A/N: This story began as an assignment for my English class, Honors Literature and Composition. Since we're reading "Great Expectations'' by Charles Dickens, my teacher (and this is my hypothesis) decided it would be fun to have us do what Dickens did—write bits of the story at a time and have people write letters about it. So, this first installment is rather short, since it had to be one page or less, and rather stiff, since I didn't know what my group appreciated or understood in literature. The next installments will be much better!
When I woke on the cool, misty July morning, I discerned nothing out of the ordinary. My woolen blanket was heavy and damp with the rain that had plagued us since the beginning of the week, and I was fatigued to the point that I could scarce drag myself into my coat for morning inspection. But I did it anyway, just as I had every day since April of 1861, when I'd first enlisted in the Confederate Army. One step at a time is how I'd taken it. Steady and sure.
As I lined up with the other men of my regiment, our faces red from scrubbing and our mess kits tucked neatly into our haversacks, I felt the first sprinkle of rain on my cheeks. Corporal Turner standing near me gave a resigned sigh and lifted his bugle to his lips; the first brassy notes of the reveille announced the appearance of Abraham Hill, proud commander of the 13th Virginia Regiment. His golden hair, slicked back from his tanned and freckled face, glistened with wet from the steady rain, but his slow, purposeful steps never faltered. "Good morning, men," said he finally, pacing to and fro in front of us.
"Good morning, sir!" we returned smartly.
He cleared his throat decisively, as he was wont to do. "I won't lie to you, boys. We have a long and difficult march ahead of us this week, and we're running low on provisions. Lieutenant Boyd has volunteered to lead a company to the town of Gettysburg to get victuals—"
"And ol' tanglefoot, too?" said one private hopefully.
"—so we don't all starve in this goddamned war," Commander Hill finished, ignoring the soldier. "Any other questions?"
"So's you're sayin' that we're all a-gonna become bummers?" asked Johnnie Towne, the boy standing next to me in line. He was a wet-behind-the-ears youngster from the woods of Mill Creek, and was still concerned with the upholding of his honor. The rest of us—those who'd had honor, anyhow—had forgotten that art when we enlisted.
"That's right, Towne," Hill said with a wry smile. "Now, Boyd, pick your poison from this lot o' good-for-nothings."
I averted my eyes under the pretense that I was adjusting my collar against the rain. "There ain't no way in hell I'm going," I muttered to Johnnie.
"Aw, Jem," he hissed back. "Would you rather march through this grubby hole o' goldarned filth? I'm a-goin', no matter what you says."
"Ain't no better than what you'll be doin', Johnnie," I replied. "'Sides. Ain't we already grubby?"
"A little dirt never hurt no one," Johnnie said with a disdainful look.
"And you know that better than the whole Confederate army, I reckon."
Lieutenant Boyd, who'd been pacing the line and choosing the men who would go ahead to Gettysburg, stopped in front of us. "Private Towne and Private Howell!" he barked. "Quit that senseless jabbering. Towne, line up behind Private Davis. You're a-going to Gettysburg. Jem Howell, you'd better shut your mouth afore you dig yerself into a hole you can't get out of."
I gave Johnnie a nod as he left to go join the straggle of soldiers. The rain pelted down from low, grey skies as the little band moved off through the mud, water dribbling off the corners of my hat and down my neck. The campfires of the remaining men hissed and flickered, and old Lawrence got out his fife. Soon, the lilting notes of "Dixie" floated out from under the coat he had propped up on sticks, and I listened and waited for something to happen.
Something happened late that evening, though it was not a something I was hoping for. We were all gathered around a campfire, huddled against the mizzle, when a great commotion arose from the brush nearby, with a hoarse shout of "Yankees! Those damn Yankees are at Gettysburg!"