June 30, 1863
Lila Sutton looked up from her sewing and froze with her needle poised above the cheerful yellow material. A welcome breeze caught the wisps of damp hair around her face, and she sighed with relief. This was why she had moved out to the front porch--to catch a cool breath of air.
A strange noise caught her attention. It was a low, rumbling, almost menacing sound, very odd for the quiet and picturesque town of Gettysburg. Cocking her head, she stopped the creaking rocking chair to listen more carefully. No, she still couldn't place the sound.
Three young lads ran by on the dirt road in front of the house, chattering excitedly, raising dust clouds as they scuffed the road. Standing, the sewing forgotten in her hands, Lila called to one of the three.
"Harry! Harry Smith! Whatever is going on? Where are you boys off to?"
For just a moment the red-haired boy's footsteps slowed in automatic response to his schoolteacher's voice.
"The soldiers are here, Miss Sutton!" Harry ran backward as he yelled to her, his eyes wide with barely contained excitement.
"Which ones, Harry?" Lila's stomach did a flip-flop of panic. Was it the Confederates? Would they burn and pillage the town?
"Ours! The men in blue, Ma'am." That was all Harry could stand. His friends were getting away from him. With a tip of his cap, the boy turned and dashed after the other two as quickly as his chubby legs would carry him.
Lila dropped the sewing project and peered down the street. People were coming out of their houses, milling around in groups at the edge of the road.
"Mama, you might want to come and see this," she called through the open window.
As she moved to the edge of the porch, her skirt made gentle swishing sounds that were barely audible over the buzzing of a lazy bumblebee and the mounting swell of excited noises coming from down the road.
Wrapping one arm around the porch post for support, she mopped her perspiring forehead with the other. The hot day seemed to draw her usual vigor from her like it drew the moisture from the slowly browning lawn.
The screen door squeaked open and slammed shut again. Lila's mother stood beside her, smoothing her gray hair away from her flushed, round face with the back of her hands.
"What is it, dear? What is all the excitement about?" Beatrice Sutton leaned out over the porch railing, pushing her glasses up on her nose to get a better look.
"I think the army is here."
Beatrice gasped and clapped a hand to her mouth. "There will be trouble now!"
"What? Why do you say that, Mama? Do you think they will cause problems in town?"
The noise from the crowds grew louder, and the cloud of dust came closer. A wrinkled, sun-darkened hand closed over hers. She smiled at her darling little mother, whose serious face did not smile back. The afternoon sun caught the glass in her spectacles, making her eyes difficult to see in the reflected glare.
"Yes, much unhappiness and sorrow will come with the Boys in Blue. But there will be one special soldier--I had a dream about him--who will change your life...and mine."
This was quite unusual. Mama was never one to put stock in the unseen world of dreams and imagination. She was a good, God-fearing woman who believed in the power of hard work and prayer. But that was the extent of her involvement with the spiritual world...or so Lila had thought.
She didn't have time to question her mother further. Clanking metal, jingling bridles, and voices, raised to be heard over the sounds of hoof beats, got her attention.
The first soldiers to come down the road were the ones on horseback. Despite the wilting heat they wore dark blue jackets with shiny brass buttons, lighter blue trousers with yellow stripes down the legs, gauntlet style leather gloves, and wide-brimmed slouch hats with jaunty white plumes. The fine sleek horses and row after row of splendid cavalrymen filled Lila with a feeling of pride for the grand Union army.
But something about the tall soldier on a copper-colored roan made her look at him more closely as he approached. Maybe it was the big grin on his face or his beautiful horse...or maybe it was the way he was staring at her with those dark eyes that drew her attention. He was quite handsome with his short blond beard and wonderful smile.
The group grew steadily closer until they were directly in front of the Sutton's small home. The soldier on the roan continued to look in her direction. Then, still smiling broadly, he winked and touched a hand to his hat brim, nodding to her and Mama.
The blood rushed to her face, making her even hotter than she already was. She was powerless to stop the corners of her mouth from lifting.
The soldier gave her a casual little salute as he passed, the smile never leaving his face. She couldn't help but stare at him until he was no longer distinguishable from the others. Drawing a deep breath, she glanced at her mother. Mama was shaking her head slowly.
"He is the one, Lila."
"What do you mean?"
"That blond-haired soldier is the one who appeared in my dream. He is the one who will change our lives."
"Mama, that is silly." She waved a hand in the direction of the road where row after row of soldiers on foot now passed. "There must be thousands of soldiers here. How can that one make any difference?"
Her mother just gave her an enigmatic, annoying smile and a quick hug. "He is the one. You will see. We will have to be strong in the days to come, my dearest."
Horrific noise concussed the hot summer air in relentless waves of cannon fire that seemed as though it would never stop. Smoke choked the soldiers and horses alike. The rattle of rifle shots tore at nerves and bodies in a battle that would become epic in proportions.
Perspiration drenched Jack Montgomery's shirt under the blue wool uniform. His horse, Jolly Roger, danced and turned in perfect response to the pressure of his master's knees. This was not his first battle, but Jack's stomach still churned with nausea as he pulled the trigger on his carbine, firing directly into the stomach of his enemy.
Blood gushed from the wound. The Reb dropped his musket and grabbed his gut with both hands. He glared at Jack with pure anguish and blame. Dear God! Don't look at their faces!
Wheeling the horse away, he drew his saber and slashed at the enemy. Jolly flattened his ears and let out a shriek. The Yankee dug his heels into the gelding's side and galloped at high speed across the rocky ground.
His eyes burned from the smoke blanketing the field. The artillery pounded, shaking the ground. Thousands upon thousands of soldiers struggled and fought for possession of the land. Jack looked around him for anyone from the Seventeenth Pennsylvania, but screaming, bleeding strangers wearing blue and gray surrounded him. He couldn't find his men! Somehow, he had gotten separated from them when the Rebels attacked at Cashtown Road.
Within minutes he was forced to put his mount into a weaving pattern as the minie balls zinged by his ears. Bullets plucked at his uniform, and he ducked low over the horse's neck. The level of noise nearly deafened him! Even Chancellorville had not been this loud!
Only a short time ago they had marched grandly through the northern states. The citizens of Maryland and Pennsylvania hailed them with patriotic music and cheers. It was surreal to find out that Lee's entire army, by some odd quirk of fate, had made its way to the same piece of ground.
A shell screamed overhead and landed a few yards in front of them. Dirt spewed up in a cloud, and the soldiers who had been there a split second ago were gone. With a shriek, the horse veered away, but soil, blood, and human flesh rained down on Jack's hatless head. With a cry of revulsion, he shook his head fiercely to dislodge the debris from his hair. Blood splattered his face and shoulders.
Bone-deep weariness made each movement an effort. Hunger gnawed at his stomach. The fighting had been raging for miles around. In two days he had not slept or eaten. The carnage was indescribable. Everywhere dead and wounded men and horses lay in the hot sun. Where were the litter bearers? It was a foolish thought. There were just too many broken and battered bodies!
Tears streamed down his filthy face. He could not have told anyone if they were tears of sorrow or from the smoke, if someone had asked. The pounding of his heart and the urgency of the battle were all that he knew.
A group of Rebels poured out from behind a stone barn, screaming as they fired. Pulling up his carbine, he hit first one, then another enemy soldier as they tried to shoot him off his mount. Up high like this, he was a sitting target, but Jack had only one thing in mind...to find his men.
Across the field the roan carried him, dodging obstacles, shying at explosions that rained down around them, and performing as well as any trained cavalry horse should.
Through the smoke, he saw the beautiful stars and stripes of his flag up on a ridge near the Seminary. He pointed Jolly in that direction. Thank God! Union soldiers! Perhaps his unit was there.
Suddenly his horse reared as a shell exploded directly in front of him! Then the world fell noticeably silent. Oddly, his legs didn't seem to work very well. Losing his grip around Jolly's girth, he gasped when a sharp pain punched his shoulder. The last sensation he had in this strangely quiet world was the helpless feeling of falling backward.
"Lieutenant Brackenbury!" David spied the spare frame of Jack Montgomery's second-in-command as he sat surrounded by the other members of Jack's unit. The man stood. Even by the faint light from the cook fire, David saw that he had been affected by the battle as much as the rest of them. His normally impeccable appearance was disheveled and mussed. Black powder smudged his forehead and cheeks, and one sleeve was nearly torn off his uniform jacket.
"Yes, sir? What can I do for you, Captain Reynolds?" Brackenbury stood stiffly at attention and saluted.
"Have you seen Captain Montgomery?"
The Englishman's mouth turned down in an unhappy frown. "No, sir. I was hoping you had seen him. The good man was with us earlier today, but I have not seen him since we were forced to withdraw."
"That was the last time I saw the Captain, too," another soldier spoke up. David also recognized Private Banks as one of Jack's men. "He was holding off a group of enemy so we could make our escape like he ordered us to."
"Bloody hell! I never should have left him, sir!" Brackenbury pulled off his spectacles and made a show of cleaning them on his sleeve with his head bowed low.
David reached out a hand and patted the smaller man on his thin shoulder. "No, Lieutenant, you did as you were ordered. Now you are in charge here. I am sure Captain Montgomery is very proud of the way you and the others have handled yourselves today."
The three men stood looking out over the darkened battlefield where the flickering of torches could be seen. Faint moans and cries reached their ears from the wounded and dying that still lay out there waiting for help to come. Scattered shots rang out now and again, reminding them that the battle was far from over.
"Come on, Brackenbury, you need to come with me. You are filling in for Captain Montgomery until he returns. Colonel Kellogg wants all commanding officers to report to him right now. Kellogg and General Buford are planning tomorrow's strategy. Don't worry. I'll find Jack if it is the last thing I do."
David stared into the dancing flames of the campfire. He knew that he should try to sleep. Tomorrow the fighting could begin anew, and he needed the rest. But that meant trying to sleep with Jack's whereabouts unknown--something that was unacceptable. Hell, they had enlisted together.
On that brilliant autumn day after graduation, David stood with his best friend of four years outside the simple wooden building at Camp Simmons and looked at the line of young men that snaked outside the door and down the brick steps. He was fairly jumpy with excitement that coursed through his veins. With his usual sense of admiration, he looked at the tall, blond man beside him. Nothing much rattled Jack. His normal smile was in place, and his brown eyes sparkled with good humor. David sighed. He wished he could be that easy about...anything.
Since the day Jack Montgomery had walked into the college boarding house with a huge grin on his face and a homemade apple pie made by his mother, David had known they would be friends for a long, long time to come.
But perhaps that was the very thing that drew them together like salt and pepper. It was just his nature to be serious and solemn. During their college days, he had made a real effort to be light-hearted and carefree, but soon realized he could not be untrue to himself anymore than a mule could become a horse.
Finally, the day to muster into the Federal Army had come. The horses were trained and ready, and Jack was with him. As long as they were together, this war between the states could turn out to be the best thing a couple of young men would ever do.
The line had started to move forward again as a new group of men came out bearing armloads of uniforms, canteens, haversacks, and...weapons of war.
Behind them the clip-clop of horses' hooves on the packed dirt road had everyone turning around. A group of five blue-coated soldiers was making its way leisurely past the new enlistments. The brass buttons against the rich blue uniforms winked in the late autumn sun. Bright red sashes around their waists provided a pleasant distraction for the eyes. Wide-brimmed hats with jaunty white plumes completed their splendid attire.
Everyone had stared with open admiration.
"You were right, Dave," he remembered Jack whispering in his ear. "Joining the cavalry may just be a grand adventure at that."
Now it was months later, and David worried and waited for word of his best friend. Shots cracked now and then. The battlefield was still dangerous. Rising from his seat near the campfire, he checked his ammunition supply as he walked. He would find Jack.
Jack woke slowly with a pounding headache and a fierce thirst. Something hard was digging into his back, and his entire left side was on fire. He opened his eyes. Dear God, I must be blind as well as deaf! All was silent darkness around him. Was the battle over? Where were his horse and his men? Had David survived the battle?
So many questions crowded into his aching head. Raising his right hand to his face, he squinted at it. Okay, he wasn't blind. He saw his hand faintly in the black night. Something soft and wet touched his cheek. Turning his head, he smelled the animal before his eyes adjusted enough to see him. It was Jolly!
The horse's nostrils moved over his face and hair, the velvety muzzle tickling him. Knowing the animal wouldn't leave, Jack took the time to evaluate his situation. What body parts were injured? Right now his back hurt the most. Rolling onto his right side remedied that. A rock had been sticking into his backbone. His left shoulder and arm burned, so that part must be damaged. His legs didn't hurt, so he flexed each one. No problems. With his right hand he reached up to touch his shoulder. His hand touched wetness. Not good. He moved his left hand. A pain shot up into his shoulder. Don't do that again!
It took some time and a lot of effort, but he finally got to his feet, leaning on Jolly. The gelding stood still as if he knew that his master needed help. The horse's big brown eyes and the pirate-like white patch over one eye gleamed in the darkness.
"Is anyone else out here?" he whispered--or thought he did. He didn't hear his own voice. Holding onto the saddle, he froze. He strained to hear something...shooting, talking, anything... But it was deadly silent. Groping for his gun, he pulled it out of the saddle holster. Then he found his saber and drew it partially out of the scabbard. He tapped the end of the carbine on the saber...metal to metal...with his ear down close to pick up any sound. There was none. He tapped harder. Nothing. He groaned, feeling the rumbling in his throat, but not hearing the noise. He was deaf!
Everyone was in a panic...and with good reason, Lila thought. She had seen the Federal forces come through town only to get word now that the Confederate army had stormed in and occupied most of the town.
These past few days had been a living nightmare for her family and all of the citizens of Gettysburg. The Sutton house was located on Taneytown Road, one of the ten roads converging in the town square. Lila looked out of the window at the chaos outside. In the hazy distance she saw the huge cemetery gatehouse with the figures of men running in all directions.
Smoke, wagons, battle gear, and soldiers, mostly in blue but some dressed in gray, were everywhere. Civilians were nowhere to be seen. Most of the men from town had left several days ago, taking the livestock with them. They were all afraid that the invading Confederate army would impress the Pennsylvania men into its depleted ranks.
It made little difference to the Sutton women; they had no man anyway. Papa had passed away a year ago, and Lila's big brother, Porter, had been killed in the battle of Bull Run a long time ago. She was convinced that Porter's death had led to Papa's illness and eventual demise. How she missed them both.
"Get away from the window, girl!"
Another loud boom rattled the windows. Lila turned with a barely suppressed shiver of fear. She clenched her teeth. The filthy Rebel crouching under the other sitting room window waved his pistol at her. She moved away.
The soldier had a long, scraggly, dark beard, and his hair hung out in greasy strings under a tattered slouch hat. He scowled at Lila, revealing broken and blackened teeth.
"Where's yo' Mama wi' that food ah needs?"
Beatrice Sutton came in then, carrying a tray of fried chicken and biscuits. She placed it on the floor in front of the soldier where he crouched out of sight. Lila watched him grab up the chicken and begin stuffing it in his mouth as fast as he could, eating as if he were starving...which he probably was. All of the Confederate soldiers she had seen so far had the same gaunt, ragged look about them this one had.
"Look what I got, Luke!" Through the door from Lila's bedroom came another soldier, just as unkempt as the first one. In his hand was a coffee tin, which he upended, spilling some of its contents onto his palm.
"You can't have that! That is all the money I have saved for two years!" She lurched toward him.
Mama grabbed her arm and pulled her back. "Shhh, honey," she said.
"Yeah, honey," the soldier sneered, "y'all cain't have dis now. It's mine!" He started shoving the gold coins into his pockets.
Luke got up and grabbed at the tin, a chicken leg hanging from his mouth. "Gimme some of that!"
"Sure, give me some o' that food," the soldier with her money said.
Tears pricked Lila's eyes. For two years she had saved her earnings from her job as schoolteacher. She had been saving the money to buy a spinet piano of her own and figured in another two years she would have enough. Since Papa died, she had been forced to spend more of her earnings to keep body and soul together. Mama earned money with her sewing, and between them both they had been doing just fine. Now her money was going to be stolen from her!
The two soldiers greedily counted the coins as they simultaneously shoved food in their mouths. She had to do something. Mama stood and watched them, frowning at their antics. The soldiers had all turned their attention away from Lila. Pushing a few escaped strands of dark hair out of her face, her gaze fell on Luke's pistol. He had laid it on the floor next to the tray of food and forgotten it! Slowly she inched over to the weapon and stood over it, allowing her full skirt to cover it. With her feet, she slid the gun across the wood floor. All the noise from the battle raging outside, and the excited voices of the soldiers hid the sound of metal scraping.
Once she maneuvered the pistol in front of the chair, she sat spreading her skirts carefully. Then she brushed unseen lint from her skirt and continued to brush it off lower and lower, keeping her eyes on the Rebs. Sliding a hand under her skirt, she came up with the gun.
"Hold it right there!" Lila screamed. "Drop the money, or I'll shoot you, I swear I will!"
"Lila!" Mama gasped in surprise.
"Y'all don't want to do this, Lila. Yo' is just a little bit of a woman. Bet yo' cain't shoot that there gun no way," Luke jeered at her.
Gritting her teeth and closing her eyes, Lila aimed the gun for the ceiling and pulled the trigger. The pistol bucked in her hand, and she staggered back, almost falling. Thank goodness it was already loaded!
The next thing she knew, the sound of coins raining down on the hard floor had her opening her eyes in time to see the Rebs running out of the front door, a trail of gold behind them.
Mama ran over and grabbed her in a big hug. "My brave daughter! I cannot believe you did that!"
"Neither can I, M-mama!" Then she gave into the need to cry and sank down into the chair, tears streaming down her cheeks as she watched her mother scooping up the coins.
A boom rattled the windows, and both women shrieked with surprise and terror.
"C-come on, Mama," Lila stood and took her mother's arm. "We need to go down to the cellar."
The whine and crack of a stray bullet penetrating the front wall made them both scream again. The bullet embedded itself in the opposite wall as they both scrambled for safety.
It was barely dawn, and already the stifling heat was building. The smell of blood and dead men and animals filled his nostrils. Jolly was uncharacteristically skittish as the animal nervously picked his way over the torn and pitted ground. Sweat soaked through Jack's shirt and wet his uniform. His thirst was tremendous, so he was forced to release the blood soaked bandana he held against his injured shoulder to get his canteen and take a deep drink.
Jolly Roger continued to walk around the bodies, knapsacks, and parts of bodies. Men reached out, obviously begging for help, but Jack had none to give. It was all he could do to hold onto consciousness and stay in the saddle.
"They'll come for you, boys," he called out to them as loud as he could. "Which way is the Seventeenth?"
No one answered him...or perhaps, he just couldn't hear the answers. Even those soldiers who were able to walk didn't pay any attention to him. Shells continued to fall around him, and the battle still raged. Jack heard it and his voice just a bit now. He knew the fighting was probably closer and louder than it sounded.
Several times he thought that he might have passed out because suddenly he found himself in a different place than he last remembered. Finally the Federal uniforms began to be more prevalent than the Confederate, and there were more living soldiers around him. They were still calling out to him, and he still had trouble deciphering what they were saying.
"Captain Montgomery!" A familiar voice was calling him. The voice was soft, but unmistakable. Lifting his head, Jack saw the worried features of Lieutenant Neville Brackenbury.
"Hello, Neville. I seem to be in a bit of trouble. Could you point the way to the hospital tent, please?"
Instead of answering him, Neville grabbed the reins from his commanding officer's hand and began leading the animal, calling out as he went, "Banks, go find Captain Reynolds. Tell him that Captain Montgomery is back!"
Each rolling step of the horse jolted pain through Jack's entire body, especially his arm and shoulder, making him wish he would pass out again. It was so damned hot!
The next thing he knew, he was being carried. Dear God! Someone had his hands under his injured left shoulder, and the pain was incredible. He moaned, unable to stop himself.
"Sorry, Jack." Dave's voice. Hearing his best friend's voice helped make the pain almost inconsequential.
"Hold on, friend, we are almost there."
"Dave! You're alive!"
"Yes, Jack." David's voice came from the vicinity of his head. It was Dave's hands under his arms carrying him. Private Banks carried his feet. Within minutes they were putting him down gently on a blanket.
"He's bleeding pretty badly," David said.
"Hold this cloth on the wound," a female voice answered, and a man's heavy hand came down on Jack's shoulder. He moaned again.
"Where are your surgeons?" The feminine voice wanted to know. He tried hard to hear the answer, but his hearing had not fully returned.
Looking up, he saw David, squatting beside him, still holding the cloth to the wound and looking very worried. With effort, Jack smiled at his friend to try to ease his mind. "I am so glad to see you. I was afraid the Rebs got you."
David's mouth twitched, but no humor reached his green eyes. "It looks as though the Rebs got you instead. I have to leave you here, Jack. I'm sorry. The battle is bad, very bad. I must go back."
Struggling and panting, Jack tried hard to sit up, but David held him down. "Let me come...my men need..."
"Oh, no. Your Lieutenant Brackenbury has things well in hand." David stood and turned to a woman standing behind him. "Please look after my friend, Miss." He bent and took Jack's hand, squeezing it tightly before releasing it. "I will return when I can. Take good care."