Wright grinned and said, “Take care and watch your ass in the future or you might wake up one day shorter than you were the day before!”
“I will and you get rid of that farm and move to town like you plan to do.”
“I plan to do so.”
Turning to Too-Tall, he said, “Let the doctor know I went back to my unit.”
The thin man shrugged his shoulders, gave a crooked grin, and then said, “Do as you wish, it don’t bother me none. But, if I was you, I’d watch your language. God hears all.”
At first, he was tempted to say something, but he didn’t. He liked Too-Tall, but disliked his continuous reference to God. Oh, God’s in my life, but I can carry on a conversation without bringing up his name every two minutes, he thought as he picked up his blanket, turned and walked toward the last known position of his outfit. He never saw Too-Tall and Moses Wright waving goodbye to him.
Rain was falling very hard as he neared the second Iowa Calvary and he shivered despite his attempts not to do so. Mud was starting to stick to his boots and it made walking much slower. As he neared the last known bivouac of his unit, lightning flashed brightly overhead and thunder gave sharp cracks that filled the morning air. I feel like a drowning dog, he thought as he caught movement out of his right eye.
“Halt! Advance and be recognized!” A clear military order was heard from beside the road.
Ed thought he recognized the deep bass voice, “That you, Skeeter?”
“Ed! We’d heard you was killed the other day.”
Ed laughed and replied, “Well, as you can see, I wasn’t. Took a grazing across my head, but I’ll live.” He liked the short fat man.
Lowering his ready rifle, Skeeter said sadly, “We lost a lot of men the other day Ed. Many more than we could afford to lose and we didn’t gain an inch.”
“We wasn’t attacking, we was defending our camp is all. How many men did we lose, or do you know?”
“Ain’t sure, because a few still stumble in like you every now and again. I’d say a good fourth of the men are dead or injured.”
“Damn! That many? How are old Moss and Jeff?”
Skeeter walked to his friend’s side and said, “Moss made it, but Jeff was killed. I saw his body with my own eyes and trust me no one could survive the injuries he had. He took a ball in the head and four or five in the chest.”
Ed felt his chest tighten, he’d grown up with Jeff and they’d joined the army together, hoping to get in on the action before it all ended and that was two long years ago. How can I ever face his pa and ma?
Clearing his throat, he said, “I am sorry Jeff died. He was a good man and my friend, but people die in war Skeeter.”
Skeeter, a short fat man with bad teeth, was known as a clown, except this day he didn’t feel funny. He lowered his baldhead and slowly said, “I’ve noticed. I just hope some of us survive this war.”
“You’d better get back to your post before Captain Slaughter catches you talking instead of guarding,” Ed said, as he placed his right hand on his friends shoulder.
As Skeeter moved in among the trees for some protection from the rain, Ed walked toward the camp. He knew he had to report to Captain Slaughter or the man would send a letter to his folks saying he’d been killed. I wonder if he’ has sent it already? Not likely, because he’ll be too busy getting replacements and supplies following a battle like we had. A letter like that would kill ma.
Men waved while a few called out as he walked toward the captain’s tent. Nearing, he called out, “Captain Slaughter, are you in your tent, sir?”
“Yes, is that you, Sergeant Anderson? If so, come in out of the rain.”
The tent was sparsely furnished, with only a folding bed and portable desk for furniture. Other than that, there was little except uniforms and weapons of war under the canvas shelter. The captain was sitting at his desk, pen in hand, writing. He glanced up when Ed entered and said, “Good to have you back. I surely have the need for a good sergeant. Wilcox was killed the same day you were wounded and Thomas the next day. It’s been rough.”
Ed gave a sharp salute, which Slaughter waved away, and reported, “Sergeant Anderson reporting for duty sir.” They quickly shook hands.
Slaughter met his eyes and replied, “You’ll do nothing but light duty with a head wound. Head injuries can be tricky Ed and I’ve seen men fine one minute and dead as hell the next. You’ve seen it too, I’d imagine.”
“Yes, sir, I’ve seen it, but I can’t sit on my backside while others do my job.”
The captain laughed and said, “I can keep you busy, only no riding with the unit or fighting, I draw the line there. I’ll tell you what, you can carry dispatches for us and deliver them for the colonel. That will keep you busy and surely not bore you. Except, go easy Ed and watch your injury.”
“I can do that for you. I guess it’d keep me busy and I can see where the other units are located.”
Slaughter stood, gave Ed a handshake and said, “Now, you go to the supply sergeant and get the gear you need. If he gives you any trouble, tell him I ordered you to be supplied. He’s been raising Holy hell the last few days, claiming our supplies are running out.”
“Will do sir.” Ed replied as he saluted, turned and left the tent. The rain was still falling hard. He saw a bright flash of lightning, followed by a deep rumble of thunder off in the distance.
An hour after leaving the supply sergeant’s tent, he was seated on a blanket inside a small pup tent with Moss. While not much room was to be had, at least it was dry and on a night like this, he was pleased to be sheltered.
“Your head still hurt some?” Moss asked.
“Yep, it hurts like hell, only there ain’t much I can do about it.”
Reaching into his pack, Moss pulled out a quart of whiskey and handed the bottle to him. As Ed took the bottle, he said, “John Barley Corn will fix what hurts you. Go as easy as you can, I’ve only one more bottle left.”
Part1? Part 2 ?Part 3