AUTHOR'S NOTE This is inspired partially by the movie Gettysburg and partially by my own visits to Gettysburg itself. It focuses on the end of the Battle of Little Round Top on July 2, 1863.
"Tommy! Tom! Wake up, Tom!"
I was awoken by someone calling my name and briskly shaking me by the shoulders. My whole body hurt. "Ow!" I muttered sharply.
"Thank the Lord in Heaven!"
Opening my eyes, I saw Wade Johnson, my lifelong friend. He looked at me, obviously relieved to see me alive. "Ugh," I said, rubbing my forehead with my left hand. "What happened? The Rebs retreated?"
"Uh-uh." Wade helped me to my feet. "They're movin' around the hill. We wouldn't let 'em get up this way."
"Damn smart of us," I commented, grinning.
I was about to ask how our outfit had faired when I noticed that the side of my head stung badly. My hand came away from the pain bloody. "What the hell?" I asked.
"Surgeon said a bullet grazed you," Wade told me. "Said not to worry about it."
I nodded. 'Must have been what knocked me out,' I thought. Occasional bullets clipped the leaves behind our line, just below the summit of the little rocky hill. Wade and I ducked behind rocks to avoid the snipers from the rocky valley, called by locals Devil's Den.
"Soldiers!" A Lieutenant Colonel stopped us.
"Yes sir!" we responded automatically, snapping to salute.
"Who are you?"
"Thomas Raymond," I answered automatically. "Corporal, 44th New York, Colonel Rice."
"Wade Johnson. Corporal, 44th New York, Colonel Rice."
He looked at us for a minute. Turning to me, "Your head is bleeding, Corporal."
"Yes sir, surgeon said not to worry."
He nodded. "Very good. Colonel Rice has moved to that point over there." He pointed through the smoky air toward where we could barely see our regiment.
"Yessir!" Wade replied.
"Join your unit, men."
"Yessir! Thank you sir!" We snapped back to a salute. He saluted back and gave us signal to leave.
Bullets continued to clip leaves over our heads and ricocheted off the boulders around us. By the time we reached the rocky point where the 44th New York was newly positioned, all the men who were left were silent. I looked at Wade, who just shrugged. Leaving his side, I found Colonel Rice.
"Reporting for duty, sir."
He turned to me. "Thomas!" He put a fatherly hand on my shoulder. "Good to see you."
"Thank you sir." Something about his demeanor was off. Something hadn't gone right. I ventured the question, "How fares the battle, sir?"
He didn't look at me. "Reports say that we've lost the Peach Orchard and the Wheatfield. Looks like we've lost Devil's Den, too."
"Yes sir. But we've held the rocky hill!"
Now, Colonel Rice looked at me. "You believe that." I nodded. "Those men behind you, they believe that, too." I nodded again. Colonel Rice's eyes turned very sad. "Come up here, Thomas."
I joined him on the farthest protected point of rock. He pointed down and around the slope of the hill. "That's how well we've held this hill."
My breath caught. The regiment closer to us was weary from the Rebs' assault. Some lay dead, others lay dying, and still others just looked on. "The 83rd?" I asked the Colonel.
He nodded. "We had the easy part of this battle. For them, the Rebs can come up the hill easily. The 83rd didn't have the terrain advantage that we had."
"It's still uphill," I pointed out. "The Rebs still have to fight that."
Another firefight interrupted whatever Rice was going to say. Instead, he just said, "They're coming again."
A line of men was climbing the hill, past the exhausted 83rd. The returned fire lacked confidence. It was desperate.
"Who is at the end?" I asked. "Past the 83rd?"
"The 20th Maine. Their couriers have already been up here, looking for ammunition."
Uh-oh. "Ammunition?" I asked shakily.
Another grave nod. "That fire is all they have left. This is the last time they can hold them."
The stray bullets around me seemed to fade away. "What happens if they come again?" I asked, not wanting to hear the answer.
"When they fall, we fall with them."
He sounded so hopeless, so certain that the Maine boys would fall. That we would fall with them.
The hope I felt as the Gray boys fell back again was dragged down as I saw them regroup again for another attack. That attack would break the line and destroy the Union army. Everything we'd fought for in the past two years would shrivel and die.
They would attack again. I saw them start up the hill and waited.