Book Excerpt: Crossroads at Gettysburg

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craglargeJuly 1, 1863 Somewhere near Chambersburg, Pennsylvania(About 25 miles Northwest of Gettysburg)            

“Don’t tell me any more of your lies!”  George yelled as he smashed another post on the old man’s white picket fence.  “You Yankees have been hiding your food from us ever since you heard we were coming.  Now show me where your bacon and flour are or I’ll smash more of your fence!”

“I’m telling you we don’t have any,” the old man yelled back.  He was dressed in simple blue overalls and his hands were shaky as he slowly backed away from the angry soldier.  “The group that came through yesterday took all that we had honest!”

“Is that so?” George reacted in a slow angry voice that rose as he stalked around the shed at the front of the farm.  “Then why were you in such a hurry when you saw me approaching.  You were running around like the devil himself was coming and you almost managed to hide all  your crates under this pile of hay before I got here!”

George grabbed a pitchfork, swiped at the hay pile and revealed several boxes hidden under the pile.  Then he threw the pitchfork in the dirt at the base of the man’s feet.

“Please,” the man said softly, realizing he had been caught, “please don’t take that.  It’s all we have left to sell.  We have been working hard to…”

“Working hard?” George yelled.  “Working hard”  You Yankees don’t know the meaning of hard work.  You sit in your fine clothes and complain about our slaves and our government while you send your boys to do your dirty work!”

“Dirty work?”  The man repeated with a confused look on his face.  He stood up a little straighter and appeared  more sure of himself.  His facial expression changed to one of disappointment, as if he expected more from George.  “This is a war son.  In a war, people die.”

“Of course people die,”  George said even angrier.  “But those people are supposed to be soldiers, not little kids and women and old men.”

The man’s face wrinkled as he tried to understand what George was getting at.

“This is not just a soldier’s war,” George went on.  “It’s no glorious battle between armies.  It’s destruction, it’s murder.”

“Now just hold on a minute,” the man protested.

“Your navy blockades our ports,” George ignored the man’s comment as he paced back and forth. He looked directly at the old man and pointed.  “Your troops march up and down our lands destroying farms and cities.  When we work hard its simply to survive.  And sometimes that is not even enough!   Hard work?  You, You strut around day after day talking to each other about how rotten we Southerners are and plotting about ways to free our slaves and destroy our land.  You send your troops into our states, burn our homes, destroy our towns and take our food. Is that what you call war?”

“I didn’t do any of that,” the man argued softly.  He seemed unsure of himself again as he looked around to see if anyone was near.             “You didn’t do anything to stop it,” George replied.  “You probably didn’t even know what they were doing, did you?”             “I heard about Fredericksburg,” the man offered under his breath.

“Fredericksburg!”  George shouted, as if the word meant something personal to him.  “Fredericksburg!  Just what did you hear about Fredericksburg?”

“I heard that we bombarded the town before the battle,” the old man replied with his eyes down.  He could tell that George was extremely upset and he didn’t want to do anything to provoke him.  Especially because the old man was unarmed.

“Did you hear that you destroyed people’s homes?”  George shouted.  “Did you hear that you shattered lives and families and sent orphans into the streets?”             The man did not respond.             “I didn?t think so,” George snapped. His voice ran on as he spoke faster and faster.   “And so I am sure you have no idea what it is like to find a little orphan girl, freezing and starving in the snow.  Or what it is like to realize that her parents have been killed and the only one left in the world to help her is you but you are too busy to help her because you have to go fight the people who killed her parents.  And of course she doesn’t understand all this and she wants you to stay but you can’t and she cries and you have to leave her and your heart feels like it’s going to get torn out of your body.”

The old man cast his eyes down.

“You have invaded my home!” George screamed.  He stamped his foot and spun around as if he were preaching to an audience.  “My home!  My beautiful Virginia:  filled with trees and mountains and streams and friendly smiling people.  But not anymore, not any more.  While you’ve been living in peace and quiet on your farm, we’ve been starving and struggling to defend our homes.”

George felt a rumble in his stomach.  “Do you know what it’s like to not eat for three days?  Do you know what it’s like to walk mile after mile, day after day with no shoes on your feet?”

The man’s eyes looked down at George’s feet.  It was the first time he noticed them.

“That’s right,” George shot back, “No shoes.  Haven’t had any for two months.  Your navy won’t let us get any.  Thousands of us have been marching all over this land for months with no shoes on our feet trying to protect our land from you invaders.  You attack us everywhere but we beat you back!   We beat you at Bull Run, we beat you back from Richmond, from Fredericksburg and from Chancellorsville, but still you keep sending more and more troops for us to beat back.  Our people have had enough do you hear?  Enough!”

George picked up the pitchfork again and began swinging it at the fence, the shed, the crates, at anything that got in his way.

“No more waiting for you to come destroy more of our land.”  he swung the pitchfork at the shed.

“No more watching families wandering the roads with no homes left.”  He made another hole in a crate.

“No more marching without shoes!”  another hole.

“No more wondering when and if we’ll have enough to eat!”  another hole and another and another.

“It all ends here, in the North.  We’ll destroy your army, do you hear, we’ll destroy it.  We’ll wander this land of yours until we find your army or take your cities and we will end this war once and for all!”  George threw  the pitchfork in the ground just inches from the man’s feet.  He was breathing very hard, almost panting  but he felt good.  It had been a long time since he let out all his frustration and this was quite a relief.

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