At years end in December of 1862, his grand visions of glorious war had long since
withered on the vine of bitter reality, supplanted by the now too familiar scenes of mangled friends and foe lying upon
recently contested ground. Passing over the grim visage of a newly christened battlefield, he found that in death, the differences
between the casualties of either side somehow seemed less obvious and disturbingly less relevant.
A few short days ago, blue and gray clad soldiers marched away from Perryville Kentucky where in October, the merciless dark
angel claimed more than 1,300 men. In happier times, these dead would have embraced each other as countrymen, but instead lost
their lives for causes that seemed to him a little more distant than when the passions of war first sparked the now unremitting
flames. Of those that survived, more than 5,000 emerged from the battle no longer whole, leaving behind arms, legs, and the
deadened portions of their once innocent naive souls. He sometimes judged those at eternal rest as the more fortunate, except
for their cold and lonely graves, shallow and quickly dug if they had a grave at all.
At days end as the men of both armies settled in for an uneasy night, the cold winter air lent each man a biting chill matching
the lingering trepidation ever-present within. Fellow pickets on either side of him leaned against rocks or trees, tightly wrapped
in whatever they had not foolishly discarded during the hot summer marches. The bolder or more desperate among them pulled closer
the coats and blankets recently "acquired" from those no longer in need, vainly attempting to elude the cold, heavy
rains, and clinging mud which sought to leech the warmth from their tired, haggard bodies.
With his adversaries only some 700 yards distant, tonight, he would likely not find the peace of the forbidden yet cherished
few moments of much needed sleep. Having learned some time ago the skill of dozing lightly while standing upright at his post,
sleep would have offered a welcome respite from the cold misery of the last few weeks. While peering into the endless, surrounding
darkness, he wondered what the night would yet hold for him.
As if to sooth the persistent anguish threatening to consume him, an army band mercifully broke the silence. When the initial
welcome strains ended, adversaries from across the darkening divide responded in kind with a song of their own. With each side
now taking turns in this instrumental volley, music familiar to both armies danced among the trees stirring the chill winter air.
These songs, he mused, once held dear by all, now either inspired thoughts of patriotism or treason depending upon your present
chosen or dictated loyalties. Shifting his weight against the tree which held him upright, he wondered if in a strange twist,
God had given the fleeting warmth that each note offered as a gift to the men who had in His name shattered so many of those
created in His image.
The lyrics as familiar as the faces of his family, he watched his vaporous breath swirl in the frigid air as he joined in the
diversion of song. His hoarse voice added to the orchestral tonic caressing the ground so contentiously held by the members of
this growing unified chorus. For a moment, some of the pain, if not forgotten, diminished in severity with fraternal memories
providing a bittersweet solace.
After several near joyous tunes, the continuing musical challenge abruptly changed tone as one side, he could no longer
distinguish which, began the first few strains of Home Sweet Home. Other mournful voices now joined his in the welcome yet
I gaze on the moon, as I tread the drear wild
And feel that my mother, Now thinks of her child;
As she looks on that moon, From our own cottage door,
Thro' the woodbine whose fragrance, Shall cheer me no more.
While the chorus rose, warm tears glistened down the raw sides of this grizzled soldier’s face. With voice trembling, he
fought to sing the final torturous words.
An exile from home, splendour dazzles in vain
Oh! give me my lowly thatch’d cottage again;
The birds singing gaily, that came at my call;
Give me them, with the peace of mind, dearer than all.
Home, home, sweet sweet home,
There's no place like home,
There's no place like home.
Proving the final melody of the evening, its words drifted mournfully past the longing ears of many similarly heartsick soldiers,
flittering off through the bare creaking tree limbs into the cold, indifferent darkness of night. But, for this one fading moment,
all around shared the bonds of brotherhood so common before this tragic war. Each beat with one single heart aching simply for
the welcome faces and sights of their distant homes.
Hours later, when the sun next rose, savage battle began anew, with this soldier and thousands more fated to never again see
home except in the dimming light of their dying minds eye.
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