Author Note: The officers of these two regiments mirror each other so much I personally find it rather eerie. It's strange that lives so close to each other would clash at such an important battle. Slightly different writing style, let me know what you think.
First Lieutenant John Oates grit his teeth as another wave of pain crashed over his exhausted form. He should have listened, should have headed his brother's words of concern and warning. That didn't matter now, all that mattered was the pain that seared through him with every movement. Holding himself as still as possible he watched an officer in blue moving through the prisoners, taking a head count to give to his superiors. He caught sight of a field surgeon and let out a heavy breath, how long before he was tended to? God he was thirsty!
The whole battle had been a disaster. Without much warning they had been roused and told to break camp. Fighting had begun some distance away and they were sorely needed to come along the backside of a battered and bruised Union Army.
No one had told them it was twenty eight-miles away.
They had made it, though, eleven hours later they had reached the town. Gettysburg was it? John had fallen back, the possibility of a sun stroke very high. He remembered his own brother coming back with a horse to bring him to the front of the lines. Closing his eyes he replayed their last true conversation, frowning he realized it was very likely their last.
Most of his company had fallen back, exhausted. He was laid out in the grass at the rear of the group, coat and haversack tossed to the side.
He looked up at the man and horse , smiling wearily. "Hello."
Colonel William Oates sighed as he dismounted, kneeling next to the younger man he put a palm to his brother's clammy forehead.
He sighed once again, "You've a fever. You should stay here, but I can not leave you."
He handed the reins to the exhausted man and mounted his own horse. They continued down the road in silence, the only sound that of the feet of thousands of men trudging through the red dust of southern Pennsylvania.
William cleared his throat, "John, I don't want you in this fight."
He wasn't surprised at the Lieutenant's outburst, John sat as straight as he could. "I will not stay back! I am an officer, I will not be looked on as a coward! I will fight, and die if I must!"
The Colonel let out a long breath, staring ahead of them. "I was afraid you would say that."
He had been granted the privilege of joining his company, or those that were left. Upon reaching the base of what they were told was Big Round Top they held onto the hope that they would find a place to fill their canteens. There had been no water since they broke camp the day before. To the regiment's distress they'd been immediately given orders to skirt the larger hill and attack the flank of the Union Army situated on the other side.
He wiped sweat from his brow, in the same manner he had when watching the Union boys through the trees only hours ago. It had been a hell of a fight. He glanced up at the sun, cringing at the pain in his leg. Reflecting on the earlier events had somehow caused him to forget the many bullet wounds that riddled his frame. His leg, his hip, hand, arm, all gaping wounds screamed in agony where bighting air touched raw flesh. He had never imagined he would be struck so many times.
He remembered moving to the left, just a little more with every assault. Each time he was sure his legs would buckle beneath him from exhaustion. He saw the charge of the Union regiment down the hill, though he had witnessed it from the ground. His arm and leg both lodged with a round. The other bullet wounds came from stray shots of other regiments further up the hill. He had passed out as a wave of blue swept down the small but steep slope.
Opening his eyes he saw the surgeon making his way closer. The officer taking count stood writing in a small book. Another man came walking across the neat rows of men lying in the sun, maybe limping was a better term for his gait.
He made eye contact with the man but said nothing. He'd never seen a Yank up close and wasn't sure what to expect. He had pictured them all as arrogant pompous fools who liked to boss those of lower class around but had no actual intelligence. So to say he was surprised when the man nodded politely to him was an understatement. He was a Colonel if the uniforms were anything like that of his army. He noted the stance and dignified manner of the man , and wondered if his brother would get along with him if there were no war.
He felt impolite for watching, but his other surroundings were not as pleasant. He'd rather look at living men than what was on either side of him.
He wiped his forehead again. He wasn't moving, shouldn't be sweating this badly. He looked back at the Colonel, drawn to the figure for some odd reason. He was a complete opposite of William. His brother was dark featured, brown eyed, barked an order at anyone within earshot. This man was blond, most likely blue eyed, and seemed very quiet, almost soft spoken. Though it was obvious he was fierce in a battle, the 15th's defeat proved that. He nodded, yes, his brother would like this man.
He heard voices drifting across the little clearing. The Colonel was speaking with the officer that had been writing moments before. He patted the man's shoulder before moving away. A few words in parting reached John's ears.
"Very good, carry on Lieutenant."
The young man left amongst the prisoners still held the journal, a single blue uniform amongst a see of gray, brown, and butternut. Looking across the group of men he caught sight of John, the southerner nodded and motioned him over. Careful not to trip over men stretched on the ground the bluecoat made his way to where the prisoner sat. Upon reaching him he noticed the number of injuries John had.
"God Almighty, the surgeon see you yet?"
John shook his head, reeling at the fact that the Yank even cared. He'd never been in this situation, never even been wounded, he had no idea what the etiquette was between the two armies.
The man in front of him motioned to the surgeon, the doctor nodded. John was apparently next in line as of now.
"Can I get you anything?"
John looked at the other man dazed, "Pardon?"
"Do you want anything?"
"Oh, water, please."
The man slung the canteen off his shoulder, opened it and handed it to him. He felt slightly guilty for emptying it in a few quick gulps but the Yank didn't seem to mind.
He wiped his chin with the good arm, before putting his hand out in greeting. "John Oates, Alabama."
The Yank shook his good hand, "Tom Chamberlain, Maine."
John nodded, glanced impatiently at the surgeon. Grimacing he turned back to the man kneeling in front of him.
"Gave you hell we did."
The Yank nodded, watching as the wounded from either side were carried away. John noted they were close in age, same rank, same company possibly? He shrugged before wincing, the irony wouldn't surprise him.
He thought of something suddenly, "Who was that?"
"Who?" The bluecoat looked at him confused for a moment. Not knowing that the Reb had been watching his previous conversation.
John gestured toward the cluster of officers against the trees. "The officer you were talkin' to."
A broad grin broke over the bluecoat's face. John couldn't help but smile himself, not even sure what he was smiling about. The fact that he was still capable of the act surprised him. It seemed natural though, if not for the feelings that fed this war he had the sudden thought that sitting here with this Yank would be the most natural thing in the world. If there were no uniforms, no guns, no fighting, this would be a very comfortable and friendly discussion. The problem was the underlying unease he felt, he could sense the other felt it too. Knowing that if he survived these wounds he would most likely face this man again, and have to forget this camaraderie. For all he knew one of the bullets stuck in his flesh came from this Yank's gun, but did it matter anymore? Hearing the Yankee Lieutenant he was suddenly pulled from his thoughts.
"That there? Why that's Colonel Chamberlain of the 20th Maine."
John was dumbstruck, "You're brother's a Colonel?"
For as much as it hurt, Lieutenant John Oates of the 15th Alabama Infantry broke into uncontrollable laughter. Surrounding men looked in his direction, questioning glances. They went back to their business, the man was obviously close to the end.
Tom watched him warily, "I'm afraid I don't understand."
John clutched his wounded arm, pointing at the man before him. "You! You are a First Lieutenant of-?"
"And your brother is the Colonel?"
Tom glanced to either side. "Yes."
John fell back against the stone he'd been leaning on, now regretting his previous laughter.
"I am, John Oates, First Lieutenant of the 15th Alabama, younger brother of Colonel William Oates, who commands that same regiment."
He was met with stunned silence. Replacing the hat half-hazardly the bluecoat stared at his unlikely companion. John nodded slowly, numb to the wounds that riddled him.
"Like lookin' in a mirror aint it?" He muttered the words, almost inaudible. He smiled, had to ask, "Company G?"
The outburst of laughter was the only answer. He rubbed his sweating brow, lightheaded. Tom turned to the man that had suddenly appeared at his side, John frowned, he wasn't there a moment ago. The Alabamian was usually incredibly observant, no one ever snuck up on him. His eyelids felt heavy.
Tom threw a smart salute to the man beside him. "Colonel, I'd like you to meet-"
"John Oates." The southern man nodded, the Maine man returning the gesture courteously. Tom explained their odd circumstances, John nodding or adding to how they had come to this realization.
The Colonel looked thoughtful, before speaking lowly, "When you get home, be sure to tell your brother he's one hell of a fighter."
John nodded, eyes tearing. He knew that message would never reach William, that he would never see home again. He would die in southern Pennsylvania and that was that.
Sudden movement, orders relaying down the lines. The two in front of him jumping into motion quickly. His Union counterpart held out a hand as the Colonel made a polite if hasty withdrawal. The army's orders came first, the sad and frustrating truth.
"I'll see you again John Oates."
"I truly hope so Tom Chamberlain."
Three weeks later John lay stretched out on a hospital stretcher. No more pain, that had gone days ago. He was numb, had no notion of time. When did day become night? The only difference anymore was the color of the canvas above him. White was day, black was night.
"William, you're a hell of a fighter."
He exhaled heavily into the humid August heat. Closing his eyes for the last time, southern Pennsylvania claiming another Confederate son.