The War That Divided Brother Against Brother
This war divides brother against brother. That is the sentence they repeated over and over during the war. I read it in newspapers and saw people say it as they sadly shook their heads. It's true as well. I know for sure. The war divided me and my brother. Not literally. I was an only child. I have no brothers.
I came from a poor Union family. The war started when I was thirteen, a month later, when I turned fourteen, I enlisted. I'm twenty-two now, but I can still remember every second of the time I spent in the service. Looking back, I don't think I'll ever be able to forget. Never. Not until the day that I die.
Stepping up to the enlisting officer, I had been a gibbering wreck. I have never lied before, and the enlisting officer was a big, stern, gruff-looking man. The type you'd not want to cross, or, even more preferable, never meet.
He looked at me, skeptically, and then in a voice that made me feel as if I should flinch, he went "Name."
I tried to answer briskly but my voice faltered.
"Jem- Jeminiah Williams. Jeminiah Williams."
The officers looked annoyed at my anxiety.
"Watch it, boy, did I ask you to say it twice?"
I lowered my eyes. "No sir."
"Look at me when I talk to you, boy."
I flinched, but looked into his eyes. He seemed to relax, but his eyes held the stony disapproving look.
"How old are you, Williams?"
I had wanted to say older, but I was small, even for my fourteen years, and it wouldn't have been smart to go higher.
He looked at me, and then sighed, and for a second I thought I saw a look of sadness pass his face, but I might've imagined it. I blinked and it was gone.
"Are you in good health, Jeminiah?"
He stamped the form, and then handed it back to me.
"Good luck, son."
A week later, I entered the army. I drilled for two months. I didn't meet a Confederate troop until six months after. I was excited, yet nervous for battle. Nervous to meet any Confederate. Little did I know that meeting the Confederates would change my life.
"How you feeling, Jemy, boy? We're gonna meet us some Confederate today."
The voice sounded happy, but I didn't answer. My stomach was a mess of knots, and my knees felt like they were going to buckle. I didn't want to meet them. I realized that if things went wrong today, I could die.
"C'mon, Jemy, aren't you excited."
It was a new voice. Arnold McAlley. Older then me. They all were. I was the youngest boy in the regiment. I was always called Jemy. I begged to be called Jem, but I was always little Jemy. It was odd. I wasn't babied by the officers; I was treated just like everyone else. However, I was the regiment pet. The soldiers would slip me extra pieces of rations, saying I was too skinny.
"Hey, Little Jemy, are you alright?"
"Yeah, I'm fine…I'm just…"
I started but then stopped. A commotion had happened up ahead. Officers were shouting and people in the front were raising their guns.
"Hold your fire! Don't shoot!"
I gripped my gun, but held it at my side. Arnold, and the other man next to me, Joseph, weren't as restrained. They raised their guns.
"Guns down! Soldiers! Put your guns down!"
They lowered them, but cautiously.
"We've made contact with Confederate soldiers, we're going to our separate campsites now."
I heard two officers give the order to retreat. We turned around and walked to the campsite. It was a bare patch of earth. There was no clue that anyone had been there before. Rumors were flying around that there was to be a battle tomorrow. My knees shook at the thought of it.
Our officers gave us a talk, but then decided to let us rest for the rest of the night. I couldn't sleep. I was a nervous wreck. I entered the woods, just wandering, trying to breathe normally.
That was when I tripped. I heard a muffled, arghargh sound, and someone shuffling to get to their feet.
"Wh-who's there? I'm armed!"
My face was to the ground, but the voice had a Southern twang, and I knew it was a Confederate.
"I'm sorry, is this your territory, I'm sorry."
I was too shocked to act like the soldier I was supposed to be. It was hard to have the feelings I was supposed to have about the Confederates about this boy.
He was about my age, with light brown hair, and freckles dusting his nose and chocolate brown eyes.
He looked sad, scared, and shocked. He reached out a hand to help me up.
"Thanks," I mumbled.
"I'm Jeminiah, Jemy, I'm a Union soldier."
The other soldier cracked a smile, and his whole face lit up. He was missing one of his teeth.
"I figured, I am Thomas. I'm a Confederate."
He smiled at me again, and I let out a small smile.
I don't know why I wasn't running, or at least dismissing myself, to go to my own troops. Something about this boy made me want to stay. I was nervous, but somehow this boy made me feel more at ease. Maybe it was because he was more my age. It didn't feel as if I should hate him. I had no reason to hate him. What had he ever done to me?
He looked at me, and dropped his gun on the ground.
"Nice to meet you, Jemy."
He held his hand out, and I grabbed it and shook.
"It's nice to meet you, too, Thomas."
Thomas looked at me oddly, his freckled face full of trust. He trusted me, and for some reason, I trusted him too. I didn't feel as if he would hurt me. I felt safe, maybe for the first time since I enlisted.
"You know, I'm supposed to run back right now, and tell my officer that a Union soldier has stumbled onto our territory," Thomas said.
I sighed. "Yeah, I know."
"I'm not going to."
I glanced up at him.
"Yeah, I knew that, too."
Thomas sighed, and slid to the ground. His gun lay beside him.
"This whole business, this war, is bad, Jemy. I didn't want to join up, but I had to. My mama's sick, and my Pa can't work, he's got to take care of her, I need to bring in the money. Look at me now, I'm confiding in a total stranger."
I slid to the ground as well, listening to him talk. His voice was filled with emotion. He had so much more passion then any of our men had. They talked, a lot of them, as if they were dead. Many of them had seen a lot of battles by now. They never had any emotion. Others were excited, like Joseph, and Arnold. They hadn't seen battle.
I got how Thomas felt though. I got it. I knew how it felt to be filled with so much emotion that it felt as if you were going to explode. Maybe a little excitement, fear, sadness. I knew, because I felt it too.
A silence passed over us, and we both stopped, and thought. There was no tension. It was if the boundaries that had been our sides in the war had disappeared, and we were just two young boys.
After awhile, I went "I'm sorry to hear about your Mama, Thomas, will she be alright?"
It was dark by then, and it was a cloudy night so I couldn't see his expression, but I heard the sadness in his voice as he leaned against that tree.
"To be honest, Jemy, I don't know. I hope so." He was quiet again, but I could hear him hiccoughing as he cried, his tears unseen in the dark, and he whispered again "I hope so."
"I know, Thomas. My Mama died a year ago. I know."
Thomas didn't say anything, but I could feel the connection made. Thomas and I became the best of friends in that second. We were so close, that no matter what happened, tomorrow, or the next day, nothing could change it
A second later he went. "I'm sorry, Jemy." I glanced at him in the dark, but I couldn't even make out his silhouette, but I knew he was looking at me.
It wasn't just the death of my Mama, and the impending death of his that made us close. It was our shared fear of the upcoming events, and the connection that we shared because we were the only ones who felt it. Everything else might have made us friends, but that fact made us brothers.
As I leaned against my tree, I could feel a wave of sleepiness fall over me, and I glanced at Thomas in the dark. I couldn't see him, but I could feel that he was leaning against his tree as well.
"Everything's going to be okay, Jemy," I heard him say, softly into the dark.
"I know," I said. For that one moment I believed it, everything just felt so calm, and right, as if nothing could ever go wrong.
"And you know what, Thomas?"
There was no answer, but I knew he was listening.
"Everything's going to be okay for you too."
Then I fell asleep.
The next morning, Thomas was already gone when I woke up, but I could hear sounds of my regiment waking up in the campsite not far off. I scrambled back over. Everyone was getting suited and tying their weapons on. I sighed. So it hadn't been a rumor. There was to be a battle.
I had slept in my uniform, so I tried to straighten my jacket and pants, and smooth out the wrinkles. I wanted to look sharp for my first battle. Thomas moved into my mind, many times, but I tried to push him out.
Soon enough, we had to march. The field the battle was to take place was not far off. The Confederates were already there. I got in line, and the battle started.
I never could've imagined so much blood, dust, and smoke could exist, it blocked my vision, and clogged my throat. I could smell death in the air.
It all happened so fast, I can still hardly recollect it, but next thing I know, I was standing face to face with Thomas, guns raised. Both our arms quavered, and our officers screamed at us to shoot.
Cloudily, I realized I hadn't known that had been Thomas' last name. We both looked at each other. We knew what we had to do. He nodded at me, and I nodded at him. Both our arms were quavering. Tears were running down both our faces. Then we shot. We both fell.
I survived the battle. His hands had been quavering so badly, he had missed, and shot me a little lower then he had meant to. He hit my left leg. It had to be amputated. I was sent home.
For a long time, I never said a word to anyone. I just cried. They thought it was because of my leg, but it wasn't. That hardly bothered me. I just sat in my room, all day. Crying.
I only knew Thomas for one night, yet he knew me better then anyone. Our different sides had killed us. The war brought my friend Thomas to me, then it broke us apart.