the sergeant acknowledged.

“Dee,” the lieutenant asked, “could ya see ta Tod?  He ain’t lookin’ much good an ain’t sayin’ much neither.”

“Yes, Sir,” the boy replied.  “How’s Captain Rogers an’ when d’ I git duty?”

“Dunno ’bout the captain.  Lots a officers is hurt an’ the general’s doin’ fer General Heth an’ the colonel’s doin’ fer the general.  We stay put till orders is passed.”

“Yes, Sir.  I’ll look ta Tod, now.”

“Thanks, Dee.  He’s layin’ yonder where’s Kim an’ Foley kin keep watch on him.”

Duane found his friend very pale and only half conscious.

“What happened?” the younger boy asked.

“Don’t rightly know,” Foley answered from where he knelt beside his nephew.  “He was near the end a the company by the captain when a enemy shell exploded in the air.  Near ’bout a dozen went down from our company an’ the next.  Four was killed outright ‘n Captain Rogers tore up bad.  But Tod got up ‘n looked okay.”

“Thet you, Dee?” a feeble voice asked.  “Ya look real bad hurt.”

Duane dropped by the older boy’s feet.  “Yea, Tod, it’s me.  But I ain’t hurt.  What’s wrong?”

“Ain’t knowin’ fer sher.”  He winced from sharp pain.  “Is ma legs both there?  I cain’t feel two, but cain’t say as what’s missin’.”  He paused, tired from the effort to talk.  “God, it hurts!” he whispered.

“Kim,” Duane instructed the youth beside whom the drum lay, “I need  Tod’s drumsticks and strap.”

“What fer?”

“Jest hurry.”  There was a panic in the voice that ended any question.

Duane slipped the strap under both legs and lay the sticks between.

“Hold his shoulders,” the boy instructed as he grabbed a boot by its heel and toe.  His eye caught sight of a flaw — a hole through the upper leather.  Releasing his grip, he tied the strap around the leg, just above the boot top, and slipped a drumstick into the knot.

“What fer ya doin thet?” Kim asked.

“Jest hold him an ya’ll see.”

Once more he gripped the boot and eased it off.

“Oh, God!” Kim gasped.  The boot spilled forth a puddle of blood as it revealed sock and pant leg saturated and dripping with blood.

Quickly Duane tightened his tourniquet.

“What happened?” Foley asked.

Duane held the boot so they could see the hole.  “Seems a fragment a thet shell shot through ‘n inta his leg.  Lucky he ain’t bled ta death.  But still we could be too late.  Kin ya find some bandages?  Ya best fix ta git him ta the hospital, too.”

As Kim went to see his brother for bandages and transportation, the boy sent Foley for a bottle or keg of whiskey.  Corporal Robert DiPhilippo and Private Matthew Guthries, who were nearby, came to offer their help.  Others became aware of what was happening and turned to watch.  Sergeant Raymond joined them as soon as he learned from Kim that Tod’s condition was discovered.

Duane found a knife and carefully cut open the bloody trouser leg, then peeled off the saturated sock.

“What fer ya’d do thet?” Tod asked faintly.

“Yer shot through the leg,” his friend answered.  “We gotta git ya fixed up.”

Satisfied his friend knew what he was doing, the wounded boy relaxed and drifted into unconsciousness.  Robert and Matthew helped expose the wound and offered their canteens to wash away the blood.  Duane examined the wound along with the sergeant.

“Don’t look broke,” the man announced.  “But thet piece a shell’s still in there.  Ain’t no second hole.”

Duane agreed.  Foley returned with a half bottle of whiskey which the boy took and opened.  Kim returned with some bandages while half the whiskey was being poured over the wound.  The wound was wrapped and the fabric soaked with the rest of the brew.

“Keeps it from festerin bad,” the boy explained in answer to the quizzical looks from those around.

A wagon arrived and Tod was sent on to the hospital.

“Ya best go with him, Foley,” the sergeant instructed.  “Be sure ta bring back thet drumstick an’ strap.  The new drummer boy’ll need em.”

“Who’s thet?” Duane asked.

“You, of course,” Sergeant Raymond replied.  “Ya’ve done afer.  Ya kin do it now.  We need you, Boy,” he cocked his head and cracked a smile.  “Yer too valuable ta be off doin courier.”