Two weeks before Gettysburg
If not for the war, it would have been the most beautiful place on earth as far as T. G. Payne was concerned. The days were warm, almost hot, and the nights were cool and comfortable. The laurel and rhododendron spread pink and white blossoms beneath the lush foliage on the mountainsides and soft summer fragrances filled the air until replaced by the hideous stench of artillery exploding in the distance. The bluebirds sang splendidly and flitted about gathering nectar and dew from the wildflowers on the hills.
T. G. slogged back to his campsite. Now was the time. He picked up speed as he pondered the need to get Isaac out of here. He paced back and forth in front of their tent until five o'clock, not wanting to get him up too early. He lifted the flap and stood in the door of the tent where his three boys lay side by side, fully clothed, guns between them. Loaded. He thought of Joab, Samuel, even Benjamin, remembering when his three older boys were their age. How he desired to recall those years. My God in heaven, he thought. How did all this happen? Suddenly, he was nauseously homesick.
He touched Isaac to wake him.
"Son, run up to Jed's wagon and get you a cup of coffee and come right back. Get Billy and Abe and Cliff. Tell them to ride their horses."
Isaac didn't say another word. He knew what was happening. He would tell the boys to bring their rifles and saddlebags.
"Jonathan, Henry. Come on and get up. It's five o'clock. Jonathan, wash your face and saddle Glory for Isaac. Henry, run up to Jed's and tell him to get you a sack of biscuits from Cook. At least eight, and some side meat. Tell him I'll explain later."
T. G. knew no other way to get this done. He had to be straightforward with Isaac. Within minutes, the four boys were making their way around the outer perimeter of the camp so as not to disturb those still sleeping, for reveille had not yet sounded.
"Wait here for me," Isaac said to Billy, Abe, and Cliff.
Isaac respectfully approached his father. This was going to hurt them both.
"Son, it's time. You've got to go home. I've put this off as long as I can. I want you on your horse and out of here immediately. I've got maps for you from General Hill. He knows how you should go. Pay close attention to the directions, for you will take the cars out of Virginia and into Tennessee. It's all right here," he said, pointing to the map. "Now, get the boys and ride out of here. Believe me son, this is the best thing for you. And, Isaac—remember how much I love you. I will always love you, and I will sorely miss you."
With tears streaming down his cheeks, Isaac clung to his father, then his brothers. He took the sack of provisions from Henry and mounted Glory. He pulled tight on the reins until the horse reared on his back legs and snorted, reminiscent of Grenada. He hard saluted his father, motioned for his friends, and they rode off in the dawn's earliest light. The warrior child was going home.
Thomas cried aloud, gasped for breath, and fell to his knees when Isaac was out of sight. The boys draped themselves across their father like the cross bars on the Confederate Battle Flag—their souls knit together as David and Jonathan of old—hoping to somehow ease their father's pain, but T. G. would be not comforted. Not in this dreadful moment.
Would the heartache never end?
from The Mississippi Boys
Copyright 2008 Jane Bennett Gaddy
iUniverse, Bloomington, IN
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