Civil War Epic

Cold Harbor – Chapter 1 – 1868

Tyler had one question for God: “What is real?”  Tyler knew of  no one else to ask.  He had his family, his wife, and some old friends.  And he was fairly certain that they were real.  But was he real?  And if he weren’t real, how could he ask anybody anything?  Since God was supposed to be eternal, Tyler figured maybe God could hear a question from a man who may not be certain about what was real.

The most important aspect of the question as it appertained to the asker, Tyler, was whether or not he had just inadvertently murdered his father.  He was surrounded by bits of evidence that he had, and had engaged every one of his senses to receive the worst possible report.  The meadow smelled like Cold Harbor.  He was in the old sharpshooter position, belly-down behind a fallen tree. Next to the far tool shed was his father, lying on his back in the grass with a stillness that only could mean one thing.  If anyone were to walk the meadow at that moment, he or she would feel certain that patricide had just unexpectedly invaded a so-called respectable Georgia plantation home.

But no one stirred.  It was a perfectly still, quiet moment.  Tyler could still hear explosions, but the sounds came from another place, another time.  The smoke from four-year-old explosions engulfed him.  When it cleared, he rose to his feet and carried the Whitworth over to see what he hoped wasn’t real.  But his father actually did lie dead in the grass with his head bearing the mark of the sharpshooter.

Tyler hid momentarily in the shed in a vain attempt to collect his thoughts.  Finding them uncollectible, he fled into the forest, running at top speed between the trees from the sight.  As he ran, he marveled at the depth of his own cowardice.  He could remember how he got at Cold Harbor, when Yankee cowards ran from battle, Tyler had felt some justification for shooting them in their backs, executing them in the name of their own cause.  The irony was on his mind as he ran.

Cold Harbor – Chapter 2 – The Whitworth

Tyler was poised for sunrise on the Cold Harbor crossroads, down behind a felled tree bark, concealed by overgrown, pungent foliage.  In that final hour before battle, he knew that he had finally overcome the curse of being a middle brother with no way to distinguish himself.  After all, he mused, I am here, an honored Whitworth Sharpshooter, and there they are slogging it out with a Tennessee foot soldier outfit.  Who could have predicted that?  As a boy Tyler was labeled the lazy one who did not strive for enough perfection at anything.  Franklin was always a superior athlete.  Young Beau had the most commanding personality and persuasive speaking pattern.  Tyler’s sisters were all good at their studies, played musical instruments, and spoke foreign languages.  But Tyler blended into the woodwork in his father’s eyes.

Then one day the brothers were taught to shoot at targets of straw.  On that day Tyler’s hidden aptitude leapt forth and amazed absolutely everyone.  Both of his brothers were excellent marksmen, but Tyler never missed.  Franklin and Beau logged in hours of target practice to try to catch up to him.  But Tyler didn’t need practice.  His eye was sure.  It was an odd skill.

When the war began, Tyler was so in love with his bride that he did not want to go.  Most family members were ashamed of him when he suggested that he might stay home and tend to the land and protect the women.  His mother, who was secretly dying, told Tyler that she did not want him to leave her side, and Tyler was ready to watch after her.  But his father laid down the law, and shamed him into using his God-given eye for the Confederacy.  The next day all three brothers mounted up and set off to join up with the Army of Tennessee, where shooting was a prized skill, to serve under General Patrick Cleburne, a respected field commander.

Only a few Whitworths arrived from England.