A Letter...

April 17th, 1902
Sweetwater, Tennessee

My dearest Grandson,

Your dear Mother writes to me with news of your studies in school. She says that you want to know what I did in the war, and what I remember. It troubles me slightly to recall back to those days, but I feel that I should tell you, however painful, what I remember. I do this not so much for myself as I do for you.

I really can't explain it to you, boy. Some things are without parallel in these mortal lives of ours. Your mother says that she thinks you need something, but I am afraid that the something you are a'needing ain't in my story. You ask me what I did in this past war, and I don't know where to start. I really don't. However, I can tell you this - and you can take it in any way you see fit. I only fired my musket twicet. Both times happened on the same day. For that matter, they both were fired off within less than a minute, and I never fired my musket again. Not during the whole rest of the war. There, what do you think of that? Not exactly what you expected, eh son?

I had been picked up in Virginia shortly after my 15th birthday by a wily Captain from Mr. Longstreet's Corps. His name was Coltrane. I had been fishing by a small creek when two fellows grabbed me and drug me off to join the Army. Mr. Coltrane and Mr. Fitch. They taught me to drill while on the march, and they gave me a gun. A fine, shiny gun. They taught me how to clean it, load it, and fire it. I did as I was told. As soon as I could, I wrote to Momma and told her I had joined the Army.

But I know you are not interested in that. You want to know what happened on that famous day, and I really can't blame you. I'll bet your history books are just filled to the brim with tales of those three days. History books always are. Still, I probably have a different story than what you have read.

I first remember a very handsome fellow yelling for us to keep in line. Stay in step. We marched out into an open field and Federal cannons began firing at us. It didn't matter, though. All of our eyes and ears were focused on our Officer. The whole time those shells were falling, we just kept listening to what he was saying. Form Left. Align Right. Stay Abreast. Left Oblique. And so on, and so on. We were so engrossed with trying to stay in line that we didn't have time to be afraid. Besides, we knew that the bullet had not yet been cast that could cut us down. With that, we kept on marchin right up the middle of that field.

After a good while, we got to a small wooden fence. This was bad news to us all, and at first we tried to tear down the railings. We did this until our Officer yelled for us to just climb it. This was the first time that some of us realized that we were not as bulletproof as we had originally imagined. About half of our Company made it across that little, rickety fence alive. Some of us began to get very scared, and we all noticed that the cannons had stopped shooting. This too, was bad news since it meant we were now within shot of the Yankee rifles.

We formed our ranks as they shot at us, and our Officer - Lt. Higgins from Alabama - gave us the order to fire a volley and reload. Some of the boys were not scared and were fighting mad instead. They hollered like wild men when Mr. Higgins gave the order to fire. After that, we advanced about 15 more feet, and were told to fire again. I did so with much trepidation as many of my friends had either been killed or shot clean through. But Lt. Higgins was in charge and we all trusted him and felt that he would not let anything bad happen to us.

I had just finished reloading when the order to fix bayonets was given. We fixed them while marching, and were told to charge as soon as the last man had fitted his to his rifle. All this time, son, we were less than 50 yards from the Yankees and being shot at the whole time.

Most of us were out of breath from pure excitement and fear by the time we tangled with them Yankees at the stone wall. I was scared to death, and knew that I was fighting for my life right then and there. Lt. Higgins was waving his sword over his head and yelling one minute, and was shot through the neck the next. I reached up to grab him as he fell, but he pushed me to the ground and I hit my head on the wall. When I woke up, the noise of a single human being could not be heard. Instead, the cannons had begun to fire again. I didn't know what to do, so I just lay there in that pile of my dead friends. I think I cried, but I really can't remember. I remember the taste of Lt. Higgins's blood that had ran down into the corner of my mouth. It was a metallic taste.

Every time one of those cannons roared, the ground would shake and rattle. My head felt like it would explode as each concussion re-arranged the piled corpses at the base of the wall. I wish I had been able to burrow straight down to China to get away from those blasts, but I couldn't. I just lay there not knowing what to do. And then I heard the cannons stop. I thought that God had heard my wishes, but the very next second, I heard the click clack sound of men running with muskets. I knew what was about to happen, and I was powerless. I was frozen in fear.

Off in the distance, I could hear the yelps and cheers of my fellow Countrymen. This meant that they must be nearing the rail fence I have mentioned to you earlier. This was just as bad of a mess for them as it had been for us.

I could go on, my dear Grandson, but I think you understand me. I stayed by that wall covered in by my friends until darkness fell. The Yankees had sent word that we could pick up our dead and wounded, and I was found by a fellow from Texas. Yes, that is right. I was found without a wound on me at the foot of the stone wall on Cemetery Ridge.

No one ever called me a coward. I did not run from the fight. It just seems that once I woke up, I was too scared to figure out what to do. Later that night, Mr. Pickett heard of my situation, and called me to his tent. I explained to him how I had come to join the Army, and how I had come to be alive at the top of The Ridge, and he cried. I think he had been crying already that day, but I do not know for sure.

The next day, I was led to the rear of the Army lines, and told to go home. I was given a piece of paper that was signed by Mr. Longstreet that said I should be given free and safe passage back to Hickman, Virginia. Two weeks later, I was home in the field with Momma again. After the war, we moved down here to Tennessee and have continued farming. I met your Grandmother, and we'll be here for the rest of our lives.

I am not sure if this story is what you wanted to hear. And I really do not know what you are reading in your books. In the end, you asked my story, and I have told it. I hope this helps you in some small way.

Keep up the good work in your studies, and write to me often.

Your loving Grandfather,

Jackson Petty

UPDATE: This is fiction written by me.. Jackson Petty is a real ancestor, but he was NOT at Gettysburg... I was just trying to write in an olde style...

by Eric on April 19, 2005 | Bullshit (12) | Military Stuff
Bullshit So Far

"I will lead my division forward, sir"
-- Pickett to Longstreet.

"General, I have no division......"
-- Pickett to Lee.

Valiant, unbelievable, and ultimately impossible.

Bullshitted by bitterman on April 19, 2005 06:00 PM

Great letter. I am curious as to where you found it and the decision to post it. Was it a relative or did you just appreciate it? Sorry, amature historian coming out in me.

Bullshitted by Contagion on April 19, 2005 06:26 PM

Well, damn, I thought it was real too... I guess that means you accomplished your mission of historically accurate language. Excellent post;-)

Bullshitted by sadie on April 19, 2005 08:02 PM

Good job.

Futility, a hard emotion to convey effectively without also evoking revulsion.

You did it.

Well done.

Bullshitted by Jack on April 19, 2005 08:40 PM

Very nice.

Bullshitted by Graumagus on April 19, 2005 09:57 PM

As usual a great story and it could be true somewhere in time but that is another movie. LOL Ga.

Bullshitted by georgia on April 19, 2005 10:40 PM

Great tale, Eric! To paraphrase Dan Rather, it may have been fiction but it sounds authentic to me!

Bullshitted by zonker on April 19, 2005 10:43 PM

That was great, Eric! Good job!

Bullshitted by Sheilah on April 19, 2005 11:02 PM

Damn, that was excellent!

Bullshitted by Jim - PRS on April 20, 2005 05:22 AM

After reading that, I fear you've severely undermined your reputation as an illiterate redneck.

Sad, that :-(

Bullshitted by Harvey on April 20, 2005 01:36 PM

That was great - totally authentic!

Bullshitted by Barb on April 20, 2005 11:31 PM

Ya had me hooked Eric...I wouldn't have know it wern't real had you not said so!

Bullshitted by The Wizard on April 23, 2005 11:07 AM