Pickett’s Charge — Chapter One : First 1,000 words

Posted on Friday, March 4th, 2011

Each book will be introduced with approximately 1,000 words from the first chapter. This will enable the reader to get acquainted with each story.

Chapter 1

“The time to attack!”

“Rise up, boys. Rise up!”

Jimmy Huxley looked at Henry Tinsbloom in alarm. “What’s going on?” asked the fifteen-year-old.

Henry did not answer, instead of words the soldier crawled to his knees.

“Rise up, boys, rise up,” commanded Sergeant Will Cato. He calmly walked along the line of Confederates and spoke quietly. “It is time to earn your pay. Ole Bobby Lee, he’s got some work for us to do.”

Jimmy Huxley scrambled to his feet and snatched at his accoutrements. “We going to fight now?” he asked.

Henry nodded solemnly.

Jimmy tossed the sling of his cartridge box over his shoulder and positioned the scuffed leather box on his right hip. He then wrapped a wide belt around his waist and fitted the fasteners together. The youth was surprised to see his hands shaking. This startled him and he looked about sheepishly, not wanting the fellows around him to know that he was nervous. But the soldiers ignored the boy as they went about the business of putting on their gear and getting ready for battle.

“Sergeant Cato,” called out Lieutenant Mitch Anderson, “I want you to form the platoon.”

“Yes, lieutenant,” replied the sergeant. He turned to the clump of soldiers and placidly announced. “Corporal, I want you the stand right here,” he pointed with a sunburned hand. “The rest of you, form up on the corporal. Let’s move it now. We don’t want the captain waiting on us do we?”

“Dress on me,” called out Corporal Bobby Anderson. The lieutenant’s younger brother raised his left hand and waved the cigar he was holding.

One of the older soldiers pushed Jimmy forward and gently shoved him into the front rank. “Well, Pup, you’re gonna’ get your wish. You’re gonna’ get to fight.”

“Well, it’s about time!” barked Jimmy, trying to sound fierce and determined. His knees were quivering; he did not want them to know that he was frightened.

Once the Confederates had formed into a line composed of two ranks the lieutenant said, “Alright boys, we will move forward and align ourselves with the company. Sergeant Cato, show the corporal where to go. Let’s do this quickly. Captain Norris doesn’t have time for us to dawdle.”

The line began to move to the right but Jimmy was slow to react. Someone pushed at the boy to get him started.

“Move along there, Pup,” said Sergeant Cato softly. Jimmy stumbled forward and then quickly caught up with the rest of the platoon. “That’s the style Pup, we’ll turn you into a soldier in no time.”

Jimmy found his position next to a short fellow and stood beside him. The soldier glanced at Jimmy and grinned. “We’re going to go at ‘em,” he announced.

“I know,” Jimmy growled. “That’s why I joined up. I want to fight the Yankees.”

“Yep, the Pup is rip-roaring to take on the whole Yank army!” teased the short fellow.  He patted Jimmy on the shoulder and smiled. “Well Pup, you are sure-as-rain gonna’ get your chance.”

“Company, attention!” ordered the captain. The veteran Confederates stiffened their postures and ceased talking. Once Captain Archibald Norris was certain everyone was paying attention he said, “Boys, we’ll form with the regiment in just a moment. Check your equipment. Make sure you have everything. I don’t know when we’ll be back here again, so don’t go and leave anything.”

Jimmy stood in line with the other soldiers, gripping his musket. The youth had not fired the Enfield but he knew how. He had fired his uncle’s Mexican War musket plenty of times. There was nothing to it—just drop the powder down the barrel and then push the bullet in afterwards. Jimmy glanced down at the weapon, feeling comfort in the knowledge that at least there was something that he knew.

Jimmy had learned little else about being a soldier. This was only his first week as a member of the company. It had been less than a week ago that he had been mucking out the horse stalls in his uncle’s livery stable in Hagerstown, Maryland. That day had been horribly hot and humid. The air within the livery stable simmered beneath its rusting tin roof. The establishment reeked from the fumes of countless piles of fermenting horse manure, and the flies floated about in choking clouds, descending to bite any exposed skin.

The boy endured the heat, the never-ending stench, and the constant attacks from the hungry flies. He had shoveled tons of manure out of the stalls, loaded the muck into a wagon and driven out to a nearby farmer’s field. Here he unloaded the manure and returned to his uncle’s stable. And it seemed that by the time he got back all of the horses had defiled every one of the stalls again. Jimmy would then begin raking the fresh droppings into piles. The boy had cursed in frustration. Was this how he was going to spend the rest of his days?  He could see little chance for change. After all, Jimmy had thought, there was no other choice. He had to help support his widowed mother.

Jimmy’s mother, Mary Huxley had been a widow for a long time. Her husband had joined the army in 1848 and gone off to fight in the Mexican War. Darrel Huxley had kissed his wife good-bye, shouldered his pack and marched away. Huxley had not even looked back, and thus never heard his wife whisper that she was carrying their first child. Jimmy’s father did not come back—his comrades buried his fever-ridden body in a shallow grave on a hillside in Mexico. And then Jimmy came into the world a few months later.

“You’ll be okay, Pup,” murmured Will Cato. The platoon sergeant patted Jimmy gently on the shoulder and spoke kindly, “I know you’re feeling a little bewildered about things, and you oughta’, but it’ll be all right. All you have to do is watch the men around you and do what they are doing. It ain’t hard to play follow-the-leader. Plus, if you get confused, I’ll be right here to straighten things out.”

Jimmy glanced back at Will Cato and grinned. The boy was several inches taller than the soft-spoken sergeant and at first had thought the man a phony. But Jimmy quickly learned that the twenty-two-year-old was as tough as a keg of nails. Everyone in the company respected Cato. The short-statured man used logic and wisdom with the thinkers, and brawn and strength with the loafers; and even Captain Norris went to him for advice on how to run the company. Jimmy had learned to listen when the sergeant spoke, and to remember everything he said.

“Hey Pup, this is not quite like shoveling horse dung, is it?” laughed the soldier standing behind Jimmy. “Are you still certain about wanting to be with us? Maybe now you want to go home to your mother?”

“No, I came to fight,” declared Jimmy as he looked back at George Washington Bass.

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