As promised, I have posted an excerpt from my new novel, A Beautiful Glittering Lie. This segment takes place just after the main characters, Hiram Summers and Bud Samuels, go through the Battle of First Manassas (Bull Run) …
It was now two o’clock. All of a sudden, General Bee rode up on his steed, excitably waving his sword.
“What body of troops is this?” he hollered at them.
“Why General, don’t you know your own troops? We’re what remains of the Fourth Alabama!” Enoch Campbell exclaimed.
The general appeared calm but perturbed. “This is all of my brigade I can find,” he stated to the soldiers. “Will you follow me back to where the firin’ is goin’ on?”
“Aye, sir!” yelled Hiram, at first not recognizing his own voice.
“To the death!” added George Anderson.
Bee immediately set the men into action, leading them forward into the fray. On the other side of the ravine awaited a brigade of Virginians commanded by General Thomas Jackson, who sat stoically upon his steed.
General Bee brought him to the men’s attention, and said, “Let us go and support Jackson! See he stands like a stone wall! Rally behind the Virginians!”
As the regiment moved left, an artillery battery cut through their ranks. Bee and his army veered right, while the rest of the regiment moved forward into the woods.
Mayhem prevailed. The men were unable to distinguish friend from foe. Forced to fall back, they retired in a hurricane of bullets to await further orders. Hiram and Bud trailed behind, and as they retreated, Hiram overheard Bee address Jackson.
“General, they’re pushin’ us back!”
Jackson replied calmly, his blue eyes barely visible from beneath his forage cap, “Well, sir, we shall give them the bayonet.”
General Bee ordered his men to retreat to a nearby hill. The Rebels fell behind it, and fortified the hill. Suddenly, the field began to grow quiet, except for the frantic wails of injured soldiers. To the Alabamians relief, the Federals were retreating. With one hand, Hiram withdrew his pocket watch, and wiped sweat from his brow with the other. Clicking the timepiece open, he saw that it was nearly five o’clock. The battle had gone on for seven hours.
Bud glanced over at him, sweat trickling down his darkened face, leaving streaked rivulets, but said nothing.
The Yankees fled northeast toward Washington, and in their chaos, became more panic-stricken, until their escape became a rout. The 4th Alabama, however, could only observe from a distance, since their exhaustion captivated them.
“Has anyone seen my cousin?” asked William Rivers in a daze.
Bud wiped the sweat from his face with his shirt sleeve. “I saw him over yonder,” he said to the young man, his voice hoarse from breathing smoke. He stopped William by clasping onto his arm. “I don’t recommend you go over there,” he said quietly. “He’s in a bad way.”
William glared at him for a moment, contemplating his words, but then hurried off.
The men were requested to return to the field and gather the fallen. It wasn’t long before Hiram wished he had been assigned to a less gruesome task. All across the field, swarming flies swirled about strewn body parts, broken soldiers cried out in pain, and the wounded, both men and horses alike, writhed in agony as gathering buzzards slowly circled overhead. A white clapboard house that had been at the center of the commotion was now splattered with bullet holes, the wooden sideboards shattered from gunfire. Hiram passed his canteen from one thirsty casualty to the next until it was drained, and still they cried out for more. Finally, an ambulance arrived. Litter-bearers carried off the wounded. Colonel Jones was discovered where he had fallen, and was transported to a nearby hospital at Orange Court House.
Hiram came upon James Alexander. His cousin, William Rivers, was kneeling beside him, holding a white cloth to his cousin’s wounded stomach, which was quickly becoming soaked with bright red blood.
“Can you help me?” William pleaded, his voice quivering as he neared tears.
Unsure of what to do, Hiram could only stare in piteous distress. James reached up, took hold of his cousin’s arm, and smiled.
“It’s all right, Will,” he said. “I don’t feel a thing.” Suddenly, he gasped, spurting blood from his mouth. A final sigh escaped him. He grew silent, and his eyes glazed over.
William began to cry. Hiram could see he was struggling to contain himself, so he offered to help him up, but William refused. Finally, Bud came along, and insisted. Slowly, William rose to his feet, dropped the bloody rag, and allowed Bud to escort him away. Hiram remorsefully followed, glancing at James’ lifeless body over his shoulder while they stumbled off. It was too easy for him to picture his own son lying there, lifeless on the darkening earth. Biting his lower lip, he expelled the ghastly thought from his mind as sunset approached.
Noticing another young casualty, he drew closer, recognizing him to be George Anderson, the young diarist. All the horror of what had happened started sinking in. Unable to contain his emotions, sobs escaped him while he walked off to join his surviving comrades.
Later in the day, President Davis rode at a gallop past the regiment on his way to the front. At sundown, the men found their way back, and rested in their bivouac, reflecting on the day’s events. They felt miserable about their performance, because they had turned their backs to the Yankees and retreated. The camp died down, with only the sounds of chirping crickets in the distance.
“I never expected to see anything like that,” Bud quietly said.
“Neither did I,” agreed Hiram in solemn realization.
“But it was jist like the vision I dreamt,” elaborated Bud, “as if it was foretold.”
Hiram was still so shaken that finding appropriate words was difficult. “I saw that young feller, George, lyin’ there dead,” he finally muttered.
Bud only nodded. The campfire flickered across his face.
“It was right strange,” Hiram finally said, breaking the foreboding silence. “Last summer, I read about a meteor shower that happened over the Hudson River. They were sayin’ it was a sign of what was to come.” He glanced at his comrade, who lay motionless beside him. “I laughed it off at the time.”
Bud turned his head, and glared at him. Both agreed without saying as much. It had been their first introduction into Hell, their baptism of fire.